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date: 06 July 2022

The Religious History of the Roman Empirefree

The Religious History of the Roman Empirefree

  • John NorthJohn NorthDepartment of Classics, University of London


Historians of antiquity used to argue that, from the 6th century bce onwards, the religious traditions of Greek and Roman pagans became an empty shell maintained by elites who no longer had any belief in them except as a device for keeping the masses subservient. In recent decades this theory, always highly speculative and over-dependent on the views of ancient philosophers, has been largely abandoned. In fact, down to the 2nd, even the 3rd century ce, pagan worship still seems to have been an important element in the way cities and communities of the Roman Empire worked, sustaining the power of ruling elites, but also defining the way individuals expressed their private concerns and problems. For the overwhelming majority, the old deities kept their hold, and there is a strong tradition of dedications, in fulfillment of vows to gods and goddesses, that bears witness to a continued tradition of individual piety. At the same time, although the Empire was successful from the 1st century bce onwards in maintaining widespread order and prosperity, the nature of city life was changing in fundamental respects. With stability came a high degree of mobility, and cities of both East and West came to find themselves with religious groups living in tense proximity, first of Jews, then of Christians, Manichaeans, and others. To those with a taste for broad generalizations, it has been appealing to interpret these developments as a great conflict between polytheism and monotheism, some rating monotheism as so superior that it could be treated as an inevitable step up in the evolutionary progression of the human race. Paganism was therefore doomed in advance.

What is certain is that pagan religion and its many deities became the target of a concentrated attack by the Christian Fathers; but that alone can hardly explain why traditional worship lost its appeal to so many of its adherents in quite a short period of the 4th century ce: pagans suddenly began to abandon age-old practices and join new cults that they had once despised. Efforts at resistance to Christianity, in particular, once thought very important, prove to have been evanescent at best in the light of recent research. To find a new understanding of these very profound changes in religious history, analysis is needed: first, what were the fundamental differences between pagan traditionalism and the competing religions, and, second, how did relations between religious groups change over time. Answers cannot lie in studying only Christians, or only Jews, or only pagans, as is still too often the practice, but rather in the nature of their interactions with one another. The kind of religious competition for members that characterized this situation was quite a new phenomenon to the great majority of the inhabitants of the Empire. They were not accustomed to dealing with competing religious groups each with their own ideas and doctrines. Pagan deities had always needed to attract worshippers to their sanctuaries; but they were defined by myths, rituals, and the functions they performed, not by having distinct theologies or creeds. It was the coming of competition and conflict that radically changed the religious landscape and generated new elements in religious life. Meanwhile, once the Emperors had adopted Christianity, paganism, which had always been involved in the exercise of central power, retreated to the margins.


  • Ancient Religion

Religious Change and the Rise of Competition in the Roman Empire

This article sketches the main lines of change in the religious life of the region ruled by the Romans, including much of Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, from the later Republic (c. 200 bcec. 31 bce) into the earlier centuries of the Roman Empire (down to the 4th century ce). The changes in question took place gradually over these centuries; for that very reason, they were not for the most part observed or explained by contemporaries and have to be reconstructed or inferred by historians. One major theme is the terminology used to discuss the practices, ideas, and institutions of the Greco-Roman world when they were dealing with their gods and goddesses. This is inescapable, because of the quite different implications of the words as we use them today.

What we can be certain about is that, in this period, there were major and wide-ranging changes: the world as known to the Greeks and Romans in the centuries before the birth of Christ was overwhelmingly populated by men and women who worshipped numerous supernatural beings, classified today as pagan gods and goddesses, those of the Greeks, Romans, Etruscans, Celts, Germans, and many other peoples; by the time of the later Roman Empire, the descendants of that population were divided between those (by then diminishing in number) who were still pagans and many others who were Jews, or Christians, of varying beliefs, or of other commitments. All these groups, and others, must have been in competition for membership and this competition is one of the new elements in the situation that need to be recognized and, if possible, explained.

To some extent, there would have been competition for members and resources in earlier periods as well, but the basis of traditional pagan loyalty was largely determined by the community to which you belonged. The gods were the gods of your city or community: you might prefer to join particular local groups or worship in particular sanctuaries or take vows to the god or goddess you thought most appropriate to your case; but, so long as you belonged to a particular community, there was no question of joining another religion, unless you moved your domicile to a different area.

The traditional explanation for the rate of religious change in this period combines the presence of new religious groups, especially Christians, with the supposed long-term deterioration of pagan practice. The Roman antiquarian Varro (116–27 bce) claimed, according to Saint Augustine, that he was saving the gods of his city from neglect and forgetfulness by including them in his writings.1 Modern historians of antiquity used to argue that, roughly from the 6th and 5th centuries bce onwards, the inherited religious traditions of the Greek and Roman pagans were becoming an empty shell, maintained by elites who no longer had any faith in them, except as devices for keeping the masses of their cities subservient. In recent decades, this theory, always highly speculative and over-dependent on the views of ancient philosophers who did discuss the deities and their existential status, has largely been abandoned by historians of religion.2 In fact, down to the 2nd, even the 3rd century ce, pagan worship still seems to have been an important element in the way cities and communities of the Roman Empire worked, sustaining the power of ruling elites, but also providing the means for individuals to deal with their private concerns and problems. There is every reason to think that the old deities kept their hold; there is, for example, a strong tradition of dedications in fulfillment of vows to gods and goddesses that bears witness to a continued and developing tradition of individual piety.3

There was, and is, some seeming support for the older, negative view in the surviving writers of the period, not least in individual texts such as that of Varro mentioned above:

But when he so much worshipped these same gods, and so much believed that they ought to be worshipped, as to assert, in that same literary work of his, that he was afraid they might perish, not through a hostile attack, but through the citizens’ neglect; and said he was rescuing them from this disaster and so in his works storing them up and saving them in the memory of good men—an achievement more valuable than those reported of Metellus saving Vesta’s sacred relics from the flames, or Æneas saving the Penates from burning Troy.4

If this is a fair summary of Varro’s text by Augustine, it does imply that Varro thought there was neglect of the deities in his own day, but leaves open the question of whether his ambition was to restore their worship in his city, or merely to protect their memory from total oblivion. We need to remember too that, if deities were being forgotten, they were not the great gods and goddesses, but minor ones, whom Varro himself was digging out from old records. The fact is that the forgetting of ancient deities and the discovery of new ones went hand in hand in the life of Rome, which had countless deities great and small.5 It would be fairer to characterize Varro’s views as a mixture of criticisms of his contemporaries with regrets, devotion, and nostalgia for a lost golden age of a truer piety, in which he certainly believed—rightly or wrongly. Whether deliberately or not, Augustine’s summary leaves us without any clear idea of what Varro did think about the Roman gods; but Augustine goes on to make quite clear that whatever, in Varro’s view, should be “preserved in the memory of good men” was, in Augustine’s own view, so revolting that it should not be read by anybody at all. The clash of cultures here is brutally exposed, but the interpretation of the passage remains highly problematic.6

It was not so much, however, the views of contemporary critics such as Varro that underpinned modern skepticism and sustained it for so long, as the hostile, contemptuous attitude expressed by the great Christian writers of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries ce, of whom Augustine was the prime example.7 Their business was to discredit traditional religious practices as a route toward propagating their new faith and destroying any loyalty to the old gods and goddesses that still survived in the Roman West. To do this more effectively, they ransacked pagan Latin writings, particularly those of Varro, for everything that could be regarded by Christian standards as repulsive and irreligious; or that might, alternatively, betray the secret that the leading so-called pagans held views quite different from those of the credulous masses, but concealed them for fear of losing control.

There is no way, and no reason, to challenge all the criticism of pagan gods offered by Christian writers such as Lactantius, Arnobius, and Augustine. At the same time, it is clearly not the best way of assessing the character of any religious tradition to base one’s views primarily on material accumulated by its open enemies with the explicit purpose of destroying it; but this is in effect what the critics of Roman religion did in the course of the 19th century. However, since so much has been made in the past of the assumed inferiority of pagan religion, it is important to recall at once some of its very great strengths: pagan gods and goddesses were in many ways far more accessible to the worshipper than is their universal successor of today: they had human appearance and could be depicted in familiar guise; they appeared in dreams to the pious; they sent messages by recognized routes (oracles, diviners, signs, and prodigies); they were powerful enough to help with human problems, but not so removed from human life as to be beyond imagination; they belonged to local communities and were deeply involved in local festivals and rituals. In many ways they were more like fellow-citizens than slave-masters in the sky. It is quite anachronistic to assume that the educated elites of the ancient world, with whom modern classical scholars tend to have strong sympathies, shared modern monotheistic assumptions.

