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By John Julius Norwich

'He is brilliant...He writes just like the so much cultivated glossy diplomat connected via a freak of time to the Byzantine courtroom, with intimate wisdom, tactful judgment and a awareness of the surviving monuments' - "Independent". during this intriguing narrative historical past, John Julius Norwich, one in all so much entire renowned historians, finds the start of Byzantium. He tells of the 5 formative centuries of an empire that might enthrall the western international for greater than 11 hundred years.

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Soon after his death, too, we find his son, Constantius II, being assured by Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem that the sight of a cross, recently traced in the sky by meteors, was a greater grace even than the True Cross found by his grandmother Helena in the Holy Land; could the Bishop possibly have omitted to mention Constantine's vision had he known of it? Finally there is Eusebius's specific statement that 'the whole army . . witnessed the miracle'. If that were true, 98,000 men kept the secret remarkably well.

His father Constantius - nicknamed 'Chlorus', the Pale - was, already at the time of his son's birth, one of the most brilliant and successful generals in the Empire; his mother Helena was not, as the twelfth-century historian Geoffrey of Monmouth would have us believe, the daughter of Coel, mythical founder of Colchester and the Old King Cole of the nursery rhyme, but a humble innkeeper's daughter from Bithynia. Some historians have questioned whether she and Constantius were ever actually married; others, pagan and therefore 286 hostile to the family, have gone further still and suggested that as a girl she had been one of the supplementary amenities of her father's establishment, regularly available to his clients at a small extra charge.

Commanded the admiration of all who beheld him by the indications he gave, even then, of imperial greatness. 1 Two years later, we find Constantine as his master's right-hand man in another campaign against the Persians; and since during those years he seems seldom to have left Diocletian's side, we must assume that he witnessed, in 303, the deliberate burning of the newly completed cathedral at Nicomedia - the dramatic inauguration of those famous Persecutions that were to rage, scarcely controlled, for the next eight years.

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