Imperial Persecution of Christians: Historical Evidence?

I've got Caligula in my head from some book about transporting jews to Hispania, but he doesn't come on your list. Would've been a Spanish history book.
There were certainly tensions between Caligula and the Jews. He ordered a statue of himself to be erected in the Temple of Jerusalem, which caused riots. I'm pretty sure he was the only emperor to make such a mistake.
 
Thanks for that. Long live the forty!

The author's thesis "will attempt to prove that the emperor Licinius (308-324) was a committed Christian and remained so until his defeat by the emperor Constantine. ".

Looking for the evidence adduced the author says, regarding coins:

At about this same time, coins of both Licinius and Licinius II which bear the christogram and the labarum exist? These coins tend to come from mints under Constantine's rule (Siscia, Aquilea, Thessalonika) and are generally dated to 3 1 9/320.= Discovery of a christogram on a coin of either Licinius must mean that they were advertising their adherence to Christiantty at this time. The fact that the coins were minted in the west shows that Constantine was also actively portraying them as Christian.​

I have never seen a christogram on a coin except for Constantine. When he says above that " These coins tend to come from mints under Constantine's rule (Siscia, Aquilea, Thessalonika)" then they're minted by Constantine not Licinus.
He seems to be saying that Constantine was minting coins for Licinius and Licinius II (co-rulers would mint coins for one another) with the labarum. However, Licinius' own coins advertised a close connection to Jupiter and Sol Invictus. It seems a stretch to say that because Constantine included his victory sign (albeit a Christian victory sign) on the same coins as his co-rulers, that therefore Licinius was a Christian. I'm not sure this idea would fly any further up than a master's thesis. I do agree that what measures Licinius took against the Christians were exaggerated by Constantine and Eusebius.
 
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I'm going to supply Barnes's summary of Licinius' treatment of the Christians, for those who are interested (Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire, 2011, pp. 105-106):

'On the military front, Constantine constructed a large harbor at Thessalonica and prepared a fleet in the Aegean so that, when the time came, he could attack Licinius on both land and sea (Zosimus 2.22.1). On the political front he waited until he could depict himself as a liberator of his imperial colleague’s Christian subjects from persecution. Licinius unwisely obliged by adopting some repressive policies. He expelled Christians from his palace, he required all members of the imperial administration to perform a symbolic act of sacrifice, he prohibited assemblies and councils of bishops, he forbade men and women to worship together or women to receive instruction from male clergy, and he cancelled the clerical exemption from curial duties which Constantine had granted (Eusebius, HE 10.8.10–11; VC 1.51–53; 2.20.2, 30.1). Moreover, in the extant first ten books of his Proof of the Gospel, which he was probably writing c. 320–322, Eusebius complains that Roman magistrates and governors are again treating Christianity as a crime, even if not a capital one (DE 2.3.155–156;3.5.78–80; 3.7.36–39; 5.3.11; 6.20.17–20; 7.1.131–132; 8.1.61–62, cf. HE 10.8.15–18). On Christmas Day 323 Constantine issued a law with obvious propaganda intent (CTh 16.2.5Seeck, cf. Barnes 1981: 321 n.87). He had heard that clergy and other Christians had been compelled to participate in lustrorum sacrificia, that is, sacrifices marking Licinius’ completion of fifteen years or three lustra of five years of rule since his appointment as emperor in Carnuntum on 11 November 308 (Seeck 1919: 98–99).

As war approached ever closer, Constantine made overtures to the Christians of the East. Lactantius appears to have responded by adding a passage to his Divine Institutes, finished fifteen years earlier, which reads like an invitation to Constantine to come to the rescue of Licinius’ Christian subjects (Div. Inst. 1.1.13–16 [CSEL 19.4], cf. Heck 1972: 127–170). On the eastern frontier, which abutted Christian Armenia, some Christians may have committed treasonable acts or entered into treasonable correspondence with Constantine: at all events, the bishop of Amaseia and other bishops in Pontus were put to death and churches in that region were destroyed (Eusebius, HE 10.8.15; VC 2.1–2).'

Again, Constantine clearly politicized the idea of persecution, but I would not then conclude that the entire history of persecution is a fiction. That being said, the context for Christian writings on Licinius' efforts against the Christians is clearly more politicized and Constantinian than the earlier writings of Lactantius and Eusebius on the Tetrarchic Persecution. Suspicion on how much Licinius really did act the Christians is warranted.
 
