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Christianization (or Christianisation) is to make Christian; to imbue with Christian principles; to become Christian. It can apply to the conversion of an individual, a practice, a place or a whole society. It began in the Roman Empire, continued through the Middle Ages in Europe, and in the twenty-first century has spread around the globe.

There are four stages in the historically observed process. The first stage is people-oriented conversion, whereas the next three stages involve the transformation of the structures of society and culture. This has historically included translation of the Christian message into local language and education, producing movements of indigenization, as well as the creation of a Christian culture which has on occasion crossed into forms of colonialism.

In its history of 2000 years around the globe, the conversion of societies to Christianity has included peaceful conversion, natural religious change, and coercion. Ancient societies tended to be communal by nature rather than oriented around individuality, and in these societies, loyalty to the king meant the conversion of the ruler was generally voluntarily followed by the mass conversion of his subjects. Some societies became Christianized through evangelization by monks or priests, or by organic growth within an already partly Christianized society. Some societies were Christianized by campaigns that included converting native practices and culture and transforming pagan sites to Christian uses. In the Late Middle Ages the mixture of religion with politics and the personal ambitions of individual leaders led to some instances of forced conversion by the sword. There is history connecting Christianization and colonialism, especially but not limited to the New World and other regions subject to settler colonialism.


Christianization occurs when an individual, a practice, a place, or a society becomes identified as Christian in some capacity or other, such as a change in identity, values, goals or use.[1] In sociology, Christianization of a city is seen as the emergence of the first Christian congregation in that city.[2] In history, the process began with the conversion of individuals, then moved to translation of the Bible into the local language, education, and various public ministries which then often led to subsequent cultural changes.[3][4][5] Lamin Sanneh writes that tracing the impact on local cultures shows Christianization has often produced "the movements of indigenization and cultural liberation".[6]

Christianization has never been a one-way process.[7] There has been, instead, a parallelism in Christianization as it absorbed indigenous elements just as indigenous religions absorbed aspects of Christianity.[8] [note 1] According to archaeologist Anna Collar, when groups of people with different ways of life come into contact with each other and exchange ideas and practices, this trans-cultural diffusion causes societies to evolve, progress and change.[14][15][16][17] This exchange has at times involved appropriation and redesignation of aspects of native religion that survived to find a place in the new religious system. In some cases these survivals were encouraged by Christian missionaries, while other aspects of traditional religion survived despite the opposition of the missionaries.[18] In these cases, Christianization sometimes crossed into forms of colonialism, occasionally including coercion and even force.[19][20][21]

Ancient (Ante-Nicaean) Christianity (1st to 3rd centuries)

Main articles: Early Christianity, Acts of the Apostles, and Historiography of the Christianization of the Roman Empire

See also: Early centers of Christianity § Rome, and Christianization of the Roman Empire as diffusion of innovation

James the Just, whose judgment was adopted in the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15:19–29, c. 50 AD
James the Just, whose judgment was adopted in the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15:19–29, c. 50 AD

Christianization began in the Roman Empire in Jerusalem around 30–40 AD, spreading outward quickly. The Church in Rome was founded by Peter and Paul in the 1st century.[22] There is agreement among twenty-first century scholars that Christianization of the Roman Empire in its first three centuries did not happen by imposition.[23] Christianization of this period was the cumulative result of multiple individual decisions and behaviors.[24] Recent research has shown it was the formal unconditional altruism of early Christianity that accounts for much of its otherwise surprising degree of early success.[25] Aspects of its ideology, and its social actions, such as charity, care for the sick and acceptance of those who were otherwise rejected for their lack of Roman status, made Christianity attractive to Romans who had nothing comparable in Roman society.[3]

Early Christian communities were highly inclusive in terms of social stratification and other social categories.[26] Many scholars have seen this inclusivity as the primary reason for Christianization's early success.[27] The Council of Jerusalem (around 50 AD) agreed the lack of circumcision could not be a basis for excluding Gentile believers from membership in the Jesus community. They instructed converts to avoid "pollution of idols, fornication, things strangled, and blood" (KJV, Acts 15:20–21).[28] These were put into writing, distributed (KJV Acts 16:4–5) by messengers present at the council, and were received as an encouragement.[29] The Apostolic Decree helped to establish Ancient Christianity as unhindered by either ethnic or geographical ties. Christianity was experienced as a new start, and was open to both men and women, rich and poor. Baptism was free. There were no fees, and it was intellectually egalitarian, making philosophy and ethics available to ordinary people including those who might have lacked literacy.[30] Heterogeneity characterized the groups formed by Paul the Apostle, and the role of women was much greater than in any of the forms of Judaism or paganism in existence at the time.[31]

Ante-Nicaean Christianity was also highly exclusive.[32] Believing was the crucial and defining characteristic that set a "high boundary" that strongly excluded the "unbeliever".[32] Keith Hopkins asserts: "It is this exclusivism, idealized or practiced, which marks Christianity off from most other religious groups in the ancient world".[33][note 2] In the Epistle to Diognetus, an extant late second century letter to a Roman official, the anonymous author observes that early Christians functioned as if they were a separate "third race": a nation within a nation. The Christian apologist Tertullian in his ad nationes (1.8; cf. 1.20), mocked the accusation that ‘we are called a third race’, yet there is also ambivalence, since he takes some pride in the uniqueness it represents.[36] The early Christian had exacting moral standards that included avoiding contact with those that were seen as still "in bondage to the Evil One": (2 Corinthians 6:1-18; 1 John 2: 15-18; Revelation 18: 4; II Clement 6; Epistle of Barnabas, 1920).[37] In Daniel Praet's view, the exclusivity of Christian monotheism formed an important part of its success, enabling it to maintain its independence in a society that syncretized religion.[38]

While enduring three centuries of on again - off again persecution, from differing levels of government ranging from local to imperial, Christianity had remained 'self-organized' and without central authority.[39] In this manner, it reached an important threshold of success between 150 and 250, when it moved from less than 50,000 adherents to over a million, and became self-sustaining and able to generate enough further growth that there was no longer a viable means of stopping it.[40][41][42][43] Scholars agree there was a significant rise in the absolute number of Christians in the third century.[44]

Christian monasticism emerged in the third century, and monks soon became crucial to the process of Christianization. Their numbers grew such that, "by the fifth century, monasticism had become a dominant force impacting all areas of society".[45][46]

Armenia, Georgia, Ethiopia and Eritrea

In 301, Armenia became the first kingdom in history to adopt Christianity as an official state religion.[47] The transformations taking place in these centuries of the Roman Empire had been slower to catch on in Caucasia. Indigenous writing did not begin until the fifth century, there was an absence of large cities, and many institutions such as monasticism did not exist in Caucasia until the seventh century.[48] Scholarly consensus places the Christianization of the Armenian and Georgian elites in the first half of the fourth century, although Armenian tradition says Christianization began in the first century through the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew.[49] This is said to have eventually led to the conversion of the Arsacid family, (the royal house of Armenia), through St. Gregory the Illuminator in the early fourth century.[49] Christianization took many generations and was not a uniform process.[50] Robert Thomson writes that it was not the officially established hierarchy of the church that spread Christianity in Armenia. "It was the unorganized activity of wandering holy men that brought about the Christianization of the populace at large".[51] The most significant stage in this process was the development of a script for the native tongue.[51]

Scholars do not agree on the exact date of Christianization of Georgia, but most assert the early 4th century when Mirian III of the Kingdom of Iberia (known locally as Kartli) adopted Christianity.[52] According to medieval Georgian Chronicles, Christianization began with Andrew the Apostle and culminated in the evangelization of Iberia through the efforts of a captive woman known in Iberian tradition as Saint Nino in the fourth century.[53] Fifth, 8th, and 12th century accounts of the conversion of Georgia reveal how pre-Christian practices were taken up and reinterpreted by Christian narrators.[54]

In 325, the Kingdom of Aksum (Modern Ethiopia and Eritrea) became the second country to declare Christianity as its official state religion.[55]

Late antiquity (4th–5th centuries)

Main articles: Christianization of the Roman Empire and Spread of Christianity

Further information: Constantine I and Christianity and Persecution of paganism under Theodosius I

Constantine's conversion, by Rubens.
Constantine's conversion, by Rubens.

Favoritism and hostility

The Christianization of the Roman Empire is frequently divided by scholars into the two phases of before and after the conversion of Constantine in 312. Constantine has long been credited with ending the persecution of Christianity and establishing religious tolerance with the Edict of Milan, but the nature of the Edict, and Constantine's faith, are both heavily debated in the twenty-first century.[56][note 3] According to Harold A. Drake, Constantine's official imperial religious policies did not stem from faith as much as they stemmed from his duty as Emperor to maintain peace in the empire.[62] Drake asserts that, since Constantine's reign followed Diocletian's failure to enforce a particular religious view, Constantine was able to observe that coercion had not produced peace.[62]

Contemporary scholars are in general agreement that Constantine did not support the suppression of paganism by force.[63][64][65][66] He never engaged in a purge,[67] there were no pagan martyrs during his reign.[68][69] Pagans remained in important positions at his court.[63] Constantine ruled for 31 years and never outlawed paganism.[68][70] A few authors suggest that "true Christian sentiment" might have motivated Constantine, since he held the conviction that, in the realm of faith, only freedom mattered.[71]

During his long reign, Constantine destroyed a few temples, plundered more, and generally neglected the rest;[64][note 4] he "confiscated temple funds to help finance his own building projects", and he confiscated temple hoards of gold and silver to establish a stable currency; on a few occasions, he confiscated temple land;[87] he refused to personally support pagan beliefs and practices while also speaking out against them; yet Constantine did not stop the established state support of the traditional religious institutions.[88] He forbade pagan sacrifices and closed temples that continued to offer them;[89] he wrote laws that favored Christianity; he granted to Christians those governmental privileges, such as tax exemptions and the right to hold property, that had previously been available only to pagan priests;[90][91] he personally endowed Christians with gifts of money, land and government positions.[92][93][63]

Making the adoption of Christianity beneficial was Constantine's primary approach to religion, and imperial favor was important to successful Christianization over the next century.[92][90] However, Constantine must have written the laws that threatened and menaced pagans who continued to practice sacrifice. There is no evidence of any of the horrific punishments ever being enacted.[94] There is no record of anyone being executed for violating religious laws before Tiberius II Constantine at the end of the sixth century (574–582).[95] Still, classicist Scott Bradbury notes that the complete disappearance of public sacrifice by the mid-fourth century "in many towns and cities must be attributed to the atmosphere created by imperial and episcopal hostility".[96][note 5]

Rewriting history

Late Antiquity from the third to the sixth centuries was the era of the development of the great Christian narrative, an interpretatio Christiana of the history of humankind. This meant reassessing and relocating past histories, ideas and persons on the historical mental map. In this construction of the past, Christian writers built on the models of the preceding tradition, creating competing chronologies and alternative histories.[109]

Representation of Saint Clement fighting the Graoully dragon in the Roman amphitheater of Metz. Christian hagiography presents bishops as pious and powerful, defeating temple demons that had posed as gods, thereby demonstrating Christianity's victory over paganism represented by a harmful dragon.[110]
Representation of Saint Clement fighting the Graoully dragon in the Roman amphitheater of Metz. Christian hagiography presents bishops as pious and powerful, defeating temple demons that had posed as gods, thereby demonstrating Christianity's victory over paganism represented by a harmful dragon.[110]

In the early fourth century, Eusebius wrote Chronici canones. In it, he developed an elaborate synchronistic chronology wherein he reinterpreted the Greco-Roman past to reflect a Christian perspective.[111] In the early fifth century Orosius wrote Historiae adversus paganos in response to the charge that the Roman Empire was in misery and ruins because it had converted to Christianity and neglected the old gods. Maijastina Kahlos explains that, "In order to refute these claims, Orosius reviewed the entire history of Rome, demonstrating that the alleged glorious past of the Romans in fact consisted of war, despair and suffering. Orosius’s Historiae adversus paganos is a counter-narrative... Instead of a magnificent Roman past, he construes a history in which ... Christ is born and Christianity appears to have appeared ... just when Roman power was at its height – all this according to a divine plan... Both writers took over and reinterpreted the Greco-Roman past to explain and legitimize their own present".[112]

Christian literature of the fourth century does not focus on converting and Christianizing pagans.[113] Instead, it is filled with the triumph of Constantine's conversion as evidence of the Christian god's final triumph in Heaven over the pagan gods.[110] Historian Peter Brown indicates that, as a result of this "triumphalism," paganism was seen as vanquished despite the ongoing presence of a pagan majority, [114][115]


Main article: Theodosius I

Theoretical graph of growth of Christianity in first five centuries of Roman empire
Theoretical graph of growth of Christianity in first five centuries of Roman empire

In the centuries following his death, Theodosius I gained a reputation as the emperor who established Christianity as the one official religion of the empire. Modern historians see this as a later interpretation of history – a rewriting of history by Christian writers beginning with the bishop Ambrose – rather than actual history.[116][117][118][note 6]

Theodosius championed Christian orthodoxy, making repeated efforts through law to eliminate heresies and promote unity within Christianity. In 380, he issued the Edict of Thessalonica to the people of Constantinople. It was valid throughout the East.[126][127][note 7] It was addressed to Christians, since only Christians can be heretics. More specifically, it threatens Arian Christians, but it granted Christians no favors or advantages over other religions, and it is clear from mandates issued in the years after 380, that Theodosius had not intended it as a requirement for pagans or Jews to convert to Christianity.[130] Hungarian legal scholar Pál Sáry explains that, "In 393, the emperor was gravely disturbed that the Jewish assemblies had been forbidden in certain places. For this reason, he stated with emphasis that the sect of the Jews was forbidden by no law".[131] Alan Cameron explains that scholars have simply assumed Theodosius' anti-pagan legislation differed from previous legislation by going further and being effective and enforced, but this has never been documented.[132] In Sáry's view, the Roman Empire became Christianized through a long evolutionary process, of which the Edict of Thessalonica was only a small part.[133]

Scholars say there is little, if any, evidence that Theodosius I pursued an active policy against the traditional cults. As his predecessors had, he too outlawed all forms of sacrifice, public and private, and the magic associated with sacrifice, and called for the closure of temples that illegally continued to offer sacrifices. Some scholars have said that a universal ban on paganism and the establishment of Christianity as the singular religion of the empire can be implied from some of Theodosius' laws.[134][135][136][note 8] During the reign of Theodosius, pagans were continuously appointed to prominent positions and pagan aristocrats remained in high offices.[156][note 9]

In his 2020 biography of Theodosius, Mark Hebblewhite concludes that Theodosius never saw himself, or advertised himself, as a destroyer of the old cults. The emperor's efforts at Christianization were "targeted, tactical, and nuanced".[118][168][169]


There is no evidence to indicate that conversion of pagans through force was an accepted method of Christianization at any point in Late Antiquity; all uses of imperial force concerning religion were aimed at Christian heretics such as the Donatists and the Manichaeans.[170][171][note 10] Augustine, who advocated coercion for heretics, did not do so for the pagans or the Jews of his era,[188] and the distinction between heretical Christians and non-believers continued to be made up to and through Aquinas in the thirteenth century.[189]

Before the fifth century, there were isolated local incidents of anti-Jewish violence and legislative pressures against specific pagan practices, but according to historians of forced conversion Mercedes García-Arenal and Yonatan Glazer-Eytan, it is only with the changes introduced during the seventh century Visigothic period that true forced conversion begins to develop.[190] In Peter Brown's view,

It would be a full two centuries before Justinian would envisage the compulsory baptism of remaining polytheists, and a further century until Heraclius and the Visigothic kings of Spain would attempt to baptize the Jews. In the fourth century, such ambitious schemes were impossible.[113]

Historian John Curran writes that, under Constantine's successors, Christianization of Roman society proceeded by fits and starts.[191][note 11] Paganism in a broader sense did not end when public sacrifice did.[197][198] Brown explains that polytheists were accustomed to offering prayers to the gods in many ways and places that did not include sacrifice, that pollution was only associated with sacrifice, and that the ban on sacrifice had fixed boundaries and limits.[199] Paganism thus remained widespread into the early fifth century continuing in parts of the empire into the seventh.[200]

Germanic conversions

The earliest references to the Christianization of the Germanic peoples are in the writings of Irenaeus (130–202 ), Origen (185-253), and Tertullian (Adv. Jud. VII) (155–220).[201] Eusebius and Athanasius omit Germany from their lists, but that is possibly because, by the 4th century, many from the Eastern Germanic tribes, notably the Goths, had adopted Arianism.[202] Noel Lenski writes that the emperor Valens offered encouragement rather than active sponsorship of Christianization beyond Roman borders.[203]

Tacitus is an important early source describing the nature of German religion, and their understanding of the function of a king, as facilitating Christianization.[204] Conversion of the West and East Germanic tribes sometimes took place "top to bottom" in the sense that missionaries aimed at converting Germanic nobility first. A king had divine lineage as a descendent of Woden.[205] Ties of fealty between German kings and their followers often rested on the agreement of loyalty for reward; the concerns of these early societies were communal, not individual; this combination produced mass conversions of entire tribes following their king, trusting him to share the rewards of conversion with them accordingly.[206][207] Afterwards, their societies began a gradual process of Christianization that took centuries, with some traces of earlier beliefs remaining.[208]

Statue depicting the baptism of Clovis by Saint Remigius.
Statue depicting the baptism of Clovis by Saint Remigius.

The Vandals converted to Arian Christianity shortly before they left Spain for northern Africa in 429. In 341, Romanian born Ulfila (Wulfilas, 311–383) became a bishop and was sent to instruct the Gothic Christians living in Gothia in the province of Dacia.[209][210] Ulfilas is traditionally credited with the voluntary conversion of the Goths between 369 and 372.[211] Clovis I converted to Catholicism sometime around 498, extending his kingdom into most of Gaul (France) and large parts of what is now modern Germany. The Ostrogothic kingdom, which included all of Italy and parts of the Balkans, began in 493 with the killing of Odoacer by Theodoric. They converted to Arianism. Christianization of the central Balkans is documented at the end of the 4th century, where Nicetas the Bishop of Remesiana brought the gospel to "those mountain wolves", the Bessi.[212] The Langobardic kingdom, which covered most of Italy, began in 568, becoming Arian shortly after the conversion of Agilulf in 607. Most scholars assert that the Lombards, who had lived in Pannonia and along the Elbe river, converted to Christianity when they moved to Italy in 568, since it was thought they had little to do with the empire before then.[213] According to the Greek scholar Procopius (500-565), the Lombards had "occupied a Roman province for 40 years before moving into Italy". It is now thought that the Lombards first adopted Christianity while still in Pannonia.[213][214] Procopius writes that, by the time the Lombards moved into Italy, "they appear to have had some familiarity already with both Christianity and some elements of Roman administrative culture".[213][note 12]

In all these cases, "the Germanic conquerors lost their native languages. In the remaining parts of the Germanic world, that is, to the North and East of France, the Germanic languages were maintained, but the syntax, the conceptual framework underlying the lexicon, and most of the literary forms were thoroughly latinized".[218]

St. Boniface led the effort in the mid-eighth century to organize churches in the region that would become modern Germany.[219] As ecclesiastical organization increased, so did the political unity of the Germanic Christians. By the year 962, when Pope John XII anoints King Otto I as Holy Roman Emperor, "Germany and Christendom become one".[219] This union lasted until dissolved by Napoleon in 1806.[219]


See also: Hiberno-Scottish mission, Christianization of Ireland, and Celtic Christianity

Further information: Germanic conversions

Pope Celestine I (422-430) sent Palladius to be the first bishop to the Irish in 431, and in 432, St Patrick began his mission there.[220] Scholars cite many questions (and scarce sources) concerning the next two hundred years.[221] Relying largely on recent archaeological developments, Lorcan Harney has reported to the Royal Academy that the missionaries and traders who came to Ireland in the fifth to sixth centuries were not backed by any military force.[220] Conversion and consolidation were long complex processes that took centuries.[220] Patrick and Palladius and other British and Gaulish missionaries aimed first at converting royal households. Patrick indicates in his Confessio that safety depended upon it.[222] Communities often followed their king en masse.[222] It is likely most natives were willing to embrace the new religion, and that most religious communities were willing to integrate themselves into the surrounding culture.[223]

Christianization of the Irish landscape was a complex process that varied considerably depending on local conditions.[224] Ancient sites were viewed with veneration, and were excluded or included for Christian use based largely on diverse local feeling about their nature, character, ethos and even location.[225]

The Irish monks developed a concept of peregrinatio where a monk would leave the monastery to preach among the 'heathens'. From 590, Irish missionaries were active in Gaul, Scotland, Wales and Britain.[226]

Great Britain

See also: Anglo-Saxon Christianity and Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England

Further information: Germanic conversions

The most likely date for Christianity getting its first foothold in Britain is sometime around 200.[227] Recent archaeology indicates that it had become an established minority faith by the fourth century. It was largely mainstream, and in certain areas, had been continuous.[228]

The conversion of the Anglo-Saxons was begun at about the same time in both the north and south of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in two unconnected initiatives. Irish missionaries led by Saint Columba, based in Iona (from 563), converted many Picts.[229] The court of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, and the Gregorian mission, who landed in 596, did the same to the Kingdom of Kent. They had been sent by Pope Gregory I and were led by Augustine of Canterbury with a mission team from Italy. In both cases, as in other kingdoms of this period, conversion generally began with the royal family and the nobility adopting the new religion first.[230]

In early Anglo-Saxon England, non-stop religious development meant paganism and Christianity were never completely separate.[231] Lorcan Harney has reported that Anglo-Saxon churches were not built by pagan barrows before the 11th century.[232]

Frankish Empire

Main articles: Germanic Christianity and Christianisation of the Germanic peoples

See also: Christianization of the Franks

Statue depicting the baptism of Clovis by Saint Remigius.
Statue depicting the baptism of Clovis by Saint Remigius.

