Slaves of Christ : Caesar’s household and the early Christians
MetadataShow full item record
This project examines the relationship between early Jesus groups and the Roman emperors’ slaves and former slaves (the so-called familia Caesaris) from the first to the third century. The apostle Paul, a first-century Jew, once referred to “saints in Caesar’s household” in his letter to the Philippians (Phil 4:22). Traditionally it was thought Paul wrote this from Rome, and that Christians continued to serve Caesar in Rome over the next several centuries, thus raising Christianity to socio-political prominence as the religion of the Empire. I challenge this traditional narrative by analyzing literature, inscriptions, and archaeological evidence from across the Mediterranean. Although, as I show, the imperial slaves Paul references were in Asia Minor (modern Turkey)–not Rome as traditionally thought–Paul’s reference was nonetheless crucial for Christianity in antiquity. In the second and third century Christians from Asia Minor, Gaul, North Africa and Italy capitalized upon Paul’s famous reference–especially the idea of Christians serving Caesar in Rome–to construct a new social memory and cultural geography across the Mediterranean. I use insights from cultural geography to illuminate how Christian writers coopted Christians in Caesar’s household to create a place for their communities in the Mediterranean’s cultural landscape. Yet, what was lost from memory was how those imperial slaves in Rome who were Christians by the third century defied traditional Christian ideals by participating in the worship of the divine emperor. I uncover this reality by interpreting imperial slave and freedperson inscriptions in the context of new archaeological and anthropological frameworks. Christian communities, I conclude, fostered a sense of ‘worldwide Christianity’ by claiming as Christian those imperial slaves and freedpersons who had, paradoxically, accepted a conflicting, imperial cosmology. Against traditional explanations, therefore, this project thus presents new ways of understanding Christianity’s ostensible rise in the Empire while shedding important new light on the social context of Paul’s early reference to Caesar’s household (familia Caesaris).