6. Propaganda Against Propaganda: Revisiting Eusebius’ Use of the Figure of Moses in the Life of Constantine

Finn Damgaard


In the last two decades there has been an increasing interest in the literary aspects of the Life of Constantine (VC) and a number of recent studies have touched on Eusebius’ use of the figure of Moses in this work. [1] In the introduction and commentary to their translation, Averil Cameron and Stuart G. Hall show a keen interest in the parallels between Constantine and Moses and even call these parallels “the most obvious device used by Eusebius in the Life of Constantine to bring home his ideological message.” [2] In a similar way, Claudia Rapp has called these parallels a Leitmotif in the work. [3] Several recent studies have also sought to explain why Eusebius chose precisely the model of Moses for his term of comparison. According to Cameron and Hall, the comparison between Constantine and Moses “was perfectly suited to the work’s apologetic purpose.” [4] By portraying Constantine as the successor of Moses, Eusebius provided a precise and detailed demonstration of how God’s plan for Christian government on earth was realized. [5] Michael J. Hollerich also stresses the apologetic purpose of Eusebius’ use of Moses. According to Hollerich, however, Eusebius was not only drawn to Moses as a biblical exemplum for Constantine in order to stress his divinely inspired mission and his example of a godly life, he also invoked the figure of Moses in order “to sanction behavior that appeared to contradict traditional Christian views on the taking of life.” [6] Taking a somewhat different approach, Sabrina Inowlocki has suggested that: “Eusebius’ portrayal of Moses also testifies to the ambiguity of the legislator in Christianity.” [7] According to Inowlocki, Eusebius skilfully exploits the ambivalence of Moses in order to achieve apologetic purposes. Thus Eusebius compared Constantine with Moses in order to identify him as a figure de l’entre deux. According to Inowlocki, Moses himself is portrayed as a figure de l’entre deux in Eusebius’ thought as being both a Hebrew and the founder of Judaism. Referring to Eusebius’ apologetic works, the Praeparatio Evangelica and the Demonstratio Evangelica, Inowlocki demonstrates that Moses appears as an ambivalent character whose different facets are exploited according to the context. On the one hand, the figure of Moses is continuously glorified in the pagan-Christian debate described in the Praeparatio Evangelica. On the other hand, the description of Moses is far less enthusiastic in the Jewish-Christian debate described in the Demonstratio Evangelica. According to Inowlocki, Eusebius thus implicitly identifies Constantine as a figure de l’entre deux by choosing Moses as an exemplum for Constantine.
What is common to these suggestions is that they all take for granted that the comparison with Moses was invented by Eusebius himself. In this article, I shall suggest another approach, namely that it was actually Constantine (or his near advisers) who originally fabricated the comparison with Moses as part of his propaganda. As we shall see, Eusebius’ use of the comparison probably reuses much material from Constantine’s Moses propaganda, but he also seems to have reshaped some parts of it in order to promote his own interests. Moreover, I shall argue that Philo’s portrait of Moses as a model ruler in his Life of Moses was an important source for Eusebius’ idealized portrait of Constantine and his revision of Constantine’s Moses propaganda.

Moses in Constantine’s own Political Propaganda

Interestingly, it is in the speech that Eusebius attaches to the Life of Constantine that we come upon Constantine’s own use of Moses. In order to support his paraphrase of Constantine’s speeches (VC 4.29.2–5), Eusebius promises to append to the Life of Constantine an example of one of the emperor’s own speeches which he refers to as “To the Assembly of the Saints” (VC 4.32). [8] The authenticity of the speech was long in doubt, but is now generally considered to be authentic by the majority of scholars. [9] The speech seems to address a Christian audience—most likely bishops—but the date as well as the venue and occasion for the speech are still in question. I shall come back to this issue later.
As Mark Edwards has argued in the introduction to his new translation, the speech should probably be read as a “manifesto of ambition.” [10] The speech does not have Christianity per se as its focus; rather Christianity seems a means of persuading the Christian audience of the emperor’s right to rule. Constantine’s appeal to Moses at approximately the middle of the speech is a particularly illustrative example of this. In his attack on the fallen ideologies of Christianity’s enemies, Constantine suddenly hints at his own experience when he claims that he himself has been “an eyewitness of the miserable fortune of the cities [Memphis and Babylon]” [11] (Oration to the Saints 16). By claiming himself to be an eyewitness, Constantine succeeds in drawing a parallel between himself and Moses, since it was Moses who desolated Memphis when he:
[. . .] in accordance with the decree of God shattered the arrogance of Pharaoh, the greatest potentate of the time, and destroyed his army, victor as it was over many of the greatest nations and fenced round with arms—not by shooting arrows or launching javelins, but just by holy prayer and meek adoration.
