The Martyrdoms of Peter and Paul the Roman Apostles

Damasus must have learned the story of the concurrent martyrdoms of Peter and Paul under Nero from oral tradition and from the Depositions of the Martyrs, because these events are not reported in the Acts of Peter. According to the Acts (35), Jesus and Peter met on the Appian Way near the modern church of San Sebastian during the persecution of Nero. Peter was fleeing the city at the urging of his congregation, which feared for his life. As Peter went out of the gate he saw Jesus entering Rome...

Fourth Century Constantine to Theodosius and the Primacy of the Church of Rome

Though the expectation was that Constantine, the son of Constan-tius, and Maxentius, the son of Maximian, would be appointed Caesars at the abdication of their fathers in 305 C.E., this did not happen. In the east, Galerius became Augustus and appointed friends and relatives as his co-Augustus and their Caesars. This second tetrarchy fell into crisis at the death of Constantius in 306 C.E. His father's army immediately proclaimed Constantine the new Augustus and, shortly thereafter, Maxentius...

Victoria Restored

In 394 C.E., Theodosius defeated Eugenius in what some have called the last great pagan battle. All along the battle line on the Frigidus River in northern Italy, Flavianus had set up statues to the Roman gods, especially Jupiter, and the army carried images of Hercules among its standards. If Eugenius had restored the altar of Victory when he restored the subsidies for pagan religious rites, Theodosius must have removed it again when he defeated Eugenius. Of this, however, we cannot be sure in...

The Inquisitions

By the thirteenth century, the heresy of Catharism, a sect similar to Manicheism, had spread across Europe. In response, the church appointed special councils, called Inquisitions, to investigate all offenses against the church, but especially to root out heresies like Catharism and punish them. Heretics convicted by an Inquisition could confess and spend time in prison or remain obstinate and be burned at the stake. In the latter case, the secular authorities stepped in to carry out the...

Christian Monotheism

To many pagans Christianity seemed another manifestation of the same solar monotheism that had long been a presence in their religious culture. It shared many features of the mystery cult Mithraeism as well as of the monotheistic or syncretism worship of Sol Invictus. Initiates of these monotheistic religions shared a revealed doctrine and ritual initiations, and they could look forward to a blessed afterlife. But there are other, more obvious, similarities between the solar cults and...

Theodosius at the Court of Milan the Massacre at Thessalonica

There were other minor battles between Ambrose and Theodosius while he maintained his court at Milan, but the massacre at Thessalonica in the summer of 390 C.E. irrevocably changed the balance of power between them. In that incident, a Gothic leader named Butheric, a general of one of the garrisons in Thessalonica, had arrested a favored charioteer and the charioteer's fans were furious. Butheric and several generals were killed and their corpses mutilated as they were dragged through the...

The Persecution of the Christians under Diocletian

After twenty years of a (mostly) peaceful coexistence, the persecution of the Christians by Diocletian seemed an inexplicable cruelty. It really began in 298 C.E., when several Christian soldiers were seen making the sign of the cross in the presence of Diocletian, Galerius, and the haruspices (priests who read the entrails of sacrificial animals) who were taking the auspices before a battle. Christians were blamed for interrupting the traditional rites by blessing themselves to ward off the...

The Revolt of Magnus Maximus

During this same time (late 382 to early 383 C.E.), Magnus Maximus, the commander of the army in Britain, revolted and established a second western court. By mid-383 C.E., he had crossed the channel to Paris and forced a confrontation. Gratian redirected his campaign away from the Alamanni nation on the German frontier and headed toward Paris. For a variety of reasons, his army defected to Maximus and by August 383 C.E., Gratian had been murdered. To some Roman senators, no doubt, Gratian's...

The Roman Conquest of Jerusalem

The internal wars for succession between the Hasmonean grandsons of John Hyrcanus Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II first made Judea susceptible to intervention by the Roman triumvir Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, Pompey the Great (106-48 B.C.E.). Pompey was in the east on other business. Pirates had taken control of the Mediterranean Sea and the economic impact on Rome's Mediterranean trade resulted in government intervention (see Primary Document 2.1). In 67 B.C.E., the Lex Gabinia granted Pompey a...

The Birth of Jesus

The principal sources for Jesus' life are the four canonical gospels (c. 90 C.E.) by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Several noncanonical Christian texts called apochrypha or pseudepigrapha also include stories of Jesus' life, but these are not included in the New Testament. Written in Greek, although Jesus himself spoke Aramaic, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic gospels because they all correspond closely and share a common perspective. The gospel of...

