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The University of Southampton

HIST6113 The conversion of the Roman Empire: Pagans, Jews and Christians

Module Overview

By the fourth century CE, the Roman Empire had become the Christian Roman Empire. The toleration of Christianity was proclaimed by Constantine in 313 CE, and, under Theodosius I, Christianity was pronounced as the state religion of the Empire in 380 CE. How did the Roman Empire move away from its pagan religious heritage towards Christianity? How did pagans react to this newly developing religion? Why did Christianity become the religion of Rome? This module will explore the conversion of the Roman Empire by examining the place of pagans, Jews and Christians in the Roman world up to the fourth century CE. We will question how these groups understood themselves and each other, and how they interacted. In particular, we will explore the importance of the Jewish world for the origins of Christianity, the complex relationship between the Jewish people and Rome, debates over the parting of the ways between Christianity and Judaism, and Greek and Roman views on Jews and Christians. Religious challenges in the Roman world ensured contact and conflict between these different groups, and raised questions about identity, resistance, persecution and martyrdom. This module will invite you to assess and debate the trials and tribulations that led to the Christianisation of the Roman Empire, and which arguably secured the importance of Christianity as a major religion throughout history.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The historical and social context of the Roman Empire in the first centuries CE
  • Debates on the factors that affected the historical and ideological development of early Christianity
  • The complex formation and development of pagan, Jewish and Christian identity
  • The relationships between Jews, early Christians and pagans in the Roman world
  • Key primary sources that provide evidence on the interaction between Jews, pagans and Christians and contemporary responses to ‘the other’
  • The latest research on the subjects of early Christianity, the Roman Empire and Jewish-Christian- pagan relations
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explain and discuss the factors that impacted on the Christianisation of the Roman Empire
  • Evaluate reactions and responses to the early Christian movement amongst Jewish and pagan groups
  • Evaluate critically the theoretical and methodological approaches used by scholars working on religion in the Roman Empire
  • Express familiarity with and interpret critically a variety of primary sources from the ancient world
  • Explain your own views on debates within the field of Jewish-Christian-pagan relations in the Roman Empire
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse critically a diverse range of primary material
  • Identify and critically assess scholarly views and arguments
  • Organise and structure material to write and present confidently
  • Participate actively in group discussions and debate
  • Communicate a coherent and convincing argument in both oral and written formats


An indicative list of the topics covered in the module includes: 1. Jewish sects and the Jesus movement 2. Paul, Judaism, and the followers of Jesus 3. Jewish wars against Rome and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple 4. Identity and conversion (pagan, Jewish, Christian) 5. Greek and Roman views on Jews and Christians 6. Apocalyptic, prophecy and resistance (pagan, Jewish, Christian) 7. When did Judaism and Christianity part ways? 8. Persecution in the Roman Empire 9. Martyrdom: pagan, Jewish and Christian 10. Christianizing the Roman Empire: Constantine the Great

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The principal teaching method will be one two-hour seminar per week analysing key events, chronology and concepts, focusing on examination and discussion of primary and secondary source material and the key issues of debate they raise. Learning activities include: • Preparatory reading before each seminar • Participation in group and seminar discussion • Independent reading of the sources provided and of related secondary works • Preparing and delivering presentations in seminars • Independent research of additional information and source materials Seminars will provide you with general knowledge and understanding about chronology, sources and key concepts. This will be consolidated through readings and seminar discussions of primary and secondary source material. Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your own ideas about a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument.

Completion of assessment task39
Preparation for scheduled sessions60
Follow-up work15
Wider reading or practice15
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Ramsay MacMullen (1984). Christianizing the Roman Empire, A.D. 100-400. 

Francoise Dunand and Christiane Zivie-Coche (2004). Gods and Men in Egypt: 3000 BCE to 395 CE. 

Keith Hopkins (2000). A World Full of Gods: Pagans, Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire. 

Adam Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed (eds) (2003). The ways that never parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. 

A. D. Lee (2000). Pagans and Christians in Late Antiquity. A sourcebook. 

Robin Lane Fox (2006). Pagans and Christians: in the Mediterranean World from the Second Century AD to the Conversion of Constantine. 

Martin Goodman (2007). Rome and Jerusalem: the clash of ancient civilizations. 

John Collins (1998). The Apocalyptic Imagination: an introduction to Jewish apocalyptic literature. 

Judith Lieu, John North and Tessa Rajak (eds) (1994). The Jews among Pagans and Christians. 

Martin Goodman (1997). The Roman world, 44 BC-AD 180. 

Daniel Boyarin (1994). A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity. 

Philip Esler (2000). The early Christian world. 

Mary Beard, John North and Simon Price (1998). Religions of Rome. Volume 1: A History. Volume 2: A Sourcebook. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Research essay  (4000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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