Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.07.05

Richard Klein, Roma versa per aevum: Ausgewählte Schriften zur heidnischen und christlichen Spätantike. Edd. Raban von Haehling and Klaus Scherberich.   Hildescheim:  Georg Olms Verlag, 1999.  Pp. 687.  ISBN 3-487-11032-6.  

Reviewed by David M. Reis, Wells College (
Word count: 3750 words

Published to commemorate the sixty-fifth birthday of Richard Klein, the distinguished scholar of ancient history from the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, this volume consists of twenty-one articles written by him over a period of two decades on select themes in later Roman and early Christian history. Because this work is not constructed around a single, unifying thesis, this review will begin with brief abstracts of a few of the essays in each section and will conclude with more general observations on Klein's scholarship as a whole.

Section I: Politische Geschichte

1. "Die Kämpfe um die Nachfolge nach dem Tode Constantins des Grossen." In this essay Klein evaluates the problematic evidence for assessing the role of Constantius in the violence following the death of Constantine. After rightly questioning Eusebius' tendentious account, Klein argues that Constantine's administrative decisions and his entanglements with Persia show that he had not clearly established a line of succession prior to his death, a situation that might have been caused in part by the emperor's lack of faith in his sons. In any event, Klein argues that the sources that accuse Constantius of the murders of his relatives are untrustworthy and concludes that Constantius was not the driving force behind these bloody events.

2. "Der Rombesuch des Kaisers Constantius II. im Jahre 357." This essay offers a critical evaluation of Ammianus Marcellinus' account of Constantius' visit to Rome in 357. Klein argues that Constantius traveled to Rome not only to celebrate recent military accomplishments but also to commemorate his own vicennalia and to show the city that the imperium and majesty previously embodied in Constantine had been transferred to him. Klein also views the trip as a step in Constantius' plan to curb the prestige of Rome and elevate the political power of Constantinople. Ammianus' description of the awe Constantius felt while in Rome are thus meant to heighten Rome's position during a period of turmoil rather than to provide a positive evaluation of the emperor. Finally, Klein observes that Constantius' dealings with the Christian community as well as his toleration of pagan religiosity are examples of the emperor's Realpolitik.

3. "Die Ermordung der Philosophin Hypatia: Zum Kampf um die politische Macht in Alexandria." Klein begins by noting that most previous treatments of the death of Hypatia are limited because they narrowly frame the events under the rubric of religious factionalism, with Cyril leading the Christians and Hypatia the pagans. According to Klein, however, a more comprehensive understanding of Hypatia's death must take into account the political atmosphere in Alexandria, including the divisions within Christianity itself. Indeed, he argues that Hypatia's reputation for wisdom had elevated her to a position of political prominence, to the point that even some Christians recognized her influence and sought her advice. The Alexandrian bishop thus likely saw Hypatia as a challenge to his own political aspirations and must have resented the philosopher for undermining his authority within the Christian community. Because the death of Hypatia occurred in Cyril's church, Klein thinks it probable that the bishop was aware of these events and therefore should not be exonerated. Finally, although Cyril probably bribed imperial officials against reporting the events in order to prevent reprisals, legislation from the Theodosian Code diminishing the power of the bishop shows that the emperor blamed Cyril and the Alexandrian community for their actions.

Section II: Religionsgeschichte

1. "Kaiser Julians Rhetoren- und Unterrichtsgesetz." Upon review of Julian's law regulating the moral qualities of instructors (Cod. Theo. XIII.3.5) as well as of his Ep. 55, Klein argues that the emperor intended to prevent Christian teachers from working in order to reestablish the basic tenets of paganism. Klein thus objects to earlier studies that place Julian's hatred of Christianity at the forefront of their analyses. Instead, he insists that Julian's legislation was primarily a political move intended to surround himself with like-minded administrators and secondarily, as an attempt to return to the golden age when the pagan cultus dominated the religious and social life of Rome. Julian nevertheless recognized that this decree would cause significant problems for Christianity, which had not established its own schools. Accordingly, some Christian parents took their children out of school fearing that they would be infected by pagan education, while many Christian educators denied their faith in order to keep their lucrative positions. Ultimately, Klein observes, this policy of disenfranchisement was more effective than violent persecution.

