Christian Emperor and Pagan Aristocracy

During the reign of Valentinian I (364-375 C.E.), charges were brought against several senators by one of his prefects. In 370 C.E., the senatorial class was purged for practicing magic arts, blood sacrifices, and divination. The ruthless investigations and brutal punishments reveal the deep distrust that must have existed between the senatorial overseers of pagan religion and a court that feared magic could be worked against it. Valentinian passed legislation (Codex Theodosianus 9.16.4) forbidding the ancient practices of consulting soothsayers, astrologers, diviners, augers, or seers, something Constantine had already legislated against. Several senators were killed for employing magic potions in order to win favor, money, horse races, or, his great fear, to hurt the emperor. A delegation from the senate reacted and even visited the court to protest the charges and the punishments but Valentianian was unmoved.

Although he was merciless in suppressing their pagan religious practices and had directed violent attacks against them, Valentinian did not altogether reject the classical pagan heritage that the senators embodied. He retained the title, and presumably discharged the functions, of Pon-tifex Maximus, "Chief Priest," the highest office of the traditional state religion. (Every emperor since the time of Augustus had received this office together with its symbol, the pontifical robe, upon his succession to the throne.) Nor was it only the ceremonial trappings of Rome's classical heritage that he willingly assumed. The son of a military commander and himself a military general, he coveted for his son the classical education that he had not received. Reserved exclusively for the senatorial class, a classical education still held the promise of wealth, leisure, property, and political influence, all advantages that the emperor wanted for his son Gratian. For this reason, he summoned the classically trained poet and Christian aristocrat Ausonius to his court to become his son's tutor.

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