From periphery to centre: pagan continuity and revival in Britain and Rome during the late fourth century AD
Carmela Maria Ranieri
Master of Arts, Classics, Durham University (2008)
In light of recent archaeological evidence regarding rural temples and the Christianisation of the countryside in the Roman Empire, a re-examination af the cancept and forms of pagan worship existent in the late fourth century is necessary in order to accommodate these new findings. Firstly, it is af vital importance to attempt to defme the extremely broad term that is ‘paganism’ and to select the specific areas that will be addressed. The colloquial term pagani, which frrst appeared in Christian inscriptions of the early fourth century, ‘likely referred to civilian non-believers who had not been baptised. However, it must be noted that the oldest sense o f the classical Latin term paganus meant ‘of the country’ or ‘rustic’. It has been argued that the transferred use reflects the fact that the ancient idolatry lingered on in the rural villages and hamlets after Christianity had been generally accepted in the towns and cities of the Roman Empire.
From its earliest beginnings, Christianity is believed to have spread much more rapidly in major urban areas (such as Antioch, Alexandria, Corinth and Rome) than in the countryside. In fact, the early church was almost entirely urban and saon the word for country dweller became synonymous with someone who was not a Christian, giving rise to the modem meaning of ‘pagan’. This may, in part, owe much to the conservative nature of rural people, who could have been more resistant to the new ideas of Christianity than those who lived in major urban centres. However, it may have also resulted from early Christian missionaries focusing their efforts within major population centres rather than throughout an expansive yet sparsely populated countryside.