Greek and Roman Religious Practices

To the ancients the core of religion was the cultic act or ritual sacrifice, which, if correctly performed, ensured the correct (quid pro quo, something in return for something) contractual response from the deity. Usually a living victim, a pig or sheep or ox, was offered to a god or goddess with a prayer for the continued prosperity of that deity, who then would grant the request of the worshipper. The ritual had to be performed with exacting precision the size and color of the victim for...

Conclusion

In this chapter we have considered the life of Jesus and the spread of his new religion, later called Christianity, against the political unrest in the territory ruled by Herod the Great and his successors, client kings of Rome. Their rise to power coincided with the birth of the Roman Empire and their appointments were solely at the discretion of the emperors, whose interests they obligingly served. Inevitably, the secular and political interests of the Romans whom they served conflicted with...

Agrippa II and the Meeting with Paul

We read in Acts 9.3-8 that in about 35 C.E. when he was on the road to Damascus where he intended to persecute Christians, Paul encountered a vision of the resurrected Jesus and was converted. He began to preach a Jesus-centered eschatology to Jew and gentile alike. His first mission was in Antioch, Syria, where the followers of Jesus were called Christianoi for the first time. There, Paul taught that non-Jews were not compelled to keep the law of Moses, that is, they did not have to follow the...

The Council of 382 CE

We have seen that Damasus worked with Gratian and Theodosius to suppress heresy and was named in their edict of 380 C.E. as a model of orthodoxy, and that in 377 C.E. he had commissioned Jerome's edition of the Vulgate. It remained for him to contest openly Rome's primacy with the two other major sees, Constantinople and Antioch. In 382 C.E., he convened a church council to produce a list of the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. In the third part of the resulting Decretum Damasi,...

Peter the Rock

Rome claimed its apostolic primacy from Peter to whom Jesus had given the keys to the kingdom of heaven and whom he had identified as the rock or foundation of the apostolic succession of popes. In Mt 16.18-19, Jesus called Peter a rock and announced that he was to become the very foundation of the church Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam, You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church. In the text, there is an intentional play on the Latin words Petrus,...

Third to Fourth Centuries

The third century, in sharp contrast to the widespread peace and prosperity of the second century, was rife with disaster, instability, and decline. Under the four Severans (193-235 C.E.), the empire moved toward military anarchy as pressure from the barbarians in the northern and eastern empire increased. Septimius Severus' wife Julia Domna and her sister Julia Maesa came to Rome bringing their native Syrian culture and a religious syncretism that was perpetuated in their sons and grandsons,...

Theodosius Courts the Roman Senate

In the summer of 389 C.E., eager to secure a power base in Rome, Theodosius visited the city where he presented his young son Honorius to the leading Roman senators. He showed clemency to any of the aristocratic families who had (albeit briefly) supported Maximus (including Symmachus, who had traveled to Milan to deliver a panegyric in his honor). While he was in residence at Rome, Theodosius also appointed Nicomachus Flavianus and Symmachus as praetorian prefect and consul, respectively, for...

The Martyr Shrines and Basilicas

Under Pope Damasus' direction, the Christian building program inaugurated by Constantine flourished. In place of the great imperial complexes throughout the city the imperial fora, circuses, baths, and temples Christian basilicas and martyr shrines now formed a new and novel social network of meeting places. They served to connect the congregants of the imperially sanctioned, post-Constantinian church with those martyrs who had died rather than observe pagan religious rites. Scenes of...

Diocletians Reforms

In the year 284 C.E., Diocles, the son of a freedman in Illyricum, took the name C. Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus and became the Roman emperor. Within a year, he had elevated a fellow Illyrian and former military comrade, Maximian, to the imperial honor of Caesar, a junior coruler, and within a year after that Maximian was made Augustus, a coruler. This new type of government was called a diarchy, or rule by two. Diocletian and Maximian adopted the names Iovius, Jupiter, and Herculius,...

The Court of Ambrose

Immediately after Gratian's death, Ambrose went to the court of Magnus Maximus at Trier and began negotiations on behalf of Valentinian II. For sinister reasons, Maximus asked Ambrose to persuade Valentinian II to come to Trier. He promised to accept him as his own son, but Ambrose saw through the deceit. In response, he made excuses to delay such a meeting. He argued that it was too long a journey, the winter was too harsh, and that Valentinian II was too young to travel without his mother....

Qreek and Roman Deities

Ancient Greek religion was the polytheistic worship of twelve anthropomorphic, ageless, immortal deities on Mount Olympus, usually Zeus and his wife, Hera Poseidon, god of the sea Apollo, a sun god of music, healing, culture, and oracles Artemis, the goddess of the moon and the hunt who oversaw the maturation of the young Athena, goddess of wisdom and crafts, especially important as the patron goddess of Athens Hermes, the messenger god who guided all travelers, including the dead whom he...