Oration to the Saints 16, my emphasis
Though Constantine does not explicitly cast himself as a new Moses, he seems to imply this when, later in the oration, he claims that everything has also turned out “according to my prayers—acts of courage, victories, trophies over my enemies” (Oration to the Saints 22, my emphasis) and finally concludes:
Now in my view a ministry is most lovely and excellent when someone, before the attempt, ensures that what is done will be secure. And all human beings know that the most holy devotion of these hands is owed to God with pure faith of the strictest kind, and that all that has been accomplished with advantage is achieved by joining the hands in prayers and litanies, with as much private and public assistance as everyone might pray for on his own behalf and that of those dearest to him. They indeed have witnessed the battles and observed the war in which God’s providence awarded victory to the people, and have seen God co-​ operating with our prayers. For righteous prayer is an invincible thing, and no-one who pays holy adoration is disappointed of his aim.
Oration to the Saints 26, my emphasis
Constantine could of course hardly claim to have won by conquest without having “shot arrows or launched javelins,” but he might have hoped that his audience would catch the parallel to Moses when he piously claims that his palm of victory was similarly based on prayers and God’s co-operation. Also the fact that Constantine does not dwell on priestly or visionary aspects of the Moses figure, but rather turns the figure into a military and political leader suggests that Constantine constructed Moses as his own model: [12]
What could one say about Moses to match his worth? Leading a disorderly people into good order, having set their souls in order by persuasion and awe, he procured freedom for them in place of captivity, and he made their faces bright instead of blear.
Oration to the Saints 17
As Michael Williams has recently suggested, “It is difficult to read this as anything other than a kind of idealised portrait of the first Christian emperor—that is, as a portrait of Constantine himself.” [13] Williams’ suggestion is, I believe, right on target. There are, however, some rather important political motives for Constantine’s use of Moses that Williams does not examine, probably because he regards the speech as a conventional defense of Christianity. [14] For if Constantine should be seen as a new Moses, how should Christian subjects then catch the spirit of their own part? An audience acquainted with Paul’s use of the Israelites as negative examples in 1 Corinthians 10 (where the wayward followers of Moses were destroyed in the wilderness) [15] would probably not be slow to hear Constantine’s reference to the Moses narratives as a dire warning to themselves concerning internal discord. Thus, Constantine continues his panegyric of his predecessor by describing how the Israelites “became superhumanly boastful” though Moses was their sovereign. If Constantine had only referred to Moses in order to legitimize his own rule, he would probably not have touched on the Israelites’ acts of disobedience in the wilderness. Like Paul, Constantine seems, by contrast, to exploit the Moses narratives in order to control his Christian audience. Thus, when he reminds his audience that “no people would ever or could ever have been more blessed than that one [the Israelites], had they not voluntarily cut off their souls from the Holy Spirit” (Oration to the Saints 17), he makes a convenient agreement between the Holy Spirit and Moses, since it was of course Moses who had set their souls in order in the first place. By appending the Oration to the Saints to his Life of Constantine, Eusebius provides us with a fascinating glimpse of Constantine skilfully making use of the example of Moses in order to advance his own political agenda, namely to control the bishops.

Playing Constantine’s Game

The first time Eusebius himself invokes the Moses narratives in relation to Constantine is in the well-known passage in the ninth book of the Ecclesiastical History (HE) probably composed in 314 or 315. [16] In this passage, Eusebius compares Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in 312 with the defeat of Pharaoh at the Red Sea (HE 9.9.2–8). Though the passage seems to be Eusebius’ own invention, he could actually have been inspired by Constantine’s Oration to the Saints if we accept an early date of delivery. According to Girardet, the speech was delivered by Constantine in Trier or Rome at Easter 314. [17] With Girardet and Edwards, I take the field “prepared for battle” mentioned in chapter 22 to be the battlefield of the Milvian Bridge, and Constantine’s reference to the tyrant of the most dear city “who was suddenly overtaken in a fitting manner worthy of his atrocities” (Oration to the Saints 22) as referring to Maxentius. [18] Though Constantine does not himself compare the battle at the Milvian Bridge explicitly with the battle at the Red Sea, he refers to the defeat of Pharaoh earlier in the speech and even in a context that, as we have seen, might be viewed as an implicit comparison of Constantine with Moses. As Girardet has argued, the speech was probably also sent out as a circular letter to all bishops in Constantine’s part of the empire and therefore also translated into Greek at the same occasion in order to address congregations in places such as South Italy and Sicily. [19] If the speech had received such a wide distribution, Eusebius could have learned about it as he composed the ninth book of the Ecclesiastical History. [20] Eusebius’ comparison of Constantine’s victory at the Milvian Bridge with the battle at the Red Sea might thus develop a potential in Constantine’s own speech. [21] However, while Constantine would probably approve Eusebius’ comparison in the Ecclesiastical History (and perhaps even regret that he had not developed it himself), I shall argue that not all Eusebius’ parallels between Constantine and Moses in the Life of Constantine would play Constantine’s game. On the contrary, some of Eusebius’ parallels might be read as an attempt to turn Constantine’s own Moses propaganda upside down.