2. "Die Entwicklung der christlichen Palästinawallfahrt in Konstantinischer Zeit." While Judaism and Islam employed the idea of pilgrimage from their beginnings, Klein observes that it took Christianity three centuries to develop a similar notion. He points to a number of factors for this disinterest in an earthly place for worshiping God: the movement away from Jerusalem after the Jewish War and the Bar Kochba revolt, the interest in apocalypticism, and more spiritualized understandings of God. Even so, because Jewish Christianity played a role in preserving traditions of Jesus and his earliest followers, certain cult sites in and around Jerusalem always remained important for Christianity and were occasionally visited prior to Constantine. Christian pilgrimages, which built upon pagan and Jewish customs, only became popular with the end of the persecutions and after Constantine's victory over Maxentius. Thereafter, the emperor encouraged the construction of buildings dedicated to the martyrs as visible proof of his victory over the pagan deities.

Most instrumental in encouraging Christian pilgrimages, however, was Eusebius. He not only provided a theological justification for pilgrimages by envisioning Jerusalem as the earthly counterpart to the heavenly city, but he also aided pilgrims in a practical way by developing guidebooks of the Holy Land. While early pilgrims undoubtedly came from regions near Palestine, the earliest reports are nevertheless from the West. The first report, from the Bordeaux pilgrim, shows a greater concentration on Jewish sites, in part because a Christian tradition had yet to be developed and in part because the Christian memorials were still in the process of construction. By contrast, the second report from Egeria from the late fourth century shows that Christianity had a much stronger foothold in Palestine: Egeria's knowledge of Christian sites is more thorough, she acknowledges the existence of monks, and she describes Christian ritual activity. It is in the latter half of the fourth century, then, that Christian pilgrimage is established.

3. "Spätantike Tempelzerstörungen im Widerspruch christlicher Urteile." Although there are a number of famous cases of temple destruction in the post-Constantinian era, most notably the Serapeum in Alexandria, Klein shows that Christian writers often balanced their zeal for destroying pagan shrines with a certain restraint and tolerance toward these holy places. Imperial legislation likewise shows that pagan temples were protected, often because the building itself and its statues were deemed valuable. Libanius' plea for the preservation of the temples was thus generally followed by Christians: while paganism was certainly condemned, their buildings could nevertheless be adopted for Christian purposes to demonstrate the superiority of the one true God.

Section III: Sozialgeschichte

1. "Die frühe Kirche und die Sklaverei." In this essay Klein argues that any understanding of slavery in early Christianity must first take into account how the idea was understood in the larger Greco-Roman world. Slavery was a vital part of the ancient world's socio-economy structure, and the freeing of slaves provoked different responses among the philosophical schools. While Plato and Aristotle envisaged a sharp distinction between slave and free, the Stoics' revalued the word "slave" to mean one who was ruled by his or her desires, while "free" signaled one who had mastered them. In addition, all humans were equal in the sense that they all emerged from the same seed. Whether one was a slave or a freeman in the legal sense was therefore less important than that all people should strive to act according to reason: for the slaveowner it meant showing his slaves compassion, for the slave it meant obeying his master. In this way the social order was sustained. With the emergence of Christianity, according to Klein, the Stoic position had become predominant.

