Edict of Milan, a proclamation that permanently established religious toleration for Christianity within the Roman Empire. It was the outcome of a political agreement concluded in Milan between the Roman emperors Constantine I and Licinius in February 313. The proclamation, made for the East by Licinius in June 313, granted all persons freedom to worship whatever deity they pleased, assured Christians of legal rights (including the right to organize churches), and directed the prompt return to Christians of confiscated property. Previous edicts of toleration had been as short-lived as the regimes that sanctioned them, but this time the edict effectively established religious toleration.
Constantine the Great (Latin: Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus;, in Greek Κωνσταντίνος ο Μέγας, 27 February c. 272 in Niš, Serbia – 22 May 337), also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Constantine was the son of Flavius Valerius Constantius, a Roman army officer, and his consort Helena. His father became Caesar, the deputy emperor in the west in 293. Constantine was sent east, where he rose through the ranks to become a military tribune under the emperors Diocletian and Galerius. In 305, Constantius was raised to the rank of Augustus, senior western emperor, and Constantine was recalled west to campaign under his father in Britannia. Acclaimed as emperor by the army after his father’s death in 306, Constantine emerged victorious in a series of civil wars against the emperors Maxentius and Licinius to become sole ruler of both west and east by 324.
As emperor, Constantine enacted many administrative, financial, social, and military reforms to strengthen the empire. The government was restructured and civil and military authority separated. A new gold coin, the solidus, was introduced to combat inflation. It would become the standard for Byzantine and European currencies for more than a thousand years. The first Roman emperor to claim conversion to Christianity,[notes 4] Constantine played an influential role in the proclamation of the Edict of Milan, which decreed tolerance for Christianity in the empire. He called the First Council of Nicaea in 325, at which the Nicene Creed was professed by Christians.
Constantine—as the first Christian emperor—is a significant figure in the history of Christianity. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on his orders at the purported site of Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem, became the holiest place in Christendom. The Papacy claimed temporal power through Constantine. He is venerated as a saint by Eastern Orthodox Christians, Byzantine Catholics, and Anglicans. The Eastern churches hold his memory in particular esteem, regarding Constantine as isapostolos or equal-to-apostles.
Constantine Established the Roman Catholic Church
The facts are that Claudius Constantine established the Roman Catholic Religion in 325 AC (after Caesar). He was followed by Jerome who compiled and partly wrote the New Testament while changing many parts of the Old Testament to make the two line up. Many others have changed large parts of it since, The establishment of the Roman Catholic Church by Constantine is something the Church would rather cover up and never have it revealed. It took months, in fact years, of research to establish the facts. The conspiracy that followed its formation is but a small part of the intrigue and mystery that the religion stands on.
Born at Nis (York in England) in 280AD he was the son of Emperor Constantius and Helena. His history is mainly that of war, murder, intrigue and overthrow but this side of his character is overlooked because he supposedly resurrected Christianity. In fact what he did was to bring about the formation of the Roman Catholic Church.
Constantine I’s turn against Paganism evolved during Constantine I's reign, and went from the initial prohibition on the construction of new temples and the toleration of Pagan sacrifices, to orders for the pillaging and the tearing down of pagan temples by the end of his reign.[
Conversion to Christianity
According to Church historians writing after his death, Constantine converted to Christianity and was baptised on his deathbed, thus making him the first Christian emperor. There are no known contemporary documents that attest to an earlier intention to become a member of the Church.[
Ban on new temples, toleration of sacrifices
Constantine, though he made his allegiance clear, did not outlaw paganism; in the words of an early edict, he decreed that polytheists could “celebrate the rites of an outmoded illusion,” so long as they did not force Christians to join them. In a letter to the King of Persia, Constantine wrote how he shunned the “abominable blood and hateful odors” of pagan sacrifices, and instead worshiped the High God “on bended knee”, and in the new capital city he built, Constantine made sure that there were no pagan temples built. Constantine would sporadically prohibit public sacrifice and close pagan temples; very little pressure, however, was put on individual pagans, and there were no pagan martyrs.
Constantine dedicated Constantinople with two Neoplatonists and friends Sopater and Praetextus present at its dedication. A year and a half later after dedicating the City of Constantinople, on Monday 11 May 330, when the festival of Saint Mocius was celebrated, the city was finally dedicated. The goddess Tyche was invited to come and live in the city, and her statue was placed in the hand of the statue of the emperor that was on top of the Column of Constantine, on the Forum with the same name. Although by now Constantine openly supported Christianity, the city still offered room to pagan cults: there were shrines for the Dioscuri and Tyche. The Acropolis, with its ancient pagan temples, was left as it was. As for worshipping the emperor, Constantine’s mausoleum gave him a Christ-like status: his tomb was set amid 12 monuments, each containing relics of one of the Apostles. Constantine had continued to engage in pagan rituals. The emperor still claimed to be a supernatural being, although the outward form of this personality cult had become Christian.
