Turlej, “Justiniana Prima”

In June, Columbia University Press will release Justiniana Prima: An Underestimated Aspect of Justinian’s Church Policy by Stanislaw Turlej (Jagiellonian University). The publisher’s description follows:

Justiniana PrimaThe book explores the history of Justiniana Prima, a city built by Emperor Justinian I (527-565) in his birthplace near Niš in present-day Serbia. Previous studies focused on determining the city’s location, underestimating the significance of analyzing written sources for the reconstruction of this city’s genesis and importance. Using information from Emperor Justinian’s Novels XI and CXXXI, as well as Book IV of Procopius of Caesarea’s De aedificiis, Stanislaw Turlej endeavors to show that Justiniana Prima’s historic significance resulted from granting its Church the status of an archbishopric with its own province in 535, which was independent of Rome. Justinian wanted to introduce profound changes to the ecclesiastical organization based on state law.

Teitler, “The Last Pagan Emperor”

In March, the Oxford University Press released “The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity,” by H.C. Teitler.  The publisher’s description follows:

Flavius Claudius Julianus was the last pagan to sit on the Roman imperial throne (361-363). Born in Constantinople in 331 or 332, Julian was raised as a Christian, but 9780190626501.jpgapostatized, and during his short reign tried to revive paganism, which, after the conversion to Christianity of his uncle Constantine the Great early in the fourth century, began losing ground at an accelerating pace. Having become an orphan when he was still very young, Julian was taken care of by his cousin Constantius II, one of Constantine’s sons, who permitted him to study rhetoric and philosophy and even made him co-emperor in 355. But the relations between Julian and Constantius were strained from the beginning, and it was only Constantius’ sudden death in 361 which prevented an impending civil war.

As sole emperor, Julian restored the worship of the traditional gods. He opened pagan temples again, reintroduced animal sacrifices, and propagated paganism through both the spoken and the written word. In his treatise Against the Galilaeans he sharply criticised the religion of the followers of Jesus whom he disparagingly called ‘Galilaeans’. He put his words into action, and issued laws which were displeasing to Christians–the most notorious being his School Edict. This provoked the anger of the Christians, who reacted fiercely, and accused Julian of being a persecutor like his predecessors Nero, Decius, and Diocletian. Violent conflicts between pagans and Christians made themselves felt all over the empire. It is disputed whether or not Julian himself was behind such outbursts. Accusations against the Apostate continued to be uttered even after the emperor’s early death. In this book, the feasibility of such charges is examined.

“North Africa Under Byzantium and Early Islam” (Stevens and Conant, eds.)

In March, the Harvard University Press will release “North Africa Under Byzantium and Early Islam,” edited by Susan T. Stevens (Randolph College) and Jonathan P. Conant (Brown University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The profound economic and strategic significance of the province of “Africa” made the Maghreb highly contested in the Byzantine period—by the Roman 9780884024088-lg(Byzantine) empire, Berber kingdoms, and eventually also Muslim Arabs—as each group sought to gain, control, and exploit the region to its own advantage. Scholars have typically taken the failure of the Byzantine endeavor in Africa as a foregone conclusion. North Africa under Byzantium and Early Islam reassesses this pessimistic vision both by examining those elements of Romano-African identity that provided continuity in a period of remarkable transition, and by seeking to understand the transformations in African society in the context of the larger post-Roman Mediterranean. Chapters in this book address topics including the legacy of Vandal rule in Africa, historiography and literature, art and architectural history, the archaeology of cities and their rural hinterlands, the economy, the family, theology, the cult of saints, Berbers, and the Islamic conquest, in an effort to consider the ways in which the imperial legacy was re-interpreted, re-imagined, and put to new uses in Byzantine and early Islamic Africa.

Edwards, “Religions of the Constantinian Empire”

This month, Oxford University Press releases “Religions of the Constantinian Empire,” by Mark Edwards (University of Oxford).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religions of the Constantinian Empire provides a synoptic review of Constantine’s relation to all the cultic and theological traditions of the Empire during the period9780199687725 from his seizure of power in the west in 306 CE to the end of his reign as autocrat of both east and west in 337 CE. Divided into three parts, the first considers the efforts of Christians to construct their own philosophy, and their own patterns of the philosophic life, in opposition to Platonism. The second assembles evidence of survival, variation or decay in religious practices which were never compulsory under Roman law. The “religious plurality” of the second section includes those cults which are represented as demonic burlesques of the sacraments by Firmicus Maternus. The third reviews the changes, both within the church and in the public sphere, which were undeniably prompted by the accession of a Christian monarch. In this section on “Christian polyphony,” Mark Edwards expertly moves on from this deliberate petrifaction of Judaism to the profound shift in relations between the church and the civic cult that followed the Emperor’s choice of a new divine protector.

