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THE DECREES OF EMPEROR THEODOSIUS
THE TRADITIONAL RELIGION
Locality: Roman Empire
Age: IV century A.D.
The decree of February 391: prohibited to enter in temples
24 February 391 the emperor Theodosius, said from the Christians " the Great", a person who has been baptized as a christian in 380, emitted the legislative provision " Nemo se hostiis polluat ", that:
- renewed the putting to the ban of any sacrifice, public or private;
- prohibited the traditional ceremonies of State still in use in Rome:
- prohibited for the first time the access to the sanctuaries and the temples: " nobody can approach the sacrifical altars, can walk inside the temples or can worship images forged by human hands ";
- forbade in an explicit way the apostasy from the Christianity , pain the loss of testamentary rights.
The provision had been strongly wanted by the new minister of the Interior, the catholic Rufinus , and by saint Ambrosius bishop of Milan, in agreement with the groups of monks engaged to plunder and to destroy illegally pagan temples in the oriental provinces.
The traditions and the patrimony of the classic culture were cancelled by a provision modeled on the behavior held by hebrew people towards the religion of the canaanitic people.
The decree of 16 june 391: extension of the prohibitions
The decree of 16 june 391, emanated in Aquileia, extends the previous dispositions also to Egypt, where Alexandria enjoyed, from ancient date, of special privileges relating to local cults, comprised the sacrifical ceremonies .
The pagans pray in their homes
Under the effect of the persecution many houses became cult places, where the pagans gathered in order to continue in their traditional religion.
The third decree of 391: destroy the temples
With the third decree of 391 the persecution intensified and many felt themselves authorized to begin the destruction of pagan buildings.
In Alexandria the bishop Teophilus began a systematic campaign of destruction of the temples.
The temple of Serapis, greek-egyptian divinity who united in himself Zeus and Osiris, was besieged by the Christians. The bishop Teophilus and the prefect Evagrius, together with the men of the military garrison, started the demolition work. The bishop Teophilus wanted to give good example giving the first stroke against the colossal statue of the God Serapis.
Analogous episodes happened at Petra, Areopolis, Canopus, Heliopolis, Gaza and in many other localities. The emperor Theodosius never did take part in order to stop the Christians.
In Gaul saint Martin of Tours did not want to remain behind regarding to the bishop Teophilus and began a destruction campaign.
The fourth decree of 392: pain of death
The fourth decree was emanated in Constantinople by Theodosius the 8 November of 392. According to the historians Williams and Friell " the decree was characterized by an absolute intransigence towards the local traditions that can be compared to that one of a dictatorial atheistic regimen which criminalized Easter eggs, the palm, Christmas cards, Halloween pumpkins and even some universal habits, as a toast ".
The decree established:
- the pain of death for people who carried out sacrifices and divinatory practices
- the confiscation of the places where they carried out the rituals
- heavy fines for the decurions who did not apply the law faithfully
- the prohibition of libations, altars, votive offerings , torches, domestic divinity of the hearth, crowns and garlands, bands on the trees, etc.
Williams S. - Friell G.
Theodosius - The Empire at bay
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