The Franks first appear in the historical record in the 3rd century as a confederation of Germanic tribes living on the east bank of the lower Rhine River. Clovis I was the first king of the Franks to unite all of the Frankish tribes under one ruler.[233] According to legend, Clovis had prayed to the Christian god before his battle against one of the kings of the Alemanni, and had consequently attributed his victory to Jesus.[234] The most likely date of his conversion to Catholicism is Christmas Day, 508, following that Battle of Tolbiac.[235][234] He was baptized in Rheims.[236] The Frankish Kingdom became Christian over the next two centuries.[219]: 113 [237][note 13]

The conversion of the northern Saxons began with their forced incorporation into the Frankish kingdom in 776 by Charlemagne (r. 768–814). Thereafter, the Saxon's Christian conversion slowly progressed into the eleventh century.[219] Saxons had gone back and forth between rebellion and submission to the Franks for decades.[240] Charlemagne placed missionaries and courts across Saxony in hopes of pacifying the region, but Saxons rebelled again in 782 with disastrous losses for the Franks. In response, the Frankish King "enacted a variety of draconian measures" beginning with the massacre at Verden in 782 when he ordered the decapitation of 4500 Saxon prisoners offering them baptism as an alternative to death.[241] These events were followed by the severe legislation of the Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae in 785 which prescribes death to those that are disloyal to the king, harm Christian churches or its ministers, or practice pagan burial rites.[242] His harsh methods of Christianization raised objections from his friends Alcuin and Paulinus of Aquileia.[243] Charlemagne abolished the death penalty for paganism in 797.[244]


See also: Early centers of Christianity § Rome

Heiligenkreuz.St. Benedict
Heiligenkreuz.St. Benedict

Christianization throughout Italy in Late Antiquity allowed for an amount of religious competition, negotiation, toleration and cooperation; it included syncretism both to and from pagans and Christians; and it allowed for a great deal of secularism.[245] Public sacrifice had largely disappeared by the mid-fourth century, but paganism in a broader sense did not end.[197] Paganism continued, transforming itself over the next two centuries in ways that often included the appropriation and redesignation of Christian practices and ideas while remaining pagan.[246]

In 529, Benedict of Nursia established his first monastery in the Abbey of Monte Cassino, Italy. He wrote the Rule of Saint Benedict based on "pray and work". This "Rule" provided the foundation of the majority of the thousands of monasteries that spread across what is modern day Europe thereby becoming a major factor in the Christianization of Europe. Monasteries were models of productivity and economic resourcefulness teaching their local communities animal husbandry, cheese making, wine making, and various other skills.[247] They were havens for the poor, hospitals, hospices for the dying, and schools. Medical practice was highly important, and monasteries are best known for their contributions to medical tradition. They also made advances in sciences such as astronomy.[248] For centuries, nearly all secular leaders were trained by monks because, excepting private tutors who were still, often, monks, it was the only education available.[249]

The formation of these organized bodies of believers gradually carved out a series of uniquely distinct social spaces with some amount of independence from other types of authority such as political and familial authority. This revolutionized social history for everyone, but especially for women who could become leaders of communities with great influence of their own.[250]

Benedict's biographer Cuthbert Butler writes that "...certainly there will be no demur in recognizing that St. Benedict's Rule has been one of the great facts in the history of western Europe, and that its influence and effects are with us to this day."[251]: intro. 


Christianization was slower in Greece than in most other parts of the Roman empire.[252] There are multiple theories of why, but there is no consensus. What is agreed upon is that, for a variety of reasons, Christianization did not take hold in Greece until the fourth and fifth centuries. Christians and pagans maintained a self imposed segregation throughout the period.[253] In Athens, for example, pagans retained the old civic center with its temples and public buildings as their sphere of activity, while Christians restricted themselves to the suburban areas. There was little direct contact between them.[253] J. M. Speiser has argued that this was the situation throughout the country, and that "rarely was there any significant contact, hostile or otherwise" between Christians and pagans in Greece.[253] This would have slowed the process of Christianization.[254] By the time Christianization showed up in Greece, many of the fundamental aspects of the two religious traditions had already become similar. Accommodations had been made in both directions allowing points of view acceptable to those who had previously been pagan.[255]

Timothy Gregory says, "it is admirably clear that organized paganism survived well into the sixth century throughout the empire and in parts of Greece (at least in the Mani) until the ninth century or later".[18][256][257] Gregory adds that pagan ideas and forms persisted most in practices related to healing, death, and the family. These are "first-order" concerns - those connected with the basics of life – which were not generally subjected to objections from theologians and bishops.[258]

The Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Theseion were turned into churches, but Alison Frantz has won consensus support of her view that, aside from a few rare instances, temple conversions took place only after Late Antiquity, especially in the seventh century, after the displacements caused by the Slavic invasions.[253][note 14]

Sept. 22nd, 529 has been regarded by some scholars as the symbolic [cut] marking the end of antiquity in the Eastern Roman Empire: the date corresponds to Justinian’s closing of the philosophical school at Athens, a fact whose historicity is beyond doubt, and whose effects on the cultural life of the Greek East have been variously assessed.[277]

Colonialization and secularization

Christianity and the various pagan religions co-existed and largely tolerated each other in most of the empire throughout the majority of the fourth and fifth centuries.[278][279][199] The structure and ideals of both Church and State were transformed through this long period of symbiosis.[280] By the time a fifth-century pope attempted to denounce the Lupercalia as 'pagan superstition', religion scholar Elizabeth Clark says "it fell on deaf ears".[281] In Historian R. A. Markus's reading of events, this marked a colonialization[282] by Christians of pagan values and practices.[283] For Alan Cameron, the mixed culture that included the continuation of the circuses, amphitheaters and games – sans sacrifice – on into the sixth century involved the secularization of paganism rather than appropriation by Christianity.[284] Up to the time of Justin I and Justinian I (527 to 565), there was some toleration for all religions; there were anti-sacrifice laws, but they were not enforced. Thus, up into the sixth century, there still existed centers of paganism in Athens, Gaza, Alexandria, and elsewhere.[197][note 15]

Brown points out that, even though the imperial laws against sacrifice were not enforced, they did have a cumulative effect: by 425, they had set in place a religious ordering of society with Catholics at the center and others at the periphery.[287] That ordering would thereafter prove to be an inseparable adjunct of imperial rule, in the empire itself and, later, in the sub-imperial states of the west.[287][note 16]

Christianization of Europe (6th–9th centuries)

Main article: Byzantine papacy

See also: Interpretatio Christiana

Justinian I

Where Constantine had granted, through the Edict of Milan, the right to all to follow freely whatever religion people wished, the religious policy of the Eastern emperor Justinian I (527 to 565) reflected his conviction that a unified Empire presupposed unity of faith.[291][292] The church was, at this point, still prevented from using physical force to convert non-believers. This applied especially to Jews who were protected by law, but Justinian did use social boycotting, repressive law and his own personal interference in the affairs of others, such as instructing the Jews on how to practice their religion.[293] The Samaritans had been in the same category as Jews, a permitted religion under Roman law, but in 529 Samaritans rose in revolt, were "ruthlessly crushed" and lost their status. Justinian persecuted them thereafter with rigorous edicts.[294]

Unlike Constantine, Justinian purged the bureaucracy of those who disagreed with him.[295] Herrin asserts that, under Justinian, this involved considerable destruction.[296] The decree of 528 had already barred pagans from state office when, decades later, Justinian ordered a "persecution of surviving Hellenes, accompanied by the burning of pagan books, pictures and statues" which took place at the Kynêgion.[296] Herrin says it is difficult to assess the degree to which Christians are responsible for the losses of ancient documents in many cases, but in the mid-sixth century, active persecution in Constantinople destroyed many ancient texts.[296][note 17]

The extent of the Byzantine Empire under Justinian's uncle Justin I shown in light brown. The orange shows the conquests of his successor, Justinian I also known as Justinian the Great
The extent of the Byzantine Empire under Justinian's uncle Justin I shown in light brown. The orange shows the conquests of his successor, Justinian I also known as Justinian the Great

A shift in Christianization from the classical to the medieval outlook was taking place at this time, and Pope Gregory the Great (c 540–604) exemplifies it; he was not a theologian, but was instead a trained Roman lawyer, administrator, and monk. He administered the church with strict reform, and was a 'father' of many of the structures of the later Catholic Church. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, he looked upon Church and State as co-operating to form a united whole, which acted in two distinct spheres, ecclesiastical and secular, but by the time of his death, the papacy was the great power in Italy:[310] This period shifted away from the "massive" Greek and Roman secularism common to the fourth century. By the time of Pope Gregory, "there was little room for the secular".[311]

Reformatting native religious and cultural activities and beliefs into a Christianized form became officially sanctioned in this period; preserved in the Venerable Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum is a letter from Pope Gregory to Mellitus (d.604), arguing that conversions were easier if people were allowed to retain the outward forms of their traditions, while "harmonizing" those traditions with Christianity, so that "if they are not deprived of all exterior joys, they will more easily taste the interior ones".[312][note 18] The practice of replacing pagan beliefs and motifs with Christian, and purposefully not recording the pagan history (such as the names of pagan gods, or details of pagan religious practices), has been compared to the practice of damnatio memoriae.[315]

Seismic shift

In 612, the Visigoth King Sisebut declared the obligatory conversion of all Jews in Spain, contradicting Pope Gregory who had explicitly opposed forced conversion in 591.[316] Scholars refer to this shift as a "seismic moment" in Christianization.[317] Visigothic legislation had long lasting and extensive reverberations, as did the power struggle between state and church.[316]

Revolution of the eighth century

Ancient Christianity, as it had existed in the Western empire (with some religious competition, toleration and secularism), comes to an end.[318][311]

Most scholars agree the 7th and 8th centuries are when the 'end of the ancient world' is most conclusive and well documented.[319][320]: 85  The middle Byzantine period develops.[321] Eleven of the thirteen men who held the position of Roman Pope from the late seventh to the middle of the eighth century were the sons of families from the East.[322] This Byzantine papacy, along with losses to Islam, and changes within Christianity itself, transformed Christianity into its medieval form as exemplified by the creation of the Papal state and the alliance between the papacy and the militant Frankish king Charlemagne.[323][324][325][326]: 79–81 

Church–state relations where the secular power presides over the religious one and the state ruler functions as the head of the church is broadly associated with countries dominated by Eastern Orthodox Christianity.[327] The Roman emperors of the first three centuries had seen the control of religion as one of their functions, taking among their titles pontifex maximus ("chief priest") of the official cults. The Western Christian Emperors did not see themselves as priests, surrendering the title pontifex maximus under Gratian.[328] The Christian Eastern Emperors, on the other hand, believed the regulation of religious affairs to be one of their prerogatives.[329] The active concern of emperor Justinian I in church affairs accelerated the trend towards the control of the Church by the State, which had a direct and long term effect on methods of Christianization.[329]

Bohemia/Czech lands

Main articles: Christianization of Bohemia and Christianization of Moravia

What was Bohemia forms much of the Czech Republic, comprising the central and western portions of the country.[330] Evidence of Christianity in this region north of the Danube can be found dating from the time of Roman occupation in the second century.[331]: 123  Christianity was developing organically until the arrival of the Huns in 433 which Christianity survived only to a small extent. From the 7th century, in the territory of contemporary Slovakia, (Great Moravia and its successor state Duchy of Bohemia), Christianization was sustained by the intervention of various missions from the Frankish Empire and Byzantine enclaves in Italy and Dalmatia.[332][331]: 125  Significant missionary activity only took place after Charlemagne defeated the Avar Khaganate several times at the end of the 8th century and beginning of the ninth centuries.[331]: 124–125  A key event with significant influence on the Christianization of Slavs was the elevation of the Salzburg diocese to archdiocese by Charlemagne with permission from the Pope in 798.[331]: 124 

The first Christian church of the Western and Eastern Slavs (known to written sources) was built in 828 by Pribina, the ruler and Prince of the Principality of Nitra, although probably still a pagan himself, in his possession called Nitrava (today Nitra, Slovakia).[333][334] The first Moravian ruler known by name, Mojmír I, was baptized in 831 by Reginhar, Bishop of Passau.[335] Despite formal endorsement by the elites, Great Moravian Christianity was described as containing many pagan elements as late as in 852.[336]

Church organization was supervised by the Franks. Prince Rastislav's request for missionaries had been sent to Byzantine Emperor Michael III (842–867) in hopes of establishing a local church organization independent of Frankish clergy.[331]: 124 [337] In the Christianization process of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia territories, the two Byzantine missionary brothers Saints Constantine-Cyril and Methodius played the key roles beginning in 863.[331]: 126; 129  They spent approximately 40 months in Great Moravia continuously translating texts and teaching students.[331]: 127  Cyril developed the first Slavic alphabet and translated the Gospel into the Old Church Slavonic language.[337] Old Church Slavonic became the first literary language of the Slavs and, eventually, the educational foundation for all Slavic nations.[331]: 127  In 869 Methodius was consecrated as (arch)bishop of Pannonia and the Great Moravia regions.[331]: 127  In 880, Pope John VIII issued the bull Industriae Tuae, by which he set up the independent ecclesiastical province that Rastislav had hoped for, with Archbishop Methodius as its head.[331]: 128  The independent archdiocese managed by Methodius was established only for a short time, but relics of this church organization withstood the fall of Great Moravia.[331]: 129 


Main article: Christianization of Bulgaria

Geographic map of Balkan Peninsula
Geographic map of Balkan Peninsula
Southeastern Europe Late Ninth Century
Southeastern Europe Late Ninth Century

Christianity had taken root in the Balkans when it was part of the Roman Empire. When the Slavs entered the area and conquered it in the fifth century, they adopted the religion of those they had subdued.[338] In 680, Khan Aspuruk, the leader of an ethnically mixed pagan tribe, possibly from central Asia, and possibly of Turkish origin, led an army of Proto-Bulgars across the Danube, conquering the Slavs.[339]: 643 [340] They settled, and the First Bulgarian Empire was founded in 680/1 with the capitol at Pliska. Over the next two centuries, they fought on and off to protect their borders from various tribes and Byzantium.[341]: 329–330 

Omurtag became Khan in 814. He persecuted Christians, but war with Byzantium, and other wars to acquire territory, brought many Christian prisoners of war into the state. The histories say their faith in the face of extreme misery impressed some of their captors including one of Omurtag's sons who converted. Under Omurtag, Bulgaria and Byzantium maintained a 30-year peace treaty that allowed for more contact, and this increased Christian missionary activities.[341]: 331  Christianity spread, while the nobility who were largely Proto-Bulgarians, remained steadfastly pagan.[338]

Official Christianization began in 864/5 under Khan Boris I (852– 889) who had been baptized in 864 in the capital city, Pliska, by Byzantine priests.[341]: 331–332  The need to secure the country's borders, at least from Byzantium, was compounded by the need for internal peace between the different ethnic groups.[342] Boris I determined that imposing Christianity was the answer.[343]: 11  The decision was partly military, partly domestic, and partly to diminish the power of the Proto-Bulgarian nobility. A number of nobles reacted violently; 52 were executed.[344] After prolonged negotiations with both Rome and Constantinople, an autocephalous Bulgarian Orthodox Church was formed that used the newly created Cyrillic script to make the Bulgarian language the language of the Church.[345]

Boris' eldest son, Vladimir, also called Rasate, probably ruled from 889 – 893. He was deposed in 893 amidst accusations he was planning to abandon the Christian faith. Scholars remain uncertain as to the veracity of the accusation.[341]: 332  His younger brother Symeon, Boris' third son, replaced him, ruling from 893 to 927. He intensified the translation of Greek literature and theology into Bulgarian, and enabled the establishment of an intellectual circle called the school of Preslav.[341]: 332  Symeon also led a series of wars against the Byzantines to gain official recognition of his Imperial title and the full independence of the Bulgarian Church. As a result of his victories in 927, the Byzantines finally recognized the Bulgarian Patriarchate.[341]: 332 


Main article: Christianization of Serbs

Seal of prince Strojimir of Serbia, from the late 9th century – one of the oldest artifacts on the Christianization of the Serbs
Seal of prince Strojimir of Serbia, from the late 9th century – one of the oldest artifacts on the Christianization of the Serbs
Basil I with delegation of Serbs
Basil I with delegation of Serbs

The Serbs were baptised during the reign of Heraclius (610–641) by "elders of Rome" according to Constantine Porphyrogenitus in his annals (r. 913–959).[346]

In 733, Leo III attaches the province of Illyricum to Patriarch Anastasius of Constantinople.[347]

The establishment of Christianity as state religion dates to the time of Eastern Orthodox missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Basil I (r. 867–886) who baptised the Serbs sometime before sending imperial admiral Nikita Orifas to Knez Mutimir for aid in the war against the Saracens in 869, after acknowledging the suzerainty of the Byzantine Empire. The fleets and land forces of Zahumlje, Travunia and Konavli (Serbian Pomorje) were sent to fight the Saracens who attacked the town of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) in 869, on the immediate request of Basil I, who was asked by the Ragusians for help.[348] A Serbian bishopric (Diocese of Ras) may have been founded in Stari Ras in 871 by Serbian Knez Mutimir, confirmed by the Council of Constantinople in 879–80.[349]

The adherence is evident in the tradition of theophoric names in the next generation of Serbian monarchs and nobles; Petar Gojniković, Stefan Mutimirović, Pavle Branović. Mutimir maintained the communion with the Eastern Church (Constantinople) when Pope John VIII invited him to recognize the jurisdiction of the bishopric of Sirmium. The Serbs adopt the Old Slavonic liturgy instead of the Greek.[346][350]

By the 870s, the Serbs were baptized and had established the Eparchy of Ras, on the order of Emperor Basil I.


According to Constantine VII, Christianization of Croats began in the 7th century.[351] Viseslav (r. 785–802), one of the first dukes of Croatia, left behind a special baptismal font, which symbolizes the acceptance of the church, and thereby Western culture, by the Croats. The conversion of Croatia is said to have been completed by the time of Duke Trpimir's death in 864. In 879, under duke Branimir, Croatia received papal recognition as a state from Pope John VIII.[352]

The Narentine pirates, based on the Croatian coast, remained pagans until the late ninth century.[353]

Hungarian historian László Veszprémy writes: "By the end of the 11th century, Hungarian expansion had secured Croatia, a country that was coveted by both the Venetian and Byzantine empires and had already adopted the Latin Christian faith. The Croatian crown was held by the Hungarian kings up to 1918, but Croatia retained its territorial integrity throughout. It is not unrelated that the borders of Latin Christendom in the Balkans have remained coincident with the borders of Croatia into present times".[354]

Christianization of Europe (10th - 13th centuries)

Further information: High Middle Ages (c. 1000 ~ 1200 CE)

Pre-Christian societies in central and eastern Europe were not yet literate societies, so they produced no written records, and very little is known about them. There is no authentic, emic perspective in modern folklore, and archaeologically, there are very few artifacts, probably because they would have been made from wood. What information has survived comes from church records.[355] A previous generation of historians believed there had existed, at some point in the distant past, a common Slavic culture with a single organized Slavic pantheon. Scholars reconstructed this, writes slavic historian Ivo Štefan, "like a jigsaw puzzle, from disparate bits of information scattered in different sources. However, it is unlikely".[356] It is known that paganism was closely tied to ethnicity.[357]

In the early 9th century, traders started to take advantage of the trade routes between the Baltic, the Caspian and the Black Seas, using the river system of Eastern Europe. This brought Vikings to Eastern Europe.[358] Proto-urban centers emerged along the trade routes as strongholds.[359] Dukes and their warriors from the Rurikid dynasty assumed the lead.[359]

Throughout central and eastern Europe, Christianization and political centralization went hand in hand.[360] Adoption of Christianity was not forced from outside either by pressure or by violence.[360] Conversion began with local elites who gained prestige and power through matrimonial alliances and their participation in imperial rituals.[360] Christianity then spread from the center to the periphery.[360] Historian Ivo Štefan writes that, "Although Christian authors often depicted the conversion of rulers as the triumph of the new faith, the reality was much more complex. Christianization of everyday life took centuries, with many non-Christian elements surviving in rural communities until the beginning of the modern era".[360]

The church of this era had immense authority, but the key to its power was a reformation movement that swept through Europe in the 900's.[361][362]: 4  It focused on the moral reform of the clergy, the supremacy of the Pope, and gaining freedom from state control.[362]: 4–5 

Two images of the Benedictine ideal evolved, one the traditional contemplative who withdrew from the world, and the other saw the monk as actively participating in reforming the world as well as the church.[363] This was a change in perspective from Antique Christianity which had not seen itself as a reform movement, and it created new monastic communities such as the Franciscans and the Dominicans.[364] Dominicans came to dominate the new universities, traveled about preaching against heresy, and eventually became notorious for their participation in the Medieval Inquisition and the Albigensian Crusade.[365] Christian thought denying the existence of witches and witchcraft would later be challenged by the Dominicans allowing the church to participate in witch trials.[366]: abstract [367]: 183 

The monks new focus on reforming the world is especially evident in the conversions of Bohemia, Poland and Hungary where the German emperor had little political influence.[368] Local rulers invited churchmen, and monks went in considerable numbers. The first vita of Stephen of Hungary in 1077 tells of a multitude of monk respondents to his appeal for aid in converting his people.[368] "In time, the three new states of Hungary, Bohemia and Poland became part of Christian Europe. The dynasties of the new states forged close relations with each other and with the ruling houses of their "Western" neighbors through marriage alliances. These three countries also joined the world of the Western, Latin church and accepted its traditions including monastic life. The eleventh century in Europe gave birth, not just to new states, but to a new region which later became known as East Central Europe". [369]


