The Fall of Rome and Birth of the Middle Ages

In an earlier post, I provided a nice summary of the events that brought about the end of the Western Roman Empire, beginning by noting the first catastrophe to hit the empire in the reign of Marcus Aurelius when the Plague of Galen was imported into the empires frontiers, and ravaged Rome’s populations, to AD 476 when the barbarian officer Odoacer conquered the Italian peninsula and thus effectively ended the civilization of the Western Roman Empire. Western Europe would not be (mostly) united again until the reign of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor who was crowned as such after decades of expansion of the Frankish Empire by Pope Leo III in 800, something that produced much angst in the Byzantine Empire ruled by the empress Irene, which remained a powerful polity and considered itself the true ruler of the Romans, and despite Charlemagne’s efforts, would not recognize him as the Imperator Romanorum, Emperor of the Romans. But before Charlemagne arose, and brought about the Carolingian Renaissance with his reforms and policies, the state of Western Europe had become very dire after the western empire had fallen centuries earlier. Here, I hope to provide a summary of the situation caused by the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in Western Europe.

The Western Roman Empire, like its eastern counterpart and the earlier united Roman Empire, was divided into various provinces, each under the authority of a Roman governor, administration, laws and perhaps a professional standing army. The tax collectors would require citizens to contribute to the empire, which in turn was mostly used in the Roman days to fund the army, which was by far the largest expense that the government had to deal with. Roman presence brought about a great deal of consistency and unity between the entire empire, where commercial trade was made possible by a vast territory connected between a network of roads unparalleled anywhere else in the contemporary ancient world. With the collapse of the empire, all this ended. In his monograph The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (OUP, 2005), Bryan-Ward Perkins explains various dimensions of Roman life and society that mets its end with the fall of the empire. Perkins writes;

It is currently deeply unfashionable to state that anything like a ‘crisis’ or a ‘decline’ occurred at the end of the Roman empire, let alone that a ‘civilization’ collapsed and a ‘dark age’ ensued. The new orthodoxy is that the Roman world, in both East and West, was slowly, and essentially painlessly, ‘transformed’ into a medieval form. However, there is an insuperable problem with this new view: it does not fit the mass of archaeological evidence now available, which shows a startling decline in western standards of living during the fifth to seventh centuries. This was a change that affected everyone, from peasants to kings, even the bodies of saints resting in their churches. It was no mere transformation—it was decline on a scale that can reasonably be described as ‘the end of a civilization’. (pg. 87)

In the period of the empire, commercial production and trade had advanced to an enormous scale and linked the entire empire. Not only were there enormous amounts of product being produced and shipped at huge scales, but archaeology has revealed that their quality was also relatively advanced as well. Perkins continues describing the picture at hand;

However, painstaking work by archaeologists has slowly transformed this picture, through the excavation of hundreds of sites, and the systematic documentation and study of the artefacts found on them. This research has revealed a sophisticated world, in which a north-Italian peasant of the Roman period might eat off tableware from the area near Naples, store liquids in an amphora from North Africa, and sleep under a tiled roof. Almost all archaeologists, and most historians, now believe that the Roman economy was characterized, not only by an impressive luxury market, but also by a very substantial middle and lower market for high-quality functional products. (pp. 87-88)

In other words, products were being produced all over the empire by artisans specialized in certain fields and forms of manufacturing, and they were subsequently able to hold large numbers of customers (not only the rich, but also the households of the poor) in markets in entirely different cities, lands, and provinces. Thus, the household products of a Roman may not have been produced in the local village or city, but might come from an array of different locations each shipped to the local marketplace. However, without the complex networks established and maintained by the unity of empire, this would all soon change. As civil wars wrecked armies and consumed taxes, and numerous disparate barbarian tribes invaded, pillaged and slowly conquered Roman lands, the Roman administration slowly disappeared. A good example is provided by the province of Noricum. Perkins explains again the slow dissolution of the Roman administration in this province from the writings of Saint Severinus of Noricum, which allow us to attain a picture of just what happened;

By the time Severinus arrived, Noricum had already experienced nearly fifty years of insecurity and warfare, including a short-lived revolt against imperial rule by the Noricans themselves. It would seem that during these decades Roman administration, and any control over the province from the imperial court in Italy, had already disappeared. There is no mention in the Life of a Roman governor of Noricum, nor of an imperial military commander, and the neighbouring provinces, of Raetia and Pannonia, seem already to have fallen almost completely into Germanic hands. Eugippius indeed describes the Roman defences of the Danube as a thing of the past: ‘Throughout the time that the Roman empire existed, the soldiery of many towns was maintained at public expense for the defence of the frontier. When this practice fell into abeyance, both these troops and the frontier disappeared.’ He goes on to tell a wonderfully evocative story of how the last vestige of imperial military power in the region finally came to an end. Apparently, despite the general collapse of the Roman defensive system, one imperial garrison, that of the city of Batavis, was still in existence in Severinus’ time. But the only way the soldiers could receive their pay was by sending some of their number south and over the Alps into Italy to collect it. On the very last occasion that this was done, the emissaries ‘were killed during the journey by barbarians’; their bodies were later found washed up on the banks of the river. No more imperial pay ever reached Batavis. (pp. 18-19)

The economic situation, before the collapse, was quite good. One way archaeologists have discovered the prosperity of Roman lands during this period is from archaeological remains of … garbage. At Mount Testaccio (Pottery Mountain), a full ‘mountain’ remains from a dumpster of oil amphorae (types of jars) that accumulated over the 2nd and 3rd centuries in the small Roman province of Baetica located south-western Spain. It’s estimated that over 50 million jars remain in this trash pit, that represent over 6 billion litres of oil that were imported into the city where the trash pit was found. An enormous site like this reveals the massive commercial expanse of the Roman world, and there are many other enormous pits of pottery garbage throughout the empire from the period before the fall of the empire that accumulatively help us further understand this complex. Here’s a picture of (a bit of) Mount Testaccio.

None of it was to last, though. Perkins paints the bleak picture that followed.

In the post-Roman West, almost all this material sophistication disappeared. Specialized production and all but the most local distribution became rare, unless for luxury goods; and the impressive range and quantity of high-quality functional goods, which had characterized the Roman period, vanished, or, at the very least, were drastically reduced. The middle and lower markets, which under the Romans had absorbed huge quantities of basic, but good-quality, items, seem to have almost entirely disappeared. (pg. 104)

Anything too complex to produce disappeared from the market, and empire wide transport of goods vanquished. There did not remain a diversity of products anymore, let alone anything high quality, but all your items were crude once more and you certainly had less. You would use locally produced pottery, rather than fancier imported pottery, because no one was able to ship such fine pottery anymore as the commercial networks collapsed, hegemony reigned in with the Germanic invaders who carved out the empire and continued warring with each other ruthlessly and endlessly (and it wouldn’t be any better when Justinian in the 6th century, Byzantine Emperor, sent his generals to regain lost land and crushed both the Vandal kingdom of North Africa, and annihilated the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy, deeply depopulating the Italian peninsula). Your roof of your house was now thatched and no longer tiled, your houses produced from earth. Skills like the potters wheel and constructing from mortar stone and brick, unless you were a member of the wealthiest in the lands, vanished and became inaccessible.

Slowly, the provinces continued degenerating. In fact, complexity in most provinces literally devolved back not only into those of the Iron Age in these places, but even less than that. Whereas in Roman-era sites, coinage was widespread throughout the empire in gold, silver and copper, and is still found in abundance as more sites are excavated, coins almost entirely disappear from sites thereafter the empires fall. An extensive quotation from Perkins is necessary;

It may initially be hard to believe, but post-Roman Britain in fact sank to a level of economic complexity well below that of the pre-Roman Iron Age. Southern Britain, in the years before the Roman conquest of AD 43, was importing quantities of Gaulish wine and Gaulish pottery; it had its own native pottery industries with regional distribution of their wares; it even had native silver coinages, which may well have been used to facilitate exchange, as well as for purposes of prestige and gift-giving. The settlement pattern of later iron-age Britain also reflects emerging economic complexity, with substantial coastal settlements, like Hengistbury in modern Hampshire, which were at least partly dependent on trade. None of these features can be found reliably in fifth- and sixth century post-Roman Britain. (pg. 118)

In the western Mediterranean, the economic regression was by no means as total as it was in Britain. As we have seen, some trade, some trading towns, some coinage, and some local and regional industries persisted throughout the post-Roman centuries. But it must be remembered that in the Mediterranean world the level of economic complexity and sophistication reached in the Roman period was very considerably higher than anything ever attained in Britain. The fall in economic complexity may in fact have been as remarkable as that in Britain; but, since in the Mediterranean it started from a much higher point, it also bottomed out at a higher level. If, as we have done for Britain, we compare pre-Roman and post-Roman Mediterranean economies, in some areas at least a very similar picture can be found to that sketched out above—of a regression, taking the economy way below levels of complexity reached in the preRoman period. In southern and central Italy, for example, both the Greek colonies and the Etruscan territories have provided much more evidence of trade and sophisticated native industries than can be found in post Roman Italy. The pre-Roman past, in the temples of Agrigento and Paestum, the tombs of Cerveteri and Tarquinia, and a mass of imported and native pottery and jewellery, has left enough material remains to serve as a major tourist attraction. The same cannot be said of the immediately post-Roman centuries. (pg. 120)

The only provinces that didn’t descend into hell after Rome fell were those in the Aegean (i.e. around the Aegean Sea, which is located between Greece and Turkey), the Levant (Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus, Jordan, etc) and Egypt. The Aegean collapsed itself around AD 700 (for a variety of factors, mostly including invasions by the Avars, Persians and Arabs) whereas the Levant and Egypt remained stable in their entire history, mostly due to the fact that they were quickly enveloped by the Arabs in the beginning of their conquests and thus didn’t have to suffer further. Indeed, the Arab lands would be quite prosperous for a while themselves.

