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Christianity Won, But Paganism Lived on in the Roman Empire

Published onApr 29, 2022
Christianity Won, But Paganism Lived on in the Roman Empire

Introduction

In the 300s AD, Christians seemingly won against their Pagan persecutors. It was believed that the Roman Empire became a Christian empire. At face value, the laws would certainly seem to confirm that notion. However, upon further examination of these laws, that is not true. Many things for people remained unchanged. In fact Pagans that converted to Christianity, either willingly or by force, brought many of their customs with them. Even Christian Roman emperors tried to mix things from Paganism into Christianity. This can be seen with Constantine, the first Christian emperor. While he did become a Christian, he still allowed Pagan practices. He also had worshipped and admired a sun deity and even after he converted, he still had depictions of him like a sun-god.

An Examination of the Roman Laws

The Theodosian Code details all sorts of Christian laws that were made after Christianity had been adopted by the Roman Empire. At face value these laws appear destroy Paganism and the practices related to it. Temples were being used for Christian purposes and many were supposed to be destroyed. Idols were being destroyed as well as Pagan alters. However the large gaps in the years show that this was a slow and ineffective process. It took almost 20 years after Constantine legalized Christianity for Pagan practices to be banned. Even as late as the 430s Pagans could still be found, much to the Christian emperors’ annoyance and frustration.

What Happened to Paganism?

This does not mean that Paganism just died out after these laws were made. Even in the last years of the Western Roman Empire, Paganism was probably still very large. They were forced into hiding because Christians had become powerful because of the empire’s adaptation of it as its official religion. They continued their rituals in secret and even in public. This is because these laws were impossible to enforce due to the empire’s great size and overwhelming population of Pagans. In fact by the 300s AD, Christians only made up about 10% of the empire’s population.

Timeline of Christian Laws Against Paganism



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