Decline of Greco-Roman polytheism | beginning of persecution of paganism

Beginning of persecution of paganism

A cult statue of the divinized Augustus, disfigured by a Christian cross carved into the emperor's forehead.

The actions of Constantius II, who reigned from 337 till 361, marked the beginning of the era of formal persecution against paganism by the Christian Roman Empire, with the emanation of laws and edicts which punished pagan practices.[23][24]

From the 350s, new laws prescribed the death penalty for those who performed or attended pagan sacrifices, and for the worshipping of idols;[25] temples were shut down,[1][24] and the traditional Altar of Victory was removed from the Senate.[26] There were also frequent episodes of ordinary Christians destroying, pillaging, desecrating, vandalizing many of the ancient pagan temples, tombs and monuments.[27][28][29][30]

The harsh imperial edicts had to face the vast following of paganism among the population, and the passive resistance of governors and magistrates.[1][31][32][33] The anti-pagan legislation, beginning with Constantius, would in time have an unfavourable influence on the Middle Ages and, in some ways, become the basis of the Inquisition.[34]

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