The population, it’s clear, also greatly declined after the fall of the Western Roman Empire as the first few centuries progressed. The number of rural settlements declined vastly in the post-Roman period, as Perkins shows from diagrams in pp. 140-141 in the book that place points on the areas where rural settlements did exist before the fall, and after the fall. Indeed, the decline is so severe that it’s frankly astonishing. The amount of new construction dramatically fell, and the buildings that were constructed during this period, such as churches, were far more diminished in size in the post-Roman period than in the Roman period. Though St. Peter’s Basilica was built in Rome in the Roman period, no structure like it would ever be constructed in the ensuing centuries (and the Hagia Sophia doesn’t count since, of course, it was constructed in the eastern Byzantine Empire, not in the collapsed western territory). Literacy, which had been not terribly widespread in the Roman period severely plummeted.

On the other hand, the evidence for the very widespread use of literacy, and, in particular, for its trivial use, which is such a striking feature of Roman times, is far less apparent in the centuries that followed the fall of the empire. The numerous stamps, seals, and painted or scratched inscriptions that had characterized the commercial and military life of the Roman world seem to disappear almost completely. The need to label and stamp large quantities of commercial goods appears to have evaporated, presumably because production and distribution were now much simpler and less extensive than they had been before… Most interesting of all is the almost complete disappearance of casual graffiti, of the kind so widely found in the Roman period. (pg. 165)

It was no longer necessary to write as the technologies of the Roman world declined, any social pressure to do so had disappeared. Only the clergy tried to maintain writing, in order to read their scriptures and works of prominent church authors and church fathers, as well as to continue copying them down (indeed, it is due to the clergy and the monasteries why virtually any of the ancient Greek and Roman writings, philosophies and plays were preserved) — indeed, very soon, the clergy made up the vast majority of those remaining who were capable of writing, as archaeological analysis has also shown. It’s not hard to see why the economy, and therefore products of the economy (such as literacy) fell so dramatically. If products could be produced, and then exported and sold in the empire-wide market, then farmers who live in specific local conditions adept at producing certain foods could exploit such lands and then sell their products throughout the empire. However, once the empire fell, and kingdoms and communities became local, you could not ship out your specialized products throughout the empire, and therefore could neither receive them either. If you had a surplus of a certain product of yours, such as oil per se, you could export your oil to the rest of the economy and make more money. Yet without an international trading network, any surplus you have can’t be sold off in markets elsewhere, and in turn you could not purchase such products produced elsewhere. If a product could not be cultivated locally, you were unlikely to be able to acquire it at all. Secondly, without these surpluses that allowed you to accumulate profits and wealth, you were unable to, in turn, invest in more widespread networks to expand your business and technological capability of your business. Yet without these surpluses in profit, you were no longer able to spend in expanding your business at all, and therefore the size of large businesses themselves would have collapsed without a market outside of your local village and/or kingdom. Perkins writes;

Secondly, specialization and the ability to turn crops into cash allowed farmers to invest in improvements, that in turn increased productivity yet further. For instance, the Syrian cultivators of the limestone hills built a large number of solid olive presses around their villages, the remains of which are still standing there today, which allowed them to extract their oil efficiently and locally. At the same time, their counterparts on the plains were able to extend and intensify their arable cultivation by building complex irrigation and water-management systems, involving dams, underground channels, and reservoirs, as well as conventional irrigation ditches. Through capital investment, farmers were able to get much more out of their land. However, in the conditions of later times, without flourishing international and regional markets, specialization and investment became much more difficult, and the inhabitants of areas like the limestone hills were forced to return to a more mixed, and hence less productive, agriculture. When this happened, the population had to fall. It is indeed thought that parts of the Levant did not regain the levels and density of population that they sustained in late Roman and early Arab times until well into the nineteenth, or even the twentieth century. (pp. 144-145)

These are many of the essential reasons why skills and expansive businesses began to fall without the empire-wide trading network, leading to a severe decline in wealth, literacy, products such as pottery, coinage, etc, etc, etc. These were the products of the fall of western Roman civilization, and it would take centuries for the complexity to be rebuilt — some aspects of the Roman economy would not be attained once more until the late modern era. This was the birth of the Middle Ages in AD 476, and everything I have described here were the characteristics of western Europe in the early centuries of this period. As the centuries ensued, the Middle Ages would be where civilization was reborn and, up until its time, the greatest and bloodiest period of human history.

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AD/BC Era, another Christian contribution in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages were not a ‘dark ages’, as I’ve explained a few times now. Indeed, while the direct centuries after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD caused severe declines in literacy, population, commercial trade and skills, etc, this was reversed in the centuries thereafter and by the end of the Middle Ages, the world was a new and much more advanced place as it once had been during the period of classical antiquity (from Homer to the end of Greco-Roman culture in the West after the empire collapsed). And the foundations for the Late Middle Ages were established in the Early Middle Ages, between 500-1000 AD. All this is documented in James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (2009), a very important monograph. Many of these advancements were a direct product of Christianity, indeed, Christianity is one of the primary reasons why the foundations for the modern world were laid in this period. Here, I’ll explore just one topic of this contribution; the eras of our calendars. That is, the eras described by the terms AD/BC, which we use to date the years of virtually every event. No doubt, much celebration occurred close to half a year ago when AD 2018 begun.

In 525, Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk used his learning to replace the former A.D. scheme, a Latin phrase which meant ‘anno Diocletiani’, in the year of Diocletian, which currently dated systems from the year that Diocletian became emperor which took place in AD 284. This dating scheme had gained some prominence in the churches in the 4th and 5th centuries. Another dating scheme used was to simply refer to when certain events took place based on who was consul at the time (the highest rank in the Roman political world until the Roman Empire was established in 27 BC, when the highest rank then became the emperor himself). So, if an event took place in a year when Pompey the Great was the consul in Rome, we may refer to the event, a century afterward, as taking place “in the consulship of Pompey”. Dionysius Exiguus thus replaced this with ‘anno Domini’, in the year of the Lord (not ‘after death’ or ‘after Christ’), referring to the year in which Jesus was born.

Then, during the 8th century, the Venerable Bede would be the next in succession to advance the calendar. Bede was going to go on to become one of the greatest men in the history of Christian thought, and in Dante’s Paradiso (which follows his Inferno and Purgatorio in his poem of the Divine Comedy, now one of the classics of Western thought) where Dante portrayed himself meeting the heroes of Christianity and Christian thought, placing the Bede alongside others such as Thomas Aquinas and Solomon. Bede was an English monk, and by adopting the eras that Dionysius Exiguus used, the modern calendar entered into the mainstream of scholarship. Furthermore, Bede also added in the B.C. system, before Christ. Until this time, calendars (such as that of Diocletian) contained no such mechanism to dating events before the epoch of the first year, and therefore, this advancement of Bede was very important. AD 1 comes right after 1 BC, meaning there is no year 0 – this is because, although the number 0 had been ‘invented’ by Indian mathematical scholar Brahmagupta in the early 7th century, it would not reach the mainstream of Europe until the 13th century, when it was transmitted there by the works of Fibonacci, perhaps the greatest mathematician of the entire medieval period.

The fate of the AD/BC calendar was sealed when the court of Charlemagne adopted it, looking back at the treatises of Bede in the contemporary speculations about time itself. Charlemagne was the first Holy Roman Emperor, an empire he established in AD 800 that lasted all the way until 1806 (when Napolean brought it to its knees). Charlemagne is known as the ‘father of Europe’, probably being to Europe what Augustus was to Rome. This is not the time for an biography of Charlemagne, though it is safe to say that Charlemagne helped establish this calendar, and by the 15th century, it had been widely adopted by Europe.

Indeed, the advancement of this little Christian idea would be further developed throughout the medieval period, as scholars would continue to provide corrections and calculations to make it more accurate. In his monograph The Middle Ages (2015, Harvard), Johannes Fried writes;

Chronologers of the Early Modern era such as J. J. Scaliger regarded these medieval calculators with disdain, and even went so far as to accuse the calendar makers of 1582 of half-heartedness. However, they misconstrued the absolute necessity of the first steps in this subject, and as a result disregarded earlier authors such as Wilhelm von Hirsau, Rainer von Paderborn, or Robert Grosseteste, who in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries respectively subjected the traditional calendar to close scrutiny, and through their experiments and calculations corrected it, for the most part accurately. Yet because their innovations were not immediately adopted, the modern period—in its ignorance and complacency—discriminated against those scholars and their entire era. (pg. 58)

In 1988, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted this means of era as the international standard (though it does leave room for the newer CE/BCE system, which is basically based on Dionysius’s calculations of when Christ was born (which was actually a bit off) but just states it without any reference to Christianity).

Thus, we can see the development of a small Christian idea, replacing the calendar based off an emperor who hated Christianity and attempted to crush its followers until finally giving up, once he realized that Christianity was growing too rapidly in his empire to be stamped out. A more venerable figure was placed at the heart of the calendar, Jesus Christ himself, and the medieval Christian scholars like Bede would progress it further. This is another contribution we owe to the Middle Ages, one which has Christian roots like so many other things we seamlessly enjoy today. In 1582, shortly after the Middle Ages ended, Pope Gregory XIII would introduce the Gregorian calendar, the worlds most widely used calendrical system today that refined and replaced the Julian calendar, which goes back to Julius Caesar. Thank Christianity.

Christian Fall, the End of History

As I explained in my previous post, a new chapter marked history when Constantine converted to Christianity, formally banned persecution against Christians within the Roman Empire, which had broken out time and time again in earlier decades and centuries. This was a result of Constantine himself converting to the religion, and establishing the city of Constantinople — a city that would serve as the center of Christendom and capital of the Byzantine Empire for the next millennium until its capture by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. However, this was not before the Roman Empire itself would split into the eastern and western halves, something that occurred at the end of the reign of Theodosius I (379-395 AD). What was left was the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire. While the Eastern half of the empire would go on for another thousand years, this would not be before the Western Roman Empire had itself fallen, which would mark the transition of history into the Middle Ages in 476 AD after being captured by the barbarian officer Odoacer who would thus become its king.