New Interpretations of the Religious Situation

The radical revision of the earlier negative judgments has resulted in part from detailed re-examination of texts that show quite clearly the great care with which the Romans preserved and maintained the regular worship of their gods and goddesses, not just in the 1st century bce, but throughout the early centuries of the Empire,8 partly from a recognition that the Roman poets reflect the seriousness of their concern with their own traditions and myths;9 partly from a recognition that it makes little sense to argue for a situation in the last two centuries of the Republic in which the Romans claimed, as they did, to be the most religious of peoples10 and were in fact uniquely successful in their enterprises of war, conquest, and the formation of an Empire, exactly where the gods were supposed to help, but never made connections between gods and triumphs.11 The fact is that the deities of Rome were richly rewarded by the successful (and grateful?) imperialists with temples and gifts throughout this period.12 The only escape from this argument is to postulate that there was deep division between the skeptical ruling elite and the credulous masses, a division for which there is little or no serious evidence.13 Of course, here as anywhere else, there will have been individual skeptics and occasional anecdotes, whether apocryphal or not, to imply the currency of skeptical attitudes:

It is a well-known saying of Cato’s that it astonished him that one haruspex

did not burst out laughing when he saw another.14

Haruspices are not Roman priests, but Etruscans. All the same, they played a major role in the religious rituals of Cato’s lifetime (234–149 bce) and the sneer against them is undeniable.

The unifying assumption that underlay these 19th and 20th century judgments was at root quite a simple one, derived from religious assumptions shared by the critics and their ancient Christian authorities, which they would have regarded as a common-sense assumption, scarcely meriting discussion or debate. In its basic form, this would have been the conviction that any rational person would agree, once it was put to her or him, that the idea of there being a single power controlling the cosmos and its working was an infinitely more powerful and plausible conception than that of a multiplicity of distinct deities with limited, local overlapping powers. What is now being recognized is that understanding the religious ideas of an ancient city cannot be achieved by such a simple effort of modern common sense. It should be accepted that we need a new vocabulary and a new set of conceptions, if we want to grasp how ancient human beings interacted with ancient supernatural ones. Our understanding of the religious life of the ancients is interwoven with the problems of the vocabulary we use to describe it. The discussions that follow should not be seen as debates about words, but attempts to disentangle the connection of words with institutions and actions.

However successful the gods, goddesses, men, and women of Rome had been in the republican centuries, the 1st century bce saw the system fall into political conflict, confusion, and eventually civil war. But Augustus Caesar, the victor and heir to Julius Caesar, re-established civic peace and resumed the rapid expansion of the Empire’s borders until it stretched from Spain to Syria and took in swathes of central Europe. The new order created by Augustus was remarkably successful in maintaining widespread order and prosperity, and during these years, the nature of city life was changing in fundamental respects. With long periods of widespread stability, travel, and trading, there came a high degree of mobility of peoples and deities. The cities of both East and West came to find themselves with groups living in tense proximity with Greeks and Romans: first there came groups of Jews, Egyptians, and Syrians, identified on the basis of their ethnicity; later, groups of Christians and others, identifying themselves more specifically by their religious commitments.15 One effect of this population movement must have been to create new linkages at least between urban centers across the width of the Empire. This situation implies two areas of change:


For Greeks and Romans, at least those living in the major cities of both East and West, living in proximity with groups of foreign origin and different religious practices must have become a familiar part of life.


The universal prevalence of slavery throughout the Empire will have meant that the same would have been true even in their homes and on their farms.

Elite Romans probably did not like associating with either of these groups of newcomers, but their existence must over time have widened their knowledge and ideas, arguably including toleration.

The Romans did not seek to regulate the lives of the peoples in their provinces, beyond what they thought necessary to keep order and collect taxes. Worship of the imperial family was expected, but the initiatives were often local and not imposed from the center. In their religious activities, as in their civic lives more generally, local elites were allowed freedom of action in return for accepting and largely administering Roman rule in their areas, subject to limited oversight by Roman administrators. The names of Roman deities are found widely, but often as translations of local gods and goddesses. There is no question that the Empire provided both the context within which the mixture of different practices and the evolution of new ones became possible.16

Discussions Triggered by New Interpretations

What Was Paganism?

As Greek and Roman enquirers looked around the world they knew, they found a great deal of similarity, as well as variety, in detail between the religious practices and ideas of their own societies and those of their contemporaries in other parts of the world they knew. For the most part, they would have found a multiplicity of deities; their gendered division; the regular use of domestic animals as sacrificial victims; the presence and power of priests and diviners of various kinds; a deeply local character in the activities of communities, cities, and tribes; and a close connection between the rituals, the rulers, and the authorities of their societies.

Because they found such widespread similarity, they did not look to classify or give a name to this type of activity, which seemed to them a normal aspect of the life of human societies. We today use the word paganism to describe such religious activities; this provides a useful name (which will be used in this account) for this huge range of religious practices. But the word is a modern invention, intended to bring such practices into line for classification purposes with Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and others. Meanwhile, the Latin word paganus—pagan in English—was not used before the Roman imperial period and was invented by the early Christians to refer to those not of their faith; a recent and highly plausible explanation of the word is that it simply meant a civilian, as opposed to soldiers in the army of Christ.17 Before this invention, nobody thought of her- or himself as a pagan; no such word existed. At the same time, it is important to be aware of the messages encoded in this invented –ism language: Christianity is not an –ism like the others (apparently implying that it, unlike them, conveys the truth), and paganism is further put in its place by the insistence that it (unlike all the others) must be spelled with a lower case p: Judaism, we write, Christianity—but paganism. At the same time, the word is misleading to the non-expert. There are some characteristics that are an essential part of an –ism religion. The member, or at least the student, must be able to expound the beliefs and doctrines, as well as the rituals and ceremonies that go with the name. But so far as we can tell, there is no real common ground among the many varieties of pagans beyond the common belief in there being a substantial number of deities and the attachment of importance to the performing of rituals.

It is true that the ancients already sought to identify equivalences between at least their high gods and goddesses and those of neighboring peoples. As early as Herodotus Book 2, written in the 5th century bce, Greek deities are identified with Egyptian ones.18 Somewhat earlier, Roman deities were matched with Greek ones.19 Similarly, Roman deities were later matched with Celtic ones by Caesar in his Gallic Wars.20 We do not know how this process of identification started, whether through practical contacts or theoretical research, but it must have fostered a general sense that all normal human beings worshipped supernatural beings, with whom they interacted. In fact the assumption was that they worshipped largely the same gods and goddesses, but called them by different, local names. What happened could therefore be called the translation of a set of names into the corresponding set of Greek or Latin ones, which must have presupposed that the correspondences between the deities were already established, albeit newly identified.21

If this is the right interpretation of the overall situation, various implications must follow. First, it is confusing to use the term polytheist, which implies an awareness of and rejection of monotheism. It is important to be conscious of this point because, throughout the centuries, when pagan cults were widespread, we know that in many societies, language could be used that we think of as monotheistic: the many gods and goddesses who were the object of worship could be spoken of as if they formed a unity, or one particular deity might be treated as supreme over the others. Second, it is not at all surprising that there was no effective conception of a religious war between the various pagan peoples, tribes, and cities: the gods of both sides were duly evoked (the playwright Plautus has a neat parody of this custom).22 There can have been no conception of going to war to destroy the religion of the enemy, when there was no awareness of their having a religion of their own rather than worshipping the same gods, each in their own way. We might call this a form of toleration, but it is toleration rooted in indifference not in principle: pagan observers might see the customs of their neighbors as weird or eccentric, but rarely as wrong or wicked. If they did see good reason to condemn a particular religious practice, they felt no compunction based on principle to abstain from banning or expelling the practice.

The Concept of Religion in the Roman Period

A crucial issue is what ought to be included under the category “religion,” if we are not to avoid using the word at all.23 There is no word in either Latin or Greek that corresponds to the range of what we understand by modern terms, but historians often and legitimately introduce terminology that does not correspond to the vocabulary of the past, as long as they define it and relate it to the conditions of the period. Thus the word religion might apply to the complex of rituals, festivals, and practices related to superhuman agents and supervised by the Roman colleges of priests. That definition would exclude areas of activity that we would expect to be included, such as theological ideas and discussions, spiritual advice, guidance for individuals, and explicit concern for the welfare of the poor and sick. However, before pursuing this line of thought, it needs to be remembered that a great deal was thought and done in a city-state, at the level of local areas, families, associations, and groups of various kinds. Rituals wherever conducted would have fallen in principle under the supervision of the city’s priests, but ideas and opinions about gods and goddesses did not. The point was crisply made already by Francis Bacon.24

In that case, it is not so much that the Romans ignored areas that moderns regard as essential components of a religion, as that they did not regard such areas as parts of a single complex conception, but rather categorized them separately. For instance, theology was generally seen as part of philosophy having little to do with priests, diviners, or rituals; religiosity, another word for which there is no Latin equivalent, belonged with myth and poetry; while spiritual support and comfort would have seemed part of family or city life, or perhaps belonging in the sphere of clubs and associations.

It would follow that Christianity, when established, did not so much invent a new form of religious life as bring activities and ideas previously thought of separately under the oversight of ecclesiastical authority. This is why it is so misleading to use the same word priest for both pagan and early Christian religious authorities. Pagan priests were primarily concerned with rituals and, in their capacity as priests, paid little attention to beliefs, while early Christians had little time for rituals and soon began to define and argue about their beliefs. Roman literature, however, does give us at least one example of a priest offering an individual spiritual advice: this happens when the main character in the Golden Ass seeks priestly help as he moves towards acceptance of initiation into the cult of Isis.25

Other elements that were to play an important part in later religious lives, such as martyrdom and conversion, seem not yet to have existed in the republican period. For us, they serve to mark some of the profoundest changes brought about in the years of conflict between the pagan Roman authorities and the new religious forces of the imperial years.