Main article: Christianization of Poland

See also: Pagan reaction in Poland

Introduction of Christianity in Poland, by Jan Matejko, 1888–89, National Museum, Warsaw

There is no evidence of Christianity dating to the Cyrilian-Methodian missions in the 9th century in Poland.[370] It was the dynastic interests of the Piasts that resulted in the establishment of both church and state in Great Poland (Greater Poland, often known by its Polish name "Wielkopolska" is a historical region of west-central Poland. Its chief and largest city is Poznań.). That seems to have been a planned strategic decision.[371] The "Baptism of Poland" (Polish: Chrzest Polski) in 966, refers to the baptism of Mieszko I, the first ruler. "The young Christian state acquired its own Slavic martyr, Wojciech (known as Adalbert), in 1000, plus the archbishopric in Gniezno and four bishoprics (Poznań, Kraków, Wrocław and Kołobrzeg). This Christian state, the earliest attempt at Christianization in this region of Europe, lasted for roughly 70 years".[371] Mieszko's baptism was followed by the building of churches and the establishment of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. Mieszko saw baptism as a way of strengthening his hold on power, with the active support he could expect from the bishops, as well as a unifying force for the Polish people.[371] The buildings from the Piast dynasty were all built in the last quarter of the 10th century.[371] Buildings of particular importance are the Cathedral in Posen, and the buildings in Ostrów Lednicki and Giecz, which were residences combined with a central chapel.[371]


See also: Vata pagan uprising

Image of the King Saint Stephen I of Hungary, from the medieval codex Chronicon Pictum from the 14th century.
Image of the King Saint Stephen I of Hungary, from the medieval codex Chronicon Pictum from the 14th century.

Christianity existed in what would become present day Hungary from the time of Roman rule.[372]: 134  At the end of the ninth century, the Magyars occupied said territory finding widespread traces of Christianity amongst the Avar tribes, the Bulgars and the Slavs who had previously settled there; there is also historical evidence the Magyar people brought with them a prior knowledge of Christianity.[372]: 134–135 

Around 952, the tribal chief Gyula II of Transylvania, visited Constantinople and was baptized, bringing home with him Hierotheus who was designated bishop of Turkia (Hungary).[373][374] Medieval historian Phyllis G. Jestice writes that Gyula's son-in-law "Géza of Hungary became Duke of the Hungarians [around 970] and began a new open door policy to the west that made mission in that region possible for the first time".[375] Some scholars say Géza used forced conversion, and ruthlessly removed pagan idols and cultic places, but there is little support as Géza is largely excluded from the historical record of Hungary's conversion.[376][377] The conversion of Gyula at Constantinople and the missionary work of Bishop Hierotheus are depicted as leading directly to the court of St. Stephen, the first Hungarian king, a Christian in a still mostly pagan country.[372]: 141 [368]

While there is historiographical dispute over who actually converted the Hungarian people, King Stephen or the German Emperor Henry II,[378] there is agreement that the realm King Stephen inherited had no established church system, and that monarchy was a break from the "old law".[377] Stephen suppressed rebellion, organized both the Hungarian State (establishing strong royal authority), and the church, by inviting missionaries, suppressing paganism and making laws such as requiring the people to attend church every Sunday.[377] Soon the Hungarian Kingdom had two archbishops and 8 bishops, and a defined state structure with province governors that answered to the King. Stephen opened the frontiers of his Kingdom in 1016 to the pilgrims that traveled by land to the Holy Land, and soon this route became extremely popular, being used later in the Crusades. Stephen often personally met pilgrims and invited them to stay in Hungary.[377] Saint Stephen was the first Hungarian monarch elevated to sainthood for his Christian characteristics and not because he suffered a martyr's death.[379]

The beginning of the 11th century marks the end of the first stage of the founding of church and state in Hungary. Hungarian Christianity and the kingdom's ecclesiastical and temporal administrations consolidated towards the end of the 11th century, especially under Ladislas I and Coloman when the feudal order was finally established, the first saints were canonized, and new dioceses were founded.[380]

Kievan Rus'

Main article: Christianization of Kievan Rus'

The Baptism of Kievans, a painting by Klavdiy Lebedev
The Baptism of Kievans, a painting by Klavdiy Lebedev

In 945, Igor, the duke of the Rus’, entered a trade agreement with Byzantium in exchange for soldiers, and when those mercenaries returned, they brought Christianity with them.[381] Duchess Olga was the first member of the ruling family to accept baptism, ca. 950 in Constantinople, but it did not spread immediately.[382]

Around 978, Vladimir (978–1015), the son of Sviatoslav, seized power in Kiev.[357] Slavic historian Ivo Štefan writes that, Vladimir examined monotheism for himself, and "Around that same time, Vladimir conquered Cherson in the Crimea, where, according to the Tale of Bygone Years, he was baptized".[382] After returning to Kiev, the same text describes Vladimir as unleashing "a systematic destruction of pagan idols and the construction of Christian churches in their place".[382]

Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary had become part of western Latin Christianity, while the Rus’ adopted Christianity from Byzantium, leading them down a different path.[383] A specific form of Rus' Christianity formed quickly.[382] As Peter Brown has emphasized, "despite the universal character of Christianity, its spread within each region of Europe led to the creation of specific micro-Christendoms".[384] The Rus’ dukes maintained exclusive control of the church which was financially dependent upon them.[382] The prince appointed the clergy to positions in government service; satisfied their material needs; filled higher ecclesiastical positions; and directed the synods of bishops in the Kievan metropolitanate.[385] The Rus' church used its own language and celebrated its own saints, some according to the Roman calendar, and others according to the Byzantine calendar.[384] This new Christian religious structure was imposed upon the socio-political and economic fabric of the land by the authority of the state's rulers.[386] It also helped isolate Kievan Rus’ from the rest of Europe.[384]

Clergy formed a new layer in the hierarchy of society. They taught Christian values, a Christian world view, and the intellectual traditions of Antiquity, promoted the spread of literacy among the princes and their followers, while translation of religious texts into local vernacular language introduced literacy for the populace.[387] In Rus’, important sections of the urban population could read and write by the 12th century.[387] In the generation following the conversion of Rus', all members of the princely dynasty, including the women, had learned to read and write. There is evidence of four princely libraries from the eleventh century.[388]

Monasteries of the twelfth century, founded by members of the ducal family and their boyars, became key spiritual, intellectual, art, and craft centers.[384] Soon after Vladimir’s conversion, Byzantine craftsmen had been sent to Vladimir by the emperor. Under Vladimir’s son Yaroslav I the Wise (1016–1018, 1019–1054), a building and cultural boom took place, as he was the initiator of the visual concept of Kiev as the second Constantinople.[384]

The Church of Rus' gradually developed into an independent political force in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.[389] According to Andrzej Poppe, Slavic historian, it is fully justifiable to call the Church of Rus' a state church. The Church strengthened the authority of the Prince, and helped to justifiy the expansion of Kievan empire into new territories through missionary activity.[385]


According to Heimskringla, During the Christianization of Norway, King Olaf Trygvasson had male völvas (shamans) tied up and left on a skerry at ebb (woodcut by Halfdan Egedius (1877–1899).
According to Heimskringla, During the Christianization of Norway, King Olaf Trygvasson had male völvas (shamans) tied up and left on a skerry at ebb (woodcut by Halfdan Egedius (1877–1899).

Main article: Christianization of Scandinavia

The Christianization of Scandinavia started in the 8th century with the arrival of missionaries in Denmark and it was at least nominally complete by the 12th century, although the Samis remained unconverted until the 18th century. In fact, although the Scandinavians became nominally Christian, it would take considerably longer for actual Christian beliefs to establish themselves among the people.[390] The old indigenous traditions that had provided security and structure since time immemorial were challenged by ideas that were unfamiliar, such as original sin, the Immaculate Conception, the Trinity and so forth.[390] Archaeological excavations of burial sites on the island of Lovön near modern-day Stockholm have shown that the actual Christianization of the people was very slow and took at least 150–200 years,[391] and this was a very central location in the Swedish kingdom. Thirteenth-century runic inscriptions from the bustling merchant town of Bergen in Norway show little Christian influence, and one of them appeals to a Valkyrie.[392]> At this time, enough knowledge of Norse mythology remained to be preserved in sources such as the Eddas in Iceland.

A Persecuting society

Expulsions of Jews in Europe from 1100 to 1600
Expulsions of Jews in Europe from 1100 to 1600

By 1150, a watershed period in European history had begun.[393] According to R.I. Moore, western culture was becoming increasingly secular.[394] Secularization included the process of centralizing power.[395] In the name of the State, each monarchy appropriated various legal, military and social powers that had previously been held by nobles and minorities.[394][396]: xviii  According to Moore, the church "played a significant role in the formation of the persecuting society but not the leading one."[397][note 19] Moore says this "determined, not only over whom, but also by whom, the [increasing] power of government was to be exercised."[399]

Jews, lepers, and homosexuals were among the first minorities to lose rights and be persecuted by law. In the eleventh century, the kingdom of Jerusalem had spread a legal code ordaining death for "sodomites". From the 1250s onwards, a series of similar legal codes in the nation-states of Spain, France, Italy and Germany followed this example. "By 1300, places where male sodomy was not a capitol offense had become the exception rather than the rule."Cite error: A <ref> tag is missing the closing </ref> (see the help page).: 224 [400]: 8–10 


Main article: Northern Crusades

Baltic Tribes c 1200
Baltic Tribes c 1200
Danish Bishop Absalon destroys the idol of Slavic god Svantevit at Arkona in a painting by Laurits Tuxen
Danish Bishop Absalon destroys the idol of Slavic god Svantevit at Arkona in a painting by Laurits Tuxen

From the days of Charlemagne (747-814), the people around the Baltic Sea had raided – stealing crucial resources, killing, and enslaving captives – from the countries that surrounded them: Denmark, Prussia, Germany and Poland.[401]: 23  In the eleventh century, German and Danish nobles united to put a stop to the raiding, in an attempt to force peace through military action. They achieved peace for a time, then insurrection and the need for more military response followed in the twelfth century.[402]: 12 [401]: 23–25 

When the Pope (Blessed) Eugenius III (1145–1153) called for a Second Crusade in response to the fall of Edessa in 1144, Saxon nobles refused to go to the Levant.[401]: 65  In 1147, Eugenius' Divini dispensatione, gave the German/Saxon nobles full crusade indulgences to go to the Baltic area instead.[401]: 65 [402]: 71 [403]: 119  The Northern, (or Baltic), Crusades followed, taking place, off and on, from 1147 to 1316.[402]: 287 [404]

