The Emperor Domitian and the obedience of Christianity to the late-Roman state

Harmes, Marcus (2008) The Emperor Domitian and the obedience of Christianity to the late-Roman state. In: Welcoming the Stranger in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, 1-3 Oct 2008, Brisbane, Australia.

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Abstract

This paper examines the Christian Church as a stranger in the Roman state from the second to fourth centuries. It explores the hitherto under-examined tradition of a persecution of Christians by the emperor Domitian (81-96), as encountered in texts from the second century onwards. Domitian’s persecution comes across in many Christian sources as a nebulous and half-hearted follow-up to the Neronian, but this paper argues for a more precise understanding of accounts of Domitian’s persecution, an understanding which gains cohesion from the idea of strangers in the Roman world.

This paper will examine the narratives of Domitian’s acts offered by early Christian writers, including Melito of Sardis, Tertullian, Clement of Rome, Malalas and Eusebius as they interpreted and embellished this tradition. These texts indicate that the propagation of the tradition of persecution served specific ends for the Early Church and this paper argues against viewing these stories simply as hagiography. Instead the portrayal of Domitian in Christian sources relates to the evolution of the Church in relation to Roman civil authorities.

Study of this persecution reveals that members of the Early Church showed their willingness to obey civil authorities. Bishops such as Melito and Clement used Domitian as an example of a ‘bad’ emperor to show their concomitant obedience to a ‘good’ emperor who did not persecute Christians. Domitian’s reputation was crucial to this strand of thought, as these writers reveal Christians as a stranger community making themselves seem less strange and more obedient to the Roman state.


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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Paper)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Faculty / Department / School: Historic - Faculty of Arts - No Department
Date Deposited: 20 May 2014 05:58
Last Modified: 20 May 2014 05:58
Uncontrolled Keywords: Domitian (Emperor of Rome 81-96CE); christian martyrs; Roman christianity; fathers of the church
Fields of Research : 21 History and Archaeology > 2103 Historical Studies > 210306 Classical Greek and Roman History
22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220401 Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History)
22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220405 Religion and Society
Socio-Economic Objective: E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/20041

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