Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.05.16


P. Thrams, Christianisierung des Römerreiches und heidnischer Widerstand. Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1992. Pp. 225. ISBN 3-533-04422-X.


Reviewed by David Potter -- University of Michigan

The title of this book suggests that its author is not much in touch with current trends in the study of religion and religious attitudes during the fourth and fifth centuries in the Anglophone world. In Thrams' view, traditional cult had pretty much died out as a significant force during the third century and personal, eastern mystery cults had come to the fore. As a result of Constantine's "personal" conversion to Christianity and pro-Christian policy, aristocrats turned more and more to these cults. This is all too simple a picture, and as the mainstream of work in the area has flowed so far away from this interpretative backwater, it is not worth rehashing the issues here.

This said, Thrams' book is not without value. He has collected a lot of epigraphic evidence for the participation of the Roman aristocracy in eastern cults in a clear, coherent, fashion. Anyone looking for a quick guide to people known to be connected with the cults of Mithras, Cybele, Isis or Dionysus, will be thankful for his appendices (207-14), and will be equally grateful for his treatment of other cults (p. 101-116). He is less interested in papyri, which is particularly unfortunate when it comes to his discussion of the establishment of Sunday as a holiday (p. 42-43). Here he notes that dies venerabilis solis of C.Th. 2.8.1 is neither obviously pagan or Christian. This is true, but it is also worth noting that Thursday (dies Iovis) was the normal day for the cessation of public business (see esp. P. Oxy. 3174 intro. on H(ME/RA H(LI/OU) and that the meaning of this edict was not lost on everyone. P. Oxy. 3759, the record of a hearing before the logistes gives us what is, at present, our earliest record of Sunday, explicitly referred to as KURIAKH/, "the Lord's day" as a day when court will not be in session. It dates to 325, and invites comparison with the day book where Thursday is the day off (P. Oxy. 3741) in 313 (see also P. Oxy. 3407).

The purpose of this book is not clear. It is too dated to be useful as an introduction to the subject, it is too short to offer detailed analysis of the many complicated subjects that it brings up (see, for instance, the five pages [122-26] on Julian's religious policy that reveal no knowledge of anything written in English in the last few decades). It has its good points, but does not add up to much in the end.