There was a longstanding German tradition of sending Christian missionaries to the area northeast of Germany known as the Wendish, meaning Slavic "frontier", which often resulted in the untimely death of said missionaries.[405]: 8, 14, 28, fn35  [401]: 23, 29  There was a belief that Christianization made barbarians more peaceful and less likely to raid and rape, so there were religious motivations for these wars, but according to law professor Eric Christiansen, these crusades had multiple causes. Christiansen, along with Romanian historian Mihai Dragnea, indicate the primary motive for these wars was not religious but was instead the noble's desire for territorial expansion and wealth in the form of land, furs, amber, slaves, and tribute.[406]: 5, 6  According to Dragnea, these wars were simply part of the political reality of the nation forming that was happening all over eastern Europe in the twelfth century.[406]: 4 

Medieval historian Iben Fonnesberg-Schmidt says, the princes wanted to extend their power and prestige, and while the princes did also want to subdue these pagan peoples, peaceful conversion did not often fit in with their other plans.[401]: 24  Military leaders seldom cared about taking the time for peaceful conversion, and monks and priests had to work with the secular rulers on their terms.[401]: 76  Conversion by these princes was almost always a result of conquest, either by the direct use of force, or indirectly, when a leader converted and required it of his followers as well.[401]: 23, 24  "While the theologians maintained that conversion should be voluntary, there was a widespread pragmatic acceptance of conversion obtained through political pressure or military coercion."[401]: 24  Acceptance led some commentators to endorse and approve it, something that had not been done before this time.[407]: 157–158  [401]: 24 

Dominican friars helped with this ideological justification by portraying the pagans as possessed by evil spirits. In this manner, they could assert that pagans were in need of conquest in order to free them from their terrible circumstance; then they could be peacefully converted.[408]: 58  [402]: 57  [409]: 678, 679  There were often severe consequences for populations that chose to resist.[410]: 34 [411]: 9 [402]: 14–15 

According to Fonnesberg-Schmidt, after the Second crusade and until the Teutonic order was called to the Baltic, the campaigns were planned, financed and carried out by the local princes, local bishops, and local archbishops, rather than distant Popes.[401]: 76  Eugenius' involvement had not led to continuous papal support of these campaigns. Papal policy had varied considerably.[401]: 65, 75  For example, Pope Alexander III, who was Pope from 1159 to 1181, did not issue a full indulgence or put the Baltic campaigns on an equal footing with the crusades to the Levant.[401]: 65, 76–77  The nature of the campaigns changed when the Teutonic Order arrived in the region in 1230.[401]: 19  The Danes regained influence in Estonia, the papacy eventually became more directly involved, and the campaigns intensified and expanded.[401]: 187 

Lithuania and Samogitia were ultimately Christianized from 1386 until 1417 by the initiative of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jogaila and his cousin Vytautas.

Iberian Peninsula and Reconquista

Main article: Reconquista

San Pedro de la Nave, one of the oldest churches in Spain.
San Pedro de la Nave, one of the oldest churches in Spain.
Depiction of the Battle of Navas de Tolosa by 19th-century painter Francisco de Paula Van Halen.
Depiction of the Battle of Navas de Tolosa by 19th-century painter Francisco de Paula Van Halen.

Christianity began in Spain when St. Paul went to Hispania to preach the gospel.

By the late 6th century, certainly during the reign of Reccared I, the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain can be said to be a Christian country, although paganism persisted among segments of the population for some decades afterwards.[412]

Despite early Christian testimonies and institutional organization, Basque Christianization was slow. Muslim accounts from the period of the Umayyad conquest of Hispania and beginning of 9th century identify the Basques as magi or 'pagan wizards', they were not considered 'People of the Book' (Christians).[413]

Between 711 and 718 the Iberian peninsula had been conquered by Muslims in the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. Between 722 (see: Battle of Covadonga) and 1492 (see: the Conquest of Granada) the Christian Kingdoms that later would become Spain and Portugal reconquered it from the Moorish states of Al-Ándalus. The notorious Spanish Inquisition and Portuguese Inquisition were not installed until 1478 and 1536 when the Reconquista was already (mostly) completed.


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This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (October 2021)

Colonial era (16th–19th centuries)

Further information: Civilizing mission

See also: Christianization of Goa

Evangelization of Mexico
Evangelization of Mexico
"First Mass in Brazil". painting by Victor Meirelles.
"First Mass in Brazil". painting by Victor Meirelles.

Colonies in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Pacific

The expansion of the Catholic Portuguese Empire and Spanish Empire with a significant role played by Catholic missionaries led to the Christianization of the indigenous populations of the Americas such as the Aztecs and Incas. A large number of churches were built.[414][415]

Later waves of colonial expansion such as the Scramble for Africa or the struggle for India, by the Netherlands, Britain, France, Germany and Russia led to Christianization of other native populations across the globe such as the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Filipinos, Indians and Africans led to the expansion of Christianity eclipsing that of the Roman period and making it a truly global religion.[416]

United States

Main article: History of immigration to the United States

The colonies which later became the United States were largely colonized by England, and therefore their colonists were predominantly Protestant. Even colonists with non-English backgrounds—Scots, Scotch Irish, Germans, Dutch, French, and Swedes—were mostly from Protestant countries in Northern Europe. Thus Protestantism as a religious force shaped the mind of pre-independence colonial America.

By the 1790 Census, the total immigration over the approximately 130-year span of colonial existence of the U.S. colonies was summarized as: 3.9 million total, comprising 2.56 million British, 0.76 million African, and 0.58 million "other" who probably included a large proportion of people with poorly recorded English ancestry.[417] It was not until the nineteenth century that Roman Catholics became a numerically significant segment of American life, mainly due to large-scale immigration from Ireland (driven by the Great Famine from 1845 onward[418]) and countries in Southern Europe (partly due to farming improvements which created surplus labor[citation needed]), and absorption of territories originally colonized or influenced by Catholic countries such as Spain.[citation needed]

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20th century

United States

Main article: Christianity in the United States

In 1908 Pope Pius X declared that the United States was no longer a missionary territory for Roman Catholicism. By this time the Roman Catholic church was well established enough to stake a place for itself in the U.S. religious landscape. It was about 15 million strong by 1901. Thus, the church adopted a mission to Christianize other cultures. On November 16, 1908, a missionary conference was held in Chicago to mark the transition from becoming a church that received missionary help to a church that sends it. Attendees included Boston's Archbishop William H. O'Connell and Chicago's Archbishop James Edward Quigley, who called attention to the "new era" into which the church in the U.S. now entered.

Sacred sites

Main article: Christianized sites

Physical Christianization: the choir of San Salvatore, Spoleto, occupies the cella of a Roman temple.
Physical Christianization: the choir of San Salvatore, Spoleto, occupies the cella of a Roman temple.

Many Christian churches were built upon sites already consecrated as pagan temples or mithraea, the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (literally Saint Mary above Minerva) in Rome being simply the most obvious example, though a period of about 350 years of abandonment intervened between temple and church in this case. Sulpicius Severus, in his Vita of Martin of Tours, a dedicated destroyer of temples and sacred trees, remarks "wherever he destroyed heathen temples, there he used immediately to build either churches or monasteries",[419] and when Benedict took possession of the site at Monte Cassino, he began by smashing the sculpture of Apollo and the altar that crowned the height.

The British Isles and other areas of northern Europe that were formerly druidic are still densely punctuated by holy wells and holy springs that are now attributed to some saint, often a highly local saint unknown elsewhere; in earlier times many of these were seen as guarded by supernatural forces such as the melusina, and many such pre-Christian holy wells appear to survive as baptistries. Not all pre-Christian holy places were respected enough for them to survive, however, as most ancient European sacred groves, such as the pillar Irminsul, were destroyed by Christianizing forces.

During the Reconquista and the Crusades, the cross served the symbolic function of possession that a flag would occupy today. At the siege of Lisbon in 1147, when a mixed group of Christians took the city, "What great joy and what a great abundance there was of pious tears when, to the praise and honor of God and of the most Holy Virgin Mary the saving cross was placed atop the highest tower to be seen by all as a symbol of the city's subjection."[420]

Myths and imagery

Main article: Christianized myths and imagery

Ivory diptych of a priestess of Ceres, defaced and damaged by Christians
Ivory diptych of a priestess of Ceres, defaced and damaged by Christians

The historicity of several saints has often been treated skeptically by most academics, either because there is a paucity of historical evidence for them, or due to striking resemblances that they have to pre-Christian deities. In 1969 the Roman Catholic Church removed some Christian Saints from its universal calendar and pronounced the historicity of others to be dubious.[citation needed] Though highly popular in the Middle Ages, many of these saints have since been largely forgotten, and their names may now seem quite unfamiliar. The most prominent amongst these is Saint Eustace, who was extremely popular in earlier times, but whom Laura Hibberd sees as a chimera composed from details of several other Saints. Many of these figures of dubious historicity appear to be based on figures from pre-Christian myth and legend, Saint Sarah, for example, also known as Sarah-la-Kali, is thought by Ronald Lee to be a Christianization of Kali, a Hindu deity.


Main article: Christian symbolism

The Baptism of Kievans, a fresco by Viktor Vasnetsov

The cross is currently the most common symbol of Christianity, and has been for many centuries, coming to prominence during the 4th century (301 to 400 AD) And its known to be the most familiar and widely recognized symbol of Christianity today.[421]

Ancient pagan funeral rituals often remained within Christian culture as aspects of custom and community with very little alteration.[422] Pagans and Jews decorated their burial chambers, so Christians did as well, thereby creating the first Christian art in the catacombs beneath Rome.[423] This art is symbolic, rising out of a reinterpretation of Jewish and pagan symbolism.[424]

Noah catacomb (orans)
Noah catacomb (orans)

While many new subjects appear for the first time in the Christian catacombs - i.e. the Good Shepherd, Baptism, and the Eucharistic meal - the Orant figures (women praying with upraised hands) probably came directly from pagan art.[425][426]

The Ichthys, Christian Fish, also known colloquially as the Jesus Fish, was an early Christian secret symbol. Early Christians used the Ichthys symbol to identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ and to proclaim their commitment to Christianity. Ichthys is the Ancient Greek word for "fish," which explains why the sign resembles a fish;[421] the Greek word ιχθυς is an acronym for the phrase transliterated as "Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter", that is, "Jesus Christ, God's Son, the Savior". There are several other connections with Christian tradition relating to this choice of symbol: that it was a reference to the feeding of the multitude; that it referred to some of the apostles having previously been fishermen; or that the word Christ was pronounced by Jews in a similar way to the Hebrew word for fish (though Nuna is the normal Aramaic word for fish, making this seem unlikely).


