URBS VENERABILIS AND ALTERA ROMA
IN THE second half of the fourth century the pagan historian Ammi-anus Marcellinus saw Rome as a city past her prime: “Declining into old age, and often owing victory to its name alone, it [Rome] has come to a quieter period of life. Thus the venerable city, after humbling the proud necks of savage nations, and making laws, the everlasting foundations and moorings of liberty, like a thrifty parent, wise and wealthy, has entrusted the management of her inheritance to the Caesars, as to her children.” The process of decline from centre of power to venerated symbol was already well advanced when Constantine entered the city as conqueror on 28 October 312. Already for decades, most emperors had chosen to rule from elsewhere in order to be closer to the frontier armies on whose support their power depended. Emperors preferred to live in the East, at Anti-och or Thessalonica, or at Sirmium in the Balkans, or at Trier or Milan, gracing the city of Rome with only brief symbolic visits.1
Rome nonetheless remained a city much larger than others in the empire. The population still relied on huge supplies of oil, wine, grain and timber imported into Ostia by ship from Africa, southern Italy, Sicily, Provence and Spain and brought up the river Tiber to the city wharves. The great aqueducts were kept in good repair. So too were the roads leading to all parts of Rome's dominions: the Via Appia going south to Naples, the Via Flaminia tracing its way to the northern Adriatic and the Danube, and the rest of the highway network which had accompanied and enabled the acquisition of empire. The Senate continued to meet and legitimize imperial acts, though patently only as a formality. The city's monuments— statues, arches, forums, commemorative columns—were reminders of what had been achieved. The great senatorial families, some of whom had acquired vast wealth, still saw the city as the pre-eminent place to display their influence. The impressive new defensive city walls erected by Aure-lian and Probus in the 270s, and raised to double their original height in 309—12, encompassed a vast area, not all of it built up. There had been new building under Diocletian, notably a vast new baths complex and a rebuilt Senate house, the Curia, which had been destroyed by a fire; and between 306 and 312 Maxentius had overseen an extensive building programme, rebuilding Hadrian's temple of Venus and Rome, burned down by accident in 306, and constructing a huge new basilica in the Forum. So Rome was by no means in decay, but it lacked the excitement and importance it had had in the age of Augustus. In the absence of the emperor and imperial patronage, it was for much of the time a prisoner of its own past, surrounded by nostalgic reminders of the time when the debates of senators and the clamour of the urban mob in the Forum could shape the future of the whole Mediterranean world.
In the physical appearance of this ancient city the presence of Christianity was almost invisible. “House churches,” as the name suggests, looked just like other houses from the outside, blending in with the tenements, workshops and other buildings in the residential areas, and excluded from the public spaces on the Palatine and in the various forums. In this respect, at least, the change under Constantine was to be dramatic, although not, probably, as overwhelming as he desired: he was perhaps constrained in his early years by the need to win over to his side by public munificence an urban populace which had warmed to his rival Maxentius, not least because Maxentius was the last of Rome's rulers to make his residence in the capital. Constantine's intention to turn Rome into a Christian city so far as he could was signalled soon after his victory in 312 by the decision to build a large basilica for the use of the bishop of Rome on the Caelian hill, just inside the Aurelian walls, some way to the east of the ancient monumental centre of the city around the Capitol. The building was deliberately huge and magnificent, but it was hidden from the view of most Romans, and the site seems to have been available for building only because it belonged to Constantine's wife, Fausta. The gift to the Church was by the emperor, not the state, and the new basilica, among mansions and gardens rather than temples and forums, was discreetly tucked away at the edge of the city.
