1. In the Near East: a goddess prevailed that represented the power of fertility in women -- she was a projection of the female principle.

2. She went by various names (Inanna or Ishtar, Anat, Rhea, or Cybele) -- she may be classified generally as the "Earth Mother".

3. The Earth Mother was already in Greece (Hellas) when the Greeks (Hellenes) arrived ca. 2500 B.C.

a. At Argos she was known as Hera (Lady) and ousted Dione as Zeus's wife.

b. At Delphi as Ge (the earth) -- she had an ancient oracle there.

c. At Eleusis she was also Mother Earth (Demeter) and at Sparta she was Orthia.

4. As Aphrodite (the Foam born) the Mother reached Cyprus -- the name foam born had a double meaning.

o        the sea from which she was born, and also the foam surrounding semen.

5. From Cyprus her cult reached Corinth.

a. Her temple was staffed by over a thousand prostitutes.

o        Strabo: says that "these girls of hospitality were the city's chief attraction.

b. The verb "to Corinthianize" became synonymous with sexual immorality, and Saint Paul's indictment of pagan society in the first chapter of Romans is based on his two years in Corinth.

c. The Earth Mother is also revealed in the story of the death of the vegetation spirit in the myth of Aphrodite's beloved Adonis, who was killed in a boar hunt.

Minoan Religion

1. Crete was a major center of early culture and here the Earth Mother was supreme: by the Second Millennium B.C. her cult was firmly established.

a. She was associated with animals, birds and snakes, the pillar and tree, the sword and the double-axe, and was dominant in all spheres of life and death.

b. Represented: standing on a mountain flanked by two lions; another with snakes encircling her arms.

o        Her young consort, whom the Greeks recognized as Zeus, was born on Mount Ida.

2. The cult was a fertility-cult, and the goddess was associated with the moon (ie. menstruation and the power of women) and her consort the sun.

o        Both were represented by the cow and bull (ie. Europa's rape by a bull).

3. The Sacred Marriage was an important part of the ritual.

ie. emphasis was on Demeter and the inescapable fertility of the soil.


1. The invading Hellenes (ca. second millennium B.C.) brought with them the great Indo-European sky-god Dyaus or Zeus.

o        For the nomad -- the land might change, but the sky never did.

o        With the sky-god came his consort Dione and a maiden figure, Pallas.

2. To the First Hellenes: the sky-god became Posis-Das, husband of Earth -- with later Hellenes - Zeus asserts his authority.

a. The marriage of Sky and Earth secured fertility thus life.

b. The Mother's consort might become a son of Zeus, like Hercules.

c. At Athens the Maiden took over, and the Mother was transformed into the virgin warrior, Pallas Athene.

3. A sky-god is naturally worshipped on mountains and Zeus took the highest mountain, Olympus.

4. The great sky-god experienced some blending over a period of time.

a. Crete: where there were legends of his birth, he was fused with the local fertility spirit.

b. The Greeks were early in recognizing Zeus as a universal supreme god. (ie. he stood for righteousness.)

c. His festival at Olympia demanded a truce from even belligerent Greeks.

The Olympic Pantheon

1. Homeric Poetry presents a society on Olympus in human form (anthropomorphic) but larger than life with Zeus as the overlord.

2. The Twelve Olympians: Hera, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Ares, and Hestia.

3. Dionysus: appears on Linear B tablets of the Mycenaean Period.

a. He scarcely appears in Homeric Poetry -- he came from Thrace as a power of wild nature and religious ecstasy.

b. His cult spreading among women who caught and devoured the god (orgia) in the form of an animal.

ie. Euripides' Play: The Bachae.

4. Classical power of Fate (moira).

o        It is implied that Zeus can defy Fate, but he had better not try.

The Power of Nature

1. For the Greek all of Nature was a part of Life.

a. A mountain was the sky-god's throne, so worshippers went to hilltops to pray for rain.

b. Every tree had a significance:

1. The oak - sacred to Zeus.

2. The olive - sacred to Athena.

3. The bay - sacred to Apollo.

4. The myrtle - sacred to Aphrodite.

5. The poplar - sacred to Heracles.

c. Groves were especially sacred being places of refuge -- each had its nymph, each river had its god.

2. In the country - one might encounter the goat - footed god Pan or the satyrs and centaurs (half-men, half beasts).

3. The sea was the home and domain of Poseidon.

4. The constellations had their popular mythology -- and a philosopher like Plato declared they had a soul.

o        the firmament between sky and earth was peopled with intermediate powers.

a. There is little appreciation of natural beauty for its own sake.

b. Nature gave food and drink, warmth or cool shade, she was useful, or she was awesome and destructive.

Purification and Holiness

1. The temenos or sanctuary meant "cut off or "set apart".

a. The temple was not a place of public worship -- it might be entered only once a year or only by priests.

b. The inner shrine was called the adyton (meaning "not to be entered"). ie. the home of the god.

2. Impurity was a serious offence -- ie. Oedipus's parricide and incest (it made no difference that it was done unknowingly.)

3. Scapegoats were a form of purification -- during a festival to Apollo, the sins of the community were loaded on an individual called Pharmakos (Remedy) who was then driven out.

4. There were many simpler forms of purification (ie. sacrifice of a pig, dog, or cock, or bathing in the sea.)

The Mysteries (Certain cults offered a more personal religion.)

1. At Eleusis: the myth of the rape of Kore, the maid, by the god of the underworld.

a. The search of her mother, Demeter, and the blight she laid on the land, and the eventual restoration of the girl to her mother for part of the year.

b. Symbolic: of the burial of the seed-corn underground in storage jars during the dark blight of winter and its reappearance for Spring planting.

