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On public brutality

Summary

Teresa Morgan weighs claims that Christianity made the Roman Empire more humane.

Summary

Teresa Morgan weighs claims that Christianity made the Roman Empire more humane.

Transcript

Christians often like to believe that the Roman Empire became a much kinder, more compassionate, more humane place with its Christianisation. And in some ways, that was true. Constantine abolished crucifixion, which had been a very common form of execution – he abolished it, of course, because it was the way that Christ had been executed – but it did mean that perhaps the most brutal form of execution ceased. Christians had always been very much against wild beast shows and gladiatorial contests, even when they weren’t themselves put in the arena, of course, which they quite often were. And those became less and less fashionable and died out. So in some ways, some of the more obvious forms of public brutality are either abolished immediately with the Christianisation of the Empire, or quite quickly die out.

But I think it’s also worth bearing in mind that Christians were wonderful propagandists. They were very, very effective in their criticism of the world around them. And they were very much in the business of portraying themselves as kind, gentle, forgiving, virtuous people in comparison with the horrors of the Empire and the world that had gone before them. So I think we have to take some of their claims with a pinch of salt.