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Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine 4.36-4.37


In this famous passage from his biography of Constantine the Great, Eusebius directly quoted a letter he had received as bishop of Caesarea from the emperor. The letter probably dates from the late autumn of 335 C.E. or winter of 335-336 C.E. By then Eusebius had returned to Caesarea from Constantinople, where he delivered before Constantine in the Palace his speech on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, dedicated September, 335 C.E. (Life of Constantine 4.33). Constantine wrote Eusebius to order 50 special bibles (“Divine Scriptures”) for use by the churches of Constantinople, which were growing as the new capital flourished. The production of these copies apparently in multivolume sets of lavish codices would have been carried out at the Ecclesiastical Library of Caesarea.


… τὸ δὲ περὶ τῆς τῶν θείων ἀναγνωσμάτων ἐπισκευῆς ὧδέ πη περιέχει. “Νικητὴς Κωνσταντῖονς Μέγιστος Σεβαστὸς Εὐσεβίῶ. Κατὰ τὴν ἐπώνυμον ἡμῖν πόλιν τῆς τοῦ σωτῆρος θεοῦ συναιρομένης προνοίας μέγιστον πλῆθος ἀνθρώπων τῇ ἁγιωτάτῃ ἐκκλησίᾳ ἀνατέθεικεν ἑαυτό, ὡς πάντων ἐκεῖσε πολλὴν λαμβανόντων αὔξησιν σφόδρα ἄξιον καταφαίνεσθαι καὶ ἐκκλησίας ἐν αὐτῇ κατασκευασθῆναι πλείους. Τοιγάρτοι δέδεξο προθυμότατα τὸ δόξαν τῇ ἡμετέρᾳ προαιρέσει. πρέπον γὰρ κατεφάνη τοῦτο δηλῶσαι τῇ σῇ συνέσει, ὅπως ἂν πεντήκοντα σωμάτια ἐν διφθέραις ἐγκατασκεύοις εὐανάγνωστά τε καὶ πρὸς τὴν χρῆσιν εὐμετακόμιστα ὑπὸ τεχνιτῶν καλλιγάφων καὶ ἀκριβῶς τὴν τέχνην ἐπισταμένων γραφῆναι κελεύσειας, τῶν θείων δηλαδὴ γραφῶν, ὧν μάλιστα τήν τ’ ἐπισκευὴν καὶ τὴν χρῆσιν τῷ τῆς ἐκκλησίας λόγῳ ἀναγκαίαν εἶναι γινώσκεις. ἀπεστάλη δὲ γράμματα παρὰ τῆς ἠμετέρας ἠμερότητος πρὸς τὸν τῆς διοικήσεως καθολικόν, ὅπως ἁπάντα τὰ πρὸς ἐπισκευὴν αὐτῶν ἐπιτήδεια παρασχεῖν φροντίσειεν· ἵνα γὰρ ὡς τάχιστα τὰ γραφέντα σωμάτια κατασκευασθείη, τῆς σῆς ἐπιμελείας ἔργον τοῦτο γενήσεται. καὶ γὰρ δύο δημοσίων ⟨ὀχημάτων⟩ ἐξουσίαν εἰς διακομιδὴν ἐκ τῆς αὐθεντίας τοῦ γράμματος ἡμῶν τούτου λαβεῖν σε προσήκει. Οὕτω γὰρ ἂν μάλιστα τὰ καλῶς γραφέντα καὶ μέχρι τῶν ἡμετέρων ὄψεων ῥᾷστα διακομισθήσεται, ἑνὸς δηλαδὴ τοῦτο πληροῦντος τῶν ἐκ τῆς σῆς ἐκκλησίας διακόνων, ὃς ἐπειδὰν ἀφίκηται πρὸς ἠμᾶς, τῆς ἠμετέρας πειραθήσεται φιλανθρωπίας. Ὀ θεός σε διαφυλάξοι, ἀδελφὲ ἀγαπητέ.” Ταῦτα μὲν οὖν βασιλεὺς διεκελεύετο. αὐτίκα δ’ ἔργον ἐπηκολούθει τῷ λόγῳ, ἐν πολυτελῶς ἠσκημένοις τεύχεσιν τρισσὰ καὶ τετρασσὰ διαπεμψάντων ἡμῶν …1

Textual Note

Ed. Winkelmann 1991


… (A)nd the letter on the provision of Divine Readings goes as follows. “Victor Constantine Maximus Augustus to Eusebius. Through the sustaining Providence of God our Savior, it happens that great numbers have united themselves to the most Holy Church in the city which is called by my name. It seems, therefore, highly requisite, since that city is rapidly advancing in prosperity in all other respects, that the number of churches should also be increased. Do you, therefore, receive with all readiness my determination on this behalf. I have thought it expedient to instruct your Intelligence to order fifty volumes, leatherbound and ornate, to be written in a highly legible way, easy to carry for use, by skilled calligraphers, keenly knowledgable of their craft, copies that is of the Divine Scriptures, the provision and use of which you know are necessary for discourse in church. The catholicus of the diocese has also received instructions by letter from our Clemency to take care to furnish all things necessary for the preparation of such copies; and the task for your special oversight is to furnish the completed copies as quickly as possible. You are also authorized by virtue of this letter to use two of the public ⟨carriages⟩ for their conveyance, by which arrangement the copies, when fairly written, will most easily be forwarded for my personal inspection; and one of the deacons of your church may be entrusted with this service, who, on his arrival here, will enjoy my generosity. God protect you, dear brother!” So the emperor ordered these things, and work immediately followed his instruction, as we [sent] threes and fours in lavishly prepared volumes …2

Translation Note

Adapted from Cameron and Hill 1999

Discussion Note

The interpolation of “carriages” (ὀχημάτων) from Socrates of Constantinople, Theodoret of Cyrrus, and Gelasius of Cyzicus raises the question of how wheeled vehicles were to be used for the deacon’s delivery to Constantine. An overland journey up the Syrian coast and across Anatolia would have been long and arduous; perhaps a trip partly on roads and partly on sealanes was envisioned.

Works Cited

  • 1 Eusebius of Caesarea, Eusebius Werke I.1: Über das Leben des Kaisers Constantins, ed. Friedhelm Winkelmann, Repr. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter 2008, Die grieschischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte n.F. 7 (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1991), section: 4.36-4.37.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
  • 2 Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine, trans. Averil Cameron and Stuart G. Hill, Clarendon Ancient History Series (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), p: 166-167, 326-327.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record


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How to Cite This Entry

Eliana Yonan et al., “Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine 4.36-4.37,” in Caesarea Maritima: A Collection of Testimonia, entry published January 20, 2023,


Eliana Yonan et al., “Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine 4.36-4.37.” In Caesarea Maritima: A Collection of Testimonia, edited by Joseph L. Rife, Phillip I. Lieberman and David A. Michelson., edited by Joseph L. Rife et al.. Caesarea City and Port Exploration Project, 2023. Entry published January 20, 2023.

About this Entry

Entry Title: Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine 4.36-4.37

Authorial and Editorial Responsibility:

  • Joseph L. Rife, general editor, Vanderbilt University
  • Joseph L. Rife, Phillip I. Lieberman, and David A. Michelson, editors, Caesarea Maritima: A Collection of Testimonia
  • David A. Michelson, Daniel L. Schwartz, and William L. Potter, technical editors, “Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine 4.36-4.37
  • Eliana Yonan and Joseph L. Rife, entry contributors, “Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine 4.36-4.37

Additional Credit:

  • TEI encoding by William L. Potter
  • Electronic text added by Eliana Yonan
  • Testimonia identified by Joseph L. Rife
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