Revisiting the Use of Moses in the Life of Constantine

Eusebius’ portrait of Constantine in the Life of Constantine has often been seen as only an encomiastic portrait of the deceased emperor, and several of his comparisons with Moses in the Life of Constantine are certainly flattering. The comparison known from the Ecclesiastical History between Constantine’s victory over Maxentius and the defeat of Pharaoh is for instance turned into an even more complimentary comparison, since Eusebius now compares Constantine explicitly to Moses (VC 1.39.1). Also Eusebius’ portrait of Constantine’s childhood told in close connection to Moses’ upbringing (VC 1.12.1–2) seems to be written by a servile panegyrist. Thus, Eusebius claims that Moses’ youth resembles the youth of Constantine, since Constantine, like Moses, “sat at the tyrant’s hearth, yet though still young he did not share the same morality as the godless” [22] (VC 1.12.2). Very little is known about Constantine’s involvement at Diocletian’s court and his role in the great persecution. The fact, however, that Constantine was present at Diocletian’s court during the persecution may have given rise to Christian criticism. Thus, Constantine seems to make an effort to dissociate himself from the persecutors when, in a letter against polytheistic worship which Eusebius included in the Life of Constantine, he stresses that he was just a boy (VC 2.51.1) when the persecution began—even though he may have been about thirty. [23] In his comparison of Constantine’s presence at Diocletian’s court to Moses’ stay at the court of Pharaoh, Eusebius also seems to acquit Constantine of blame. Like the Constantinian letter, in his own narrative Eusebius stresses that Constantine was still young when he sat at the tyrants’ hearth like Moses, whom Eusebius claims was still in his infancy (VC 1.12.1). [24] And just as the book of Exodus implicitly describes Moses as being in opposition to Pharaoh’s policy, since Moses observed the Hebrews’ toil and struck down one of the Egyptians who was beating one of the Hebrews, [25] so Constantine, says Eusebius, conducted himself in the same way as Moses (VC 1.19.1). Just as Moses withdrew from Pharaoh’s presence because Pharaoh sought to kill him as a result of his murder of the Egyptian, [26] so Constantine “sought his safety in flight, in this also preserving his likeness to the great prophet Moses” (VC 1.20.2). Constantine’s “flight” was due in part to the circumstance that those in power devised secret plots against him based on envy and fear, [27] since “the young man was fine, sturdy and tall, full of good sense” (VC 1.20.1). [28]
Eusebius does not, however, follow the lead of Constantine in all of his Moses parallels. Thus, for instance, his portrait of Constantine differs from Constantine’s self-portrait in the Oration to the Saints. In his description of Constantine’s miraculous vision before the battle with Maxentius, Eusebius claims that Constantine decided to venerate his father’s God (VC 1.27.3) though Constantine claims that he had not been raised a Christian (Oration to the Saints 11). [29] Eusebius probably changed this, because he wanted to enhance the parallel between Constantine’s vision and Moses’ vision in Exodus 3:6 where God identifies himself to Moses as “the God of your father.” [30] But there may also be another and more important reason for the change, namely Eusebius’ wish to turn Constantine into a convenient model for his own sons. As most scholars agree, the Life of Constantine should probably be read as a “mirror for princes.” Perhaps Eusebius, who had recently hymned Constantine (as he himself notes in the very first lines of the work, cf. VC 1.1.1), might even have planned to take the liberty to present copies of his Life of Constantine to the new Augusti. [31] In presenting to Constantine’s sons a portrait of their father as a Christian emperor, Eusebius was in the privileged position that such a portrait was without precedent. Thus he was in a sense free to claim a particular action as characteristic of a Christian emperor and thereby bring his influence to bear on what did and did not fall within the sphere of Christianity. [32] When Eusebius implicitly claims that Constantine had been raised as a Christian and that he turned to his “father’s God” at a crucial point in his career, Eusebius has probably the three brothers Augusti in mind. Thus, in Eusebius’ version, the scene is laid for Constantine’s sons imitating their father (like Constantine, cf. VC 1.12.3) in order for them to adhere to the God of their father.