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May 2011
2,790
Rural Australia
I wouldn't subscribe to either proposition. Many later martyr stories may well be true, and there may well be fictional ones thrown into the Eusebian mix. The problem is I did not clarify what I meant. The story of the forty martyrs would have a direct bearing on Eusebius' narrative of the breakdown of relations between Licinius and Constantine, and it would wholly support his pro-Constantinian framing of their war, and yet he does not mention it. That is cause for suspicion.
What you present is of course a very reasonable position.
Thanks for the spectrum outline below ...

The study of the martyr acts is an intricate discipline, and reverend or not, those who have made the effort to sift the historical from the unhistorical is a practice that impresses me. There is actually a scale of historicity that was introduced by one Delehaye and is employed in Timothy Barnes's, The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine, the finest reference work on this period (Barnes, incidentally, is an atheist.). The grades on the scale are:

1. official reports of trials;
2. Accounts of eyewitnesses or contemporaries reporting the accounts of eyewitnesses;
3. acta of which the principal source is a written document belonging to categories 1 and 2;
4. historical romances, including accounts plagiarized from the accounts of other martyrs;
5. imaginative romances, in which even the hero has been invented;
6. forgeries, i.e. legends composed with the conscious aim of deceiving readers.
Does the spectrum put a divide between 3 and 4 such that 1-3 are all in some way historical whereas 4-6 are all non historical?

But this is the thing. The false claim that Caligula made his horse a consul does not make Caligula's reign a fiction.
Agreed.

Likewise, the fact that false martyr stories circulated, in some cases circulated for fraudulent business purposes, does not render the history of persecution a whole-sale fiction. It's a big leap to make.
I would like to divide the martyr stories into two sets and discuss each set: Firstly those stories found in Eusebius and secondly those stories found in the writings of later writers. I can appreciate that its a big leap to make to consider either of these sets of stories are basically fictional stories, But let's start with the later writers.

According to my understanding of Peter Brown's arguments, the cult of the saints was a new 4th century phenomenom. It's development relied upon two groups of people: the aristocrats and the bishops. It seems to have made its appearance as part of the Christian lash-back after the interruption Emperor Julian effected to the process of the Christianisation of the empire. The cult seems to have made its appearance on a regional basis both in the western and eastern empire. What really distinguishes the development of this cult from a "business plan" instigated by key Christian aristocrats and bishops? I dont see much of a difference. As a result I do not see it as a large leap to consider that the martyr stories found in the writings of later writers to be all classed on the above spectrum between 4 and 6, and non historical.

The martyr stories of Eusebius are a different kettle of fish. Will leave them aside for the moment.


See for example the terrible state of the Battle of Zama thread (How many legions and equivalents at Zama?), where one user is claiming that, because Livy has curious things to say about Macedonians in Hannibal's army (which he assumes are lies), this render's Livy's account of the battle a wholesale fiction. As another user pointed out, this logic could be extended to any account of the battle. No ancient historical account is perfect, but what this user was doing was throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
It appears to be reasonably clear that the elite Christians in the east and west empire immediately after the death of Julian regrouped and collaborated between themselves to propagandise the creation and development of the cult of the saints and martyrs. It therefore cannot be stressed heavily enough that we are here not dealing with one source (such as Livy) but instead a powerful and highly influential organisation which collaborated to produce the extant source material consisting of the later martyr stories. Whereas Livy may or may not have had an agenda to fabricate pseudo-historical accounts, the emergent and collective organisation of the Christian elites in the later 4th century on the surface may have had such an agenda. They wanted to attact the crowds into their churches. The crowds may not have responded to readings from the scriptures, but it is fairly certain they were drawn in large numbers by the appearance of holy relics. This might be perceived as one of the most successful business plans in history - it lasted well over a thousand years and it shaped the face of Europe in the middle ages.


One final point. We can briefly summarise the various classes of Christian literature as follows:

1) the bible that was preserved by the Christian organisation of the 4th century, (Unknown context)
2) the church history of Eusebius, and his martyr stories (312-339 CE)
3) the NT apocryphal literature (including the "Gnostic Gospels" and the stories in the Nag Hammadi codices (Unknown context)
4) the later 4th century Christian hagiographies and martyr stories. (360 CE onwards)

It is generally accepted that the NT apocryphal literature (3) was largely written prior to what we are discussing here (4). Many of these (3) stories are perceived as Hellenistic romance stories, and as such the authors of 4) had the opportunity to borrow from the authors of 2) and 3).

