* They were not only happy to be punished for their beliefs, some of them even welcomed it.
* There’s a strong tradition of martyrdom in Christianity, which goes back, of course, to the idea that Jesus was the ultimate human sacrifice, and to follow in his footsteps was the ultimate show of devotion.
* The historical sources tend to blame this persecution on Galerius.
* He was very anti-Christian and his mother was a pagan priestess who hated the Christians for not attending her festivals.
* But how much of his is just propaganda, it’s hard to say.
* A few years later, in 302, Diocletian went after the Manicheans, followers of the prophet Mani.
* It was a gnostic religion.
* Mani declared himself to be an “apostle of Jesus Christ”, and his teaching was intended to succeed and surpass the teachings of Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism.
* Diocletian took offense that the Manicheans were apparently criticizing the old religions.
* He wrote:
* “The gods,” he says, “have determined what is just and true; the wisest of mankind, by counsel and by deed, have proved and firmly established their principles. It is not, therefore, lawful to oppose their divine and human wisdom, or to pretend that a new religion can correct the old one. To wish to change the institutions of our ancestors is the greatest of crimes.”
* Nothing could be clearer.
* It is the old official defence of the State religion
* Men are not wiser than their fathers, and innovation in worship going to bring down the wrath of the gods.
* Moreover, as the edict points out, this Manichaeanism came from Persia, the traditional enemy of Rome, and threatened to corrupt the “modest and tranquil Roman people” with the detestable manners and infamous laws of the Orient.
* Diocletian’s point is obvious.
* Manichasanism was a device of the enemy; it must be poison, therefore, to the good Roman.
* Diocletian ordered that the leading Manicheans be burnt alive along with their scriptures.
* This was the first time the destruction of scriptures was ordered.
* Low-status Manicheans were to be executed; high-status Manicheans were to be sent to work in the mines.
* All Manichean property was to be seized and deposited in the imperial treasury.
* While Diocletian was in Antioch in the autumn of 302, the Christian deacon Romanus visited a court while preliminary sacrifices were taking place and interrupted the ceremonies, denouncing the act in a loud voice.
* He was arrested and sentenced to be set on fire, but Diocletian overruled the decision, and decided that Romanus should have his tongue removed instead.
* Because he’s a nice guy.
* According to the Christian historian Lactantius, while at Nicomedia in 302, Diocletian and Galerius then entered into an argument over what imperial policy towards Christians should be.
* Diocletian argued that forbidding Christians from the bureaucracy and military would be sufficient to appease the gods, while Galerius pushed for their extermination.
* The two men sought to resolve their dispute by sending a messenger to consult the oracle of Apollo at Didyma.
* The oracle said Apollo couldn’t talk, because “just men” – aka the Christians – were preventing him from talking.
* Not much of a god then.
* But of course we only find this in Eusebius.
* Anyway, that was that.
* On February 23, 303, Diocletian ordered that the newly built Christian church at Nicomedia be razed, its scriptures burned, and its treasures seized.
* The next day, Diocletian’s first “Edict against the Christians” was published.
* The key targets of this piece of legislation were Christian property and senior clerics.
* The edict prohibited Christians from assembling for worship, and ordered the destruction of their scriptures, liturgical books, and places of worship across the empire.
* Christians were also deprived of the right to petition the courts, making them potential subjects for judicial torture; Christians could not respond to actions brought against them in court; Christian senators, equestrians, decurions, veterans, and soldiers were deprived of their ranks; and Christian imperial freedmen were re-enslaved.
* But Diocletian requested that the edict be pursued “without bloodshed”, against Galerius’s demands that all those refusing to sacrifice be burned alive.
* The edict was no sooner posted up than some bold, indignant Christian tore it down.
* He was immediately arrested, tortured, racked, and burnt at the stake.
* Diocletian had been right.
* The Christians loved being martyrs.
* Soon afterwards there was an outbreak of fire at the palace.
* Lactantius accuses Galerius of having started it himself so that he might throw blame on the Christians,
* false flag, burning of the reichstag
* and he adds that Galerius convinced Diocletian to get every official in the palace to use the rack in the hope of getting at the truth.