The Character and Role of Beliefs and Believing

Romans, like Greeks, placed a very high value on inherited rituals and on their scrupulous performance. Even the smallest aberration could lead to the failure of the ritual; if the failure could not be remedied, perhaps by the repetition of the ritual, the consequences might be dire. This heavy emphasis on the ritual side of religious action has recently led to the controversial re-assessment of the part played by belief.26 In this debate, there should be no need to question that most Romans accepted the gods and goddesses as a regular and unavoidable part of their lives: all social and political actions involved some act of worship to them; their images were visible everywhere; buildings and offerings for them were ubiquitous. What they might well have said themselves, had they been asked, is not that they “believed,” but that they “knew” the gods existed: the doubt about it is ours, not theirs.27 There is therefore much to be said for the view that belief in the traditional deities in the simplest sense of the word was so much taken for granted that it attracted little attention or conflict. We might call this implicit as opposed to explicit belief.

Belief, in modern religious contexts, is inextricably linked with doubt: both belief and doubt imply uncertainty as to the truth, so the believer is by definition the one who rejects his or her doubts. Logically, at least, believer and doubter ought to share recognition of the uncertainty, though in practice they usually do not. This phenomenon must be limited to circles where religion is a subject of regular debate and discussion and the issue of believing attracts a great deal of conscious attention. We do know of sustained debates between Greek intellectuals from the 6th and 5th century bce onwards.28 Such debates concerned fundamental questions about whether the gods existed, whether they were powerful or powerless, or were simply uninvolved in human affairs.29 But we do not know of anxieties and interrogations about belief in the context of civic life or the duties of priests or magistrates. Persecution does take place, as discussed here, but it is very unusual and may have been linked far more to practices than to belief.

The proposition that pagan religion was primarily a matter of performance rather than belief can lead—and has— led to the suggestion that ritual action was supposed to take place with no accompanying cognitive activity at all. One approach to the evidence, sometimes adopted, is to argue that actual beliefs can be inferred from ritual actions: so we might reconstruct, say, those that underpinned Roman concern about warning messages from the gods. However, reconstruction of this kind is hardly needed when a good deal of recorded thinking does make the required connection between ritual and cognition. It might be argued:


That belief (conviction) was simply taken for granted in religious contexts, but not foregrounded, as it was going to be in in later religious systems. There were no creeds or religious books; no systems for seeking to unify the ideas of citizens; no authority looking out for aberrant ideas.


That ritual inspired reflection—that ritual was good to think with and promoted innovation and exploration, precisely because religious claims always border on the absurd and incomprehensible. Ovid’s Fasti, a poem wholly devoted to the Roman calendar, consists of reflections on ritual, sometimes serious and respectful, sometimes cheeky and flippant, sometimes diversionary and entertaining.30


That the performance of a ritual was in itself a form of expressing belief, for instance that the relations between men and deities were expressed by the performance of a sacrifice.31

All these possible directions of understanding are compatible with the proposition that ritual rather than belief was the main focus of pagan worship, without committing to any total separation of ritual performance from cognition. In different contexts, all these forms of thinking can be seen as creative elements in Roman culture.

New Groups

Persecution for Your Beliefs?

If it is true, as argued today, that Roman emphasis lay on ritual not on belief, we should expect that persecution on religious grounds could scarcely arise, since it belongs to a situation in which there was a common demand for orthodoxy of belief and a search for heresies, as familiarly in later periods. It is, indeed, a widespread suggestion that persecution arrived together with monotheism or at least emerged from the conflict between monotheism and polytheism, and that pagan polytheism was in essence tolerant.32 There is, however, at least one spectacular example in the Roman republican period of a religious movement throughout Italy that was methodically suppressed by the Roman authorities, in a series of campaigns starting in 186 bce. The events of this year are not reliably known in any great detail.33 But there is enough evidence to prove that groups devoted to the worship of one deity, Bacchus, were widespread in a number of areas of Italy; that membership of the groups crossed class, gender, and ethnic boundaries; that the Bacchic groups were violently suppressed, and that the senate subsequently ordered radical reform of their future permissible structure.34

The terms of the Senate’s reform agenda forms a picture of how the groups had been working in the years before the persecution: the Bacchus worshippers were organized in groups; these groups had both priests and lay officials (magistri); there were oaths binding the groups and protecting their secrecy; the members held a common fund; finally, meeting places were used at regular intervals, said to have increased infrequency.35 The Senate’s future settlement allowed worship to continue and female, though not male, priests were to officiate, but it banned all the other practices. Persecution on this scale was a rare event in paganism, and nothing similar happened until the Christians had begun to establish themselves. All the same, many aspects of the situation are illuminating: first, the priestly authorities of Rome played no part in events, while the actors were consuls, senate, and soldiers; second, there seems to have been no vocabulary in use that specifically belonged to a religious area. To express membership, they used the rather odd phrase “they must not go to the Bacchic women.”36

It would be a serious misunderstanding to infer from the apparent lack of priestly involvement, or specialized vocabulary, that the persecution of the Bacchists was regarded as a purely political decision. The Senate, the body that took the major decisions, was the highest authority on all state matters, while the priests, many of whom were senators, acted as advisors not decision-makers on matters concerning the gods and goddesses. Moreover, the persecution was a highly sensitive decision: Bacchus was a powerful god who had strong traditions all over Italy, which explains why the final settlement made such concessions to the continuation of his worship. The important message here is that Rome at this date had no idea of a separate religious decision-making area. There were no boundaries between the political, the social, and the religious.

Two conclusions follow from these arguments: first, that it is quite wrong to claim that paganism was tolerant by its nature and that persecution was invented only later; the situation is rather that most of religious life did not generate conflicts leading to the suppression of any groups, but that the Roman authorities, when they saw a situation they thought dangerous, acted without compunction. Second, there was no separate religious sphere controlled by the priests. The senate decided on the persecution, and they carried it out. The great priestly colleges were powerful in the area of ritual rules and conduct, but they were very far from running a religion as we would understand that conception today.

Religious Associations in the Roman Empire

There is a great deal of evidence concerned with associations, called in Latin collegia, in Greek thiasoi. These groups have quite a wide variety of functions, but also a common structure: they are usually connected to the worship of some deity and have a priest or priestess; the bulk of their members were citizens or freedmen, though slaves in small numbers were also often admitted; they could be democratic in their working, but have non-priestly leaders of different grades; they generally have a common fund. They sometimes have regulations, defining their activities. It used to be argued that their basic function was as burial clubs for the benefit of poor citizens, in effect to insure the costs of the funeral.37 But it is clear today that this is too narrow a definition; the balance of their activities varied and they could be adapted to different purposes. In general, they cannot be characterised as specifically religious institutions, but we have seen that the Bacchic groups of the 3rd and 2nd century bce used this structure and certainly were religious in character. Otherwise, they might be simply social groups, or they might, especially in the troubles of the late Republic, be involved in political agitation.38

Such groups were recognized by the state and in some circumstances could be controlled or even on occasion forbidden by the authorities.39 But they were an accepted feature of Roman life under the Empire, and they clearly provided a recognized structure within which a group of fellow worshippers or immigrants from a particular area could operate and organize their social life. The structure of the association was useful to non-pagans as an acceptable form of being socially visible, but Christians could hardly make use of it while in fear of persecution. It did, however, accommodate the worshippers of Isis, Attis, and Mithras. These quite clearly presented themselves as having origins in the Eastern Mediterranean area, Isis coming from Egypt, Attis from Western Asia, Mithras from Persia.40 There is some disagreement among scholars about the seriousness with which the claim to remote origins should be seen, especially in the case of Mithraism, which was quite probably first invented in the form we know it during the first century ce in the West.41

These so-called “Oriental Religions” have sometimes been put forward as stepping-stones on the way to Christianity, reflecting the inevitability of evolution away from polytheism and toward monotheism. Clearly the members of such groups were, like the Bacchus worshippers of the 2nd century bce, focusing their religious energies on one particular deity in preference to others; it is also possible that the effect would have been to create more space for individual religious experience than had the traditional civic cults.42 They also had an appeal to women and by doing so may well have attracted support and a certain amount of hostility from men.43 In fact, however, all these cults seem to have been compatible with and acceptable to the pagan authorities; after the Bacchanalia, they attracted little persecution, though a good deal of misogynistic abuse from satirists.44 The characteristic step that marks the beginning of conflict between pagans and monotheists is not the proclamation of one god, but the condemnation of pagan gods, whether in the form of denying their power altogether or calling it demonic. Either way, we have no evidence that this conflict arose between the many varieties of paganism. Henotheism, in the sense of emphasizing one of a divine collectivity without denying the others, is a phenomenon that could be and was accommodated within the very wide boundaries of pagan practice.45

Paganism and Christianity

The most sensitive relationship for the present discussion is that between Christians, who were the most creative and innovative of the new groups, and pagans who at least during the 1st and 2nd centuries ce provided the greatest supply of potential converts. The increase in the size of the Christian population was initially very slow and incoherent; but by the end of the third century ce, Christians constituted a major element of the Empire’s population.46 It is very hard to find evidence of Christian efforts to find converts, as one might expect after a long period of expansion.47 It can never be easy in peaceful times to persuade people to abandon the religious practices inherited from their forefathers and mothers, and yet there is little direct evidence of a vigorous Christian mission after the period of Paul and his contemporaries; there is one pagan author who claims that the Christians used to approach families by talking to the women and slaves of the household.48 This may be viewed as a hostile comment, but should serve to remind us that seeking converts would have been a dangerous activity, so long as Christians were a small and persecuted minority. Recording such activities would have been as dangerous as participating—that may partly explain the lack of evidence. It is very unsatisfactory to argue, on the grounds that there is no surviving evidence of a particular development that no such development was occurring. In any case, the growth in Christian numbers by the end of the 3d century ce is itself evidence that recruits were joining; there is no plausible source for the increase except the pagan populations of the Empire.49