The material in the first section will be most familiar to the historian of philosophy, that of the second to the historian of religion, and that of the third to the theologian. All three sections make reference to such factors as the persecution under Diocletian, the so-called “edict of Milan,”the subsequent legislation of Constantine, and the summoning of the council of Nicaea. Edwards does not maintain, however, that the religious and philosophical innovations of this period were mere by-products of political revolution; indeed, he often highlights that Christianity was more revolutionary in its expectations than any sovereign could afford to be in his acts.This authoritative study provides a comprehensive reference work for those studying the ecclesiastical and theological developments and controversies of the fourth century.

Heilo, “Eastern Rome and the Rise of Islam”

In December, Routledge released “Eastern Rome and the Rise of Islam: History and Prophecy,” by Olof Heilo (Center for Middle Eastern Studies in Lund).  The publisher’s description follows:

The emergence of Islam in the seventh century AD still polarises scholars who seek to separate religious truth from the historical reality with which it is associated. However, history and prophecy are not solely defined by positive evidence or apocalyptic truth, but by human subjects, who consider them to convey distinct messages and in turn make these messages meaningful to others. These messages are mutually interdependent, and analysed together provide new insights into history.

It is by way of this concept that Olof Heilo presents the decline of the Eastern Roman Empire as a key to understanding the rise of Islam; two historical processes often perceived as distinct from one another. Eastern Rome and the Rise of Islam highlights significant convergences between Early Islam and the Late Ancient world. It suggests that Islam’s rise is a feature of a common process during which tensions between imperial ambitions and apocalyptic beliefs in Europe and the Middle East cut straight across today’s theological and political definitions. The conquests of Islam, the emergence of the caliphate, and the transformation of the Roman and Christian world are approached from both prophetic anticipations in the Ancient and Late Ancient world, and from the Medieval and Modern receptions of history. In the shadow of their narratives it becomes possible to trace the outline of a shared history of Christianity and Islam. The “Dark Ages” thus emerge not merely as a tale of sound and fury, but as an era of openness, diversity and unexpected possibilities.

Approaching the rise of Islam as a historical phenomenon, this book opens new perspectives in the study of early religion and philosophy, as well as providing a valuable resource for students and scholars of Islamic Studies.

Lenski, “Constantine and the Cities”

In February, the University of Pennsylvania Press will release “Constantine and the Cities: Imperial Authority and Civic Politics” by Noel Lenski.  The publisher’s description follows:

Over the course of the fourth century, Christianity rose from a religion actively persecuted by the authority of the Roman empire to become 15509the religion of state—a feat largely credited to Constantine the Great. Constantine succeeded in propelling this minority religion to imperial status using the traditional tools of governance, yet his proclamation of his new religious orientation was by no means unambiguous. His coins and inscriptions, public monuments, and pronouncements sent unmistakable signals to his non-Christian subjects that he was willing not only to accept their beliefs about the nature of the divine but also to incorporate traditional forms of religious expression into his own self-presentation. In Constantine and the Cities, Noel Lenski attempts to reconcile these apparent contradictions by examining the dialogic nature of Constantine’s power and how his rule was built in the space between his ambitions for the empire and his subjects’ efforts to further their own understandings of religious truth.

Focusing on cities and the texts and images produced by their citizens for and about the emperor, Constantine and the Cities uncovers the interplay of signals between ruler and subject, mapping out the terrain within which Constantine nudged his subjects in the direction of conversion. Reading inscriptions, coins, legal texts, letters, orations, and histories, Lenski demonstrates how Constantine and his subjects used the instruments of government in a struggle for authority over the religion of the empire.

