From James J. O'Donnell, renowned classicist and author of Augustine and The Ruin of the Roman Empire, comes the provocative story of Christianity's rise as told by the traditionalists it displaced
For hundreds of years, religious and spiritual pluralism thrived in the Roman Empire. In the fourth century, however, as Christianity became the state religion, Christians developed the concept of the "pagan" as a way to stigmatize and ostracize those who refused to abandon their traditions and devote themselves to the Christian god. These "pagans" were Greeks, Romans, Gauls, and Syrians who piously observed the traditions of their ancestors--and who wrongly believed that Christianity was a passing fad.
The story of paganism's swift extinction unfolds through the fourth century of the Common Era, when Romans of every nationality, social class, and religious preference found their world suddenly controlled and constrained by rulers who worshipped a single new god. Pagans uncovers how the ancient and deeply rooted religious traditions of these polytheistic Romans were undermined and suppressed by the rise of Christianity in little more than a hundred years. In his characteristically vivid style, O'Donnell explores the foundational features of Roman religion and culture, paints fresh portraits of iconic historical figures--including Constantine, Julian, and Augustine--and breathes new life into the defining tensions of the era: Rome versus the East, civilization versus barbarism, plurality versus unity, rich versus poor, and tradition versus innovation.
The story of paganism turns out to be the story of how the new Christian cult staked its claim to exceptionalism. In this nuanced account of religious repression, O'Donnell offers an iconoclastic history of religion that tells an exciting new story with deep relevance to the way we think about religion in our own time.