2. A great festival took place in September beginning with a baptism of regeneration in the Sea (at Athens).

a. September 19th: there was a procession from Athens and an initiation.

o        Dramatic performance of the myth, leading to the sacred marriage, and communion meal (normally of corn).

b. The death of grain in the ground and its subsequent rebirth gives life to man.

3. The Cult of Orpheus

a. Orpheus was a legendary musician who becomes a kind of double Dionysus.

ie. in Sicily and Greece in the 5th Century B.C..

b. Complex Myth in which Dionysus was killed and eaten by the Titans.

c. His heart was rescued, and a new Dionysus was born from it - the Titans were then destroy by Zeus's thunderbolt, and mankind was born from the ashes.

d. Man was composed of Two Forms:

1. Titanic Element, the body.

2. Dionysiac Element, the spirit.

e. To purify the self of titanic influence required religious observance, including vegetarianism.

f. Doctrine of Reincarnation: circle of death and rebirth--"Happy and blessed one, you have become divine instead of mortal."

Philosophical Speculation

1. In Hesiod's Theogony (8th Century B.C.) Chaos, the void - empty space - yawning gap, simply came into being; so then did Earth (Ge), Tartarus, and Eros.

a. These are taken as given: only with the existence of Love can a mythology of sexual union and birth take over.

b. Regarded as the beginning of rationalism.

2. Thales of Miletus (early 6th Century B.C.) was the originator of scientific philosophy.

a. He asked questions about the Cosmos and looked for answers in material terms.

b. Thales saw all things as modifications of water which is necessary for life.

ie. This was the beginning of the process by which Zeus was dethroned.

c. Scientific Speculation was not free from myth -- water in the guise of Oceanus was a primal being in Greek myth.

d. Thales was influenced by what he viewed as the magnetic properties in matter declared, "Everything is full of the gods."

3. Anaximenes substituted air for water, declaring it to be divine--there was some divine being that surrounded the Cosmos, and seeped through to form the upper air or aether.

4. Plato (427-347 B.C.) presented a theological dimension.

a. Creation by a divine craftsman -- of what we call matter.

b. The material world is perishable, and the body which perceives it is like wise perishable.

c. The world of forms, of true piety, perfect justice and beauty is everlasting, and the soul which perceives it is immortal.

5. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

a. There is a great chain of being, from pure matter, which is unknowable, at the bottom, to pure form, which is god at the top. (A chain from potentiality to actuality.)

b. God is engaged in unending self-contemplation and thus involved in the world as a Unmoved Mover.


1. The most famous one was at Delphi, originally of Mother Earth, but later taken over by Apollo.

2. Consultation was through a priestess or Pythia who in a trance uttered unintelligible sounds.

3. The Priests reduced these to appropriate advice in intelligible, though sometimes ambiguous, prose or verse.

a. A celebrated ambiguity was the answer given to Croesus of Lydia: "If Croesus crossed the Halys, he will destroy a mighty empire."

ie. He did -- his own.

b. There was another method of consultation by drawing a different colored bean for yes or no.

4. There were also times for private and personal consultations of oracles. (ie. harvests, children, illness etc.)

5. The Oracle was believed to be the repository of all gathered wisdom as expressed through the god.

o        It is the Delphic Oracle that fostered the two Greek Precepts: "Know yourself and Avoid excess."


1. Theophratus sketches a comic picture of the superstitious man in his work, The Characters.

"Obviously, superstitious ness would be generally defined as a kind of cowardice when confronted with the supernatural. The superstitious man is the sort of person who won't go out for the day without washing his hands and aspersing himself at the Nine Springs, and putting a piece of laurel-leaf from a temple into his mouth. If a cat runs across the road, he won't go any further until either someone else passes or he has thrown three stones across the road. If he sees a snake in his house, he calls on Sabazius, if it is one of the red variety; if it's one of the sacred sort, he builds a shrine on the spot. When he passes one of those smooth stones which stand at cross-roads, he pours a little oil from his flask over it, and won't go on till he has knelt down and bowed his head to the ground. If a rat gnaws a bag of meal, he goes straight to the medicine-man to ask what to do, and if the answer is "Take it to be patched", he pays no attention, but finds some ritual aversion. He is always ceremonially purifying his house, saying that it has been enchanted by Hecate. If he hears an owl hoot while he's out walking, he is much shaken and won't go past without muttering "All power is Athene's." He refuses to set foot on a tombstone or go anywhere near a dead body or a woman in childbirth, saying that he doesn't want to suffer pollution."

2. Nicias, the leading Athenian soldier and statesman after the death of Pericles, lost two armies in 412 B.C..

o        Two medicine men advised him after the lunar eclipse of August 27th to wait "Thrice nine days" before moving his troops.

Hellenistic Religion

1. Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.): his brief career and expansion of the Greek World changed religious thought in many ways.

2. Emphasis: was on the oriental king-god, the hero founder of cities.

3. There was also a new emphasis on demons, the intermediate spirits, the new gods from the east and south along with the old.

4. Astrology was introduced from Babylon, and gods of healing were in demand (ie. Asclepius and Epidarus).

5. Uncertainties (in religion) led many to exalt Tyche (Luck or Chance).


1. Thucydides and Polybius (two of the greatest historians of antiquity) took chance as a cardinal element in historical analysis.

2. Plato and Aristotle equated chance with all that did not have direct purpose for god or man -- ie. physical law.

3. She is a goddess and represented as prosperity which she either gives or withholds.

Hellenistic Philosophy

1. These philosophies pursued autharkeia (self-sufficiency - non attachment).

2. Stoics

a. They were determinists: all is in the hands of god, our task is to accept.

b. We are all players in the divine drama, and whether our role is that of king or slave, both are essential to the whole.

ie. Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius

3. Epicureans (to the Jews they were Atheists)

a. Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) attacked superstition and evils.

b. Fourfold Prescription

1. God is not to be feared.

2. Death is not to be felt.

3. Good can easily be attained.

4. Evil can easily be endured.

c. Denied that the gods reward the righteous or punish the wicked.

o        gods exist caring little about man.


