The Genocide of Polytheism (4th to 9th Centuries)
Constantine announces that his victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge outside Rome was due to the intervention of the Christian god.
Edict of Milan issued by the tetrarchs Constantine (the Great) and Licinius, proclaiming the Roman Empire neutral in matters of religion, stating that “we have also conceded
to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion” (Lactantius, De Mort. Pers., ch. 48). A panegyric of this year
by an unknown author, celebrating Constantine’s triumph over Maxentius, refers to
Paganism as superstitiosa maleficia.
The Council of Ancyra denounces the worship of Goddess Artemis.
The writing of Eusebius’ Demonstratio Evangelica (The Proof of the Gospel) in 20 books, of which 10 remain. The Demonstratio is the completion of the Praeparatio (Preparation for the Gospel) in 15 books, written c. 314, the purpose of which was “to show the nature of Christianity to those who know not what it means” Demonstratio took this process
a step further; it is for “those who have passed beyond this, and are already in a state prepared for the reception of the higher truths.”
Athanasius writes Against the Gentiles (Another date put forward is the period of his exile in Trier (335-337).
Law of Constantine prohibits private consultation of soothsayers (haurspices) but permits public acts of divination. The correct date is either 1 September 319 or 1 February 320 (C.Th. 9.16.1).
25 December 323
Law of Constantine ordering that Christians not be forced to take part in lustral sacrifices (C.Th. 16.2.5): “Christians shall not be forced into participating in pagan practices; anyone who forces a Christian into such an act shall be publicly beaten, unless he holds an honorable rank, in which case he will be fined and the money given to the state treasury.” This law refers to Paganism as an “alien superstition”! An odd term to use for what is, in fact, indigenous religious practices, while it is Christianity that is the alien superstition. A neat piece of normative inversion.
Constantine defeats Licinius and becomes sole Emperor of Rome. “By this course he drew upon himself the emperor Constantine’s heaviest displeasure; and they became enemies, the pretended treaty of friendship between them having been violated. Not long afterwards they took up arms against each other as declared enemies. And after
several engagements both by sea and land, Licinius was at last utterly defeated near Chrysopolis in Bithynia, a port of the Chalcedonians, and surrendered himself to Constantine.” (Socrates Scholasticus, Eccl. His. 1.4) Licinius goes into exile at Thessalonica. As Socrates Scholasticus goes on to say, “Constantine thus became possessed of the sole dominion, and was accordingly proclaimed sovereign Autocrat, and again sought to promote the welfare of Christians. This he did in a variety of
ways, and Christianity enjoyed unbroken peace by reason of his efforts.
” (1.4). Constantine banned sacrifices, the erection of cult statues and the consultation of oracles (Eusebius EHII.45).At this point, when Christianity was made the official state religion (see Eusebius EH II.24-60), Christians accounted for no more than five to ten percent of the population of the Roman Empire and were, in the west especially, a tiny minority religion.
Constantine orders the strangulation of Licinius despite having publicly promised not to execute him after his surrender the year before. Socrates Scholasticus (1.4) claims Constantine killed Licinius in response to Licinius’ gathering of barbarian mercenaries
in order “to repair his late disaster by a fresh appeal to arms.”
Constantine begins his rebuilding of Byzantium into “New Rome” conceived as not only the new capital of the Roman Empire to replace old Rome, but also as a Christian city.
Eusebius publishes his Historia Ecclesiastica in which he says “that from that time seditions and wars and mischievous plots followed each other in quick succession, and never ceased in the city and in all Judea until finally the siege of Vespasian overwhelmed
them. Thus the divine vengeance overtook the Jews for the crimes which they dared to commit against Christ.” (Hist. Eccles. II.6: The Misfortunes which overwhelmed the Jews after their Presumption against Christ)
In 326 Constantine, the first Christian emperor, known to Christians as “the Great”, who according to Eusebius led a “godly life” (Eusebius, Vita Constantini 1.3) murdered his eldest son Crispus on the flimsiest prextext – and without trial or hearing – and then a few months later his wife, Fausta.
9 May 328
Athanasius becomes bishop of Alexandria, succeeding Alexander. Athanasius was to later be Deacon at the Council of Nicea and was a violent foe of Arianism Later in the same year, Constantine recalls Arius from Illyria. During his term as Patriarch there, along
with the standard method of excommunication he used beatings, intimidation,
kidnapping and imprisonment to silence his theological opponents.
Unsurprisingly, these tactics caused widespread distrust and led him to being tried many times for “bribery, theft, extortion, sacrilege, treason and murder. He justified these tactics by saying he was saving future Christians from hell.
11 May 330
Dedication of New Rome (Constantinople) “At the dedication of Constantinople in 330 a ceremony half Pagan and half Christian was performed, in the market place, the Cross of Christ was placed over the head of the Sun-God’s chariot. There was a singing of hymns.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia 1908),
Birth of the Emperor Julian (Flavius Claudius Julianus)
Execution of the neoplatonist philosopher Sopatros, disciple of the great Iamblichos, who had gone to Constantinople to restrain Constantine from his anti-Pagan policies, on the orders of Constantine, a victim of court intrigues that saw him accused of “fettering” the winds. An inscription from Hispellum in Umbria granting permission for thetown to celebrate spectacles refers to Paganism as “contagious superstition.”
Julian witnesses the murder of his family by his Christian cousin, the Emperor Constantius II.
A code this year is the first to ban pagan sacrifice (C.Th. 16.10.2.).
It was issued by Emperor Constans in the West: “Superstition shall cease; the madness of sacrifices shall be abolished. For if any man in violation of the law of the sainted Emperor, Our father, and in violation of this command of Our Clemency, should dare to perform sacrifices, he shall suffer the infliction of a suitable punishment and the effect of an immediate sentence.”
A decree issued to Catullinus, Prefect of Rome states that “all superstitions must be completely eradicated.” Rome, at this time, is still a Pagan city; Catullinus decides to treat “superstition” as the old form and applies it to divination. Pagan sacrifice continued in Rome from 340 to 363 (see Amm. Marc. 184.108.40.206 (359 CE); Zos.Hist. Nova 4.3.2-3 (363-364 CE).
1 December 346
Emperors Constantius and Constans order the praetorian prefect to close all temples
“in all places and cities” and that access to them be forbidden in order to deny men the opportunity to sin. Sacrifice is forbidden and any caught in the act “shall be struck down with avenging sword” and their property confiscated. To put teeth into the edict, governors of provinces are made subject to the same punishment if they
fail to “avenge such crimes.” The crime was Pagan sacrifice, an act which, interestingly, required an act of vengeance, apparently on behalf of “God” – who apparently is incapable, despite all consuming power, of acting on his own (C. Th. 16.10.4). This law was repeated in 354 or 356.
Pope Julius I orders Christmas to be celebrated on December 25. Firmicus Maternus finishes his De Errore Profanarum Religionum in which he urges the emperors to use the power of the state to eradicate what he calls “superstitio” (Paganism – a new use for this term, which previously applied to an “unreasonable fear of the divine” – Christianity. Firmicus says, “whoever takes pleasure in the contagion of this superstition, is either seeking solace for his own troubles or else is praising the misdeeds of the gods” (12:1).
23 November 353
Nocturnal sacrifices are prohibited (C. Th. 16.10.5)
19 or 20 February 356
Constintius issues a clarification that specifically prohibited the adoration of cult images: “If any person shall be proved to devote their attention to sacrifices or to worship images, We command that they shall be subjected to capital punishment.”
(C. Th. 16.10.6).
First removal of the Altar of Victory from the Senate house by Constantius II on his visit to Rome. Constantius did not touch the priesthood and even performed some of the duties of the office.
From 357-358 comes a barrage of legislation which “proscribed sorcery and divination: soothsayers, readers of entrails, astrologers, augurers, and sorcerers were denied the right to practice.”
11 December 361
Emperor Julian issues his edict of tolerance in Constantinople which decreed the reopening of pagan temples, the restitution of alienated temple properties, and called back Christian bishops that were exiled by church edicts.
Julian writes Against the Galileans, in 3 books (of which one survives) in which he says that “the fabrication of the Galilaeans is a fiction of men composed by wickedness.” Libanius, pagan philosopher, in the Epitaph on Julian, states that the attack
on Christian doctrines was composed in the long nights of winter, i. e. 362-363, at Antioch, where he spent the winter with Julian. In the fifth century Cyril of Alexandria (writing c. 429-441 CE) regarded the treatise as peculiarly dangerous, and said that it had shaken many believers.”
An Imperial Edict of 11 September orders the death penalty for all Gentiles that worship their ancestral Gods or practice Divination (“sileat omnibus perpetuo divinandi curiositas“). Three different edicts (4th February, 9th September, 23rd December)
order the confiscation of all properties of the pagan Temples and the death penalty for participation in pagan rituals, even private ones.
Praetextatus, proconsul of Achaea, and a Pagan, successfully opposes Valentinian I’s law against nocturnal rites.
17 November 365
An Imperial edict forbids the Gentile officers of the army to command Christian soldiers.
New prohibition of all Divination methods. The term “pagan” (pagani, villagers) is introduced by the Christians to replace use of the term “Gentiles.”
Theodosius (who had been magister militum per Illyricum from 376 until 19 January 379, made emperor of the eastern empire by Gratian following death of Valens at Adrianpole (August 378). At this point, Christians made up no more than twenty percent of the population.
Gratian and Theodosius issue a joint edict which proclaims Nicene Christianity.
Damasus “lived to welcome the famous edict of Theodosius I, “De fide Catholica” (27 Feb., 380) (Catholic Encylopedia) issued in Thessalonika, which says “All the various nations which are subject to our clemency and moderation should continue in the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter.” In this edict, non-Christians are called “loathsome, heretics, stupid and
blind” and Christianity is made the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Theodosius issues an epistula (a formal decree) to Eutropius, the Prefect of Illyricum (the area once comprised by modern Yugoslavia) ordering that from now on only Nicene Christianity was to be permitted. Everything else was heresy. By July 381 this decree applies to the entire empire. This edict effectively brought to and end the ancient polytheistic concepts of freedom of speech and thought.
2 May 381
Theodosius deprives of rights all Christians who revert to pagan belief. In all the Eastern Empire the Pagan Temples and Libraries are looted or burned down. On 21st December, Theodosius outlaws even the simple visits to the Temples of the Hellenes. In Constantinople, the Temple of Goddess Aphrodite is turned into a brothel and the Temples of Sun and Artemis is put to use as stables.
21 December 381
Emperor Theodosius outlaws visits to Pagan temples.
Gratian confidscates income-producing property from the temples and withdraws the funds which support the public cults of the Roman state. Moreover, he orders the altar of victory removed from the Senate house
Gratian rejects the title of Pontifex Maximus the first emperor to do so. He was forced to do so by the position he had put himself in when he withdrew support for the public cults.
Gratian dies when a general revolts and Symmachus wrote that in his opinion many of the gods were punishing Rome for the attack on the national religion.
Emperor Theodosius orders the Praetorian Prefect Maternus Cynegius, a dedicated Christian, to cooperate with local bishops and destroy the temples of the pagans in Northern Greece and Minor Asia.
