5 Christianity


1. Accession

  • Marcus Julius Phillipus – of Syrian origin
  • Succession not clear – end of Herodian’s narrative
  • Not the obvious successor to Gordian III
    • Timethiseus had Philip and brother Julius Priscus on staff
    • Promoted Priscus to praetorian prefecture with self
    • When Timethiseus died Priscus promoted Philip
    • Example of imperial role passing to lesser men 

2. Reign

  • Deification of Gordian III
  • Mechanisms for stability and power sharing 
    • Nature of events in 3rd century meant that rule by a single individual was no longer viable 
    • Makes son Caesar
    • Makes brother-in-law Severianus vice Caesaris in balkans
    • Makes brother governor Mesopotamia and Corrector totius orientis
      • Collects eastern tribute and acts as deputy emperor
      • New post; important for what follows
    • Problem of sharing power: if give significant imperium to another individual, essentially created a potential threat to own power
  • Recognises necessity of sharing power but keeps it within his own family 
    • Attempt to solve problem of increasingly fragmented empire facing threats on multiple frontiers
    • Symptom of the 3rd century 
  • Twin rule knitted into the initial framework of imperial rule – cf. Augustus and Agrippa
  • Doesn’t neglect Rome (cf. Maximinus)
    • There from 244 and celebrates millennium in 248
  • Later Christian sources (Eusebius) remember Philip as the first Christian emperor

3. War

  • Major concern again = Sapor
  • Philip makes a treaty
    • Gives away Armenia
    • Agrees to payment of 500,000 aurei – in gold, silver debased? 
    • Major concession; Persia and Rome argued over border surrounding Euphrates for long time
    • Priscus’ role in the east is to raise the 500,000 
  • Philip breaks the treaty 
    • Narrative hard to reconstruct
    • Is it a reaction to Sapor’s aggression?
    • Or simply that war is better than payment – hard to raise funds
      • Also stops tribute to Gothic tribes in north 
    • Produces a brutal reaction
  • Also fighting on northern frontier

II. DECIUS 249-251

1. Accession

  • During the millennial year of 248 – trouble east and west
    • Usurper Jotapianus in Syria – suppressed/killed
    • Rioting in Alexandria 
    • Goths invade Lower Moesia
      • Troops declare Marinus Pacatianus emperor
      • Philip sends Decius, a Danubian senator
      • Ends revolt… but his troops proclaim him emperor instead 
    • Sept 249: Philip launches attack against Decius & loses 

2. Image

  • Image problem (like all usuprers – series of solutions)
    • Changes his name
      • Blatant attempt to buy into image of Rome’s optimus princeps; takes name of Trajan
      • Born C. Messius Quintus Decius Valerinus
      • Changes to C. Messius Quintius Traianus Decius
    • Emphasises Dacian origins
  • Associates self with past ‘good emperors’
    • Series of coins issued: Augustus, Vespasian, Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, Commodus, Septimius Severus, Severus Alexander
    • Missing: Claudius, Pertinax, Gordians I, II and III
      • List of good/bad emperors clearly up for debate
      • Indication of changing memory 
  • Philip’s name erased from inscriptions
    • Origins of story from Philips’ revolt? 


1. Christianity on the Radar

  • Christianity’s gradual rise makes it noticeable movement
  • Later sources see Philip as the first Christian emperor
    • Moving im imperial circles under Severans?
  • And Decius as (first?) empire-wide persecutor
  • Certainly, Decius issued edict re religion
    • Actual edict didn’t surivce

2. An Edict of Universal Sacrifice 

  • We have records of effect edict – libelli
  • Record act and statement of sacrifice, names and signatures of official witnesses
  • No Christian names… and some very un-christian behaviour (Christians should refuse to sacrifice)
  • Seems to have been for all citizens; edict of universal sacrifice cf. Caracalla’s edict of universal citizenship 
  • What was the intention?
    • Persecution – to expose Christians?
    • Attempts to self-legitimisation?
    • Response to unease of millennium
  • Extension of Caracalla’s edict o religious sphere – centralisation 
    • About harmony of empire? Consistency of worship 
    • Note vagueness of ‘ancestral gods’ 
    • Response to empire’s difficulties?
  • Christians fell on wrong side of history
    • Local exploitation of new avenues in Roman law
    • Fear of persecution is own local community
    • Local communities taking advantage of new legal mechanisms
  • Scraps of non-Christian evidence seem to suggest a different narrative

Here's a picture I took of a plaster cast of a bust depicting Philip the Arab, from the Cast Gallery in Cambridge.