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Emperor Goblinus

Would Augustus Have Persecuted Christians?

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Thus, their inability to swear an oath to the emperor would not have been a problem as this was not required until this point.

 

And yet it was an issue under Trajan, well before Decius.

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Persecution per se was not a policy of most Emperors. Roman law rarely, if ever, proactively sought to 'persecute' people but was more or less, reactive in nature. When presented with evidence, Romans sought to bring their form of justice to the case and in fact, even in the times of Trajan, proper adherence to law was held much in regard.

 

For example, Trajan writes to Pliny [ Source Pliny Letters 10.96 - 7], responding to a case against Christians :

 

Quote:

 

"You have followed the right course of procedure, my dear Pliny, in your examination of the cases of persons charged with being Christians, for it is impossible to lay down a general rule to a fixed formula. These people must not be hunted out; if they are brought before you and the charge against them is proved, they must be punished, but in the case of anyone who denies that he is a Christian, and makes it clear that he is not by offering prayers to our gods, he is to be pardoned as a result of his repentance however suspect his past conduct may be. But pamphlets circulated anonymously must play no part in any accusation. They create the worst sort of precedent and are quite out of keeping with the spirit of our age."

 

Unquote

 

I think the key thinking here of Trajan is that although Christianity is not a religion that they particularly like, people who practice this must not be "hunted out". Also, he was not in favor of administering justice based on anonymous notes or "pamphlets" but required people to be actually examined by a Roman official with powers to hear and pronounce judgment against a particular accusation, after proper examination of the evidence. Trajan's note is very clear that the "charge against them is proved" (see above quote) before deciding on a particular case.

Edited by Skarr

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Yes, thats what I was referring to - If accused - they either denounced Christ, and swore an oath to the Emperors statue and received a pardon, or did not, and were punished. Clearly the ability to swear an oath to the Emperor was an issue prior to Decius.

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Clearly the ability to swear an oath to the Emperor was an issue prior to Decius.

 

 

yes, but it was only an issue in the sense that it allowed suspected christians to prove they were a 'good pious roman.' It was never required of the ordinary citizens en mass until Decius, so it is only really an issue to those denounced as christians. At this point one needs to consider far more the reasons why someone would be locally denounced.

 

the swearing of oaths to the emperor was something which many christians could do, and did. it really depends on what the oath in itself was, a simple oath to the emperor's genius under augustus should have posed no problems, as well into late antiquity christians still percieved a variety of intermediate figures between man and god, genius being one of the. cf. P.Brown- cult of saints Thus the oath would only be a problem if it was to the emperor's personal divinity, something which was never asserted during the Augustan period (in public/state religion anyway, although some private religious imagery does assert this link, eg Gemmae Augustae.

 

Also, the ability to swear an oath to the emperor was a way of avoiding the charges brought, just as demonstrating that your accuser was lying or it wasn't true for many other reasons. If one accepts the flagitia accusations as the basis for persecution then simply disprove the existance of flagitia and no oath would need to be taken. A.N. Sherwin-White is in part responsible for this idea of the oath and the rejection of imperial/magisterial power leading to persecutions, but i personally feel his theory based on the contumacia of the christians fails to account for the initial act of denouncement. After all, if the christians were not to be hunted out as Trajan replies to Pliny then why would they be infront of the provincial governor? it required an accusation, which can not be because they wouldn't swear the oath, because they were only asked once accused.

 

Interestingly, given the provincia assinged to Augustus in 27BC he might have avoided most of the ares where christian persecution generally occured, although it does crop up in most places at one point or another. It seems unlikely he would have excercised his maius imperium proconsularae to intervene in 'senatorial' provinces on this topic.

Edited by znra251

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Did Augustus persecute the followers of Ahura Mazda, the God that became Mithras and then Jesus Christ? No.

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Clearly the ability to swear an oath to the Emperor was an issue prior to Decius.

 

 

yes, but it was only an issue in the sense that it allowed suspected christians to prove they were a 'good pious roman.' It was never required of the ordinary citizens en mass until Decius, so it is only really an issue to those denounced as christians. At this point one needs to consider far more the reasons why someone would be locally denounced.

 

the swearing of oaths to the emperor was something which many christians could do, and did. it really depends on what the oath in itself was, a simple oath to the emperor's genius under augustus should have posed no problems, as well into late antiquity christians still percieved a variety of intermediate figures between man and god, genius being one of the. cf. P.Brown- cult of saints Thus the oath would only be a problem if it was to the emperor's personal divinity, something which was never asserted during the Augustan period (in public/state religion anyway, although some private religious imagery does assert this link, eg Gemmae Augustae.