Here, I’m going to try to look at and summarize the main factors and events that went into the fall of the Western Roman Empire, focusing mainly on the barbarian invasions, and thus clarify one of the most pivotal moments for the future of the history of Christianity. I will just add that the term ‘barbarian’ was invented by the Greeks much earlier on, in order to originally describe any of those inferior peoples that were not Greek themselves. The Romans used the term to describe a much different, and much more specific peoples.

The empire did not suddenly fall, of course. The fall of the empire was centuries in the making, the first cracks opening up during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161 – 180) when the empire was struck by the Plague of Galen (also known as the Antonine Plague) that may have claimed a fourth or even a third of the inhabitants of the empire, akin to the Black Plague that would become one of the markers of the European Middle Ages during the 14th century. The Third Century Crisis began in 235, and until 284, the empire would be rife with enormous civil wars, inflation and over 60 emperors, each slaying one another in the struggle for power, at least three being slain at the hands of the Persians to the east. Then, in 249, the empire was struck once more by the Plague of Cyprian that lasted from 249-262 (which the pagans blamed the Christians on, and so started the first empire-wide persecution of Christianity).

After the empire was stabilized and strengthened under Diocletian and Constantine, it would not be long before civil war would become constant once more, albeit at a much smaller rate. However, this time, things would be much different, as the barbarians would begin their migrations and invasions into Roman territory. This would all culminate in 476, where the empire was finally conquered by the barbarians. The barbarians were numerous disparate tribes and groups north of the empire, beyond the Danube and Rhine living on the steppes in nomadic lifestyles as they constantly traveled in order to survive. Almost all the barbarian enemies were Germanic, though the Romans would have to also deal with the Huns as the decades went by. These groups were made up of many smaller peoples, such as the Goths (who would split into the Visigoths [west Goths] and Ostrogoths [east Goths] soon enough), the Vandals, Angles, Saxons, Franks, Alans, Alemanni, etc, with each of these peoples being made up of various tribes that may have warred with each other and allied with each other at different times. They desired to enter and live in the Roman Empire, knowing of the riches that lay south of them, and many of them would successfully migrate their, though others had more nefarious motives, sometimes which would become manifest after already having migrated. Many times, different tribes were allied with the Romans themselves, and as the professional army of the Western Roman Empire began to vanish, the Romans would often hire different barbarian tribes to battle against others. However, it would end up the case that the barbarians would slowly conquer, and carve out the Western Empire among them. Here’s an image of the Western Empire before and after the barbarians helped themselves to the Roman lands.

Now that’s a catastrophe if I’ve ever seen one. Adrian Goldsworthy, in his fantastic book How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower (2009, Yale University Press) summed up the situation like this;

By the end of the fifth century the territory once controlled by the Western Empire was now split into a number of separate kingdoms. The Visigoths controlled much of Gaul and almost all of the Iberian Peninsula. Only in the north-west did the rump of the Suevic kingdom survive. Similarly, the Vascones – from whom the modern Basques claim descent – were effectively independent in their lands along the north-east coast. The Visigoths, however, were not the sole power in Gaul. There was a substantial Frankish kingdom in the north, and smaller Burgundian and Alamannic states in the east. In the far north some areas had been settled by Saxons. Brittany was controlled by a combination of its old provincial population and the descendants of the refugees who had fled there from Britain. Across the Channel, Britain was divided into many separate groupings, and the east was now overwhelmingly dominated by rulers who were Saxon or from other north Germanic tribes. The Vandals remained in control of North Africa, although to the south they were under pressure from the Moors. Finally, Italy itself was in the hands of King Theodoric and the Ostrogoths. (pg. 370)

At first, the barbarians would only enter the Roman Empire upon admission from the Romans to settle them because, as I mentioned earlier, they originally wanted to migrate in order to inherit the riches of the Roman lands which they could not dream of in their own lands. It was the case, too, however, that many barbarians would want to enter the Roman Empire in order to escape and run away from other expanding tribes. Thus, the first time the barbarians ever forcefully entered into the (eastern) empire was in 376, a group of Goths seeking asylum from the expanding territories of the ruthless Huns. In his now  famous monograph titled The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (2005, Oxford University Press), Bryan-Ward Perkins writes;

The first people to enter the empire in force were Goths, who in 376 crossed the Danube, fleeing from the nomadic Huns who had recently appeared on the Eurasian steppes. (pg. 1)

They had first made their way to the border on the Danube, and requested permission to settle in the empire. Now, the initial entry would not be forceful, as they were a massive force and the emperor Valens (364-378) found it more secure to settle them in then to keep them out (lest they invade). So, they entered, but things quickly devolved for their situation. They had almost no food, and the Romans were said to have forced them to sell a child per dog they received. The Goths could not take it, and revolted. Thus commenced the Gothic War of 376-382.

This would be a horrible time for the Romans. The Romans had, by this time, already been weakened by over a century of civil war, plague, wars with the Parthian Empire and some battles with the barbarians themselves. Indeed, by this time, they were not powerful enough to command a decisive victory against the barbarians, and so through a period of 6 years were routing their supplies and doing some guerrilla warfare, eventually forcing the Goths to surrender (on rather generous terms). However, the Romans, at one point, did attempt a decisive victory. In 378, the emperor Valens at Hadrianopolis, deciding not to wait for reinforcements to arrive, launched a massive head-on attack against the barbarians. The battle was, against the perceived odds, an utter massacre. The Roman army was utterly destroyed, perhaps losing a war that wasn’t as disastrous since Cannae centuries earlier where Hannibal was said to have slain around 50,000 Romans in a single day, the barbarians even killing the emperor Valens. This disaster was only the beginning of the end, however. Perkins continues;

Certainly any theory that the East was always much stronger than the West is demolished by the fact that it was the eastern field army that was defeated and massacred at Hadrianopolis in 378. This defeat provoked a profound and immediate eastern crisis: the Balkans were devastated; Constantinople itself was threatened (though saved by the presence of some Arab troops); and Gothic soldiers within the Roman army were slaughtered as a precautionary measure. The loss with all its equipment of perhaps two-thirds of the eastern field army took years of expenditure and effort to repair. Indeed, until the Goths under Alaric entered Italy in 401, it was the eastern emperors, not the western, who occasionally needed military help from the other half of the empire (in 377, 378, 381, 395, and 397). In dealing with the Goths, after their entry into the empire in 376, the eastern emperors alternated between a policy of alliance and one of aggression; but their ambitions after 380 seem to have been limited to containing the Gothic menace, with little hope of destroying it or driving it right out of imperial territory. (pp. 58-9)

In 401, the Western Roman Empire would be invaded by the barbarians for the first time, under the Visigothic king Alaric. Alaric would be defeated twice in 402, at the Battle of Pollentia (by Stilicho, one of the last great Roman generals and himself half-barbarian) and Battle of Verona, but was not killed in these engagements and would return once more to cause something unprecedented in almost a thousand years of Roman history. In 408, the emperor of the Western Roman Empire Honorius (393-423, by this time the eastern and western empires had split would be led by different emperors) executed Stilicho and ordered the executions of tens of thousands of Goths, causing many to defect and join the forces of Alaric, swelling the numbers of his army. That same year in 408, Alaric would once again invade Rome, changing history in the process. Until this time, a famous phrase in the empire was ‘Roma Invicta, or ‘Unconquered Rome.’ By 410, Alaric marched his armies into the gates of the great city and sacked it over a period of three days. “The city which had taken the whole world had itself been taken”, was how Jerome summed it up. Coincidentally, Alaric would later die that year. In 455, a few decades later, Rome was sacked once again, this time though, much more systematically by the Vandals over a 2 week period.

Just years prior to Alaric’s sack, the empire had effectively lost control of the province of Britain, first occupied by Julius Caesar and conquered by the emperor Claudius (41-54) when Constantine III, ruler over the province at the time, attempted to usurp the throne of the empire from Honorius with its support in 407. It had never been easy to maintain rule over Britain, but the usurpation of Constantine who crossed back with his army into Europe effectively ended any such reign (Constantine III himself would be killed years later by Constantius III, who would briefly be emperor in 420 before dying of natural causes). And a year before Constantine III, barbarians groups of Vandals, Sueves and Alans crossed into Gaul, and would slowly conquer it. In 429, the Vandals crossed into North Africa, the largest tax revenue base that the Western Roman Empire controlled, and had conquered the capital Carthage by 439. In the 430’s, the Hunnic Empire would be great enough and so large that it itself threatened the empire under its famous leader, Attila the Hun.

