As the Roman Republic, and later the Roman empire, expanded, it came to include people from a variety of cultures, and religions. The worship of an ever increasing number of deities was tolerated and accepted. The government, and the Romans in general, tended to be tolerant towards most religions and cults. however some religions were persecuted for political reasons rather than dogmatic zeal, and other rites banned which involved human sacrifice. In the Christian era the Church came to accept it was the Emperor's duty to use secular power to enforce religious unity, anyone within the church who did not subscribe to Catholic Christianity was seen as a threat to the dominance and purity of "the one true faith" and they saw it as their right to defend this by all means at their disposal.[4 ]
Druids were seen as essentially non-Roman: a prescript of Augustus forbade Roman citizens to practice "druidical" rites. Pliny reports that under Tiberius the druids were suppressed —along with diviners and physicians— by a decree of the Senate, and Claudius forbade their rites completely in AD 54. Druids were alleged to practice human sacrifice, a practice abhorrent to the Romans. Pliny the Elder (23 AD - 79 AD) wrote “It is beyond calculation how great is the debt owed to the Romans, who swept away the monstrous rites, in which to kill a man was the highest religious duty and for him to be eaten a passport to health.”
While Judaism was largely tolerated, it was on occasion subject to (mostly) local persecution.
Tiberius forbade Judaism in Rome, and Claudius expelled them from the city. However, the passage of Suetonius is ambiguous: "Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus he [Claudius] expelled them from the city". Chrestus has been identified as another form of Christus; the disturbances may have been related to the arrival of the first Christians, and that the Roman authorities, failing to distinguish between the Jews and the early Christians, simply decided to expel them all.
As Christianity began to spread throughout the empire it was initially largely left in peace.
Suetonius mentions passingly that: "[during Nero's reign] Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief" but he doesn't explain for what they were punished.
The religion of the Christians and Jews was monotheistic in contrast to the polytheism of the Romans. The Romans tended towards syncretism, seeing the same gods under different names in different places of the Empire. This being so, they were generally tolerant and accommodating towards new deities and the religious experiences of other peoples who formed part of their wider Empire. This general tolerance was not extended to religions that were hostile to the state nor any that claimed exclusive rights to religious beliefs and practice.
By its very nature the exclusive faith of the Jews and Christians set them apart from other people, but whereas the former group was in the main contained within a single national, racial grouping—the non-Jewish adherents of the sect being negligible—the latter was active and successful in seeking converts for the new religion and made universal claims not limited to a single geographical area. Whereas the masoretic text, of which the earliest surviving copy dates from the 9th century AD, teaches that "the Gods of the gentiles are nothing", the corresponding passage in the Greek Septuagint, used by the early Christian Church, asserted that "all the gods of the heathens are devils." The same gods whom the Romans believed had protected and blessed their city and its wider empire during the many centuries they had been worshipped were now demonized by the early Christian Church.
Whereas the religion of the Jews could theoretically be contained within their own nation state and pose no threat to the wider Empire, it was not so with the early Christian community which was perceived at times to be an intrinsically destabilising influence and threat to the peace of Rome, a religio illicita. The pagans who attributed the misfortunes of Rome and its wider Empire to the rise of Christianity, and who could only see a restoration by a return to the old ways, were faced by the Christian Church that had set itself apart from that faith and was unwilling to dilute what it held to be the religion of the "One True God".
After the initial conflicts between the state and the new emerging religion during which early Christians were periodically subject to intense persecution, Gallienus issued an edict of toleration for all religious creeds including Christianity, a re-affirmation of the policy of Alexander Severus.
According to Christian polemicists writing after his death, Constantine converted to Christianity and was baptised on his deathbed; this would make him the first Christian emperor, but no contemporary references exist to him ever having been a Christian during his lifetime. Constantine continued the policy of toleration that Galerius had established. He "continued to pay his public honors to the Sun", on coins that showed him jointly with Sol, whereas other imperial coins showed the Chi-Rho sign (a symbol which had previously been used on coinage by the virulently anti-Christian Emperor Decius)
While many historians have seen the seeds of future persecution by the state in Constantine's more belligerent utterances regarding the old religion, other historians emphasize that de facto paganism "was tolerated in the period from Constantine to Gratian. Emperors were tolerant in deed, if not always in word." Constantine became the first Emperor in the Christian era to persecute specific groups of Christians, the Donatists, in order to enforce religious unity.