According to some authors,Edict of Milan, showed that Constantine continued the policy of toleration that Galerius had established. He “continued to pay his public honors to the Sun”, until 325, on coins that showed him jointly with Sol Invictus, whereas his later coins showed the Chi-Rho sign. In that year he had the Christian Bishops convene at the First Council of Nicaea, and from then on continued to take an active interest in the affairs of the Church.
the issuing of the
Early coin of Constantine commemorating the pagan cult of Sol Invictus
A coin of Constantine (c.337) showing a depiction of his labarum(symbol of Chi Rho=Christ) spearing a serpent.(serpent=Paganism)
Many historians, including MacMullen, have seen the seeds of future persecution by the state in Constantine’s more belligerent utterances regarding the old religion. Other historians emphasize that de facto paganism “was tolerated in the period from Constantine to Gratian. Emperors were tolerant in deed, if not always in word.”
Church restrictions opposing the pillaging of pagan temples by Christians were in place even while the Christians were being persecuted by the pagans. Spanish bishops in AD 305 decreed that anyone who broke idols and was killed while doing so was not formally to be counted as a martyr, as the provocation was too blatant.
Constantine became the first Emperor in the Christian era to persecute specific groups of Christians, the Donatists, in order to enforce religious unity.
Eusebius outlines various edicts in which Constantine expressed his lack of support and at time disgust for act of sacrifice and idol worship. Eusebius tells us that while Constantine disposed their “shires of falsehood”, Constantine did not attempt to bring down any of the shrines or idols that populated various cities, including his new capital Constantinople. The historian T.D. Barnes makes multiple references to Eusebius’s work with by which Barnes attests that Constantine was heavily in favor of the banning of pagan worship. Instead of taking down pagan worship sites, Constantine chose to instead ban the erecting of more sites as well as expanding and funding the creation of more churches. Lastly in the text of Codex of Theodosianus out lined in Religious Conflicts of Fourth Century Rome it seems that Constantine outright bans the “madness of sacrifice.” Sacrifice is the cornerstone of the pagan religion and was necessary for worship. In this letter it is not clear whether it was issued by Constantine before or after his death, but it is addressed to his praetorian prefect. The problem with this interpretation of a more religiously zealous Constantine is the issue of his reign. Although Constantine is regarded as the first Christian emperor, this does not mean that there are no longer any pagans in the empire. The explosive growth of the Christian population and powerbase through the second and third century does indicate that Christian were now the dominant force of the empire. However that does not mean that Christian held a numerical advantage or a sufficient powerbase on which to draw on to begin a systematic persecution of pagans. To start a persecution after only a few years on the throne among a population of only recently demoted pagans in the East did not make sense. In addition there are various accounts that Constantine was still somewhat tolerant of the pagans. His earlier edict, the Edict of Milan, was changed to the Edict of the Provincials. The historian H. A. Drake points out that this edict, which called for peace and tolerance: “Let no one disturb another, let each man hold fast to that which his soil wishes…” Constantine never reversed this edict and Drake even goes as far as to believe Constantine may have been trying to create a society where to two religions merged peacefully. Regardless there is also evidence that Constantine did in fact erect several pagan worship sites. With the pagan historian Zosimus, we see that Constantine erected several statues of Apollo as well as other pagan gods. While it is clear that Constantine removed many pagans from office and replaced them with Christians as well as removing the requirement of sacrifice for imperial officers, Constantine seemed to only care about spreading his religion, not abolishing all others.
Legislation against magic and private divination
Constantine legislated against magic and private divination, but this was driven out of a fear that others might gain power through those means, as he himself had achieved power through the sound advice of Pagan soothsayers, convincing him of the perspicacity of Pagan prophecy. His belief in Pagan divination is confirmed by legislation calling for the consultation of augurs after an amphitheater had been struck by lightning in the year 320. Constantine explicitly allowed public divination as well as public Pagan practices to continue. Constantine also issued laws confirming the rights of flamens, priests and duumvirs. In 321 he showed some state support for the faith of the Invincible Sun by legislating that the venerable day of the sun should be a day of rest for all citizens. In the year 323, he issued a decree banning Christians from participating in state sacrifices
Pillaging and destruction of temples
During the course of his life he progressively became more Christian and turned away from any syncretic tendencies he appeared to favor at times and thus demonstrating, according to his biographers, that “The God of the Christians was indeed a jealous God who tolerated no other gods beside him. The Church could never acknowledge that she stood on the same plane with other religious bodies, she conquered for herself one domain after another”.
Even if Constantine had desired to Christianize the state, expediency dictated otherwise; it is estimated that Christians formed only a small portion of the population, being a fifth part in the West and the half of the population in a large section of the East.
Constantine had a complex attitude towards morality; he killed both his son and wife (the consensus view of ancient sources), destroyed the Temple of Aphrodite in the Lebanon, and ordered the summary execution of eunuch priests in Egypt because they transgressed his moral norms. According to the historian Ramsay MacMullen Constantine desired to obliterate non-Christians but lacking the means he had to be content with robbing their temples towards the end of his reign. He resorted to derogatory and contemptuous comments relating to the old religion; writing of the “true obstinacy” of the pagans, of their “misguided rites and ceremonial”, and of their “temples of lying” contrasted with “the splendours of the home of truth”.
The first episodes of persecution of Paganism in the Christan history of the Roman Empire started late in Constantine’s reign, with his orders for the pillaging and the tearing down of pagan temples.
