Did You Ever Stop To Think, And Forget To Start Again?

Everything has a beginning, and Christianity’s influence on society is no different. Contrary to some belief, Christianity did start somewhere. It evolved from Judaism after the crucification of Jesus in (probably) 30ish C.E. By the 3rd century C.E., Christianity had spread throughout much of the civilised world (map). Most of what we think today as ‘moral laws’ actually became law during the Dark Ages, as Christianity’s influence on rulers rose.

The politics of the Dark Ages is chock full of moral uprightness, and war, and war to promote moral uprightness. Almost exclusively the morality that was instituted and fought over was Christian morality. During his very short reign, 244-249, Philip the Arab (Roman Emperor: Marcus Julius Philippus Augustus) created the first law of the Roman Empire designed specific as a moral law against homosexuality: he banned male prostitution.

After Philip’s first move, there were more to come. The Imperial Crisis, which lasted from 235-284 C.E., was a series of calamities that almost collapsed the Roman Empire. Plaque, economic depression, threat of invasion and civil war brought to the Roman Empire to the brink of extinction. By 260, the Roman Empire had split into three separate states: Gallic Empire, Roman provinces of Gaul and Britannia, and the Palmyrene Empire. By 275, the empire had been completely reunited under Aurelian. In 284, the reforms of Diocletian established the stability the Roman Empire would continue for the next few centuries.

Emperor Diocletian was not a fan of Christianity. The last great Christian purge happened under Diocletian’s rule, known as the Diocletian Persecution, it lasted from 303-311 and had almost entirely the opposite effect that Diocletian wanted. Not only did it not destroy Christianity in the Roman Empire, it actually made Christianity stronger. By 324, under the emperor Constantine, Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire.

Under Constantine, the Christian church flourished (there weren’t yet discernible sects of Christianity, and wouldn’t be quite some time…it was all, basically, one church). Constantine’s reign would see financial assistance given to the church through the Empire’s coffers, increased power of the Papacy, and the Bishops being given legal authority. The Church, under Constantine’s rule, gained immense power, including the power of marriage.

Constantine’s rule ended upon his death in 337 C.E. He was succeeded by his sons Constantine II and Constans, who split the Empire between themselves, killing off anyone who may lay claim to even a part of it. Constantine II was killed by his brother Constans in 340, and Constans took full control of the entire Empire. Under Constans, the first laws banning gay marriage were created. In 342, according to Codex Theodosianus (one of the oldest surviving comprehensive law books of the Roman Empire) marriage based on “unnatural sex” would be severely punished (discretion up to law enforcing official), and was outlawed throughout the Empire. This is, arguably, the first time the phrase “unnatural sex” is ever associated with homosexuality. (Ironically, Constans was homosexual with unknown number of male lovers.. but that’s a whole other story). Constans brutality, favouritism toward guards, and inability to retain the respect of the legions because of his sexuality resulted in his assassination in 350 C.E.

Not everyone in the Roman Empire was convinced the crackdown on homosexuality was good. In 390, a popular charioteer was arrested for homosexual acts. When the populous of Thessalonica demanded his release, the magistrate refused. What resulted would become known as the Massacre of Thessalonica. When the magistrate refused, the population of Thessalonica revolted. During the revolt, the magistrate and several Roman authorities were killed. Emperor Theodosius I, who was outraged, sent troops to Thessalonica to quell the revolt. Once calmed down, Theodosius realised his order was a mistake, but his revocation came too late. The troops sent to Thessalonica massacred the citizenry. Church records put the dead at 7,000. As a result of the massacre, and the bishop of Milan’s reaction, Theodosius created a 30-day stay before an execution. This would, of course, be ignored in relation to upholding homosexuality laws. [Arguably, the revolt could  have entirely been related to the popularity of the man arrested, and have no discernible connection to WHY he was arrested. Although, if the population of Thessalonica had been convinced the homosexuality laws were just, they never would have demanded his release].

By the end of the 4th century, Christianity’s new purity focused sexual laws began to see light. Under the new laws of the Church, sex was meant as a means of procreation, and nothing more. Any other sexual acts, not used for procreation, were sins. These new sin laws increased homosexuality laws. and the punishment for violating these laws. Punishments now included burning for any passive homosexual acts, 20years in prison for acts of sodomy and bestiality, and death by sword for any “man who laid with another man as with a woman.” That decree? That’s straight out of Leviticus 18:22. It would mark the first time a law from the Old Testament made a direct translation into Roman law.

[DISCLAIMER: I am not, even remotely, making a religious declaration or commentary. This is HISTORY, not personal preference. So please, don’t hate on the blogger in the comments, unless you actually hate the post. Then, that’s legit.]

Part III: Homosexuality and the Middle Ages


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