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The Mid-Third Century Persecutions of Decius and Valerian

Second revised edition

Reinhard Selinger

The aim of this study is to explore the development from pagan religious policy to the persecution of Christians in the middle of the third century AD. Up to the present, research has largely depended on Christian sources and has focused on the consequences for the Church alone. The limitations of Christian authors, however, are obvious. Even if they were victims of persecution, none of them paid much attention to the imperial government itself; all they were concerned with were the effects on the Church. In contrast, this book looks at the Emperor and his governors at work as described by inscriptions and papyri in comparison with Christian authors. As such, this study considers not only the effects of the imperial measures on the Church and its leaders but also their original purpose. In conclusion, there is no compelling reason to see Decius’ decree as a device for persecution, whereas the first Valerian law was directed against the Church hierarchy leaving hardly any room for Christian practices, and the second one was a reaction to reported problems with the implementation of the first.
Contents: The value of Christian sources – The religious policy of Decius – Sacrifices for the accession of a new emperor – The Decian certificates of sacrifice – The martyrs of Decius’ persecution – Valerian’s laws on the Christians – Gallienus’ law of toleration.