Christian persecution of paganism under Constantius II, lasted from 337 till 361, and marked the beginning of the era of formal persecution against Paganism by the Christian Roman Empire, with the emanation of laws and edicts which punished Pagan practices.
From the 350s, new laws prescribed the death penalty for those who performed or attended Pagan sacrifices, and for the worshipping of idols; temples were shut down, and the traditional Altar of Victory was removed from the Senate. There were also frequent episodes of ordinary Christians destroying, pillaging, desecrating, vandalizing many of the ancient Pagan temples, tombs and monuments.
The harsh imperial edicts had to face the vast following of paganism among the population, and the passive resistance of many governors and magistrates. The anti-Pagan legislation, beginning with Constantius, would in time have an unfavourable influence on the Middle Ages and become the basis of the much-abused Inquisition.
Beginning of anti-Pagan laws
Initially, the power was a co-reign between of the three sons of Constantine the Great: Constantius II, Constantine II and Constans; but of the three,Constantius was the one which survived longer and made the most significant acts of persecution. The first episodes of discrimination and persecution, but without formal anti-Pagan laws, had started at the end of Constantine the Great’s reign, including pillaging and the torning down of some Pagan temples.
Constantius II’s actions instead will mark the beginning of the era of formal persecution and laws against Paganism by the Christian Roman Empire, with the emanation of edicts which legislated against Pagan practices like sacrifices. Constantius II was an unwavering opponent of paganism, his maxim was: “Cesset superstitio; sacrificiorum aboleatur insania” (Let superstition cease; let the folly of sacrifices be abolished).
According to Libanius Constantius was effectively under the control of others who inspired him to end pagan sacrifices.
With the collapse of official government sanctioned pagan rites, private cults attempted to infiltrate the temples. In the year 353 Constantius prohibited Pagan sacrifices under the penalty of death, shut down the temples, forbid access to them, and ended their subsidies of public taxes.
Constantius, sensing that he was now hated by many of his subjects, became suspicious and fearful and carried on an active campaign against magicians, astrologers and other diviners who might use their power to make someone else emperor.
The anti-Pagan legislation, beginning with Constantius, would in time have an unfavourable influence on the Middle Ages and become the basis of the much-abused Inquisition.
In spite of the some of the edicts issued by Constantius, it should be recognised that he was not fanatically anti-pagan – he never made any attempt to disband the various Roman priestly colleges or the Vestal Virgins, he never acted against the various pagan schools, and, at times, he actually made some effort to protect paganism. In fact, he even ordered the election of a priest for Africa. Also, he remained pontifex maximus until his death, and was deified by the Roman Senate after his death. The relative moderation of Constantius’ actions toward paganism is reflected by the fact that it was not until over 20 years after Constantius’ death, during the reign of Gratian, that any pagan senators protested their religion’s treatment.
These first anti-Pagan edicts could not be rigidly executed due the strength of paganism, which had a vast following among the population. No matter what the imperial edicts declared in their fearful threats, the vast numbers of pagans, and the passive resistance of pagan governors and magistrates rendered them largely impotent in their application; however the effects of policy were enough to contribute to a widespread trend towards Christian conversion, though not enough to make paganism extinct.
Persecution by ordinary Christians
Lobbying the Emperor
Official orders may have established an understanding that actual persecution would be tolerated, but in the first century of official Christianity it did not generally organize it; but its members did encourage the emperor to take even more extreme measures in their zeal to stamp out paganism, e.g. in the aftermath of the abolition of sacrifices.
Firmicus Maternus, a convert to Christianity, would urge: “Paganism, most holy emperors, must be utterly destroyed and blotted out, and disciplined by the severest enactments of your edicts, lest the deadly delusion of the presumption continue to stain the Roman world” and “How fortunate you are that God, whose agents you are, has reserved for you the destruction of idolatry and the ruin of profane temples.”
Constantius did not, apparently, attempt to stop the Christians from destroying and pillaging many of the ancient temples.
Due to the disturbances caused by Christians who were attempting to destroy ancient Pagan temples in the countryside, Constantius and his brother Constans were forced to issue a law for the preservation of the temples that were situated outside of city walls.
The desecration of Pagan tombs and monuments by Christians, however, apparently forced Constantius to enact another law that exacted a fine from those who were guilty of vandalizing them and placed the care of these monuments and tombs under the Pagan priests.[
Magnentius rebelled against and killed Constans. Although he used Christian symbols on his coins, he revoked the anti-pagan legislation of Constans and even permitted the celebration of nocturnal sacrifices. Three years later, in the year 353, Constantius defeated Magnentius and once again forbade the performance of the rituals. This law seems to have had little effect as we find Constantius once again legislating against Paganism in 356. Constantius now declared that anyone found guilty of attending sacrifices or of worshipping idols would be executed. It appears the magistrates were uncomfortable with carrying out this law; it was largely ignored.
Removal of the Altar of Victory
In 357 Constantius removed the Altar of Victory in the Senate house because of the complaints of some Christian Senators. This altar had been installed by Augustus in 29 BCE; each Senator had traditionally made a sacrifice upon the altar before entering the Senate house. This altar was later restored, either silently, soon after Constantius’ departure, or by the emperor Julian.