The Death of James the Brother of Jesus

At the death of the Roman governor Festus, Lucceius Albinus (6264 C.E.) succeeded as governor of Judea. By this time, the two factions of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (both the Greek-speaking Hellenized Christian Jews and the conservative Hebrew Christian Jews) together with the chief priests and Jewish leaders, King Agrippa II and his sister queen Berenice, and the Roman governors were all embrangled in a multifarious social web of competing political and religious interests. In the...

The Battle at the Milvian Bridge

After Galerius' death in 311 C.E., both Licinius and Maximin Daia raced to claim his territories. For different reasons Licinius because he wanted Maximin Daia's territories and Constantine because he had no interest in the continued persecutions of Maximin Daia Constantine and Licinius became allies. To cement their alliance, Licinius was betrothed to Constantine's half-sister Constantia. Meanwhile, Maxentius was losing control of Rome and had declared war on Constantine. The pretext was that...

The Apostolic Church Through The Edict Of Theodosius In 391 Ce

In these five essays we have traced the foundation and spread of Christianity, which began in the first century c.e. as a small sect of Jewish followers of Jesus, considered the Messiah. Jesus was born in the early years of the Roman Empire in Judea, where the Herods ruled as client kings of Rome. The Jews resented their Roman overlords and the Herods, their puppet client kings, and that resentment festered into open conflict. A growing divide between the new Christian sect and the more...

The Second Delegation of Symmachus

In July 384 C.E.,Valentinian II appointed Quintus Aurelius Symmachus prefect of Rome and his good friend Vettius Agorius Praetextatus praetorian prefect of Italy, Illyricum, and Africa. These appointments ranked among the most important in the administration and represent the Realpolitik of the western court. Valentinian was young, inexperienced, and no match for the military might of Magnus Maximus' court at Trier. This was no time to alienate the Roman senate. Moreover, the conflict between...

The East West Schism

The sack of Constantinople was the ultimate outrage in a series of political and doctrinal disputes that ended in the division of eastern and western Christendom into two separate Christianities the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The east and the west had been separating since the fall of the western empire in the fifth century. When the west fell to barbarian invaders, the Byzantine Empire had continued to flourish. This political separation was soon strengthened by a...

Theodosius at the Court of Milan The Synagogue in Callinicum

In the summer of 388 C.E., Theodosius finally came to the aid of Valentinian against Maximus. After sending Valentinian with his mother Justina to Italy by sea, Theodosius traveled through Illyricum by land to meet Maximus at Aquileia. Theodosius had never been to Italy and had not been in the West for ten years. To celebrate his victory over Maximus, Valentinian and the metropolitan Ambrose must have staged a grand reception for him in Milan. Theodosius seems to have understood that this was...

Antipater and Herod Friends and Allies of Rome

Antipater, the chameleonic governor of Idumea, and his son Herod were able to mitigate the impact upon Judea of the tumultuous years of late Republican Rome. They had the uncanny ability to ally themselves with each new leader who emerged from the crumbling Roman Republic, changing loyalties as often as Rome changed governments. Their careers spanned those of the commanders who engineered the birth of the Roman Empire Julius Caesar, Cassius and Brutus (Caesar's assassins), Mark Antony and...

Islam and Christianity

In the late antique period of the church, Justinian (482-565 c.e.) ruled the Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire, reasserting an imperial dominion that rivaled the ancient world. He subdued Germanic tribes in the west, especially in North Africa and Italy, and in the east was able to conclude a long-lasting peace with the Persians. His famous Latin compilation of all Roman law, called the Corpus iuris civilis, Corpus of Civil Law, contained statutes requiring universal orthodox Christian worship...

The Letters of Ambrose

Before he even knew the details of the petition, Ambrose wrote a letter (Epitsulae 17) to Valentinian opposing the senators' request (see Primary Document 5.2). He argued that Valentinian would be endorsing paganism and persecuting Christian senators if he returned the altar of Victory. He threatened that he would not be received in a Christian church and would even meet with an unforgiving God if he yielded to the demands to restore funds and property for pagan rituals. How could the emperor...

Strengthening the Papacy

It was during Damasus' papacy in 380 C.E. that an edict of Gratian and Theodosius upheld orthodox Christianity over the Arian heresy. Damasus was named as a model of the orthodox faith in Theodosius' edict. The edict, preserved in the Codex Theodosianus (16.1.2), required that everyone observe the religion handed down to the Romans by the apostle Peter. This orthodox apostolic religion, Theodosius claimed, was evident still in the practices of Pope Damasus. Theodosius' imperial sanction may...