Constantine legislated against magic and private divination, but this was driven out of a fear that others might gain power through those means, as he himself had achieved power through the sound advice of Pagan soothsayers, convincing him of the perspicacity of Pagan prophecy. His belief in Pagan divination is confirmed by legislation calling for the consultation of augurs after an amphitheater had been struck by lightning in the year 320. Constantine explicitly allowed public divination as well as public Pagan practices to continue. Constantine also issued laws confirming the rights of flamens, priests and duumvirs. In 321 he showed some state support for the faith of the Invincible Sun by legislating that the venerable day of the sun should be a day of rest for all citizens. In the year 323, he issued a decree banning Christians from participating in state sacrifices
Constantine had a complex attitude towards morality; he killed both his son and wife (the consensus view of ancient sources), destroyed the Temple of Aphrodite in the Lebanon, and ordered the summary execution of eunuch priests in Egypt because they transgressed his moral norms. Even if Constantine had desired to Christianize the state, expediency dictated otherwise; it is estimated that Christians formed only a small portion of the population, being a fifth part in the West and the half of the population in a large section of the East. He therefore limited himself in the main to the pillaging of pagan temples, to derogatory and contemptuous comments relating to the old religion; writing of the "obstinacy" of the pagans, of their "misguided rites and ceremonial", and of their "temples of lying" contrasted with "the splendours of the home of truth". A Christian historian also records that he had some pagan temples torn down. According to his Christian biographers, he progressively became more Christian during the course of his life, and turned away from any syncretic tendencies he appeared to favour at times, thus demonstrating, that "The God of the Christians was indeed a jealous God who tolerated no other gods beside him. The Church could never acknowledge that she stood on the same plane with other religious bodies, she conquered for herself one domain after another".
The first emperor to put restrictions on the practice of Paganism was Constantine's son, Constantius II. Constantius was an unwavering opponent of paganism; and in the year 353 ordered the closing of all pagan temples and forbade sacrifices under pain of death. His maxim was: "Cesset superstitio; sacrificiorum aboleatur insania" (Let superstition cease; let the folly of sacrifices be abolished). Constantius's actions signaled the beginning of the era of formal persecution by the state of paganism. but these edicts could not be rigidly executed due the strength of paganism.
Due to the disturbances caused by Christians who were attempting to destroy ancient Pagan temples in the countryside, Constantius and his brother Constans were forced to issue a law for the preservation of the temples that were situated outside of city walls. Later the same year another law declared that all Pagan temples were to be closed and access to them forbidden. The desecration of Pagan tombs and monuments by Christians, however, apparently forced Constantius to enact another law that exacted a fine from those who were guilty of vandalizing them and placed the care of these monuments and tombs under the Pagan priests. Magnentius rebelled against and killed Constans. Although he used Christian symbols on his coins, he revoked the anti-pagan legislation of Constans and even permitted the celebration of nocturnal sacrifices. Three years later, in the year 353, Constantius defeated Magnentius and once again forbade the performance of the rituals. This law seems to have had little effect as we find Constantius once again legislating against Paganism in 356. Constantius now declared that anyone found guilty of attending sacrifices or of worshipping idols would be executed. Constantius removed the Altar of Victory in the Senate house because of the complaints of some Christian Senators. This altar had been installed by Augustus in 29 BCE; each Senator had traditionally made a sacrifice upon the altar before entering the Senate house. This altar was later restored, either silently, soon after Constantius' departure, or by the emperor Julian. Constantius did not, apparently, attempt to stop the Christians from destroying and pillaging many of the ancient temples.