Actually, however, Eusebius’ use of the figure of Moses seems somewhat misplaced in this context, since Christians hitherto had used the figure of Moses to argue against succession through descent. In his homilies on Numbers (22.4.1–2), Origen, for instance, praises Moses because he did not pray to God in order to have his own kin appointed leaders of the people. The interpretation seems to derive from Philo’s Life of Moses, which Eusebius had probably used as an inspiration for some of his comparisons between Constantine and Moses. Thus in the famous passage of the Life of Moses where God requites Moses the kingship of the Hebrews, Philo keenly stresses that Moses subdued his natural affection for his own sons and avoided promoting them as his heirs (Life of Moses 1.150). Eusebius could hardly have failed to notice the telling difference between Constantine’s and Moses’ attitude to dynasties. While Philo seems to reproduce and imitate a Roman aristocratic and senatorial opposition to dynasties probably in polemical contrast to the degeneracy of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Eusebius, by contrast, flatteringly describes Constantine’s sons as “new lamps” (VC 1.1.3) and “as virtuous and God-beloved sons” (VC 2.19.3) who succeeded Constantine by law of nature (VC 1.9.2). Despite these panegyrical titles, the Life of Constantine reflects a latent sense of unease concerning the continuation of the Roman Empire under the direction of the new Augusti. Thus, for instance, Eusebius took pains to stress that the Augusti had really been instructed in “godly piety” by Constantine himself:
Sometimes he [Constantine] encouraged them [his sons] while they were with him with personal admonitions to copy him and taught them to make themselves imitators of his godly piety. Sometimes when communicating with them in their absence about imperial matters he would express his exhortations in writing, the greatest and most important of these being that they should prize the knowledge of God the King of all and devotion to him above all wealth and even above Empire. By now he had also given them authority to take action for the public good by themselves, and he urged them that one of their prime concerns should be the Church of God, instructing them to be frankly Christian.
VC 4.52.1–2
The agreement between this passage and the introduction to the Life of Constantine is rather significant. At the beginning of the work, Eusebius provided the reader with the basic threads of the work, namely the contrast between Constantine and his rivals and the likeness between the life of Constantine and the lives of the God-beloved men as recorded in Scripture—in particular, the life of Moses. Here Constantine is claimed to be a present “example to all mankind of the life of godliness” (VC 1.3.4) and “a lesson in the pattern of godliness to the human race” (VC 1.4.1). By claiming agreement between how Constantine had presented himself to his sons and the way Eusebius now presents him to “all mankind,” Eusebius probably hoped to oblige the Augusti to comply with his picture of their father. For if they would choose another line of action than suggested in Eusebius’ portrait of Constantine, they would find themselves in conflict with the way they had purportedly been instructed by their own father. From the biblical narratives, Eusebius would know that succession through descent was a difficult undertaking. However, by reusing Constantine’s comparison with Moses, Eusebius was able to stress that good kingship was not based on descent, but on godliness. Ironically, Eusebius pays Constantine back in his own coin, so to speak. For just as Constantine used Moses to control the bishops, so Eusebius uses the same figure to promote his own view of how Constantine’s sons should rule.

Constructing a Christian Dynasty

As H. A. Drake reminds us in his Constantine and the Bishops, praise is a means of control, and panegyrics could be an effective “means of indicating the actions that would delegitimize an emperor.” [33] Far from being innocent analogies, Eusebius’ comparison of Constantine and Moses represents a wish to influence the Constantinian dynasty by controlling and defining the imperial role and by presenting an imperial model that the Christian bishops could support. According to Eusebius, a Christian emperor would, for instance, “shut himself at fixed times each day in secret places within his royal palace chambers, and would converse with his God alone with the alone (monos monôi, VC 4.22.1)” [34] and in so doing, he would imitate Moses whom the Lord used to speak with “face to face (enôpios enôpiôi), as if someone should speak to his own friend.” [35] Though Neoplatonists such as Numenius and Plotinus had also used the expression monos monôi in relation to their metaphysics and mystical philosophy, [36] I find it more likely that Eusebius may have alluded to Exodus 33:11, given the fact that Philo also rephrases the same biblical passage in this way (Life of Moses 1.294; 2.163). [37]
Also Eusebius’ emphasis on the close affinity between piety and philanthropy in government seems to construct an imperial portrait characteristic of a Christian emperor. As is well known, Eusebius puts great emphasis on piety in the Life of Constantine. According to Eusebius, Constantine’s physical bearing was indicative of his piety: “his fear and reverence for God [. . .] was shown by his eyes, which were cast down, the blush on his face, his gait, and the rest of his appearance” (VC 3.10.4). His piety led him to write statutes forbidding private sacrifice and favoring the building of churches (VC 2.45.1–2) and to repeal a law that had forbidden childless couples to inherit property (VC 4.26.2). He piously acknowledged God as the author of victory at his adventus into Rome (VC 1.39.3, see also 1.41.1–2, 46; 2.19.2; 3.72; 4.19); and at the end of the work, Eusebius claims that no other Roman emperor could be compared with him in exceeding godly piety (VC 4.75). In close connection with Constantine’s piety, Eusebius also stresses his philanthropy. According to Eusebius, Constantine:
[. . .] traveled every virtuous road and took pride in fruits of piety (eusebeias) of every kind. By the magnanimity of his helpful actions he enslaved those who knew him, and ruled by humane (philanthrôpias) laws, making his government agreeable and much prayed for by the governed.
VC 1.9.1
Similarly, Eusebius later claims that Constantine’s decrees were not only full of philanthropy: they were also a token of his piety towards God (VC 2.20.1). In sum, philanthropy is said to have been Constantine’s most conspicuous quality (VC 4.54.1).