1. Tradition: Rome was founded by Romulus in 753 B.C..

a. Indo-Europeans were probably settled in the area ca. 1100 B.C.

b. However, Early Rome was influenced by a non - Indo-European People to their north (Etruria).

2. The Etruscans: Origin

a. They may have always been indigenous to Italy.

b. Herodotus: says they came from Lydia (Asia Minor).

c. Religious parallels with astrology and divination practiced in Mesopotamia supports this theory.

3. Essential facets of Etruscan Culture developed in Italy north of the Tiber in the 7th and 8th Centuries B.C.

a. Economically: it depended on agriculture and metallurgy.

b. Politically: it was based upon city-states linked in a league with a religious center near Volsinii (where there was a shrine to a God that the Romans called Vertumnus).

4. Etruscan Deities can be divided into three groups.

a. First, those which have pure Etruscan Names.

1. Tinia -- Jupiter

2. Setaians -- Vulcan

3. Turms -- Mercury

4. Turan -- Venus (often on mirrors).

5. Nortia -- Fortuna

b. Second, those taken from Italic neighbors bearing familiarity to Roman names.

1. Ani -- Janus

2. Uni -- Juno

3. Mnrv -- Minerva

4. Nethuns -- Neptune

c. Third, those which are derived from Greek Colonists in southern Italy.

1. Aite -- Hades

2. Aplu -- Apollo

3. Aritimi -- Artemis

4. Charun -- Charon

5. Hercle -- Hercules

6. Persipnai -- Persephone

5. The predominance of underworld deities in the last group is noteworthy.

a. A preoccupation with the afterlife is a major feature of Etruscan Religion.

b. Funeral games were held in honor of the dead, (and some have argued that this is the origin of gladiatorial combat).

c. Tombs were elaborately furnished and regarded as the houses of the dead.

o        Magnificent frescoes survive showing the dead journeying to the underworld under a divine escort.

6. There is also evidence that sexual symbols were associated with tombs -- it suggests that to the Etruscans it was the life force in each individual which constituted the essential being and part which survived death.

ie. Associated to the Roman concept of genius and juno (male and female elements).

7. Divination: proved very influential.

a. The will of the gods could be made known to Man (ie. Thunder and lightning, or the flight of birds).

b. The Etruscans were especially famous for hepatoscopy (the study of the liver).

1. The sacrificial victim was slaughtered and opened up, and the liver was examined for any peculiarities.

2. The right side of the liver denoted good luck, and the left denoted bad luck.

3. A depiction (bronze liver) is shown divided into no less than forty regions, each marked with the name of a different god.

ie. a very complex discipline.

c. Haruspex (or diviner) -- their reputation lasted for centuries after the Etruscans had disappeared as a political force.

Early Roman Religion: the Numina

1. When a priest sacrificed to Tellus Mater (Mother Earth) and Ceres (corn spirit) -- he invoked Vervactor (breaking of the fallow ground), Redarator (plowing), Imporcitor (furrowing), Insistor (sowing), Obarator (top dressing), Occator (harrowing), Sarritor (hoeing), Subrincator (harvesting), Messor, Convector, Conditor, and Promitor (gathering, storing, and withdrawing from the store).

2. They are all powers, Numina, each presiding over a limited but necessary operation, and having no existence apart from that operation.

ie. They are gods of special functions.

3. Numina -- these powers are particularly associated with agricultural operations and the family.

a. Alemona had care for the foetus, Nona, and Decima watching the critical months of gestation.

b. Partula was responsible for the birth of the field (partu - at birth).

c. Lucinia, Candeliferra and Carmentes offered charms and light needed for a safe birth.

d. Intercidona (clever), Pilumus (stake), and Deverra (sweeper) in a magical ceremony dispersed evil spirits with axe, stake, and broom.

4. Some of these Numina preside not so much over functions as over the operation of power in some other sense.

a. The genius of the male and juno of the female are present through the whole period of fertility and not just procreation.

b. Others have a local habitation and name.

1. Vesta in the hearth.

2. Penates in the storeroom.

3. Janus in the door.

4. Terminus in the boundary stone.

5. Genius in the head of the father (the seed was believed to emanate from the head).

c. The Lares are believed to be ancestral spirits who preside over the fertility of the farmland.

1. Lar familaris came into the farmhouse with the farm worker.

2. Lar compitalis guarded the crossroads where several farms met.

5. These are not gods; they are powers: some of them eventually took on personalities and became gods.

a. Venus (neuter in form) was a sexless garden spirit before she became the goddess of love.

b. Juno was closely associated to nubile women, but became the queen of the gods.

c. Saturnus was a god of planting.

d. Neptunus was a power of water.

The Emergence of the Gods

1. The word numen is neuter meaning "nodding" -- it is connected with the idea that fertility resides in the head.

2. Eventually numen is transformed into anthropomorphic deities meaning deity and eventually divine will, divinity, god-head, power of the god.

3. The first great god of the Romans was Mars (eventually becoming the god of war).

a. Originally he was involved in agriculture.

1. As Marmar he was invoked to shield the fields from pestilence.

2. As Mamurius he was a year-spirit being driven out at the harvest and returning as the New Year.

b. The salii (Priests of Mars - leaping priests) suggests that they were leaping for higher crops.

c. The festival of the shields may be a preparation for war, but the clanging of spear and shield represented thunder-magic.

d. The champion war-horse was sacrificed to him, and its blood was used in fertility magic.

e. March: the old beginning of the year -- was the start of military campaigns and farming operations.