  1. ^ Michelle Salzman has shown that in the process of converting the Roman Empire's aristocracy, Christianity absorbed the values of that aristocracy.[9] Several early Christian writers, including Justin (2nd century), Tertullian, and Origen (3rd century) wrote of Mithraists copying Christian beliefs.[10] Christianity adopted aspects of Platonic thought, names for months and days of the week - even the concept of a seven-day week - from Roman paganism.[11] [12] Bruce David Forbes says that "Some way or another, Christmas was started to compete with rival Roman religions, or to co-opt the winter celebrations as a way to spread Christianity, or to baptize the winter festivals with Christian meaning in an effort to limit their [drunken] excesses. Most likely all three".[13]
  2. ^ In the eyes of many non-believers, Christianity was an unacceptable form of what Romans called superstitio; its founder had been executed by Roman authority, it was seen as having fallen away from the faith of the Jews, and could, therefore, claim no legitimate authority.[34] In response, some second-century apologists took the approach of referring to Christians as another genos or race, with their own history, and legitimate religious practices. This 'third race' concept may have originated in accusations from outsiders such as Suetonius, (Nero 16.2.), who described Christians in a derogatory manner as ‘a genus of people' who held a 'new and mischievous superstitio’.[35]
  3. ^ There have, historically, been many different scholarly views on Constantine's religious policies.[57] For example Jacob Burckhardt has characterized Constantine as being "essentially unreligious" and as using the Church solely to support his power and ambition. Drake asserts that "critical reaction against Burckhardt's anachronistic reading has been decisive."[58] According to Burckhardt, being Christian automatically meant being intolerant, while Drake says that assumes a uniformity of belief within Christianity that does not exist in the historical record.[59]
    • Brown calls Constantine's conversion a "very Roman conversion."[60] "He had risen to power in a series of deathly civil wars, destroyed the system of divided empire, believed the Christian God had brought him victory, and therefore regarded that god as the proper recipient of religio".[60] Brown says Constantine was over 40, had most likely been a traditional polytheist, and was a savvy and ruthless politician when he declared himself a Christian.[61]
  4. ^ In Eusebius' church history, there is a bold claim of a Constantinian campaign against the temples, however, there are discrepancies in the evidence.[72] Temple destruction is attested to in 43 cases in the written sources, but only four have been confirmed by archaeological evidence.[73] Trombley and MacMullen explain that discrepancies between literary sources and archaeological evidence exist because it is common for details in the literary sources to be ambiguous and unclear.[74][75] For example, Malalas claimed Constantine destroyed all the temples, then he said Theodisius destroyed them all, then he said Constantine converted them all to churches.[76][77]
    • A number of elements coincided to end the temples, but none of them were strictly religious.[78] Earthquakes caused much of the destruction of this era.[79] Civil conflict and external invasions also destroyed many temples and shrines.[80] Economics was also a factor.[78][81][82]
    • The Roman economy of the third and fourth centuries struggled, and traditional polytheism was expensive and dependent upon donations from the state and private elites.[83] Roger S. Bagnall reports that imperial financial support declined markedly after Augustus.[84] Lower budgets meant the physical decline of urban structures of all types.
    • This progressive decay was accompanied by an increased trade in salvaged building materials, as the practice of recycling became common in Late Antiquity.[85] Economic struggles meant that necessity drove much of the destruction and conversion of pagan religious monuments.[78][81][82] In many instances, such as in Tripolitania, this happened before Constantine the Great became emperor.[86]
  5. ^ Constantine did not destroy large numbers of temples, but he did destroy a few. In the previous 300 years, Roman authority had periodically confiscated various church properties, some of which were associated with Christian holy places. For example, Christian historians alleged that Hadrian (2nd century) had, in the military colony of Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem), constructed a temple to Aphrodite on the site of the crucifixion of Jesus on Golgotha hill in order to suppress Jewish Christian veneration there.[97] Constantine was vigorous in reclaiming confiscated properties whenever these issues were brought to his attention, and he used reclamation to justify the destruction of Aphrodite's temple in Jerusalem.[98][93][99] Using the vocabulary of reclamation, Constantine acquired several more sites of Christian significance in the Holy Land. At the sacred oak and spring at Mamre, a site venerated and occupied by Jews, Christians and pagans alike, the literature says Constantine ordered the burning of the idols, the destruction of the altar, and erection of a church on the spot of the temple.[100] The archaeology of the site, however, shows that Constantine’s church, along with its attendant buildings, only occupied a peripheral sector of the precinct, leaving the rest unhindered.[101]
    • Calculated acts of desecration - removing the hands and feet of statues of the divine, mutilating heads and genitals, tearing down altars and "purging sacred precincts with fire" - were acts committed by the people during the early centuries. While seen as 'proving' the impotence of the gods, pagan icons were also seen as having been “polluted” by the practice of sacrifice. They were, therefore, in need of "desacralization" or "deconsecration" (a practice not limited to Christians).[102] Brown says that, while it was in some ways studiously vindictive, it was not indiscriminate or extensive.[103][104] Once these objects were detached from 'the contagion' of sacrifice, they were seen as having returned to innocence. Many statues and temples were then preserved as art.[103] Professor of Byzantine history Helen Saradi-Mendelovici writes that this process implies appreciation of antique art and a conscious desire to find a way to include it in Christian culture.[105]
    • According to Alan Cameron, this violence was unofficial and without support from Christian clergy or state magistrates.[106][107] There are only a few examples (i.e. Martin of Tours) of Christian officials having any involvement in the violent destruction of pagan shrines. In the 380s, one eastern official (generally identified as the praetorian prefect Cynegius), used the army under his control and bands of monks to destroy temples in the eastern provinces.[108]
  6. ^ Cameron explains that, since Theodosius's predecessors Constantine, Constantius, and Valens had all been semi-Arians, it fell to the orthodox Theodosius to receive from Christian literary tradition most of the credit for the final triumph of Christianity.[119]
    • Numerous literary sources, both Christian and pagan, falsely attributed to Theodosius multiple anti-pagan initiatives such as the withdrawal of state funding to pagan cults (this measure belongs to Gratian) and the demolition of temples (for which there is no primary evidence).[120]
    • Theodosius was also associated with the ending of the Vestal virgins, but twenty-first century scholarship asserts the Virgins continued until 415 and suffered no more under Theodosius than they had since Gratian restricted their finances.[121]
    • Theodosius did turn pagan holidays into workdays, but the festivals associated with them continued.[122]
    • Theodosius was associated with ending the ancient Olympic Games, which he also probably did not do.[123][124] Sofie Remijsen [nl] says there are several reasons to conclude the Olympic games continued after Theodosius I, and that they came to an end under Theodosius the second, by accident, instead. Two extant scholia on Lucian connect the end of the games with a fire that burned down the temple of the Olympian Zeus during Theodosius the second's reign.[125]
  7. ^ The Edict of Thessalonica declared those Christians who refused the Nicene faith to be infames, and prohibited them from using Christian churches.[128] Sáry uses this example: "After his arrival in Constantinople, Theodosius offered to confirm the Arian bishop Demophilus in his see, if he would accept the Nicene Creed. After Demophilus refused the offer, the emperor immediately directed him to surrender all his churches to the Catholics."[129]
  8. ^ * Sozomen, the Constantinopolitan lawyer, wrote a history of the church around 443 where he references Theodosius' law of 8 November 392. This law has been described by some as a universal ban on paganism that made Christianity – in effect – the official religion of the empire.[137][138] However, it was only promulgated in the East.[139] The law describes and bans practices of private domestic sacrifice, such as the lares fire, which were thought to have "slipped out from under public control".[140][141][142] Sozomen evaluates the law of 392 as having had only minor significance at the time it was issued.[143]
    • According to Bayliss, "There is no single law of the Theodosian Code containing a specific order for the destruction of temples that does not include the pretext of sacrifice or idolatry. Even Theodosius’ law of 435, seen by most scholars as the coup de grace of surviving temples only applies to the temples of pagans who had committed illegal acts of sacrifice. It is quite possible that the significance of this law has been overemphasized by scholars".[144]
    • The Theodosian Law Code has long been one of the principal historical sources for the study of Late Antiquity.[145] Gibbon described the Theodosian decrees, in his Memoires, as a work of history rather than jurisprudence.[146] Brown says the language of these laws is uniformly vehement, and penalties are harsh and frequently horrifying, leading some historians, such as Ramsay MacMullen, to see them as a 'declaration of war' on traditional religious practices.[147][148]
    • It has been a common axiom among historians that the laws marked a turning point in the decline of paganism.[149] Yet, many contemporary scholars such as Lepelly, Brown and Cameron, and others question using a legal document as a record of history leading to ongoing debate over the characteristics of this period.[145][150]
    • Archaeologists Luke Lavan and Michael Mulryan have written that the Code can be seen to document "Christian ambition" but not historic reality.[151][145] The overtly violent fourth century that one would expect to find from taking the laws at face value is simply not supported by archaeological evidence from around the Mediterranean.[152][153][154]
    • Cameron concludes there is no solid evidence for a universal ban on paganism in the Roman empire.[155]
  9. ^ During his first official tour of Italy (389–391), the emperor won over the influential pagan lobby in the Roman Senate by appointing its foremost members to important administrative posts.[157] Theodosius also nominated the last pair of pagan consuls in Roman history (Tatianus and Symmachus) in 391.[158]
    • Theodosius allowed other pagan practices that did not involve sacrifice to be performed publicly and temples to remain open.[159][160][161] He also voiced his support for the preservation of temple buildings, but nonetheless failed to prevent the damaging of several holy sites in the eastern provinces.[161][162][163]
    • Following the death in 388 of Cynegius, the praetorian prefect thought to be responsible for that vandalization, Theodosius replaced him with a moderate pagan who subsequently moved to protect the temples.[164][118][165] There is no evidence of any desire on the part of the emperor to institute a systematic destruction of temples anywhere in the Theodosian Code, and no evidence in the archaeological record that extensive temple destruction took place.[166][167]
  10. ^ * In his 1984 book, Christianizing the Roman Empire: (A.D. 100–400), and again in 1997, Ramsay MacMullen argues that widespread Christian anti–pagan violence, as well as persecution from a "bloodthirsty" and violent Constantine (and his successors), caused the Christianization of the Roman Empire in the fourth century.[172][173]
    • Award winning historian Michelle Renee Salzman describes MacMullen's book as "controversial".[173]
    • In a review, T. D. Barnes has written that MacMullen's book treats "non-Christian evidence as better and more reliable than Christian evidence", generalizes from pagan polemics as if they were unchallenged fact, misses important facts entirely, and shows an important selectivity in his choices of what ancient and modern works he discusses.[174]
    • David Bentley Hart also gives a detailed discussion of MacMullen's "careless misuse of textual evidence".[175]
    • Schwarz says MacMullen is an example of a modern minimalist.[176] Schwarz suggests that minimalism is beginning to show signs of decline because it tends to understate the significance of some human actions, and so makes assumptions that are hard to support.[177] As a result, "MacMullen's account of Christianization as basically an aggregation of accidents and contingencies" is not broadly supported.[178]