At first, Attila bullied the Eastern Roman Empire, forcing it to pay enormous annual sums of gold (which Attila likely required to pay his own generals so they would be at check, it was not only common for emperors to be killed by those in their midst looking to usurp power). To get a scale at how big Attila’s empire was at the time, behold:

Attila had plundered the Balkans in the 430’s (basically, the modern countries that make up south-eastern Europe, that big chunk of land to the east of Italy that connects to Turkey). His success in raiding the Eastern Roman Empire lead him to invade the west, and he went far enough until 451 (as can be seen in the map above) until he was finally stopped at the Battle of Cataulanian Plains, a great alliance between the Romans and countless different barbarian peoples, which ended the expansion of his empire. He raided Italy in the next two years, but eventually died drunken in 453. His empire fractured and dissolved away as competing men vied to take power. One of Rome’s fiercest enemies had fallen, but by then it was too late. Roman control continued to slowly fade away, until Odoacer finally delivered the final blow in 476 when he conquered Italy and became king. Odoacer himself would be killed by the Ostrogoths under Theoderic the Great in 493. And so was the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

By this time, most of the barbarian tribes had converted to Christianity, mostly in the heretical form of Arian Christianity (it would not be until centuries later until they converted into a more orthodox sort (for example, the Visigoths who controlled most of the Iberian Peninsula [essentially modern Spain and Portugal], with their capital at Toulouse, and then Toledo as they retreated from the Franks in the early 6th century, had been Arian Christians since they entered the empire in 376, but would not abandon Arianism until 587, over 200 years later)). Some barbarians, such as the Ostrogoths who controlled Italy, actually favored the concept of the Roman identity so much that they referred to themselves as Romans, and the other tribes as the real barbarians (even their fellow Visigoths). Western Europe would not become much more united until Charlemagne centuries later, sometimes known as the ‘Father of Europe’ who would unite the Western Empire for the first time since classical times. However, that’s a story for another day, and for now, the Byzantine Empire would live on and a new era was being made way for. This was the medieval period, not a ‘dark ages’ (a term given up by historians) where the history of the world would continue until the modern period. I don’t claim to have fully explained all the factors in Rome’s fall — for a fuller explanation, I’d recommend reading the two aforementioned books; How Rome Fell by Adrian Goldsworthy and The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization by Bryan-Ward Perkins.

Christian Emperor, A New History

The first Roman emperor to have ever interacted with the Christians, a group born under imperial Roman rule in Israel, was Nero. According to Tacitus, who records this interaction in his Annals 15.44, Nero blamed the burning of the city of Rome (which he was likely responsible for) on the Christians and thus persecuted them, likely killing several hundreds (which would have devastated the early community in Rome, since no more than a few thousand could have possibly existed at the time). Some later traditions linked the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul to this persecution (though we do not know precisely when they died) and the Book of Revelation, likely written towards the end of the 1st century also makes associations of the beast with the past reign of the emperor Nero, likely alluding to past persecutions. In a recent 2017 paper titled Tacitus and the Persecution of the Christians: An Invention of Tradition?, Bremmers and van der Lans write;

In Revelation, which is commonly dated to somewhere around 100 but without a general consensus about either the author or the place of composition, there is a reference to a second beast associated with the number six-hundred sixty-six. Tons of ink has been spilled about this number, but the majority of interpreters have accepted that the number is “(among many other things) the sum of the numerical equivalents for the Hebrew letters which spell the words ‘Neron Caesar'”. Furthermore, one of the beast’s heads is said to have received a seemingly fatal wound of which it had been healed. This is probably a reference to the myth of Nero rediturus, which would place Revelation among Jewish apocalyptic scenarios of Nero’s return as eschatological opponent. (pg. 311)

Nero’s persecution in Rome was only the beginning. Christians would also be persecuted under the reign of Domitian, Trajan (as signified by Pliny’s letter to Trajan and his response back), Hadrian (noted by his letter to Servianus), and then under Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor, the greatest persecution against the Christians yet broke out murdering tens of thousands in cold blood. Some of the greatest ancient Christians met their deaths under these circumstances, including Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr (receiving his last name due to the end he met), Ignatius of Antioch and others. Under the reign of Septimius Severus, the last great emperor before the Third Century Crisis of the empire until the reign of Diocletian (who was also a great persecutor of Christians), Severus decided Christianity undermined Roman patriotism and determined to crush it as well, and it is during his reign that the tragic story of Perpetua is documented.

Under the emperor Decius who ruled from 249-251, the first truly empire-wide persecution erupted as Christianity continued to grow exponentially, destroying many more for their faith. Not every emperor hated Christianity, though. One notable exception was the reign of Aurelian under which the empire was reunited (270-275) who not only tolerated Christianity but apparently even resolved a dispute in a church in the empire that had written to him for his aid.

Everything changed, of course, with Constantine I, son of Constantius I of the tetrarchy established by Diocletian, and a pivotal man in the history of the Roman Empire (or perhaps, history in general) in almost every aspect. In the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 against one of the other emperors at the time, Maxentius (by this time, it had been common for there to be multiple emperors), Constantine claimed that a cross appeared over the sun before he entered the battle, and was told that by this sign, he would conquer.

Tiridates was not the only important political figure to embrace Christianity in this period, for in the early fourth century Constantine, one of the most influential figures in Rome, also converted. The decisive moment came during a tempestuous civil war when Constantine took on his rival Maxentius at Milvian Bridge in central Italy in 312 AD. Shortly before the battle, the former supposedly gazed into the sky and saw ‘a cross-shaped light’ above the sun, together with Greek words declaring ‘by this sign, you will conquer’. The full meaning of this became clear to him after he had a dream in which an apparition of Jesus Christ explained to him that the sign of the cross would help him defeat all his rivals. This, at any rate, was how some liked to describe what had happened. (Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A History of the New World, 2015. Pg. 41.

He defeated Maxentius, and became a Christian — the first emperor to do so (however, if Constantine had not done this, scholars generally recognized it would have happened eventually given the rapid growth speed of Christianity at the time, growing so fast that Diocletian gave up on his hopes of stamping Christianity out and simply asked the Christians to pray for the good of the empire). From here, the history of the empire took a turn.

Christian communities certainly benefited greatly under his rule. Not only was their religion granted formal acceptance by the state, but Constantine was generous in funding the construction of grand church buildings. Some of the first of these were in Rome.” (Adrian Goldsworthy, How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower, 2009. Pg. 185)

Constantine further consolidated his power as sole emperor after defeating Licinius in 324. Constantine also converted the city of Byzantium into another centre of the empire, and renamed it Constantinople after himself — which started a new history on its own. Constantine built Constantinople as an overwhelmingly Christian city, erecting churches everywhere with little sign of the pagan cult.

“Christian claims that there was no trace of pagan cults in the city were exaggerated. There was a large nude statue of Constantine as the sun god on top of what is now known as the Burnt Column, and there were a few temples, mostly on existing foundations. Yet it is fair to say that it was an overtly and overwhelmingly Christian city.” (Goldsworthy, pg. 186)

In 313 AD, a year after defeating Maxentius, Constantine and Licinius signed the Edict of Milan, which established freedom of religion and tolerance of Christianity in the empire and ordered the return of confiscated property to the Christians. Persecution, which had peaked earlier during Diocletian’s reign, had virtually come to an end in the empire for the time. Frankopan continues to explain;

Christian accounts leave little doubt about the limitless enthusiasm with which the Emperor personally oversaw the enforcement of Christianity at the expense of all other religions. We learn from one author, for example, that the new city of Constantinople was not ‘polluted by altars, Grecian temples or pagan sacrifices’, but enriched by ‘splendid houses of prayer in which God promised to bless the efforts of the Emperor’. Another writer states that famous centres for cults were shut down by the Emperor, while oracles and divination, staple features of Roman theology, were banned. The customary sacrifice made before official business could take place was likewise outlawed, while pagan statues were pulled down and legislated against. There was little room for equivocation in the story told by authors with vested interests to show Constantine as single-minded promoter of his new beliefs.

In 325, in the second half of Constantine’s reign, the Christians banned gladiatorial fights, claiming that the bloody spectacles had displeased them. In the same year, Constantine called the Council of Nicaea to take place between church leaders in order to address the increasing rifts in the ever-larger Christian community (though Constantine himself did not participate in the council or any of its decisions). Constantine’s mother, Helena, also a Christian, had by this point built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem over the location where the local Christians had claimed was the place of the burial of Jesus Himself (and last year it was confirmed that this church dated to this period), and this structure today is now the greatest pilgrimage site in the Christian world. Constantine also built the Old St. Peter’s Basilica, which stood until the 16th century (sadly taken down by Pope Julius II). Throughout his reign, Constantine supported the church financially, built basilicas, and exempted priests from various taxes and made sure many Christians received powerful positions in the Roman bureaucracy.

Constantine raised all his sons as Christians, who all reigned as emperors until Julian became emperor from 361-363, who would be the last pagan emperor to ever reign (and now known as Julian the Apostate for abandoning Christianity, he was greatly succumbed to the Greek philosophies and tales, and died against the Sasanians to the east of the empire in an attempt to conquer them to re-enact the conquests of Alexander the Great). Under the reign of Theodosius I (379-395), Christianity for the first time would be established as the state religion of the empire, taking the spot the pagan cult had once had.

Of course, such a pivotal moment in the history of the world and Christianity in particular, the crazy New Atheist conspiracies shine forth, claiming that Constantine was, despite the endless documentation in texts, inscriptions, etc, not really a Christian after all and it was all made up. The vast ignorance one would require over virtually everything I’ve gone over about Constantine’s reign is required here. Thankfully, I don’t need to engage in the dismantling over this vast conspiracy, because Bart Ehrman has already done it for me in his most recent book, The Triumph of Christianity (2018), which is very articulately reviewed and explained by Tim O’Neill in his (recommended) recent and extensive review of Ehrman’s book.

On Jordan Peterson

Former associate professor at Harvard University, where he was nominated for the prestigious Levenson Teaching Prize, and currently (for about two decades now) professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, where he has been named one of the three life-changing teachers, is Jordan Peterson, the intellectual who grew up in harsh northern Alberta and has now become the most famous public intellectual today in the world since his original rise opposing the Canadian Bill C-16 which, he stated, is the first piece of legislation in Western history that has compelled people to use specific language–specifically, compelling people to use the preferred pronouns of transgender individuals. Just yesterday, Wesley Yang wrote an article titled The Shocking Truth About Jordan Peterson where he wrote that Peterson “by orders of magnitude, the most widely disseminated lecturer in the history of the world”, and interestingly, also that there are endless examples where “Peterson’s careful approaches to various problems have been twisted beyond recognition by various journalistic interlocutors.” So, considering such a controversial figure has appeared center stage in the rising Western intellectual phenomenon that has been termed the ‘intellectual dark web’ in a recent and widely disseminated New York Times article, and since I’ve followed Peterson very closely, why not discuss the man and his relevance?