Though both virtues are, of course, stock virtues in encomiastic literature of antiquity, the insistence on the close affinity between them cannot be found in other ancient writers such as, for instance, Plutarch, who is otherwise well known for his extensive reference to philanthropy. [38] In his insistence on the centrality of these virtues in government, Eusebius probably again constructs Constantine as a new Moses. Indeed, Philo had also singled out Moses as the one who has embodied both virtues to the highest degree. [39] According to Philo, piety and philanthropy are the queens of virtue (On the Virtues 95) and Philo stresses time and again how essential they are to the Mosaic legislation (On the Virtues 51–174). [40] Thus, in the Life of Moses, he claims that Moses was the most pious of men ever born (Life of Moses 2.192; see also 1.198; 2.66); and, as for philanthropy, Philo asserts that Moses was the best of all lawgivers in all countries (Life of Moses 2.12) because he acquired all the legislative virtues, among which philanthropy is the one mentioned first (Life of Moses 2.9). In the inquiry devoted to philanthropy in On the Virtues (51–174), which Philo regarded as a supplement to the Life of Moses (On the Virtues 52), he also stresses the connection between philanthropy and piety. Thus Moses:
[. . .] perhaps loved her [philanthropy] more than anyone else has done, since he knew that she was a high road leading to piety, [and he accordingly] used to incite and train all his subjects to fellowship, setting before them the monument of his own life like an original design to be their beautiful model.
On the Virtues 51 [41]
Eusebius and Philo also both employ topoi typical of philanthropy, for instance the sparing of the lives of prisoners of war (Life of Constantine 2.10.1, 13.1–2, Life of Moses 1.249). [42] In addition, like Philo, Eusebius adds to the classical definition of philanthropy the idea of the king’s kindness toward widows and orphans. [43] Eusebius’ repeated references to Constantine’s gifts to the poor, widows, and orphans thus resemble Philo’s emphasis on the benefit of Moses’ philanthropic legislation for the needy and unfortunate. For both authors, such generosity is equated with piety and philanthropy (On the Virtues 90–95, Life of Constantine 1.43.1–3; 2.20.1). [44]
In his use of Philo’s figure of Moses as a model for his own portrait of Constantine, Eusebius shows himself to be more like an independent biographer than a servile eulogist. By using Philo’s Life of Moses as an inspiration for his idealized portrait of Constantine as a Christian emperor, Eusebius revises Constantine’s Moses propaganda in order to influence those with influence at court—not least Constantine’s sons themselves.


As we have seen, Constantine himself already appeals to Moses and the Exodus narratives in his Oration to the Saints. Eusebius was accordingly not the first to compare Constantine and Moses; on the contrary, the comparison probably came into being in Constantine’s own propaganda machine. Eusebius, however, not only reproduces the propaganda, he also adapts the comparison to his own agenda. Thus, whereas Constantine used the comparison to issue a subtle warning to his audience of bishops concerning their divisive behavior, Eusebius, by contrast, focuses on the similarities between Constantine and Moses in order to control and define the character of the Constantinian dynasty.
In addition to the figure of Moses, the Life of Constantine also offers other comparisons with heroes of myth and history as is typical of the genre of the basilikos logos. Thus, Eusebius contrasts Constantine with Cyrus and Alexander the Great (VC 1.7–9) [45] and later with the rivals from whom he had delivered the empire (VC 3.1–3). [46] Apart from the tetrarchs who as Constantine’s rivals could hardly be ignored, Eusebius did not compare Constantine with Roman emperors before him such as Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius, who all featured in Late Antique panegyric. [47] In this way, Eusebius divorced Constantine “almost entirely from the society which seemed to have produced him.” [48] By consigning the history of imperial Rome to oblivion, Eusebius claims that a new beginning has taken place. Constantine and his dynasty were more on a par with Moses than with their Roman predecessors. Symptomatically, even when Eusebius ends the Life of Constantine with a brief comparison with “all the Roman emperors,” he actually once again compares Constantine with Moses:
He [Constantine] alone of all the Roman emperors has honoured God the All-sovereign with exceeding godly piety [. . .] and surely he alone has deserved in life itself and after death such things as none could say has ever been achieved by any other among either Greeks or barbarians, or even among the ancient Romans, for his like has never been recorded from the beginning of time until our day.
VC 4.75
Compared with the Greeks, the barbarians and even the ancient Romans, Constantine was, so Eusebius flatteringly asserts, without peer; and yet, the message of the Life of Constantine is that Constantine was only second to none, because he actually followed in the footsteps of a figure equal to himself, namely Moses. [49]

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Veldhuizen, M. V. 1985. “Moses: A Model of Hellenistic Philanthropia.” Reformed Review 38:215–224.
Vigna, G. S. 1980. The Influence of Epideictic Rhetoric on Eusebius of Caesarea’s Political Theology. Unpublished dissertation. Northwestern University. Evanston.
Williams, M. S. 2008. Authorised Lives in Early Christian Biography. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge.
