Historum - History Forums  

Go Back   Historum - History Forums > World History Forum > Medieval and Byzantine History
Register Forums Blogs Social Groups Mark Forums Read

Medieval and Byzantine History Medieval and Byzantine History Forum - Period of History between classical antiquity and modern times, roughly the 5th through 16th Centuries


Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old June 12th, 2010, 08:42 AM   #1

Salah's Avatar
Baltimorean
Blog of the Year
 
Joined: Oct 2009
From: Maryland
Posts: 23,284
Blog Entries: 182
Lightbulb How long did Classical Paganism survive in Europe?


Christianity became the "national religion" of the Roman Empire in the late 4th Century, and in the following two or three centuries pretty much all of Europe except for parts of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe converted.

Men like Theodosius the Great persecuted pagans; Justinianus brought an end to the Olympic Games and the philosophy schools of Greece. It seems we hear nothing else of Graeco-Roman "paganism" after the reign of Justinian.

But is there any evidence for small pockets of the original religion surviving in Roman or former Roman territories, into the Middle Ages? Did it survive past the 6th Century in isolated communities? Did some pagans go into hiding and, and become predecessors to the people the later medieval Church would call "heretics" and "witches"?
Salah is offline  
Remove Ads
Old June 12th, 2010, 09:00 AM   #2
Suspended indefinitely
 
Joined: Jun 2010
From: Dehradun
Posts: 1,935
Re: How long did Classical Paganism survive in Europe?


Don't know about Graeco-Roman "paganism" but was reading earlier during the day Lithuanians were among the last converts to Christianity in Europe. They converted in the latter part of the 14th century. Lithuania used to be the largest European country during that time.

Last edited by Jhangora; June 12th, 2010 at 10:09 AM.
Jhangora is offline  
Old June 12th, 2010, 09:33 AM   #3

gaius valerius's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Aug 2009
From: Belgium
Posts: 5,740
Re: How long did Classical Paganism survive in Europe?


The christianisation of Europe, paganism and popular culture.

If you talk about the technically christianised lands during from the time of Charlemagne on (so excluding Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and so on), the best answer would be we don't exactly know. For western, southern and northern Europe we have clerical records that argue how amongst others pagan worship survived (such as offerings to Jupiter or Mercurius), in so called "Penance Books". Penance Books were the predecessors of the still presently used "Confession" in the Roman Catholic Church. But this was something introduced by the Reform Papacy from the late 12th century onwards and was by far not the standard practice for a long time. These books listed all sins and with them the amount of penance that had to be done in purgatory and so on (they are absolutely hilarious, for one, some adultery seems to be worse then murder), of course since people kinda started getting the hang of these books, the church sought to exert tighter control by switching to what we know today as the Confession. Amongst others you'd find in these books references to pagan rites and even worship to old classical gods (as mentioned above).

Two things are of importance here. First of all, these Penance Books cannot serve as an accurate source of information, for they stem from an in many ways rather world weary clergy that used to copy them from book to book. Hence when a certain German bishop (can't think of his name right away - I'm doing this by memory so sorry for that) had issued a new book with reference to the worship of Mercurius and Jupiter, this did not mean that there were actually peasants worshipping these deities, but simply that in older copies from previous centuries, they did. For all we know the pagan gods had by the High Middle Ages more or less left the "scene".

Which brings us to our second point: pagan-like rituals in a way survived. Why do I say pagan-like? For they were an integral part of popular culture, not of official religious doctrine. The rural populace of Europe still lived according to the ritual year were everything was in the light of fertility, harvest, etc etc. We have extensive records from such rituals which appear really bizarre to us, but were very common back then. It is the age-old tale were official religion mixes with popular believe and traditional rituals, paganism as such has little to do with it, people did no longer worship Jupiter, but they would still have virgins strip naked or be dressed in twigs and have them perform a dance through the woods, walking around backwards while the other villagers 'chased' her, so as to ensure a good harvest. The people engaging in these various rites were christian. Hence why we can't refer to such rites as "pagan". They were aspects of popular culture - which I must say is one of the most interesting fields of study.