Peterson, 55, since his rise in 2016 has a YouTube channel with over a million subscribers (almost all videos being hours long lectures and discussions) and a Twitter account with over 600,000 followers. He’s a long-time professor and clinician, and is an important academic in his field of psychology. After receiving his PhD in psychology at McGill University a few decades ago, his Google Scholar page lists that he and his work have been cited over 9,700 times, and his career work on psychology (specifically in its subfield of personality) is highly respected. In a recent journalistic hit piece on Peterson (of which there are many, especially on the ideological magazine Macleans), Zack Beauchamp had to admit the following;

I spoke to eight academic psychologists before writing this piece; the feedback I received on his published work was uniformly positive.

“His work in personality assessment … is very solid and well respected,” says David Watson, a psychology professor at Notre Dame.

Peterson’s most important influences likely include Frederick Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (‘Jung’ pronounced ‘Yoo-ng’). A fuller and excellent explanation of Peterson’s profound psychological theory is offered here, which will probably only be useful once you’ve become familiar with the man. As I wrote earlier, his initial rise to fame was sparked in 2016 when he opposed Bill C-16, a piece of legislation which promoted compelling speech in order to require people to use transgender pronouns lest they be guilty of discrimination in a court of law.

As Peterson notes, after he had done this, many leftist lawyers came out of the “woodworks” (such as Brenda Cossman) to claim he had misrepresented the bill. In fact, all it does is “to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination”, and does not cite speech anywhere. However, as has been noted by a number of lawyers who have supported Peterson’s interpretation, this misses the gist. One such person was Bruce Pardy, a Law Professor at Queen’s University who wrote an article entitled Meet the new ‘human rights’ — where you are forced by law to use ‘reasonable’ pronouns. In it, he points out multiple facts pertaining to this issue. Pardy writes and explains the issue summarily;

Bill C-16, like provincial human rights codes, does not make specific reference to speech. In the Senate, supporters of C-16 fell over each other denying that the legislation would compel language. When Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould testified before the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, she specifically denied that the bill would force the use of gender-neutral pronouns. There are reasons to doubt her sincerity. First, human rights commissions say otherwise. Along with human rights tribunals, they have primary control over the meaning and application of code provisions, something the justice minister must know. Human rights commissions are not neutral investigative bodies but advocacy agencies with expansive agendas. In comparison, courts and governments play only a minor role in interpreting these statutes.

Second, Senator Donald Plett proposed an amendment to the bill that would have clarified that it was not the bill’s intention to require the use of particular pronouns. The minister flatly rejected it, as did Liberal and most “independent” senators. In fact, like its provincial counterparts, Bill C-16 will give transgendered and non-gendered people the ability to dictate other people’s speech.

Indeed, the human rights commissions in Canada have the authority to interpret the law and, therefore, the law essentially states what they consider it. And indeed, not being compelled to refer to trans people by their pronouns would, according to these commissions, constitute discrimination and therefore violate Bill C-16. Earlier, Pardy quotes the Ontario Human Rights Commission saying that “refusing to refer to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity … will likely be discrimination when it takes place in a social area covered by the Code, including employment, housing and services like education.” Indeed, in a video released by the CUPE BC (Canadian Union of Public Employees, British Columbia), the expert stated “It’s important to use the appropriate pronouns for trans people for a number of reasons. The first reason is that it’s the law. Recent changes to the BC Human Rights Code and the Federal Human Rights Act make discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression forbidden.”

This controversy marked the beginning of the rise of Jordan Peterson. Earlier this year, Peterson had a lecture at Queen’s University with Bruce Pardy and, in my opinion, it was simply astounding.

This was, indeed, only the beginning. Quickly, protests erupted against Peterson. One such protest involved a group of protestors who recorded their engagement with Peterson which was subsequently posted to the internet and then on YouTube with three million views and the title ‘Dr. Jordan Peterson gives up trying to reason with SJWs’.

Since then, many events have marked Jordan Peterson’s rise. In 2017, he began a lecture series on the psychological significance of the biblical stories, now numbering 17 lectures (see the playlist here), which have quickly become the most famous lectures on the biblical stories to ever be produced. If you type ‘God’ into YouTube, the third video that appears is Peterson’s lecture titled Biblical Series I: Introduction to the Idea of God. Whether or not he’s a Christian remains unclear to everyone, for reasons that become clear once you get to understand the guy, which is, impossible without watching much of his content.

Peterson has earned the ire of journalists and ill-informed critics who paint him as the archetype of the evil conservative (though he is a classic liberal) for challenging virtually every orthodoxy of the politically correct leftist culture. He’s become starchly anti-authoritarian by studying Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union for decades, and deeply opposes postmodernism (which effectively says that there is no grand truth narratives in life, that no ideas are above one another) and Marxism (developed by Karl Marx and states that there is a perennial conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat (essentially, those in power and those who aren’t) where those in power are only there as they oppress those below them), and their paradoxical merging into postmodernism neo-Marxism. Peterson writes “It’s not as if I personally think that postmodernism and Marxism are commensurate. It’s obvious to me that the much-vaunted “skepticism toward grand narratives” that is part and parcel of the postmodern viewpoint makes any such alliance logically impossible.” Of course, these ideas encompass much of modern leftist thought, such as cultural relativism which states all cultures are equal (yes, people believe this).

From his talk with academic and fellow psychologist Jonathan Haidt on the perilous state of the university to his lecture titled ‘Identity politics and the Marxist lie of white privilege‘, Peterson’s intellectually compelling and highly dense talks which are full of discussions on psychology, mythology, biology, religion, etc, it wasn’t long before he would be targetted for destruction by those with an ideological axe to grind. A few months ago in January (of 2018), he released his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. We must remember once again that Peterson is a psychologist with decades of clinical experience, and thus his primary work has been to help people, which has consequently lead to the development of his other ideas in a psychological context. This book sparked the increasing fame of Peterson, and the most significant event in his rise would occur, his interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4. This interview, half an hour, now has 9.9 million views and where Peterson, to put it straight, destroys Newman (though Peterson himself doesn’t like such descriptive language being used about him and his engagements).

So today, where his book 12 Rules for Life, since January, is still #1 on Amazon (and in the ensuing half year has already sold over a million copies to become an international bestseller), we live in an age where Peterson has become much more visible, and the criticisms against him much more ruthless and ridiculous. Two clear examples of hit pieces written about him, and their absurdity, will be noted. The first one was published a few weeks ago titled Is Jordan Peterson Enabling Jew Hatred? by ‘journalist’ Ari Feldman, where the cover photo for the article was a picture of Peterson besides Hitler. In it, Feldman cited an article on a far-right website calling him the Savior of Western Civilization and citing the comments of the famous Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt who, in a brief conversation between the two where Feldman tried to get comments out of Deborah, had quoted her calling some of his remarks “suspicious.”

Since publishing time, the article has been refuted and refuted and refuted and refuted and … In short, the Forward had to change the photo of Peterson beside Hitler and issue an apology, Deborah Lipstadt published a note on the Forward explaining she knew almost nothing about Peterson’s views and that Feldman failed to note that she had told him this in their discussion, and the alt-right website calling Peterson a ‘savior’ was actually a satirical piece and the same author had elsewhere referred to Peterson as a “Jewish stooge” (Peterson is not Jewish). Another website, alt-right.com itself has had the following comments to say about Peterson;

So we can conclude a few things: that a Jewish television producer put Peterson on the map, that Jewish-dominated mainstream media outlets give him incredible coverage and access, and that his fierce pro-Jewish stance indicates a loyalty to the Jews supporting and promoting him. This makes Peterson essentially a tool of the powerful Jews backing his weak, inconsequential pushback against radical leftism.

Indeed, Richard Spencer, the most famous alt-right figure around has, after initial hopes that Peterson was on their side in the beginning of his rise to fame, concluded that Peterson was not the guy who he thought he was and had “hit a wall”. Peterson himself has said (and bragged about) having had thousands of people email him and tell him that his lectures have stopped them from joining the alt-right, which also throws a lot of water on the endless line of crackpots who genuinely believe that, despite probably being the most significant single figure who has damaged the ranks of the alt-right movement, that Peterson himself must either secretly be one of them, their darling, or be pandering to them or … some other view that has no further credibility to be discussed. One of Peterson’s ’12 rules’ is “Tell the truth (or at least don’t lie)”. Peterson’s detractors would be in a spot of much more significant credibility if they followed this rule.

The second example is even more recent, a hit piece in the New York Times titled ‘Jordan Peterson, Custodian of the Patriarchy’. The biggest thing that emerged from this was that Peterson supported “enforced monogamy”, something that the author, Nellie Bowles, gave to light as a position that Peterson supposedly endorses the view that women should be redistributed to men and marauding incels so that no one is left behind. If that were true, it would be crazy, but indeed, it couldn’t be a more absurd misrepresentation of the facts. Peterson has had to embarrassingly explain a few facts to his detractors, many of whom still have no clue what they’re talking about even in light of these claims (some of whom still haven’t done the effort to find out they exist). Enforced monogamy is … just a societal pressure to keep people from being polygamous. Peterson writes “My motivated critics couldn’t contain their joyful glee this week at discovering my hypothetical support for a Handmaid’s Tale-type patriarchal social structure as (let’s say) hinted at in Nellie Bowles’ New York Times article presenting her take on my ideas.”

Ben Shapiro, in an article on The Daily Wire appropriately titled ‘The New York Times’ Runs A Comprehensive Hit Piece On Jordan Peterson. It’s Dishonest, Malicious Crap. writes;

This is plainly dishonest reportage. First off, Peterson is using well-established anthropological language here: “enforced monogamy” does not mean government-enforced monogamy. “Enforced monogamy” means socially-promoted, culturally-inculcated monogamy, as opposed to genetic monogamy – evolutionarily-dictated monogamy, which does exist in some species (but does not exist in humans). This distinction has been present in anthropological and scientific literature for decades.