Mystery Religions

Like Christianity, the mystery religions of the Greco-Roman world promised a blessed life after death through a ritual revelation and communion with the god. The most famous of the mystery religions in the ancient world was the annual ceremony connected to the worship of Demeter and her daughter Kore Persephone at Eleusis, near Athens. The story of Demeter and Persephone is a mythical explanation for the seasons and their agricultural cycles. During the Eleusinian mysteries, the abduction of...

First to Second Centuries

For Romans, the distinction was not so clear. In the early second-century accounts of imperial reactions to Christians, Jews and Christians often seemed to be conflated, as the testimony of classical writers attests. Suetonius wrote his Lives of the Caesars while serving in the court of Hadrian (117-138 C.E.). In the Lives, Tiberius (36) and Claudius (25.4) expel Jews from Rome, the one in 19 C.E. and the other in 49 C.E., because they fear their proselytizing and the growth of these close...

Diocletians Abdication and the Dissolution of the Tetrarchy

On May 1, 305 C.E., in the midst of the persecution, Diocletian abdicated, leaving his palace in Nicomedia to retire to his palace in the modern Split, in Croatia. At the same time, his co-Augustus Maximian abdicated under pressure in Milan. Maximian's Caesar in the West, Constantius, now became Augustus, and Diocletian's Caesar, Galerius, succeeded him as Augustus in the East. Diocletian acknowledged Galerius' primacy by granting him the exclusive privilege of appointing the new Caesars the...

The Codex Calendar of 354 CE

For modern readers, the Codex-Calendar of354 C.E. is an indispensable document for charting the growth of the Christian church in fourth-century Rome. It was also the fundamental calendrical model for Pope Damasus as he developed a Christian cycle of festivals to support his claim that Rome was the sedes Petri, episcopal seat of Peter, and the primate see of the Christian church. The Codex was produced for a wealthy Roman Christian aristocrat named Valentinus by the talented Christian...

Agrippa I and the Persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem

Agrippa had become so devoted to Judaism, in fact, that he allowed an attack against the Christian church in Jerusalem now headed by the apostle James, the brother of John and son of Zebedee. In these early days of the church in Jerusalem there was a growing antagonism between the Greek-speaking Hellenized Jewish Christians and the Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christians. We read in Acts 10 that Peter baptized the first gentile and that Hellenized Jewish Christians were proselytizing and preaching...

Concordia Apostolorum

These images of Peter and Paul, which suggest that they ruled in joint sovereignty, have been commonly termed concordia apostolorum and are meant to recall Rome's other sets of twin founders Romulus and Remus, Castor and Pollux, and Caesar and Augustus. Damasus applied the concept and imagery of concordia apostolorum to a broad artistic program as part of his propagandizing effort to promote Rome's apostolic primacy. Peter and Paul embracing each other in symmetric unity with their arms...

The Return to Polytheism

Old conservative religious values impelled Diocletian 284-305 C.E. to reinstitute a more traditional polytheism. He may have hoped that by moving away from Aurelian's Sol Invictus cult and reinvigorating the worship of the traditional gods of the state that he could reverse the political turmoil that had thus far characterized the third century. If properly performed, the worship and ritual sacrifices to the revered gods of the state would ensure the gods' favor in return. But preserving the...

The End of the Persecution of the Christians

Although under the various leaders in the west Severus, Constantine, Maximian, Maxentius, and Licinius the persecution lost steam, it continued with fury in the east under Galerius and Maximin Daia. General sacrifices were ordered in 306 C.E. and in 308 C.E. Food for sale in public markets was sprinkled with libations to the gods and the baths were closed to anyone who would not sacrifice before entering. Those who refused were blinded in one eye or crippled, when they were not killed. The...

The Roman Popes Damasus and Praetextatus

Damasus was worldly, wealthy, and resolute in his efforts to strengthen the power of his papacy and the dominance of the Roman church. The rival Ursinians were reported to have called him a matronarum auriscalpius, an ear-scratcher of matrons, for his ability to persuade wealthy women to donate their worldly goods to the church. An edict of Valentinian I that forbade the practice of visiting wealthy matrons, widows, and orphans for the purpose of soliciting donations for the church may have...

Constantine and Sol Invictus

In contrast to Diocletian, Constantine was a tolerant monotheist. He seems to have inherited from his father a membership in the sun-god cult of Helios and his first recorded religious act was to consult the oracle at the temple of Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, at Autun in 308 C.E. On his coins he was depicted as Pontifex Maximus with representations of the sun god. He consulted haruspices and pagan priests, yet, after conquering Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 C.E., he...