One of the perennial questions in society is how we should deal with difference. In particular, the issue of religious difference has vexed societies around the globe: this is true not just for our present times, but also for ancient civilisations such as the Roman Empire. In its heyday, the Roman world spanned Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and inevitably it included people of various faiths and convictions, notably Jews and Christians. Often when we think of Roman persecution of the latter group, we think of the systematic targeting of Christians as a religious minority. But with new advances in scholarship, a much more complex picture is emerging of the interactions between Romans and Christians in the ancient world.
In the landmark 50th episode of The Provocateur, I talk to James Corke-Webster, lecturer in Roman history at King’s College London, about the persecution of Christians in the ancient world. We discuss how James came to be interested in the subject, the history of scholarship on the persecution of Christians, how James argues for a more ‘bottom-up’ approach, the documentary evidence for persecution from both the Christian and the Roman sides, the various punishments that were meted out to Christians and the differences between the reality of persecution and the memory of it. We also discuss the significance of James’ work for later Roman history and even the present day.
You can listen to the podcast here:
Barnes, Timothy D. (1968) “Legislation Against the Christians”, JRS 58: 32–50.
Corke-Webster, J. (2017) “Trouble in Pontus: The Pliny-Trajan Correspondence on the Christians Reconsidered”, TAPA 147.2, 371-411.
de Ste Croix, G. E. M. (1963) “Why Were the Early Christians Persecuted?”, Past & Present 26.1, 6–38.
Moss, C. (2013) The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom. San Francisco: HarperOne.
Rives, J. (1999) “The Decree of Decius and the Religion of Empire”, JRS 89: 135–54.
Shaw, B. (2015) “The Myth of the Neronian Persecution”, JRS 105: 73–100.