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Christianity in the Roman Empire was an important religion which evolved from being a marginal, persecuted faith in the 1st century to becoming the state religion during the late 4th century. Christianity originated in the Roman province of Iudaea, where the Jewish rabbi Jesus spread the Gospel ("good news") to fellow Jews and preached about the arrival of the Messiah, God's plan to save humanity from its sins, and the steps which needed to be taken in order to create God's kingdom on Earth. From 64 to 313 AD, the faith was intermittently persecuted, but, following the Edict of Milan and the Conversion of Constantine, Christianity became the dominant faith in the empire, with Rome, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople becoming important centers of the faith.




Christianity started as a group of Jesus' male disciples and a handful of women, having around 20 adherents by 30 AD. Before his death, Jesus commanded his Twelve Apostles to go out and preach everywhere, spreading the "good news" of the New Testament to every person around the world. Originally, the Christian Church consisted entirely of Jews who believed in Jesus' resurrection, but Paul the Apostle began to spread the faith to the gentiles due to his belief that Jesus died for all humanity, not just the Jews. Small churches began to form in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire, and, by 64 AD, a sizeable church community had developed in the city of Rome itself.

Reasons for success

Christianity owed its rapid growth to its intolerant zeal, the doctrine of immortality, the miracles worked by the early Christians (which convinced pagans that God really was on the side of the Christians), strict morality, and a strong ecclesiastical organization, among many other causes. For most who came to Christianity, it meant abandoning the worship of other gods, making converting to the Christian faith different from anything else in the pagan world, as pagans were allowed to worship any god. In addition, many pagans were henotheists, believing in one god, but not ruling out the existence of other gods; seeing the miracles performed by Christians in God's name as proof that their god was the supreme one. Christians realized that many pagans were drawn to the idea of one ultimate divinity, and their belief in an ultimate god was not foreign to pagans. 

Missionary work

Paul the Apostle preaching in Damascus

Paul's idea of converting the world led to other missionaries converting the pagans, although, after Paul, the Church had no mission; most missionary work was spontaneous and voluntary. Gregory Thaumaturgus ("the Wonderworker") performed miracles in third-century Pontus, the fourth-century bishop Martin of Tours converted pagans in his own city of Tours in France, and the late-fourth-century bishop Porphyry closed pagan temples in Gaza and converted their devotees. Christians did not convert others through organized missionary efforts, but through using everyday social networks and word of mouth. Public gossip about the faith led to widespread interest in it, and adults who converted often converted their entire households (children and slaves included). This led to the exponential growth of the faith across the world.

The church did not spread through a well-thought-out and highly organized missionary endeavor, but instead through word of mouth and social networks, especially when it came to persuading the pagan reservoir to convert. It was not until the end of the 170s that non-Christians began to acknowledge the faith in their literature, and much of early Christian literature attributed supernatural miracles to the apostles. 


Justin Martyr

Between the time of Paul and the mid-2nd century, most converts to Christianity were lower-class and uneducated, especially during Paul's own day. Paul reminded the Corinthians about their own constituency, asking them to consider their calling; not many of them were wise by human standards, nor were they powerful or born to nobility, but God chose the foolish in the world to put to shame the wise, and chose the weak in the world to put to shame the strong. While the pagan philosopher Celsus decried Christianity for being a religion of "children" and gullible women (women were a clear majority in the churches of the third century), the church began to see intellectual converts during the mid-2nd century, including Justin Martyr in Rome, Tertullian in North Africa, and Origen in Alexandria.

Attractions of the Christian community

The Christian community was attractive for providing material support for its needy members, calling its members "brothers" and "sisters", and providing moral support for everyone who came. The Christian community provided enormous social benefits, and the nature of the community was a major cause in the faith's spread. One of the benefits was superior healthcare, ministering to the sick during times of illness. However, the early Christian churches were closed communities which did not allow for outsiders to join in worship services. The real cause for conversion was the disciples' abilities to perform miraculous deeds to convince outsiders that the Christian god was more powerful than any other, leading to them abandoning their older practices and joining the Christian ranks. The miracle of martyrdom helped to convince many pagans to join the faith, as the Christians' ability to endure torture, be obstinate in the fiath of suffering, and often die for their beliefs convinced others that they stood for the truth. Finally, the terrors of the afterlife scared many pagans - fearing eternal damnation in Hell - into converting to Christianity with the hope of enjoying eternal life in heaven.