4. Quirinus is a mysterious power, later identified with Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome.

a. He is associated with Mars as being "in charge of peace".

b. When Romans were assembled in their civil capacity, they were called Quirites.

5. The third of the original trinity who was worshipped on the Capitoline Hill was Jupiter.

a. Like Zeus, he was an Indo-European sky god who came down to Rome from hill shrines at Alba Longa.

b. From the time of the Etruscan Kings, he dominated the pantheon under the title of "Best and Greatest".

c. The old power of femininity, Juno, became his consort and queen.

6. Two of the other Numina became prominent in the pantheon as "indigenous gods".

a. Janus: the spirit of the door -- later represented looking both ways, the god of beginnings and endings.

ie. January

b. Vesta: the spirit of the hearth, whose national shrine was tended by the Vestal Virgins who began their service between six and ten and continued for thirty years.

7. Di Novensiles (new gods) -- immigrant gods, ones that were introduced from abroad.

a. Italo-Etruscan goddess of technological skill, Minerva.

o        She became associated with a new Capitoline Trinity with Jupiter and Juno.

b. Hercules was a god of success in practical affairs.

c. Mercury whose name shows his association with merchants.

d. Apollo as a healing deity.

e. Fortuna, a power of fertility and an oracle goddess.

f. Diana was a tree spirit.

8. Importance of Magna Graecia:

a. Some of these deities were identical with Greek gods as originating from the same Indo-European deity.

ie. Zeus is Dyaus, so Jupiter is Diupiter, Father Dyas.

b. Legends adhering to Greek deities became attached to Roman deities.

ie. Ovid's Metamorphoses.

The Pax Deorum

1. Religion was a matter of securing the pax deorum, the favor of the gods.

a. It was viewed as a contract or a treaty with the gods.

b. This could be done by observing the appropriate festivals, sacrifices, and rituals.

2. The Pontifex Maximus was responsible for directing the religious life of Rome.

a. With him served the four high priests: rex sacrorum, flamen Dialis, flamen Martialis, flamen Quirinalis.

b. The Fasti: published in 304 B.C. establishing days on which public business might or might not be transacted.

c. For each sacrifice, the appropriate victim had to be selected, the exact ritual observed, the precise formula recited.

3. There were other Priestly Colleges.

a. Augurs (Augures): whose task it was to ascertain the will of Jupiter by means of the auspices.

b. Commission of Fifteen (quindecimviri) were responsible for the care of the Sybilline Books.

c. Arval Brethren who had charge of the fertility of the fields.

ie. arare: to cultivate.

d. Fraternity of Titus who guarded the ancient Sabine Rites (and had some responsibility for augury).

e. The Fetials whose responsibility was treaties (ritual in making war and peace).

f. The luperci who celebrated the New Year ritual each February.

ie. Festival of Pan.

g. Salii and Salii Collini (leaping priests) to Mars and Quirinus.

Political Religion

1. The Greek historian Polybius praised and the Christian theologian Augustine condemned, the Roman Aristocrats use of religion as a "opiate" of the people.

2. In Republican times changes were brought about under political pressure through the Sibylline Books.

a. The Sibyl was a mysterious figure to whom oracular power was ascribed.

b. These oracles may have been systematized ca. 367 B.C. or earlier.

1. lectisternium in which pairs of deities represented by sculptured busts were set on couches and a banquet set before them.

2. Supplicatio or religious processions to the temples.

3. The books were also responsible for the introduction of new cults:

a. ca. 496 B.C.: the temple to Ceres, Liber, and Libera (Demeter, Dionysus, and Persephone) was decreed by a Sibylline Oracle.

b. ca. 293 B.C.: the healing god Aesculapius (Asclepius) came in the form of a snake to the island in the Tiber where a hospital still stands today.

c. The Great Mother was brought to Rome by Scipio during the Second Punic War.

o        It was during the war with Hannibal and its disasters in Italy that the books were the busiest -- people turn to religion in time of war.


1. He was a religious skeptic, but his political sense made him realize the importance of using religion as the basis of his rule.

2. 29 B.C.: the Temple of Janus was closed signifying the beginning of a new era of peace.

3. 28 B.C.: the Senate entrusted Augustus with the restoration of the temples of which he renovated eighty-two.

4. The Temple of Palatine Apollo -- the god of light and culture, who had presided over his final victory at Actium.

o        The emblem of the new reign.

5. Other temples to his adoptive father the Divine Julius, to Jupiter the Tunderer, to Mars and Venus, to Mars the Avenger, and to Vesta were dedicated.

6. The Restoration of Ceremony:

a. Augustus himself became a Pontifex, augur, and member of the Commission of Fifteen.

b. The office of flamen Dialis, vacant for more than half a century, was filled again.

o        Priests were sacrificing, the colleges revived, the rites restored.

c. Augustus also became Pontifex Maximus in 12 B.C. when Lepidus died.

d. The Altar of Peace: a sculptured procession and panels representing Mother Earth, Aeneas sacrificing to the Penates, the nurture of Romulus and Remus, and the divine figure of Rome on a pile of armor.

7. Emperor Worship

a. Origin: can be seen in the Hellenistic Oriental Divine Monarchy.

b. Romans regarded the idea of divine monarchy with fascination and fear.

c. Caesar considered the idea of deification which he only received until after his death.

d. Mark Antony openly represented himself as Dionysus-Osiris, consort of Cleopatra-Isis, queen of Egypt.

8. Augustus established the pattern of Emperor Worship.

a. In Egypt he had to allow himself to be a divine monarch, but he was more cautious elsewhere keeping in mind traditional Roman mores.

b. The Greeks had societies for various purposes, called Koina which were adapted to the ruler-cult.

