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Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Sat May 05, 2012 at 02:15:19 AM EST) Reading, Listening, Watching, Me, MLP (all tags)
Listening: "Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity". Watching: "Meet the Romans". Me: some news. Links.


What I'm Listening To
Latest Teaching Company course was Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity by Kenneth W. Harl. Wasn't sure about this one since I've already read a bit on the subject and period, but it turned out to be pretty good. Harl takes a bit of a different angle, in a way returning to an older explanation, that the efforts of the Emperor Constantine were the most important factor.

Other accounts I've read suggest that traditional Pagan religion was in decline, that the mystery cults were increasingly popular, that Christianity was on a steady rise by the time Constantine got to it, and that the wide-ranging organization of the Christian church was a useful power base for Constantine.

Harl points out that there's little evidence for a rise in Christianity before Constantine. He says that the term "mystery cult" is a modern invention coming from 19th Century historians, and that contemporaries had no concept of "mystery cult" at all. They regarded mystery cults as just like any other religious cult: they were pretty normal and established. He regards emperors like Diocletian and Constantine as powerful autocrats, for the first time with an independent bureaucratic power base that didn't rely on the support of the Senatorial class. As such, he thinks Constantine didn't need the Christian church at all.

There was an interesting aside that I would have liked to see more on: he thinks the Third Century Crisis has been a bit overblown and wasn't really that bad. In particular he thinks that the inflation after the debasement of the currency wasn't that severe after a short period, and points out that the debased coins were considered to have value by the people who used them.

So Harl's view is not that weak emperors desperately reached for Christianity to assist them; rather it was that the newly strong emperors of the "Dominate" who had the power to enforce their religious views across the empire. He speculates that if the emperor Julian the Apostate hadn't died after a few years, he might have successfully reintroduced paganism.

Harl makes a good case, but I'm not entirely convinced. For one thing, Julian tried to copy Constantine's idea of making priests a distinct social class (ordo), so it does seem to me that an Empire-wide religious structure was useful. While there's not much evidence for a rise of Christianity, there's not much evidence against it: sources and archaeology are a bit sparse. Harl also considers the missionary monks who took direct action the pagans to be a later development, but I wonder if they might have been active earlier too, which would have made Christianity more of a bottom-up grassroots movement than something imposed from the top.

Overall though, an interesting course, detailed and well presented. Also has a pretty good story, with the later pagans forced into a similar role to the early Christians, plaintively begging for tolerance from the Emperor.

Extract from course notes:

The Enigma of the 3rd -Century Crisis
Scholars of the past generation have spent an enormous amount of effort trying to make sense out of the 3rd century. There were great costs for beating back these barbarians and for ending the civil wars. First and foremost was money.

The usual argument is that the money was rapidly debased—that is, the silver money was turned from a silver coin into a copper coin with a silver coating—sparking an inflationary spiral often compared to the Great Depression. By extension, it is argued that the savings of the Roman world were wiped out and that this hardship played to the benefit of Christianity.

This view is overdrawn. First, the actual debasement lasted only a short time, approximately 25 years. Second, during the period of debasement, the coins were still valuable. Numerous hoards from all over the Roman Empire indicate that people were still saving these coins during the period, indicating that they still had value as money.

Finally, in 274 and in 293, then throughout the 4th century, the soldier-emperors reformed the coinage, creating fiat money that was negotiable for a fixed amount of gold. By the 270s and 280s, prices had stabilized; the borders had restabilized; and the emperors, starting with Diocletian, had imposed reforms that brought peace and order back to the Roman world.

There is other evidence from coins, inscriptions, and relief sculpture that indicate that the 3rd century was not as dismal as previously thought. In the cities of Italy, Africa, and Asia Minor, the ruling classes survived the crisis of the 3rd century, carrying on civic government and rallying to the soldier-emperors.

Archaeology shows a remarkable continuity in imperial patronage to the cults of the cities and to the sanctuaries of the Roman world, as well as a loyalty expressed by the ruling elites to the Roman emperor. While invasion and civil war did bring about change, it was not a spiritual crisis.