* Nothing was discovered, but fifteen days later there was another mysterious outbreak.
* Galerius, protesting that he would stay no longer to be burnt alive, quitted the palace at once, though it was bad weather for travelling.
* Then, says Lactantius, Diocletian allowed his blind terrors to get the better of him, and the persecution began in earnest.
* He forced his wife and daughter to recant; he purged the palace, and put to death some of his most powerful eunuchs, while the Bishop of Nicomedia was beheaded, and crowds of less distinguished victims were thrown into prison.
* The double conflagration is certainly suspicious, but tyrants do not, as a rule, set fire to their own palaces when they themselves are in residence.
* Galerius began to purge his army of Christians.
* Unless they would sacrifice, officers were to lose their rank and private soldiers to be dismissed ignominiously without the privileges of long service.
* Several were put to death in Moesia, where a certain Maximus was Governor.
* But even here, we see the Romans trying to talk the Christians out of dying for no reason.
* Among the army was a veteran named Julius, who had served in the legion for twenty-six years, and fought in seven campaigns, without a single black mark having been entered against his name for any military offence.
* Maximus did his best to get him off.
* “Julius,” he said, “I see that you are a man of sense and wisdom. Suffer yourself to be persuaded and sacrifice to the gods.”
* “I will not,” was the reply, “do what you ask. I will not incur by an act of sin eternal punishment.”
* “But,” said the Governor, “I take the sin upon myself. I will use compulsion so that you may not seem to act voluntarily. Then you will be able to return in peace to your house You will receive the bounty of ten denarii and no one will molest you.”
* Evidently, Maximus was heartily sorry that such a fine old soldier should take up a position which seemed to him so grotesquely indefensible.
* But what was Julius’s reply?
* “Neither this Devil’s money nor your specious words shall cause me to lose eternal God. I cannot deny Him. Condemn me as a Christian.”
* After the interrogation had gone on for some time, Maximus said: “I pity you, and I beg you to sacrifice, so that you may live with us.”
* “To live with you would be death for me,” rejoined Julius, “but if I die, I shall live.”
* “Listen to me and sacrifice; if not, I shall have to keep my word and order you to death.”
* “I have often prayed that I might merit such an end.”
* “Then you have chosen to die?”
* “I have chosen a temporary death, but an eternal life.”
* Maximus then passed sentence, and the law took its course.
* At Tangiers, Marcellus, a centurion of the Legion of Trajan, threw down his centurion’s staff and belt and refused to serve any longer.
* He did so in the face of the whole army assembled to sacrifice in honour of Maximian’s birthday.
* A similar scene took place in Spain at Calahorra, near Tarraco, where two soldiers cast off their arms exclaiming, “We are called to serve in the shining company of angels. There Christ commands His cohorts, clothed in white, and from his lofty throne condemns your infamous gods, and you, who are the creatures of these gods, or, we should say, these ridiculous monsters.”
* Death followed as a matter of course.
* Looking at the evidence with absolute impartiality, one begins to suspect that the process of clearing the Christians out of the army was due quite as much to the fanaticism of certain Christian soldiers eager for martyrdom, as to any lust for blood on the part even of Galerius and Maximian.
* In the summer of 303, there were a series of rebellions in Melitene (Malatya, Turkey) and Syria, and a second edict was published, ordering the arrest and imprisonment of all bishops and priests.
* But then on November 20, 303, Diocletian declared a general amnesty in a third edict.
* Any imprisoned clergyman could now be freed, so long as he agreed to make a sacrifice to the gods.
* Here again we see him trying to give them an out.
* He’s not saying “recant your religion”, just “don’t insult our gods”.
* Some of the clergy were happy to take the out.
* Others were tricked into doing it for their own good.
* We hear of magistrates who ordered the attendants of the court to place by force a few grains of incense in the hands of the prisoner and make him sprinkle it upon the altar, or to thrust into his mouth a portion of the sacrificial meat.
* The victim would protest against his involuntary defilement, but the magistrate would declare that the offering had been made.
* Often, the judge sought to bribe the accused into apostasy.
* “If you obey the Governor” St. Victor of Galatia was told, “you shall have the title of ‘Friend of Caesar’ and a post in the palace.”