Reflections from the City of God: On the Role of Religion in Inculcating Civic Virtue

I’ve been delayed in writing about my next selection from the City of God–this view_of_rome_as_the_city_of_god_poster-r332f2a9125be4d48b9f3d29d2e055265_wve_8byvr_512one from early in Book II, a book devoted to exploring the extent to which the Roman gods did not protect Romans from sundry disasters. But the particular disasters Augustine has in mind are moral disasters–not disasters of the body but disasters of the soul–and he highlights the vice and civic decay not only enabled but positively stimulated by the Roman gods. Here is Book II, Chapter 6, in full:

This is the reason why those divinities [MOD: in the previous chapter Augustine discusses Cybele, the “Earth Mother,” in particular] quite neglected the lives and morals of the cities and nations who worshipped them, and threw no dreadful prohibition in their way to hinder them from becoming utterly corrupt, and to preserve them from those terrible and detestable evils which visit not harvests and vintages, not house and possessions, not the body which is subject to the soul, but the soul itself, the spirit that rules the whole man. If there was any such prohibition, let it be produced, let it be proved. They will tell us that purity and probity were inculcated upon those who were initiated in the mysteries of religion, and that secret incitements to virtue were whispered in the ear of the elite; but this is an idle boast. Let them show or name to us the places which were at any time consecrated to assemblages in which, instead of the obscene songs and licentious acting of players, instead of the celebration of those most filthy and shameless Fugalia [MOD: civil feasts] (well called Fugalia, since they banish modesty and right feeling) [MOD: I think that Augustine is relying here on the root, ‘fuga,’ meaning ‘flight’], the people were commanded in the name of the gods to restrain avarice, bridle impurity, and conquer ambition; where, in short, they might learn in that school which Persius vehemently lashes them to, when he says:

Be taught, ye abandoned creatures, and ascertain the causes of things; what we are, and for what end we are born; what is the law of our success in life; and by what art we may turn the goal without making shipwreck; what limit we should put to our wealth, what we may lawfully desire, and what uses filthy lucre serves; how much we should bestow upon our country and our family; learn, in short, what God meant you to be, and what place He has ordered you to fill.

Let them name to us the places where such instructions were wont to be communicated from the gods, and where the people who worshiped them were accustomed to resort to hear them, as we can point to our churches built for this purpose in every land where the Christian religion is received.

One of the interesting features of the this chapter and, indeed, the entire book is the extent to which Augustine believes it to be religion’s role to inculcate virtue–including civic virtue–in its adherents. The morality that Augustine is discussing is not a private or interior morality, at least not solely. In the previous chapter, he castigates the Romans for bestowing their finest citizens with the honor of a statue of “that demon Cybele.” Robert Dodaro writes: “[E]ven Rome’s best citizens are deceived by Cybele, the ‘Mother of the Gods.'” Dodaro, Christ and the Just Society in the Thought of Augustine 45. And here, Augustine specifically mentions the morality not of individuals, or even of families, but of “cities and nations.” The context in which he condemns Roman vice is not personal, but public–the feast of Fugalia, which so far as I can tell is a civic feast celebrating the expulsion of the Roman kings. And the fragment he quotes from the stoic Roman satirist Persius concerns both private and public virtue (“how much we should bestow upon our country and our family”).

Augustine clearly believes that it is an important function of religion to inculcate civic or public virtue and honor. Religion is not a privatized or purely personal phenomenon, and any religion worth its salt must do more than “whisper” “secret incitements to virtue” “to the elite” (notice that by highlighting the “elite,” Augustine is emphasizing the importance of religion’s influence on the powerful, including the politically powerful). It must inform their private and public lives. It must provide a public forum–a place of assembly–for the discussion of virtue to occur (not just a private “whispering”). And it must “vehemently lash” public men. Christianity, Augustine believes, performs these functions, while the Roman gods failed to do so.

A final aside: I was struck by the fragment of Persius, because it sounds so much like the words that Dante puts into the mouth of Ulysses in Canto XXVI of Inferno as he sails to the ends of the earth (118-20):

Considerate la vostra semenza:

Fatti non foste a viver come bruti,

Ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza.

“Consider your origins: You were not made to live like beasts, but to pursue virtue and knowledge.” Unfortunately for wandering Ulysses (at least in Dante’s telling), he was not in the end able to discover “by what art we may turn the goal without making shipwreck.”

Dillon, “The Justice of Constantine”

For most church-and-state types, the word “Constantine” is likely to evoke the so-called “Constantinian Compromise,” in which the Christian Church in the late Roman Empire purportedly accepted imperial protection in exchange for subordination.  When he wasn’t convening church councils, though, Constantine had other affairs of state to attend to, including the workings of the Roman legal system. John Noël Dillon (University of Exeter) has a new study of Constantine’s contributions to Roman law, The Justice of Constantine: Law, Communication, and Control (University of Michigan Press 2012). The publisher’s description follows.