1. Augustus did not allow himself to be honored alone, but coupled his name with Rome or the Lares.

2. At Rome he took the title of divi filius, son of the divine Julius.

c. A few emperors like Caligula, Nero, and Domitian demanded worship in their lifetime, as dominus et deus.

d. The normal practice:

1. The genius of the emperor was worshipped -- it was under the care of the Augustales, priests of the deified emperor.

2. The practice of emperor worship became the basis of the conflict with Christianity.

ie. a political conflict not a religious one.


Roman Religion:

1. Most Romans had a skeptical view toward their religion.

2. Many felt a need for a guide of ethical conduct and were drawn to the Christian promise of eternal life. (and the idea that everyone was equal in the sight of God.

3. Roman View and Attitudes:

Mos Maiorum, tradition: If devotion toward the gods is rejected, the best of virtues and justice may disappear.

Religio: pride in devotion toward their ancestral gods was the basic truth.

Pax Deorum: (conceived as a treaty or contract) - As long as the gods were given proper worship and devotion, the safety and welfare of the people were secure.

4. Religion: criteria established by Augustus

a. Licita: would be permitted as along as it was polytheistic in its orientation and was not in violation of basic Roman morals and principles.

b. Externa: it would be foreign or outside of the state religion.

c. Prava: it would be perverse or offensive to the customs of the Roman People (illegal such as Christianity).

Emperor Worship: historical note in terms of Rome's conflict with Christianity.

The development of the Emperor Cult was actually a simple process. The first step was the deification and worship of Julius Caesar by the state. The next step was when the gods of the imperial family began to be worshipped by other families and later officially by the state. The final step in this process was the evolution from worshipping the Genius (divine double) of the master of the household to the homage paid by the whole state to the Genius of the living emperor. All of this was encouraged and permitted by Augustus.

The development of the Emperor Cult did not take the same form throughout the Empire. In the East, Augustus was worshipped as a god and often associated with the goddess Roma. These eventually became the essential elements of the national religion. However, the Emperor Cult in the West worshipped his Genius rather than the living emperor at first. Augustus was deified after his death just as Julius Caesar had been. The cult of the imperial genius provided a bridge between the Roman concept of the divinity and authority of Augustus and the Hellenistic concept of the divine kingship. The Emperor's birthday became the chief festival of the cult. Offering sacrifice to the emperor's genius also became very important in a symbolic sense. The sacrifice was seen as an act of loyalty. Maybe even more important, this relationship had a centralizing and unifying effect on the Empire. It also had its effects on Christians when they were asked to make sacrifice.

Evidence (Historical) of Christian Persecution:

1. Nero, A.D. 64: The Great fire of Rome

a. Seutonius in his Lives of the Caesars, said, "Punishment was inflicted on Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition."

b. Tacitus in his Annales referring to the Fire of Rome and the Christians said, "First, then, the confessed members of the sect were arrested; next on their disclosures, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for the hatred of the human race."

HISTORICAL NOTE: There is no actual evidence of an official prohibition against Christianity at this time, though a Christian still would have been guilty under the Augustan Law of Association (only sanctioned religions were permitted). Christianity was held in contempt by most Romans of this time. It was a religion whose adherents met at night and in secret. These two elements had definite meanings for the Romans. The Romans believed that a group which did not meet during the day in public view was either a cult with political designs or one which practiced cannibalism and murder.

2. Trajan and Pliny A.D. 112: Pliny as governor of Bithynia and Pontus.

a. The emperor Trajan had sent Pliny to restore order to a province which had suffered from the lack of proper administration.

b. Religious Problems: a charge of Christianity had been brought against many in the province.

Procedures used by Pliny: The governor put the question to them three times as to whether they were Christians, while at the same time threatening them with punishment. When they persisted in their confession, Pliny condemned to death those who were provincials, while those who were Roman citizens he ordered to be transported to Rome to await the Emperor's decision.

c. Pliny's letter to the Emperor: he was unsure of what the proper procedures were.

"I therefore do not know what offences it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction between young or old; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offences, or only the offences associated with the name are to be punished."

d. Trajan's response to Pliny: established an imperial policy which forms Rome's basic attitude toward Christianity up to the time of Decius.

"Christians must not be sought out, and anonymous denunciations are to be ignored, for they create the worst sort of precedent and are quite out of keeping with the spirit of our age. Christians who are accused as such, in due form by a private prosecutor and are convicted must be punished, by anyone who denies he is a Christian, and proves it by offering prayers to our gods, is to receive a pardon and go free."

e. A basic principle of Roman Law was involved that an acknowledged accuser must initiate the trial and face the accused.

With the Roman sense of law, it was difficult for the Romans to initiate the type of persecution which could have effectively destroyed Christianity.

3. Hadrian reaffirms Trajan's policy in a letter in A.D. 123 written to the governor of Asia.

I have received a letter from your illustrious predecessor Serenus Gratianus, and I do not wish to leave his inquiry unanswered, lest innocent men be troubled and false accusers seize occasion for robbery. If the provincials are clearly willing to appear in person to substantiate suits against Christians, if, that is, they come themselves before your judgment seat to prefer accusations, I do not forbid them to prosecute. But I do not permit them to make more entreaties and protestations. Justice demands that if anyone wishes to bring an accusation, you should make due legal inquiry into the charge. If such an accusation be brought and it be proved that the charge is true, you will punish them as their misdeed deserve. But in Heaven's name, take the very greatest care if a man prosecutes anyone of these men by way of false accusation you visit the accuser, as his wickedness deserves, with server punishments.


1. He became emperor in September of A.D. 249.

2. He had been the commander of the Danube Army.

3. As a result of constant fighting on the frontiers, he initiated a program for the revival of the state religion (traditional view).

