Although religion was a very important part of the lifestyle of Romans, Christianity was banned in the Roman Empire. Many religions filtered their way through the Empire but Christianity was initially forbidden. The Romans believed that their success as a world power was due to their collective religious piety, and that any religion beyond their own to the Roman gods could jeopardise them. Here at Its Pilgrimages we decided to delve into the history of Christianity in Rome.
Why were Christians persecuted?
In the first few centuries AD, Christians were often prosecuted and punished for their religion. During some periods though, Christians were secure from prosecution. Due to these mixed feelings it is believed that specifically personal or local hostilities were the reason behind individual Christians being targeted.
Certain immoral charges, such as incest and cannibalism, were made as accusations. This was probably the result of a misunderstanding of the Christian celebrations of agape (the ‘love feast’) and the Eucharist (partaking of the body and blood of Christ).
Pagans were especially suspicious of Christians because they did not and refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods. This was seen as an insult to the gods and potentially put the empire in danger if good relations with the gods were not upheld. Christian refusal to offer sacrifices to the emperor was also interpreted as treason.
When did things start to change?
History dictates that the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and that his reasoning was somewhat miraculous. Although previous emperors had been hostile or indifferent to Christianity, Constantine paved the way for more liberal religious worship. It is believed that his conversion was either the result of a vision or a dream in which Christ guided him to fight under Christian standards.
Despite the shift, many of his actions remained pagan and his style of ruling was not markedly changed. It wasn’t until the early fourth century that Christianity was properly and devoutly adopted by Constantine. Only then was it made fully legal with churches being built in Rome and throughout the Empire. By AD 391, the worship of other gods was made illegal.
Did Christianity triumph in Rome?
Although Constantine’s conversion was a big and victorious step for Christians, there was no ultimate triumph where Christians overcame the pagans. Progress in the Roman Empire was slow and hesitant with many pagans choosing to adhere to their old faith. Now paganism may have dissolved as an imperial religion but it posed a powerful and political challenge to Christianity throughout history.
Find out more about Rome’s religious importance by joining our Rome and Assisi tour. To get further details or to make an inquiry about booking, contact our team today. View our blog at Its Pilgrimages for reasons to go on a pilgrimage and the wonderful places you can encounter that are rich with religion.