Special Episode – Disruption with David Potter

Disruption is at the heart of great changes in human society. How might we understand disruption? How can we recognise it? And just what historical precedents do we have for successful change? We sit down with Professor David Potter to examine just these kinds of questions!

David Potter is Francis W. Kelsey Collegiate Professor of Greek and Roman History and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan and has written extensively on the ancient world. In his latest book Disruption: Why Things Change, Professor Potter considers the disruption in Rome that reverberates today: the rule of Constantine and the relationship of Rome with the Christian Church.

Special Episode – Disruption with David Potter

The Disruption of Constantine

Setting the stage is the life and times of the Roman Emperor Constantine. He is famous for bringing Christianity into Roman imperialism in a way that would have been unthinkable to Romans of previous generations. Professor Potter takes us through some of the pivotal moments in Constantine’s rule. These are revealing for how Constantine builds towards consensus with Christian bishops.

What does this change look like to the Romans? How did the thinking about Christians change? What steps did Constantine take that separated him from the emperors that came before?

All this and more comes up for discussion in this episode.

Constantine the Great - Statue outside York. A man whose rule is defined by disruption.

Statue of Constantine at York. He became emperor in 306 CE in Roman Eboracum, now modern York.
This statue is a modern piece by the sculptor Philip Jackson and was unveiled in 1998. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Disruption as a Model for Action

One of the key threads in Potter’s book is that there are recognisable patterns for successful moments of disruption. A consideration of Constantine and Christianity in Rome is really just the tip of the iceberg with this text. Potter’s view extends beyond ancient Rome to consider the rise of Islam, the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment and French Revolution, as well as disruptive political theories such as those of Marx and Spencer.

What we see by taking a long view of history is that there’s room to consider disruption not just as a culmination of circumstances, but as a potentiality that can be tapped into.

Things to Listen Out for

  • The writer Eusebius’ enthusiasm for Constantine’s adoption of Christianity
  • The Donatist controversy in North Africa involving book burning
  • Constantine’s letter to the Praetorian Prefect
  • Julian’s Theodoric Neoplatonism!
  • The emperor Heraclius and the kings of Persia

Significant Works by Professor Potter

  • The Origin of Empire: Rome from the Republic to Hadrian
  • Constantine the Emperor
  • The Victor’s Crown: A History of Ancient Sport from Homer to Byzantium
  • Theodora: Actress, Empress, Saint
  • Disruption: Why Things Change
Disruption - Why Things Change by David Potter Book cover

Disruption: Why Things Change by David Potter

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Drs R and G laugh and spar their way through the ancient Roman world!

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