So, here’s what Peterson is not arguing: that women should be forced to marry men to cure the insecurity of incels. But that’s what Bowles says he’s saying, and then calls it “absurd.” Because she’s a very objective reporter, don’t you see.

Here’s what Peterson is arguing: socially-enforced monogamy results in more pairings, and fewer situations in which multiple women choose one man, leaving other men without partners. This is statistically unassailable. Removing socially-enforced monogamy results in a hierarchy in which women choose the most desirable men, since many women can now have sex with one man. Peterson argues that this leads to a counterintuitive result as well: desirable men are less likely to settle down with one woman, making women less satisfied with their relationships with men as well.

Many, many outlets have now explained Nellie Bowles’ absurd, slanderous misrepresentations of Peterson on the issue of enforced monogamy. Here’s a fuller video of Peterson’s subsequent comments on this ‘scandal’.

Even more recently, a recent long-time friend of Peterson, Bernard Schiff, has turned on him and written an article in the Toronto Star explaining why he use to be a supporter of Peterson and now thinks he’s dangerous just four days ago. Earlier today, however, the Toronto Star has published a subsequent letter by Irene Taylor, a former associate of Peterson, who has explained some of the absurdity of the article and the kind of man Peterson really is. Just yesterday, though, a full-length scathing, devastating analysis of Schiff’s article appeared on the Toronto Sun, putting to rest any of the supposed credibility it’s had.

Schiff’s comments are similar to those who claim (and thus misrepresent) Peterson’s human-lobster analogies by claiming Peterson uses them as a one-to-one comparison to humans, or even worse, the outright lie that Peterson claims human and lobster brains are the same (i.e. PZ Myers and Vice) rather than Peterson’s mere scientific demonstration that organisms as distantly related and dissimilar to humans as lobsters have dominance hierarchies and, therefore, hierarchies are ingrained in biology and cannot be removed under absurd guise that they’re sociocultural constructs (or worse yet, those who lay hierarchies at the feet of capitalism). In a recent absurd article in the Washington Post titled Jordan Peterson needs to reconsider the lobster, the marine biologist Bailey Steinworth admits that Peterson doesn’t get any of his science wrong, and that every biologist would agree with what Peterson says regarding dominance hierarchies in nature, but oddly proceeds to complain that there are other examples Peterson could have used besides the lobster. Steinworth vindicates Peterson’s argument by admitting his science about the dominance hierarchies of lobsters is right, but complains that he didn’t use her personally favored comparisons.

So, what does Jordan Peterson really believe? You’ll quickly find out that most of the discussion on Peterson are ridiculous accusations and statements made by his critics, and lengthy refutations and addresses of them by those who are more charitable. His profound psychological theory is not discussed nearly as much, which is the primary reason of his fame. In the beginning of this post, we saw an article by Wesley Yang on the shocking truth about Jordan Peterson, a highly, highly recommended article. Yang explains;

So what does Peterson actually believe? He has consistently defended the moral position that the “individual is sovereign over the group,” a unique feature of Anglo-American political theory and practice that holds that citizens hold their rights against the state rather than through it, which is inscribed into our founding documents, and helps to account for the remarkable capacity of societies built around its doctrines to accommodate high levels of diversity while remaining democratic. The underlying sovereignty of individuals forces state power to operate against a hard constraint that limits coercion, and gives individuals the means by which to push back.

So, should we deal with more absurd articles, such as those by the likes of Paul Thagard, an ideological man whose claims to refute Jordan Peterson’s original book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief published in 1999 (both published by Routledge, one of the most respected academic publishers and has been highly received by academia) are demolished by his own quotations of the book that he straight out misrepresents while claiming at the same time they establish his representations of Peterson? Of course not.

Maps of Meaning is Peterson’s original monograph where Peterson outlines his philosophy, psychology and theory, which was the basis of his popular psychology classes at the University of Toronto. Peterson has released the entire book for free in PDF as well, thank God for that, and Peterson also releases all his lectures and talks for free as well. He is also one of the four reputed academics to have created the Future Authoring Program, where you spend time just outlining your plans for your future. This program has had measurably proven effects on increasing peoples outcome in life, such as significantly reducing the drop-out rate of students (interestingly, the effects are especially significant with minorities).

Peterson now has profound hours-long talks that receive hundreds of thousands and millions of views with many figures, including Dave Rubin, Joe Rogan, Ben ShapiroSteven Pinker, Camille Paglia, John Anderson, Maajid Nawaz and more (most of whom you likely don’t know but may very well love after seeing his talks with them). He’s received support from countless academics such as Denis RancourtJonathan Stea, and Izzy Kalman besides those I’ve already mentioned. In this same time, he’s had an interview with Vice that Vice absurdly edited to make him look bad, a conversation with a Vox journalist (Vox is responsible for a few hit pieces written about Peterson, one of which has already been referred to earlier) where the Vox journalist doesn’t get very far trying to score a victory on him and an admittedly highly intellectual discussion he’s had with a BBC reporter who, despite also wanting to defeat him, ended up having a very interesting and productive conversation (though Peterson still won, watch and enjoy). He’s talked with Russell Brand (twice) and had a popular discussion on the podcast of the famous YouTuber h3h3Productions (which lead to this second one with them).

So, Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life is still #1 on Amazon after six months. In my opinion, his best lectures have been on tour promoting this book, perhaps most astutely his life-changing lecture at HowToAcademy which has received 1.2 million views.

The journalistic storm against Jordan Peterson has seemed to have calmed down recently. Many leftist thinkers have supported him and his rise. Less than two weeks ago, the most recent Munk debate was released on the issue of political correctness. The resolution was “Be it resolved, what you call political correctness, I call progress…” On the pro side was Michelle Goldberg (a New York Times journalist, so the astounding misrepresentation she had of Peterson wasn’t that surprising) and Michael Dyson, and on the con side was Jordan Peterson and Stephen Fry.

The most famous part of the 2-hour long debate, which was released two weeks ago and already has almost 2 million views on YouTube was where Dyson unbelievably called Peterson a “mean, made white man” to which he attracted scathing critique, both during and after the debate. Truly a racist remark, and the firestorm that would have been caused had Peterson called Dyson a “mean, made black man” is self-evident enough. Personally, I thought Peterson and Fry won, but I wasn’t the only one. The audience was polled before the debate, where 36% supported pro (Goldberg, Dyson’s resolution) and 64% supported con (Peterson, Fry). At the end of the debate, support for pro had dropped to 30% and con had risen to 70%, meaning that a sixth of pro’s entire support had evaporated over the course of the debate due to con’s arguments and evidence. Dyson, after the debate, decided to share Twitter posts of people who probably already supported his position before the debate almost self-declaring victory, to which I commented under …

Why is Dyson cherry-picking tweets from like the 6 people who thought he won? Did someone tell him yet that the audience support for his side of the debate dropped from 36% to 30%, and therefore almost a fifth of the people on his side abandoned him?

To which I enjoyed 41 likes and some retweets. So, where is the Peterson phenomenon going? Well, up. Join it while it’s rising. And watch some of his videos on YouTube. You won’t be able to stop.

Bart Ehrman Debunks the Claim that Jesus was Married

Yep. Ehrman is usually helpful when it comes to the more conspiratorial claims regarding early Christianity, even if he’s not the most helpful when it comes to New Testament scholarship overall. The Bible claims Jesus was buried during the peacetime between Jews and the Romans, but Ehrman, using sources from after this peacetime had ended (that is to say, sources regarding the relationship between Jews and Romans after the Roman-Jewish War of 66-70 AD) claims that Romans actually didn’t allow Jews to bury their dead. Nevermind the fact that first-century historian Josephus in the early 70’s explicitly says that the Romans allowed Jews to bury their dead in his War of the Jews 4.317, Ehrman finds it more productive to go to painful lengths to try to explain it away.

Thankfully, Ehrman is a good conspiracy beater. His most recent book The Triumph of Christianity (2018) regarding how Christianity became the dominant religion, though not perfect as Tim O’Neill shows, is very good, and refutes the myth that Constantine didn’t really convert to Christianity made by online atheistic conspiracy theorists. Over the last week or so, I’ve been reading through his book Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code (2004, available online in PDF here) devoted to explaining the historical myths propagated all throughout Dan Brown’s international bestseller The Da Vinci Code book (which ended up becoming a movie). In one especially good section, Ehrman exquisitely refutes the myth that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. As Ehrman shows, Jesus was not married to Mary Magdalene, let alone married at all.

It is true that there have occasionally been historical scholars (as opposed to novelists or “independent researchers”) who have claimed that it is likely that Jesus was married. But the vast majority of scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity have reached just the opposite conclusion. This is for a variety of compelling reasons. (pg. 153)

As Ehrman points out, Jesus having a wife is never mentioned in our earliest and most reliable sources on the lifetime of Jesus, the four Gospels. These Gospels mention Jesus’ brothers, sisters, and parents, but never appears to offer any space for mentioning a supposed wife of Jesus. This is strange, and becomes even more strange if we think it was Mary Magdalene, out of all people, married to Jesus. In ancient times, last names didn’t exist. “Christ” isn’t Jesus’ last name, it’s just a title that comes from the Hebrew word for Messiah, and means “the anointed one” in English. Many people often were giving identifying appellations to distinguish them from other people with the same name. So, how is Mary Magdalene distinguished from the rest of the Mary’s in the Gospels (of which there are quite a few)? She’s given the appellation ‘Magdalene’, denoting that she came from the city of Magdala along the shore of the Sea of Galilee (once the major maritime port city at Galilee until Tiberias was built). However, if she was the wife of Jesus, why wasn’t she just identified as “Mary the wife of Jesus” (Jesus mother, Mary, is identified as ‘Mary the mother of Jesus’ (Acts 1:14))? Even the wives of Jesus’ blood brothers are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9;5. It’s strange to think that such an important characteristic of the life of Jesus would be absent given all this information.