Winkelmann, F. 1964. “Die Beurteilung des Eusebius von Cäsarea und seiner Vita Constantini im griechischen Osten: Ein Beitrag zur Untersuchung der griechischen hagiographischen Vitae Constantini.” In Byzantinische Beiträge, ed. J. Irmscher, 91–119. Berlin.
Winston, D. 1984. “Philo’s Ethical Theory.” Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II.21.1:372–416.


[ back ] 1. The present article reproduces parts of a chapter in my forthcoming book, Damgaard 2013.
[ back ] 2. Cameron and Hall 1999:35.
[ back ] 3. Rapp 2005:130. Of the four books that constitute the Life of Constantine, the comparison between Constantine and Moses is most pronounced in the first book and the beginning of the second book. In the latter half of the second book, the nature of the work changes radically. Whereas hitherto the work has comprised a narrative with next to no documentary evidence, more than half of the remaining work contains documents with only a minimum of narrative to link them. Since these documents are now usually accepted as mostly or entirely genuine (cf. Jones and Skeat 1954:196–200, Cameron and Hall 1999:16–21), we may assume that Eusebius did not shape the latter half of the work to the same degree as the first half. This may explain why the explicit comparison between Constantine and Moses fades out at this point of the narrative. Whether this be due to Eusebius’ primary commitment to bring documentary evidence or because of the unfinished character of the Life of Constantine (Pasquali’s thesis that Eusebius died before finishing the Life of Constantine and that the unfinished work was published by an unknown editor has long been adopted by most scholars, cf. Pasquali 1910) or simply because he ran out of steam, we cannot say. It may also be that Eusebius simply left it for his readers to decide. Since the readers have been presented with the comparison between Constantine and Moses in the first half of the work, they are in a sense made susceptible to such reasoning and may find themselves continuing keying Constantine to Moses as the (sporadic) narrative proceeds. Thus, for instance, just as Moses became occupied with internal threats immediately after the exodus event (Exodus 15:24), so in Eusebius’ own narrative, Constantine had to deal with the rumblings of the later internal Christian dissension, the Easter dispute and the Arian controversy. Also the account of Constantine’s death seems to be wholly consistent with the narratives of the death of Moses. Both Moses and Constantine are depicted as enjoying good health prior to their death and as being of advanced age (VC 4.53, Deuteronomy 34:7) and both deliver a kind of farewell speech before dying, since they know that their death is approaching (VC 4.55.2–3, Deuteronomy 1:1–33:29); they are, of course, mourned (VC 4.65–67, Deuteronomy 34:8) and, more importantly both narratives conclude unanimously by claiming that its protagonist was without a peer (VC 4.75, Deuteronomy 34:10–12).
[ back ] 4. Cameron and Hall 1999:37.
[ back ] 5. Cameron 1997:161.
[ back ] 6. Hollerich 1989b:81; see also Hollerich 1989a:425.
[ back ] 7. Inowlocki 2007:244. Inowlocki relies on the work of Gilbert Dagron, who has argued that Eusebius was reluctant to present the emperor as a “universal bishop” by signalling the title as metaphorical by a “like” and emptying the words of its institutional sense (VC 1.44.1), cf. Dagron 1996:133–134.
[ back ] 8. I shall follow Mark Edwards 2003 and refer to the speech as the Oration to the Saints.
[ back ] 9. Dörries 1954:129–161, Barnes 2001:26–36, Edwards 2003:xviii–xxii.
[ back ] 10. Edwards 2003:xxii.
[ back ] 11. Translations of Constantine’s Oration to the Saints are from Edwards 2003.
[ back ] 12. Note that this is in contrast to Raymond Van Dam who has recently claimed that: “Unlike Eusebius, Constantine had not promoted Moses as a biblical paradigm for his imperial rule” (Van Dam 2011:81).
[ back ] 13. Williams 2008:29.
[ back ] 14. Williams 2008:28.
[ back ] 15. I Co 10:5; cf. Heb 3:16–19.
[ back ] 16. According to Schwartz, book 9 and the beginning of book 10 (including the Constantinian documents) were composed in 315 (Schwartz 1909:lviii); Louth and Barnes argue for 313 or 314 (Louth 1990:123; Barnes 1980:201).
[ back ] 17. Girardet 2007:78. Edwards has also argued for an early date of delivery (Edwards 2003:xxix). See also Kurfess 1950:164–165.
[ back ] 18. Giradet 2007:76–77; Edwards 2003:xxviii–xxix.
[ back ] 19. Girardet 2007:79.
[ back ] 20. The speech was not the only document that Eusebius had obtained a copy of quickly. As normally pointed out, the six Constantinian documents that he quotes in book 10 of the Ecclesiastical History may also have had a rapid transmission. If book 9 was composed at the same time as the beginning of book 10, such as Schwartz argued, Eusebius may have received the speech together with the other Constantinian documents. Concerning the provenance of Eusebius’ copies of the six Constantinian documents and their translation, see Carotenuto 2002:56–71.
