Imperial Policies and Religious Space in the Third Century AD

The project is a contribution to recent research interest on "Post/secularism". Although the post secularism debate is mainly concerned with contemporary societies, the questions raised are also relevant to aspects of Ancient History. This holds for instance for the relationship of religion and public space and its transformation, which is of importance in all periods of history. This project aimed to follow up on the research of the Principal Investigator Hartmut Leppin, who has been looking at questions of the spread of Christianity and whether it prompted the neutralization of public space, which has been inspired by the post secularism debate.

The goal of the project was to examine how the Roman Empire dealt with religious pluralism after Christianity had become established, with its prominent claim to universal validity and exclusive truth. Inquiring into the role played by justification narratives in the formation of normative orders has proved to be very fruitful. This is true in particular when it comes to the importance of Christian narratives for the establishment of the Empire under a Christian ruler, a development that had not been foreseen in Christian discourse. In addition, the project contributed to the comparative perspective of the Cluster, specifically to critical reflection on some of its central concepts, namely, tolerance, recognition and post-secularism.

Work on this project involved, on the one hand, comprehensive studies by the principal investigator and, on the other, a series of studies focussing on particular topics, in part by the principal investigators himself and in part by project collaborators. The most important among the latter was a project by the junior researcher Sophie Röder that examined the governing practice of Roman emperors between 253 and 268 AD. Starting from a discussion of imperial legislation, Röder analyzed the different emperors’ reactions to the spread of Christianity and gained important insights into the impact of religious plurality on normative orders. She submitted her dissertation in January 2017.

Sophie Röder‘s work questioned the widespread thesis that it was the edicts of Valerian (253–260) and Gallienus (253–268) that led to the first systematic persecutions of Christians. She showed convincingly that this perspective developed out of the Christian tradition of interpretation of the sources. Of particular importance for Hartmut Leppin’s research is the observation that a temporary pacification could be achieved through policies aimed at the religious neutralization of certain areas. New narratives of justification developed in this context, which to modern ears have the ring of tolerance.

The most important events of this project:

Panel Discussion: Im Namen Gottes? Monotheismus und Gewalt, Prof. Dr. Mouhanad Khorchide in conversation with Prof. Dr. Harmut Leppin (part of the discussion series Stadtgespräch of the Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders"), Historical Museum, Frankfurt am Main, April 19, 2017.

Lecture Series: Modelling Transformation (Central Lecture Series of the Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders), with Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Knöbl, Prof. Dr. Rudolf Stichweh, Prof. Dr. Eva Geulen, Prof. Dr. Andrew Abbott, Prof. Dr. Lorraine Daston, Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, summer semester, 2016.

Frankfurt-Birmingham Study Day: Contesting the Sacred – Contexts of Greek and Roman Religion, University of Birmingham, December 4, 2015.

International Workshop: Religiöse Differenzierungen im Übergang von Kaiserzeit zur Spätantike, Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders", Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, November 29–30, 2013.


The most important publications of this project:

Leppin, Hartmut: “Christianity and the Discovery of Religious Freedom”, Rechtsgeschichte / Legal History 22, pp. 62–78. (French translation: “Le christianisme et la découverte de la liberté religieuse”, in: T. Itgenshorst and Ph. Le Doze (eds.): La norme sous la République et le Haut-Empire romains (Scripta antiqua 96), Bordeaux, 2017, pp. 217–237.

Leppin, Hartmut: “Aspects of the Christianisation of Foreign Policy in Late Antiquity: The Impact of Religious Universalism”, in: G. Hellmann/A. Fahrmeir/ M. Vec (eds.): The Transformation of Foreign Policy. Drawing and Managing Boundaries from Antiquity to the Present, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 105–124.

Leppin, Hartmut: “Religiöse Vielfalt und öffentlicher Raum in der Spätantike“, in: M. Lutz-Bachmann (ed.): Postsäkularismus (Normative Orders Vol. 7), Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2015, pp. 335–360.

Leppin, Hartmut: “Überlegungen zum Umgang mit Anhängern von Bürgerkriegsgegnern in der Spätantike“, in: K. Harter-Uibopuu and F. Mitthof (eds.): Vergeben und Vergessen? Amnestie in der Antike. Beiträge zum ersten Wiener Kolloquium zur Antiken Rechtsgeschichte (Wiener Kolloquien zur Antiken Rechtsgeschichte 1), Wien, 2013, pp. 337–358; expanded english version: “Coping with the Tyrant’s Faction: Civil War Amnesties and Christian Discourses in the Fourth Century AD“, in: J. Wienand (eds.): Contested Monarchy. Integrating the Roman Empire in the 4th Century AD, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 198–214.

Leppin, Hartmut: “Kaisertum und Christentum in der Spätantike: Überlegungen zu einer unwahrscheinlichen Synthese“, in: A. Fahrmeir and A. Imhausen (eds.): Die Vielfalt normativer Ordnungen. Konflikte und Dynamik in historischer und ethnologischer Perspektive (Normative Orders Vol. 8), Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 2013, pp. 197–223.


People in this project:

  • Project members
    • Röder, Sophie (former member) | Profile

Publications of this project:

  • Leppin, Hartmut (2015): Religiöse Vielfalt und öffentlicher Raum in der Spätantike, in: M. Lutz-Bachmann (Hg.), Postsäkularismus (Normative Orders 7), Frankfurt am Main / New York 2015, 335-360.
  • Röder, Sophie (2015): Rez. zu M. Geiger, Gallienus, Frankfurt am Main 2013, HZ 300/2 (2015) 466f.
  • Röder, Sophie (2013): Rez. zu E. Manders, Coining Images of Power. Patterns in the Representation of Roman Emperors on Imperial Coinage A. D. 193-284 (Impact of Empire Vol. 15), Leiden/Boston 2012, in: HZ 297/3 (2013) 774f.


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20. Januar 2022, 20.15 Uhr

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24. Januar 2022, 18.00 Uhr

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