In The Da Vinci Code, it’s claimed that marriage was very common at the time and that celibacy was condemned. But as Ehrman shows, this is wrong again.

We know about one group of Jewish apocalypticists in particular from this time and place, as we have already seen. This is the group of Essenes who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. As it turns out, according to ancient records of these Essenes, they were predominantly single, celibate men. This is the testimony of Jewish sources from the time, such as the first-century philosopher Philo, who indicates that “no Essene takes a wife,” and the historian Josephus, who indicates that the Essenes shunned marriage; on the other hand, this view is affirmed even by non Jewish sources, such as the writings of the Roman polymath Pliny the elder, who indicates that the Essenes renounced sex and lived “without any woman.” (pp. 155-6)

Though Jesus wasn’t an Essene, he was concerned with the end of the world, and many men in first century Judaism concerned with the end of the world simply did not take part in marriage in order to entirely focus themselves on their religious goals. Including the apostle Paul himself (1 Cor. 7:8). So it actually isn’t surprising at all Jesus was married. There goes another atheist myth about Jesus.

The Scientific End of Materialism and Determinism?

The age has come by, and with quantum mechanics (and even classical mechanics) in the picture, both materialism and determinism seem to have come out. Classical mechanics deals with the motion of macroscopic bodies (such tennis balls, planets and asteroids) whereas quantum mechanics deals with the universe at the subatomic level (i.e. what happens at the level of anything smaller than an atom, such as photons and electrons). So, despite the technical names, we all know (or have heard of) a thing or two about these forms of physics, including quantum mechanics, if we’ve ever heard of wave-particle duality (all entities are both waves and particles), nuclear decay (when an atom emits protons/neutrons/photons to become more balanced), wave functions (probability waves) of electrons around an atom, etc. The first book I read introducing me to all these concepts was a well-articulated book by physicist Brian Greene titled The Elegant Universe.

Here, materialism and determinism start becoming problematic. Materialism is the idea that everything that exists has a composition of matter, merely constructed in different modifications, and determinism, the view that everything that will happen is ultimately determined outside of the will, so for example, if you knew everything about every particle in the universe and its movement, size, interaction, etc, you would be able to perfectly predict the future based on inevitable interactions between these particles. These views aren’t synonymous with atheism or naturalism at all, but atheists and naturalists form almost their entire membership, and of course, both concepts contradict supernaturalism (the view that there exists things beyond the natural world) and theism (the view that God/ a god(s) exists). Idealism, certainly, is not a popular view in unbelieving circles.

Determinism, of course, is outright impossible to reconcile with quantum mechanics. According to quantum mechanics, all particles exist in a probabilistic state before being observed/measured. That is to say, the particle/entity literally does not exist in one state as an object, but only exists in a probability region where the particle might be found. This is why things like quantum tunneling occur. In quantum tunneling, a ‘particle’ can pass right through an object (imagine someone walking through a wall) because the wave function it exists as enters the other side of the object by random chance. If this explanation isn’t perfectly clear, this video helps really helps explain the concept.

In other words, in light of the fact that the universe is completely probabilistic, determinism is false, since there is nothing deterministic about the wave function. In fact, it turns out that, according to a 2015 physics paper titled Determinism, independence, and objectivity are incompatible in the journal Physical Review Letters by physicists Radu Ionicioiu, Robert B. Mann, and Daniel R. Terno, determinism is incompatible “not only with quantum mechanics” (from the abstract) but even any classical theory of mechanics. So, the physics community seems to have come to terms with this truth resulting from physics. So why not many atheists?

Materialism falls into the same trap. Matter simply isn’t all that exists, since wave functions exist and are decidedly not matter (also see here). Also, as I was reading some comments by some people on this subject, another simple point was brought up that also does away with materialism, the beginning of the (not just the observable) universe! The fact that matter began to exist is the end of materialism. It’s also important to note that realism, the view that reality exists independently of us, has also been falsified by quantum mechanics (see the book from the renowned physicist Anton Zeilinger’s, Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation). Admittedly, Bohmian mechanics is one way to get out of all this, but it’s probably wrong anyway. Local hidden variable theory has been virtually ruled out by Bell’s inequalities. It’s always nice when physics and science contribute to the slow deconstruction of the unbelieving worldview.

How the Ancient Greeks Did Not Invent Separation of Church and State

The Christians sometime a few centuries ago invented the idea of the separation of church and state, not for secular reasons, but from theological motivations. Hard to believe, I know. That’s why when I was discussing this with someone earlier, and I brought up this fact, they strangely attempted to argue that the real progenitor of the concept of the separation of church and state was the ancient Greeks. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re about to see how the Greeks were anything but secular in their government, and then I’ll explain the motivation for making this claim in the first place.

The Greeks not only did not separate their institutions of ‘church’ and state, they didn’t view these institutions as different to begin with. They were morphed in ancient Greek (and Roman) society in such inextricable ways that even speaking of a ‘separation’ might seem confusing. Everett Ferguson in his highly important monograph Backgrounds of Early Christianity writes;

We have already stated the civic basis of Greek and Roman religion; yet more needs to be said. Modern Western ideas that put religion in a separate category from government, society, and culture can seriously mislead us. Religion was closely interwoven with society in the Greco-Roman world. It was official and a part of the civil order. (pg. 170)

Therefore, it is not only incorrect to claim that the Greeks had a separation of church and state, but the mere idea of such a thing would have been inexplicable to the ancient Greeks. Indeed, the Greek government was almost the precise opposite of what this concept would normally mean to any of us. In the Greek city-states, all laws were devised and enforced by the magistrates (and anyone could be one). All magistrates in city-states like Athens, once they entered the government, had to pledge allegiance to the gods. Pierre Bonnechere thus writes;

Indeed, Athenian magistrates began their mandate with an oath which obligated them to the gods, and ended their terms by settling accounts. (pg. 367 in the edited voume A Companion to Ancient Greek Government)

This is only the beginning. Each Greek city-state had its own patron deity (i.e. Athena for Athens, Artemis for Ephesus). Meetings of assemblies and councils involved sacrifice and prayer, public funds were used to build temples and taxes used to support certain cults, many trials were held within sanctuaries. It doesn’t stop here, indeed, as Bonnechere continues to write (note: polis = city-state);

Again, citizens and other residents joined in various organizations of thiasotes or orge¯ones, private but endorsed by the polis and centered on a divinity, who might be foreign like Bendis. Finally, the cult of the dead remained a private prerogative, though the state often tried to limit its excesses and could hold commemorative ceremonies for the war dead, or organize, as at Athens, the annual festival of the Genesia (Georgoudi 1988b). (pg. 367)

The ancient Greeks and their governments were intimately married with religious precepts and practices, and religious Greek zealotry is why Socrates was executed by the government.

So, why this myth was invented in the first place? I have to admit, it’s a pretty rare myth and you probably won’t encounter it. However, it’s certainly part of a larger view that modern Western culture owes more, morally and scientifically, to Greek philosophy and ideas rather than Judeo-Christian culture. This is a surprisingly wrong idea, but it is indeed an attempt to erase history in order to synthesize a denial of the positive influence of Christianity and credit it as lowly as possible with where its credit is due, and redirect the credit to people whom it can’t be given to, but seem to be pretty smart, such as the ancient Greeks. By the end of the Middle Ages, Christian Europe had advanced the ancient Greeks so vastly in every sector of society; scientifically, ethically and morally, architecturally, philosophically, historiographically, etc, etc. The Middle Ages had successfully laid the foundations for the scientific revolution with countless natural philosophers (essentially an ancient scientist) making staggering contributions and advancements, largely motivated for theological reason and funded by the Church.

A Good Short History of the War

That is, the Roman-Jewish War of 66-70 AD, of course, when the Romans, in response to Jewish aggression, invaded and pillaged Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, thus ending the Second Temple Period. This is a very complex historical event and process that went on for a period of several years, and not much of any laymen understand the details. The war was recorded in detail in the seven books of the War of the Jews, written between 70-75 AD by the Jewish historian Josephus whom himself took part as a general in the war, initially on the Jewish side of the conflict. These seven books are long, tough, and not many people seriously have the time to read the books. Martin Goodman’s highly influential academic monograph The Ruling Class of Judea: The Origins of the Jewish Revolt Against Rome A.D. 66-70 is available online for free in PDF with the click of a button, though albeit an easier read, also tough and not something many people have time for.

Thus, I recently came across a gem in the making. Biblical scholar Joel Edmund Anderson has a nice little blog called Resurrecting Orthodoxy, where he has started to create a series articulately and cogently explaining the history of the Roman-Jewish War. It is really good and enjoyable, and I thought I’d share quickly share this series in the making year. It will certainly increase ones historical understanding of the period if you care about a major event Jesus probably predicted!

The Jewish War Series:

Part 1: The Beginning of the RevoltPart 2: The Bloody Deeds of Menahem the ZealotPart 3: Chaos Erupts Throughout the Region; General Cestius Makes a Move in GalileePart 4: Cestius’ Attack and Inexplicable RetreatPart 5: Josephus Secures Galilee, and the Rise of John of Gischala, Part 6: Vespasian Begins the Roman Advance into GalileePart 7: Vespasian Conquers GalileePart 8: The Revolutionaries in JerusalemPart 9: Ananus the High Priest vs. The Zealots (and further betrayal by John of Gischala), Part 10: The Jewish War Series (Part 10: The Idumeans Come to the Aid of the Zealots)Part 11: The Idumeans’ and Zealots’ Reign of Terror in JerusalemPart 12: Zealot Terrorism in Jerusalem, Chaos in Rome, and a Two-Year Delay to the WarPart 13: Spring of AD 70–Titus and the Roman Legions Arrive at JerusalemPart 14: May 70 AD–Titus Takes the First and Second WallsPart 15–May 70 AD: Josephus’ Appeal and the Miseries to Which the Zealots Inflicted Upon the People, Part 16: The Famine Within the Walls Grows WorsePart 17: The Taking of the Tower of Antonia and Battles in the Temple Precincts

Finding something like this really makes you wanna hallelujah.