As the first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine the Great has long interested those studying the establishment of Christianity. But Constantine is also notable for his ability to control a sprawling empire and effect major changes. The Justice of Constantine examines Constantine’s judicial and Continue reading

Ambrose and the Emperor

CLR Forum readers in New York City this summer should check out “Bellini, Titian, and Lotto,” currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The whole exhibition is worthwhile, but church-and-state types will particularly enjoy an 15th century altarpiece, “Saint Ambrose and Emperor Theodosius I,” by Bergognone (left). The painting depicts one of the most important church-state confrontations in history.

In 390 A.D., the Emperor Theodosius — the same Emperor Theodosius who had made Christianity the state religion of Rome — ordered a massacre in the city of Thessalonica, some of whose citizens had revolted. Seven thousand people died, many of whom had played no part in the uprising. When Theodosius subsequently appeared in Milan and attempted to attend Mass, Ambrose, the city’s bishop, physically stopped him from entering the church. According to a roughly contemporaneous account by a church source:

When Ambrose heard of this deplorable catastrophe, he went out to meet the Emperor, who—on his return to Milan—desired as usual to enter the holy church, but Ambrose prohibited his entrance, saying “You do not reflect, it seems, O Emperor, on the guilt you have incurred by that great massacre; but now that your fury is appeased, do you not perceive the enormity of your crime? You must not be dazzled by the splendor of the purple you wear, and be led to forget the weakness of the body which it clothes. Your subjects, O Emperor, are of the same nature as yourself, and not only so, but are likewise your fellow servants; for there is one Lord and Ruler of all, and He is the maker of all creatures, whether princes or people. How would you look upon the temple of the one Lord of all? How could you lift up in prayer hands steeped in the blood of so unjust a massacre? Depart then, and do not by a second crime add to the guilt of the first.

Theodosius, the account continues, “who knew well the distinction between the ecclesiastical and the temporal power,” submitted to the rebuke and repented. At Ambrose’s insistence, he decreed that a death sentence would not again be executed until 30 days had passed, so that the authorities could justly determine the facts. Ambrose then readmitted the Emperor to the church, but ordered him to remain with the laity outside the altar rail: “A purple robe makes Emperors, but not priests.”

Struggles between the Church and the Empire did not end in the fourth century, of course; indeed, they were just beginning. And this account does sound a bit tendentious. I imagine the Emperor (who, like Ambrose, is a saint, at least in the Orthodox tradition) had his own version of the story. But church-autonomy supporters have long argued that this episode shows that a distinction between church and state as institutions goes back to the very beginnings of Christian civilization in the West. And there it is, hanging in the Met. You see? Church and state issues really are everywhere.

Frakes, “Collation of the Laws of Moses and the Romans”

One of the earliest works of comparative law was created by an anonymous author in the 4th century AD, the Collatio Legum Mosaicarum et Romanorum, or Collation of the Laws of Moses and the Romans, on the similarities and differences between Roman and Jewish law.  Robert M. Frakes (University of Munich) has now published Compiling the Collatio Legum Mosaicarum et Romanorum in Late Antiquity (OUP 2011), which explores the work of this anonymous collator.  The publisher’s description of this fascinating book follows.

The expansion of Christianity and the codification of Roman law are two of the most significant facets of late antiquity. The Collatio Legum Mosaicarum et Romanarum, or Collation of the Laws of Moses and the Romans, is one of the most perplexing works of late antiquity: a law book compiled at the end of the fourth century by an anonymous editor who wanted to show the similarity between laws of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, and Roman law. Citing first laws from the Hebrew Bible – especially from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy which he believed were written by Moses – the anonymous Collator then compared corresponding passages from Roman jurists and from Roman laws to form discussions on sixteen topics such as homicide, adultery, homosexuality, incest, and cruelty towards slaves. While earlier scholars wrestled with dating the Collatio, the religious identity of the Collator, and the purpose of the work, this book suggests that the Collator was a Christian lawyer writing in the last years of the fourth century in an attempt to draw pagan lawyers to seeing the connections between the law of a monotheistic God and traditional Roman law.

Frakes’s volume presents a five-chapter historical study of the Collatio with a revised Latin text, new English translation, and a historical and juristic commentary.

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