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American Society of Church History

Imperial Religious Policy and Valerian's Persecution of the Church, A.D. 257-260
Author(s): Christopher J. Haas
Source: Church History, Vol. 52, No. 2 (Jun., 1983), pp. 133-144
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Society of Church
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Imperial Religious Policy and Valerian's
Persecution of the Church, A.D. 257-260

The persecution instituted by the emperor Valerian (A.D. 253-260) long

has presented modern scholars with several important problems. One of the
most pressing questions concerns the reasons behind Valerian's sudden shift
in religious policy in 257. Prior to that time the church was largely
undisturbed, but the years 257-258 witnessed a series of increasingly severe
imperial edicts directed against Christianity. What prompted this sudden
reversal of imperial religious policy in 257? Moreover, given the change in
the official position, what was the nature of this revised religious policy? The
overall picture that emerges out of an attempt to answer these questions
indicates that the primary motives behind this persecution were, in fact,
religious. Further, the government's religious outlook also encompassed
certain related social aims. In order to deal with these issues effectively,
however, one first must compare Valerian's religious policy to those of his
predecessors from 249 to 253.
In July 251 the emperor Trajan Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus
perished in a desperate battle with the Goths in Lower Moesia. With their
deaths the persecution which they had set in motion also came to an end, but
only after it had raged for a full year and a half.1 The Decian persecution had
the distinction of being the first empire-wide assault upon the church and also
marked the first time that suspected Christians were searched out and tested,
thereby overturning the long-standing provisions of Trajan's rescript to
Pliny. Decius's persecution came after a long period of peace for the church,
and many unprepared Christians apostasized as a result of its unexpected
Decius was succeeded on the throne by one of his own generals,
V. Trebonianus Gallus. Gallus's short reign (251-253) was characterized by

1. F. S. Salisbury and H. Mattingly, "The Reign of Trajan Decius," Journal of Roman Studies
14(1924): 18-20.
2. The literature on the Decian persecution is vast; among the most important recent studies
are G. W. Clarke, "Double-Trials in the Persecution of Decius," Historia 22 (1973):
650-663; idem, "Some Observations on the Persecution of Decius," Antichthon 3 (1969):
63-77; Paul Keresztes, "The Decian libelli and Contemporary Literature," Latomus 34
(1975): 761-781; Joachim Molthagen, Der rimische Staat und die Christen im zweiten und
dritten Jahrhundert (G6ttingen, 1970), pp. 61-84; Michael Sage, Cyprian (Philadelphia,
1975), pp. 165-266; and Marta Sordi, "La data dell'editto di Decio e il significato della
persecuzione anticristiana," Rivista della Chiesa in Italia 34 (1980): 451-461.

Mr. Haas is a graduate student and teaching fellow in the department of

history in the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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numerous unexpected barbarian invasions all along the front

and the Borani ravaged the cities of the Danubian provinc
Persians struck deep into Syria, advancing as far as Antioch itse
a serious outbreak of the bubonic plague occurred during
devastating the populations of both the capital and the province
In these straits, Gallus had little or no opportunity to continu
Decius's persecution of the church. Although it appears that
as devoted to the state religion as was Decius, the exigencies
prevented him from systematically punishing recusants like th
However, his reign did witness isolated acts of violence com
members of the Christian hierarchy. Cyprian speaks of two bis
Cornelius and Lucius, who were banished during Gallus
Alexandria the bishop Dionysius notes that Gallus "drove away t
(lEpovs avbpas) who were supplicating God for his peace an
Therefore, it seems that Gallus chose to bring pressure to bear
clergy rather than to persecute the church as a whole. In t
departed from the policy of Decius, and Gallus's method o
foreshadowed that of Valerian, which was instituted in 257.
In 253 a civil war ensued when the legions in Moesia accl
victorious general, Aemilian, as imperator. When Gallus hea
dispatched a respected senator, P. Licinius Valerianus, to t
Raetia in order to collect additional troops for the war agai
Aemilian, however, quickly brought his forces into Italy, wher
outnumbered troops murdered the emperor and gave thei
Aemilian. In the meantime, Valerian and the German legion
Alps and advanced towards Rome. Aemilian soon found hims
desperate situation which he had brought upon Gallus. Aem
quickly deserted him, and he was murdered after a reign of les
months. By June 253, Valerian found himself sole master o

3. Zosimus 1.27.1-2; Zonaras 12.21.3-16.

4. The plague carried off Decius's youngest son, Hostilian, in Rome (Aurelius Victor, Liber de
Caesaribus 30.2; Epitome de Caesaribus 30.2). For the effects of the plague in the provinces,
see Cyprian, de Mortalitate 4, 14, 16; Zosimus 26.2.
5. Gallus seems to have continued minting the series of coins dedicated to previously
consecrated emperors which was begun by Decius. See M. R. Alf6ldi, "The Consecration
Coins of the Third Century," Acta Archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae
(1955): 57-70; Harold Mattingly, "The Coins of the 'Divi' Issued by Trajan Decius,"
Numismatic Chronicle (1954): 53-61.
6. Cyprian, Epistula 60.1, 61.1. The numbering of Cyprian's letters followed here is that
found in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, vol. 3, pt. 2.
7. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica (trans. J. E. L. Oulton) 7.1.1 (hereafter cited as HE).
8. Zosimus 1.28.1-29.1; Eutropius, Breviarium 9.6. See also H. Mattingly, "The Reign of
Aemilian: A Chronological Note," Journal of Roman Studies 25 (1935): 55-58; "The
Reigns of Trebonianus Gallus and Volusian and of Aemilian," Numismatic Chronicle
(1946): 36-46.

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In the first years of his reign Valerian made a serious attemp

measure of peace and stability to all of the empire's inhabitant
Christians. Zosimus states that Valerian was an able administrator and that
he took great pains to renew the empire's former prosperous condition.9 To
assist him in this endeavor, Valerian elevated his son, P. Licinius Gallienus,
to the rank of Augustus. As a result of the efforts of these two emperors, the
Roman world experienced a certain degree of peace in the years 253-256.
The church also enjoyed the peace of these years and devoted itself to
recovering from the ravages of the Decian persecution. In 253 no fewer than
66 African bishops were able to meet together in order to discuss the baptism
of infants. Another provincial synod, this time meeting in the spring of 255,
was able to attract some 32 bishops and dealt with the validity of baptism by
heretics. The churches in the eastern portion of the empire also flourished,
their bishops "rejoicing above measure at the unexpected arrival of peace."
Moreover, this was a period of marked growth for Christianity, and converts
were numerous. All of these factors indicate that the imperial government
largely ignored the church, according it the de facto toleration that it had
enjoyed under Philip I.'?
Dionysius states that this toleration was the product of Valerian's benevo-
lent attitude towards the Christians. The bishop of Alexandria describes at
great length
how mild and friendly ['`irtos Kai 4XLXXOpwv] he was to the men of God. For not a
single one of the emperors before him was so kindly and favourably disposed
[EVftAvws Kai SlEUCS] towards them, not even those who were said to be openly
Christians, as he manifestly was, when he received them at the beginning in the
most intimate and friendly manner; indeed all his house had been filled with godly
persons, and was a church of God.

This is patently an exaggeration, designed in part to place the blame for the
persecution of 257-260 on Valerian's finance minister Macrianus. In the
section directly following the one quoted above, Dionysius heaps scorn and
abuse on Macrianus and points out the change in Valerian's stance towards
the church, likening Valerian to the beast found in the Apocalypse who
"speaks both great things and blasphemy."" Nevertheless, Dionysius could
not have made such bold claims concerning Valerian's religious preferences if
the Christians of his day had not been impressed by the favor extended to
them during the early portions of his reign.
In the summer of 257, however, Valerian suddenly reversed his policy and

9. Zosimus 1.29.2.

10. Cyprian, Epistula 64.1, 70.1; letter of Dionysius quoted in HE 7.5.1; HE 7.9.2. For
discussions of Philip's religious policy, see Henri Crouzel, "Le christianisme de l'emp
Philippe l'Arab," Gregorianum 56 (1975): 545-550; F. Elia, "Ancora sul cristianesi
Filippo l'Arabo," Quaderni Catanesi di Studi classici e medievali 1 (1979): 267-283
A. Pohlsander, "Philip the Arab and Christianity," Historia 29 (1980): 463-473.
11. HE 7.10.2-6.

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instituted a persecution directed against the Christian hie

provisions of his first edict of persecution called for the banis
upper clergy and other particularly recalcitrant individuals
exiled to the desert village of Curubis, and Dionysius was se
Libya.'4 The edict also prohibited Christians from either assem
or visiting cemeteries, under threat of capital punishment.15 H
edict was mild compared with what was soon to come.
The following summer (258), Valerian sent a rescript (the
to the Senate calling for newer and harsher measures to be tak
church. Christians belonging to the upper classes were requ
their property; and if they persisted in their Christianity, the
executed. Moreover, all bishops, priests, and deacons were
immediately" (in continenti animaduertantur).'6 Under the pro
new edict, Pope Sixtus and four of his deacons were killed whi
catacombs of Saint Callistus. Martyrs in Africa were nume
the bishops Theogenes, Agapius, and Secundius. It was also
persecution, in September 258, that Cyprian himself was mart
What prompted Valerian's abrupt change in imperial relig
August 257 ? The extant sources indicate that this shift in policy
the vast number of disasters, both political and economic, whic
empire from 255 to 258. These difficulties, such as plague
invasions, and spiraling inflation, had been fairly common
entire mid-third century. In the middle years of Valerian's rei
these various problems were multiplied on an unprecedente
empire entered into a period of acute crisis. This crisis pr
persecution begun by Valerian in 257.
The most critical development in this period was a flood
invaders who poured over the frontiers of the empire from G
Andreas Alfoldi has demonstrated, these invasions did not p
reigns of Gallus or Gallienus (as indicated by some late fo
sources), but rather they reached their zenith during the reign
The emperor was so hard pressed by these invasions that he
defense of the western half of the empire to his son Gallienus
with an increasingly dangerous situation along the Euphrates f

12. Acta Proconsularia Sancti Cypriani 1.1.

13. Certain laymen were condemned to the mines along with bishops, pr
(Cyprian, Epistulae 76-79).
14. Acta Proconsularia 1.4; HE 7.11.10.
15. Acta Proconsularia 1.7; HE 7.11.4.
16. Cyprian, Epistula 80.1. See also G. W. Clarke, "Prosopographical Notes on the Epistles of
Cyprian III: Rome in August, 258," Latomus 34 (1975): 437-448; Paul Keresztes, "Two
Edicts of the Emperor Valerian," Vigiliae Christianae 29 (1975): 81-95.
17. Cyprian, Epistula 80.1; Augustine, Sermo 273.7; Acta Proconsularia 2-5.
18. Andreas Alfoldi, "The Invasions of Peoples from the Rhine to the Black Sea," The
Cambridge Ancient History, 12 vols. (Cambridge, 1939), 12:146-151.

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In the West, the Alamanni carried on extensive raids through

after coming down into Italy, even threatened Rome itse
Gallienus was able to defeat them in a desperate battle near
Frankish tribes ravaged Gaul and made forays into Spain. T
provinces were likewise hit with a series of raids by desert nom
period.20 It is significant that many of these invasions took pl
which up until that time had been relatively undisturbed. The
effects of these raids must have been great and eventually may
in the stunned populace a climate of opinion which sought out
this case, the Christians.
The situation in the eastern half of the empire was even wor
of tribes, including the Marcomanni and the Scythians, d
Greece, besieging several important cities, such as Mar
Thessalonica. The danger to Greece was so great that the
fortified the Isthmus and the Athenians rebuilt their long unu
The Borani struck deep into Asia Minor and plundered the wea
Pityus, Trapezus, Chalcedon, and Nicomedia.22 All of these
place in the period 255-258 and, like those in the western half
devastated provinces which long had been peaceful.
On the Euphrates frontier, the Sassanian Persians un
conducted a series of campaigns against the Roman provinc
tamia and Syria. Dura-Europos and Edessa fell before the Pe
256, and Antioch itself was sacked.23 Valerian reached Syria by
won a number of victories over the Persians.24 The fighting alo
however, remained fierce for several years. As a result, many
changed hands several times and were regularly plundered
The devastation came to an end only in 260, when Valerian w
Shapur's troops.
Barbarian invasions were not the only causes of the cris
which, in turn, precipitated the persecution of the church. Th
had broken out under Trebonianus Gallus continued to exac
lives. Often it struck cities which already had been plundered
thereby compounding the miseries of the remaining inhabitan
the wars of this period rapidly depleted the imperial trea
19. Zosimus 1.37.1-3.

20. Cyprian, Epistula 62. See also G. W. Clarke, "Barbarian Disturbances in North
the Third Century," Antichthon 4 (1971): 78-85.
21. Zosimus 1.29.2; Dexippus, Scythia, fragments 28-29.
22. Zosimus 1.31.1-35.2. For the effects of these raids on the populace, see the C
Epistle written about 258 by Gregory Thaumaturgus.
23. Clark Hopkins, The Discovery of Dura-Europos, ed. Barnard Goldman (Ne
1979), pp. 71, 242-247.
24. Percy H. Webb, ed., The Roman Imperial Coinage, 9 vols. (London, 1927), vol.
Gallienus, no. 453 (hereafter cited as RIC).
25. Zosimus 1.37.3.

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government reached the brink of bankruptcy. Prices soared

dented rate, even compared to other inflationary years in t
century. The government again resorted to debasing the coin
256 the antoninianus lost between 75 and 98 percent of its
content. In these conditions normal commerce all but ceased.26
blessing which Valerian's government enjoyed during these d
the absence of usurpations in the provinces and the inevita
which resulted from them. This was largely because Va
associated with himself in the imperium his vigorous young
While this cut down on the chances of armed revolt, it also enh
authority and enabled the government to carry on a very effecti
of the church in the years 257-260.
Thus, the crisis of 255-258 created a climate in which the p
Christianity could easily take place. Moreover, the great numbe
and economic disasters, occurring within such a brief period of
a basis for understanding why Valerian did not persecute the ch
relatively peaceful earlier portion of his reign. A problem ensue
when one attempts to determine the nature of the relationship
crisis (or the government's perception of the crisis) and the
persecution in 257. It is this question which makes Valerian's pe
Frend's words, "the most difficult to understand."27
Recent scholars have put forward a number of interpret
attempt to explain the relationship between the crisis a
persecution. One of the most popular of these interpretation
one. In this view the persecution was either a vent for popu
and frustration at the crisis (which conceivably could have
towards the government) or a result of the Christians' refusal to
an act of potitical loyalty which took the form of widespread s
emperor's genius and to the traditional gods.28 Lukas de B
interesting nuance to this political interpretation by posit
Christians in the eastern provinces of the empire were, in
pro-Persian and that Valerian wished to eliminate a potential

26. For the financial crisis of 256-258, see RIC, vol. 5, pt. 1, pp. 7-8; F. Oerte
Life of the Empire," Cambridge Ancient History, 12:259-270; Percy H
Century Mints and Marks," Numismatic Chronicle (1921): 228; Theodore V
"A Hoard of Sestertii from Bordeaux and the Problem of Bronze Circulation in the Third
Century A.D.," American Numismatic Society Museum Notes 18 (1972): 33-58; Michael
Crawford, "Finance, Coinage, and Money from the Severans to Constantine," Aufstieg und
Niedergang der romischen Welt: Principat, ed. Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase
(Berlin, 1975), 2:560-593.
27. W. H. C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford, 1965), p. 315.
28. This interpretation is most succinctly set forth in Andreas Alfoldi, "The Crisis of the
Empire," Cambridge Ancient History, 12:171, 204-205, which is a summary of points
elaborated more fully in Alfoldi, "Zu den Christenverfolgungen in der Mitte des 3.
Jahrhunderts," Klio 31 (1938): 323-343. Alfoldi's view is followed, in the main, by
H. M. D. Parker, A History of the Roman World from A.D. 138-337 (New York, 1939),
p. 170; and by Sage, Cyprian, p. 338.

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within his borders.29 Unfortunately, these interpretation

politicize the government's motives in instituting the persecut
ignore the highly charged religious atmosphere of the times.
Another interpretation of the relationship between the
persecution of 257-260 which has found widespread accep
years views the outbreak of the persecution in economic term
this view, the government was interested primarily in acquiri
and property of the church in order to replenish the imp
exhausted funds. Consequently, Valerian's two edicts (par
second one) made explicit provision for the confiscation of
tians' property.30 Since the Christian community of the mid-
relied heavily on the support of wealthy and influential
confiscation of their property would serve both to undermine
to shore up the government's desperate financial situation.31
One problem with this economic explanation is that the
mention actual cases of the confiscation of property.32 F
Gallienus rescinded the edicts in 260, there is likewise lit
indicate that confiscated personal property was restored-the n
in such cases.33 More importantly, the confiscation of prop
part of the legal procedure known as relegatio, or banishm
punishment normally reserved for members of the upper clas
notes that the provisions of Valerian's second edict confo
pattern.34 Consequently, the simple fact that there were confis
mean that the imperial government had its eye on the property
Rather, it could indicate that Valerian wished to single o
members of the upper classes who had converted to Christiani
One other interpretation which seeks to explain the relation
the crisis of 255-258 and the outbreak of persecution in the su
views the persecution primarily in religious terms and see
Valerian's religious policy as an attempt to restore the favor of

29. Lukas de Blois, The Policy of the Emperor Gallienus (Leiden, 1976), p
30. Cyprian, Epistula 80.1.
31. One of the earliest and most outspoken proponents of this economic
George T. Oborn, "Why Did Decius and Valerian Proscribe Christianity?"
2 (1933): 67-77. While describing the Decian persecution, Oborn goes so f
primary and fundamental cause of the imperial action taken by Decius wa
not matter in the least whether he was fully conscious of the fact or n
scholars are more circumspect in their support for the economic inte
Martyrdom and Persecution, p. 316; Joseph Vogt, Reallexikon ftr Antike
s.v. "Christenverfolgungen"; Steward I. Oost, "The Alexandrian Seditions
Gallienus," Classical Philology 61 (1961): 7; Keresztes, "Two Edicts
Valerian," pp. 91-94.
32. One exception is HE 7.11.18, but see also Clarke, "Prosopographical N
33. Clarke, "Prosopographical Notes III," p. 444. After the pogrom of
restored the property of those who had been exiled (Cassius Dio 68.2.1; H
34. Cyprian, Epistula 80.1, quotes Valerian's edict as especially calling for
senatores vero et egregii viri et equites Romani as well as matronae.

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pax deorum.35 Moreover, in this view the persecution o

resulted from the imperial government's order that supplic
be offered throughout the empire, and that impious people
as the Christians be punished. This interpretation appear
tenable, especially when coupled with the notion that the su
also offered "for the safety of the emperor" (pro salute Aug
Offering supplicationes long had been the traditional R
either appeasing or averting the wrath of the gods.37 Th
ritual adoration of the gods, sometimes accompanied by sacr
an occasion both for reviving the worship of the state gods
those individuals who had violated the pax deorum. The
Roman state commonly was seen as directly dependent on th
gods. So the surest way to restore peace and prosperity would
proper worship of the gods. These sentiments were still
third century and in all probability impelled Valerian t
Christians in the hope that the peace of his beleaguered
The sources for the later portion of Valerian's reign tend to support this
religious interpretation of the persecution.39 More importantly, they provide
a picture of Valerian's broader religious policy, thereby supplying the context
crucial for gaining a proper understanding of the persecution of 257-260.
Upon examination, it is clear that Valerian's entire religious policy reflected
his concern to revive the worship of the traditional gods and to restore the pax
deorum.40 This policy can be determined by a careful study of the emperor's

35. This is the view of A. H. M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602, 2 vols. (Norman,
Okla., 1964) 1:33-34; Fergus Millar, "The Imperial Cult and the Persecutions," in Willem
den Boer, ed., Le Culte des souverains dans l'Empire Romaine (Geneva, 1972),
p. 164; G. E. M. de Ste. Croix, "Why' Were the Early Christians Persecuted?" Past and
Present 26 (1963): 24-28; and Molthagen, Der romische Staat und die Christen, pp. 87-89.
For the concept of the pax deorum, see W. Warde Fowler, The Religious Experience of the
Roman People (1911; reprint ed., New York, 1971), pp. 169-174.
36. See Alfoldi, "The Crisis of the Empire," p. 204.
37. Supplicationes were offered after the terrible defeat at Lake Trasimene in 217 B.C. (Livy
38. Cassius Dio 52.36.2-3. One might object to this interpretation on the grounds that Valerian
did not order supplicationes in 253, after a period of similar invasions and civil wars.
However, these upheavals were the means by which he acquired the throne and instead
demonstrated (to Valerian at least) the providentia deorum. In 257, on the other hand, his
own administration was threatened.
39. The contemporary sources include Cyprian, Epistulae 76-81; the letters of Dionysius
quoted in HE 7.10-12; the Acta Proconsularia Sancti Cypriani; the Passio Fructuosi
Episcopi, Auguri, et Eulogi; and the Oracula Sibyllina 13.155-161. Fourth-century histories
may also be consulted, but with caution. For the coinage of the years 253-260, see RIC, vol.
5, pt. 1, pp. 27-128. This includes the coinage of Gallienus up to 260, since father and son
often shared reverse types and legends.
40. Valerian's view of his role as the restorer of past glories is also reflected in the coin legends
RESTITVTOR ORBIS and RESTIVT[OR] GENER[IS] HVMANI (RIC, Valerian 45, 117-118, 149,

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own actions, his edicts of persecution, and the religious propa

by his administration.
One aspect of Valerian's later religious policy which wa
important in the context of the persecutions concerns his
traditional gods of Rome. He often elevated rather domesti
the role of warrior deities. In 257 the goddess of the hea
surprisingly depicted on coins holding a small Victory and
became "Venus the Victorious" (VENVS VICTRIX) and was de
ing over a barbarian captive. Apollo and Diana were likewis
Preservers of the Emperors," protecting the empire from bar
Not surprisingly, the warlike aspects of Jupiter were also str
under the aegis of Jupiter Capitolinus that the Romans ha
world.41 Moreover, the worship of these protecting deities pl
tant role in the persecution of Christianity. In Egypt, the
Aemilianus urged Dionysius to revere "the gods which pres
of the Augusti."42 Across the empire in Spain, the gover
Fructuosus and his companions that "these gods are obeyed, th
and these are adored."43
In this context, it is instructive that Valerian's religious
more traditional than that of his persecuting predecessor,
of the years 257-260 depict no fewer than ten of the tradition
compared to five from the reign of Decius.44 Unlike Decius, V
particularly foster the worship of the consecrated emperors.
was a factor of little or no importance in the persecution
Christians always were exhorted to worship "the gods." Th
between the imperial government and the church clearly
Christians' refusal to take part in the cults of the traditional
Valerian also was closely allied with the Senate throughout h
is significant because of the Senate's longstanding hostility to
well as its devotion to the old Roman gods. Prior to his rei
enjoyed a long and respected senatorial career. He had ser
suffectus sometime before 238, and in that year he received th
Gordians, usurpers from the province of Africa, while he was
office of princeps senatus.46 In October 251 Decius appoi
41. RIC, Valerian 7-8, 20, 22, 39-40, 72, 73, 76, 83-85, 94, Gallienus 298
37, 68.
42. Owvs TOUS auwovras avirw TV f3avfi L ida (HE 7.11.7).
43. Passio Fructuosi 2.6.

44. The god Vulcan appears as a coin type in 258 for the first time in nearly two hundre
(RIC, Valerian 1, 5).
45. Acta Proconsularia 1.2, 4.1; HE 7.11.7-9; Passio Fructuosi 2.3-6; Pontius, Vita C
17; see also Millar, "The Imperial Cult and the Persecutions," pp. 150-163.
46. Zosimus 1.14.1; Historia Augusta: Gordiani: Tres 9.7; Prosopographia Imperii R
pt. 5, fasc. 1, no. 258; see also Ronald Syme, Emperors and Biography (Oxford, 1
pp. 163-165.

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censor and asked for his assistance in the administration of Ro

states that while serving in this capacity, Valerian also as
persecution of the church.48 Further, several senatorial historie
century (notably the Historia Augusta) express unbounded
character and administration.49 All of these factors lead to the c
Valerian actively supported the traditional biases of the senator
cy, particularly their hostility towards Christianity.
One aspect of Valerian's revised religious policy which th
especially emphasized was the outward observance of the variou
Evidence for this new emphasis appears in an important sh
legends on the coinage. During the early portion of Valerian
common reverse bore the legend PIETAS AVGG.50 Pietas was a
personified the inward feeling of devotion to the tradition
Rome.51 After 256, however, Pietas disappeared as a coin type
In 258 a new reverse appeared depicting the goddess Diana a
legend RELIGIO AVGG.52 Religio, as opposed to Pietas, stressed
cultic acts of pagan worship. It is not coincidental that 258
increased efforts to persecute the church, for a major aspect of
was the attempt to persuade Christians to participate in pagan
Cyprian's second trial, the proconsul said, "The most rever
have ordered you to perform the religious rites" (caeremon
accused Cyprian of being an enemy "of our religious p
condemned him on the grounds that the emperors "have n
bring you back to the observance of their sacred rites" (ad sect
arum suarum). Examples of this new emphasis on cultic observa
drawn from trials of other Christians throughout the empire.53
The persecution of Christianity in the years 257-260 was but
the imperial order which called for the offering of supplicatio
the empire. The emphasis on cultic observance conforms
religious interpretation of the persecution. Supplicatio takes it

47. Historia Augusta: Valerian: Duo 5.1-7; Zonaras 12.20.4-5.

48. Zonaras 12.20.6 goes so far as to say that "they urged one another on to p
aXXflkovs els ?otoaxiav lrapaxpo7riaavres).
49. In the same breath, however, they also make reference to his "ill-fortune
Aurelianus 42.4; Eutropius, Breviarium 9.7; Zosimus 1.29.2).
50. RIC, Valerian 284-285.
51. M. P. Charlesworth, "The Virtues of a Roman Emperor," Proceedings of the British
Academy 23 (1937): 113; see also Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, "The Emperor and His
Virtues" Historia 30 (1981): 298-323; J. Rufus Fears, "The Cult of Virtues and Roman
Imperial Ideology," in Aufstieg und Niedergang der r5mischen Welt: Principat, ed.
Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase (Berlin, 1981), vol. 17, pt. 2, pp. 828-948.
52. Sometimes it was RELERIGIO (RIC Valerian 114, Salonianus 29).
53. Acta Proconsularia (trans. Herbert Mursurillo) 3.4, 4.1; Passio Fructuosi 2.3; HE 7.11.7-9.
In the latter account, the prefect Aemilianus argues with Dionysius that he is not required to
give up the worship of the Christian god, but only that he perform sacrifice to the "natural

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supplicare, which denotes the kneeling or prostrating of those

ritual act. The Greek equivalent of this term is 7rpoaOKvvEo, a w
had depicted the worship offered to gods and rulers alike.54 Th
adoration lies at the center of the exchange recorded betw
Aemilianus and the Alexandrian bishop, Dionysius.55 Conse
the refusal of the Christians to take part in the supplicatio
Valerian which brought them into direct confrontation wit
Valerian may have had another motive for persecuting the ch
period 257-260. In his desire to restore the pax deorum, V
especially to have singled out for punishment members of the
who had abandoned the worship of the gods. Since these classes
the traditional patrons of the pagan cults, it is not surprising
viewed with alarm the growing number of Christians belon
social orders.56 Consequently, the oratio, or imperial edict, of
sent to the Senate in order to obtain that prestigious body's end
emperor's campaign to eradicate Christianity from the upp
edict especially provided for the punishment of Christians who
equestrians, or members of the emperor's own household. More
edict seems to have been enforced with particular severity in Ro
of the traditional cults. Within four days of the edict's pro
Roman bishop, all seven of his deacons, a presbyter, a
doorkeeper were all martyred.57 Thus, it appears that Va
concerted effort not only to revive the worship of the t
throughout the empire but also to reestablish firmly these cul
influential upper classes in the capital.
The elusive pax deorum for which Valerian so desperately
his grasp. Instead, he was captured while campaigning aga
during the summer of 260 and spent the rest of his days as a c
Sassanian court.58 The supplicatio ordered by Valerian had p
tual. In like manner, the related persecution of the church had

54. Several third-century authors make reference to contemporary instance

(Cassius Dio 58.11.2; Herodian 3.11.18; Els BacrLX,a 19).
55. "Aemilianus said . . . 'They gave you the opportunity of safety if ye wer
that which is according to nature and worship [lpooKvvWiv] the gods whi
empire....' Dionysius replied: 'Not all men worship [VrpoaKvvoVaL] all g
certain whom he regards as such....' Aemilianus: 'And who prevents you f
[-rpoaKvdvP] this god also, if he be a god, along with the natural gods. For y
worship [aiofSv] gods, and gods who all know.' Dionysius repli
(7rpowKvvovtfv) no other god.' " HE 7.11.7-9; compare Passio Fructuosi 2
56. de Blois, p. 117; Jones, Later Roman Empire, p. 34; compare Origen, C
57. Cyprian, Epistula 80.1; Liber Pontificalis 30; Clarke, "Prosopograp
pp. 439-443.
58. Zosimus 1.36.1-2; Lactantius, de Mortibus Persecutorum 5; see also W. Ensslin, "The
Persian Wars with Rome," Cambridge Ancient History, 12:135.

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strengthen its determ

empire's inhabitants. Wh
Gallienus rescinded his
some sort of modus vive
peace of the gods," the
prelude to "the peace of

59. HE 7.13.1. For Gallienus's

180-185; and P. R. Coleman
1966), 1:13-16.

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