Religious Persecution

David A. Majd-Faridi

Blog #4

            In order to keep the balance and control of the vast Roman Empire, it was not only justified, but logical for the Roman attempts to stomp out Christianity within its empire.  Concepts of insubordination and different believes can quickly undermine everything that an empire is trying to establish.  Though through today’s eyes, this can be considered xenophobic in the sense of denial of new ideas, however freedom of thought is a dangerous luxury to give to subjects under an emperor.  When considering the primary purpose is to maintain law and order under one man and one way of life, it becomes clear that eradicating new found religious groups that defy traditions becomes a very natural response.

            When dissecting the letter from Governor Pliny to Emperor Trajan, a clear tone of distress can be detected.  It is clear that Pliny approached this issue, rising Christianity, like he must have approached several other random uprisings, however this one was growing too far out of hand.  As Pliny mentioned, he went and questioned those that were identified as Christians and once determined that they would not submit to Roman gods, had them executed.  However this investigation method led to anonymous tipping that began an ancient day witch hunt.  Soon Pliny realized that this was no small cult that can be erased by executing just a few people.  Pliny describes the uprising as, “For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered.”[1]  It was because of this growing magnitude of support that the emperor needed to be informed and checked with that this was the correct course of action.

            As it turns out, Emperor Trajan was in support of Pliny’s initial reactions and gave him some more refinement on how he should approach these cases.  Keeping in mind that his goal is to maintain rule over these people, Trajan needed to properly crush any rising new cults but also not allow anarchy to befall his territory.  Thus, he not only encouraged the continuation of punishments of any found and confirmed Christians, but also suggested that any and all who repent the Christian values and turned to Roman gods be pardoned.  Furthermore, he discouraged usage of anonymous tipping of Christians so that the subjects would not turn against each other, claiming that, “… this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.”[2]

            As we can clearly see from the exchange between Pliny and Trajan, the persecution of Christians was at its root a governmental action to maintain control.  It was not necessarily as simple as religious friction or hate towards any particular group.  These actions were taken to ensure that order would be preserved, and that the Roman Empire would not be shifted at some of the foundational principles that it was based on.  These acts, though shocking to an American with religious freedoms, were not only justified in their time, but logically sound for the reigning powers to execute over its people.

Word count – 540 (52 from quotes)

[1]Pliny to Emperor Trajan;

[2] Emperor Trajan to Pliny (response);

One thought on “Religious Persecution

  1. I agree with your analysis of Pliny’s letter to Trajan regarding how to handle the recent emergence of Christians in the Roman Empire. I think that Pliny genuinely saw eradication as the most efficient way to quell this new and relatively foreign “cult”. However, I believe that both Pliny and Trajan underestimated the power of the Christians and would have been more successful in maintaining their power if they considered an approach more similar to that of the Eastern Empire. Initially, Pliny attempted to deal with the “Christianity issue” by executing a few here and there, but I believe he misjudged this action and increased the potential for rebellion and uprising by fostering more negative sentiments from the Christians. On the other hand, Eastern Rome embraced Christianity and was able to assimilate it with its own organization and hierarchy. This eventually ushered in an era of prosperity and thriving that eventually became known as the Byzantine Empire.


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