The Blood of the Martyrs: The Attitudes of Pagan Emperors and Crowds Towards Christians, from Nero to Julian

Title: The Blood of the Martyrs: The Attitudes of Pagan Emperors and Crowds Towards Christians, from Nero to Julian
Authors: Miletti, Domenico
Date: 2016
Abstract: This MA thesis will discuss the reception of common, non-scholarly polytheists (pagans) to the persecution of Christians from the early empire until the Great Persecution (303-313, 322-324). Though modern scholars have addressed this issue and asserted that there was a change in attitude, many have not developed this into anything more than a passing statement. When chronologically analyzing the Christian acts, passions, letters, and speeches recounting the deaths of martyrs deemed historically authentic, and accounting for the literary and biblical topoi, we can demonstrate that the position of non-Christians changed. The methodology of this thesis will chronologically assess the martyr acts, passions, speeches, and letters which are historically accurate after literary and biblical topoi are addressed. These sources are available in the appendix. Throughout this analysis, we will see two currents. The primary current will seek to discern the change in pagan reception of anti-Christian persecution, while the second current will draw attention to the Roman concept of religio and superstitio, both important in understanding civic religion which upheld the pax deorum and defined loyalty to the Roman order through material sacrifices and closely connected to one's citizenship. Religio commonly denoted proper ritual practices, while superstitio defined irregular forms of worship which may endanger the state. As we will see, Christians were feared and persecuted because it was believed that their cult would anger the gods and disrupt the cosmological order. The analysis will begin with a discussion centered on the "accusatory" approach to the Christian church during the first two centuries when the Roman state relied on provincial delatores (denounces) to legislate against the cult. During the first two centuries persecution was mostly provincial, sporadic and was not centrally-directed. We will see that provincial mobs were the most violent during the first two centuries. During the third century the actions of the imperial authority changed and began following an "inquisitorial" approach with the accession of Emperors Decius and Valerian, the former enacting an edict of universal sacrifices while the latter undertook the first Empire-wide initiative to crush the Christian community. It is during the third century that the attitude of non-elite pagans may have begun to change. This will be suggested when discussing the martyrdom of Pionius. When discussing the fourth century Great Persecution under the Diocletianic tetrarchy, it will be suggested that the pagan populace may have begun to look upon the small Christian community sympathetically. The thesis will conclude with the victory of Constantine over Licinius and the slow but steady rise of Christianity to prominence, becoming the official religio of the empire with traditional paganism relegated to the status of a superstitio.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -