Law, Religion and Politics in the Fourth Century Rome

On Wednesday, we will hold the first round of the legal history seminars of Roma Tre. Prof. Luca Loschiavo will introduce the meeting with a study on Law, Religion and Politics in the Fourth Century Rome, of which we enclose the abstract


No matter how brief it may have been, the reign of Julian (Autumn 361 – Summer 363) brought to a head many issues that the conversion of Constantine had created but which had remained latent and unresolved for almost half a century. Julian had clearly indicated in the return to tradition – and in the renewal of this – the way to contain the growth of Christianity, thereby giving courage to the many who refused to welcome new (and still uncertain for many) models that Christians proposed. Christians, for their part, were quick to understand the seriousness of the threat posed to them and were led to change their attitude towards the Empire.

In the context of the old capital, the conflict took on a special significance. Here, in fact, the old Senate – that embodied the ancient tradition while remaining a major center of power also because of the huge financial resources that the great senatorial families kept – had to confront with a Christian community whose bishop was striving to assert its leading role within Christianity (a role that Constantine had already recognized him). Furthermore, the confrontation in Rome was complicated by the fact that both the Senate and the papacy were in turn divided by very strong internal tensions.

When Valentinian I came to the throne at the beginning of 364, he was well aware of the seriousness of the task that awaited him. The comprehensive legislation specifically addressed to Rome (urban prefect, the Senate, the pope) reveals not only the continuous attention for the city by an “absent” emperor, but also the attempt to use the legislative instrument to experiment with new solutions, introduce a new balance, steer in one direction or another the city politics.