4. At the end of 249: Decius issued an Edict against Christians.

a. Two stages: first the leadership and them the membership of the Church.

b. Various bishops were condemned by Decius. They were possibly supporters of the previous emperor.

Primary Purpose: the destruction of elements which were viewed as being disloyal.

c. June 250: all free citizens were ordered to offer sacrifice to the gods. To the genius of the emperor with the purpose of exposing all Christians.

5. Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, recounts a letter from Dionysius of Alexandria to Fabius of Antioch which showed the disorganization that this edict caused the Church.

And what is more, when the edict arrived, and it was almost like that which was predicted by Our Lord, well nigh the most terrible of all so as if possible to cause to stumble even the elect. And of many of the more eminent persons, some came forward immediately through fear, others in public positions were compelled to do so by their business, and others were dragged by those around them. Called by name they approached the impure and unholy sacrifices, some pale and trembling, as if they were not sacrificing but rather to be themselves the sacrifices and victims to the idols, so that the large crowd that stood around heaped mockery upon them, and it was evident that they were by nature cowards in everything, cowards to both die and to sacrifice. But others ran eagerly towards the altars, affirming by their forwardness that they had not been Christians even formerly; concerning whom the Lord very truly predicted that they shall hardly be saved. Of the rest, some followed one or other of these, others fled; some were captured, and of these some went as far as bonds and imprisonment, and certain, when they had been shut up for many days, they foreswore themselves even before coming into court, while others, who remained firm for a certain time under tortures, subsequently gave in.

6. Decius' policies were initially very successful. Also there is no evidence to indicate that large scale imprisonments and executions were necessary to effect conformity to the edict.

7. The edict was not able to out live Decius: the emperor was defeated and killed by the Goths in June of 251.



1. Valerian was proclaimed emperor in A.D. 253 -- the Franks and Goths had both crossed the Danube and the Rhine Frontier into the Empire.

2. Edicts were issued in 257 and 258:

a. The clergy were ordered to sacrifice to the state religion.

b. Christians were forbidden to hold services.

3. Christian clergy were to suffer immediate execution if they refused to acknowledge the state religion.

Viri egregii, members of the Roman nobility, would suffer confiscation of their property and execution.

Caesoriani, lower civil servants, would become slaves and be sent to work in the mines or imperial estates.

Matronae would have their property confiscated and be sent into exile.

4. Valerian had begun to realize the real danger to the empire was the threat of the Persian Emperor Sapor in the East.

5. In A.D. 260, Valerian faced superior Persian forces near Edessa and agreed to a meeting in which he was taken prisoner. Gallienus, Valerian's son, succeeded his father as sole Emperor.


1. Gallienus issued a rescript of the persecution and also restored lost property to Christian communities in the Empire. The rescript was addressed to Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria:

The Emperor Caesar Publius Licinius Gallienus Pius Felix Augustus to Dionysius and Pinnas and Demetrius and the other bishops. I have given orders that the benefit of my bounty should be published throughout the world, to the intent that they should depart from the places of your worship, and therefore you also may use the ordinance obtained in my rescript, so that none may molest you. And this thing which it is within your power to accomplish has long since been conceded by me; and therefore Aurelius Quirinius, who is in charge of the Exchequer, will observe the ordinance given by me.

2. Political Move by Gallienus:

a. Gallienus realized and appreciated the strength of the Church in the East.

b. Gallienus was attempting to gain popular opinion and support over a rival emperor.


1. Diocletian who had risen from Balkan peasantry through the ranks of the army and came to power in A.D. 284.

a. His greatest administrative reform was the organization of the empire into divisions small enough to be ruled effectively by one man.

b. Result: the potential of the army and a rebel challenger were greatly reduced.

2. The imperial executive office was divided into four emperorships, two augusti with two caesars as their assistants.

a. Each had under his jurisdiction a portion of the empire with its own capital.

b. Four divisions called Prefectures governed by a praetorian prefect who was attached as a chief subordinate to one of the emperors.

c. The Prefecture was subdivided into twelve dioceses headed by vicarii.

d. The dioceses were composed of several provinces which were reduced to manageable size.

3. The Army:

a. Diocletian enlarged the army as a whole but reduced the size of individual legions employing the concept of a mobile army.

b. Need for Recruits: pay for a Roman soldier had decreased over the past 100 years.

1. In the early Empire, a soldier was paid in money.

2. Under Diocletian, a soldier was paid in kind except for gifts of money on special occasions.

3. Recruitment: sons of veterans were required to serve. Landowners were obligated to supply a certain number of men or enough money to hire mercenaries.

c. By these reforms, Diocletian could raise enough money and men to field an army that could safeguard the frontier of the empire.

4. Purpose of Reforms: to command the loyalty and obedience of his subjects, and to establish a system of succession which Diocletian hoped would guarantee the peaceful transfer of power from one emperor to the next.

5. 285: Diocletian appointed Maximian as his Caesar. 286: Diocletian appointed him as Augustus, co-emperor in the West.

6. 293: the Tetrarchy was formed.

a. Diocletian with Galerius as his Caesar governed the East.

b. Maximian with Constantius as his Caesar governed the West.

o        Each Augustus would reign for twenty years and then abdicate his power to his caesar.

7. Origin of the Great Persecution:

a. 298: a sacrifice held before both Diocletian and Galerius; the haruspex claimed he was not able to obtain the desired omens because of the presence of Christians in the army.

The Emperor immediately ordered all soldiers to sacrifice to the gods or be discharged.

b. 301: Diocletian had ordered Veturius, Galerius' magister militum to purge the army of all Christians.

Galerius, along with other advisors, urged Diocletian to take further action against the Christians. At first Diocletian resisted this as an action that would disrupt the peace and order of the empire.

