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Christianizing the Roman Empire, A.D.100-400 [Paperback]

Ramsay MacMullen
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 11.95 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Product details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; New edition edition (1 July 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300036426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300036428
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 743,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Offers a secular perspective on the growth of the Christian Church in ancient Rome, identifies nonreligious factors in conversion, and examines the influence of Constantine.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly but disturbing 5 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a very short book on a very large topic. The scholarship is astounding, though evidence for this is wisely confined to the (extensive) notes section. MacMullen commands an unrivalled knowledge of the evidence surviving from early Christian times, from documents of course, but also from inscriptions and archaeological remains. He puts an amazingly cool and at times imaginative historian's brain to work to make sense of all this evidence, coming to conclusions that are no doubt challengeable (as is the way of all science) but which seem to me to be fairly robust. To arrive at these from a survey of fragmented but extensive evidence is an intellectual achievement on a par with, well, I would say Quantum Physics.

From the New Testament and related documents we have some idea of how the very first Christian, or at least Pauline, communities functioned as household based, urban "assemblies". For the second century we know something went on about the formation of the role of "bishop" but we don't really know the process and how it interacted with the processes that later led to a so-called "orthodoxy". MacMullen reckons that there was a conversion rate of about half a million a generation over the second century, ending up with about 5 million "Christians" of one type or another (he is wise not to be more specific) by the time of Constantine's conversion. This was about 20% of the Empire's population. This might compare to similar conversions to other cults and may have involved comings and goings to "Christianity" but it quite remarkable nonetheless. He argues convincingly that these conversions took place largely at the domestic or local level, based on conversions of heads of households, or their wives, and subsequently their families and entourages.
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6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly but disappointing 13 Dec 2009
By tolkein
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm an historian who is interested in the early history of Christianity. I have read Wilken and Stark, as well as Chadwick and discussions about the Gospels and early Christian writings.

I had not expected Macmullen to be so anti-Christian in his writing to the extent that I think it let it affect his scholarly judgement. I am afraid that I found too many places where he sought to minimise the impact of Christianity on Roman society despite the evidence. In his favour is a wealth of material and scholarly references.

I would recommend the book to Christians as a valuable discussion of the period, even though the conclusions should be viewed very sceptically.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
73 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How Christianity Conquered Rome: The Untold Story 23 Aug 2001
By Todd Hudnall - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ramsay MacMullen, the author of Christianizing the Roman Empire, is the Dunham Professor of History and Classics at Yale University. On January 5, of 2001 he was the recipient of a lifetime Award for Scholarly Distinction from the American Historical Association. The citation begins, "Ramsay MacMullen is the greatest historian of the Roman Empire alive today." Obviously the author is eminently qualified for his research for this work.

Christianity grew dramatically from the day of Pentecost to the year 400 through mass conversations. At the end of the first century, the church held a minimal significance in Roman society. It simply "did not count." Within three centuries it included ten percent of the population and had displaced the other religions of the empire. In Christianizing the Roman Empire MacMullen addresses the factors for this amazing growth. The author demonstrates that these mass conversions first came through the power of miracles and later through the social advantage of becoming a Christian. As such, MacMullen is diminishing the value of Christian piety and the testimony of martyrs as reasons for the mass evangelization.

The book is divided into two sections, which are the times prior to 312 and after 312 (Constantine's "conversion" in 312 and the Edict of Milan in 313). He first examines what Pagans of the culture believed. Then he looks at what Christians presented to the Pagans about this new faith, and how they presented it. The influence of Constantine is examined, as are the non-religious factors that led to conversions. MacMullen then looks at evangelical campaigns after 312, including the conversion of intellectuals. Finally he looks at the quality of the conversions and those that were won through coercion.

I found MacMullen's research and use of sources of the highest quality. The book contains forty-three pages of endnotes and commentary by the author about the endnotes. In addition, the biography is extensive and would be of great value for those desiring to do additional research on the subject. He uses many sources to verify his thesis that Christian miracles during the early years and favored advantage in the former years, rather than Christian love, piety, and courage in martyrdom, resulted in the dramatic growth of the church. MacMullen's research confirmed that Christianity becoming the Roman State religion strongly diluted the spiritual nature of the church.

