Church History
4th Century (301-400 A.D.)

Last Update: Aug 31, 2007




Emperor Diocletian persecutes the Christians in earnest.


Marcellus is appointed as the new bishop of Rome.


The historian and Christian Eusebius is placed as the new bishop of Rome after opposition forces Bishop Marcellus into exile.


Publication of the Edict of Toleration by the Emperor Galerius, ending Christian persecution, followed shortly by his death. Death of Diocletian.


The Founding of Monasticism

St. Pachomius ("Pakhom", 292-346 A.D), was the founder of the first Christian cloister, the author of the first monkish rule, and a former worshipper of Serapis from Upper Egypt. He transferred over to Christianity the practices of the fasting and self-chastising ascetic followers of Serapis.

Serapis Serapis (Sarapis/Zaparrus/Asar-Hapi/Userhapi) was an invented 'god', a composite of several Egyptian and Hellenistic deities. The name Serapis is a fusion of Osiris and the bull Apis, a syncretism of Egyptian religion. Prior to the Ptolemies, Apis and Osiris had been joined together by the Egyptian priests of Memphis, where Apis had been given a funeral function. The Greeks added to this Egyptian Core a number of Hellenistic deities, including Zeus, Helios, Dionysus, Hades and Asklepius to form Serapis. He was represented as a man wearing a Greek style robe with long hair and full beard.


Constantine leads his army from Gaul, investing several towns and winning the support of most of Italy.

On the march to Rome, he claimed to have seen the sign of a cross of light, and the words "By this sign, conquer".

The story is told by Bishop Eusebius after Constantine's death. This is the basis for speculation on Constantine's Christian conversion.

After his victory, Constantine disbands the Praetorian guard.


Victory of Licinius over Maximinus Daia at the Hellespont is followed by reconciliation of Constantine and Maximinius.

Edict of Milan is signed by Emperor Constantine the Great and the Emperor Licinius setting a tone for peace and Christian acceptance.


The Council of Nicaea establishes Trinitarian Christianity and makes it the religion of the Empire


Emperor Constantine executes his son Crispus for adultery, followed by his wife Emperess Faustus a year later. She was boiled alive. (See Patriarch Photius' account, in his summary of Philostorgius' Ecclesiastical History)


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built and dedicated in Jerusalem.


Constantine finally has himself baptized by Eusebius bishop of Nicomedia, shortly before his death.

Division of the empire between Constantine's three sons: Constantine II (west), Constans (middle), Constantius (east).


Birth of the bishop of Milan, Ambrose, in the city of Trier.


Birth of Saint Jerome (Heironymus), the Christian writer.


Death of Constantius II, Julian the Apostate takes over.


Emperor Julian outlaws the teaching of Christianity, and forbids Christians to hold teaching jobs.


Battle of Ctesiphon, in which Julian defeats Shapur II, but Julian is killed in the battle. Jovian emperor.


The Augustan History is written in this period (363-381 A.D.). It is a Latin collection of biographies of Roman Emperors for the period 117 to 284 A.D. and their colleagues and usurpers. It presents itself as the work of six authors (the Scriptores Historiae Augustae), and written in the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine. But it uses later sources and adds elaborate fiction. Since it is the only continuous account for much of its period modern historians are understandably unwilling to abandon it despite its obvious untrustworthiness.

Dessau (1889) proposed it was composed by a single author in the late 4th century, probably in the reign of Theodosius I. One section (on Septimius Severus) quotes the mid-4th century historian Aurelius Victor, while another (on Marcus Aurelius) uses Eutropius, the Pagan historian who accompanied Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363) against the Persians, and composed the Breviarium, a history of Rome from its foundation until Emperor Valens (364-378 A.D.).

Of interest is a (false) letter quoted at length, from Emperor Hadrian (117-138 A.D.) in Egypt to his brother-in-law Servianus, which refers to the worship of Serapis by residents of Egypt who described themselves as Christians, and Christian worship by those claiming to worship Serapis. Some claim this suggests a great confusion of the cults and practices, but it may simply be an example of the author's sarcasm and political spoofing:

"The land of Egypt, the praises of which you have been recounting to me, my dear Servianus, I have found to be wholly light-headed, unstable, and blown about by every breath of rumour.

There, those who worship Serapis are in fact Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are in fact devotees of Serapis!

There is no chief of the Jewish synagogue, no Samaritan, no Christian presbyter, who is not also an astrologer, a soothsayer, or an anointer.

Even the [Jewish] Patriarch himself, when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ."

- (Augustan History, Firmus et al. 8)

Servianus is saluted as consul, and Hadrian mentions his (adopted) son Lucius Aelius Caesar: but Hadrian was in Egypt in 130 A.D., while Servianus's consulship fell in 134, and Hadrian adopted Aelius in 136. The letter is said to have been published by Hadrian's freedman Phlegon (whose existence is mentioned nowhere except in the HA, in another suspect passage).

A passage in the letter dealing with the frivolousness of Egyptian religious beliefs refers to the Patriarch, head of the Jewish community in the Empire. This office only came into being after Hadrian put down the Jewish revolt of 132 A.D., and the passage is probably meant in mockery of the powerful late 4th-century Patriarch, Gamaliel. (See R. Syme, Emperors and Biography, pp. 21-24.)

These considerations bracket the work (in its present form) between 362 (Eutropius) and 389 A.D., when the worship of Serapis was effectively ended with the destruction of the Temple in Alexandria. Although as a forgery it is not a reliable guide to Alexandria in the early 2nd century, it may yet inform us of conditions there in the late 4th century.

- wikipedia, Augustan History, Serapis


Emperor Jovian reverses Julian's Anti-Christian Edicts. He nominates Valentinian as his heir and dies.


The Spread of Aceticism and Monasticism

"In the 4th century the Roman Empire numbered hundreds of thousands of monks and nuns. It was not unusual for an abbot to have 10,000 monks in one cloister and in the year 373 A.D. the one single Egyptian town of Oxyrynchus had 20,000 nuns and 10,000 monks!

Now consider the total numbers of the population of that time, and it will be clear what a great influence this ascetic epidemic must have had." (See further details in Lecky‘s History of European Morals, 11th ed. ii. 105 ff.)

- H.S. Chamberlain, The Foundations of the 19th Century,
(2nd ed. 1912) ch.4, p. 316 footnote


Ambrose appointed bishop of Milan.


Death of Valentinian. Followed by Emperor Gratian. Gratian is the first emperor to refuse the office of Pontifex Maximus.


Emperor Theodosius declares Christianity to be the sole religion of the empire.


Emperor Theodosius orders the destruction of the Temple of Serapis (The 'Serapeum') in Alexandria, Egypt.


Paganism is officially banned via edicts published by Emperor Theodosius.


The last year of the ancient Olympic Games, afterward banned by Emperor Theodosius. There are no games again for 1500 years, until 1896.