* Another martyr was offered “the favour of the Emperors, the highest municipal dignities, and the priesthood of Apollo.”
* They both declined.
* Sometimes the kindest-hearted judges were driven to exasperation by their total inability to make the slightest impression upon the Christians.
* “Do abandon your foolish boasting,” said Maximus, the Governor of Cilicia, to Andronicus, “and listen to me as you would listen to your father. Those who have played the madman before you have gained nothing by it. Pay honour to our Princes and our fathers and submit yourself to the gods.”
* “You do well,” came the reply, “to call them your fathers, for you are the sons of Satan, the sons of the Devil, whose works you perform.”
* A few more remarks passed between judge and prisoner and then Maximus lost his temper.
* “I will make you die by inches,” he exclaimed.
* “I despise,” retorted Andronicus, “your threats and your menaces.”
* While an old man of sixty-five was being led to the torture, a friendly centurion said to him, “Have pity on yourself and sacrifice.”
* “Get thee from me, minister of Satan,” was the reply.
* At his trial, Andronicus, when the officers of the court had thrust between his lips the bread and meat of sacrifice, yelled to Maximus: “May you be punished, bloody tyrant, you and they who have given you the power to defile me with your impious sacrifices. One day you will know what you have done to the servants of God.”
* “Accursed scoundrel,” said the judge, “dare you curse the Emperors who have given the world such long and profound peace?”
* “I have cursed them and I will curse them,” replied Andronicus, “these public scourges, these drinkers of blood, who have turned the world upside down. May the immortal hand of God tolerate them no longer and punish their cruel amusements, that they may learn and know the evil they have done to God’s servants.”
* To what extent was the martyrdom self-inflicted?
* The leaders of some churches were actually so concerned about the martyrdom fever, they posted notices condemning it.
* They not only didn’t encourage but strictly forbade the overthrowing of pagan statues or altars by zealous Christians anxious to testify to their faith.
* They did not wish to provoke certain reprisals.
* Yet, in spite of all their efforts, martyrdom was constantly courted by rash and excitable natures in the frenzy of religious fanaticism,
* like that which impelled Theodorus of Amasia in Pontus to set fire to a temple of Cybele in the middle of the city and then boast openly of the deed.
* Another guy begged them to torture him more.
* A martyr called Asterius at his trial: “I only ask one favour, it is that you will not leave unlacerated a single part of my body.”
* But even the records of the court proceedings show the Romans kind of shocked and worried about what was going on.
* The reports of the trials show us silent, orderly courts, with the judges anxious not so much to condemn to death as to make a convert.
* If Diocletian had wanted blood he could have had it in rivers, not in streams.
* But he did not.
* He wished to eradicate what he believed to be a dangerous superstition that was causing people to offend the gods and refuse to acknowledge the government.
* In 304, the fourth edict ordered all persons, men, women, and children, to gather in a public space and offer a collective sacrifice.
* If they refused, they were to be executed.
* Where was Constantine in all of this?
* There’s no evidence that he participated in the persecutions, but there’s also none that he tried to oppose them.
* His father, Constantius, ruling Britain and Gaul, seems to have avoided them as well.
* There are stories of him pulling down churches made of stone and wood but having the materials stored away for later re-building.
* And then Diocletian and Maximian resigned on May 1, 305.
* Diocletian had been suffering from an illness and he told Maximian it was time for a fresh start.
* Constantius and Galerius became Augusti (senior emperors).
* Everyone believed, until the very last moment, that Diocletian would choose Constantine and Maxentius (Maximian’s son) as the junior emperors.
* But instead, Valerius Severus, a Roman officer who was an old friend of Galerius, and Maximinus Daia, Galerius’ nephew, were appointed their Caesars respectively.
* Constantine and Maxentius were ignored.
* Constantine quickly figured out that he was a threat to Galerius, so he got his father to request he be sent to help him in his campaign in Britain and Galerius granted the request when he was drunk.
* The Origo states; “Now Galerius was such a tippler24 that when he was drunk he gave orders such as ought but to be obeyed; and so, at the advice of his prefect, he directed that no one should execute any commands which he issued after luncheon.”