No matter what the imperial edicts declared in their fearfull threats, the vast numbers of pagans, and the passive resistance of pagan governors, rendered them largely impotent in their application however the effects of policy were enough to contribute to a widespread trend towards Christian conversion, though not enough to make paganism extinct. Official orders may have established an understanding that actual persecution would be tolerated, but in the first century of official Christianity it did not generally organize it though its members did encourage the emperor to take even more extreme measures in their zeal to stamp out paganism, e.g. in the aftermath of the abolition of sacrifices. Firmicus Maternus, a convert to Christianity, would urge: "Paganism, most holy emperors, must be utterly destroyed and blotted out, and disciplined by the severest enactments of your edicts, lest the deadly delusion of the presumption continue to stain the Roman world" and "How fortunate you are that God, whose agents you are, has reserved for you the destruction of idolatry and the ruin of profane temples." The edicts which legislated against pagans, beginning with Constantius, would in time have an unfavourable influence on the Middle Ages and become the basis of the much-abused Inquisition.
Julian the Apostate was Roman co-emperor since 355, and ruled solely for 18 months 361-363.
Julian witnessed the assassination of his father, brother and other family members by the guards of the imperial palace; rightly or wrongly, he blamed this brutal act on the Emperor Constantius, who passed himself off as an outstanding Christian. The Christian faith was thus definitively discredited in his eyes. Upon becoming emperor, Julian decided to restore paganism, the ancient Roman religion, while reforming it in the hope of making it the driving force behind the empire. Julian's religious beliefs were syncretic and he was an initiate of at least three mystery religions. But Julian's religious open-mindedness did not extend to Christianity due to its belief that it had an exclusive perspective on religious truth. Being the "only true religion", Christianity was opposed to, and fundamentally incompatible with, the more inclusive syncretism of paganism.
As Emperor, Julian sought to turn the tide in the attempted suppression of non-Christian religions. Julian allowed religious freedom and avoided any form of actual compulsion. The Christian Sozomen acknowledges that Julian did not compel Christians to offer sacrifice nor did he allow the people to commit any act of injustice towards the Christians or insult them. However, no Christian was allowed to teach or study the ancient classical authors, "Let them keep to Matthew and Luke", thus ending any chance they had of a professional career. He did not believe Christians could honestly teach subjects replete with allusions to Greek deities whose existence they denied The Jewish historian and theologian Jacob Neusner writes: "It was only after the near catastrophe of Julian's reversion to paganism that the Christian emperors systematically legislated against paganism so as to destroy it."
"In the eighteen brief months that he ruled between 361 and 363, Julian did not persecute [Christians], as a hostile tradition contends. But he did make clear that the partnership between Rome and Christian bishops forged by Constantine and maintained, despite conflicts over goals, by his son Constantius II, was now at an end, replaced by a government that defined its interests and those of Christianity as antithetical."
Jovian (ruled only 363-364) re-established Christianity as the official religion of the Empire. After him, the empire was ruled jointly by Valentinian I (ruled 364-375), Valens (364-378), Valentinian II (375 - 392), Gratian (375 - 383) and Theodosius I (ruled 379 - 395).
Upon the death of his father, Gratian came under the influence of Ambrose who became his chief advisor, and active steps to repress Paganism were taken. The influence of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, was a significant force that brought to an end a period of widespread, if unofficial, religious tolerance that had existed since the time of Julian. "In the long truce between the hostile camps", writes historian Samuel Dill "the pagan, the sceptic, even the formal, the lukewarm Christian, may have come to dream of a mutual toleration which would leave the ancient forms undisturbed but such men, living in a world of literary and antiquarian illusions, know little of the inner forces of the new Christian movement." In 382, Gratian appropriated the income of the Pagan priests and Vestal Virgins, confiscated the personal possessions of the priestly colleges and ordered another removal of the Altar of Victory. The colleges of Pagan priests also lost all their privileges and immunities. Gratian declared that all of the Pagan temples and shrines were to be confiscated by the government and that their revenues were to be joined to the property of the royal treasury.