In the Pauline epistles, Klein detects an attempt to steer a middle course between Stoicism's notion of absolute equality and the harsh demands of absolute obedience. In consonance with the larger Hellenistic world, Christianity accepted slavery as an integral part of the social order, yet its insistence on brotherhood through Christ is a concept that is unknown in Greco-Roman religious and philosophical texts. Klein thereafter shows that the patristic writers essentially held to the Pauline position that freedom is determined by one's belief in Christ, while the inscriptions from the catacombs show that this belief erases all class distinctions. In the early church two positions can be detected toward the issue of slavery. On the one hand, it was not uncommon for Christians and the church to buy freedom for slaves, thinking it to be a good work. On the other hand, there was a tendency to de-emphasize the Pauline notion of equality in later Christian legislation. When the church addressed the issue of slavery in the later fourth and early fifth centuries, it was forced to negotiate between two extremes. The first, which stemmed from the large influx of nobility into the church, demanded absolute rights for slaveowners. The second, deriving from the monastic world, encouraged slaves to despise and run away from their masters. Having outgrown the Pauline teachings on slavery, church leaders were forced to find a new solution that satisfied the increasing number of philosophically-trained Christians.

The patristic response to slavery was diverse, ranging from an absolute rejection of slavery to a justification of it through Aristotle's idea of natural distinctions between humans. Generally, however, most authors saw slavery as a necessary institution and thus appealed both to Greco-Roman philosophical teachings and the idea that slavery was the result of sin in order to justify its existence. Nevertheless, these Christian leaders were troubled by slavery and did work toward changing the relationship between masters and slaves by promoting the ideal of brotherhood.

2. "Zum Verhältnis von Herren und Sklaven in der Spätantike." In this essay Klein proposes a fresh look at the evidence from Italy and Gaul that sheds light on how pagan and Christian authors viewed the relationship between the nobility and slaves. Klein begins by noting that pagan writers such as Symmachus drew a sharp distinction between the upper classes and slaves, the latter of which were regarded as simple tools that deserved only disdain and contempt. By contrast, slaveowners who were sensitive to Christian ideals such as universal brotherhood and the creation of humanity in the image of God recognized a duty to act humanely and responsibly toward their servants. Nevertheless, it is clear, according to Klein, that these enlightened owners were in the minority as the flight of slaves increased during the tumultuous years of the early fifth century. As the slaves began to assert their freedom in greater numbers, the nobility sought to develop a new relationship with them in order to preserve the social order.

With the rise of the Merovingians, Klein turns to the writings of the bishops, the lives of the saints, and the texts from church councils. He argues that the number of slaves did not decrease in this period and may have even become greater due to the continuous raids led by rulers of outlying regions. In addition, the treatment of slaves became more brutal, for the Frankish nobility were not, like their Roman counterparts, subject to punishment for killing a slave. In this situation the church and medieval Christians reacted in various ways. While the bishops may have been patrons to the poor, slaves were generally not under their sphere of influence, and in any event the church accepted the institution of slavery as part of the social order (indeed, the church itself owned a large number of slaves). From the church councils, however, it becomes clear that some attempts were made to improve the lot of slaves. For instance, the punishments for runaways were lessened, owners could be sentenced to temporary excommunication for unlawfully killing a slave, and nobles were prevented from forcing former slaves to return to their previous positions. Still, the Western church's record on slavery is tainted because of its interest in maintaining the institutions integral to the socio-economic order.

3. "Die Bestellung von Sklaven zu Priestern: Ein rechtliches und soziales Problem in Spätantike und Frühmittelalter." The movement from slave to priest, a phenomenon that has received little attention in the scholarly literature, was an issue with important social ramifications for the institutionalized church. Klein examines a number of ecclesiastical and imperial legal texts that show how both institutions sought to prevent or at least put controls on slaves entering into priestly office. This was done to protect the appearance and standards of the church, to pacify slaveowners, who all too often saw their property flee to the church in order to gain freedom, and to preserve the social order of noble households. Popes such as Leo and Gregory the Great even went so far as to assert that the character and moral worth of slaves was insufficient for becoming priests, and that slaves stained the office.