[ back ] 21. Just as Constantine does in the speech (Oration to the Saints 22), Eusebius also calls Maxentius a tyrant, and in so doing Eusebius recasts Maxentius as a new pharaoh (compare Ecclesiastical History 9.9.4 and 9.9.8). Concerning Eusebius’ use of the Greek word tyrannos as reflecting Constantinian propaganda, see Barnes 2011:55 and Grünewald 1990:68–69.
[ back ] 22. Unless otherwise noted translations of the Life of Constantine are from Cameron and Hall 1999.
[ back ] 23. Barnes 1982:39–42. T. G. Elliott suggests that Constantine was already a Christian during the persecution and lied about his age in order to avoid answering embarrassing questions about the way in which he, as a Christian, had escaped from the court of Diocletian (Elliott 1987:425–427). See now Barnes 2011:46–60.
[ back ] 24. Eusebius gives Constantine’s correct age at his death, namely 64 (VC 4.53, see also 1.5). This age is, however, in direct opposition to the age given here in the VC 1.12.1–2 and in 1.19.1 (and the age Constantine himself gives in the VC 2.51.1), where he makes Constantine younger than he actually was. The emphasis on youth at the accession and advanced age at the death are both panegyrical topoi.
[ back ] 25. Exodus 2:11–12 LXX.
[ back ] 26. Exodus 2:15.
[ back ] 27. It seems not improbable that Galerius, the junior Augustus to Constantius after May 1, 305, would have wanted to prevent Constantius’ son from leaving Nicomedia and joining his father (cf. Cameron and Hall 1999:198). See also Lactantius’ story of Constantine’s wild escape, On the Deaths of the Persecutors 24.5–6. Since Constantine (together with Maxentius) had surprisingly been passed over in May 305 when Severus and Maximinus were named Caesars, he may have been seen as a potential threat to the new settlement. Eusebius, however, obscures any sign of ambition on Constantine’s part and claims that it was God who revealed the danger to him and that God intended that Constantine should succeed his father (VC 1.20.2)
[ back ] 28. In his description of Constantine’s character, Eusebius claims that he himself had known Constantine as one with “an imperial quality of mind” (VC 1.19.1) when he travelled through Palestine in the company of Diocletian (apparently in 301–302). Moreover, Eusebius portrays Constantine as: “In handsome physique and bodily height no other could bear comparison with him; in physical strength he so exceeded his contemporaries as even to put them in fear; he took pride in moral qualities rather than physical superiority, ennobling his soul first and foremost with self-control, and thereafter distinguishing himself by the excellence of his rhetorical education, his instinctive shrewdness and his God-given wisdom” (1.19.2). Eusebius’ portrait is one of the ideal emperor where inner virtue is reflected in the outward appearance.
[ back ] 29. In the Latin Panegyrics, Constantius is also presented as a pagan, see Latin Panegyrics 6(7).3.3–4 (from the year 307) and Latin Panegyrics 9(12).25 (from the year 313). On Constantius’ religion, see also Cameron 2006:22–23.
[ back ] 30. The change is somewhat inconsistent, since Constantine is said to be unacquainted with the cross in VC 1.32. As H. A. Drake has argued, Eusebius’ concern here seems to be to make Constantine dependent on “those expert in his words” (VC 1.32.1), namely the bishops or clergy (Drake 2000:391).
[ back ] 31. If he had such a plan, he died before carrying it into effect. Eusebius praises Constantine’s sons mainly in the introduction and conclusion to the work, see VC 1.1.3, 2.19.3, and 4.68–72. See also 4.51–52 for an account of their preparation for succession. The Life of Constantine seems to have been generally unknown in the fourth century and does not appear in Jerome’s list of Eusebius’ works (cf. Winkelmann 1964:91–119). As Cameron notes, the glories and the details of Constantine’s life and acts were soon past history, since there was no particular need for verification and no particular interest in this type of work under Constantius II (Cameron 1983:87).
[ back ] 32. As several scholars have pointed out, Eusebius may have worked energetically in the Life of Constantine to establish the rightness of his own cause and to claim imperial support for it (cf. Barnes 1981:269–270, Cameron 1997:166–168). Thus, according to Barnes and Cameron, Eusebius’ account of the Arian controversy and the Council of Nicaea (VC 2.61–3.24) was designed to conceal any hint of Eusebius’ own recent condemnation and his subsequent change of heart. Cameron and Barnes also call attention to the fact that Eusebius omits any reference to the change in Constantine’s stance later in the reign when the exiles of Nicaea were recalled and the baptism of Constantine by Eusebius of Nicomedia whom he had earlier exiled took place (4.41–42, 61).
[ back ] 33. Drake 2000:68.
[ back ] 34. Translation slightly modified.
[ back ] 35. Exodus 33:11 LXX. (Translations of LXX-Exodus are by Perkins 2007.) Interestingly, Johnson has argued that Eusebius uses the phrase enôpios enôpiôi in the Eclogae Propheticae (General Elementary Introduction) to lessen the spiritual level of Moses (Johnson 2006:118).