I mention this because although we have a political history to provide a context for 2) and 4) we do not have political history for the authorship of 3). (Or 1 for that matter, but that's another subject altogether). If we are going to consider that the literature 4) is best classed as fiction with an historical context, it would be good to be able to also explain the appearance of the literature 3) where its large number of "Other" gospels and acts are viewed also as fictional material.
 
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What you present is of course a very reasonable position.
Thanks for the spectrum outline below ...



Does the spectrum put a divide between 3 and 4 such that 1-3 are all in some way historical whereas 4-6 are all non historical?



Agreed.



I would like to divide the martyr stories into two sets and discuss each set: Firstly those stories found in Eusebius and secondly those stories found in the writings of later writers. I can appreciate that its a big leap to make to consider either of these sets of stories are basically fictional stories, But let's start with the later writers.

According to my understanding of Peter Brown's arguments, the cult of the saints was a new 4th century phenomenom. It's development relied upon two groups of people: the aristocrats and the bishops. It seems to have made its appearance as part of the Christian lash-back after the interruption Emperor Julian effected to the process of the Christianisation of the empire. The cult seems to have made its appearance on a regional basis both in the western and eastern empire. What really distinguishes the development of this cult from a "business plan" instigated by key Christian aristocrats and bishops? I dont see much of a difference. As a result I do not see it as a large leap to consider that the martyr stories found in the writings of later writers to be all classed on the above spectrum between 4 and 6, and non historical.

The martyr stories of Eusebius are a different kettle of fish. Will leave them aside for the moment.




It appears to be reasonably clear that the elite Christians in the east and west empire immediately after the death of Julian regrouped and collaborated between themselves to propagandise the creation and development of the cult of the saints and martyrs. It therefore cannot be stressed heavily enough that we are here not dealing with one source (such as Livy) but instead a powerful and highly influential organisation which collaborated to produce the extant source material consisting of the later martyr stories. Whereas Livy may or may not have had an agenda to fabricate pseudo-historical accounts, the emergent and collective organisation of the Christian elites in the later 4th century on the surface may have had such an agenda. They wanted to attact the crowds into their churches. The crowds may not have responded to readings from the scriptures, but it is fairly certain they were drawn in large numbers by the appearance of holy relics. This might be perceived as one of the most successful business plans in history - it lasted well over a thousand years and it shaped the face of Europe in the middle ages.


One final point. We can briefly summarise the various classes of Christian literature as follows:

1) the bible that was preserved by the Christian organisation of the 4th century, (Unknown context)
2) the church history of Eusebius, and his martyr stories (312-339 CE)
3) the NT apocryphal literature (including the "Gnostic Gospels" and the stories in the Nag Hammadi codices (Unknown context)
4) the later 4th century Christian hagiographies and martyr stories. (360 CE onwards)

It is generally accepted that the NT apocryphal literature (3) was largely written prior to what we are discussing here (4). Many of these (3) stories are perceived as Hellenistic romance stories, and as such the authors of 4) had the opportunity to borrow from the authors of 2) and 3).

I mention this because although we have a political history to provide a context for 2) and 4) we do not have political history for the authorship of 3). (Or 1 for that matter, but that's another subject altogether). If we are going to consider that the literature 4) is best classed as fiction with an historical context, it would be good to be able to also explain the appearance of the literature 3) where its large number of "Other" gospels and acts are viewed also as fictional material.
I'll contribute more later, but the martyr stories in and of themselves are not something that I know a lot about. But i'm not a fan of your idea that all the later stories must be fiction. To draw such a line between Eusebian and later examples strikes me as an artificial division that assumes a very simplistic literary history and assumes too much from known examples of fraud. It also implies that any martyr Eusebius failed to mention should be fictional, which I have no reason to believe. As before, your scenario assumes a united aristocracy and a united church, when the evidence suggests otherwise. Aristocrats were as backstabby as they had ever been, and the bishops continued to be at each other's throats over power struggles and theological disputes. Individual bishops could commit fraud, and fictional martyr stories could develop organically.
 