* By the time he sobered up the next morning, it was too late, Constantine had escaped to Gaul.
* Father and son made their way to Britain and spent a year campaigning against the Picts beyond Hadrian’s Wall.
* Then in July 305, Constantius died of a sickness while in York.
* Before he died, they asked who the crown should go to, and he said “to the strongest”
* Nah only kidding, he said Constantine.
* But not just to rank of Caesar, to the rank of full Augustus.
* When Constantius died, one of the Gallic kings he had with him, Chrocus, proclaimed Constantine Augusutus.
* The troops accepted it.
* As did Gaul and Britain.
* Hispania, which had only been part of Constantius’ territories for less than a year, did not.
* Conny sent Galerius a note with a painting of himself in the robes of an Augustus, saying “hey listen it wasn’t my idea, they made me do it.”
* Gally went nuts, said only HE had the power to make someone an Augustus, and instead made Severus the Augustus, telling Conny he could be Caesar instead.
* Conny accepted it.
* It made him legit.
* He got his father’s domains of Gaul, Britain and Spain.
* Which meant he got one of Rome’s biggest armies.
* Which was stationed along the Rhine frontier.
* First crossed by Julius Caesar, then by Agrippa, Drusus, Tiberius, etc.
* He stayed in Britain a while, then went to his main capital, Augusta Treverorum, named of course after Trevor the Great, (Trier) in Gaul.
* A Germanic tribe, the Franks, so called because they always said just whatever they were thinking, crossed the Rhine and invaded Gaul to have a crack in the winter of 306–307 CE
* One of their kings said “you know what, I think we should just do it.”
* His name was Frank.
* Frank the Frank King who was quite frankly, quite frank.
* Frank N Furter
* Not one of their better ideas, as it turns out.
* Constantine drove them back beyond the Rhine and captured two of their kings, Ascaric and Merogaisus.
* The kings and their soldiers were fed to the beasts of Trier’s amphitheatre.
* Even though they weren’t Christians.
* But here’s where it gets interesting.
* Galerius is the big anti-Christian guy.
* And he also doesn’t like Constantine.
* Who doesn’t like him in return.
* So Conny now says he’s ending the persecution of the Christians in his territories.
* He returned everything they had lost during the persecution.
* It’s his way of setting himself apart from Galerius.
* This sources suggest his father wasn’t big on the persecution either.
* Maybe he just followed in his footsteps.
* Which didn’t make them special – that was the traditional Roman way.
* As long as you pay your taxes, we don’t care what you believe.
* Sure – it would be nice if you sacrificed to the gods.
* Just don’t get in the way and fuck shit up.
* DBAC in other words.
* Then shit went cray.
* As was customary, Conny, as the new Caesar, had his portrait paintend and sent to Rome.
* Maxentius, Maximian’s son, who was still out in the cold, was pissy, called Conny the son of a whore, and seized the title of emperor on 28 October 306 AD.
* Galerius refused to recognize him, and sent Severus against Maxentius,
* but during the campaign, Severus’ armies, previously under command of Maxentius’ father Maximian, defected, and Severus was seized and imprisoned.
* Maximian came out of retirement to help his son and left for Gaul to confer with Constantine in late 307 AD.
* He offered to marry his daughter Fausta to Constantine, and elevate him to Augustan rank.
* I think that’s what you call a Faustan bargain.
* In return, Constantine would support to Maxentius’ cause in Italy.
* Constantine accepted, and married Fausta in Trier in late summer 307 AD.
* Constantine now gave Maxentius political recognition.
* But it wasn’t more than just a nod and a wink.
* He returned to Britain and sent his armies across the Rhine.
* He said “hey my name is Paul and this is between y’all.”
* Maximian returned to Rome in 307 but soon fell out with his son, tried to ursurp his title, failed, and went to live with Conny.
* They were not only happy to be punished for their beliefs, some of them even welcomed it.
Excellent introduction. Who will be your audience?
Thanks David. Our audience are folks interested in history, who like also to be entertained while they learn.
Enjoyed this first episode. I am looking forward to the next episode. Can’t wait to hear the music selections for this podcast.