Growth of the Church

Pope Cornelius

Christianity was a minor faith for the first few centuries of its existence; it was not until 112 AD that Christians were mentioned by any pagan author. Pliny the Younger wrote to the emperor Trajan, discussing the Christian threat to the traditional cults and indicating that he had initiated an official proceeding against them. From 180 to 138, Christianity was not mentioned in any Roman source. The New Testament gave unrealistic accounts of the size of the Christian  Church; after Jesus' resurrection, the Christian cohort consisted of eleven disciples, several unnamed women, and the family members of Jesus, but the next verse in Acts of the Apostles mentioned 120 believers. In addition, a verse claimed that on Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus' crucifixion, 3,000 Jews were converted; soon thereafter, he converted 5,000 more, and, a chapter later, he converted multitudes more; at that rate, the Roman Empire would be Christian by 50 AD. Tertullian exaggerated the numbers of Christians even further by claiming that Christians constituted all but the majority in every city, and that they filled every place among the pagans. Christianity would remain minor up into the third century.

However, during the tenure of Pope Cornelius from 251 to 253 AD, the city of Rome had 46 presbyters, 7 deacons, 4 sub-deacons, 42 acolytes, 52 exorcists, readers, and doorkeepers, and 1,500 widows and other needy persons under church support; Adolf von Harnack surmised that the church had around 30,000-50,000 members at the time, just 5% of the population. Also during the third century, there were only a hundred bishops and churches in Italy. By the beginning of the foruth century, 7-10% of the empire was Christian, meaning that 4-6 million of the 60,000,000 Romans were Christian, with most of the Christians living in the eastern provinces. 

Demographics of conversion

It proved much easier to convert people in urban settings than in rural ones, with dense populations making human interchange much more frequent than in rural settings; information about Christianity spread like wildfire. Christianity grew at different rates in different cities and regions, and there were far more converts in the East than the West in the first 300 years. It was not until the end of the 2nd century that the West began to be seriously Christianized. Even in Egypt, the people were almost entirely pagan for most of the time prior to the conversion of Constantine in 312 AD. However, the Christians had become half of the population between 318 and 330 AD, 75% by the mid-4th century, and 90% by the end of the century. By 312 AD, Christianity was nearly half the population in Asia Minor, Armenia, and Cyprus, less than half but very strong in Antioch, parts of Egypt, parts of Italy, and Spain, was sparse in Palestine, Phoenicia, and Arabia, and hardly existed at all in Italy, middle and upper Gaul, and Germany. Provincial capitals such as Rome, Antioch, and Thessalonica did not become predominantly Christan until the mid-4th century, and fairly large regional towns at the time were often roughly balanced between pagans and Christians. However, Athens, Delphi, and Gaza remained predominantly pagan even into the early 5th century.

Rate of Christian growth

The rate of Christian growth

The triumph of Christianity over paganism did not require a miracle, but instead steady growth for the first three centuries. Christianity grew at a rate of 30% per decade for the majority of the period; its growth was:

  • 30 AD - 20 Christians
  • 60 AD - 1,000-1,500 Christians
  • 100 AD - 7,000-10,000 Christians
  • 150 AD - 30,000-40,000 Christians
  • 200 AD - 140,000-170,000 Christians
  • 250 AD - 600,000-700,000 Christians
  • 300 AD - 2,500,000-3,500,000 Christians
  • 312 AD - 3,500,000-4,000,000 Christians
  • 400 AD - 25,000,000-35,000,000 Christians

If 25,000-30,000 Christians were added in the half-century between 100 and 150 AD, then at the very same rate of growth between 250 and 300 AD, something like 2,000,000 or 2,500,000 Christians would be added. Conversions included everyone who began to adopt Christian practices; if the head of a household converted and brought his wife and three children into the fold, there would be five new members. Family conversions occurred from the very beginning of the Christian movement, with Paul and his companions converting Lydia of Thyatira and her household at Philippi in Macedonia. He also baptized his jailer and his entire family without delay. By 100 AD, there were 50 named Christian communities. People converted because they knew other people who were Christian such as people connected to them in their daily lives, members of their families, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. After Christianity was legalized, the wealthy elite were able to construct Christian buildings with no dread of reprisal, and the masses could now join the faith wihtout fearing for their lives or property. Within eighty years of Constantine the Great's conversion, the transformation would be both massive and official; Rome would become predominantly and officially Christian.