Does the spectrum put a divide between 3 and 4 such that 1-3 are all in some way historical whereas 4-6 are all non historical?
I suspect it could be considered a matter of a probability, in that, for example, martyr stories that have been shown to fall into the first category could be regarded as being probably historical, that those in category two also have a good chance of being historical, and so forth. In Barnes's case, he was using the categories to determine which governors/praetorian prefects/etc who are mentioned judging cases in martyr stories were real people and which of those weren't.
 
May 2011
2,790
Rural Australia
I'm going to supply Barnes's summary of Licinius' treatment of the Christians, for those who are interested (Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire, 2011, pp. 105-106):

'On the military front, Constantine constructed a large harbor at Thessalonica and prepared a fleet in the Aegean so that, when the time came, he could attack Licinius on both land and sea (Zosimus 2.22.1). On the political front he waited until he could depict himself as a liberator of his imperial colleague’s Christian subjects from persecution. Licinius unwisely obliged by adopting some repressive policies. He expelled Christians from his palace, he required all members of the imperial administration to perform a symbolic act of sacrifice, he prohibited assemblies and councils of bishops, he forbade men and women to worship together or women to receive instruction from male clergy, and he cancelled the clerical exemption from curial duties which Constantine had granted (Eusebius, HE 10.8.10–11; VC 1.51–53; 2.20.2, 30.1). Moreover, in the extant first ten books of his Proof of the Gospel, which he was probably writing c. 320–322, Eusebius complains that Roman magistrates and governors are again treating Christianity as a crime, even if not a capital one (DE 2.3.155–156;3.5.78–80; 3.7.36–39; 5.3.11; 6.20.17–20; 7.1.131–132; 8.1.61–62, cf. HE 10.8.15–18). On Christmas Day 323 Constantine issued a law with obvious propaganda intent (CTh 16.2.5Seeck, cf. Barnes 1981: 321 n.87). He had heard that clergy and other Christians had been compelled to participate in lustrorum sacrificia, that is, sacrifices marking Licinius’ completion of fifteen years or three lustra of five years of rule since his appointment as emperor in Carnuntum on 11 November 308 (Seeck 1919: 98–99).

As war approached ever closer, Constantine made overtures to the Christians of the East. Lactantius appears to have responded by adding a passage to his Divine Institutes, finished fifteen years earlier, which reads like an invitation to Constantine to come to the rescue of Licinius’ Christian subjects (Div. Inst. 1.1.13–16 [CSEL 19.4], cf. Heck 1972: 127–170). On the eastern frontier, which abutted Christian Armenia, some Christians may have committed treasonable acts or entered into treasonable correspondence with Constantine: at all events, the bishop of Amaseia and other bishops in Pontus were put to death and churches in that region were destroyed (Eusebius, HE 10.8.15; VC 2.1–2).'

Again, Constantine clearly politicized the idea of persecution, but I would not then conclude that the entire history of persecution is a fiction. That being said, the context for Christian writings on Licinius' efforts against the Christians is clearly more politicized and Constantinian than the earlier writings of Lactantius and Eusebius on the Tetrarchic Persecution. Suspicion on how much Licinius really did act the Christians is warranted.
Thanks for this summary by Barnes.

In the eighties Barnes argued that Constantine conducted "a systematic and coherent reformation, at least in the eastern provinces which he conquered in 324 as a professed Christian in a Christian crusade against the last of the persecutor." Firstly, does he hold these views in this 2011 book?

Constantine's Prohibition of Pagan Sacrifice
T. D. Barnes, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 105, No. 1 (Spring, 1984), pp. 69-72

On the assumption that Eusebius' report is reliable and accurate, it may be argued that in 324 Constantine established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, and that he carried through a systematic and coherent reformation, at least in the eastern provinces which he conquered in 324 as a professed Christian in a Christian crusade against the last of the persecutor.​

ALSO: Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire

First study of Constantine to make use of Kevin Wilkinson's re-dating of the poet Palladas to the reign of Constantine, disproving the predominant scholarly belief that Constantine remained tolerant in matters of religion to the end of his reign.​

This is an interesting develoment, Palladas refers to "certain person hates the man whom God loves".

Secondly I have often wondered whether this "man whom God loves" is Constantine, and the "certain person" who hates him is Arius of Alexandria.

Palladas ....