 

Also, the ability to swear an oath to the emperor was a way of avoiding the charges brought, just as demonstrating that your accuser was lying or it wasn't true for many other reasons. If one accepts the flagitia accusations as the basis for persecution then simply disprove the existance of flagitia and no oath would need to be taken. A.N. Sherwin-White is in part responsible for this idea of the oath and the rejection of imperial/magisterial power leading to persecutions, but i personally feel his theory based on the contumacia of the christians fails to account for the initial act of denouncement. After all, if the christians were not to be hunted out as Trajan replies to Pliny then why would they be infront of the provincial governor? it required an accusation, which can not be because they wouldn't swear the oath, because they were only asked once accused.

 

Interestingly, given the provincia assinged to Augustus in 27BC he might have avoided most of the ares where christian persecution generally occured, although it does crop up in most places at one point or another. It seems unlikely he would have excercised his maius imperium proconsularae to intervene in 'senatorial' provinces on this topic.

A most interesting counterfactual question which belongs to the What If? historical genre now in vogue in Britain.My entirely personal and subjective idea is the following. Augustus came to power after the titanic struggles that convulsed the Republic which was a conservative, expansionist and militaristic regime, controlled by aristocratic factions who vied for power and an equestrian class lobbying for wars of conquest to augment its' tax-farming prospects in conquered provinces. Contrary to all the "great" men of the final days of the Republic, Marius and Sulla, Pompey and Caesar and even Antony or Agrippa, Octavian was not a man with military experience or great skills as a military commander.Nevertheless he was an astute politician and he tried to cloth his autocratic power in republican forms. My humble opinion is that Republican forms did not anyhow have meant anything to much for the population of the Principate-the famed mos maiorum was a rationalization of aristocratic domination exercised through the dual avenues of military command and priestly office.It was the Roman variety of what in Western European history was known as the alliance of the Throne and the Altar.Augustus wanted stability-already Cicero spoke about concordia ordinum, a union of the boni-that is a confluence of the Senators and the Equites, the two possesing classes in the administration of the empire.Ancient classical civilization was oligarchic- Roman civilization even more. Augustus wanted the support of the possesing class in the support of a political and social programme that was essentialy conservative-that is, it promoted the policy of Romanization along with the creation and strenghtening of a mythology and morality of Romanitas, the quality of being Roman which was exemplified in Virgil's stanza in the Aeneiad which stressed the Roman mission of- to put it simply- governing the world, an ancestor of the British "white man's burden" or even the French "mission civilizatrice" . Of course the Empire to survive had to be tolerant but "four legs good, two legs better" which meant that all customs and traditions were acceptable but the best traditions were the Roman ones, that is those that emanated from the great famililies of the Republic and their traditions of service to the state that is their expertise in wars of conquest and manipulation of popular sentiment through skillfull use of the religious apparatus.This last aspect was important to Augustus and I think Christianity would have posed a problem to him since unlike Judaism it was expansive.It was a subculture and in some aspects a counter-culture-as the hippies were.It's message of universal brothehood and pacifism contrasted with the class-ridden and militaristic aspects of the Republic that Augustus was supposedly restoring.Rome was essentially a war machine and Christianity could not be incorporated in this tradition.But one must not be very pressing on that, since historical Christianity adapted very well to the political practice of Spanish Imperialism, British Imperialism, French Imperialism and recently American Imperialism.But it is the pristine Christianity we are now talking about, before taking the vestiges of power. I do not think Augustus would have been very happy with such a religion that was so obviously in contrast with the traditional conception of Roman virtue.I do not know whether he would have actively persecuted it-he was probably too suave for that and after all he had been tired battling aristocratic Romans to be occupied with persecuting low-class individuals following a Semitic superstition. I think there is a negative reference to Christianity in some passage of Tacitus and I think Augustus would have subscribed to this view. I think that he would have considered them not worthy of his notice as a marginalized sect with low-class adherents. Of course that would have been a mistake because as things turned latter the aristocracy of the Senators was transformed to an aristocracy of bishops and the Pope became for some centuries the closest office to a Roman Emperor that Western Europe had. But how could poor Augustus have guessed such an evolution?

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I think it's all depend on the Chriastians behaviour, if they would have seated in Rome and try to convert people Augustus would probably throw them out of the city and restrict there religious freedom in order to protect Roman religion (we know of a similar situation where the Jews wer'e expell from Rome for a time under Tiberius and Claudius because they distrube religious propoganda).

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