Emperors, Bishops, Art and Jurisprudence: The Transformation of Law in Eusebius of Caesarea

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This article analyses the collection and repurposing of legal documents in the early fourth century historical writings of Eusebius of Caesarea. Some of these individual documents have been the object of repeated study; others are largely neglected. But they are even more interesting, I suggest, when considered as a collective, as Eusebius’ careful editing reveals they were intended to be. This mobilisation of collated and embedded law was, I argue, the meeting of two separate wider trends that took off in this early fourth century watershed moment – the so-called late antique artistic aesthetic, and the gradually changing legal dynamic between government and governed. Eusebius used both as strategies to resist imperial dominance in the uncertain times in which he wrote. And by deliberately presenting the Christian elites of the church’s past as experts in both, he constructed an image of the bishop capable of going toe to toe with emperors. In doing so he anticipated the growing conflict between church and state in the centuries to come and the strategies it would employ.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-34
Number of pages23
Issue number1
Early online date24 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


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