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The Making of a Christian Aristocracy

The Making of a Christian Aristocracy

Social and Religious Change in the Western Roman Empire

Michele Renee Salzman

ISBN 9780674016033

Publication date: 10/25/2004

What did it take to cause the Roman aristocracy to turn to Christianity, changing centuries-old beliefs and religious traditions? Michele Salzman takes a fresh approach to this much-debated question. Focusing on a sampling of individual aristocratic men and women as well as on writings and archeological evidence, she brings new understanding to the process by which pagan aristocrats became Christian, and Christianity became aristocratic.

Roman aristocrats would seem to be unlikely candidates for conversion to Christianity. Pagan and civic traditions were deeply entrenched among the educated and politically well-connected. Indeed, men who held state offices often were also esteemed priests in the pagan state cults: these priesthoods were traditionally sought as a way to reinforce one’s social position. Moreover, a religion whose texts taught love for one’s neighbor and humility, with strictures on wealth and notions of equality, would not have obvious appeal for those at the top of a hierarchical society. Yet somehow in the course of the fourth and early fifth centuries Christianity and the Roman aristocracy met and merged.

Examining the world of the ruling class—its institutions and resources, its values and style of life—Salzman paints a fascinating picture, especially of aristocratic women. Her study yields new insight into the religious revolution that transformed the late Roman Empire.


  • This fascinating and important book…discusses the social origins and career paths of the aristocratic men—and the family involvements of the women—who converted to Christianity, and concludes by exploring ‘the emperor’s influence on aristocratic conversion’ and ‘the aristocrats’ influence on Christianity’… Salzman’s work is important not just for the study of the early church but for the study of the whole history of Christianity. The class distinctions which she so ably explores were significant not only for early Christians, but also for the medieval church and the Reformation church.

    —Robert M. Grant, Christian Century


  • Michele Renee Salzman is Professor of History at the University of California, Riverside.

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • 1 x 5-11/16 x 8-15/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press