Persecution and Martyrdom

Even though the church experienced remarkable growth during its first three centuries, the pagan world did not yield to the new faith quietly. Some of the opposition entailed nothing more than social shunning and verbal attack, but it occasionally involved actual physical assault by either enraged mobs or by Roman officials. Organized opposition to the Christians came in isolated incidents, and the church never experienced perennial violent persecution, constant surveillance by a state apparatus, the martyrdoms of thousands of believers, being forced underground into the Roman catacombs, or centuries-long illegality. In fact, the Christians lived perfectly normal lives in the midst of other peoples, and persecution was rare, with relatively few casualties. The Romans mostly practiced religious tolerance, with the exception of the suppression of the Bacchic rites in Rome in 186 BC; the Romans intervened if a cult was perceived to be flagrantly immoral or dangerous to society. The Romans intervened against Christian practices in 250, 257-258, and from 303-313. 

During the Apostolic era, Paul experienced violent opposition after his conversion. He was flogged with 39 lashes by the Jews five times and was beaten with rods three times, experiencing Roman persecution. Followers of Jesus were sometimes considered troublemakers and were treated accordingly, and it was not long before simply being known as a Christian could lead to serious opposition.

From 110 to 113 AD, Pliny the Younger, the governor of Bithynia-Pontus in northwest Asia Minor, wrote 61 letters to the emperor Trajan to ask his permission to deal with their menace. He oversaw official proceedings against the Christians, but they were relatively few and far between. Through interrogations, the Romans discovered what Christians were doing in their communal services, and what they were wrongly suspected of doing; Pliny believed that Christians came together to worship at dawn, sang antiphonal hymns by Christ as God, bound themselves to oaths to commit no crime, theft or adultery, to never break their owrd or to withhold money from someone who had deposited it with them, and the Christians would disband before coming back together to share a meal together. However, Christians were later accused of engaging in infanticide, cannibalism, and orgies. 

Christians were also accused of being "atheists" - not because they did not believe in a supreme being, but because they did not accept the existence of the Roman, Greek, or other traditional gods. The Christians were widely blamed for wars, plagues, famines, and droughts, and many Christians were beheaded for refusing to worship the gods of Rome.

Persecutions sponsored by emperors

Nero (54-68 AD)

Emperor Nero

Emperor Nero was the first Roman emperor to launch a state-sponsored persecution of Christians. In 64 AD, a disastrous fire which started in the Roman circus spread to surrounding neighborhoods and soon took over major sections of the city, destroying houses and businesses and killing large numbers of people. Nero was away from Rome in the town of Antium, but he returned as the fire was approaching one of his mansions; his palace on the Palatine Hill was destroyed. The fire raged for six days before being stamped out, but it then revived; 3 of Rome's 14 districts were completely levelled, while 7 were reduced to a few scorched and mangled ruins. Whether it was accidental or a criminal act caused by the emperor was uncertain, but Nero blamed the fire on the Christians, saying that they were infamous for their hatred of the human race. Nero had Rome's Christians rounded up and subjected to grisly public executions, with some of them being wrapped in wild animal skins before being eaten by ravenous dogs. Others were crucified, and others were rolled in pitch and set aflame to serve as human torches for his gardens and in the circus. Nero never declared Christianity illegal, however, and none of Nero's successors down to Trajan (98-117 AD) persecuted Christians. Domitian was alleged to have persecuted Christians at the end of the first century, but Christians were a barely noticeable portion of the population in the first two centuries, and they rarely received any attention. 

Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD)

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was briefly mentioned in accounts of the persecution of Christians, and not by name. The 177 AD Letter of Lyons and Viennes was one of the most gripping accounts of Christian martyrdom, and it describes the tensions between the pagans and Christians of the two cities. The pagans attempted again and again to make the Christians worship pagan cult statues, but they were reminded by the brief chastisement of the eternal punishment of hell, as they would rather suffer for a horrible week than for all eternity. The persecution was carried out by the regional governor, and Marcus Aurelius issued a command that theey should be tortured to death, but any who still denied Jesus would be released. Some did so, but the valiant faithful were the main focus of the accounts. For another 80 years, the emperors had no part in organized persecutions.

Decius (249-251 AD)


The first emperor to issue empire-wide legislation that affected the Christian movement was Decius in 249 AD, shortly after he assumed power. He issued a universal decree requiring everyone in the empire to perform a sacrifice to the gods, taste the sacrificial meat, and swear they had always done so, all int he presence of an official who was to sign a document scholars called a libellus, certifying it had happened; the only people exempt were the Jews. Decius sought to show a commitment to the gods throughout the empire during a time of imperial crisis, the Crisis of the Third Century. He detected an alarming trend with foreign cults and sought to put an end to it, and Christianity was one of the faiths persecuted. Wealthy Christians were able to take flight and be kept on the move under the radar, bribing officials or purchasing fake libelli. Decius was killed in battle in 251, but serious consequences attended those who refused to sacrifice: exile, confiscation of property, torture, and death.

Valerian (253-260 AD)


Two years after Decius, Valerian assumed the mantle of office. He was the first emperor to issue decrees specifically directed against the Christians and thus the first to sponsor an empire-wide persecution. The initial decree appeared in 257 AD, requiring church leaders to participate in pagan rituals and banning Christians from meeting en masse in cemeteries. In 258, he ordered the execution of all Christian bishops, presbyters, and deacons in the city of Rome itself. Christians at the rank of senator and equestrian were to be deprived of their status and wordly goods, and, if they refused to recant their faith, they too were to be executed. Matrons of senatorial rank were to have their property confiscated and be exiled. Members of the imperial household were also to have their goods confiscated and they were to be conscripted to workj on imperial estates. During the persecution, Pope Sixtus II and four of his deacons were executed at the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus. Days later, the deacon Saint Lawrence was executed. During the perescution, one of the quickest judicial trials on record occurred:

  • Magistrate: Episcopus es? ("Are you a bishop?")
  • Bishop: Sum ("I am.")
  • Magistrate: Fuisti ("You were.")

Valerian himself was captured by the Persians during his attempt to defend the eastern borders in 260, and his son Gallienus assumed the highest office and did nothing to rescue his humiliated father. He did, however, rescind the persecution of Christians. As a result, the church enjoyed a 43-year peace as it grew by leaps and bounds at the end of the third century.

Diocletian (284-305 AD)


Diocletian was one of the truly great Roman emperors, but his reputation was sullied for bringing about the worst persecution of Christians, the "Great Persecution". He was highly religious and saw in the rise of Christian "atheism" a threat to the empire. Inspired by the vitriolic polemic of the neo-Platonic philosopher Porphyry of Tyre (whose book Against the Christians was seen by later Christian intellectuals to be the best-informed and most serious assault on the faith ever issued from a pagan pen). Diocletian had heard Porphyry lecture in Nicomedia, and he, his virulently anti-Christian junior emperor Galerius and Galerius' later replacement Maximinus II were the driving forces behind the state-sponsored attempt to wipe out the Christian Church. Diocletian issued a first edict on 24 February 303, and all Christian meetings were declared illegal, Christian places of worship were to be destroyed, Christian scriptures were to be confiscated, Christians of high social status were to lose their rank, and Christian freedmen in the imperial service were to be re-enslaved. The decree had little effect in the western part of the empire, and enforcement in the east was spotty, but they could be very hot spots. Months later, the imperial palace in Nicomedia twice caught fire, and it was blamed on the Christians. Diocletian issued a second decree ordering the arrest of all Christian clergy, and, in November, he decreed that the imprisoned clergy would be set free only if they sacrificed to the gods. In 304, the most severe decree was issued, requiring everyone in the empire to gather in public spaces and participate in sacrifices. Some Christians escaped the requirement by bribing authorities, while other apostatized, and still others refused and faced punishment in the form of imprisonment, torture, and death. In the western part of the empire, only the first decree was propagated, but it was halted with the accessions of Constantine the Great and Maxentius in 306 AD. In the east, persecution continued sporadically, first under Galerius and then, especially, under Maximinus until the Edict of Milan in 313 AD.