These strong statements were largely ignored, however, due to simple necessity as well as the Christian belief that all humans should be treated the same because all were equal in Christ. This latter position, derived from the Pauline epistles, was advanced by the emperor Justinian, who refers to Galatians 3:28 when decreeing that slaves who enter the cloister may remain there if their conduct is blameless for a period of three years (the period was reduced to one year for priests). The result, not surprisingly, was a considerable increase in the number of new monks and priests in the Eastern empire. It is likely that these former slaves were put in charge of communities, for it is probable that they would have received at least a rudimentary education from their owners (a luxury unavailable to many among the free underclass) and would have had some experience in handling practical affairs.

In the early Middle Ages, the problem of the ordination of slaves persisted, as evidenced by the attempts of numerous church councils in Gaul and Spain to reinforce the traditional papal position barring slaves from the priesthood. As with the earlier age, this position was grounded in the idea that the spiritual leadership of the church should not be related in any way to slavery or to temporal concerns.

Section IV: Geistes- und Literaturgeschichte

1. "Die Romidee bei Symmachus, Claudian und Prudentius." With the disintegration of the Western empire near the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth century, Rome experienced an identity crisis that resulted in much discussion on the value and significance of the former capital. In this essay Klein compares the views of Symmachus, Claudian, and Prudentius, representatives of pagan, religiously indifferent, and Christian viewpoints, respectively, in order to highlight the diversity of opinions on the importance of Rome. With Symmachus we hear from an aristocratic senator who is convinced that Rome's greatness can be traced to its citizens' adherence to the traditional cults. He thus calls for a return to the sacrificial cultus of the ancient gods in order to preserve the city's grandeur. This position, which no doubt stems from his noble upbringing, was, however, completely out of step with reality. Indeed, Symmachus consistently distorted the significance of Rome as well as the influence of the Senate and the emperor, thinking that the status of the city in the late fourth century was identical to its prominent position centuries earlier. Because he constructs an inflexible and unrealistic portrait of Rome as the central and most powerful city in an empire that has lost none of its former greatness, Klein views the senator as a tragic figure unable (or unwilling) to accept the barbaric and Christian influences that surrounded him.

The Alexandrian poet Claudian shares with Symmachus a reverence for Rome, but he is less concerned with reviving the ancient sacrificial cults. Rather, he views Rome allegorically as a cultural symbol that has unified the entire world under the aegis of peace, law, and civilization. Moreover, instead of restricting himself to viewing the goddess Roma as staid, backward-looking, and in need of sacrificial offerings (as Symmachus does), the poet imagines the goddess as ever-changing and adapting to meet the needs of the present.

As with the first two authors, Prudentius displays a patriotic vision of Rome, although his main contribution was to reappropriate the pagan lore of Rome for Christianity. Thus, the power of Christ and the martyrs have replaced the pagan divinities, and according to the poet the future stability of Rome depends on its citizens turning to this burgeoning faith. As proof of this, Prudentius cites Constantine, Theodosius, and his successors as instrumental figures who initiated and secured the place of Christianity in the empire and brought Roman history to a climax. Through this examination, Klein notes that while all three writers possessed an ideal picture of Rome, each one did so from a decidedly different vantage point: if Symmachus continually hearkened back to the city's former glory, Claudian was more interested in the developing the significance of Rome for the present world and Prudentius revalued this lore in order to envision the city's future greatness.

2. "Die Neuen Augustinus-Predigten: Ein aufsehenerregender Handschriftenfund in Mainz." This article rehearses the startling 1990 discovery of twenty-six sermons from Augustine and reviews the first to be published by the French scholar F. Dolbeau. These sermons, which date from between 397-405 and are directed at schismatics and heretics as well as pagans, help illuminate the social and political climate of this period. For example, in one sermon Augustine marshals evidence against the Donatists to prove that the church is universal and against the pagans to show that idols are worthless. Elsewhere, Augustine adopts a more hortatory tone with the pagans, insisting that the divinity of God cannot be viewed with the eyes but only through the pure heart of the believer. Other topics include contrasting the wisdom of God with the powerlessness of humanity, thoughts on catechumens, and his views on charity and the love of God. This essay is followed by two others that Klein had written on the same set of sermons ("Die neugefunden Augustinus-Predigten aus der Mainzer Stadtbibliothek: Fortsetzung" and "Die neudeckten Mainzer Augustinus-Predigten: Abschluss").

