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These signs of prosperity were abruptly challenged by Alexander Severus' supplanter, Maximin (235-8 ce), a rough Thracian soldier who evidently had no time for unlawful religions. For the first time an emperor takes the initiative against the Christians by aiming at their leaders.61 Origen's friend, Ambrosius, was among those who believed themselves threatened. The threat, however, passed quickly. Maximin was murdered in 238, and another eleven years of peace and progress followed.62 In Rome, new catacombs were created, and the church there was developing into a vast charitable organisation, with 'up to 1,500 widows and poor persons' receiving support from its coffers.63

But storms were gathering. In 248 there was a massive pogrom of Christians in Alexandria,64 and Origen shows that in the east Christians were being blamed for the instability of the times.65 Once again the wheel turned. On the Danube frontier, the empire was threatened by attacks from a powerful confederation of Germanic tribes, the Goths. The emperor Philip (244-9 ce) proved an incompetent soldier. In September 249, his army was defeated at Verona by one of his generals, and he lost his life. The victor, Decius (249-51 ce), was determined to restore both the empire's frontiers and the traditional values of Rome. He assumed the name 'Trajan' in honour of that illustrious emperor, and, to make the point, issued a series of coins commemorating the consecratio of many of his predecessors. It was probably in the same spirit that the new emperor issued a decree in the first months of his reign ordering all the inhabitants to sacrifice to the gods, taste the sacrificial meat and swear that they had sacrificed.66 The annual sacrifice on the Capitol on 3 January 250 provided a weighty example which the cities of the empire must follow. J. B. Rives has ably pointed out that the aim of the decree was positive. 'It was in some way the religious analogue to Caracalla's citizen decree: while the latter replaced the mishmash of local citizenships with a universal and homogeneous citizenship, the former summarised the huge range of local cults in a single religious act that signalled membership in the Roman Empire.'67 Decius' decree was not aimed, therefore, specifically against the Christians, but as prime non-conformists they were especially subject to sanctions, for they were not prepared even to 'recognise' the Roman gods. This obstinatio accounts for the acute divisions that resulted within individual Christian communities.

66 See Rives, 'Decree of Decius', 135.

67 Rives, 'Decree ofDecius', 153.

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