8. February 23, A.D. 303: an edict was issued by Diocletian.

a. It ordered all copies of the Scriptures to be surrendered and burned, all churches to be demolished, and all meetings of Christians for worship to be forbidden.

b. Purpose: to stop the collective practice of Christianity.

9. Summer of 303: a second and a third edict were issued.

a. A revolution had broken out in Syria; fires had been set in the imperial palace probably by Galerius (note the comparison with Nero).

b. An attack on the leadership of the Church: they ordered the arrest of all bishops and clergy.

10. A Fourth Edict: was intended to compel the clergy to sacrifice to the gods and then gain freedom. (ie. overcrowding of jails)

11. May 1, 305: Diocletian abdicated and forced Maximian to do like wise.

a. It was believed that Constantine, the son of Constantius; and Maxentius, the son of Maximian would be the new caesars.

The New Caesars were: Maximin, the nephew of Galerius. Severus, a loyal army officer.

b. Spring of 306: Maximin ordered another general sacrifice. Persecution was severe under both Maximin and Severus; while under Constantius there was toleration.

12. July 25, 306: Constantius died in Britain (breakdown of the Tetrarchy).

a. The legions in Britain proclaimed Constantine the new Augustus.

b. 307: Severus was raised to Augustus but he was overthrown by Maxentius.

c. Galerius was forced to recognize both Constantine and Maxentius as Augustus. He also raised his nephew, Maximin, to the rank of Augustus.

d. November 308: Licinius, a loyal general, was also appointed Augustus.

Chaotic Situation: there were five emperors.

13. April 311: Licinius convinced Galerius to issue an edict of toleration. This edict is known today as the Palinode of Galerius.

Among other steps which we are always taking for the profit and advantage of the State we had formerly sought to set all things right according to the ancient laws and public order of the Romans and further to provide that Christians too who had abandoned the way of life of their fathers should return to sound reason. For the said Christians had somehow become possessed by such obstinacy and folly that, instead of following those institutions of the ancients which by chance their own ancestors had established, they were at their own will and pleasure making laws for themselves and acting upon them and were assembling in different places people of different nationalities. After we had decreed that they should return to the institutions of the ancients, many were subjected to danger, many too were completely overthrown; and when very many persisted in their determination and we saw that they neither gave worship and due reverence to the gods nor practiced the worship of the god of the Christians, considering our most gentle clemency and our immemorial custom by which we are want to grant indulgence to all men, we have thought it right in their case too to extend the speediest indulgence to the effect that they may once more be free to live as Christians and may reform their Churches always provided that they do nothing contrary to public order. Further by another letter we shall inform provincial governors what conditions the Christians must observe. Wherefore in accordance with this our indulgence they will be bound to entreat their god for our well being and for that of the State and for their own so they themselves may live in their homes in security.

a. There is no apparent reason for this change in Galerius' religious policy other than the superstitious nature of the times and possibly his own fear of death.

b. Licinius probably hoped to gain Galerius' province of Asia Minor which was a good source of recruits for the army. It was also there that the Christian Church was the strongest.

c. Galerius died a week later after issuing the edict on May 5, 311.

14. Fall of 311: Maximin resumed persecution. It was called off in 312 after he was defeated by Armenia. (Maximin died in 313).

15. Rivalry within the Empire: Alliances were formed.

a. Maxentius and Maximin.

b. Constantine and Licinius.

16. October 27, 312: The Battle of the Mulvian Bridge

a. Maxentius was defeated and drowned in the Tiber.

b. Tradition: "Constantine was directed in a dream to mark the Heavenly sign of God on the shields of his soldiers and thus to begin battle. IN HOC SIGNO VINCES."

17. Licinius, on his return to Nicomedia, issued the Edict of Milan on June 13, A.D. 313 in both his and Constantine's names.

Since we saw that freedom of worship ought not to be denied, but that to each man's judgment and will the right should be given to care for sacred things according to each man's free choice, we have already some time ago bidden the Christians to maintain the faith of their own sect and worship. But since in that edict by which such right was granted to the aforesaid Christians many and varied conditions clearly appeared to have been added, it may well perchance have come about that after a short time many were repelled from practicing their religion. This I, Constantine Augustus, and I, Licinius Augustus, had met at Mediolanum (Milan) and were discussing all those matters which relate to the advantage and security of the State, amongst the other things which we saw would benefit the majority of men we were convinced that first of all those conditions by which reverence for the Divinity is secured should be put in order by us to the end that we might give to the Christians and to all men the right to follow freely whatever religion each had wished, so that thereby whatever of Divinity there be in the heavenly seat may be favorable and propitious to use and to all those who are placed under our authority. And so by a salutary and most fitting line of reasoning we came to the conclusion that we should adopt this policy -- namely our view should be that to no one whatsoever should we deny liberty to follow either the religion of the Christians or any other cult which of his own free choice he has thought to be best adopted for himself, in order that the supreme Divinity, to whose service we render our free obedience, may bestow upon us in all things his wonted favor and benevolence. Wherefore we would that your devotion should know that it is our will that all those conditions should be altogether removed which were contained in our former letters addressed to you concerning the Christians (and which seemed to be entirely perverse and alien from our clemency) -- those should be removed and now in freedom and without restriction let all those who desire to follow the aforesaid religion of the Christians hasten to follow the same without any molestation or interference. We have felt that the fullest information should be furnished on this matter to your carefulness that you might be assured that we have given to the aforesaid Christians complete and unrestricted liberty to follow their religion. Further, when you see that this indulgence has been granted by us to the aforesaid Christians, your Devotion will understand that to others also a similar free and unhindered liberty of religion and cult has been granted, for such a great grant is befitting to the peace of our times, so that it may be open to every man to worship as he will. This has been done by us so that we should not seem to have done dishonor to any religion.

a. April 313: Maximin had been defeated by Licinius.

b. Licinius again revives persecution for a short time as he attempts to seize control of the empire from Constantine.

