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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian

Constantius (337-361)


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The sons of Constantine ruled the Empire jointly after the death of their father. The hostility among the three brothers who had divided the rule of the Empire was further complicated by the hard struggle with the Persians and Germans which the Empire had to face at that time. The brothers were kept asunder not only by political differences, but by religious ones as well. While Constantine and Constans were adherents of the Nicene Creed, Constantius, continuing the development of the religious policy of the last years of his fathers life, openly sided with the Arians. During the ensuing civil strife Constantine, and a few years later Constans, were slain. Constantius became the sole ruler of the Empire.

As an ardent adherent of Arianism, Constantius carried out a persistent Arian policy against paganism. One of the decrees of Constantius proclaimed: Let there be an end to all superstition, and let the insanity of sacrifices be rooted out. But the pagan temples outside the city wails still remained inviolable for the time being. A few years later a decree ordered the temples closed, forbade entrance to them, and prohibited the offering of sacrifices in all localities and cities of the Empire under the threat of death and confiscation of property. Still another edict stated that the penalty of death would be incurred by anyone who offered sacrifices or worshiped the gods. When Constantius, wishing to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of his reign, arrived for the first time at Rome, he inspected the numerous monuments under the guidance of the senators, who were still pagans, and ordered that the Altar of Victory, personifying for paganism all the former greatness of Rome, be removed from the Senate. This act made a very deep impression on the pagans, for they sensed that the last days of their existence were approaching. Under Constantius the immunities of the clergy were broadened; bishops were exempted from civil trial.

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