Christianizing the Roman Empire is an outstanding work of research by an eminently qualified authority. I found the material fascinating. Some of it attacked my pre-conceived notions, while other aspects of the book confirmed my reasoned suspicions. The book is written for those who already have some knowledge and study in church history during this era in Rome. Though MacMullen obviously is writing this book to an educated audience, the writing style is not nearly as high quality as his research. The first two chapters may cause some sincere readers to give up on the book before they have an opportunity to enjoy its valuable contribution. Despite its shortcomings, I would highly recommend Christianizing the Roman Empire to those with a high interest in learning more about this period of Roman and church history.
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What "Conversion" to Christianity Meant, 100-400 A.D. 4 Dec 1999
By Rodney Bryant - Published on Amazon.com
MacMullen's portraits of how people of the Empire became "Christians" are indelible -- and possibly, to some, disturbing. His account of how masses, crowds, throngs -- were "converted" to Christianity at the same time, on the same occasion, is riveting and thought-provoking. MacMullen describes too the very real, "everyday," yet typically, today, minimized, way miracles led to conversion and the Christianizing of the Roman Empire. Indeed, MacMullen's assessment (buttressed by his nearly exclusive reliance on primary sources) of what conversion meant in the first centuries after Christ is the heart of the book. MacMullen deploys indefatigable erudition (don't shrug off the footnotes: they contain some of the best writing in the book) and expresses himself with style, even grace, a thoughtful man writing authoritatively -- if at times iconoclastically -- about a crucial passage in the development of Christianity and rise of the West.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History -- not diatribe 18 Jan 2002
By "philo_of_alexandria" - Published on Amazon.com
I am delighted with this book because it presents the facts
about early christianity without going into a diatribe in
some particular direction. This is a book about the documented
history of christianity -- not pro christian dogma and not
anti-christian diatribe. While documentation is not the end
of every possible controversy (in fact the book brings up new
questions) it is at least helpful to know what information can
in fact be found -- and to know what is not to be found.
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid History 22 Dec 2001
By Tron Honto - Published on Amazon.com
Many of the reviews below are excellent, so this will be short. Throughout, the book bases its arguments solely on evidence of which there is a paucity for this time period. MacMullens strength however is beyond the examination of the evidence. He appears to set aside any attempt to spiritualize this time period or romanticize the practice of Xianity therein. Some his statements are surprising (e.g., that ater Paul, there is virtually no evidence of itinerant evangelism explicitly aimed at UNbelievers/ NONchristians), and most of these are arguments from silence though very probable in light of other evidence. Overall, this work is thorough, concise, and respectable. It achieves an examination of the early Christian faith as history while repudiating any attempts to use the primitive faith as a modern pulpit from which to preach. The book is quite concise, but its contents are so pithy as to prove to be an inspiration and guide for much further investigation.
28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "This Work Adds to Traditional Views on Christianization" 26 Feb 2002
By Johannes Platonicus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Ramsey MacMullen has much to offer contemporary scholarship on the much-discussed and always open-ended problem of Christianization in the Roman Empire. MacMullen systematically renders an insightful overview of the different transitions in the process of Christianization as follows: first the period from New Testament evangelism (as found in the Epistles and the Acts) to Constantine's conversion, and the period following after the emperor's conversion all the way to AD 407. MacMullen does not discount the more customary viewpoints held by scholars such as Edward Gibbon and J.B. Bury, or, for that matter, traditional ecclesiastical interpretation as well; he does add to them though; and this is his most remarkable feat. He manages to maintain a balance between the secular and the ecclesiastical, in turn offering food-for-thought for all readers. Ramsey MacMullen's work deserves praise and possible precedence even over the renowned scholar Peter Brown's works, which bear a similarity to R.M.'s but lack the same objectivity. While his style of prose is a bit unseasonable and skewed at times, the work, overall, will undoubtedly come as a relief and reward to anyone yet to be familiar with it.
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