Even more discreet was the only other great church built by Constantine within the walls. To the north-east of the Lateran, the church of S. Croce in Gerusalemme was founded, probably in the 320s, within an existing palace hall. Viewed from outside, the church looked like just one of the buildings in the complex used by the imperial family, its special Christian character essentially private to the emperor and his Christian friends.2
That the reticence of Constantine's building within the city walls was to some extent imposed on him rather than voluntary is suggested by the contrast with his Christianizing of the landscape of the surrounding countryside, where there was less competition with pagan temples. The burial sites of martyrs had long been venerated by local Christians, albeit in modest ways. Now magnificent basilicas, mostly on imperial property, were built near catacombs, to serve as burial grounds for the faithful, as centres for pilgrimage on the martyrs' anniversaries, and as a clear, public statement of imperial favour for a faith once persecuted. The vast church of St. Sebastian, built over the cult centre of the apostles on the Appian Way, was crowded with graves on the floor and along its walls; another basilica, even larger, stood by the Via Tiburtina next to the tomb of St. Laurence; a third, attached to the tombs of the martyrs Marcellinus and Peter, was augmented by a mausoleum, still extant, in which Constantine's mother Helena was laid to rest. Most impressive of all was St. Peter's, erected despite the physical difficulties on the sloping shoulder of the Vatican hill, enclosing the existing necropolis, in which, although the Christian tombs were only a minority among the pagan graves, the architects took great care to maintain access to the cemetery where the bones of St. Peter were supposed to lie. The shrine of the martyr was made the focus of the basilica, the upper part of the memorial to the saint remaining above the large artificial terrace which overlay the necropolis and formed the floor of the church. As in the other buildings erected by Constantine in Rome for the glory of the Christian God, St. Peter's impressed by its vast size, grand interior and lavish furnishing in gold and silver. The exterior, though visible from afar, was simple and unadorned.
Through such imaginative projects Constantine amply demonstrated his own religious commitment and made more than sufficient provision for the needs of the local Christian community. St. Peter's can rarely have been filled even on days of special pilgrimage to pray at the martyr's tomb. But Constantine also demonstrated inadvertently that what he could bring about outside the city walls, with imperial largesse lavished on imperial property directly under his control, was less feasible in the monumental centre of the ancient city on land belonging to the state, where major public building might risk arousing hostility by the demolition of existing public structures. Here Constantine built like emperors before him, and in particular like his rival Maxentius, completing the great new basilica for secular commercial use which had been begun under Maxentius in the Forum but was now to bear Constantine's name and house his colossal statue. On the Quirinal he built new baths almost as large as those erected before him by Caracalla and Diocletian. But, apart from the “saving sign” (of the Cross? or the Chi-Rho symbol of Christianity?) to be seen represented in the hand of Constantine's statue, there was nothing remotely Christian about these public edifices in the public heart of the city. To the great senatorial families of Rome, proud of their long custody of the worship of Rome's gods on behalf of the state, the Christian allegiance of the emperor was a private quirk which could not be allowed to detract from his crucial traditional role as pontifex maximus, “chief priest” of the pagan cults, a role which Constantine therefore retained to the end of his life despite his dislike of the worship a pontijex was expected to promote. The resistance of the senators was made starkly apparent by the ambiguous inscription on the triumphal arch next to the Colosseum dedicated in 315 by the Senate and people of Rome in recognition of his victory, “to the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantine, Maximus, Pius, Felix, Augustus … because, by the prompting of the divinity, by the greatness of his mind, he, with his army, at one moment by a just victory avenged the state both on the tyrant and on all his party.” The arch, decorated with reliefs taken from monuments mostly of the second century CE, proclaimed that the emperor had won at the Milvian bridge instinctu divinitatis, “by the prompting of the [or “a”] divinity.” The sculptures bore no Christian symbols at all: the gods of Constantine were portrayed as the Sun and Victory. Building had already begun on the Lateran basilica, and Constantine was already issuing laws filled with Christian rhetoric, so the ambiguity of the wording on the inscription hardly came about through ignorance of the emperor's new religious allegiance. The senators knew what Constantine preferred, and most declined to acquiesce. By the mid-320s, after his conquest of the eastern part of the empire following the decisive battle of Adrianople on 3 July 324, Constantine seems to have decided not to press on with the further Christianization of the old Rome, and sought to build instead a new Rome at Byzantium, to be a more Christian capital of a more actively Christian empire.3
