Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"We decree the death penalty for those who openly perform sacrifices or honour the images." Emperor Constantius, 356 AD

There is a great new post over at the European Pagan Memory blog on Pagans, Sacrifices and Temples. In that post, independent scholar Manuela Simeoni provides us with a translation of section 16.10 of the Theodosian Code, which documents the official suppression of Paganism by Imperial decree from 320 to 395 AD.

Below I will quote some of the highlights, but please go to the link to read the whole thing.

Two things are especially noteworthy about these decrees, in my opinion. First, there is very clearly a fixation on the part of the Christian Emperors specifically on the Pagan practice of sacrifice. In some cases Temples are allowed to be left open and even the statues and images of Pagan Gods are to be unmolested, if they are deemed to possess sufficient artistic and historical merit. Even traditional "festive assemblies" can be allowed at the discretion of local officials. But all such leniency is forgotten when it comes to "forbidden sacrifices". One reason this is so interesting is that it helps to explain the great positive emphasis placed on sacrifice during the Julianic Pagan revival.

The second thing to note is the focus on officials who fail to faithfully implement the persecution of Paganism. Just as laws proscribing Paganism serve as evidence of Pagan resistance to Christianization, so do laws specifically targetting officials provide us with evidence that religious coercion was not viewed as "business as usual" by Romans, who often simply ignored imperial decrees that encroached upon the traditional freedom of religion that Romans had always taken for granted.

  • Constantius, 341:  "Superstition shall cease, insanity of sacrifices must be abolished."

  • Constantius, ca 354: "We also demand that everyone avoids sacrifice. So if by any chance someone made such a thing, shall the avenging sword cut him down."

  • Constantius, 356: "[W]e decree death penalty for those who openly perform sacrifices or honour the images."

  • Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius, 385: "[N]o mortal shall dare to perform sacrifices in order to obtain, with the reading of livers and entrails, hope in a vain promise or, that is worse, the knowledge about future with a so despicable consultation. Therefore a harsh torture will be implemented for he who tries to explore the truth of present and future events in spite of our prohibition."

  • Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius, 391: "[N]obody shall be allowed to perform sacrifices, nobody shall go around temples, nobody shall venerate sanctuaries."

  • Theodosius, Arcadius and Honorius, 392: "If someone dares to sacrifice a victim or consult its still warm intrails, he’ll be charged for high treason and subject to the prescribed penalty, even though he didn’t try to divine anything in favour or against the prince’s health."