Possibly hundreds of Christians died during the persecutions, but certainly not many thousands. In the end, Christians came out on top, with Constantine converting and every ensuing emperor but Julian the Apostate being Christians. Christians were not always bullied, beaten, tortured, and executed during the persecutions, and, in most times and most places, they were simply left in peace. When Christians were attacked either verbally or physically, they did not always accept it passively, often fighting back with either swords or words. 

Christian apologists

Several Christian intellectuals made reasoned defenses of their personal, philosophical, or religious views. The apolgosists of the second and third centuries were not meant for or read by outsiders, instead providing moral support and intellectual reasons for Christians to hold onto their faiths. The apologies were placed in circulation within the church communities themselves, although some theorized that they were also published as open letters to the emperors. Major apologists included Justin Martyr in Rome, Athenagoras in Athens, Tertullian in Carthage, Minucius Felix in North Africa, and Origen in Alexandria. They challenged Roman logical inconsistencies, but their pleas fell on deaf ears until the end of the persecutions.

Conversion and Coercion

The most significant Christianization of the Roman world occurred throughout the course of the fourth century. The massive conversions saw the Church's membership rise from 2-3 million to 30 million in one century. With Constantine, the persecutions had ended, and more people began to join the Christian ranks daily; church buildings were being constructed, and members of the elite were starting to convert. While some converts were "phantom Christians" who converted to raise their stock with Christian women with whom they had a love interest, the bulk of conversions were real. Many people turned to the faith because they had become convinced of its message and looked forward to the divine benefits that could be provided by the Christian god. Once a family converted, the children would be raised Christian, and at that point, just in familial terms, no conversions were needed. Emperors after Constantine, excluding Julian, publicly declared their commitment to the Christian god, promoted the Christian religion, and with increaisng frequency openly opposed traditional pagan cults with their practices of sacrifice. Most people would be pagan up until the end of the fourth century, and many would continue to be pagan well beyond that. Even among the powerful elites, both pagans and Christians could be found. Polytheism remained prevalent on all levels of Eastern Roman society into the 390s, and, if pagans kept to themselves, they were for the most part left alone, despite the legislation against them.

Sons of Constantine

Constantius II

Constantius created a dynasty which would last from 305 to 363 AD. After Constantine's death on 22 May 337, in the "Massacre of the Princes", Constantine's three remaining sons Constantius II, Constans, and Constantine II (the eldest Crispus having been executed earlier) had nine of their eleven other male relatives murdered in cold blood; only Constantine's young nephews Gallus and Julian were spared. Later in life, Julian named Constantius II as the culprit for the slaighter, as Constantius was the first son to arrive in Constantinople, and he had command of the army at the time of the massacre. Constans ruled over Italy, North Africa, and Illyricum; Constantine II ruled over Gaul, Spain, and Britain; and Constantius II ruled over Thrace and the eastern provinces. The three did not rule harmoniously; in 340 AD, Constantine II attempted to wrest Italy from the control of his younger brother Constans, but died in battle. A decade later, in 350 AD, Constans himself was murdered by a usurper. After putting down the usurper, Constantius II then survived as sole ruler. In 354 AD, he had his caesar Gallus executed because of a suspected coup. At this point, of Constantine's 14 male relatives alive, only Constantius and Julian were still alive.

While the lust for power and loss of life made the imperial court look less than Christian, imperial support for the church only grew. Constantius became an outspoken and vehement proponent of the Christian tradition, and he was committed to Arianism, which had been denounced at the Council of Nicaea, called by his father in 325 AD to formulate a single church doctrine. Constantius also ordered pagan temples closed and sacrificial practices stopped. However, his laws were directed to specific locales, and paganism continued unchecked in most places.