Christian persecution of paganism under Theodosius I
The Christian persecution of paganism under Theodosius I began in 381, after the first couple of years of his reign in the Eastern Roman Empire. In the 380s, Theodosius I reiterated Constantine’s ban on Pagan sacrifice, prohibited haruspicy on pain of death, pioneered the criminalization of Magistrates who did not enforce anti-Pagan laws, broke up some pagan associations and destroyed Pagan temples.
Between 389 and 391 he issued the “Theodosian decrees,” which established a practical ban on paganism; visits to the temples were forbidden, remaining Pagan holidays abolished, the eternal fire in the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum extinguished, the Vestal Virgins disbanded, auspices and witchcrafting punished. Theodosius refused to restore the Altar of Victory in the Senate House, as asked by Pagan Senators.
In 392 he became emperor of the whole empire (the last one to do so). From this moment until the end of his reign in 395, while Pagans remained outspoken in their demands for toleration, he authorized or participated in the destruction of many temples, holy sites, images and objects of piety throughout the empire. participated in actions by Christians against major Pagan sites. He issued a comprehensive law that prohibited any public Pagan ritual, and was particularly oppressive of Manicheans. He is likely to have suppressed the Ancient Olympic Games, whose last record of celebration is from 393.
Initial tolerance (379–381)
Theodosius I, who initially now reigning in the East, had been relatively tolerant towards Pagans in the early part of his reign.[a][b] He is known to have appointed various Pagans to office in the earlier part of his reign. For example, he appointed the Pagan Eutolmius Tatianus as the praetorian prefect of Egypt. For the first part of his rule, Theodosius seems to have ignored the semi-official standing of the Christian bishops; in fact he had voiced his support for the preservation of temples or pagan statues as useful public buildings. In his early reign, Theodosius was fairly tolerant of the pagans, for he needed the support of the influential pagan ruling class. However he would in time stamp out the last vestiges of paganism with great severity.
Theodosius I’s relative tolerance for other religions is also indicated by his later order (in 388) for the reconstruction of a Jewish synagogue at Callicinum in Mesopotamia.[c]
First attempts to inhibit paganism (381–388)
His first attempt to inhibit paganism was in 381 when he reiterated Constantine’s ban on sacrifice. In 384 he prohibited haruspicy on pain of death, and unlike earlier anti-pagan prohibitions, he made non-enforcement of the law, by Magistrates, into a crime itself.
Both Theodosius and Valentinian II formally recognized Maximus in the year 384. For a time, the Pagans enjoyed religious liberty once again and many distinguished Pagans rose to important offices in the state.[d] The fact that the temples continued to be cared for and that Pagan festivals continued to be celebrated is indicated by a law of 386, which declared that care for the temples and festivals were the exclusive prerogative of the Pagans. This law also confirms the right of the priests to perform the traditional Pagan rites of the temples. In the year 387, Theodosius declared war on Maximus after Maximus had driven Valentinian II out of Italy. Maximus was defeated and executed and the anti-Pagan regulations of Gratian were apparently reinstated by Valentinian II.
In 388 he sent a prefect to Syria, Egypt, and Asia Minor with the aim of breaking up pagan associations and the destruction of their temples. The Serapeum at Alexandria was destroyed during this campaign.
Theodosian decrees (389–391)
In a series of decrees called the “Theodosian decrees" he progressively declared that those Pagan feasts that had not yet been rendered Christian ones were now to be workdays (in 389).
In 391, he reiterated the ban of blood sacrifice and decreed “no one is to go to the sanctuaries, walk through the temples, or raise his eyes to statues created by the labor of man” (decree “Nemo se hostiis polluat”, Codex Theodosianus xvi.10.10). Also in the year 391, Valentinian II which was emperor in the West under the aegis of Theodosius, under the advice of Ambrose issued a law that not only prohibited sacrifices but also forbade anyone from visiting the temples. This again caused turbulence in the West. Valentinian II quickly followed this law with a second one, which declared that Pagan temples were to be closed, a law that was viewed as practically outlawing Paganism.
The emperor Theodosius, who had been reigning in the East, had been relatively tolerant towards Pagans in the early part of his reign. Theodosius dealt harshly with Arians, heretics and Christian apostates. Laws were directed against Christians who sought to convert back to the old religions and against private divination. He is known to have appointed various Pagans to office in the earlier part of his reign. For example, he appointed the Pagan Tatianus as the praetorian prefect of Egypt. His tolerance for other religions is indicated by his 388 order for the reconstruction of a Jewish synagogue at Callicinum in Mesopotamia, which had been destroyed by a bishop and his Christian flock.[c]
After the death of Maximus, Valentinian II, under the aegis of Theodosius, once again assumed the office of emperor in the West. Valentinian II, advised by Ambrose, and in spite of pleas from the Pagans, refused to restore the Altar of Victory to the Senate House, or their income to the priests and Vestal Virgins.
Valentinian was murdered, possibly by agents of Arbogast whom he had tried to dismiss, and Eugenius, a professor of rhetoric, was proclaimed emperor. The ancestral religious rites were once again performed openly and the Altar of Victory was restored.
The temples that were thus closed could be declared “abandoned”, as Bishop Theophilus of Alexandria immediately noted in applying for permission to demolish a site and cover it with a Christian church, an act that must have received general sanction, for mithraea forming crypts of churches, and temples forming the foundations of 5th century churches appear throughout the former Roman Empire.