Theodosius I, who was reigning in the East, made no attacks upon Paganism during the lifetime of Gratian. After what is commonly known as the Massacre of Thessalonica, which happened in 390, Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius for sanctioning the deed. Thereafter he had greater influence with a penitent Theodosius. After the death of Maximus, Valentinian II, under the aegis of Theodosius, once again assumed the office of emperor in the West. Valentinian II, advised by Ambrose, and in spite of pleas from the Pagans, refused to restore the Altar of Victory to the Senate House, or their income to the priests and Vestal Virgins. In the year 391, Valentinian II issued a law that not only prohibited sacrifices but also forbade anyone from visiting the temples. This again caused turbulence in the West. Valentinian II quickly followed this law with a second one, which declared that Pagan temples were to be closed, a law that was viewed as practically outlawing Paganism.
In the year 391 in Alexandria in the wake of the great anti-pagan riots "busts of Serapis which stood in the walls, vestibules, doorways and windows of every house were all torn out and annihilated..., and in their place the sign of the Lord's cross was painted in the doorways, vestibules, windows and walls, and on pillars."
Rome was more pagan than Christian up until the 390's; Gaul, Spain and northern Italy, in all but the urban areas, were pagan, save Milan which remained half pagan. In the year 392, Theodosius officially began to proscribe the practice of Paganism. This is the time in which he authorized the destruction of many temples throughout the empire. Theodosius issued a comprehensive law that prohibited the performance of any type of Pagan sacrifice or worship, even within the privacy of a person's own home. Theodosius prohibited men from privately honoring their Lares with fire, their Genius with wine, or their Penates with incense. Men were prohibited from such traditions as burning candles or incense and suspending wreaths in honor of the deities. Theodosius also prohibited the practice of all forms of divination, even those forms of divination that were not considered harmful to the welfare of the Emperor, with this wide-ranging law. The laws were particularly hard against the Manicheans who were deprived of the right to make wills or to benefit from them. Manicheans could be sought out by informers, brought to court and in some cases executed.[4 ] Paganism was now proscribed, a "religio illicita".
In 393, Theodosius was ready to begin his war against Eugenius and Arbogastes. The battle that ensued became, in essence, a battle for the survival of Paganism. The defeat of Eugenius by Theodosius in 394 led to the final separation of Paganism from the state. Theodosius visited Rome to attempt to convert the Pagan members of the Senate. Being unsuccessful in this, he withdrew all state funds that had been set aside for the public performance of Pagan rites. From this point forward, state funds would never again be made available for the public performance of Pagan rites nor for the maintenance of the Pagan temples. Despite this setback on their religion, the Pagans remained outspoken in their demands for toleration. Many Pagans simply pretended to convert as an obvious instrument of advancement.
"Theodosius was not the man to sympathise with the balancing policy of the Edict of Milan. He set himself steadfastly to the work of establishing Catholicism as the privileged religion of the state, of repressing dissident Christians (heretics) and of enacting explicit legal measures to abolish Paganism in all its phases."."
Examples of the destruction of pagan temples in the late fourth century, as recorded in surviving texts, describes Martin of Tours' attacks on holy sites in Gaul , the destruction of temples in Syria by Marcellus the destruction of temples and images in, and surrounding, Carthage, the Patriarch Theophilus who seized and destroyed pagan temples in Alexandria, the levelling of all the temples in Gaza and the wider destruction of holy sites that spread rapidly throughout Egypt. This is supplemented in abundance by archaeological evidence in the northern provinces (for which written sources hardly survive) exposing broken and burnt out buildings and hastily buried objects of piety. The leader of the Egyptian monks who participated in the sack of temples replied to the victims who demanded back their sacred icons: "I peacefully removed your gods...there is no such thing as robbery for those who truly possess Christ.