There were many differences that marked off the Christian groups from their pagan contemporaries. Some of these were fundamental to the movement and were inherited from their Jewish origins. For instance, they followed Jewish tradition in their acceptance of a holy book, on which the faith was grounded; they took seriously the biblical prophecies that looked forward to the birth of Jesus, who was identified as the Messiah; they rejected all the gods of the gentiles. On the other hand, they later rejected the practice of animal sacrifice, which was common to pagans and Jews, and still regular in the temple-cult as accepted by Jesus and Paul.50 It is highly significant that they rapidly developed a name for their group, the Christians, or followers of Christ, which became widely recognized across the Empire.51 The name was already in use by 112 ce, when Pliny, as Governor of Pontus, reported to Trajan the Emperor (reigned from 98 to 117 ce) about an outbreak of Christian “superstition” in his province, and the Emperor in reply understood what he was referring to.52 The establishment of a name for the group needs to be treated as an important development. The name was already reported in the New Testament.53 Later, the abstract noun formed from it (Christianismos), meaning the Christian way of life, occurs in Ignatius of Antioch, probably writing in the early 2nd century.54 As early as Justin Martyr’s Apology, the claim was made that Christians were being persecuted only because of the name, without their being accused of anything criminal.55

Many of these points of difference would have marked the Christians out as innovative and potential trouble makers. They did not participate in city ritual events; they had widespread contacts outside their local communities; they denied the existence and power of the city’s gods and goddesses; but perhaps worst of all, they came into existence and survived on the basis of attracting new followers and members. To join the Christians, an act had to be performed, through baptism, abandoning the worship of the old gods and goddesses and joining the new group. This act of choice was perhaps the most revolutionary new action. It was quite different from any earlier turning to a new deity, because it involved (as the convert must have realized) the rejection of the past, of rituals stretching back to the origins of their family and community, and the acceptance of a new exclusive form of commitment.

How Did the Groups Perceive Themselves and One Another?

Christian doctrine in antiquity took a very long time to formulate and debate. It is quite clear that originally, whatever pagans may have thought of them, the earliest Christians were an offshoot of Judaism, diverging dramatically in their acceptance of Jesus as the promised Messiah, for whose arrival orthodox Jews had waited and continued to wait. It is a matter of controversy at what date a separation was established and a new canon of writings fixed.56 It is clear in any case that there were many other groups with varying messages, claiming to be in the tradition of Jesus. It must have been difficult for an outsider to have any clear picture of what was happening within the Jewish orbit at this stage or what was involved in becoming a Christian.57

However, it is also far from clear how any of the participants would have represented the character of their own group. We might say with confidence that the various groups must have been in a competition with the others for members. It might also be convenient for us to classify the different groups as religions by arguing that they all offered their own conception of the world, their own systems of worship, and their own relationship to supernatural powers. However, it is not at all obvious that any of the three main participants in this competition would have regarded either their own group or the others as religions, in any sense of that slippery term. They would certainly have thought of their rivals as very different from themselves and from one another. The Jews were identifiable as a people or ethnos, scattered across the world because of their history, but sharing a myth of their origins, strange customs, common ancestors, and above all a book that revealed the story of god and human beings from their origins. At least they could be categorized in terms familiar to pagans, even if they provoked occasional hostility.58 The Christians were also scattered across the world and to some extent kept in contact with their brethren in other parts of the Empire and even outside it. In the early centuries of their existence, there was very little clear determination as to how they were organized. They were also sometimes referred to as an ethnos, but of a new kind, based not on racial descent but on a shared commitment to a leader and prophet.59 Pagans had to be conceived quite differently: they consisted of many peoples across the whole known world having some community of practice, but no joint identity, let alone a shared literary tradition or shared religious doctrines. Each of them did, however, have a similar contact with the centers of power within their own communities.

To lumpers as opposed to splitters,60 it has been appealing to interpret all these developments as a growing conflict between polytheism and monotheism, some rating monotheism as so superior that it could be treated as an inevitable step up in the evolutionary progression of the human race.61 Paganism was thus doomed in advance, and all the historian has to do is track the inevitable progression. In support of this idea, one can certainly quote the ferocious Christian attacks on the Roman gods and goddesses, which they were determined to paint as an assembly of horrors. On the other hand, this type of evidence is particularly unreliable in its characterization of the nature of the opposing groups: to take an extreme view, it could be argued that Christian bishops and their educated followers had a particular investment in portraying the situation as a conflict between clearly defined groups, doing so more in hope than in respect of the current reality, which may have been far more fluid than they would have wished. The ferocity of their argument is an index of the problem they faced. The question of how well defined the groups were.

As we have seen already, polytheism by itself is not a full or proper description of the religious position of the pagans. They generally worshipped many deities and, in the case of the Romans at least, were prepared to identify and accept new ones. But they were also at all periods able to think of the gods as united, sometimes with a specific leader over many; sometimes as a single unit, of which individual gods might be perceived as one element.62 There has also been much discussion of the notion of “henotheism,” which is the promotion of one god or goddess, while still accepting all the others.63 It can also be argued that both polytheism and monotheism are ideal types, never attained in reality, but to be seen as tendencies in opposition with one another. David Hume conceived them in terms of a historical pendulum-swing, either extreme provoking a reaction towards the other, but never reaching a stable state.64

The Emergence and Significance of Competition for Membership

In 1992, this author, in company with Tessa Rajak and Judith Lieu, argued that the effect of the religious changes between the lifetime of Jesus and the adoption of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine was to create a “marketplace in religion,” where nothing of the kind had existed before.65 The idea of using this model was to dramatize the rise of competition among religious groups to attract members, where little if any such competition had existed before; at least, the metaphor was a success in provoking argument and criticism. The three competing groups could be assumed to be at least incipient “religions” and, indeed, that the presence of rivals in the market in the form of Jewish and Christian groups might have had the effect of stimulating pagan self-conscious about their own status as a religion competing with the others.66

This perspective still seems fertile and useful, while exploring the notion of competition between groups must always be essential to understanding what happened; but there are many problems with the application of the market as a model.67 The three competitors in the “market” were very different from one another, especially in their social location. Even if one could argue that each might have seen itself as a religious entity, all three would have had severe doubts as to the status of their rivals. Christians in particular, as shown, viewed pagan practices with horror and, whereas they incorporated both pagan and Jewish writings into their own culture, they seem to have regarded Jesus as having replaced the Jewish religious tradition rather than paralleled it.68 Their respective attitudes towards the recruitment of new members were also very different. Pagans, however erratically, sought to restrain defectors by bullying and persecution. The Jews showed little sign of seeking to recruit new members, though they did always attract some pagan support.69 However, it is quite clear from the expansion of Christian numbers over the period that they willingly accepted recruits, even if there is very little direct evidence of them actively seeking converts in this period.70

It would be valuable to know how the conversion of new members took place, but there is all too little information. The most plausible theory would be that, generation after generation, some pagans, born into pagan families and brought up within pagan culture and traditions, were persuaded to transfer their allegiance, perhaps as family groups rather than individuals. In law and to some extent in reality as well, Roman families were dominated by the eldest surviving male, the paterfamilias, who was the leader of religious activity too. The family, in the Roman understanding of the word, included the slaves owned by the paterfamilias as well as the blood relations and freed people.71 It may be possible to argue that there were processes of change at work, affecting all members of the three groups but producing different results in different areas of life. A candidate for this transforming force might be the individual’s religious experience, moving away from what had previously been a social experience. Arguably, the presence in Judaism and Christianity of concern focused on a highly privileged sacred Book, and the intense reading of that book in a religious space, would have been a strong contributory factor.

It would be an over-simplification to claim that competition was a completely new phenomenon in the religious life of the Empire. The numberless gods and goddesses of the Roman Republic offered many options between which there would have been freedom to choose.72 So far as we know, all members of the community and even slaves might belong to an association that honored a particular deity. Or they could express their gratitude for benefits received or offer gifts and sacrifices in return for benefits requested. All such activity would have fallen within the public and private cults accepted by the city and overseen, in theory, by the priests and the Senate. In Rome itself, even the rituals practiced by families and passed on from generation to generation were controlled by rules defined by the college of pontifices.73 There certainly were choices, however constrained by authority, family, and tradition, that individuals had to take—but nothing with the profound personal implications or hazards of the decision to transfer from pagan or Jew to Christian, or back again.