By decree in 391, Theodosius ended the subsidies that had still trickled to some remnants of Greco-Roman civic Paganism too. The eternal fire in the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum was extinguished, and the Vestal Virgins were disbanded. Taking the auspices and practicing witchcraft were to be punished. Pagan members of the Senate in Rome appealed to him to restore the Altar of Victory in the Senate House; he refused.
The apparent change of policy that resulted in the “Theodosian decrees” has often been credited to the increased influence of Ambrose, bishop of Milan. In 390 Ambrose had excommunicated Theodosius, thereafter he had greater influence with a penitent Theodosius.
Only after what is commonly known as the “massacre” of Thessalonica (in 390) was Ambrose able to gain influence with Theodosius. Ambrose accomplished this by excommunicating Theodosius and thereby forcing him to obey him. Ambrose had a council of the Church condemn this act. Theodosius submitted himself to Ambrose and agreed to do penance. Theodosius’ penance apparently included his promise to adopt a new role as the champion of the Christian faith.
The excomunication was due to Theodosius orders which resulted in the massacre of 7,000 inhabitants of Thessalonica, in response to the assassination of his military governor stationed in the city, and that Theodosius performed several months of public penance.
Some modern historians question the consequences of the laws against pagans. The specifics of the decrees were superficially limited in scope, specific measures in response to various petitions from Christians throughout his administration . The punishment for venerating man-made pagan images was the forfeiture of an individual’s house. An individual’s punishment for sacrificing in temples or shrines was a fine of twenty-five pounds of gold
In the year 391 in Alexandria in the wake of the great anti-pagan riots “busts of Serapis which stood in the walls, vestibules, doorways and windows of every house were all torn out and annihilated…, and in their place the sign of the Lord’s cross was painted in the doorways, vestibules, windows and walls, and on pillars.”[32
War on paganism by Theodosius (392–395)
Rome was more pagan than Christian up until the 390s; Gaul, Spain and northern Italy, in all but the urban areas, were pagan, save Milan which remained half pagan.
In the year 392, Theodosius become Emperor of also the western part of the Roman Empire, the last emperor to rule over both. In the same year he officially began to proscribe the practice of Paganism. This was when he authorized the destruction of many temples throughout the empire.
Christian actions against major Pagan sites
Theodosius participated in actions by Christians against major Pagan sites: the destruction of the gigantic Serapeum by soldiers in 391, according to the Christian sources authorized by Theodosius (extirpium malum) needs to be seen against a complicated background of less spectacular violence in the city: Eusebius mentions street-fighting in Alexandria between Christians and non-Christians as early as 249, and non-Christians had participated in the struggles for and against Athanasius in 341 and 356. “In 363 they killed Bishop George for repeated acts of pointed outrage, insult, and pillage of the most sacred treasures of the city.” In 391 riots broke out between supporters of Theodosius’s Imperial Prefect and the supporters of the independent Patriarch of Alexandria as to who really governed in Alexandria; the rioters opposing the Patriarch took refuge in the Serapeum and used it as a fortress; when order was restored the prefect ordered it demolished so future rioters could not use it for the same purpose.
Repression of Pagan rituals, religio illicita
Theodosius issued a comprehensive law that prohibited the performance of any type of Pagan sacrifice or worship. Theodosius prohibited imperial palace officers and magistrates from honoring their Lares with fire, their Genius with wine, or their Penates with incense. Theodosius also prohibited the practice of all forms of divination, even those forms of divination that were not considered harmful to the welfare of the Emperor, with this wide-ranging law. The laws were particularly hard against the Manicheans who were deprived of the right to make wills or to benefit from them. Manicheans could be sought out by informers, brought to court and in some cases executed. Paganism was now proscribed, a “religio illicita”.
Repression from 393 till 395
In 393, Theodosius was ready to begin his war against Eugenius and Arbogastes. The battle that ensued became, in essence, a battle for the survival of Paganism. The defeat of Eugenius by Theodosius in 394 led to the final separation of Paganism from the state. Theodosius visited Rome to attempt to convert the Pagan members of the Senate. Being unsuccessful in this, he withdrew all state funds that had been set aside for the public performance of Pagan rites. From this point forward, state funds would never again be made available for the public performance of Pagan rites nor for the maintenance of the Pagan temples. Despite this setback on their religion, the Pagans remained outspoken in their demands for toleration. Many Pagans simply pretended to convert as an obvious instrument of advancement.
Theodosius was not the man to sympathise with the balancing policy of the Edict of Milan. He set himself steadfastly to the work of establishing Catholicism as the privileged religion of the state, of repressing dissident Christians (heretics) and of enacting explicit legal measures to abolish Paganism in all its phases.[p
Persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire
Constantine I turns against Paganism
The persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire began late during the reign of Constantine the Great, when he ordered the pillaging and the tearing down of some temples. The first anti-Pagan laws by the Christian state started with Constantine’s son Constantius II, who was an unwavering opponent of paganism; he ordered the closing of all pagan temples, forbade Pagan sacrifices under pain of death, and removed the traditional Altar of Victory from the Senate. Under his reign ordinary Christians started vandalizing many of the ancient Pagan temples, tombs and monuments.
