What did it take to cause the Roman aristocracy to turn to Christianity, changing centuries-old beliefs and religious traditions? Michele Salzman takes a fresh approach to this much-debated question. Focusing on a sampling of individual aristocratic men and women as well as on writings and archeological evidence, she brings new understanding to the process by which pagan aristocrats became Christian, and Christianity became aristocratic.
Roman aristocrats would seem to be unlikely candidates for conversion to Christianity. Pagan and civic traditions were deeply entrenched among the educated and politically well-connected. Indeed, men who held state offices often were also esteemed priests in the pagan state cults: these priesthoods were traditionally sought as a way to reinforce one's social position. Moreover, a religion whose texts taught love for one's neighbor and humility, with strictures on wealth and notions of equality, would not have obvious appeal for those at the top of a hierarchical society. Yet somehow in the course of the fourth and early fifth centuries Christianity and the Roman aristocracy met and merged.
Examining the world of the ruling classits institutions and resources, its values and style of lifeSalzman paints a fascinating picture, especially of aristocratic women. Her study yields new insight into the religious revolution that transformed the late Roman Empire.
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About the Author
Michele Renee Salzman is Professor of History at the University of California, Riverside.
Table of Contents
1. Approaches to a Paradox
2. Defining the Senatorial Aristocracy
3. Aristocratic Men: Social Origins
4. Aristocratic Men: Career Paths
5. Aristocratic Women
6. The Emperor's Influence on Aristocratic Conversion
7. The Aristocrats' Influence on Christianity
Appendix 1: Sources, Criteria, and Variables for the Database
Appendix 2: Names and Religious Affiliation of Aristocrats in the Study
Appendix 3: Sources for the Database-Addenda and Corrigenda to PLRE
Appendix 4: High Office Holders
Abbreviations and Frequently Cited Works
What People are Saying About This
An important and carefully crafted book with much that is new to say about the ways, means, and speed by which the Late Roman Empire came to convert to Christianity in the wake of Constantine's change of allegiance. Salzman constantly strives to turn numbers into real people and real lives, to set her findings as fully as possible in political, social, and cultural context. And her writing is clear and effective.
Peter Heather, University College, London
An impressive piece of work. Salzman has produced the most complete quantitative study of conversion of aristocrats to date. I particularly liked her concluding chapter on their influence on Christianity. She shows that fourth-century bishops adopted the rhetoric of "nobility" and "honor" in their preaching and writing in a way that appealed to aristocrats.
Elizabeth Clark, Duke University