According to a Christian historian "Paganism was now dead", though pagans survived and would continue to do so for another three centuries, mainly outwith the towns – "rustics chiefly - pagani." Edward Gibbon wrote: "The generation that arose in the world after the promulgation of the Imperial laws was attracted within the pale of the Catholic Church: and so rapid, yet so gentle, was the fall of paganism that only twenty-eight years after the death of Theodosius the faint and minute vestiges were no longer visible to the eye of the legislator."
Whilst "Paganism, with Theodosius dies, never to rise again", according to a Christian historian committed pagans continued, wherever possible, to practice their faith discreetly or under cloak of common festivals and by keeping within the letter of the law if not its spirit, more commonly in the countryside, hence they are called "rustics - the pagani". Upon the death of Theodosius, in 395, the Empire was divided between his two incompetent sons. Political crisis ensued; over the next several decades, the defence of the Empire gradually collapsed. During this prolonged disaster, some Christians became less certain of their religion and converted back to the old religion. Pagans blamed the Christians for the disasters affecting the empire. Despite the pleas of many Pagans for tolerance, Honorius and Arcadius continued the work of their father by enacting even more anti-Pagan laws to stop any revival of Paganism. The fact that they had to keep repeating their threats by the enactment of numerous laws against the practice of Paganism indicates that their efforts did not succeed in stamping out the old religion, which continued to be practiced discreetly. During the early part of the reign of Honorius, Stilicho was able to exercise unlimited power over the west. Stilicho exercised moderation in his religious policies and enacted laws that were favorable to the Pagans. Consequently, during the time in which Stilicho held power, the Pagans enjoyed a brief respite from persecution. In the year 395, Arcadius declared that the solemn days of the Pagans were no longer to be included in the number of holidays. In the same year, another law was passed by Arcadius that prohibited anyone from going to a Pagan sanctuary or temple or of celebrating any kind of Pagan sacrifice. This law seems to have been targeted at those Christians who were converting back to Paganism as it specifically mentions "those who are trying to stray from the dogma of the Catholic faith." In the year 396, the privileges of Pagan priests and other clerics were officially revoked. In the same year, Arcadius ordered that Pagan temples standing in the country were to be destroyed without disorder or riot such that they could not be used for religious rites away from gaze of the authorities. The large number of Pagans in the east also seems to have forced Arcadius into allowing the ancient festivals and public games to continue but without religious rites that formed an essential part of the old religion.
Meanwhile three laws were enacted in the west in the year 399, under the influence of Stilicho, which were relatively favorable to the Pagans. Due to the riots caused by Christians in their attempts to destroy the temples, the first of these laws protected the Pagan temples from the destruction of zealous Christians who pretended that they had been authorized by the government to destroy them. The second of these laws acknowledged the right of the people to continue to participate in traditional banquets, shows, gatherings and amusements once associated with the old Pagan ways; it did, however, forbid the public performance of any Pagan religious rites or sacrifice, an intrinsic part of a religion supported by custom rather than by argument. The third law forbade the destruction of Pagan temples that had been cleared of forbidden things and ordered that they were to be kept in good repair even though the purpose for which they were first built was now prohibited. After the death of Stilicho, Honorius and his party in the state gained control and harsh laws against Pagans were once again enacted.
At the turn of the century St Augustine would exhort his congregation in Carthage to smash all tangible symbols of paganism they could lay their hands on "for that all superstition of pagans and heathens should be annihilated is what God wants, God commands, God proclaims!" – words uttered to wild applause, and possibly the cause of religious riots resulting in sixty deaths. It is estimated that pagans still made up half of the Empire's population.
In the year 407 a decree was issued to the west from Rome: "If any images stand even now in the temples and shrines...., they shall be torn from their foundations...The temples situated in cities or towns shall be taken for public use. Altars shall be destroyed in all places.
In the year 408, Honorius enacted a new law which ordered that all statues and altars in the temples were to be removed and that the temple buildings and their income were to be appropriated by the government. This law also forbade the holding of any banquet or celebration in vicinity of the temples that was being used by pagans in the countryside as a pretext and cover for religious celebrations. The execution of this law was placed in the hands of the bishops. Two other laws decreed that buildings belonging to known Pagans and heretics were to be appropriated by the churches.
