History and Sources

Were early Christians persecuted by Rome? How long did that go on?

As Christianity became more clearly separated from its Jewish roots, Roman authorities all over the Mediterranean became more wary of Christianity’s potential threat to Rome’s authority. Many Christians refused to burn incense to the emperor and paid with their lives, but executions remained largely a matter of local jurisdiction until about the middle of the third century. Several Roman emperors, such as Nero and Marcus Aurelius, were known for their personal antipathy to Christians. But it was Decius who in 250 C.E. issued the first general order requiring all in the realm to worship the gods of Rome. Thousands of Christians were executed and many more renounced the faith, at least publicly. Diocletian (284-305 C.E.) began his reign with greater tolerance, but toward the end sanctioned the razing of churches, the burning of scriptures, and wholesale executions. The reign of terror continued until 311 C.E., when Emperor Galerius proclaimed a renewal of official toleration of Christians.


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