I’ve been reading two history books, one on the history of Christianity in Ethiopia, as well as Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine. I’ve often wondered why so many folks seem to be enthusiastic about studying ancient Greek and Roman history. I have a friend who has read probably a hundred books on the subject and can name all the emperors, wars, bishops, dates, etc. My own education provided none of that and it is one area I’m attempting to patch up a bit. Next up is Eusebius.
As for the level of interest though, I think I have realized an important reason behind it. People study Rome because they CAN. Of all the hundreds of interesting cultures and civilizations in history, the Romans actually wrote everything down.
Constantine was converted to Christianity in 313 AD and we have tons of information about it – many volumes written by local historians, records of the laws he made, even quite a few of his own personal letters.
In parallel, the emperor of Ethiopia was also converted around 330 AD. What do we know about him though and what he did? Almost nothing. One of the few clues we have that it even happened is that he changed the pagan moon and star symbol on the local currency to that of a cross. Archeologists have also dug up some old churches from soon after. That’s about it though – barely even enough to start filling things in with your imagination. Contrast that with the mounds of primary data we have about Rome during the exact same century.
In the book on Rome I am reading, the bibliography is thick. In the book on Ethiopia, the “bibliography” is largely a list of 100+ names of people that were interviewed by the author. At least half of his task was to just to sort through the legends and come to some sort of consensus before he could begin to comment on the past.
What will people in the distant future have to study our age? 100,000 hours of CNN on archive? Will everyone’s old blog still be floating around the cloud? I’d still like to put something in print.