The Final Pagan Generation: Rome's Unexpected Path to

The Final Pagan Generation: Rome's Unexpected Path to This is similar to recent books I ve read on the Reformation which showed that the situation on the ground wascomplicated than we re Catholic now we re Protestant Watts aim is to show that this final generation lived in a world that, though there might be seemingly anti pagan laws, mostly went on as usual Watts feels that many laws were put forward as a way of showing the anti Pagan or anti Christian beliefs of the law giver but were not really meant to be enforced, in fact were This is similar to recent books I ve read on the Reformation which showed that the situation on the ground wascomplicated than we re Catholic now we re Protestant Watts aim is to show that this final generation lived in a world that, though there might be seemingly anti pagan laws, mostly went on as usual Watts feels that many laws were put forward as a way of showing the anti Pagan or anti Christian beliefs of the law giver but were not really meant to be enforced, in fact were often unenforceable Pagans and Christians were family, were friends, worked together The book could be a bit dry at times and I confess to getting lost between the handful of lives he covered but the book was short much shorter than apparent since the actual text took up only 52% of the book ah, the pleasures of digital reading The Final Pagan Generation covers the 310s 390s CE It looks at four elites of the Roman social world Libanius, Themistius, Praetextatus, and Ausonius Three were traditional religionists, and one was Christian Watts follows this cohort s lives to answer the questions of how the radical social, political, and religious transformations would have been perceived by people living through them I valued The Final Pagan Generation most for how it took a complex and fast moving century and broke The Final Pagan Generation covers the 310s 390s CE It looks at four elites of the Roman social world Libanius, Themistius, Praetextatus, and Ausonius Three were traditional religionists, and one was Christian Watts follows this cohort s lives to answer the questions of how the radical social, political, and religious transformations would have been perceived by people living through them I valued The Final Pagan Generation most for how it took a complex and fast moving century and broke it out into pieces that were easy to digest while not sacrificing the period s complexities As a non historian, I can t really speak to the narrative s historical approach It was coherent, well researched, and engaging I think it s a useful read for anyone in modern polytheisms centered around Mediterranean pantheons, for thinking about modern conversions and religious intimidation worldwide, or for anyone interested in this historical period.Comparing the anxieties of growing up Neopagan and not being treated like a serious intellectual to an environment where texts written by and about polytheism and its philosophical schools were the core educational material is an important mental exercise I engaged in while reading the book I m a Hellenic polytheist, so it does have a lot of relevancy to that The book analogizes the cultural transformation and generation gap of the 1960s and 70s and uses it to describe the Christian transformation of 360s and 70s which extirpated the old pagan ways and the younger generation rejected the religion of their elders and the kids took on this kooky new religion of Christianity While one is always tempted to take analogies of Rome you should always be careful with taking them too far Rome of 360s and 370s has similarities to 1960s and 70s America if you The book analogizes the cultural transformation and generation gap of the 1960s and 70s and uses it to describe the Christian transformation of 360s and 70s which extirpated the old pagan ways and the younger generation rejected the religion of their elders and the kids took on this kooky new religion of Christianity While one is always tempted to take analogies of Rome you should always be careful with taking them too far Rome of 360s and 370s has similarities to 1960s and 70s America if you squint Mature superpower a break with the old traditions for a new outlook but the declining Roman empire wasn t Age of Aquarius America But it is an interesting analogy Generation Gap in 4th century Rome with the Establishment in this case being the old pagan elite The author compares the younger generation of Christian leaders who rebelled against them to hippies In fact, theyclosely resembled Bolsheviks Their aims certainly were totalitarian Everyone had to be Christian, and Christianity had to rule every aspect of life That s ironic, of course, since Bolsheviks were officially atheist But the important distinction here isn t between God no Go Generation Gap in 4th century Rome with the Establishment in this case being the old pagan elite The author compares the younger generation of Christian leaders who rebelled against them to hippies In fact, theyclosely resembled Bolsheviks Their aims certainly were totalitarian Everyone had to be Christian, and Christianity had to rule every aspect of life That s ironic, of course, since Bolsheviks were officially atheist But the important distinction here isn t between God no God it s between allowing diverse views versus quashing them The old elite didn t recognize the threat to their traditions because they couldn t imagine a world in which the ancient gods would disappear Even after the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity around 312 CE, traditional religion remained dominant Some elites did begin to convert to Christianity, often to court imperial favor But the majority of the Empire s upper class remained pagan And paganism was pluralistic, with hundreds of gods The monotheistic absolutism of Christian leaders was something the old pagan elites could not understand After Constantine converted, he began directing funds away from traditional religions, toward Christian churches Within a few decades, the resources of the church had grown substantially This burgeoning wealth attracted the attention of some Christian elites, who began to realize that it could allow the church to create its own separate power base, outside of imperial control One of the earliest Christian elites to recognize this was Ambrose, a former Roman governor who became bishop of Milan in 374 Ambrose was a savvy political operator who understood how to manage large properties and schmooze with the imperial court As such, he became farpowerful than the less socially connected bishops who had dominated the church up to that point Ambrose also typified the extreme positions that Christian leaders were beginning to take toward non Christians He argued that merely allowing the continued existence of pagan religious practices amounted to persecution of Christians and he even demanded a church veto over imperial policies he didn t get it.Interestingly, like later Communists, early Christian leaders spent as much time purging heresy from their own ranks as they did persecuting those outside their party Jews and pagans Ambrose gained episcopal power