Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rome: Latin Olympian to Greek Christian (330-620)

In 285 Diocletian, the Roman ruler from 284 to 305, divided the Roman state into two administrative regions to improve its response to multiple external threats. The western region included our geocultural provinces of Britannia, Gallia, Iberia, Carthaginia, Alpinia, and Latinia. The eastern region included Hellenia, Anatolia, central Levantia, and Egypt.

This division of the Roman state into western and eastern halves acknowledged important differences in language, culture, history, and geography that existed between the two. Perhaps unintentionally, it also organized and strengthened these differences.

In 286 Diocletian even had the nerve to abandon Rome as the capital of the Roman state and to rule from Milan in Alpinia.

In 303 Diocletian also started the last and greatest persecution of Christians by the Roman state. Church funds, buildings, and lands were seized, Bibles were destroyed, and Christians—especially Church leaders—were required to participate in Olympian religious practices or face imprisonment or death.

Following Diocletian's death in 305, Constantine became one of several men claiming to be ruler of the Roman state. Such men always settle their mutually exclusive opinions in battle. By 312 Constantine had won enough battles to act, without fear of contradiction, as Roman ruler in the western half of the empire. A man named Licinius acted that same way in the eastern half.

In 313 Constantine and Licinius jointly issued the Edict of Milan which ended the persecution of Christians begun by Diocletian. It declared Christianity a religion officially recognized by the Roman state and made its practice legal.

Constantine later significantly subsidized the Church by endowing churches, financing the construction of church buildings, granting tax exemptions to priests, and preferentially promoting Christians working for the Roman state. Ironically, once that happened, becoming a Christian was simply a very Olympian way of improving one's income and social status. It had nothing to do with a person's commitment to Jesus.

Even so, religion always serves as the primary determinant of culture. A Roman state officially recognizing and subsidizing Christianity differed significantly from a Roman state dedicated to the Olympian gods.

In 324 Constantine had Licinius murdered and became sole ruler of the Roman state. That allowed him to consider moving the capital of the Roman state from Milan to a more advantageous location farther east. He chose to have the ancient city of Byzantium, on the easternmost point of Hellenia, transformed into his new capital city. By 330, with preparations hastily completed, Constantine had the city dedicated as New Rome. Quickly enough it was called Constantinople.

This movement of the capital of the Roman state to Constantinople signaled that state's increasing Christianization. Ancient temples of profound significance filled the old city of Rome on the Tiber. The new city of Constantinople had no such temples. The only religious buildings Constantine had constructed within it were churches.

Constantine made other changes to Roman rule to reflect his commitment to Christianity as a religion. He forbade the use of crucifixion as a means of implementing the death penalty in honor of Jesus, legally established Sunday as a day of rest, ordered better treatment of prisoners, and banned gladiatorial games.

At the same time, he—and Roman rulers after him—understood themselves to be responsible for enforcing conformity to established Church beliefs and practices. Not surprisingly, this very Olympian belief led to some very unchristian practices.

In January 379 Theodosius became ruler of the eastern Roman state. In February 380 he published, along with the two Roman rulers of the western Roman state, the Edict of Thessalonica. While the Edict of Milan (313) tolerated the participation of any subject of the Roman state in any officially recognized religion, the Edict of Thessalonica made Trinitarian Christianity the official religion of the Roman state and required every subject to participate in it.

If Constantine favored Christians, Theodosius persecuted non-Christians. Beginning in 390 he started issuing decrees forbidding the public practice of any Olympian ritual (such as animal sacrifices), made traditional Olympian holidays workdays, destroyed Olympian images and temples (along with Jewish synagogues), and prohibited the Olympic games (last held in 393 until 1896). Under his leadership, the temple of Apollo at Delphi and the Serapeum in Alexandria, containing some of its legendary library, were destroyed. He also removed Unitarian Christians as Church leaders.

In 402, one of the sons of Theodosius moved the capital of the western half of the Roman state from Milan to Ravenna. In 410 the unimaginable happened: for the first time in 800 years, the city of Rome was sacked. The eastern half of the Roman empire, ruled from Constantinople, remained prosperous and robust. The western half continued to decline. In 476, a Germanian leader deposed the Roman ruler and declared himself King of Italy. Tradition sees that as the end of the Roman state's control of Britannia, Iberia, Carthaginia, Alpinia, and Latinia. Strangely, it would continue for another ten years in Gallia until Clovis, leader of the Franks, rebelled against the Roman military commander there.

Christianization continued apace in the eastern Roman state. Then, in 620, the Roman ruler Heraclius made Greek the official governmental and military language of the Roman state. With that, the transformation of the Roman state from Latin Olympian to Greek Christian was complete.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.