All the same, using the concept of religion does risk confusion by importing anachronistic ideas. The obvious alternative is to think in terms of the vaguer term religious groups. However, there is a current tendency to argue that groups too are an illegitimate construction, and there is now even a new word to condemn this particular vice—groupism, on the analogy of sexism.74 A definition is needed to understand what might be a religious group in this context. The great innovation in this period is perhaps best thought of in terms of religious identity, a conception, as we have seen, quite inapplicable in the traditional pagan world, where having a religious identity different from your home community was not yet thinkable. By the 3d and 4th century ce, however, a person could meaningfully combine being a Christian or a Jew with continued citizenship of Rome or of other cities of the Empire. A convert from paganism to Christianity would be a Christian as well as Roman and a member of the local community. The conversion might have been dangerous or treated as a criminal act, but it would be comprehensible. It does not follow, of course, that the existence of a religious group implies that all its members had acquired an exclusively Christian identity or spent all their time together pursuing Christian objectives. It is a commonplace that all humans, at least those living in historical periods, have multiple identities and commitments to family, to community, to their trade or circus-faction, and so on. The right of a golf club to be called a club is not challenged because its members share only one of their many different identities. As in any group, there will of course be members more or less committed, those who intend to commit but fail to maintain their intention, those who succeed for a time but drift away, and so on—though also, notoriously, there are those who can think of nothing else but their golf.

There are indeed many questions to be asked about how such religious groups actually worked and whether we should conceive of them as entities of which contemporaries were fully aware or rather as retrospective analytic tools invented by modern scholars. Éric Rebillard, in his ground breaking study of 3rd to 5th century ce Christians in North Africa, has collected the data as to how and where group membership would have been visible and identifiable, using the literary evidence of Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine.75 However careful one may be about avoiding the reification of groups, as Rebillard is, his conclusions would make little sense unless contemporaries at least believed that those who professed themselves Christians were engaging in a communal activity, not just a private whim. It may well be true that the priests and bishops of the new movement were exaggerating the degree of universal commitment, because that is what they were trying to promote.76 But that joining the Christians was a meaningful social act in this period should not be open to doubt.

Does it follow from these arguments that we should no longer be thinking of profound changes in the whole religious order? Was it an exaggeration to talk in terms of revolutionary change? Critics have sought to argue, first, that there had always been choice and competition in pagan religious life. Second, there is a good deal of evidence showing that the role of religious conflict in the Roman Empire has been exaggerated, and there was much peaceful co-existence, even collaboration, across the religious groups.77 So, for instance, there has been much discussion of pagan monotheism as an intermediate phase of the transition to monotheism.78 At the same time, practical considerations would have encouraged if not necessitated collaboration in politics between the various competitors.79 It has to be accepted that much co-existence thrived, at least on a temporary basis; and that education for some time continued to rely on the great pagan classical texts, especially those of Virgil.80 It is also now very clear that too much has been made in the past of a great pagan resistance based in Rome in the 4th century ce.81 It can also be agreed that the decline of animal sacrifice spread gradually across Jews (who always hoped for a restoration of it), Christians (who rejected it from the 2nd century onwards), and finally spread to the pagans as well.82

These studies, and many others, have undoubtedly made major contributions to our understanding of the co-existence of group members in the crucial decades when Christianity was asserting itself for the first time as a major force in the Empire, but still under serious threat of persecution. All the same, such research analyzes the historical changes of the period from a relatively narrow perspective. We need also to assess the effect of changes over the whole period, from the late Republic, through the establishment of the imperial regime, and the subsequent centuries of Roman dominance. In this longer view, the possibility had been established of individual pagans making decisions in the area of their religious commitments that would have been of an importance inconceivable in earlier centuries. The implication would have been that their religious identities (and whatever commitments might have followed from them) could be separated from local, political, social, or economic statuses.

There can be no questioning the fact that profound issues must have been at stake for the individual until the early 4th century: openly abandoning your pagan commitments and declaring yourself a Christian would lead to a radical rethinking of your place in society, it might lead to a complete rupture of relations with your family.83 It could even result in persecution and death. Even if such dramatic consequences were rare in practice (and we have no means of estimating the chances), these were far more seriously life-changing—or life-threatening—decisions than any to be imagined in the religious lives of Romans of the 2nd or 1st century bce.84 Whatever we make of the Christians as they moved toward a position of dominance, men and women of all statuses were living in a religious environment in which the profession of beliefs acquired a new importance. Once a succession of Christian Emperors had been established in the 4th century, the situation was reversed.85 Gone, in any case, were the days when beliefs as such, even if strongly held, were not examined, tested, or concealed, but rather assumed.

Review of the Historiography

The first half of the 20th century saw the reputation of the religious life of Rome at a particularly low ebb. Roman historians, even those who respected and sought to reconstruct the institutions of early Rome, emphasized the decline of these institutions in the middle and late Republic.86 In retrospect, the actual arguments in favor of this view may seem flimsy, but it had been close to being a universally agreed view since the beginning of the history of Roman religion in the early 19th century.87 The idea derived in part from theories that postulated an evolutionary progression starting from the origin of gods and goddesses and leading through polytheism to Judaism and Christianity; polytheism was thus suffering its inevitable phase of decline.88 Another factor in the assessment was an implicit comparison between religious activities in the Greco-Roman world and those in the religions familiar to scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries. Even allowing for the great variety of modern religions, scholars saw ancient religions as defective in the provision of personal, spiritual, and theological experiences. Roman religion in particular was seen as arid and mechanical. Its gods and goddesses had lost the commitment of the city elites and appealed only to popular superstition, and hence lent themselves to elite exploitation.89

The second half of the 20th century saw strong reactions against this characterization. There were various lines of attack: it was argued that relevant texts had been misinterpreted or over-interpreted in the past and that critical judgments were subjective and based on misleading comparisons with some forms of Christianity, especially Protestantism; but perhaps the most powerful arguments were generated by the claims for both Greek and Roman city life that religion should be understood as a civic phenomenon, deeply involved with other aspects of city life, but not conceived as an autonomous area of thought or action, as it was to be in later periods.90 Emphasis was placed on the role of rituals in the maintenance of relations and communication with the city’s gods and goddesses and correspondingly less on the role of beliefs, to which it was claimed relatively limited attention was paid. It was no part of the thesis that the city’s authorities sought to coerce citizens into participation, rather that city rituals set the model for all religious activities within the system, whether public activities or private rituals held by families or by religious associations.91

This position, in turn, drew critical comment on the lines that, when stripped down to its essence, it amounted to saying that pagans in Rome had no belief in their gods and goddesses, but that their religion consisted in performing inherited ritual actions in a mindless way. This was seen as an accidental recapitulation of the position originally under attack.92 Another line of criticism was to emphasize evidence of individual activities as opposed to public or social ones on the grounds that these were outside the civic religion’s remit. In fact, there is no doubt that the priests’ authority went far beyond public rituals, but how effectively they asserted such authority over families and groups is far from easily proved.93 A third, even more fundamental controversy followed, in which it was debated whether it is misleading to use the terms for religion from modern European languages to describe ancient dealings with supernatural beings. It is a fact that there are no Greek or Latin words that can be consistently so translated, and the result of using, say, religion to translate religio is often misleading to readers, who necessarily think in terms of modern institutions, profoundly different from ancient ones.94

At the same time as these debates were in progress, the whole character of the society and culture of the later centuries of the Roman Empire was being re-thought and re-assessed; even more significantly for this discussion, it was recognized that, during its earliest period, Christianity was far from being well understood, that its basic character was constantly being negotiated and defined.95 There can be no doubt that, by the 3rd and 4th centuries ce, competition for membership between groups—at least between pagans, Jews, and Christians—had become a major element in the religious life of the period.96 How the groups were differentiated at the time, how they were interpreted by contemporaries, and what vocabulary we should use in referring to them are all still matters for debate. But the course of events makes it clear enough that, for whatever reasons, the flow of converts was already from paganism into Christianity, before the Emperor Constantine’s actions brought an end to the association between the Roman State and its traditional gods and goddesses.

Further Reading

For original and stimulating essays on the methodology of writing the religious history of any period:

  • Jonathan Z. Smith, Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Good introductions to Roman religion from a pagan viewpoint would be:

  • Beard, Mary, John North, and Simon Price. Religions of Rome, 2 vols. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Rives, James. Religion in the Roman Empire. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.

There has been much debate between those who follow the well-established view that Greek and Roman religion was strongly based on the community and especially the city, the so-called polis, or civic, model, and those who emphasize variation, deviance, and the role of the individual worshipper.

For a recent, very effective, defense of the polis model:

  • Scheid, John, Les dieux l’État et l’individu: réflexions sur la religion civique à Rome. Paris: Seuil, 2013.
  • Scheid, John, and Clifford Ando. The Gods, the State, and the Individual. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. English translation of Scheid.

For recent exploration of the role of the individual:

  • Rebillard, Éric, and Jörg Rüpke, eds., Group Identity and Religious Individuality in Late Antiquity. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2015.

The early history of Christianity and its relationship to the Jewish tradition from which it derived has been the site of much debate, leading to a wide range of different approaches, for instance:

  • Byron, Gay. Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature. New York: Routledge, 2002.
  • Cameron, Averil. Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse. Sather Classical Lectures 55. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
  • Lieu, Judith. Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Paget, J. Carleton, and Judith Lieu, eds., Christianity in the Second Century: Themes and Developments. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

On the relationship between the emerging character of Christianity in late antiquity and the Roman Empire within which it grew up:

  • Elm, Susanna. Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church: Emperor Julian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Vision of Rome. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

Thinking about the gods of Greeks and Romans is found in Greek as well as Roman studies: Henk Versnel’s work argues that it is a mistake to try imposing a system on a multiplicity of gods in constant evolution:

  • Versnel, Henk. Ter Unus: Isis, Dionysos, Hermes: Three Studies in Henotheism. Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion, I. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1990.
  • Versnel, Henk. Transition and Reversal in Myth and Ritual, Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion, II. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1993.