Arcadius died in 408 and his eight-year-old son, Theodosius II was thereupon proclaimed emperor in the East. In the same year, Honorius enacted a law that prohibited anyone who was not Catholic from performing imperial service within the palace. Zosimus reports that Honorius was forced to repeal this law after one of his best officers, who was a Pagan, resigned in protest. At the beginning of the year 409, Honorius enacted a law that punished judges and officials who did not enforce the laws against the Pagans. This law even punished men of rank who simply kept silent over any Pagan rite performed in their own city or district. The hopes of the Pagans were revived with the elevation of Attalus, at Rome, in the year 409. Alaric, however, soon tired of his puppet and Attalus was deposed in the summer of 410 when Honorius promised to negotiate a peace treaty. When these negotiations failed, Alaric took and sacked the city of Rome. This catastrophe shocked the entire Roman world. Coming so soon after the proscription of the old religions Pagans began to blame Christianity and the neglect of the traditional rites for something that had hitherto been thought impossible. In this heated atmosphere, Honorius once again reiterated his anti-Pagan legislation. Augustine's City of God is an answer to these charges. Little of this class of literature written from a pagan perspective has survived, some of which was due to Christians who destroyed works they considered to be contrary to their religious beliefs whilst other works they failed to preserve in preference to their own religious writings and the availability of scarce resources. The transmission path of all such literature has been described as a "differentially permeable membrane" that "allowed the writings of Christianity to pass through but not of Christianity's enemies".."Our sole copy of the sole work about political good sense by the person arguably best able to deliver it to us from classical antiquity, Cicero," writes Ramsay MacMullen, "was sponged out from the vellum to make room for the hundredth copy of Augustine's meditation on the psalms." The only fragments of Julian's "Against the Galileans" that have survived Christian censorship appear in a refutation by Bishop Cyril of Alexandria. By the time Augustine had published the early books that comprised "The City of God" he describes how pagan authors in North Africa felt it too dangerous to publish their refutations and Augustine writes nothing to reassure them about this threat. There are numerous fragments extant of several Pagan historical works, such as the works of Eunapius and Olympiodorus, which indicate that Pagans were openly voicing their resentment in writing.
Some Pagans would appear to have continued to practice their faith when circumstances permitted, as the emperors continued issuing laws. In the year 415, Honorius enacted yet another law that appropriated the Pagan temples, even though they were no longer used for their intended purpose, and ordered that all objects that had been consecrated for Pagan sacrifices in the past were to be removed from public places.
In 416, Honorius and Theodosius II ordered that Pagans would no longer be admitted to imperial service nor would they be allowed to receive the rank of administrator or judge. In 423, Theodosius II reiterated the previous laws against Pagans and declared that all Pagans who were caught performing the ancient rites would now have all their goods confiscated and be exiled but at the same time seemingly indicating that there were few pagans left: "The pagans who remain, although we believe there are none.." In August of the year 423, Honorius died and power was seized in the west by John, who had held the office of Primicerius Notariorum. John appears to have ushered in a period of religious toleration. John seems to have attempted to curb the power of ecclesiastics and the privileges of the church in an attempt to treat all people equally. In the year 423, Theodosius II published a law that demanded that Christians (whether they were really such or pretended to be so) were not to disturb Pagans who were living peaceably and doing nothing contrary to the law. In 425, Theodosius II accompanied an expedition to the west to depose John and establish Valentinian III as emperor of the west. After John was captured and executed, Valentinian III was proclaimed emperor in the city of Rome. Theodosius II enacted two anti-Pagan laws in the year 425. The first of these stipulated that all Pagan superstition was to be rooted out. The second law barred Pagans from pleading a case in court and also disqualified them from serving as soldiers. Theodosius II then left Valentinian III to rule the west and returned to Constantinople.