[ back ] 36. Numenius uses the phrase in a fragment that is actually preserved by Eusebius himself in his Praeparatio Evangelica 11.22.1: “Thus, far from the visible world, must he commune with the Good, being alone with the alone (monôi monon), far from man, or living being, or any body, small or great, in an inexpressible, indefinable, immediately divine solitude. There, in radiant beauty, dwells the Good, brooding over existence in a manner which though solitary and dominating, is both peaceful, gracious and friendly” (English translation: Guthrie 1987). Plotinus uses the phrase in his Enneads I 6.7: “So we must ascend again to the good, which every soul desires. Anyone who has seen it knows what I mean when I say that it is beautiful. It is desired as good, and the desire for it is directed to good, and the attainment of it is for those who go up to the higher world and are converted and strip off what we put on in our descent; [. . .] until, passing in the ascent all that is alien to the God, one sees with one’s self alone That alone, simple, single and pure, from which all depends (heôs an tis parelthôn en têi anabasei pan hoson allotrion tou theou autôi monôi auto monon idêi eilikrines, haploun, katharon, aph’ hou panta exêrtêtai) and to which all look and are and live and think: for it is cause of life and mind and being” (English translation: Armstrong 1966, my emphasis).
[ back ] 37. Later Gregory of Nazianzus did also rephrase Exodus 33:11 LXX in this way in his On Virtues (Carmina–502).
[ back ] 38. I have only found one reference in which Plutarch mentions philanthropy and piety in close connection, namely in his On the Fortune of Alexander. In enumerating Alexander’s virtues, Plutarch mentions among other things philanthropy and piety, but does not link them in any substantial way (Plutarch Moralia 342F). On philanthropy in the writings of Plutarch, see Hirzel 1912:23–32, Ruiter 2004:824–839, Hubert 1961:164–175.
[ back ] 39. See also Veldhuizen 1985:215–224.
[ back ] 40. For Philo’s use of piety and philanthropy, see for instance Sterling 2006:103–123, Winston 1984:372–416.
[ back ] 41. Translations of On the Virtues are from Colson 1939 (here slightly modified).
[ back ] 42. The typical topoi of philanthropy are treated in the third-century treatise on epideictic rhetoric attributed to Menander of Laodicea. The treatise recommends dealing with the virtue of philanthropy in relation to the victories of the emperor suggesting the author of a basilikos logos to write that, “Justice is a portion of his philanthropy: for when victorious, the emperor did not repay the aggressors in kind, but divided his actions in just proportion between punishment and humanity; having done what he thought enough to chastise, and having stopped at this point out of humane feeling, he conceded that the relics of the race should be saved, partly in order that the remnant might remain as a memorial of what had befallen them, but partly also to demonstrate his philanthropy” (Menander Rhetor 374.27–375.4; English translation: Russell and Wilson 1981).
[ back ] 43. Goodenough 1938:94–95.
[ back ] 44. Gerald S. Vigna, who originally suggested that Eusebius depends on Philo in singling out piety and philanthropy as the main virtues in the Life of Constantine, argues that Constantine’s almsgiving should be situated within his kingly function rather than his duties as a Christian, since he couches it in traditional royal language by referring to him as a philanthropist and a benefactor and by using sun imagery (VC 1.43.1–3). It therefore seems likely that this motif should be seen in the light of Philo’s elucidation of Moses’ philanthropic legislation as much as in comparison with the Christian theology of almsgiving (Vigna 1980:125–126). Philo and Eusebius also use the same imagery of Moses and Constantine, speaking of them as people who cared for the orphaned in their father’s stead (On the Virtues 91, VC 1.43.2). See also Praeparatio Evangelica 8.14 where Eusebius quotes from Philo’s lost treatise on Providence to the effect that the title father was the most fitting for a king.
[ back ] 45. The comparison with Cyrus and Alexander the Great conforms entirely to conventional practice. They are both mentioned in the treatise on epideictic rhetoric attributed to Menander as appropriate subjects for comparison in the section devoted to the basilikos logos; see Menander Rhetor 371.3–10; 377.2–10. As such, the choice of Cyrus and Alexander as exemplars appears somewhat vapid. Perhaps they have been selected in order to exclude the history of imperial Rome, as Williams has suggested (Williams 2008:50).
[ back ] 46. Friedrich Focke notices in his excellent essays on synkrisis that comparison has almost become a mania in encomia. Thus, in the comparison between the tyrants and Constantine in the VC 3.1–3, Eusebius uses the pattern hoi men—ho de as many as fifteen times (Focke 1923:338).
[ back ] 47. Williams 2008:51. Eusebius does, however, mention Nero briefly in VC 1.10.2 and he makes a general and brief comparison with “all the Roman emperors” in VC 4.75 (see below).
[ back ] 48. Williams 2008:50.
[ back ] 49. Cf. Deuteronomy 34:10–12.