Peter Brown’s work over recent decades has brought about fundamentally new ways of thinking about Christianity in its later imperial context. One very influential contribution was:

  • Brown, Peter. The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. Haskell Lectures 1978. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Eighteen years later, Brown’s work produced a whole volume of discussions and appreciations:

  • Howard-Johnston, James, and Paul Antony Hayward, eds., The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and Middle Ages. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

More recently:

  • Brown, Peter. Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.

For controversial, but very interesting attempts to look at religious history as part of the evolution of the culture of homo sapiens:

  • Bellah, Robert. Religion in Human Evolution: From the Palaeolithic to the Axial Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2011.
  • Bellah, Robert, and Hans Joas, eds. The Axial Age and Its Consequences. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.

In recent years, cognitive scientists, anthropologists, and philosophers have developed a new approach to the understanding of religions of the past and present, called CSR, or the cognitive science of religion. The idea, dismissed by many scholars of classical antiquity and ancient history, has begun to make some impression on the study of ancient religion. An example of this approach, chosen from among a large body of work:

  • Lawson, Thomas, and Robert McCauley. Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.


  • 1. Only fragments of Varro’s Divine Antiquities survive, ed. Burkhart Cardauns (Mainz, Germany: Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, 1976).

  • 2. For arguments by major historians claiming religious decline, see W. Warde Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People from the Earliest Times to the Age of Augustus (London: Macmillan, 1911), 270–379; and K. Latte, Römische Religionsgeschichte, Müller’s Handbuch 5.4 (Munich: Beck, 1960), 264–293. For a thoughtful account of the history of Roman religion, see John Scheid, “L’impossible polythéisme: Les raisons d’un vide dans l’histoire de la religion romaine,” in L’impensable polythéisme. Études d’historiographie religieuse, ed. F. Schmidt, (Paris: Editions des archives contemporaines, 1988), 425–457.

  • 3. See, for instance, in The Individual in the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean, ed. Jörg Rüpke, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); James Rives, Religion in the Roman Empire (Malden MA: Blackwell, 2007), 9–12; and on individualism, see Jörg Rüpke and Wolfgang Spickermann, eds., Reflections on Religious Individuality (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012).

  • 4. Varro, Divine Antiquities, fgt. 2d ed. Cardauns, (as summarized by Augustine at City of God 6.2).

  • 5. John Scheid, “Hiérarchie et structure dans le polythéisme romain: Façons romaines de penser l’action,” Archiv fur Religionsgeschichte 1.2 (1999): 184–203; and John Scheid, “Hierarchy and Structure in Roman Polytheism: Roman Methods of Conceiving Action,” in Roman Religion, ed. Clifford Ando (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003), 164–189.

  • 6. For Varro’s view more generally, see John North, “The Limits of the ‘Religious’ in the late Roman Republic,” History of Religions 53 (2014): 225–245; and see Jörg Rüpke, “Varro’s tria genera theologiae: Religious Thinking in the Late Republic,” Ordia Prima 4 (2005): 107–129.

  • 7. For Augustine’s treatment of Varro, see Harald Hagendahl, Augustine and the Latin Classics, vol. 2: Augustine’s Attitude, Studia Graeca et Latina Gothoburgensia (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1967), 601–630.

  • 8. For the continuity of Roman practice in the later imperial period, see John Scheid, “Roman Animal Sacrifice and the System of Being,” in Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifices: Ancient Victims, Modern Observers, ed. Christopher Faraone and F. S. Naiden (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 84–95; and Nicole Belayche, “Ritus et Cultus ou Superstitio,” in Le code Théodosien: Diversité des Approches et Nouvelles Perspectives, ed. Sylvie Crogiez-Pétrequin and Pierre Jaillette, Collection de l’École Française de Rome 412 (Rome: École Française de Rome,2009), 191–208.

  • 9. Dennis Feeney, Literature and Religion at Rome: Cultures, Contexts and Beliefs (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 123–133.

  • 10. See e.g., Cicero, Nature of the Gods and On Divination 2.8 (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1997).

  • 11. See, e.g., the claims made in a letter to the people of Teos in 190 bce: “The fact that we have, absolutely and consistently, treated reverence towards the gods as of the highest importance is proven by the favour we have received as a result.” SIG3 601 ed. W. Dittenberger, (Leipzig, Germany: Hirzel, 1917), 133–134; and Robert K. Sherk, ed., Rome and the Greek East to the Death of Augustus (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984), doc. 8, 9–10.

  • 12. Eric Orlin, Temples, Religion, and Politics in the Roman Republic (New York: Brill, 1997), 34–75, with a list of temple foundations at 199–202.

  • 13. Arnaldo Momigliano, “Popular Religious Beliefs and Later Roman Historians,” Studies in Church History 8 (1971): 1–18 (reprinted in his Quinto contributo alla storia degli studi classici e del mondo antico (Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 1975), 75–92) is sometimes cited in this regard, but the article in fact deals with history writing only.

  • 14. Vetus autem illud Catonis admodum scitum est, qui mirari se aiebat quod non rideret haruspex haruspicem cum vidisset (Cicero, Nature of the Gods and On Divination, 2. 24 51).

  • 15. On this mobility, see James Rives, Religion in the Roman Empire (Malden MA: Blackwell, 2007), 132–141.

  • 16. Hubert Cancik and Jörg Rüpke, eds., Römische Reichsreligion und Provinzialreligion (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1997) includes the chapter Jörg Rüpke, “Römische Religion und ‘Reichsreligion’: Begriffsgeschichtliche und methodische Bemerküngen,” at 3–24; John North and Simon Price, The Religious History of the Roman Empire: Pagans, Jews and Christians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 9–36; also Greg Woolf, “Polis-Religion and its Alternatives in the Roman Provinces,” in Roman Religion, ed. Clifford Ando, (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2003), 71–84; Clifford Ando, The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 200); and Clifford Ando, Religion et gouvernement dans l’empire romain, Bibl. de l’École des Hautes Études, Sciences Religieuses (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2016), 172.

  • 17. Alan D. E. Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 14–25.

  • 18. Herodotus 2.42–50.

  • 19. Mary Beard, John North, and Simon Price, Religions of Rome, 2 vols. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998), vol. 2, 19–22.

  • 20. John North, “Caesar on religio,” in Gods of the Others, ed. J. Rüpke, Archiv fur Religionsgeschichte, 15 (2014): 167–200.

  • 21. On the notion of the translatability of gods, see Jan Assmann, Of God and Gods: Egypt, Israel, and the Rise of Monotheism (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008), 54–58.

  • 22. War-rituals parodied at Plautus, Amphitruo, 184–247; both generals take vows to Iuppiter at 229–230, before addressing their troops. But note that the comment by the god Mercury (at ll. 248–249) implies that the whole account was a fiction.

  • 23. As some have recommended: see, Brent Nongbri, Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013). An argument not without merit, but limited by a failure to distinguish consistently between proving the existence of a religion in Rome and proving contemporary awareness of a concept of religion in Rome

  • 24. Francis Bacon, Essays, 3: Of Unity in Religion, “The quarrels and divisions about Religion were evils unknown to the Heathen. The reason was, because the Religion of the heathen consisted rather in Rites and Ceremonies than in any constant belief. For you may imagine what kind of faith theirs was when the chief Doctors and Fathers of their Church were the Poets.”

  • 25. See Apuleius, Golden Ass, 11.15–16. Cf. Arthur D. Nock, Conversion: The Old and the New in Religion from Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo (Oxford: Clarendon, 1933), 140–155; and Jan Bremmer, “The Representation of Priests and Priestesses in the Pagan and Christian Greek Novel,” in Historical and Religious Memory in the Ancient World, ed. B. Dignas and R. R. R. Smith, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 136–161.

  • 26. For the debate on belief: Malcolm Ruel “Christians as Believers,” in Religious Organization and Religious Experience, ed. J. Davis. ASA Monograph 21 (1982); reprinted in Malcolm Ruel, Belief, Ritual, and the Securing of Life (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997), 36–59; Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) (esp. on the relation between thought and action); Nancy K. Frankenberry, ed., Radical Interpretation in Religion (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002); esp. Maurice Bloch, “Are Religious Beliefs Counter-Intuitive?” in Frankenberry, Radical Interpretation in Religion, 129–148; and E. Eidinow, J. Kindt, and R. Osborne, eds., Theologies of Ancient Greek Religion (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. 2016). On Rome in particular, see Simon Price, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 7–11; Charles King, “The Organization of Roman Religious Beliefs,” Classical Antiquity 22.2 (2003), 275–312; John Scheid, Quand faire c’est croire: Les rites sacrificiels des Romains (Paris: Aubier, 2005); Henk Versnel, “Did the Greeks Believe in their Gods?” in Coping with the Gods: Wayward Readings in Greek Theology, (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011) Appendix IV: 539–559; and Jason Davies, “The Values of Belief: Ancient Religion, Cognitive Science, and Interdisciplinarity,” in Theorizing Religion in Antiquity, ed. Nickolas Roubekas (Equinox, forthcoming, 2018).

  • 27. On belief and doubt: see Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt, a History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy Of Innovation (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003), see esp. xii–xvi.

