Worshippers of the Gods

ISBN : 9780190082444

Mattias Philip Gassman
256 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Jul 2020
Oxford Studies in Late Antiquity
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Worshippers of the Gods tells how the Latin writers who witnessed the political and social rise of Christianity rethought the role of traditional religion in the empire and city of Rome. In parallel with the empire's legal Christianisation, it traces changing attitudes toward paganism from the last empire-wide persecution of Christians under the Tetrarchy to the removal of state funds from the Roman cults in the early 380s. Influential recent scholarship has seen Christian polemical literature-a crucial body of evidence for late antique polytheism-as an exercise in Christian identity-making. In response, Worshippers of the Gods argues that Lactantius, Firmicus Maternus, Ambrosiaster, and Ambrose offered substantive critiques of traditional religion shaped to their political circumstances and to the preoccupations of contemporary polytheists. By bringing together this polemical literature with imperial laws, pagan inscriptions, and the letters and papers of the senator Symmachus, Worshippers of the Gods reveals the changing horizons of Roman thought on traditional religion in the fourth century. Through its five interlocking case studies, it shows how key episodes in the Empire's religious history-the Tetrarchic persecution, Constantine's adoption of Christianity, the altar of Victory affair, and the 'disestablishment' of the Roman cults-shaped contemporary conceptions of polytheism. It also argues that the idea of a unified 'paganism', often seen as a capricious invention, actually arose as a Christian response to the eclectic, philosophical polytheism in vogue at Rome.


List of abbreviations
1. 'Like a Stream of Tullian Eloquence': Lactantius, Cicero, and the Critique of Roman Religion in the Divine Institutes
2. On the Error of Profane Religions: Emperors and Traditional Religion after Constantine
3. 'The Manifold Divinity of the Gods': 'Paganism' in Fourth-Century Rome
4. Rome, Religion, and Christian Emperors: Rethinking the Altar of Victory Affair
5. Commemorating Vettius Agorius Praetextatus: Senators and Traditional Religion in 380s Rome

About the author: 

Mattias Gassman is a Latinist and Roman historian. In 2017, he completed his doctorate in Classics at the University of Cambridge. His research, which includes articles on Cyprian of Carthage, Cyril of Jerusalem, Orosius, and Augustine, focuses on late antique reception of Classical literature and the intersection of religion, politics, and literary culture in the later Roman Empire.

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