The Last Pagan Emperor

Julian the Apostate

Julian escaped the massacre of the princes because he was just a six-year-old at the time, and Constantius II saw him as a potential successor to the throne and made him his ward. For the next eighteen years, Constantius kept him out of public view under careful scrutiny; Julian grew up and was educated in isolation. By 355, barbarian invasions into Gaul had become a major problem, so Constantius, who was fighting against the Persians, appointed the inexperienced Julian to deal with problems in the West. Although he was lacking in military field experience, he did have a good bit of textbook knowledge, having studied the commentaries of Julius Caesar. By the end of 358, his military prowess was evident to all. In 360, Constantius directed Julian to transfer to him a massive number of troops, up to a half of Julian's entire army. Julian's troops, many of whom were from Gaul, were unhappy with the order and responded by declaring Julian Augustus. Civil war was the only option; however, Constantius died unexpectedly before he arrived.

Julian spent his first six months as emperor in Constantinople, and then nine unhappy and turbulent months in Antioch before marching against the Persians. He was killed early in the conflict, having ruled the empire for a mere nineteen months. However, upon ascendint to the throne, he declared that he had converted to paganism years earlier, interestingly calling paganism a religion and not a set of practices. He made it one of his goals to reinstate traditional pagan sacrificial practices throughout the empire, requiring him to suppress the burgeoning Christian movement. He was drawn to the moral world which the pagan classics portrayed, and his ardent Christian cousin Constantius II's murder of all of Julian's male relatives gave him a bad experience with the faith. Julian had no intention of persecuting Christians, imprisoning them, or making them martyrs, but he rescinded many of the benefits afforded Christians by his predecessors and reversed several of their policies. He brought several Arians back from exile in an attempt to weaken the Church by reintroducing [heresy]], and he also eliminated the Christian privileges off exempting them from participating in civil life or contributing their wealth to municipal causes. It weakened the elite clergy by draining a good bit of their resources, and it strengthened the governance of the cities; it also brought funds from the church into the municipal coffers. Julian would not order the deaths of Christian leaders, but he would not object to them either. On 17 June 362, he proscribed Christian instructors from teaching the pagan classics to schoolboys, believing that no one should teach what they did not believe. Christian teachers would either have to acknowledge the gods or resign their positions, and Christians could no longer teach grammar, rhetoric, or philosophy, meaning that the next generation of elites would be trained exclusively by pagans. He also set up guesthouses in cities and free distribution of wheat and wine to the poor, attempting to attract converts back into paganism. Julian himself wrote Against the Galileans to attack the Christians, and he was well-positioned to attack the movement through his words.

Christianity as the state religion

Theodosius I

When Julian was killed in a poorly conceived and even more poorly executed battle with the Persians on 26 June 363, he was succeeded by his military commander Jovian. Jovian and every Roman emperor who followed him wer eChristian, and many of these successors were vehement in the public affirmation of their Christian commitments and their resistance to traditional pagan religions. Arguably the most forceful in his views was Theodosius I, who ruled from 379 to 395 AD, and who was responsible for making Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. He was passionately committed to the cause of his faith, and, early in his reign, he made it a law that anyone inclined to revert to paganism would not be allowed to make a will. In addition, any apostate who already had a will was to have it nullified. Theodosius also proscribed sacrifices, divination, and the use of temples to those ends, and he directed that no person should sacrifice animals, slaughter an innocent victim, approach pagan srines or wander through temples, or revere the images formed by mortal labor. Any judge who participated in pagan worship would be fined 15 pounds of gold; governors of consular rank and their staff members who did so would be fined six pounds. Two years later, he prohibited pagan cults of any kind, even in the privacy of one's home. Theodosius virulently opposed Arianism and vehemently advocated the kind of orthodox Christianity that had emerged from the Council of Nicaea. Nicene orthodox law did not bode well for pagans, as it required all peoples to practice the religion which Paul the Apostle transmitted to the Romans, which believed in the single deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit under equal majesty and the Holy Trinity.