O, the great wickedness of envy! A certain person hates the fortunate man whom God loves. Thus we are irrationally deceived by envy, and thus we are readily enslaved to folly. We Hellenes are men reduced to ashes, holding to our buried hopes in the dead; for everything has now been turned on its head..​
[AP 10.90]

When a certain person hates the man whom God loves, he exhibits the height of folly. For he clearly girds himself for battle against God himself, incurring supreme wrath for his envy; for one must love the man whom God loves. [AP 10.91]​
 
Thanks for this summary by Barnes.

In the eighties Barnes argued that Constantine conducted "a systematic and coherent reformation, at least in the eastern provinces which he conquered in 324 as a professed Christian in a Christian crusade against the last of the persecutor." Firstly, does he hold these views in this 2011 book?

Constantine's Prohibition of Pagan Sacrifice
T. D. Barnes, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 105, No. 1 (Spring, 1984), pp. 69-72

On the assumption that Eusebius' report is reliable and accurate, it may be argued that in 324 Constantine established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, and that he carried through a systematic and coherent reformation, at least in the eastern provinces which he conquered in 324 as a professed Christian in a Christian crusade against the last of the persecutor.​

ALSO: Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire

First study of Constantine to make use of Kevin Wilkinson's re-dating of the poet Palladas to the reign of Constantine, disproving the predominant scholarly belief that Constantine remained tolerant in matters of religion to the end of his reign.​

This is an interesting develoment, Palladas refers to "certain person hates the man whom God loves".

Secondly I have often wondered whether this "man whom God loves" is Constantine, and the "certain person" who hates him is Arius of Alexandria.

Palladas ....


O, the great wickedness of envy! A certain person hates the fortunate man whom God loves. Thus we are irrationally deceived by envy, and thus we are readily enslaved to folly. We Hellenes are men reduced to ashes, holding to our buried hopes in the dead; for everything has now been turned on its head..

[AP 10.90]​
When a certain person hates the man whom God loves, he exhibits the height of folly. For he clearly girds himself for battle against God himself, incurring supreme wrath for his envy; for one must love the man whom God loves. [AP 10.91]​
Barnes definitely favours the idea that Constantine was an intolerant and fanatical ruler in the east. One does get that impression from reading Eusebius' Life of Constantine and, I recall, several of Palladas' epigrams, who did not like Constantine. I suppose the 'certain person' could be Licinius.
 
May 2011
2,790
Rural Australia
I'll contribute more later, but the martyr stories in and of themselves are not something that I know a lot about. But i'm not a fan of your idea that all the later stories must be fiction.
It's just an hypothesis.

To draw such a line between Eusebian and later examples strikes me as an artificial division that assumes a very simplistic literary history and assumes too much from known examples of fraud. It also implies that any martyr Eusebius failed to mention should be fictional, which I have no reason to believe.
Chronology draws this division. Eusebius' martyr stories belong in the early decades of the 4th century. The other further martyr stories commence to appear in the 370's and beyond, at least a geration or two after Eusebius. Irrespective of how we evaluate the historical contents of these martyr stories, I believe it is important to observe this chronological division which I do not believe to be artificial.

As before, your scenario assumes a united aristocracy and a united church, when the evidence suggests otherwise. Aristocrats were as backstabby as they had ever been, and the bishops continued to be at each other's throats over power struggles and theological disputes. Individual bishops could commit fraud, and fictional martyr stories could develop organically.
The poliical scenario covers the rise of Damasus and the Latin church in the west, and the rise of Theodosius in the east. All fighting and bickering aside, the East and West appear to have been very united in their support of the authority of the Nicene Creed. This appears to have involved the collaboration of Greek and Latin ecclesiastical writers. Within this very same time frame Bishops of the east and west, supported by the aristocracy, have dreams which reveal the location of the bones of saints and martyrs, and the Christian relic trade is commenced.

Certainly "Individual bishops could commit fraud, and fictional martyr stories could develop organically". However the appearance of these stories in the Roman Empire of the 4th century coincides with extensive collaborative efforts by the emperors, elite bishops and aristocrats, and other ecclesiatical writers within the orthodoxy, to jointly subscribe to the authority of the Nicene Creed. In such a poltical climate I believe that it is responsible to investigate the possibility that the initial production of these later martyr stories was partly the product of collusion at the top.
 

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