Religion in Late Roman Britain: Forces of Change

By Dorothy Watts | Go to book overview

7

CHANGE AND CONTINUITY

The fourth century was, for Roman Britain, a period of dramatic change. For religion, the changes were equally dramatic. In the first decade of the century the scene presented would have been of bustling towns focusing on Roman-style fora, and temples to Roman, Celtic and more exotic deities reflecting the cosmopolitan composition of the towns and the Romanisation of the local inhabitants. In the countryside, where the bulk of the population lived, the ordinary Romano-Briton worked the land, tended his few stock, paid his taxes to the local decuriones and, apart from these financial demands, was probably little affected by events even in his civitas capital, let alone by what was happening in Rome. He would have had some awe for the Romano-Celtic temple built by the local grandee, but undoubtedly still more fear of the spirits which lived at the place, and in the groves and streams which formed part of his own limited landscape. He would expect, at his death, to be buried in the local burial ground if there was one, or in the rear of his plot of land or other convenient place. His relatives would bury him in the way his father and grandfather had been buried, with, perhaps, some of the rites brought in by the Romans for good measure.

Let us now move on a hundred years, where the picture is one of towns with population depleted, fora overgrown with weeds, and commercial life all but extinct. The temples are gone and Christian churches have appeared, but these are not as numerous or as opulent as the temples had been. Some of the old superstitions remain. In the country the poor man still works his land or that of his rich neighbour and pays his taxes, still in kind, perhaps even now to a local overlord rather than to Rome. The temple once held in awe is a grass-covered ruin, but the spirits still dwell there and need to be propitiated. No building is necessary for this. The Christian God might be the religious focus for some of the locals, but that religion

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Religion in Late Roman Britain: Forces of Change
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Figures ix
  • Preface x
  • 1 - Historical Background Ad 294-360 1
  • 2 - The Pagan Revival of the Late Fourth Century Ad 360-90 24
  • 3 - Closure of the Temples and Beyond 52
  • 4 - Further Evidence for the Revival of Paganism 74
  • 5 - The Economy and Religion in the Late Period 96
  • 6 - The Question of Syncretism 115
  • 7 - Change and Continuity 132
  • Appendix 1 139
  • Appendix 2 147
  • Notes 154
  • Names and Places Index 190
  • General Index 201
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