Boin (Ancient and Late Antique Mediterranean History/Saint Louis Univ.; Ostia in Late Antiquity, 2013) puts forth a different perception of early Roman Christians and their effects on the empire.
Whereas Edward Gibbon and many scholars after him have concluded or assumed that the fall of Rome came about due to Christian influence and intolerance, Boin posits that there is little truth in that finding. Whereas many view Christianity as toppling old religions in Rome in the wake of Constantine’s conversion, the author argues that the empire remained religiously diverse for many years after that event. In this brief volume, Boin especially focuses on the Christians who lived seemingly uneventful lives, separating their faith practices from life within an emperor-focused, polytheistic society. These people may not have ended up in history books, but they did drive the normalization of Christianity in the Mediterranean basin. “By virtue of their creative resilience, not their zealotry,” writes the author, “they accomplished the most fundamental thing of all: they taught their Roman friends and neighbors to see Christians in a less threatening light.” Boin hopes to convince readers that Christian persecution was sporadic and in many ways restrained by Roman standards. Furthermore, when Constantine entered the church, the effect on Christianity may have been profound, but the effect on the empire was negligible. The author provides some thought-provoking points and successfully begins a dialogue with conventional wisdom on this subject. However, considering the breadth of his subject matter—spanning four centuries, the length of an empire and every socioeconomic class—it would be prudent for Boin to embark upon a lengthier, more scholarly treatment of his thesis. Attempting to tie his arguments in with current events—such as the selection of the current pope—the author fumbles, but overall, the book is accessible and intriguing.
A great conversation
starter with plenty of room for more research and elaboration.