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Emperor Decius' 249 CE edict commanding sacrifice to the gods

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posted on 2022-03-28, 15:39 authored by Kerrie Worboys
A terrible choice faced Christi an Romans in 249 C.E: offer sacrifice to the gods, considered an anathema, or be martyred , as some were, but many more succumbed and sacrificed. Decius has left us no record of his reasons. The only extant sources are either Christian or sympathetic, and they say that he was directly targeting Christians because he hated his predecessor Philip, who was believed to have been a Christian . Historians have challenge d this view over the last hundred years . Since the 1923 initial publication of 41 papyrus libelli (certificates of sacrifice) , academia has debated this topic and shed new light on Decius' possible reasons. This was a watershed in the history of anti - Christian persecution . Prior to Decius' Edict, religion in the empire was based on local cults which were no w weakened . T he certificate that was required as proof of sacrifice was an innovation , moreover the Egyptian papyri are dated to five months after the first arrests elsewhere. After assessing the authenticity of the extant sources , comparing these with the libelli and with what can be deduced about Decius himself , from history and coinage, I trace the arguments from modern scholarship to arrive at four assessable hypotheses The edict was: a) anti - Christian persecution; b) sacrifices to avert danger; c) sacrifices for Decius' accession as Emperor; or d) A re - celebration of Rome's Millenium. I concluded that it is most likely that Decius' edict was a stipulation of the correct way for his subjects to pray to the gods to ensure safety and security for his dynasty and the empire. It was a grand Accession Ceremony. It is also possible that Decius was motivated to include a re - celebration of Rome's Millennium in the face of fearful portents. I t was much less likely that Decius was focussed on the Christians at all. However, the recalcitrance of disobedient Christian s under Decius probably contributed to the later fiercer persecutions of Valerian and Diocletian.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter 1. What the Romans thought about Christians -- Chapter 2. The crisis of Empire -- Chapter 3. Events, evidence and assessment A -- Chapter 4. Evidence and assessment B -- Chapter 5. Evidence and assessment C -- Chapter 6. Conclusion.


Bibliography: pages 85-90 Theoretical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Ancient History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Ancient History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Paul McKechnie


Copyright Kerrie Worboys 2019. Copyright disclaimer:




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