From 361 till 375, Paganism was relatively tolerated, until three Emperors, Gratian, Valentinian II and Theodosius I, under Bishop of Milan Saint Ambrose's influence, reinstituted and escalated the persecution. Under pressure from the zealous Ambrose, Theodosius issued the infamous 391 “Theodosian decrees,” a declaration of war on paganism, the Altar of Victory was removed again by Gratian, the Vestal Virgins were disbanded, and access to Pagan temples was prohibited.
The first episodes of persecution of Paganism in the history of the Roman Empire started late in the reign of Constantine the Great, with his orders for the pillaging and tearing down of pagan temples;  earlier on his reign he had prohibited the construction of new temples but tolerated the practice of Pagan sacrifices.[1
Examples of the destruction of pagan temples in the late fourth century, as recorded in surviving texts, are:
- Martin of Tours' attacks on holy sites in Gaul,
- the destruction of temples in Syria by Marcellus,
- the destruction of temples and images in, and surrounding, Carthage,
- the ruination of the temple at Delphi.
- the Patriarch Theophilus who seized and destroyed pagan temples in Alexandria,
- the levelling of all the temples in Gaza
- and the wider destruction of holy sites that spread rapidly throughout Egypt.
This is supplemented in abundance by archaeological evidence in the northern provinces (for which written sources hardly survive) exposing broken and burnt out buildings and hastily buried objects of piety. The leader of the Egyptian monks who participated in the sack of temples replied to the victims who demanded back their sacred icons: “I peacefully removed your gods… there is no such thing as robbery for those who truly possess Christ.
After the last Ancient Olympic Games in 393, it is believed that either Theodosius I, or his grandson Theodosius II in AD 435, suppressed them. In the official records of the Roman Empire, the reckoning of dates by Olympiads soon came to an end.
Theodosius portrayed himself on his coins holding the
According to a Christian historian “Paganism was now dead”, though pagans survived and would continue to do so for another three centuries, mainly outwith the towns – “rustics chiefly — pagani.” Edward Gibbon wrote: “The generation that arose in the world after the promulgation of the Imperial laws was attracted within the pale of the Catholic Church: and so rapid, yet so gentle, was the fall of paganism that only twenty-eight years after the death of Theodosius the faint and minute vestiges were no longer visible to the eye of the legislator”
Arcadius & Honorius 395 Mar 13
Summary of document
Upon the death of Theodosius, Arcadius and Honorius have reviewed all laws passed with regard to heretics. They renew all punishments and penalties imposed on heretics. They rescind any concessions that have been made to any heretics. They re-condemn the Eunomians [who had been granted concessions on June 20, 394], and bar them from governmental service and from leaving or receiving an inheritance.
395 Mar 23
All laws previously enacted to benefit the Christian clergy are to be upheld.
395 Mar 30
Restatement of earlier laws: heretics may not assemble or appoint clergy.
395 July 3
All are to be reminded of the previous law [no longer extant] in which all pagan festival days are declared non-holidays.
395 Aug 7
No one is permitted to perform a pagan sacrifice. Everyone must hasten to obey the previously enacted laws about heretics and pagans. Governors and other officials who do not enforce this law will be punished and fined, and governors especially so. If members of the imperial staff are found disregarding this statue, they will face capital punishment.
395 Sept 3
Anyone who disagrees with the catholic Christian Church even on a minor point of doctrine is considered a heretic. This law specifically names Heuresius.
[Heuresius was a bishop in the Diocese of Asia. Pharr conjectures that he was involved in the Luciferian schism, but Coleman-Norton says he is unidentifiable.]
396 Feb 5
Local leaders and officials are not to be selected from the Alexandrian craft-guildsmen unless they are Christians.
396 Feb 28
No person outside of Judaism may set the prices for Jewish merchants. Those who do so are to be punished by local authorities.
396 Mar 3
All heretical assembly places are to be confiscated, and heretics driven out of Constantinople. They are forbidden to enter the city for the purpose of gathering. If this occurs even in a private house, the penalty was a fine of 100 pounds of gold.
396 Mar 23
Christians who became guilty of idolatry are not allowed to bequeath property in their wills to anyone other than parents, siblings, children, or grandchildren.
396 Apr 21
Eunomian authors and teachers are to be exiled from their municipalities. Their property and meeting places are to be confiscated.
396 Apr 24
Anyone who publicly makes insulting mention of the Illustrious patriarchs is subject to punishment.
[These patriarchs were Jewish leaders of the day, not the Biblical figures.]
396 Dec 7
Any privileges granted in ancient law to pagan priests and leaders are abolished. They cannot claim to have privileges, because their profession is now condemned.
397 Jan 31
The privileges granted to churches, and especially to the church of Rome, are to be guarded.
398 June 12
Anyone who attempts to take away the privileges previously granted to the clergy will be punished.
397 June 17
Jews who feign a desire to join the church in order to escape debts must first repay their debts.
397 June 17
Jews are not to be harassed or attacked; governors are to maintain the synagogues’ tranquility.
397 July 1
Jewish clergy are allowed to retain their own laws and rituals and are exempt from service as in municipal senates. They are to have the same privileges as Christian clergy.
