Pagans vs. Christians Debate in the Roman Empire

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The traditional Roman religion was a polytheistic religion, centered around the worship of a multitude of gods, each of whom fulfilled a particular function (e.g., harvest, childbirth, war, women’s crafts, the Roman sewage system, etc.). The Romans believed that the success of their city was entirely due to “pax deorum” — peace with the gods, which meant that as long as the Romans honored their gods and sacrificed to them regularly, their city and empire would prosper. A new monotheistic religion, however, began to challenge the traditional Roman religion in the mid-first century CE and beyond — Christianity.

Choose one of the Roman gods from their pantheon, and describe how he or she was worshiped, including rituals and festivals associated with this deity. Include images (if available) of temples and shrines dedicated to this god, and the benefits Romans believed were derived from this worship.

Next, discuss how Christianity challenged and offered a viable alternative to traditional Roman paganism. Include in your post the elements of Christianity that might have been appealing to the average Roman, and those aspects that would ultimately lead to Christianity’s acceptance as the de facto “faith” of the Roman Empire.

Sources on early Christian beliefs:

The Gospel of Mark (any translation)

1 Corinthians (

Philippians (

Selection from Romans:

Selection from Galatians:

Sources on traditional Roman religion and Roman perspectives on the Christians:

Pliny and Trajan’s letter exchange:

Ritual cannibalism charge against Christians:

Description of several Roman religious rituals:

Other websites on the Roman gods

List of the gods with some explanation:

Another list of gods:

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