    • In Gaul, some of the most influential textual sources on pagan-Christian violence concerns Martin, Bishop of Tours (c. 371–397), the Pannonian ex-soldier who is "solely credited in the historical record as the militant converter of Gaul".[179]
    • These texts have been criticized for lacking historical veracity, even by ancient critics, but they are still useful for illuminating views of violence held in late fourth century Gaul.[180]
    • The portion of the sources devoted to attacks on pagans is limited, and they all revolve around Martin using his miraculous powers to overturn pagan shrines and idols, but not to ever threaten or harm people.[181]
    • Salzman concludes that "None of Martin's interventions led to the deaths of any Gauls, pagan or Christian.
    • Even if one doubts the exact veracity of these incidents, the assertion that Martin preferred non-violent conversion techniques says much about the norms for conversion in Gaul" at the time Martin's biography was written.[182]
    • Archaeologist David Riggs writes that evidence from North Africa reveals a tolerance of religious pluralism and a vitality of traditional paganism much more than it shows any form of religious violence or coercion: "persuasion, such as the propagation of Christian apologetics, appears to have played a more critical role in the eventual "triumph of Christianity" than was previously assumed".[183][184]
    • Archaeologists Luke Lavan and Michael Mulryan of the Centre for Late Antique Archaeology indicate that archaeology does not show evidence of widespread conflict.[185]
    • In the twenty first century, the conflict model of Christianization has become marginalized.[186] According to Raymond Van Dam, "an approach which emphasizes conflict flounders as a means for explaining both the initial attractions of a new cult like Christianity, as well as, more importantly, its persistence".[187]
  11. ^ Constantine's sons banned pagan state religious sacrifices in 341.[192] The content and intent of this law is much debated.[193] In English, it says "Superstition shall cease; the madness of sacrifices shall be abolished. For if any man in violation of the law of the sainted Emperor, Our father, and in violation of this command of Our Clemency, should dare to perform sacrifices, he shall suffer the infliction of a suitable punishment and the effect of an immediate sentence." Interpretation depends entirely on what was meant by the term superstitio.[194] In fact, independent testimony from the period 340-363 indicates that paganism and sacrifice continued in Rome despite the law.[195] Constantius II created a series of anti-pagan laws in 353 and 354, and had the altar of victory removed, but while this stirred up fear and resentment, it did not end paganism.[196]
  12. ^ St Barbatus, bishop of Benevento in the 670s, describes the Lombards in the city of Benevento as worshipping a simulacrum of a viper and swearing oaths as they galloped past a hide hung on a tree.[215] When St. Barbatus converted the Beneventine Lombards to Christianity, he caused the tree to be cut down but some centuries afterwards, in 1526, Judge Paolo Grillandi wrote of witches in Benevento who worship a goddess at the site of an old walnut tree.[216] The laws issued for the Lombards by King Liutprand in 727 condemned, along with divination, the practice of 'sorcery' and incantation, any Lombard "who like a rustic prays to a tree as sacred or adores springs".[217]
  13. ^ According to Willibald's Life of Saint Boniface, about 723, the missionary cut down the sacred Donar's Oak and used the lumber to build a church dedicated to St. Peter.[238] This account is highly stylized, portraying Boniface as a singular character who alone roots out paganism.[239]: 40–41  Around 744, Saint Sturm established the monastery of Fulda on the ruins of a 6th-century Merovingian royal camp, destroyed 50 years earlier by the Saxons, at a ford on the Fulda River.
  14. ^
    • After the mid-fifth century, pagan temples began being converted into Christian churches.[259][260] Scholarship has been divided over whether this represents Christianization as a general effort to demolish the pagan past, was instead simple pragmatism, or perhaps an attempt to preserve the past's art and architecture, or some combination.[261] Feyo Schuddeboom addresses this by using the city of Rome as a microcosm of temple conversion in the empire.[262]
    • Although it is a small percentage of the four hundred and twenty-four temples known to have existed in Rome, Rome witnessed eleven temple conversions from the seventh to the twelfth century, which is more than any other single location in the empire.[263]
    • Schuddeboom lists these as the churches of "San Bartolomeo all’Isola, San Basilio, San Lorenzo in Miranda, Santa Maria dei Martiri, Santa Maria de Secundicerio, San Nicola in Carcere, San Nicola dei Cesarini, San Sebastiano al Palatino, Santo Stefano delle Carrozze, Sant’Urbano alla Caffarella, and the oratory of Saints Peter and Paul (now Santa Francesca Romana)... located in the ancient city center, except Sant’Urbano, which is on the Via Appia.
    • In addition, we know of three Mithraea in Rome that were [reduced to rubble and] built over by churches: at San Clemente, Santa Prisca, and Santo Stefano Rotondo, all situated well outside the city center. These Mithraea have traditionally been included in the temple conversions in Rome, but, ... they in fact form a distinct group chronologically, architecturally, topographically, and conceptually".[264]
    • According to modern archaeology, 120 pagan temples were converted to churches in the whole of the empire, out of the thousands of temples that existed, with two thirds of them dated at the end of the fifth century or later. In the fourth and fifth century, there were no conversions of temples in the city of Rome.[265] None of the churches attributed to Martin of Tours can be shown to have existed in Gaul in the fourth century.[266]
    • R. P. C. Hanson says the direct conversion of temples into churches did not begin until the mid fifth century in any but a few isolated incidents.[267]: 257  It is likely this timing stems from the fact that these buildings and places remained officially in public use, ownership could only be transferred by the emperor, and temples remained protected by law.[268]
    • "That Christian emperors continued to protect the temple buildings of Rome is evident from their legislation. A law by Constantius and Constans, issued to the urban prefect of Rome, already prescribed that “although all superstitions must be completely eradicated, nevertheless, it is Our will that the buildings of the temples situated outside the walls shall remain untouched and uninjured.” Arcadius and Honorius issued a law to the praetorian prefect of Italy, determining that “all public buildings and buildings that belong to any temple, those that are situated within the walls of the city or even those that are attached to the walls, [ . . . ] shall be held and kept by decurions and members of guilds.” Finally, a law by Leo and Majorian, issued to the urban prefect of Rome, specifically demanded that “all the buildings that have been founded by the ancients as temples [ . . . ] shall not be destroyed by any person.”... These laws stand in contrast to those in the East, which call for the destruction of temples; see CTh 16.10.16, 25." says Schuddeboom.[269]
    • "What portion of this real estate was made available to the Church was therefore principally a matter of imperial, not Church, policy".[268] That is why Boniface IV (608–615) needed authorization in 609 from the emperor Phocas to convert the Pantheon into a Church, and why Honorius I (625–638) asked the emperor Heraclius’s permission to recycle the bronze roof tiles of the temple of Venus and Roma.[270][271] : 65–72  It is only with the formation of the Papal State in the eighth century, (when the emperor’s properties in the West came into the possession of the bishop of Rome), that the conversions of temples in Rome took off in earnest.[272]
    • "With the sole exception of the Pantheon, all known temple conversions in Rome date from the time of the Papal State, when imperial donations were no longer required".[273] Temple conversion was limited to a small number of buildings and sites, without any sign of ideological based actions or wanton destruction.[274] Temples were preserved whole or repaired for reuse just as many secular buildings were.[275]
    • Schuddeboom concludes "There is nothing to suggest that their status as former places of pagan worship made them any less or more attractive than other buildings possessed of similar architectural and topographical qualities...".[274] Individual temples and temple sites were converted to churches primarily to preserve their exceptional architecture or were used pragmatically because of their exceptional location at the center of town.[276]
  15. ^ When Benedict of Nursia went to Monte Cassino around 530, he found a temple to Apollo with its statue and altar on which people still placed their offerings.[285] By the 590s, Pope Gregory I complains about pagan rituals among landowners and peasants on Church lands in Sicily and Sardinia.[286]
  16. ^ It is possible to follow in the laws the emergence of a language of intolerance shared by the Christian court and by vocal elements in provincial society.[287] Christian writers and imperial legislators alike drew on a rhetoric of incessant conquest and reconquest that affected every facet of upper-class society.[113] These Christian sources with their violent rhetoric, have had great influence on modern perceptions of this period.[288] However, outside of violent rhetoric, non-Christian (non-heretical) groups of pagans and Jews lived peacefully alongside their Christian neighbors through a tolerance based on contempt throughout most of Late Antiquity.[289][290]
  17. ^
    • In the first half of the sixth century, the eastern emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565) came to Rome to liberate it from barbarians leading to a guerrilla war that lasted nearly 20 years.[297] After fighting ended, Justinian used what is known as a Pragmatic Sanction to assert control.[298] The Sanction effectively removed the supports that had allowed the senatorial aristocracy to retain power.[299] The political and social influence of the Senate's aristocratic members began to disappear from civic life in Rome. By 630, the Senate had fully ceased to exist, and its building was converted into a church.[299] Bishops stepped into civic leadership in their place.[299] The position and influence of the pope rose.[300] By the eighth century, papal control of Rome was fully established. Italy can be said to have become a Christian country.[299]
    • Under Justinian, "the full force of imperial legislation against deviants of all kinds, particularly religious" ones, was applied in practice, writes Judith Herrin.[301]: 213  According to Anthony Kaldellis, Justinian is remembered as "the last Roman emperor of ecumenical importance", yet it is as the emperor who sought to extend Roman authority around the Mediterranean, that he is often seen as a tyrant and despot.[302][303] Justinian sought to centralize imperial government, became increasingly autocratic, and "nothing could be done", (not even in the Church), that was contrary to the emperor's will and command.[304]: 970B 
    • Imperial laws that had been laid down by pagan Emperors like Diocletian and Maximian to persecute Christians were used against the Manicheans.[305]: 285  Judith Lieu writes that, "By the sixth century, anathematized, vilified as a 'defilement', its leaders beheaded, their followers exiled, impoverished or also slain, Manichaeism was extinguished, and with its books destroyed, left only its name to the Christian world as a term of abuse for dualisms generally".[306] In Kaldellis' estimation, "Few emperors had started so many wars or tried to enforce cultural and religious uniformity with such zeal".[307][308][309]
  18. ^ L. C. Jane has translated Bede's text: Tell Augustine that he should by no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.
    • Further, since it has been their custom to slaughter oxen in sacrifice, they should receive some solemnity in exchange. Let them therefore, on the day of the dedication of their churches, or on the feast of the martyrs whose relics are preserved in them, build themselves huts around their one-time temples and celebrate the occasion with religious feasting. They will sacrifice and eat the animals not any more as an offering to the devil, but for the glory of God to whom, as the giver of all things, they will give thanks for having been satiated. Thus, if they are not deprived of all exterior joys, they will more easily taste the interior ones. For surely it is impossible to efface all at once everything from their strong minds, just as, when one wishes to reach the top of a mountain, he must climb by stages and step by step, not by leaps and bounds. Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (1.30)
    • Richard A. Fletcher suggests that Holy wells developed out of a like adaptation.[313][314]
  19. ^ Mandell Creighton has commented that "Men never thought persecution right, but they valued social order... and power... and the machinery of the church adapted to the world's purposes, and the world used its additional source of power".[398]: 93, 97, 98 

See also

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