The numerous laws against Pagans seems to have had only limited immediate effect in stamping out the old religion. Many people simply conformed outwardly and pretended to become Christian while secretly continuing to practice their beliefs. The numerous laws against apostasy, that had been continuously promulgated since the time of Gratian and Theodosius, is evidence that the emperors were having a hard time even keeping Christians from going astray. In the year 426, Theodosius II made it illegal for Christian apostates to convert to the old religion, and against those who pretended to become Christian but continued to perform Pagan sacrifices. He found it necessary to reiterate his prohibition of Pagan rites and sacrifices in 435, this time increasing the penalty to death. This law also ordered that all Pagan shrines, temples and sanctuaries that still existed were to be destroyed by the magistrates. Magistrates who failed to carry out this order were ordered to be punished with death. In 438 Theodosius legislated again, forbidding Pagan sacrifice once more. Theodosius seems to admit that Pagan sacrifices were still seemingly being openly celebrated in places. It reads:
Hence our clemency perceives the need of keeping watch over the Pagans and their heathen enormities, since by natural depravity and stubborn lawlessness, they forsake the path of true religion. They disdain in any way to perform the nefarious rites of sacrifice and the false errors of their baleful superstition by some means or other in the hidden solitudes, unless their crimes are made public by the profession of their crimes to insult divine majesty and to show scorn to our age. Not the thousand terrors of laws already promulgated nor the penalty of exile pronounced upon them deter these men, whereby, if they cannot reform, at least they might learn to abstain from their mass of their crimes and the multitude of their sacrifices. But their insane audacity transgresses continually; our patience is exhausted by their wicked behavior so that if we desired to forget them, we could not disregard them.
The continued vitality of pagans led Marcian, who became emperor of the east in 450 upon the death of Theodosius II, to repeat earlier prohibitions against Pagan rites. Marcian decreed, in the year 451, that those who continued to perform the Pagan rites would suffer the confiscation of their property and be condemned to death. Marcian also prohibited any attempt to re-open the temples and ordered that they were to remain closed. In addition to this, in order to encourage strict enforcement of the law a fine of fifty pounds of gold was imposed on any judge or governor, as well as the officials under him, who did not enforce this law. However, not even this had the desired affect, as we find Leo I, who succeeded Marcian in 457, publishing a new law in 472 which imposed severe penalties for the owner of any property who was aware that Pagan rites were performed on his property. If the property owner was of high rank he was punished by the loss of his rank or office and by the confiscation of his property. If the property owner was of lower status he would be physically tortured and then condemned to labor in the mines for the rest of his life.
Two more laws against Paganism, which may be from this period, are preserved in the Justinian Code. After the deposition of Avitus, who ruled as emperor of the West from 455 to 456, there seems to have been a conspiracy among the Roman nobles to place the Pagan general Marcellinus on the throne to restore Paganism; but it came to nothing.
In the year 457, Leo I became the first emperor to be crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople. Anthemius, one of the last Roman emperors of the west who ruled from 467 to 472, seems to have planned a Pagan revival at Rome.[123 ] He was a descendant of Procopius, the relative of Julian. Anthemius gave Messius Phoebus Severus, a Pagan philosopher who was a close friend of his, the important offices of Prefectus urbi of Rome, Consul and Patrician. Anthemius placed the image of Hercules, in the act of vanquishing the Nemean lion, on his coins. The murder of Anthemius (by Ricimer) destroyed the hopes of those Pagans who believed that the traditional rites would now be restored. Shortly thereafter, in 476, the last emperor of Rome was deposed by Odoacer, who became the first barbarian king of Italy. In spite of this disaster, the Pagans made one last attempt to revive the Pagan rites. In 484, the Magister Militum per Orientum, Illus, revolted against Zeno and raised his own candidate, Leontius, to the throne. Leontius hoped to reopen the temples and restore the ancient ceremonies and because of this many Pagans joined in his revolt against Zeno.[123 ] Illus and Leontius were compelled, however, to flee to a remote Isaurian fortress, where Zeno besieged them for four years. Zeno finally captured them in 488 and promptly had them executed.