Bauto, the most powerful man in Valentinian II’s court (who succeeded Gratian) and who is a pagan, appoints Praetextatus praefectus praetorio (Praetorian Prefect) for Italy and Symmachus praefectus urbi (City Prefect) for Rome. Praetextatus obtains from Valentinian II an edict by which the emperor empowered the praetorian prefect to investigate spoliations (we would say vandalism) of public buildings (i.e. Pagan temples)
(Symm., rel. XXI)
Praetextatus dies late in the year, depriving the pagan party of its leader. He was to have been consul for 385. Symmachus, as leader of the Pagan party in Rome, argues for status quo and nothing else.
John Chrysostom, in Antioch, orders Christmas to be celebrated by the Christian community there on December 25.
18 June 386
Emperor Theodosius outlaws the care of the sacked Pagan temples.
The complaint of Pagan orator Libanius to the emperor about gangs of monks
who wander the Syrian countryside “tearing down statues and throwing down altars.” Libanius rightly calls them bandits, plundering on the pretext that they are suppressing Paganism (Libanius Or. 30.8-9).
Christians, acting on the instigation of the local bishop, set fire to a synagogue in
Syrian Callinicum. About the same time, monks burn a meeting place of the Valentinian Gnostic sect . The emperor Theodosius orders the bishop of Callinicum to pay for the repair of the synagogue but “Saint” Ambrose intervenes, chastising the
emperor for “valuing mere disciplina above the sacred cause of religion” (Ambrose Epp. 40 and 41). Ambrose told the gullible emperor that his predecessor Maximus’ downfall had been due to “God” becoming angry because he ordered a synagogue in
Rome (also destroyed by Christians) be rebuilt at Christian expense.
16 June 388
“There shall be no opportunity for any man to go out to the public and to argue about religion or to discuss it or to give any counsel. If any person hereafter with flagrant and damnable audacity, should suppose that he may contravene any law of this kind or if he should dare to persist in his action of ruinous obstinacy, he shall be restrained
with a due penalty and proper punishment” (C. Th. 16.4.2)
Both consuls for 391, Symmachus and Tatian, are Pagans but Theodosius refuses to restore the public cults
391 or 392
Marcellus, bishop of Apamea, as usual using imperial troops to cow the Pagan populace, destroys the Temple of Zeus in that city. The date of this event is uncertain; Theodoret HE 5.21 places it immediately before the Serapeum’s destruction in 391.
24 February 391
Emperor Theodosius outlaws blood sacrifice and declares that “no one is to go to the sanctuaries, walk through the temples, or raise his eyes to statues created by the labor of man”. The eternal fire in the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum was extinguished, and the Vestal Virgins were disbanded. (C. Th. 16.10.10)
11 May 391
A few months after his first decree, Theodosius directs a severe law against apostates from the Christian religion to the praetorian prefect, Flavianus, who was himself a Pagan (C. Th. 16.7.4,5). A week later, from Aquileia, he issues a stern antipagan
law for Egypt (C. Th. 16.10.11) “No person shall be granted the right to perform sacrifices; no person shall go around the temples; no person shall revere the shrines.” This edict results in the destruction of the famous Serapeum in Alexandria by Bishop Theophilus (Socrates EH 5.16 – written in 440).
19 May 391
Christian oppression of religious alternatives did not ignore heretics: “We order that the pollution contagions of the heretics shall be expelled from the cities and driven forth from the villages. No opportunity shall be available to them for any gathering, so that in no place may a sacriligious cohort of such men be collected. No conventicles, either public or hidden, shall be granted to the perversity of such persons as retreats for their false doctrines” (C.Th. 16.5.20).