Christian coercion

The Christian scholar Lactantius, an early 4th century proponent of religious freedom, was deprived of his position as a Latin professor by Emperor Diocletian in 300 AD due to his conversion. His Divine Institutes defended his faith, making the most learned apology produced by a Christian to date. He argued that religion could not be forced, and that it should be voluntar.y However, a later scholar Firmicus Maternus wrote another work 35 years later, in which he argued that Deuteronomy 13:6-10 demanded the forceful destruction of pagan worship: "Show (the pagans) no pity or compassion and do not shield them. But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shalll be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people. Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the Lord your God." Quoting another Deuteronomy passage, he stressed God's command to destroy whole cities caught in the crime of paganism, and the massacre of all in the city. However, violent intolerance was not found everywhere in mid to late-4th century AD Christianity.

The intolerant strain within Christianity took on a new cast when Christian leaders appeared with political power at their disposal and the will to use it in order to impose their religious preferences on others. The Christians defaced statues to Artemis in Ephesus, erasing her name from inscriptions. Violence against pagan sacred places and objects became increasingly pronounced during Theodosius' reign, including the mission of Maternus Cynegius to close temples in the eastern provinces, the destruction of the Serapeum temple in Alexandria by Christian monks in 391 AD, and the murder of the Alexandrine woman philosopher Hypatia with pottery shards in 415 AD. Such violence was not planned or executed with consistency and rigor, but they occurred over several decades.


Saint Barnabas

Anti-Semitism grew over time, with the Gospel of John (8:42-44) referring to the Jews as the offspring of Satan, murderers, and liars. The anti-Judaism grew with the passing of time, with the letter of Saint Barnabas indicating that the Jews were never the people of God, as they broke the covenant of God when Israel apostatized (the moment when Moses angrily smashed the clay tablets containing the Ten Commandments). As a result, Barnabas argued that Jews never understood their own scriptures, coming up with literalistic interpretations of the commandments (such as not eating pork) that were meant to be interpreted figuratively (they were not to behave like pigs). For Barnabas, the Old Testament was a Christian book, not a Jewish one. The late 2nd century bishop Melito of Sardis claimed that since Jesus was God, and the Jews executed him, the Jews were not only "Christ killers", but also "God killers". By the 4th century, Christians in charge of the empire began a hateful intolerance of the Jews. Paul himself championed Christian intolerance, writing in his Epistle to the Galatians (1:8-9) that anyone who dared to proclaim a gospel message different from his own should be cursed. Soon, the Christian Church came to hate unorthodox Christians and Jews equally.

Already under Constantine, any Jew who attacked one of their own for converting to Christianity was to be burned to death. Constantius decreed that any Christian who converted to Judaism was to have his property entirely confiscated, and Theodosius I declared that any Christian who married a Jew would be guilty of the crime of adultery. In the early 5th century, Jews were deprived of their right to serve in the imperial service, and it would later become illegal for the Jews to build or even repair a synagogue. Under Theodosius, the Jews were forbidden to have any meeting places, and they were eventually expelled from the cities and villages and forced to return to their countries of origin. In the end, Julian's efforts to promote paganism in the end led to its relatively quick demise, as the Christians had become incredibly intolerant of other faiths with the goal of protecting their new status as the only legal religion.


Pope Boniface VIII

Christianity ultimately won over the Roman Empire; half the empire was Christian by 400 AD, and the great majority was Christian by 500 AD. The Christianization brought massive benefits to the church, which went from being legalized under Constantine, to being legislated under Theodosius, to being the dominant religion of the West in the centuries to follow. The leaders of the churches shifted from being literate local believers to being the most highly educated, well-connected, politically astute, wealthy, and revered elements of society. The wealth and power of the church became enormous, and, not only did the church create magnificent structures, but the bishops held vast tracts of land and holdings. The church now wielded more than the power over people's personal religious lives; they also held social and political power. After the deposition of the last Western Roman emperor Romulus Augustulus in 476 AD, the church itself only grew in strength, as it did in the East as well. Eventually, the Roman popes claimed to rule the West, with Pope Boniface VIII proclaiming, "I am Caesar; I am the emperor." Christianity long outlived the Roman Empire, with the Catholic Church in Rome and Orthodox Christianity in the former Constantinople (now Istanbul) remaining powerful religious institutions, and Christianity becoming the world's largest faith.

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