Christianity slowly emerged and began to spread during a period of peace and prosperity within the Roman Empire. However, early followers of this new, monotheistic faith were sometimes met with brutality and hardship for their beliefs. How did the Roman legal system react towards early Christianity? Was there a law against Christianity? Who persecuted Christians? What options did Christians have if brought to trial?
To answer these questions we will review the reports of Christian apologists, ancient historians, and the correspondence between the emperor Trajan and his governor Pliny regarding the treatment of Christians. We will challenge these accounts by analyzing primary sources to discover how the legal system worked in recorded trials. Topics include origins of the Roman-Christian-Jewish communities in the Roman world, relations between the three communities, Roman law, persecutors and prosecutors.
By completion of this course, successful students will be able to:
1. Describe the importance of religion in Roman society
2. Discuss Christianity’s status within the Roman legal system
3. Evaluate the various ways the Roman legal system dealt with foreign religions
4. Develop a perception of the tension between the Roman/ Christian/ Jewish communities
5. Identify persecutors and prosecutors and the roles they played in Christian trials