As a result of the revolt, Zeno instituted a harsh persecution of Pagan intellectuals. With the failure of the revolt of Leontius, some Pagans became disillusioned and many became Christian, or pretended to, in order to avoid persecution. The subjugation of the Roman Empire to Christianity became complete when the emperor Anastasius, who came to the throne in 491, was forced to sign a written declaration of orthodoxy before his coronation.
The caverns, grottoes, crags and glens that once were used for the worship of the gods were now appropriated by Christianity: "Let altars be built and relics be placed there" wrote Pope Gregory I, "so that [the pagans] have to change from the worship of the daemones to that of the true God".
"The triumph of Catholic Christianity over Roman paganism, heretical Arianism [and] pagan barbarism", asserts Hillgarth "was certainly due in large part to the support it received, first from the declining Roman state and later from the barbarian monarchies".
Except for the most recent literature, for at least the last 200 years historical scholarship has followed a conceptual scheme in which the persecution of those Mediterranean religions that we now label "paganism" was seen as the result of the religious intolerance inherent in the monotheistic Christian faith. By the very nature of their belief in one singly, almighty God, so it is concluded, Christians were unable to tolerate the existing beliefs in a variety of Gods. The classic expression of this view occurs in the work of Edward Gibbon, who, in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, had equated Christianity with intolerance and paganism with tolerance. "It is difficult to overestimate the influence of Gibbon's interpretation on subsequent scholarship."
However, "while there is obviously some truth in the proposition that intolerance follows from the rejection of other gods that lies at the core of monotheistic belief", this alone could neither explain why pagans had previously persecuted Christians, nor why there were "important voices for moderation in the early Christian community". As H.A. Drake writes: "Gibbon skirts a serious problem: for three centuries prior to Constantine, the tolerant pagans who people the Decline and Fall were the authors of several major persecutions, in which Christians were the victims. ...Gibbon covered this embarrassing hole in his argument with an elegant demur. Rather than deny the obvious, he adroitly masked the question by transforming his Roman magistrates into models of Enlightenment rulers — reluctant persecutors, too sophisticated to be themselves religious zealots."
Peter Garnsey would hesitate strongly to describe the attitude of the "plethora of cults" that are labelled 'Paganism' as "toleration" or "inclusiveness". What Ramsay MacMullen wrote, that in its process of expansion, the Roman Empire was "completely tolerant, in heaven as on earth" (with the notable exceptions of the Jews, Christians and Druids), is for Garnsey a simple "misuse of terminology." The foreign Gods were not tolerated, but made subject together with their communities when they were conquered. The Romans "cannot be said to have extended to them the same combination of disapproval and acceptance which is toleration."
The example of Constantine, Theodosius and Justinian, who were seen as "godly emperors (...) serving the church and crushing its enemies", was cited repeatedly by Christian author who endorsed religious persecution. When Louis XIV of France issued the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685, revoking the Edict of Nantes and persecuting the schismatic Christian Huguenots, he was saluted as a 'new Constantine' by Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet.
This also goes for the later medieval Emperor Charlemagne, who in September, 774, decided that the Saxons (Westfali, Ostfali, and Angrarii) must be presented with the alternative of baptism or death. and is also reported as having 4,500 pagan Saxons beheaded in the Massacre of Verden. According to the historian Ramsay MacMullen a council of bishops at Toledo in 681 called on civil authorities to seize and behead all those guilty of non-Christian practices of whatever sort.
The Christian view shifted away from an endorsement of religious persecution in the 17th century. The first Christian church to grant adherents of other Christian denominations freedom of worship was the Church of England, with the Act of Toleration 1689 (still retaining some forms of religious discrimination and with the notable exception of Catholics).
The Catholic Church issued the decree "Dignitatis Humanae" that fully embraced the right of every human person to religious freedom, as part of the Vatican II council, on the seventh of December 1965. On 12 March 2000 Pope John Paul II prayed publicly for forgiveness because "Christians have often denied the Gospel; yielding to a mentality of power, they have violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and shown contempt for their cultures and religious traditions"