  • 28. Xenophanes of Colophon (late 6th-early5th century bce) Fragments, ed. and trans., with commentary, J. H. Lesher, Phoenix, Supp. vol. 32 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), 78–119.

  • 29. As argued by the Epicureans: see Anthony Long and David Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers. vol. 1 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 139–149; Dirk Obbink, “‘All Gods Are True’ in Epicurus,” in Dorothea Frede and André Laks, eds., Traditions of Theology: Studies in Hellenistic Theology, Its Background and Aftermath (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002), 183–221. On issues of fate and determinism: Tim O’Keefe, Epicurus on Freedom (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

  • 30. On Ovid’s Fasti, see Feeney, Literature and Religion at Rome, 123–136 (see note 9); Carol Newlands, Playing with Time: Ovid and the Fasti (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995); on the creativity of reactions to ritual and its evolution, Sally Humphreys, The Strangeness of Gods: Historical Perspectives on the Interpretation of Athenian Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), esp. 223–275; and on the role of books in the religious experience of Rome, see

    D. Macrae, Legible Religion: Books, Gods, and Rituals in Roman Culture (Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2016).

  • 31. Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, ch. 4; and John Scheid, Quand faire c’est croire (see note 26).

  • 32. See Jan Assmann (see note 21) for the view that intolerance develops from the distinction between false and true religion, originating in monotheism: the argument is qualified in Jan Assmann, Die Mosaische Unterscheidung: Oder der Preis des Monotheismus (Munich, Germany: Hansen, 2003), esp. 28–37. In English, Robert Savage, trans., The Price of Monotheism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010), esp.15–23. For reaction, see Christophe Markschies, “The Price of Monotheism,” in One God: Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire, ed. Stephen Mitchell and Peter van Nuffelen (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 100–111.

  • 33. The details of Livy, 39.8–19, are far from reliable: discussion in Clara Gallini, Protesta e Integrazione Nella Roma Antica (Bari, Italy: Laterza, 1970); John North, “Religious Toleration in Republican Rome,” in Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 1979, 85–103; Clifford Ando, Roman Religion; Jean-Marie Pailler, La Repression de 186 av. J.-C. à Rome et en Italie. BÉFAR 270 (Rome: École française de Rome, 1988); and Jean Christian Dumont, Servus: Rome et l’esclavage sous la République (Rome: École française de Rome, 1987), 169–197.

  • 34. A copy survives of a letter publishing the Senate’s regulation of the cult: A. Degrassi, Inscriptiones Latinae Liberae Reipublicae, II. no. 511; and Beard, North, and Price, Religions of Rom, vol. 2.12.1b.

  • 35. According to Livy’s account of the evidence presented to the authorities, at Livy 39.13.9, they were to meet five times a month instead of three times a year.

  • 36. Livy, 39.8–19, lines 7–9.

  • 37. Philip Harland, Dynamics of Identity in the World of the Early Christians: Associations, Judaeans, and Cultural Minorities (New York: T&T Clark, 2009); Richard Ascough, Philip Harland, & John Kloppenborg, Associations in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012); and Andreas Bendlin, “Associations, Funerals, Sociality and Roman Law: The Collegium of Diana and Antinous in Lanuvium CIL 14.2112 reconsidered,” 207–296.

  • 38. On the collegia in politics, see Augusto Fraschetti, Roma e il Principe (Roma-Bari, Italy: Laterza, 1990), 226–236.

  • 39. Famously, Trajan, in Pliny, Letters 10.34, even forbade the formation of a fire brigade on security grounds.

  • 40. Giulia Sfameni Gasparro, Soteriology and Mystic Aspects in the Cult of Cybele and Attis. EPRO 103 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1985); Jonathan Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990); Richard Gordon, Image and Value in the Graeco-Roman World: Studies in Mithraism and Religious Art (Aldershot, U.K.: Variorum, 1996); Richard Gordon, “Ritual and Hierarchy in the Mysteries of Mithras” in ARYS, Antigüedad: Religiones y Sociedades 4 (2001): 245–273; North and Price, Religious History of the Roman Empire, 325–365; Roger Beck, Beck on Mithraism: Collected Works with New Essays, Ashgate Contemporary Thinkers on Religion: Collected Works (Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2004); Jaime Alvar, trans. and ed. Richard Gordon, Romanising Gods: Myth, Salvation, and Ethics in the Cults of Cybele, Isis, and Mithras, Religions in the Graeco-Roman World (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008); Anna Collar, Religious Networks in the Roman Empire. The Spread of New Ideas (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 79–145 (on Iuppiter Dolichenus); John North, “Power and its Redefinitions: The Vicissitudes of Attis,” in Panthée: Religious Transformations in the Graeco-Roman Empire, ed. L. Bricault and C. Bonnet (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. 2013), 279–292; and James B. Rives, Religion in the Roman Empire, Vol 1: Individual Appropriation in Lived Ancient Religion (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2015).

  • 41. Roger Beck, “The Mysteries of Mithras: A New Account of their Genesis,” Journal of Roman Studies 88 (1998): 115–128.

  • 42. For arguments about individualism, see ed. Jörg Rüpke and Wolfgang Spickermann, Reflections on Religious Individuality (RGVV 62. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012); ed. Jörg Rüpke, The Individual in the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013), esp. Greg Woolf, “Ritual and the Individual in Roman Religion,” at 136–160; Nicole Belayche, “Individualization and Religious Rhetoric in Imperial Anatolia” at 243–266; ed. Éric Rebillard and Jörg Rüpke, Group Identity and Religious Individuality in Late Antiquity. CUA studies in early Christianity (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2015). Isabella Sandwell, Religious Identity in Late Antiquity: Greeks Jews and Christians in Antioch (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007). For the idea of the Oriental cults being “stepping-stones,” see the hugely influential work of Franz Cumont, Les religions orientales dans le paganisme romain: conférences faites au Collège de France en 1905 (4th ed. Paris, Geuthner, 1929); on Cumont’s ideas, see, R. L. Gordon, Cumont and the doctrines of Mithraism, in Mithraic Studies, vol. 1, ed. J. R. Hinnells (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1975), 215–248.

  • 43. For the place of women in religious life: Ross Shepard Kraemer, Her Share of the Blessings: Women’s Religions among Pagans, Jews and Christians in the Graeco-Roman World (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992); ed. Emily Hemelrijk and Greg Woolf, Women and the Roman City in the Latin West. Mnemosyne Supplement 360 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013), 109–168; K. Cooper, “The Household as a venue for Religious Conversion: the case of Christianity,” in A Companion to Families in the Greek and Roman Worlds, ed. B. Rawson (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).

  • 44. See, for example, Juvenal, Satire 6.522–541; in English, Beard, North, and Price, trans., Religions of Rome, II.12.4d; and in general see the texts at 297–304.

  • 45. On henotheism, see Henk Versnel, Ter Unus, Isis, Dionysos, Hermes: Three Studies in Henotheism, Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion, I (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1990); and Henk Versnel, Appendix II “Unity and Diversity: One God or Many?” in Coping with the Gods: Wayward Readings in Greek Theology, Readings in the Graeco-Roman World, 173 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011), 517–525.

  • 46. K. Hopkins, “Christian Number and its Implications,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 6 (1998), 185−226; and Jan Bremmer, “Perpetua and Her Diary,” in W. Ameling, Martyrer und Martyrakten (Stuttgart, Germany: Steiner, 2002), 77–120 (esp. 84–86).

  • 47. Ramsay Macmullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire (100–400 ad) (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 25–42.

  • 48. Celsus, as quoted by Origen, Contra Celsum 3.55, trans. H. Chadwick (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1953), 165–166.

  • 49. For an alternative explanation, but to my mind speculative and unconvincing, see Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 49–71 and 95–128.

  • 50. Maria-Zoe Petropoulou, Animal Sacrifice in Ancient Greek Religion, Judaism, and Christianity, 100 BC to AD 200 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 127–206.

  • 51. So far as our evidence goes, other groups in the Greco-Roman era (worshippers of Attis, Isis, Mithras, etc.) did not exploit group-names in this way.

  • 52. Epistles 10.96 (where Pliny says: “I have never attended hearings about Christians .|.|.”); and 10.97 (Trajan’s reply).

  • 53. Acts of the Apostles 11.26.

  • 54. Ignatius, Letter to the Magnesians 10.1.

  • 55. Justin Martyr, Apology 1.4; and see also Apology 2.2.16.

  • 56. Judith Lieu, Neither Jew nor Greek? Constructing Early Christianity (New York: T&T Clark, 2002), 11–29 and 69–79; Judith Lieu, “The Forging of Christian Identity and the Letter to Diognetus,” in Lieu, Neither Jew nor Greek? 171–189; and Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). See also Seth Schwartz, Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 BCE to 640 CE (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 103–161.

  • 57. On Christian explanations of themselves: Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman, and Simon Price, eds. Apologetics in the Roman Empire: Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greek East (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); for a pagan effort to characterize such a group, in Palestine, see Lucian, Death of Peregrinus 11–16; on which see J. A. North, “Pagan Attitudes,” in Christianity in the Second Century: Themes and Developments, ed. J. Carleton Paget and J. Lieu (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 265–280.

  • 58. Tessa Rajak, “Jews, Pagans, and Christians in Late Antique Sardis: Models of Interaction” in The Jewish Dialogue, 447–462.