Theodosius orders the destruction of the Serapeum (Greek Serapeion) of Alexandria (built by Ptolemy III (reigned 246–222 BCE) Theophilus, patriarch of Alexandria, carries out the destruction of the Serapeum and other pagan temples in the city. The Gentiles,
led by the philosopher Olympius, revolt and after some street fights they lock themselves inside the fortified Temple of God Serapis. After a violent siege, the Christians take over the building, demolish it, burn its famous Library and profane the cult images. J.B. Bury’s verdict: “The account of Sozomen, vii.15, is better than that of Socrates, v.16, 17. See also Eunapius, ib. The pagans were not guiltless in this affair. They had attacked the Christians and fortified themselves in the buildings of the Serapeum; but they had been provoked to this outbreak by Theophilus, who had paraded rely symbols, than from a
temple of Dionysus (which the Emperor had permitted him to convert into a church), through the streets in derision of the pagan cults. The most unfortunate occurrence was the destruction of the library of the Serapeum” (Orosius, vi.15).
Marcellus, bishop of Apamea, tries to destroy one temple too many and earns a well-deserved death. This time, even the fear of imperial troops is not enough to hold back the outraged Pagans. Sozomen tells us that Marcellus “having heard that there was a very spacious temple at Aulon, a district of Apamea, he repaired thither with a body of soldiers and gladiators” (note here that not only did the Christians not abolish gladiatorial contests, but they even employed gladiators as private armies – another myth
abolished!). The soldiers and gladiators attacked the temple and some Pagans, finding the criminal bishop alone, seized him and burnt him alive (Sozomon HE 7.15.
The law restricting monks to the desert is repealed, enabling a renewed assault on Pagan holy sites.
22 August 392
Revolt in the Western Empire of magister militum Arbogast and Flavius Eugenius. Eugenius was most likely at least nominally a Christian but with pagan sympathies and immediately restored the Altar of Victory to the Senate House in Rome (Ambrose Ep. 57; Sozomen 7.22). He also provided funds to the temple to Hercules in Ostia and
to rededicate the temple of Venus at Rome. (John F. Matthews, Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court A.D. 364-425 (Oxford, 1975), 241ff ). Eugenius was a former teacher of grammar and rhetoric, and had been magister scrinorum sometime before 392, and had become Arbogast’s confidant after being introduced to him by Arbogast’s uncle Richomer
(Zosimus 4.54; Socrates 5.25). Bloch suggests that the pagan Tatian, praefectus praetorio Orientis to the Christian Rufinus, might have motivated Arbogast to act in self-preservation.
8 November 392
Theodosius outlaws all the non-Christian rituals and names them “superstitions of the gentiles” (gentilicia superstitio). Even private worship is prohibited, including every symbol of Paganism, even on household altars: “No one, under any cirumstances, is permitted to sacrifice an innocent victim nor, as a less serious sacrilege, to worship one’s lares with fire, one’s genius with uncut wine, one’s penates with perfume, to light lamps, waft incense, or hang garlands.” The gods are re-classified as “evil spirits.”(C. Th. 16.10.12) New full scale persecutions are ordered against pagans. The Mysteries
of Samothrace are ended and the priests slaughtered. In Cyprus the local bishop “Saint” Epiphanius and “Saint” Tychon destroy almost all the temples of the island and exterminate thousands of non-Christians. The local Mysteries of goddess Aphrodite are ended. Theodosius’s edict declares: “the ones that won’t obey pater Epiphanius have no right to keep living on the island”. The Gentiles revolt against the Emperor and the Church in Petra, Aeropolis, Rafia, Gaza, Baalbek and other cities of the Middle East.
Last Olympic Games of Antiquity. Theodosius bans the Olympic, Pythian and Aktian games and the dating by Olympiads comes to an end. The Olympic Games had been celebrated for over a thousand years in honor of Zeus.
5-6 September 394
Battle of Frigidus in Italy (on the border of modern Italy and Slovenia). Theodosius defeats Arbogast and Eugenius. Arbogast commits suicide. Eugenius is captured and executed (6 Sept. 394). When Arbogast led his army north in 394 to meet Theodosius’ troops, he and Flavianus the Elder had threatened to stable the horses of the army in the basilica of the Church of Milan and enroll the clergy in the military when Eugenius returned victorious (Paulinus, Vita sancti Ambrosii 31 ). Instead, the reign of Eugenius marked the last serious organized attempt at organized resistance among the pagan
Roman senatorials to the Christianization of the Empire.
