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Early Christianity, emperors and gods of Rome

The early Christians were persecuted because they refused to worship the emperor and statues of Roman gods. Brief review of this opposition and persecution she triggered.
The book of Acts describes the pagan atmosphere in which bathed the early Christianity. Some examples. Of Lystra people took Paul and Barnabas for the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus (Acts 14: 11-13) In Ephesus worshiped the goddess Artemis (Acts 19: 1,23).  




Jupiter OA 5086
In Athens, Paul noted that the people "seemed more given to the fear of the deities than others are." He even noticed an altar with the inscription," To an Unknown God. "(Acts 17: 22,23). On the island of Malta, some believed that Paul was a god because a snake bite had no effect on him (Acts 28: 3-6).

The early Christians refused to worship
the emperor and the statues of Roman gods

Parthénon Athènes Relief mithriatique MND 1911
 St. Paul bitten by a viper
in Malta    inv 1931
Martin YOUR Antwerp, 1603
Richelieu 2nd Floor Netherlands Room 11
Dedication to the Syrian goddess Atargatis
Br 4480 Sully 1 st floor room 32 lives E4
This inscription was dedicated Dea Syria latin name for the Syrian goddess Atargatis.
Within the empire, the deities were as diverse as the languages ​​and cultures. Judaism was considered a religio licita or religion allowed. But paganism also permeated local cults. Greek mythology was commonly accepted. Have widespread cult of Egyptian deities Serapis and Isis, the Syrian fish-goddess Atargatis, and the Persian sun god Mithras. The notion of exclusivity in worship was therefore absent from the Roman mentality, everyone is free to worship many gods at a time. The Roman pantheon seemed endless. By the end of II th century av.n.è. Roman had assimilated their main deities with those of the Greek pantheon: Jupiter Zeus, Hermes Mercury, Juno Hera, etc.. They also embraced the corresponding mythology

Caesar Augustus and the imperial cult

The notion of exclusivity

in worship
was absent from the

Roman mentality
Under the reign

of Augustus

the imperial cult
          Camée d'Auguste Bj 1839          
Under the reign of Augustus (27 av.n.è n.è-14) appeared the imperial cult. The eastern provinces where Greek was spoken were grateful for this emperor who had brought peace and prosperity. Although Augustus forbade that deifies his lifetime, he held that we love Dea Roma, the goddess personifying Rome.

Since Nero (54-68) until the middle of the third century all Roman emperors, be organized, be permitted the persecution of Christians. Nero made use of the fire of Rome as an excuse to persecute Christians. Therefore be a Christian became a capital offense. The apostle Paul likely suffered martyrdom under his reign.  AA223  AA224





Domitian   LL21

Domitien (81-96 NS), brother of Titus, was the first emperor to demand that reveres him as Dominus et Deus (Lord and God). According to tradition, it was towards the end of his reign that the apostle John was deported to the island of Patmos, where he received the Revelation (or Apocalypse). It thus mentions a Christian, Antipas, was killed in Pergamum, an important center of the imperial cult.  

In 112 NS Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, demanded that Christians perform the rituals of the State religion. In a letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan, he wrote: "Here is the rule I followed those who were brought to me as Christians. I asked them to themselves if they were Christians; those who persevered, I had them executed. "And what about those who denied and worshiped an image of the emperor and the statues of the gods, Pliny adds, " I thought I should let them go." Trajan has also directed that Christians who refused to worship the Roman gods be executed:" He who denied being a Christian and has given clear evidence, I mean sacrificing our gods get forgiveness as price his repentance. "   AA221

 Pliny the Younger wrote his letters

inv 5301

Decorated ceilings Museum Charles X

Francis Joseph HEIM

Sully room 36 

The first Christians were considered marginal and dangerous individuals, and the rest of the population was brought to the suspect. They could not approve common religious practices, such as the cult of the emperor. This cult was to throw a few grains of incense or a few drops of wine on an altar in front of an image of the emperor. But Christians saw this as an act by which we recognize the divinity of the emperor, so an act of unfaithfulness to God. That is why they refused to do so. Daniel Mannix observes: " Christians who withdrew were few in number. Post a pinch of incense on the altar, that is all that was required of a prisoner; so we gave it a sacrifice certificate and he was free."  AA225

The early Christians did not serving in the armed forces. "From the end of the period of the New Testament to the year 170, there is no evidence of the presence of Christians in the army. " And for EW Barnes, so they refused to serve in the Roman army, both in the legions in the auxilia as they felt it quite incompatible with the teachings of Christianity.   AA226 AA227
Christians, unless waive the exercise of a more sacred duty, could therefore be subject to the duties of soldiers, magistrates or princes. AA228  Tertullian (200 CE) demonstrates from Scripture character illegal military life itself and concluded with these words; "I banish from us the military. "For the Christian religion is put aside politics and high society; his supreme allegiance to not attached to Caesar but to Christ AA229   AA230
Gallien   MR 511   Constant   Cp 6399   Théodose   inv 8005
Gallien (253-268) was the first Roman emperor to issue an edict of tolerance towards Christians. Nevertheless Christianity remains a prohibited religion throughout the empire. Towards the end of the reign of Diocletian (284-305) began a terrible persecution that lasted nearly ten years. The emperor took directly to the Bible, hoping to stifle Christianity by ordering that all Bibles be burned Christians. AA222

Diocletian and the fight against Christians


 The Martyrdom of
St. Irene
  inv 709

Carlo Francesco NUVOLONE 1640
Denon 1 room 17

The Blessed presented would be Irene
of Constantinople
who was martyred in Rome under the reign
of Diocletian for
hidden Christian books.

  The support

Diocletian brought

traditional gods to

Roman triggered

the fight against

In 324, Constantine the Great became the only undisputed sovereign. First Roman emperor to rule in the name of Christ, Constantine the Great (306-337) drew with the ability of a cunning politician the path that leads to the final victory of Christianity in the late fourth century. He made Roman Catholicism the religion of the Empire. Under Constantine, Christianity and the Roman Empire were allies. Under Theodosius (379-395) they were united. The Catholic faith had become the only religion authorized by the Romans. Persecution of the Church became persecutor. And the Bible would be another serious threat against its survival if not, at least the integrity of the text. AR92
For the Romans, it was inconceivable that a religion asks its followers an exclusive attachment. Worship the gods of State was seen as a simple sign of recognition of the political system. But it was often impossible to give Christians. In their eyes, it was an act of unfaithfulness to God. A dilemma that is still current.


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Oriental Antiquities    Oriental Antiquities Departement
Egyptian Antiquities    Egyptian Antiquities Departement
Roman Antiquities    Roman Antiquities Departement