“The city which had up to then been called Byzantium [Constantine] developed, surrounding it with great defensive walls and decorating it with diverse monuments. Having put it on an equal level with Rome, the ruling city, and having changed its name to Constantinople, he prescribed by a law that it should be called ‘Second Rome.’ ” The details in this report by the Church historian Socrates, writing a century after Constantine, are probably confused, and earlier evidence to corroborate his assertion that Constantine himself prescribed by law that his new city be called a “Second Rome” is not wholly convincing, but in 324 Alexander, the bishop of Constantinople, was already being addressed by the bishops meeting in a synod at Antioch as “bishop of the new Rome,” and in 325 or 326 the poet Opta-tianus Porphyrius, in a poem addressed to Constantine, referred to “the nobility of the Pontus” as altera Roma, “another Rome.” Thus, whether Constantine himself gave the title of “New Rome” to the city which took his own name is disputed, but that it was conceived by him as in some sense a Second Rome there is no doubt. The city became the emperor's main residence from its dedication on 11 May 330 until he died in 337. The new city was made attractive to new inhabitants by the distribution of free grain, and honoured by being granted the right to a senate of its own. The focus of the city was the imperial palace, with the hippodrome adjacent, and the statue of the emperor on top of a column in the new oval forum.4
The city was thus above all a monument to Constantine himself, and as such it was a place where he could present himself openly, defiantly, as devoted to the Christian God, as Eusebius ecstatically reports:
In honouring with exceptional distinction the city which bears his name, he embellished it with very many places of worship, very large martyr-shrines, and splendid houses, some standing before the city and others in it. By these he at the same time honoured the tombs of the martyrs and consecrated the city to the martyrs' God. Being full of the breath of God's wisdom, which he reckoned a city bearing his own name should display, he saw fit to purge it of all idol-worship, so that nowhere in it appeared those images of the supposed gods which are worshipped in temples, nor altars foul with bloody slaughter, nor sacrifice offered as holocaust in fire, nor feasts of demons, nor any of the other customs of the superstitious. You would see at the fountains set in the middle of squares the emblems of the Good Shepherd, evident signs to those who start from the divine oracles, and Daniel with his lions shaped in bronze and glinting with gold leaf. So great was the divine passion which had seized the Emperor's soul that in the royal quarters of the imperial palace itself, on the most eminent building of all, at the very middle of the gilded coffer adjoining the roof, in the centre of a very large wide panel, had been fixed the emblem of the saving Passion made up of a variety of precious stones and set in much gold. This appears to have been made by the Godbeloved as a protection for his Empire.
Eusebius exaggerates the suppression of paganism in the city—at least some of the pagan temples of old Byzantium were left untouched, and some two centuries later the pagan Greek historian Zosimus even claimed (perhaps not wholly reliably) that two new temples were built during Con-stantine's rule, to Rhea and to the Fortune of Rome. But the emperor's determination to ensure the Christian character of his new Rome emerges clearly in a letter he wrote to Eusebius requesting multiple copies of the Bible for the use of the new church congregations because
in the City which bears our name by the sustaining providence of the Saviour God a great mass of people has attached itself to the most holy Church, so that with everything there enjoying great growth it is particularly fitting that more churches should be established … The preparation of the written volumes with utmost speed shall be the task of your Diligence. You are entitled by the authority of this our letter to the use of two public vehicles for transportation. The fine copies may thus most readily be transported to us for inspection; one of the deacons of your own congregation will presumably carry out this task, and when he reaches us he will experience our generosity. God preserve you, dear brother.