Christianity versus Secular Culture

Note: Part of this post was pulled from my comments on this BioLogos discussion page

Though Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life continues dominating the bestselling lists on top, there is still another one jumping up and down the top 20 by one of the West’s most well-known intellectuals, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now. Though I have not read the book yet (though I intend to), I have recently watched one of Pinker’s recent lectures about the book delivered to the Cato Institute delivered on March 6th, 2018.

Essentially, Pinker demonstrates that since the Enlightenment, the world has gotten better in almost every way that we can use to measure the prospertiy of humans (with a few outliers, such as the increase of the opioid epidemic, climate change and AIDS, though I will qualify that at least the last two examples I named are also being reduced). Now, Pinker attributes a lot of this to humanism, i.e. not religion, and at one point in the lecture refers to the religious as believing in a “father in a sky”, the typical strawman version of religion (just as creationism is the strawman version of Christianity). He’s a secularist and likes to attribute the achievements of the Enlightenment to Enlightenment philosophy, including the moral philosophy that matched the rise of the Enlightenment. Now, I have two problems with this.

For one, Pinker seems to flatly not recognize just how enormously Enlightenment values are rooted in Judeo-Christian culture. Without it, it’s not clear whether or not an ‘Enlightenment’ would have taken place within a thousand years of when it did take place, or if ever (though he likes to use the Enlightenment as a direct alternative to Christianity and religion, and lets not forget one of the main men to bring about the Enlightenment, John Locke, wanted atheists jailed). Pinker tries to divorce Enlightenment values from religion (he manages to achieve this without even discussing the origins of the Enlightenment values), something that is historically invalid. Though, of course, this is not the first time that Pinker’s books have historically befuddled. To Pinker’s credit, this aspect of his discussion on Enlightenment values remains a minority portion of his book, thankfully enough. Pinker is not the only secular intellectual to have a surprising misunderstanding of ancient history. While reading Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene, I noticed a significant historical error in an admittedly very well written scientific treatise on pg. 190:

Admittedly the current burst of improvement dates back only to the Renaissance, which was preceded by a dismal period of stagnation, in which European scientific culture was frozen at the level achieved by the Greeks.

This is so mistaken that it is hard to overstate. There was so much advancement between the period of the Greeks to the end of the Middle Ages (the ‘Renaissance’ is also a term now abandoned by serious historians of the period) that a Greek living in the 2nd century, transported to the 15th, would have no clue where they’ve been taken to. The invention of the mechanical clock, printing press, windmill, compass, gunpowder, and countless scientific advancements that laid the foundations for the scientific revolution, revolutions in all sectors of society, marked the remarkable period of advancement in human history known as the Middle Ages. There is of course a ridiculous idea in popular culture that the Middle Ages, between the 5th to 15th century, was marked by a thousand year long stagnation where no progress was made under the overarching fist of an almighty Catholic Church, something that never occurred. The refutation of this Gibbonian thesis was long and arduous, and was completed by historians by the end of the 19th century. Now, books such as the 2009 God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam, explaining and refuting this thesis, has been shortlisted for two highly prestigious awards for the history of science, as well as receiving many lavish endorsements by some of the worlds foremost historians of science, including none other than Edward Grant;

Hannam has written a splendid book and fully supported his claim that the Middle Ages laid the foundations of modern science. He has admirably met another of his goals, namely that of acquainting a large non-academic audience about the way science and various aspects of natural philosophy functioned in medieval society and laid the foundation for modern science. Readers will also learn much about medicine, magic, alchemy, astrology, and especially technology. And they will learn about these important matters in the history of science against the broad background of the life and times of medieval and early modern societies.

So, why does this thesis still exist, given that no credible historian believes in it? Why does it continue getting rehashed in boneheaded books by amateur historians like Closing of the Western Mind (2003) and The Darkening Age (2017)? How many more times does Cantare Amantis have to curbstomp this thesis on Twitter until the message gets across!? The answer is quite simple, dear reader. It is in order to maintain the fictitious idea, believed by secular culture, that Christians destroyed intellectual learning and advancement. It’s quite popular if you’ve not heard of the academic study of the history of science. Secular culture is the majority in the West, without doubt, and the dominant ideology generally likes to invent things in order to discredit its competitors. In this case, Christianity and Christians. This is not the only things happening to Christianity in secular culture, though, there are many other popular myths radiating out there (Constantine wrote the Bible, anything to do with the Council of Nicaea, almost anything to do with the Galileo trial, the mythicist thesis, etc). Now, it may be very difficult to be a Christian under a different, hostile dominant ideology. So how are we to be Christians? This not only has been answered, but the answer is almost two thousand years old. Christianity was in the world of the Roman Empire, a long-lasting and vast power that swarmed over a fraction of the known world, an empire that the late ancestors of Christianity had not known without.

Something that is not well known, or well understood at the very least, is that the influence of pagan religion on the early Christians was just as strong, if not stronger, than the secular influence and argumentation against Christianity in the modern day, and Christians won then. We can win again, but we must not be stupid. I recently finished reading Larry Hurtado’s (Emeritus Professor of Edinburgh University and world renowned scholar) At the Origins of Christian Worship. The first chapter is devoted to understanding and discussing the Roman (and to a lesser extent, Jewish) background to the early Christians. By no means for the Christians was it easy, and that is entirely besides the sporadic persecutions that eventually would have killed several tens of thousands of Christians (and oppress many more) until Constantine finally converted and legalized Christianity (though he did not make it the official religion of the empire, that did not happen until the end of the 4th century under Theodosius I).

In the ancient Roman world, every sector of society was inescapably linked to religion. Numerous deities permeated many societies, many imported over time through the newly conquered peoples of Rome, and almost all official offices had religious obligations. The emperor himself was no doubt excluded. Not only was he included, but he was often deified, where the Roman citizens were expected to worship the emperor directly. To an ancient Roman, even conceiving of some sector or norm of society not explicitly linked with religion would have been inconceivable. As Hurtado explains;

Perhaps the first thing to emphasise is the pervasiveness of religion in the Roman world. It is in fact difficult to point to any aspect of life in that period that was not explicitly connected with religion. Birth, death, marriage, the domestic sphere, civil and wider political life, work, the military, socialising, entertainment, arts, music – all were imbued with religious significance and associations. Any civic and public office also had religious connotations and often involved ex officio religious duties, such as public leadership in periodic ceremonies in honour of the city deities. Any association of tradesmen had its patron deity, and meetings included ritual gestures in honour of the deity. Practically any meal, and certainly any formal dinner, included ritual acknowledgement of deities, and might well be held in rooms that formed part of the temple of this or that deity. Each military unit had its patron deities and performed regular religious acts in honour of them. (pp. 8-9)

Hurtado simply goes on. Perhaps among the most literate philosophers (who were also all aristocratic), some skepticism arose, but this was by and large permeated to the fringes of intellectual society and the masses flauntingly conducted their religion with not only the acceptance, but endorsement of the the rare aristocratic skeptic. In every serious Roman city, there would be numerous temples devoted to the pagan gods, and almost without exception, they would constitute the largest, most lavish buildings in the Roman city. It was an inescapable part of Roman archictecture and life. Not only this, but these temples and religious buildings usually maintained many aspects of Roman life that were not available anywhere but inside of their services, including many cultural centers, zoological parks, museums, aviaries, concerts, art galleries, public lectures, offered nowhere else in the society. Thus, Hurtado points out;

This means that the sacred places of the gods were not only prominent but heavily frequented, both for what we would think of as obviously religious purposes and for wider social and cultural purposes as well. In particular, cult centres were places where groups of people could eat and drink together easily… At this point, however, I want to note that the temples of the pagan gods were also frequently used as convenient places for social dining and often had rooms attached to the central shrine that could be used (likely rented out) for such purposes. Thus, part of the reason that Roman-era temples are to be seen as so important a feature of city life is that people frequented them for a range of purposes and combined social and religious life and activities easily within their precincts. A great deal of financial outlay was involved in shrines and temples, and a great deal of life was related to them. (pp. 20-21)

With so many deities, there would be many holidays throughout the year devoted to the gods, many of which were attended by extraordinary pagan parades that could not escape one’s attraction and notice. I would certainly recommend reading the full chapter of Hurtado’s book, which is actually available freely online in PDF format here. The truth is, we need not lose hope over the secular state of society (and secular life, which is essentially a Faustian bargain), this is not something that Christians haven’t dealt with before. Christians, by the way, won that one. We must be ready to defend the faith, and know the intricate, complex truths. This means, at least for me, immersing oneselves in scholarship and academia, since that is where the complex, profound truths of the world lie. I believe in defending the faith. I think we all should, indeed need, to do so if we want to see our friends and family, and wider culture, come to the truth.

We must continue worshipping, and worshipping together in gatherings, a highly important feature of early Christian society. We need our own culture. We have to hold to the truths of our predecessors. Christians, in the past, did not sit around doing nothing. They vigorously defended and proclaimed the faith all the time, converting the city dwellers and the aristocrats. A fantastic account of the rise of early Christianity is the one by the renowned sociologist Rodney Stark, one that I find quite profound in its truth. Though I was perhaps harsh in this article, it is to try to nail my point into your head. Hopefully I will be forgiven. Remember, as long as there is one of our fighters, there is a hope yet to come.

Watch oνer your life: do not let your lamps go out, and do not be unprepared, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming. 2 Gather together frequently, seeking the things that benefit your souls, for a the time you haνe belieνed will be of no use to you if you are not found perfect in the last time.

The Didache (16.1-2) 100-200 AD