3. "Die Bedeutung von Basilius' Schrift 'Ad Adolescentes' für die Erhaltung der heidnisch-griechischen Literatur." This essay examines Christianity's views on pagan paideia as a means for uncovering the significance of Basil of Caesarea's treatise on Christian higher education. From the beginning, Klein asserts, Christianity maintained an uneasy relationship with pagan education. The conflicting messages on this topic in the New Testament extend into the patristic literature, where on the one hand Justin and the Alexandrian fathers viewed such learning positively as a propaedeutic to Christian education while on the other hand more recalcitrant voices like Tatian and Tertullian staunchly decried any conciliation to the immoral and offensive teachings of the Greco-Roman world. In the late fourth century the controversy over the value of pagan education reached a fever pitch. Klein identifies a general trend among Christians to reject classical learning, a development that the emperor Julian sought to reverse through his legislation against Christian teachers. In response, Christianity retained the form of pagan education but transformed its content; for example the elder Apollinarius rewrote the Old Testament in verse while his son modeled the gospels after the Platonic dialogues. On the other hand, Gregory of Nazianzus demanded that Christians should have access to some of the rhetorical and philosophical works by virtue of the fact that the Greek language was common to all.

It was in this contentious atmosphere that Basil wrote his treatise defending the value of pagan literature for elementary education. Like the Alexandrians, he argues that this literature is a valuable propaedeutic for those who seek to acquire a deeper understanding of the scriptures. He is especially interested in highlighting the ethical features of pagan works, believing that they are just as useful as the Old Testament for inculcating virtue. This argument had the result of appropriating Greek literature for Christianity and ensuring that it would be preserved and handed down to future generations.

The popularity of Basil's text can be seen in its reception in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Europe. Not only was it adopted as a foundational tool for education by enlightened humanists of the twelfth century, but after it was translated into Latin and Italian it became a favorite of the Florentine elite during the later Renaissance. Similarly, Basil's work was translated into German during the Reformation era, during which time humanistically inclined writers such as Erasmus and Calvin made use of the text. Klein concludes that "Ad Adolescentes" played a pivotal role in persuading Western Europe to return to the literature of classical antiquity and, more practically, by making it acceptable to print and lecture on these ancient texts.

With the publication of Roma versa per aevum, the editors have done a commendable job of gathering together a diverse selection of essays written by an influential voice in ancient studies. This sort of book would naturally not be recommended for use in an undergraduate setting, but it is highly recommended for the specialist of late antiquity who seeks to own a representative collection of Klein's work in one volume. While the above abstracts cannot adequately convey, of course, all of the nuances and sophistication contained in these articles, a brief perusal of the forty-page Stellenregister is enough for one to appreciate Klein's thorough and wide-ranging scholarship (from Homer to Gregory of Tours and beyond). In addition to his mastery of the ancient (and early medieval) sources, Klein's argumentation is consistently meticulous, incisive, and persuasive. Especially refreshing is his ability to infuse new life into issues that have often been burdened by ideological and theological biases (e.g. the murder of Hypatia and slavery in the early church). Perhaps this is occasionally done in the extreme; for instance, his distinction between political and religious motivations in the essays on Hypatia and Julian might seem a bit too tidy for some. Klein himself even appears to be willing to give more consideration to the religious dimension of Julian's legislation in his later article on Basil's "Ad Adolescentes". This is only a minor quibble, however, in what is an excellent collection of articles investigating the political, social, and religious climate of late antiquity.

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