July 3 395
A new law reminds everyone of a previous law (which we no longer possess) that made all Pagan festival days non-holidays.(C.Th. 2.8.22)
7 August 395
Pagan sacrifices are no longer permitted. People are required to obey previously enacted laws against heretics and Pagans and governors and members of the imperial staff who fail to enforce these laws will be punished (C.Th. 16.10.13).
3 September 395
Emperors Arcadius and Honorius inform the Proconsul of Asia that those who deviate “even in a minor point of doctrine” are to be considered heretics and subject to the sanctions already in force against heretics (C.Th. 16.5.28).
The Eleusinian mysteries cease from the consequences of Alaric’s invasion of Greece, though Eunapius (Vita Maximi) suggests that the destruction was wrought by a band of fanatical monks who accompanied the Gothic army. Athens was said to have been saved
from the rapacity of the Goths by the appearance of Athene Promachos and the hero Achilles.
Christians who return to Paganism lose the right to beequeath property in their wills to anyone outside of their family: parents, siblings, children, or grandchildren. (C.Th. 16.7.6) This is further evidence of the tendency of converted Pagans to return to traditional cults.
Old privileges still enjoyed by old priesthoods are abolished on the grounds that their profession is now condemned. (C.Th. 16.10.14)
7 December 396
Eastern Roman Emperor Arcadius declares that Paganism is high treason.
Three Christian missionaries sent to proselytize the Anaunia valley (modern Val di Non), a Pagan area, are burnt alive and as quickly proclaimed martyrs (the incident is mentioned by Augustine, Ep. 139). Maximus, Bishop of Milan, complained in a sermon that they were killed “because the sacriligious were being rebuked for not being Christians and devout persons” (Sermon 106).
The Fourth Church Council of Carthage prohibits to everybody, including to the Christian bishops, the study of the books of the Gentiles. Porphyrius, bishop of Gaza, demolishes almost all the Pagan Temples of his city (except 9 of them that remain active). Emperor Arcadius, when asked to order the destruction of Gaza’s temples, had at first refused on the basis that the local Pagans were “peaceful subjects and taxpayers” (Mark the Deacon, Life of Porphyry of Gaza 41) but religious zealotry triumphed over the law.
10 July 399
Arcadius, under the influence of Chrysostom, issued an edict to destroy, not merely to close, temples in the country and to use the material for public buildings.(C.Th. 16.10.16)
Bury observes: “The ordinances of Theodosius did not, of course, avail immediately to stamp out everywhere the forbidden cults. Pagan practices still went on secretly, and in some places openly, and the government, generally perhaps yielding to ecclesiastical pressure, issued from time to time new laws to enforce the execution of the old or to supplement them. Arcadius, under the influence of Chrysostom, issued an edict to destroy, not merely to close, temples in the country and to use the material for public buildings. Chrysostom sent monks to Phoenicia to carry out the work of destruction there, but the money required was provided not by the state but by pious Christians, especially
It is ruled that temples which do not contain illegal objects (statues and altars) may not be destroyed but that idols shall be taken down and those performing sacrifices will be punished (C.Th. 16.10.18.).
Imperial officials Gaudentius and Jovius demolish the temples of Carthage (Augustine, City of God 18.54). In the same year, Augustine oversees the destruction of “idols” at Mappalia, near Carthage, on lands given to the Church by the formerly Pagan owner upon his conversion (Augustine, Sermon 62.17-18). At Sufes, also in North Africa, Christians destroy a cult statue of Hercules, and the Pagan reaction leaves 60 Christians dead (Augustine, Ep. 50). The sixty are, in an obscene reversal of justice, remembered by the Catholic Church as martyrs on 30 August.
Bishop Nicetas destroys the Oracle of the God Dionysus in Vesai and baptises all the Gentiles of this area.