Not Crisis but Continuity
Romans believed in powerful ancestral traditions. Changes in perception, while important, were not revolutionary. Loyalty was now centered on the Roman emperor, not necessarily on the city of Rome or all the abstract traditions of the republic, and that resulted in the creation of a new tone of government: the Dominate, in which the emperor could rule as an autocrat.

Rather than create disorientation or flight from public service, the religious history of the 3rd century is better understood not as a failure of nerve on the part of the ruling classes but a reaffirmation of traditional values, a move back to traditional religion and invoking of the gods of Rome as their defenders against invasion.

We have no evidence of large numbers of Romans giving up their traditional faith for mystery cults or Christianity. We have no evidence for any new cult in the Roman Empire since Alexander of Abonouteichos created the cult of Glycon in 160, and the visual evidence indicates rebuilding of traditional cult sanctuaries during this period. That calls very much into question the idea that this was one of rapid Christianization.

What I'm Watching
Saw the 3-part documentary Meet the Romans presented by classicist Mary Beard. Excellent series exploring the lives of ordinary Romans, (rather than aristocrats) through their chatty tombstone inscriptions and archaeological evidence.

Well worth seeing. I thought her portrait of Rome as a diverse city of immigrants was interesting too.

Clip, clip, clip, clip.

Me
All this is verbal so far, so it's uncertain. But it looks like I will be made redundant from my job at the end of May, with a pretty good package.

However I've been job-hunting pretty hard, and have a verbal offer through the agent of a job in Richmond which will start a week or two after. Apparently nothing can be signed until the finance director comes back from holiday next week though.

If I can get the job sorted, thinking about buying a property with Girl B and moving in together. We talked about it, but put it on hold while my job was at risk, since didn't know whereabouts I'd be working.

Links
Pics. Japanese manhole covers.

Politics. "Independent Parliamentary" report recommending Internet porn censorship neither independent nor Parliamentary.

Science. Bionic eyes.

Video. Texting and driving PSA.

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Constantine craving | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
I guess this report... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat May 05, 2012 at 04:57:18 AM EST
on Internet porn proves my comment in your last diary was wrong. There is a growing Christian caucus in parliament and in combination with the tabloid "won't you think of the children" tendency, they are going to be able to get quite far with policies before they meet any resistance. 

Not sure how influential the Christian MPs are by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #5 Sat May 05, 2012 at 07:32:16 AM EST
I think overall it's another case of the "propose something twice as extreme as you want, then when there's outrage scale it back" technique. (Like when they leaked plans to cut income tax to 40p, but actually cut it to 45p.) So, the actual Internet censorship they bring in will probably be slightly less extreme than these proposals.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
True... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #7 Sat May 05, 2012 at 07:45:26 AM EST
I guess I worry that this is the area where Cameron throws a sop to traditional conservatives, by taking these proposals seriously enough for them to get even halfway implemented.

That may change, but since they are busy soft-pedalling the presentation of their economic policies and things like NHS privatisation, then "culture war" is the new symbolic territory where he proves he's a true blue...



[ Parent ]
what does he mean by later? by gzt (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat May 05, 2012 at 06:27:17 AM EST
Harl makes a good case, but I'm not entirely convinced. For one thing, Julian tried to copy Constantine's idea of making priests a distinct social class (ordo), so it does seem to me that an Empire-wide religious structure was useful. While there's not much evidence for a rise of Christianity, there's not much evidence against it: sources and archaeology are a bit sparse. Harl also considers the missionary monks who took direct action the pagans to be a later development, but I wonder if they might have been active earlier too, which would have made Christianity more of a bottom-up grassroots movement than something imposed from the top.

For the "missionary monks". There wasn't any monasticism to speak of until the end of the third century and it didn't take off until Constantine, so the exact time frame is significant here.

He agrees with you AFAIK by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #3 Sat May 05, 2012 at 06:36:35 AM EST
But given the sparseness of the sources for the period, I'm never quite sure that "there's no evidence of X before date Y" really means "there was no X before date Y".
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
the sources are rather sparse. by gzt (4.00 / 1) #4 Sat May 05, 2012 at 06:55:03 AM EST
I mean, you have St Anthony, supposedly the first monk and the father of monasticism. He went out in the desert. But he apparently knew people out there, and things exploded so fast that, you know, was he really the only one, the first one? Even in the history written a century later that touts him as such, St Anthony places his sister with a group of consecrated virgins and goes under the tutelage of a local hermit. And you do have other ascetics out in the desert, and they go all the way back to second temple Judaism (or earlier). St Anthony was new in that he became a big, influential figure.

