G

is of importance for understanding how Christianity spread, took hold and developed in this region. The conversion of Italy's elites is one significant marker of religious change; once the 'elite' - in Rome especially, as we will see, but also throughout Italy - had converted, the empire could be proclaimed Christian.

The importance of understanding the conversion of Italy's elites is highlighted by what we know in general about the status of Christianity in Italy prior to Constantine's vision at the Milvian Bridge. The Christian population in the empire before 312 was a minority, estimated at no more than 10 per cent of the population at large, with smaller numbers in the Western than in the Eastern empire.2 All the evidence indicates that Christianity spread first in Italy's cities. Yet in Rome, which is well attested as having had a Christian community and a bishop who could claim the seat of St Peter, there is no good evidence for large, public meeting places before 312. There are very few securely attested Christians among the senatorial aristocracy prior to Constan-tine, and although Christians do appear among the municipal elites in Italy before 312,3 the majority of Italy's upper classes, like the population at large, converted in the century and a half after Constantine's reign.

This chapter will focus on three separate social elites in three different but important cities in Italy: the senatorial aristocracy in Rome; the municipal provincial elite in Aquileia; and the imperial bureaucratic upper class in Milan. The elite of each city adopted Christianity over the course of the fourth and fifth centuries, but the paths they took and the Christianity they embraced differed. Rome's senatorial elite, men and women who held the rank of claris-simus, appear as the most resistant of all three groups of high-status people to religious change; with resources and traditions deeply embedded in civic polytheism, they were among the last of Italy's elites to convert. The Christianity that they came to accept was one that spoke in Virgilianising verses, as Pope Damasus' inscriptions on the tombs of martyrs in Rome did; it was a Christianity that incorporated traditional values. In contrast to Rome, Aquileia's municipal elite appears from early on in the fourth century to have been open to Christianity. Lacking a senatorial tradition of independence and with limited resources, Aquileia's municipal elite appear to have been much influenced

2 R. MacMullen, Christianising the Roman empire, 5, 25-42; Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, 268-9, 272.

3 For Christian senatorial elites before Constantine, see M. R. Salzman, The making of a Christian aristocracy, 3 n. 9. For Christianity among the municipal elites, as in Aquileia, see below.

0 0

Post a comment