in large part because of a conflict between Nicene Christians and Arians who followed another, then widespread, variant of Christianity Once he became bishop, Ambrose worked industriously to suppress Arians and other non Nicene Christians along with anyone else who didn t buy his religious brand Christian leaders of the late Roman Empire didn t have the technological reach of 20th century authoritarians, of course So it took them a long time to smother dissent and establish themselves as the only acceptable religion But the outlines of their eventual takeover were already becoming visible by the end of the 4th century The Final Pagan Generation recounts the fascinating story of the lives and fortunes of the last Romans born before the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity Edward J Watts traces their experiences of living through the fourth century s dramatic religious and political changes, when heated confrontations saw the Christian establishment legislate against pagan practices as mobs attacked pagan holy sites and temples The emperors who issued these laws, the imperial officials charged with implementing them, and the Christian perpetrators of religious violence were almost exclusively young men whose attitudes and actions contrasted markedly with those of the earlier generation, who shared neither their juniors interest in creating sharply defined religious identities nor their propensity for violent conflict Watts examines why the final pagan generation born to the old ways and the old world in which it seemed to everyone that religious practices would continue as they had for the past two thousand years proved both unable to anticipate the changes that imperially sponsored Christianity produced and unwilling to resist them A compelling and provocative read, suitable for the general reader as well as students and scholars of the ancient world Brilliant example of how to write a biography of multiple people and a period and get everything right I loved this book It focuses on a generation and a transition, and it does it very well in depth, close up, well presented and well written. Watts spends a great deal of time on the role of networking and social positioning for the generation that chose a traditional path in the imperial Roman world of the 300s More interesting was his presentation of how the political environment allowed those outside of this structure those of the new sect called Christian taking the roles of bishops and ascetics to gain power and influence I appreciated this window into an important turn of history and the author s knowledge of the period Th Watts spends a great deal of time on the role of networking and social positioning for the generation that chose a traditional path in the imperial Roman world of the 300s More interesting was his presentation of how the political environment allowed those outside of this structure those of the new sect called Christian taking the roles of bishops and ascetics to gain power and influence I appreciated this window into an important turn of history and the author s knowledge of the period The notes section, which is comprehensive, contributes to the work In fact, many of the notes should have been incorporated into the body of the book itself For example, defining the term pagan and pointing out that no non Christian Roman of the period would have considered themselves part of an defined religious sect adds incite to the period I was really interested in the approach taken by Watts for this book looking at ancient history from a generational point of view, something done all the time for recent history but very rarely almost never for ancient history I thought it worked really well and allowed for a fresh approach I admit, the transition from pagan to Christian Rome is far from my area of expertise, but I found this very interesting Certain things always hold true the younger generation thinks the older is hide I was really interested in the approach taken by Watts for this book looking at ancient history from a generational point of view, something done all the time for recent history but very rarely almost never for ancient history I thought it worked really well and allowed for a fresh approach I admit, the transition from pagan to Christian Rome is far from my area of expertise, but I found this very interesting Certain things always hold true the younger generation thinks the older is hidebound and the older thinks the younger is foolish and disrespectful In case you had any doubts about that.This book focuses quite closely on four important cultural figures, a mix of Christians and Pagans, like a four part biography Fair enough you can t write about everything But I would have liked a little something a little broader, maybe, a little broader cultural context though this may be because I wasn t going in with the relevant background Watts does an excellent job, though, putting you on an intimate level with these men s lives and careers I think this book was very good, but honestly, it was out of my reach, above my pay grade, way way over my head, lacking, as I do, much knowledge about antiquity or ancient Rome or Greece or Empire So I can t give it a rating.I did learn stuff, though, especially from a description toward the end, as the elders of the last generation of pagans continued to work and opine and think as everything was shifting and changing He describes one of his focal characters as a Polaroid executive during th I think this book was very good, but honestly, it was out of my reach, above my pay grade, way way over my head, lacking, as I do, much knowledge about antiquity or ancient Rome or Greece or Empire So I can t give it a rating.I did learn stuff, though, especially from a description toward the end, as the elders of the last generation of pagans continued to work and opine and think as everything was shifting and changing He describes one of his focal characters as a Polaroid executive during the rise of smartphones.So, in summary, please go elsewhere for a competent review I need to go back to the children s section maybe This is a dry, scholarly, but still fascinating account of a few key individuals as exemplars of what the Roman empire went through as it switched from being a pagan empire to a Christian one Unlike another book I read recently on this topic The Darkening Age , this book was really nuanced, capturing both the intolerance and violence of religious zealots as well as therelaxed interactions that happened across much of the empire, where some pagan religious observances continued as late as This is a dry, scholarly, but still fascinating account of a few key individuals as exemplars of what the Roman empire went through as it switched from being a pagan empire to a Christian one Unlike another book I read recently on this topic The Darkening Age , this book was really nuanced, capturing both the intolerance and violence of religious zealots as well as therelaxed interactions that happened across much of the empire, where some pagan religious observances continued as late as the 10th century in some places

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