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The Spread of Christianity

Christianity, one of a number of oriental religions that attempting to gain adherents in the Roman Empire, first achieved notoriety during Nero's reign. Nero made the Christians as scapegoats for the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. The historical Jesus had died 35 years earlier but Christianity spread quickly through the eastern provinces. By the 50 AD, a Christian community had developed in Rome.

By the end of the 1st century, the pattern of toleration then persecution would continue until the 4th century when Constantine became emperor. Domitian (81-96 AD), like Nero, allegedly persecuted Christians; "good" emperors (such as Trajan - 98-117 AD) chose to ignore the existence of Christians. The harsh persecutions began in the 3rd Century when Christanity was well established (even among the ruling classes) but came to be seen as a threat to the state. In 250 AD, Emperor Decius (249-251 AD) ordered all citizens of the empire to make sacrifice to the traditional gods of Rome. Unable to do this, many Christians suffered torture and death.

Persecution was renewed in 303 AD when Galerius made a final attempt to revitalize the old faith but in 312 AD the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion.; he was baptized on his death bed in 337 AD. Paganism was still tolerated, but temple treasures were confiscated and used to financially support church-building programs. This included the first St. Peter's in Rome and the churches over the Holy Places of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, where Constantine's mother, Helena, claimed to have found the cross on which Christ was crucified. Constantine became involved with the church and this led to a close tie between the state and the church, a tie that was to continue for centuries to come.