  • 59. Denise K. Buell, Why This New Race: Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).

  • 60. For the origin of these terms, see J. H. Hexter, On Historians: Reappraisals of Some of the Masters of Modern History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), 242, reviewing the work of Christopher Hill.

  • 61. For the influence of evolutionary theories of religious history: John Scheid, “L’impossible polythéisme” (see note 2); and J. A. North, “The Religion of Rome from Monarchy to Principate,” in Companion to Historiography, ed. M. Bentley (London: Routledge, 1997), 59–62.

  • 62. For the Greek and pre-Greek origins of these ideas, see M. L. West, “Towards Monotheism,” in Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity, ed. Polymnia Athanassiadi and Michael Frede (New York: Clarendon, 1999), 21–40.

  • 63. See Versnel, Coping with the Gods (see note 45).

  • 64. John North, “Pagans, Polytheists, and the Pendulum,” in The Spread of Christianity in the First Four Centuries, ed. William Harris, Columbia Studies in the Classical Tradition (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005), 125–143. For an attempt to show that this paper argues the opposite of what the author intended, see P. van Nuffelen, in ed. Eidinow, Kindt and Osborne, Theologies of Ancient Greek Religion, 343–347.

  • 65. Judith Lieu, John North, and Tessa Rajak, (eds.), The Jews Among Pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire (London: Taylor & Francis, 1992), 1–8; John North: “The Development of Religious Pluralism,” in The Jews Among Pagans and Christians, 174–193.

  • 66. The thought is raised—tentatively—in Lieu, North, and Rajak, The Jews Among Pagans and Christians, at 188–189.

  • 67. Andreas Bendlin uses the model in a different context, in “Looking Beyond The Civic Compromise: Religious Pluralism in Late Republican Rome,” in Religion in Archaic and Republican Rome and Italy: Evidence and Experience, ed. Christopher Smith and Edward Bispham (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), 115–135; and Roger Beck, “Rodney Stark and the ‘Mission to the Jews:’,” in Religious Rivalries in the Early Roman Empire and the Rise of Christianity, ed. Leif Vaage (Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2006), 233–252, where Beck is critical of a different version of the market model, that of Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity, 53.

  • 68. Eusebius in his Demonstratio Evangelica treats the history of Judaism after Moses as a deviation from the patriarchs, whose tradition had now been resumed in Christianity; see Sébastien Morlet, La Démonstration évangélique d’Eusèbe de Césarée: étude sur l’apologétique chrétienne à l’epoque de Constantin (Paris: Institut d’études augustiniennes, 2009).

  • 69. Martin Goodman, Mission and Conversion: Proselytizing in the Religious History of the Roman Empire (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994), 60–90. On the god-fearers, see Joyce Reynolds and R. Tannenbaum, Jews and Godfearers at Aphrodisias, Cambridge Philological Society, Suppl. 12 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge Philological Society, 1987).

  • 70. As argued by MacMullen, Christianising the Roman Empire.

  • 71. The Roman family: Jane Gardner, Family and Familia in Roman Law and Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); and Beryl Rawson, ed. A Companion to Families in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).

  • 72. See Andreas Bendlin, Religion in Archaic and Republican Rome and Italy.

  • 73. As discussed at length in Cicero, On Laws, 2.47–53.

  • 74. See Éric Rebillard, Christians and Their Many Identities in Late Antiquity, North Africa, 200–450 CE (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 1–3.

  • 75. Rebillard, Christians and Their Many Identities.

  • 76. On the power of bishops in the late Empire, see Éric Rebillard and Claire Sotinel (eds.), L’évêque dans la cité du IVe au Ve siècle: Image et autorité: Actes de la table ronde organisée par l’Istituto patristico Augustinianum (Rome: École française de Rome, 1998); esp. Lellia Cracco Ruggini “Vir sanctus: il vescovo e il suo “public ufficio sacro” nella città,” at 3–15. For the role of Christian rhetoric, see Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse, Sather Classical Lectures, 55 (Berkeley: University of California Press), 120–154.

  • 77. On the degree of commitment to be expected by members of the various groups, see Simon Price, “Homogeneity and Diversity in the Religions of Rome,” Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 5 (2003), 180–197.

  • 78. On pagan monotheism, Athanassiadi and Frede, Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity (see note 29); Stephen Mitchell and Peter van Nuffelen, ed. Monotheism Between Pagans and Christians in Late Antiquity (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2010); and Stephen Mitchell and Peter van Nuffelen, eds., One God: Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

  • 79. Peter Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992); and on the gradual development of interactions: Érik Rebillard, Christians and Their Many Identities.

  • 80. On the continued influence of the pagan paideia: see Peter Brown, Power and Persuasion, 86, 35–70; Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire, 82, 84–87; and Sébastien Morlet, Les Chrétiens at la culture: Conversion d’un concept (IeVIe siècle) (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2016).

  • 81. Alan D. E. Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome (see note 17); and see reactions in Rita Lizzi Testa, ed. The Strange Death of Pagan Rome (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2013), esp. Guido Clemente’s “Introduction,” at 13–29.

  • 82. Guy Stroumsa, La fin du sacrifice: Les mutations religieuses de l’Antiquité tardive (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2005); and Guy Stroumsa, “The End of Sacrifice Revisited,” in Philosophy and the End of Sacrifice: Disengaging Sacrifice in Ancient India, Greece and Beyond, ed. Peter Jackson and Anna-Pya Sjödi (Sheffield, U.K.: Equinox, 2016), 99–121. However, see note 8 for the persistence of the pagan sacrificial tradition.

  • 83. See for instance, Justin the Martyr’s story of a wife’s conversion, with discussion by P. Lorraine Buck, “The Pagan Husband in Justin 2 Apology, 2.1-20,” Journal of Theological Studies 53.2 (2002), 541–546; and see Averil Cameron, “Early Christianity and the Discourse of Female Desire” in Women in Ancient Societies, ed. Leonie Archer, Susan Fischler, and Maria Wyke (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1994).

  • 84. Except presumably at the time of the Bacchanalia, 15–17.

  • 85. Marie-Francoise Baslez, ed, Chrétiens persécuteurs: Destructions, exclusions, violences religieuses au IVe siècle (Paris: Albin Michel, 2014).

  • 86. See the accounts of Fowler, Religious Experience, and Latte, Religionsgechichte (both in note 2).

  • 87. The earliest discussion, concentrating on the notion of decline (Verfall), was that of L. Krahner, Grundlinien zur Geschichte des Verfalls der römischen Staatsreligion bis auf die Zeit des Augustus (Halle, Germany: Buchh. Des Waisenhauses, 1837)

  • 88. Hermann Usener, Götternamen: Versuch einer Lehre von der religiösen Begriffsbildung (Bonn, Germany: Cohen, 1896) offered a very influential discussion of staged religious evolution. See Scheid, L’impossible polythéism 434–435 (see note 2).

  • 89. For the origin of these views, see G. W. F. Hegel, “Lecture Manuscript,” in Lectures on the History of Religion II, ed. P. Hodgson, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 211–231; with Scheid, L’impossible polythéisme, 434–435 (see note 2). For religion as a political tool, see L. Ross Taylor, Party Politics in the Age of Caesar (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1949), 76–97.

  • 90. Discussion of Polis religion, in the context both of Greek and Roman religious systems, originated with C. Sourvinou-Inwood, “What Is Polis-Religion?” in Oxford Readings in Greek Religion, ed R. Buxton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 13–37; and see the arguments as related to Rome in J. Scheid, Les dieux l’État et l’individu: réflexions sur la religion civique à Rome (Paris: Seuil, 2013). This was translated and with a forward, by Clifford Ando, The Gods, the Household and Family Religion in AntiquityState and the Individual (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).

  • 91. See J. Bodel, “Cicero’s Minerva, Penates, and the Mother of the Lares: An Outline of Roman Domestic Religion,” in Household and Family Religion in Antiquity, ed. John Bodel and Saul Olyan (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008), 248–255.

  • 92. For this argument, see Bendlin, Religion in Archaic and Republican Rome and Italy.

  • 93. See Bodel, in Bodel and Olyan Household and Family Religion, 251.

  • 94. For the bibliography on this topic see Ruel, in Religious organization and religious experience; Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice; Bloch, in Frankenberry, Radical Interpretation in Religion; Eidinow, Kindt, and Osborne, Theologies of Ancient Greek Religion; Price, Rituals and Power; King, “The Organization of Roman Religious Beliefs”; Scheid, Quand faire c’est croire; Versnel, Coping with the Gods; Davies in Roubekas, Theorizing Religion in Antiquity; and Hecht, Doubt, a History (see notes 26 and 27 for full information).

  • 95. For a challenge to this view: see now L. Ayres, “Continuity and Change in Second-Century Christianity: A Narrative Against the Trend,” in Paget and Lieu, Christianity in the Second Century, 106–121 (see note 57).

  • 96. Recent discussions of religious competition in this period include D. Engels and P. Van Nuffelen, eds., Religion and Competition in Antiquity (Brussels: Editions Latomus, 2014); Jordan D. Rosenblum, Lilly C. Vuong, and Nathaniel P. DesRosiers, eds., Religious Competition in the Third Century CE: Jews, Christians, and the Greco-Roman World (Göttingen, Germany: Vanderhock & Ruprecht, 2014).