Constantine became sole emperor in 324.

c. In 380 Emperor Thodosius makes Christianity the official religion of the empire.

Religion: In the Provinces of Rome

1. Interpretatio Romana: was the process of assimilating foreign deities into the Roman Pantheon as Rome's Empire began to spread.

2. Britain as an example:

a. Numerous Celtic Gods became identified with the Roman Pantheon.

b. At Bath the goddess of hot springs, Sulis, was identified with Minerva.

c. At Lydney on the Severn, Nodens who survives in mythology as King Lear acquired a temple in the 4th Century A.D.

(ie. some believe this may represent an Irish settlement).

d. Brigartia in the north was accepted as a nymph; Maponus or Mabon, a god of youth, was identified with Apollo.

e. Romans honored many local deities as the Genius of the Place.

3. Eastern Cults were introduced by soldiers and merchants.

ie. Mithras, Isis, and Cybele.

Magic and Superstition

1. Astrology was introduced ultimately from Babylon -- believing there was a mystical kinship between men and the stars.

a. Saturn's course was slow; thus it was believed to make men sluggish.

b. The planet Venus presided over love; Jupiter offered power; Mercury blessed trade.

c. The snake was associated with healing gods; the constellation of that name helped in the healing process.

2. Astrology was a pseudo-science; the calculation of horoscopes was an intricate process, and the astrologers were called mathematici.

3. Magic was used for Medical Purposes.

a. Magical amulets were a protection against disease, and we have such incantations as "flee demon hydrophobia from the wearer of this amulet."

b. Pliny: to cure a headache, pick a herb growing on the head of a statue, wrap it in a piece of cloth and tie it around your neck with a piece of red string.

c. Curses, often inscribed on lead tablets and then buried.

o        "A typical one, put a curse upon a certain Q. Leturius Lupus, also called Caucadio, and called on the nymphs or boiling water to destroy him within a year."

Life After Death

1. The Roman View of Life After Death presents a complexity that was centered on a reverence for ancestors.

a. The Lares were the general ancestral spirits -- the moral norm was mos maiorum (tradition), the way of the ancestors.

b. Di Manes were the spirits of the Dead, and they were both honored and feared.

Parentalia in February was a festival of the dead, All Souls, and was mainly celebrated in families rather than publicly.

2. Etruscan Tradition fostered a fear of punishment beyond the grave.

o        a Cicero or a Seneca would laugh at such a view, but Epicureans attempted to impose it.

a. Epitaphs -- show neither hope or fear.

b. Some epitaphs express regret at having left the pleasures of life, others satisfaction at having escaped life's troubles.

c. Common Formula: "NF F NS NC."

o        I did not exist. I existed. I do not exist. I do not care.

d. 3rd Century A.D. -- sarcophagi depict scenes which symbolize the mortal assuming immortality.

o        Dionysus takes Ariadne as a bride.

o        Prometheus forms man and gives him life.

o        Hercules fulfills his labors and is rewarded with immortality.

The Sun

1. In many parts of the Eastern Empire, the Sun was a prominent object of worship.

a. In Illyria, Syria, Egypt, Persia.

b. Sol, the sun-god, had an ancient cult at Rome; but under Augustus it was displaced by Apollo.

2. As the center of power in the Roman World shifted to the East, sun-worship also grew in influence and importance.

3. Under the Severan Dynasty (2nd Century A.D.) sun worship became dominant -- the sun god was portrayed with Severus's characteristic beard.

a. The emperor took the title, Invictus (unconquered) which was the normal epithet of the Sun.

b. The Sun became a unifying symbol and rallying-point for the whole empire.

4. A.D. 274 - Aurelian established the sun-god as the supreme god of the Roman Empire.

5. Emperor Constantine's Christianity appears to be ambiguous.

a. His family owed traditional allegiance to the sun-god.

b. His famous vision of the cross (Battle of the Mulvian Bridge) as he marched on Rome came to him from the sun.

c. The sun continues to appear on his coins and on his arch in Rome, his own statue at Constantinople bore the rayed crown of the sun-god.

o        To Constantine, his god was one of power and never of love.

ie. later Byzantine view of the emperor.

Personal Religion

1. For personal religion men turned to the mystery religions, those whose secret rites were known only to the initiated.

2. Isis and Osiris came from Egypt.

a. Isis was a savior-goddess, Osiris the god who had been torn to pieces and reborn.

b. In Egypt the dead man was identified with Osiris -- Isis and Osiris offered protection in this world and life in the next world beyond death.

3. Cybele, the great mother-goddess of Asia Minor.

a. Admission was by the taurobolium or baptism in the bull's blood which was believed to bring eternal life.

b. Originally those who gave themselves to the Mother were expected to castrate themselves -- offering their fertility for the fertility of the world.

o        This practice was ended by the time of Claudius.

4. Mithras was a Persian savior-god.

a. He was the spirit of the firmament and ally of Ahura-Mazda.

b. Initiation was in seven steps:

1. Lower grades, Servitors: were Raven, Bridegroom, Soldier.

2. Upper grades, Participants: were Lion, Persian, Courier of the Sun, Father.

c. Initiation involved real or symbolic tests of endurance.

5. Christianity was an Eastern Cult:

a. Its appeal: the personality of its founder, the quality of life and fellowship, and all that was meant by the new world of agape (Christian Love).

b. Martyrdom that was faced with courage (the blood of Christians is the seed) - the message of hope for all men.

A.D. Nock (religious scholar): "It was left to Christianity to democratize mystery."