Religion in Late Roman Britain: Forces of Change

Religion in Late Roman Britain: Forces of Change

Religion in Late Roman Britain: Forces of Change

Religion in Late Roman Britain: Forces of Change

Synopsis

Religion in Late Roman Britain explores the changes in religion over the fourth century; the historical background for these changes and the forces which contributed to them.Dorothy Watts examines the reasons for the decline of Christianity and the continuation of the pagan, Celtic cults in Britain. The author establishes a chronology for the rise and decline of Christianity, based on the available archaeological evidence, and she charts the fate of the pagan cults and temples in the fourth century. The author discusses the nature of Romano-British pagan religion and she analyses the controversial rite of decapitated burial in the light of some startling new archaeological evidence.

Excerpt

Since writing Christians and Pagans in Roman Britain (published in 1991), I have been concerned that Christianity in Late Roman Britain not be viewed as something which sprang Athena-like and fully armed from the head of Zeus; rather, it was a religion which developed, reached its apogee and subsequently faltered as it reacted to the forces which operated around and even against it in the late fourth century. In Christians and Pagans I sought to map out the extent of Christianity from the literary and archaeological evidence, and to show that it was far more widespread and had more pagan content than had previously been thought. What I did not explore then was the chronology of Christianity in Roman Britain, nor did I look at what was happening in the non-Christian cults or what had been the causes of the changes in religion in the last century of Roman occupation there.

Religion in Late Roman Britain seeks to address those questions. It makes use of the identification of cemeteries and churches already made in the earlier work. It also casts the net wider to include what I hope will be a useful study of some pagan practices, including the much-debated rite of decapitated burial, and the fate of the pagan cults as well. The whole has been set against the political and economic background of the fourth and early fifth centuries, and particularly the events in the Western Empire.

The investigation has traced the rise of Christianity in the fourth century, the effects of the revival of paganism by Julian the Apostate and of policies of religious toleration by his successors, and has sought to explain why Christianity failed to become the dominant religion in Britain as it had elsewhere in the Roman Empire. At the same time an analysis has been made of the types of pagan cults which survived up to and beyond the withdrawal of the Romans.

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