3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A detailed look at Christianity in the late Roman Empire,
This review is from: Pagans and Christians: In the Mediterranean World from the Second Century AD to the Conversion of Constantine (Paperback)
This is my third book by Robin Lane Fox and I read it through my respect for his scholarship regarding the ancient world and curiosity as to how classical religion disappeared so completely (and Christianity flourished) in the lands of the ex Roman Empire.
He doesn't retreat from a complex subject, and evaluates the value of varied sources to build a slow and careful picture of events as they unfolded in the first three centuries after the birth of Christ. The overall work has a more academic feeling than for example his excellent "The Classical World" and it does require a fairly high reader commitment, but the reward is undoubtedly a better understanding of this major turning point in history.
The classical world system was breaking apart, and a new Christianity based world view was replacing it in Europe and the Middle East. It would later fade in the south when confronted by a militant Islam but continue grow throughout Europe and provide the basis for the first proto European states, not to mention the first European settlements in America.
He provides interesting contrasts between late classical religion and early Christianity showing for example the solidity of early Christianity with its bishops, scriptures, moral rectitude and discipline, contrasting it with a rather hazy and sleazy late classicism with its money making cults, sale of priest hoods, divine emperors and absence of guilt or an afterlife. The general decadence of classical religion was a world away from the centuries earlier works of Homer but as RLF shows,,the Odyssey and the Iliad were more like evidence of an ongoing religion rather than scriptures in themselves and they portrayed rather capricious gods that were not so straightforward as a single Christian divinity.
He relates the multitude of problems that afflicted the Late Empire such as inflation, corruption, barbarian invasions and a general decline in art with the 2nd and 3rd century inscriptions on shrines by local notables being replaced almost exclusively from the mid 3rd century by inscriptions by central Roman governors and high officials.
The appearance of the first Christian emperor (Constantine) in 340A.D. is seen as a major turning point with his attribution of his military victories to his belief in a Christian God - in fact in a rather similar fashion to the Classical emperors with respect to their own warlike Gods.
Overall I found this a worthwhile book that did need a good deal of patience.