The Final Pagan Generation

The Final Pagan Generation

Edward J. Watts
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt13x1h3t
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  • Book Info
    The Final Pagan Generation
    Book Description:

    The Final Pagan Generationrecounts the fascinating story of the lives and fortunes of the last Romans born before the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Edward J. Watts traces their experiences of living through the fourth century's dramatic religious and political changes, when heated confrontations saw the Christian establishment legislate against pagan practices as mobs attacked pagan holy sites and temples. The emperors who issued these laws, the imperial officials charged with implementing them, and the Christian perpetrators of religious violence were almost exclusively young men whose attitudes and actions contrasted markedly with those of the earlier generation, who shared neither their juniors' interest in creating sharply defined religious identities nor their propensity for violent conflict. Watts examines why the "final pagan generation"-born to the old ways and the old world in which it seemed to everyone that religious practices would continue as they had for the past two thousand years-proved both unable to anticipate the changes that imperially sponsored Christianity produced and unwilling to resist them. A compelling and provocative read, suitable for the general reader as well as students and scholars of the ancient world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95949-1
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In 392, Theophilus, the bishop of Alexandria, requested and received imperial permission to convert into a church an old imperial basilica that had been abandoned and left to decay for most of the past quarter century. When the renovation began, workmen found a network of man-made underground caverns, and religious artifacts hidden within them.¹ Theophilus took possession of the objects, organized a procession of them through the city, and mocked them publicly. This provocative act caused pagans to riot.² Enraged, they marched into the streets and began brawling with Christians. At first there were small skirmishes, but the conflicts soon...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Growing Up in the Cities of the Gods
    (pp. 17-36)

    The Roman Empire was full of gods in 310. Their temples, statues, and images filled its cities, towns, farms, and wildernesses. Whether they willed it or not, people living within the empire regularly experienced the sight, sound, smell, and taste of the gods’ celebration. Traditional divinities also dominated the spiritual space of the empire as figures whose presence could not be sensed but whose actions many felt they could discern.¹ Although such a situation seems quite foreign to the modern Western mind, people of the time saw this as an unremarkable reality that had existed for millennia. Later Romans could...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Education in an Age of Imagination
    (pp. 37-58)

    By the mid-320s, all but the youngest members of the final pagan generation had begun their formal education outside of the home. The biggest step involved the transition from the elementary instruction provided by a pedagogue and a teacher of letters to the training offered by grammarians and rhetoricians. While elementary education taught basic skills like reading and writing, the move to study under a grammarian began in earnest the process of teaching young men how members of the Roman elite talked and behaved. Although fundamentally literary in character, later Roman education did as much to socialize students as it...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The System
    (pp. 59-80)

    The death of the emperor Constantine in 337 roughly coincided with the moment when the members of the final pagan generation finished their schooling and entered the adult world. They were very much the children of the world he had created. Ausonius and Praetextatus had never lived under another emperor, while Libanius and Themistius were children when Constantine took the East from Licinius. For all of their mature life, the final pagan generation knew only the regime of Constantine. And, with the exception of the regime of Magnentius, endured by Ausonius and Praetextatus, all of them would live under one...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Moving Up in an Age of Uncertainty
    (pp. 81-104)

    Men like Praetextatus, Ausonius, Themistius, and Libanius spent the 330s and 340s climbing from schools to teaching positions and imperial offices. By 350, these men had started their careers and, in many cases, begun their families. The next decade would provide the opportunity to build on these initial successes, but it also presented a series of political and personal challenges. Success in the later Roman world was not a steady state. If all went well, a man could improve his status, increase his wealth, and expand his network of friends. If fortune did not cooperate, however, positions could be lost,...

  11. CHAPTER 5 The Apogee
    (pp. 105-126)

    The reign of Julian is one of the most fascinating and intensely documented periods in all of Roman history, but it was also short.¹ Julian reigned as sole emperor for about two and a half times as long as Vitellius, a historical footnote of an emperor known mostly for his girth and his appetite for exotic foods.² But Julian was a busy emperor who worked hard to undo what he saw as the most distasteful aspects of Constantius’s reign. He punished many of the highest officials responsible for Constantius’s later cruelties, he marginalized those who supported his predecessor in less...

  12. CHAPTER 6 The New Pannonian Order
    (pp. 127-148)

    The sudden death of the emperor Jovian in early 364 again reset the dynamics of the Roman state. A member of the family of Constantine had controlled at least a part of the empire from the appointment of Constantius Chlorus in 293 until Julian’s death in the summer of 363. Jovian did not belong to this family, but he owed his position to a group of military officers who had been promoted by Constantius and Julian. The circumstances surrounding his selection as emperor, the tenuous nature of his position once he returned to Roman territory, and the short duration of...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Christian Youth Culture in the 360s and 370s
    (pp. 149-166)

    The death of the emperor Valentinian represents an appropriate moment to shift our focus from the final pagan generation to their children. These children cannot quite be considered the first Christian generation, but their attitudes about religious policy and service in the courts, imperial administration, and schools differed significantly from those of their parents. The great expansion of offices in the fourth century extended to provincial elites the administration of an empire that had once been run primarily by a narrow group of Italian senators and their households.¹ This was, in many ways, a part of the unique genius of...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Bishops, Bureaucrats, and Aristocrats under Gratian, Valentinian II, and Theodosius
    (pp. 167-190)

    While most of the elites who grew up in the 340s, 350s, and 360s did not follow the paths of Ambrose, Amphilochius, Basil, Chrysostom, and Gregory, their generation tended to be both more Christian and less wedded to the rhythms and protocols of elite life than their parents had been. Much of their experimentation occurred when the empire was safely in the hands of their elders, the emperors Valentinian and Valens, and a coterie of experienced advisers. Rebellion felt safe in the wellgoverned empire of one’s parents.

    The death of the emperor Valentinian in 375 began a period of transition...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Old Age in a Young Man’s Empire
    (pp. 191-212)

    All of the figures we have been following ended their public careers between 384 and 393. This is, in some ways, what we have been trained to expect of old men in the ancient world. It is often assumed that they graciously handed public functions over to a younger generation and quietly retreated into the life of their families.¹ Many members of the final pagan generation did pull back from public life to spend more time with their families as they entered old age, but focusing on this retreat offers an incomplete and distorted picture of their final decade. For...

  16. CHAPTER 10 A Generation’s Legacy
    (pp. 213-220)

    This book began with the destruction of the magnificent Alexandrian temple of Serapis by a Christian mob following a burst of urban rioting in 392. The Christian historian Rufinus saw the Serapeum destruction as the culmination of an eight-decade process during which Christianity moved from a persecuted religion to one that supplanted traditional religion.¹ For Rufinus, this made perfect sense. When the Serapeum destruction was paired with the recent Theodosian legal restrictions on sacrifice, it seemed that the path to an empire free from sacrifice and functioning temples now lay open. One needed only to wait for the churches to...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 221-304)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 305-320)
  19. Index
    (pp. 321-328)