398 July 27
If the clergy refuse to surrender someone who has fled to church to escape his debts, they shall be responsible for paying his debts.
399 Apr 11
Recently, the Jewish leaders sent emissaries to collect a tax from all the Jewish communities. Revenue collected by the Jewish patriarch in this way is instead to be sent to the imperial treasury.
399 May 8
The services of shrewdness and religion are distinct. Therefore, anyone engaged in trade while enjoying clerical exemptions shall speedily either leave the clergy or leave his trade.
399 June 25
The Church shall not have its privileges violated; any authority who impedes by either attacking or neglecting the Church shall be fined.
399 July 10
Pagan temples in rural areas are to be torn down without disturbance.
399 Aug 20
Despite the abolishment of pagan sacrifices, public festivals and celebrations are allowed. They simply may not contain pagan superstition or sacrifices.
399 Aug 20
Temples not containing illegal objects [such as statues and altars] may not be destroyed. Idols shall still be taken down and those performing sacrifices punished according to law.
399 Aug 27
No theatrical plays, horse races, or other effeminizing spectacles may be held on the Lord’s day (Sunday). However, the emperor’s birthday will be celebrated when it falls on the Lord’s day (Sunday).
404 Feb 3
Privileges previously granted Jewish patriarchs are to be upheld.
404 Apr 22
Jews and Samaritans enrolled as members of the secret service are hereby deprived of employment with the imperial service.
404 July 25
An earlier law forbidding the Jewish patriarchs from collecting their own taxes is repealed.
[Repeals 16.8.14 of April 11, 399.]
Anyone not in communion with Theophilus of Alexandria is to be excluded from the episcopate and all his money and goods are to be confiscated.
[This was directed against John Chrysostom and his followers.]
Pope Theophilus of Alexandria
Theophilus of Alexandria was the twenty-third Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark. He became Pope at a time of conflict between the newly dominant Christians and the pagan establishment in Alexandria, each of which was supported by a segment of the Alexandrian populace. Edward Gibbon described him as “…the perpetual enemy of peace and virtue, a bold, bad man, whose hands were alternately polluted with gold and with blood.”
In 391, Theophilus (according to Rufinus and Sozomen) discovered a hidden pagan temple. He and his followers mockingly displayed the pagan artifacts to the public which offended the pagans enough to provoke an attack on the Christians. The Christian faction counter-attacked, forcing the pagans to retreat to the Serapeum. A letter was sent by the emperor that Theophilus should grant the offending pagans pardon, but destroy the temple; according to Socrates Scholasticus, a contemporary of his, the latter aspect (the destruction of the temple) was added as a result of heavy solicitation for it by Theophilus.
Scholasticus goes on to state that:
“ Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost … he caused the Mithraeum to be cleaned out… Then he destroyed the Serapeum… and he had the phalli of Priapus carried through the midst of the forum. … the heathen temples… were therefore razed to the ground, and the images of their gods molten into pots and other convenient utensils for the use of the Alexandrian church”
—Socrates Scholasticus, The Ecclesiastical History
The destruction of the Serapeum was seen by many ancient and modern authors as representative of the triumph of Christianity over other religions. According to John of Nikiu in the 7th century, when the philosopher Hypatia was lynched and flayed by a mob of Alexandrian Coptic monks, they acclaimed Theophilus’s nephew and successor Cyril as “the new Theophilus, for he had destroyed the last remains of idolatry in the city”.
404 Sept 11
Slaves may not participate in tumultuous public gatherings. Their masters will be fined if they are found disobedient. Money changers must also follow this rule.
404 Nov 18
Any Christian assemblies out of communion with the bishops of Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria are forbidden.
407 Nov 15
Income from taxes which had been given to pagan temples shall be redirected for soldiers. Images in pagan temples must be removed if there is any veneration of them. All pagan altars must be torn down. Public, secular use is to be made of the temples. Banquets shall not be permitted for sacrilegious rites.
408 June 5
Laws in place against Donatists, Manichaeans, and other groups remain effective. Prosecution against them must continue vigorously. Also, Income from taxes in kind shall be redirected from pagan temples to support the army.
408 May 29
Jews may not burn crosses at the feast of Purim, and shall loose their rights if they disobey the law. They must keep their customs in a way that does not offend Christians.
[The primary purpose of burning the cross was probably not to insult Christians, but to remember the death of Haman in the book of Esther, which was commemorated at Purim.]
408 Nov 14
Persons who disagree with the Emperor on matters of religion are not be allowed to serve in the palace or any imperial post.
408 Nov 24
Donatists, Jews, and heretics have been disturbing the catholic sacraments. Therefore, it is forbidden “to attempt anything that is contrary and opposed” to the catholic sect.
409 Jan 15
Directed towards the situation in North Africa – Persons who have committed crimes and outrages against bishops in Africa are to be prosecuted. The governors in Africa need to seek them out, prosecute them, and confiscate their property. If crimes were committed by a multitude, at least some names need to be found. Outrages against catholic bishops merit capital punishment.
Also – laws against Jews and pagans are in force, which prevent them from disturbing the catholic Church.
Honorius, Theodosius II
409 Feb 1
All astrologers are to be expelled and exiled, unless they burn their books in the presence of a bishop and convert to Christianity.
409 Apr 1
Caelicolists are to return to orthodox Christianity within one year of this order. The law is repeated that Christians may not be made to convert to Judaism. Breaking this second law is tantamount to treason
409 Apr 1
No amusements of any type may be held on the Lord’s day (Sunday), not even New Year’s day or the emperor’s birthday or anniversary.
[In previous laws, e.g. Aug 27, 399, the emperors’ birthdays and anniversaries were the two exceptions to the rule that no amusements could take place on Sunday.]
409 June 26
Any governmental official who appeals on behalf of a heretical group automatically has his petition denied, even without a reply from the emperor.
410 Aug 26
All “enemies of the sacred law” shall be punished by proscription and blood if they continue to publicly assemble.
410 Oct 14 The “new superstition” is abolished and laws regarding the Catholic faith remain in place and are to be enforced.
[Pharr takes this as a veiled reference to Donatism, presumably connecting it to the following document.]
411 June 24
Compulsory public services and taxes shall not be required of church-owned properties.
412 Mar 19
No one who has abandoned his or her children may reclaim them if they are taken in by the church. A bishop’s signature is the necessary witness that the Church has taken the child in.
412 July 26
No Jew may be compelled to fulfill a compulsory public service or to appear in court for a legal case on the Sabbath or any other Jewish. All matters with them must be completed Monday-Friday. Jewish synagogues may not be taken by non-Jews, and Jewish observation of the Sabbath is to be protected. Likewise, Jews must not summon Christians to court on Christian holidays.
412 or 418 Aug 6
Jews may not be persecuted for their religion or have their property taken without cause. They are cautioned, however, that they may not disrespect Christianity.
412 Dec 11
Clergy may not be prosecuted except before a bishop. Anyone who brings un-provable accusations against a clergyman shall face loss of reputation and status
415 Aug 25
Those who publicly assemble to practice heretical rites may have their property taken and be executed.
[Addressed to North Africa, this may have in mind the Donatists, but see below.]
415 Aug 30
Pagan priests North Africa must abandon metropolitan cities and return to their ancestral cities before the kalends of November, otherwise they will be punished. Throughout the empire, any place that was formerly devoted to paganism shall be given to the church. If anything leads men to worship the pagan gods, it should be removed. Chiliarchs and Centenarii [pagan officials] are forbidden, and subject to capital punishment.
415 Oct 20
An honorary prefect, Gamaliel, shall be deprived of rank and may neither establish synagogues. If there are disturbance between Jews and Christians, they shall be resolved by the local governors. No Jews may convert Christians or hold Christians slaves.
415 Nov 6
Jews are allowed to hold Christian slaves provided that the slaves are allowed to retain their Christianity.
416 Sept 24
Some Jews have joined the church in order to avoid punishments for crimes or other duties. They should be permitted to return to Judaism, where they can fulfill whatever obligation they owe.
416 Dec 7
Pagans shall not become administrators or judges. In fact, they may not enter the imperial service at all.
417 Apr 10
Jews may not purchase or receive as gifts Christian slaves. Jews may retain slaves who were already Christian or who came under an inheritance. But proselytizing Christians is a capital offense.
418 Mar 10
Jews may not enter imperial service. Jews who have already taken the oath for service may remain, except those in the armed service. Jews are not prohibited from becoming advocates or decurions.
419 Nov 21
For persons seeking sanctuary in a church, the zone of protection shall extend fifty paces from the church. Priests are allowed to enter prisons and visit prisoners. They are also allowed to advocate before judges on behalf of prisoners if justice has not been done.
All heretics, who should have already been deported, are now to be expelled from coming within 100 miles of Rome. Caelestius especially is to be removed, so that peace can return to the city.
Honorius, Theodosius II
Jewish synagogues and property may not be taken for ecclesiastical purposes or burned. If such an incident does occur, they will be compensated. However, they may not build new synagogues.
423 Apr 9
All previous laws against Jews, heretics, and pagans are upheld. Jews are protected from attacks by people acting in the name of Christianity. Jews still may not circumcise Christians, and will have their property confiscated and be exiled if they do.
423 Apr 9
Jews shall not hold Christian slaves on the grounds that religious slaves shall not be subject to impious owners.
[Similar laws had previously been passed and rescinded.]
423 Apr 9
Previous laws against pagans are upheld.
423 June 8
Manichaeans, Pepyzites, and those who do disagree as to the day of Easter may have their property taken and be sent into exile. But Christians may not attack or plunder Jews or pagans. They must pay back three times as much as what they took from an innocent pagan or Jew.
423 June 8
Pagans are to be exiled and have their possessions confiscated.
425 Feb 1
All theatres and circuses are to be closed on all Lord’s Days (Sunday), Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost, when the baptismal vestments are still being worn, and when the Apostolic Passion is celebrated. All Jews and pagans must respect these days. No spectacles in honor of the emperor are to take precedence over worship of God. Rather, the emperors are best shown devotion when the entire empire worships the omnipotent God.
425 Aug 4
Confiscation is the punishment for heresy, perfidy, schism, pagan superstition, or other errors hostile to the catholic faith.