[ Parent ]
I think Constantine was certainly important by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #6 Sat May 05, 2012 at 07:37:16 AM EST
But I think there must have been a big grassroots Christian movement he took advantage of as well. If it was a rural or poor movement there probably wouldn't be much evidence of it.

I mean it's not the case that you had, say, a pagan emperor who enforced paganism across the empire; then a Zoroastrian emperor who enforced Zoroastrianism across the empire, then back to pagan, then a Manichean, or whatever. Most other emperors didn't make big religious changes across the empire. So I don't think Christianization is likely to have just been because Emperor Constantine happened to pick up a particular cult that wasn't even increasing.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Have been to Tokyo a handful of times by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #8 Sat May 05, 2012 at 07:59:36 AM EST
Never noticed the manhole covers ... Quite a cool idea.

Sounds promising on the personal and work fronts. Good luck eh.

Iambic Web Certified

Thanks! [nt] by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #9 Sat May 05, 2012 at 08:08:23 AM EST

--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
3rd Century Rome by jimgon (4.00 / 1) #10 Sat May 05, 2012 at 10:38:56 AM EST
I never got into Third Century Roman history.  I'm always suspicious of modern theories that involve the leaving of the gold standard and the end of civilization.  It seems too cozy in relation to the rise of the modern goldbugs.  But as I wrote I haven't studied the theory.




---------------
Technician - "We can't even get decent physical health care. Mental health is like witchcraft here."
History repeats itself, repeatedly... by dmg (4.00 / 1) #11 Sat May 05, 2012 at 01:27:09 PM EST
Coming off a gold standard is a symptom of malaise, not the cause.

It is important to differentiate the different types of money (debt, value store, medium of exchange) as what is good for one purpose may not be good for another. Your goal for the USD's future value may not be the same as that of a certain group of politicians.
--
dmg - HuSi's most dimwitted overprivileged user.

[ Parent ]
two bits by lm (4.00 / 1) #12 Sat May 05, 2012 at 01:37:15 PM EST
Meet the Romans sounds a bit like a book I read awhile ago As the Romans Did which does much of the same thing, try to give a sense of what ordinary Roman lives were like. I find such to be much more interesting that `normal' history that focuses on big events and rulers.

The last couple of decades have seen quite a bit of economic work done on the Roman empire (both east and west) that I find fascinating.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
buying a property... and moving in together by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #13 Sat May 05, 2012 at 02:04:41 PM EST
At that point you might as well buy a ring.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

where is Rogerborg nowadays? by Dr H0ffm4n (4.00 / 2) #15 Tue May 08, 2012 at 02:24:05 AM EST
He'd have something to say on the matter

[ Parent ]
Wikipedia by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #16 Tue May 08, 2012 at 08:02:22 AM EST
The Alyson Hannigan reference is distinctive.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

[ Parent ]
Also on /. by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #17 Tue May 08, 2012 at 08:03:37 AM EST
Trolling merrily away.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

[ Parent ]
Shhhhhh [nt] by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #19 Tue May 08, 2012 at 02:23:53 PM EST

--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Crisis Of The Third Century by jump the ladder (4.00 / 1) #14 Sat May 05, 2012 at 06:11:35 PM EST
Was not economic or the Western  barbarians but the rise of the Sassanids in Persia which meant that Roman empire had to become focused on a military superpower threatening its richest provinces in the East, hence the shift to Constantinople.

Pr0n filtering by Herring (4.00 / 1) #18 Tue May 08, 2012 at 11:29:28 AM EST
Been reading a few reactions on the Grauniad site. There are quite a lot of people who don't get that, without whitelisting - and that's impractical, it's impossible to have an effective pr0n filter.

The suggestion comes up now and again "Why doesn't someone start an ISP that blocks all the filth?". Well because they'd fail and get sued by some nobend with nothing better to do.

And these fuckwits don't seem to have heard of the phrase "false sense of security".

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky

Constantine craving | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback