Chapter 12. Resisting Cities
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Chapter 12  Resisting Cities Violence as Discourse Religious violence has come into its own as a field of study. Recent work on the question in Late Antiquity has made great strides in detaching violence from the realm of the aberrant and resituating it into the range of the normal. Violence was not, in other words, a separate and distinct form of social discourse, or even less an anti-discourse. It was, instead, part and parcel of everyday social relations and should be studied alongside other forms of social practice in a continuum of relations of human interaction. This approach already informed the fine monographs of M. Gaddis and T. Sizgorich on religious violence between Christians and pagans and Christians and Muslims, respectively.1 It has come into even sharper focus with the work of B. D. Shaw, which has shown that violence was used as a tool of communication between oppositional constituencies in North Africa as they struggled for self-assertion by taking sides in the Donatist controversy during the fifth century.2 The best recent scholarship on Constantine has laid emphasis on his generally tolerant attitude to non-Christians, at least as regards his reluctance to engage in direct religious coercion. In the aftermath of the Great Persecution and its aftershocks in the smaller-scale persecutions perpetrated by Licinius, violence against religious opponents had become naturalized as a way of policing the boundaries of the acceptable in religious dialogue. In taking the side of Christians following these open attacks against religious dissidents, Constantine faced a rising welter of support from some constituencies to turn the tables and persecute pagans and Jews. Nevertheless, as we saw in the previous chapter, by and large he maintained a spirit of engagement and forbearance. Moreover, in a number of documented instances, he even left open avenues for interaction and for interpretations of himself and his religious agenda that seemed entirely consonant with traditional pagan religious symbols and practices. All the same, as we shall see in what follows , at times Constantine did close off opportunities for peaceful dialogue by Resisting Cities 231 blatantly attacking pagan shrines and worshippers with violent force. This was true particularly of polytheist temples and cities that refused any entrée to Christianity and any harbor for Christian constituencies. Religious violence also occurred within some sectarian Christian communities in North Africa that refused obedience to the Carthaginian church as a result of the Donatist schism. This breakdown in positive engagement did not, however, end dialogue altogether . Instead it merely transferred it to the realm of resistance and at times violent conflict. Interestingly, as we shall see in what follows, in instances where Constantine went back on his broader policy of keeping the door open to peaceful negotiation, his enactment of violence reset the terms of engagement onto the plane of forceful interaction, where it then remained for decades and even centuries into the future. Once he began attacking religious resisters, he paved the way for ongoing forceful opposition by those whose behavior he had attempted to alter through coercion. Tolerance and Intolerance Constantine harbored a deep-seated distaste for blood sacrifice that grew increasingly pronounced over the course of his reign. This shows up in his Oration to the Saints, where he rails against pagans for “sacrificing irrational creatures,” as well as in the letter he wrote to Shapur II, where he professed to “shun all abominable blood and foul ill-omened odors.”3 At some point in his reign, he refused to scale the Capitoline Hill in Rome and offer sacrifice in the course of a triumphal celebration , thus breaking with a millennium-long tradition and provoking the anger of the Roman people.4 Eusebius even claims that, after Constantine gained control of the East in 324, he issued two laws (nomoi) in quick succession: the second, quoted in Chapter 9, ordered the construction or extension of churches. “The first restricted the pollutions of idolatry that had for a long time been practiced in every city and country district, so that no one should presume to set up cult objects, or practice divination or other occult arts, or even sacrifice at all.”5 The notice is quite specific and would seem to merit credence. Notwithstanding Eusebius ’s testimony, however, we have no law of Constantine extant in the Theodosian Code that bans sacrifice outright. We do possess a law of Constans dated to 341 that fumes: “Let superstition cease, let the insanity of sacrifices be abolished. For whoever...