In sociological terms the advent of christianity has often been described in 3 steps. I find the lineair approach interesting and mostly stick to it, though there have been some alternatives formulated on it as wel (more cyclical of nature, at first glance at least). Greatest concern in each case is however that they are generally sociological models, and we as historians all know the uses and limits of such theoretical models. Indeed: there is hardly any evidence to either fully prove or disprove them. As far as the lineair theory goes, it sees 3 phases in the christianisation of medieval Europe. The first phase is that of simply being converted in name, building a chapel, but secretly still praying to that old oak that supports the heavens. In this phase christianity is a very superficial factor. The second phase if that of "Fremdzwang" (I do like these German words), they indicate the phase were the populace does no longer worship the holy oak and is all by all, very christian in appearance. Though much less then in the first phase we here witness paganism in disguise (like I said, popular culture which always remained up until long after the medieval period into our own present day, is not paganism), we speak of fremdzwang for the defining factor here is control, control of the community over herself. In this phase though the community is by all means and standards christian, it has not yet interiorised the whole range of christianity as her own, and it is up to the clergy to hold the reigns tight. The third and final phase then is when we can speak of "Selbstzwang", when group-control has lost its defining aspect in determining the christianity of the community and people have fully interiorised the faith as their own.

Last edited by gaius valerius; June 12th, 2010 at 10:20 AM.
gaius valerius is offline  
Old June 12th, 2010, 10:13 AM   #4

Edgewaters's Avatar
Contrarian
 
Joined: Jul 2007
From: Canada
Posts: 9,098
Re: How long did Classical Paganism survive in Europe?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah ad-Din View Post
But is there any evidence for small pockets of the original religion surviving in Roman or former Roman territories, into the Middle Ages? Did it survive past the 6th Century in isolated communities?
Absolutely; well past the 6th century and definately in more than "isolated pockets". Major players in early medieval Europe were pagan.

The most obvious example, of course, is the Norse. Sweden, for instance, didn't convert until the middle of the 12th century.

England was pagan on and off between the 6th and 8th century; parts of Scotland remained pagan considerably longer.

Then there is Lithuania, which at one point dominated most Eastern Europe between Poland and Moscow; they didn't convert until the mid-13th century.
Edgewaters is offline  
Old June 12th, 2010, 11:11 AM   #5

Salah's Avatar
Baltimorean
Blog of the Year
 
Joined: Oct 2009
From: Maryland
Posts: 23,284
Blog Entries: 182
Re: How long did Classical Paganism survive in Europe?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Jhangora View Post
"paganism"
I merely used this word because its the most common-used word for non-Christian religions in ancient and medieval Europe.
Salah is offline  
Old June 12th, 2010, 11:12 AM   #6

Salah's Avatar
Baltimorean
Blog of the Year
 
Joined: Oct 2009
From: Maryland
Posts: 23,284
Blog Entries: 182
Re: How long did Classical Paganism survive in Europe?


Quote:
Originally Posted by gaius valerius View Post
The christianisation of Europe, paganism and popular culture.
This was an excellent and very interesting post, Gaius Valerius
Salah is offline  
Old June 12th, 2010, 11:14 AM   #7

Salah's Avatar
Baltimorean
Blog of the Year
 
Joined: Oct 2009
From: Maryland
Posts: 23,284
Blog Entries: 182
Re: How long did Classical Paganism survive in Europe?


Some of the pagan nations that have been mentioned above (e.g. the Lithuanians and the Swedes) I was already well aware of. I neglected to specify in my OP that I was particularly looking for info on pagan survival in the heartlands of medieval Christianity, say Italy, Greece, Spain, Greece, and the Balkans. But it is my fault and mine alone for not specifying this.

Last edited by Salah; June 12th, 2010 at 12:21 PM. Reason: typo
Salah is offline  
Old June 12th, 2010, 12:05 PM   #8

sturm's Avatar
миротворец
 
Joined: Jul 2009
From: Bulgaria
Posts: 8,893
Blog Entries: 1
Re: How long did Classical Paganism survive in Europe?


First i want to congratulate Gaius Valerius and Edgewaters for the good posts above.

During Justinian and the period after him the pagan philosophical schools and academies, were not financed in any way, so they were bound to end there work. I have read that some pagan philosophers and teachers have run away to Persia but never managed to establish there teachings there.
Theodosius did indeed forbidden paganism in his codex, but paganism doesn't end at him. As Salah ad Din said paganism countinue to exist, but not in the cities, in my opinion paganism was more advanced into the smaller towns or villages i believe this is due to the fact that many of the agricultural work is connected with ancient pagan traditions and rituals.
In 426 Theodosius II made an edict for the discution of remaining pagan temples, maybe many of the temples were destroyed. During emperor Leo I "the Thracian" paganism was declared community crime, and pagans were not allowed to have state jobs (in the administration of the empire).
But paganism in Egypt for example countinued to exist in the everyday life of the people, for example a temple of Jupiter countinued to exist. Situation in Syria was pretty much the same, Antioch however was like a creddle of christianity, maybe there paganism was a lot weaker. Greece and mainly Athena however of course was a center of Paganism.
I want to make one correction Salah ad Din, the Olympic games were banned during 393 during the reign of Theodosius.
In 542 the chronist John of Ephesus is sent with a mission to Minor Asia with a mission to destroy the pagan idols, and during his mission nearly 70,000 pagans are converted to christianity.
The creation of the "Theodosius university" in Constantinople during V century was strong concuration of the academy in Athena, and already the academy was loosing its influance. In 529 Justinian practically stopped the work of the academy in Athena. By the way the slow "death" of paganism in the Byzantine empire, is in my opinion to reason for the rich philisophical culture of the Byzantine empire and its citizens during the middle ages.
By the way, many pagan celebrations and traditions were christianized, and actually christianity wasn't that different then paganism, even some christian saints resembled to some extend pagan gods. For example Saint George is painted how he kills a dragon, a slayer of monsters so to speak, an equivalent of him could be Hercules or Theseus, the healers Cosma and Damian could serve as an equivalent of Aceso or Castor, Saint Dionysius could be an equivalent of Dionysus, Saint Prophet Ilia could be an equivalent of Helios, the new saints are kind of like the old gods, protectors, and patrons. Not just the saints are similiar to the pagan gods, but arent the Eleusian mysteries kind of similiar (even the same) as the christian liturgy ?
sturm is offline  
Old June 12th, 2010, 12:19 PM   #9

Edgewaters's Avatar
Contrarian
 
Joined: Jul 2007
From: Canada
Posts: 9,098
Re: How long did Classical Paganism survive in Europe?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah ad-Din View Post
I neglected to specify in my OP that I was particularly looking for info on pagan survival in the heartlands of medieval Christianity
I can't give much of a broad overview, although it's something I myself am very interested in. However I know a few tidbits:

From The Times
March 10, 2008
Mysterious pits shed light on forgotten witches of the West
Simon de Bruxelles

Evidence of pagan rituals involving swans and other birds in the Cornish countryside in the 17th century has been uncovered by archaeologists.

Since 2003, 35 pits at the site in a valley near Truro have been excavated containing swan pelts, dead magpies, unhatched eggs, quartz pebbles, human hair, fingernails and part of an iron cauldron.

The finds have been dated to the 1640s, a period of turmoil in England when Cromwellian Puritans destroyed any links to pre-Christian pagan England. It was also a period when witchcraft attracted the death sentence.


http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/new...cle3517036.ece
Edgewaters is offline  
Old June 12th, 2010, 12:26 PM   #10

Edgewaters's Avatar
Contrarian
 
Joined: Jul 2007
From: Canada
Posts: 9,098
Re: How long did Classical Paganism survive in Europe?


Quote:
Originally Posted by sturm View Post
By the way, many pagan celebrations and traditions were christianized, and actually christianity wasn't that different then paganism, even some christian saints resembled to some extend pagan gods. For example Saint George is painted how he kills a dragon, a slayer of monsters so to speak, an equivalent of him could be Hercules or Theseus, the healers Cosma and Damian could serve as an equivalent of Aceso or Castor, Saint Dionysius could be an equivalent of Dionysus, Saint Prophet Ilia could be an equivalent of Helios, the new saints are kind of like the old gods, protectors, and patrons. Not just the saints are similiar to the pagan gods, but arent the Eleusian mysteries kind of similiar (even the same) as the christian liturgy ?
An excellent observation. There are loads of saints who were basically just a rebranding of pagan deities, such as Saint Brigid in Ireland. In fact, sainthood is understood in Catholic ritual to be the affirmation and canonization not just of the saint himself but of his "public cultus" - a cult of the saint.

And isn't the whole system of sainthood nothing more than a substitute for the patron deities of polytheism?
Edgewaters is offline  
Reply

  Historum > World History Forum > Medieval and Byzantine History

Tags
classical, europe, long, paganism, survive



Search tags for this page
Thread Tools
Display Modes


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Paganism. CelticBard Philosophy, Political Science, and Sociology 34 October 25th, 2013 03:02 AM
How to Survive Under Siege Historius War and Military History 13 February 15th, 2011 02:35 PM
Lithuanian Paganism Salah European History 10 May 5th, 2010 06:41 AM
paganism starlight777 Philosophy, Political Science, and Sociology 20 August 13th, 2008 10:03 AM

Copyright © 2006-2013 Historum. All rights reserved.