Domitian as a persecutor of Christians after Nero,19 but whether this incident amounted to persecution is a matter for debate.
Domitian was murdered in September 96. An echo of these events may perhaps be found in the coinage of his successor, Nerva (96-8 ce), proclaiming fisci judaici calumnia sublata ('abuse of the fiscus judaicus abolished'), issued in 96. Tertullian claims that the exiles were recalled.20 Christianity does not figure again among Classical writers until Pliny's report to the emperor Trajan (98-117 ce) from Bithynia-Pontus, probably in 111.
Pliny (C. Plinius Caecilius Secundus) was born into a family of local aristocrats of the town of Comon (Como) in North Italy.21 Connected with the Flavian administration through an uncle, Pliny was well placed to attempt a senatorial career. He was lucky with his friends, advancing to the rank of quaestor, which automatically admitted him to the senate. He survived Domi-tian's reign and was consul in 100, Trajan's third year of reign. He was trusted by that emperor and, when, in c.108, the affairs of Bithynia-Pontus reached crisis point, largely through corrupt government, he was appointed legatus Augusti with full powers to restore the finances and administration in the province. The exact dating of his term is uncertain. He may have been in the province as early as 109 and remained there until 111, rather than the more usual dating of 112-13. He appears to have died not long afterwards, before 114 when Trajan assumed the title of Optimus.22
Pliny's mandate had nothing to do with Christianity. It included the regulation of the finances of five Bithynian cities, curtailing the misuse of the imperial post, a check to massive overruns in building expenses, and the regulation, or more usually, the suspension of unlicensed collegia ('guilds' or 'clubs') as possible centres of crime and sedition. These Pliny banned.23 It was not until the second year of his tour of the province, at some point between Amisus and Amastris at the eastern end of Pontus, that he appears to have encountered Christians.24 These were brought before him tanquam Christiani, 'as Christians'. Profession of Christianity was illegal, and the penalty for its profession was death. Hence, despite his assertion in his letter to the emperor
21 Pliny's family history and official career are given in Sherwin-White, Letters of Pliny, 69-82.
22 Sherwin-White, Letters of Pliny, 81-2.
23 Pliny to Trajan, Ep. 10.33 and Trajan's uncompromising reply (relating to a collegium of firemen at Nicomedia which Pliny had commended, Ep. 10.34); see Sherwin-White, Letters of Pliny, 606-10.
24 Pliny to Trajan, Ep. 10.96. Translated with notes in Stevenson and Frend, New Eusebius, 18-20. On the spread of Christianity in Asia Minor, see pt. iv, ch. 17, above.
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