The success of Constantine's policy can be seen in the rhetoric used by the author of the biography of the fifth-century stylite saint Daniel, and by other Christians in later centuries: through the accumulation of Christian relics, Constantinople came to be known not only as a second Rome but also as a second Jerusalem.5
THE REACTIONS to Constantine's enthusiasm for Christianity to be found among the Jews living in this new Rome may well have differed from those to be found among the Jews in Italy. Jews had long been settled in the coastal cities of Asia Minor and the Black Sea region, and it was from Adramyttium, not so many miles away to the south-west of Byzantium, that the Roman governor Flaccus had stolen the funds collected by the Jews of Asia in 62—61 BCE, in the time of Cicero. Byzantium was a small place in the third century CE, but in 318 CE Jews had a synagogue there also, in the area of the copper market, well before the city was taken over by the grandiose plans of Constantine. How these local Jews reacted to the transformation of their surroundings in the 320s and 330s can readily be guessed. Like other inhabitants they must have admired the great works of art, looted from other places, with which Constantine adorned the streets of his New Rome, and they may well have felt a certain local patriotism, but the anti-Jewish rhetoric of the emperor, whose palace now loomed over their homes and whose presence dominated the city, must have left them uneasy—even though it was not until 422 that their synagogue was converted into a church.6
The position of the Jews in old Rome was rather different, precisely because Constantine had not sought to establish his faith in the city with the zeal he was prepared to show in the eastern part of his empire. The edict issued in Milan in 313 by Constantine and Licinius had quite specifically offered freedom of worship to everyone in the empire.
We thought that, in accordance with salutary and most correct reasoning, we ought to establish our purpose that no man whatever should be refused complete toleration, who has given up his mind either to the observances of the Christians, or to the religion which he felt most fitting to himself… that every man have a free opportunity in the practice of whatever worship he has chosen. This we have done to ensure that no cult or religion may seem to have been diminished by us.
The pagan senators of Rome took this policy at face value, as has been seen, and continued to devote themselves to the ancient cults of the city. Why should not the same be true also of the Jews? The Jewish community in fourth-century Rome was far larger than that in contemporary Byzantium and had picked up some of the cultural traits of wider Roman society. Jews commissioned stone sarcophagi from fashionable local workshops, requiring only the insertion of specifically Jewish iconography, such as an elaborately carved menorah rendered in relief on a tondo, and beautiful gold glasses, in which Jewish objects, such as the menorah, ethrog and lulav, are represented in gold leaf which has been sealed between two layers of glass. A letter in Latin preserved in fragmentary form in an early-ninth-century manuscript in Cologne under the heading “Here begins the Letter of Anna to Seneca about pride and idols” may have been composed by a Roman Jew in this period and reminds us of the likelihood that Roman Jews, like Greek Jews in late antiquity, produced a literature of their own in Latin which was not preserved either by rabbis or by Christians and thus is now lost to us.7
This acculturated community, still sufficiently aware of its separate identity within the Roman population to bury its dead in special catacombs, might reasonably see the declaration of toleration by the newly arrived emperor in 313 as the end of discrimination. Constantine's predecessor Galerius had proffered to the Roman people two years earlier a logical reason for ending persecution of Christians which might equally well apply to Jews: since Christians had “in very great numbers held to their determination, and we saw that these same people neither gave worship and due reverence to the gods, nor [because it was forbidden] worshipped the god of the Christians,” Galerius pardoned them, allowed them to “establish their meeting-places,” and asserted that “it will be their duty to pray to their god for our safety, and that of the state, and their own, that the state may endure on every side unharmed, and they may be able to live free of care in their habitations.” The religious logic was the same as Philo and Josephus had asserted for the loyal sacrifices to the Jewish God on behalf of the Roman emperor in the first century CE : Jews might not worship the emperors as gods, but their prayers to their own God for the emperor's well-being were uniquely efficacious. Jews had not forgotten their Temple and frequently depicted it, and the sacrifices which took place there, on the mosaic floors of the synagogues they built from the fourth to the sixth centuries. If there was to be real freedom of worship as Con-stantine and Licinius promised, surely now the Jewish Temple should be restored in Jerusalem.8
Such hopes among Roman Jews, and their dashing during the following decades of Constantine's rule, in which quite different plans emerged for Jerusalem, can be surmised even if they cannot be documented from the meagre archaeological and epigraphic remains from which the history of this community has to be reconstructed. Jews and Christians in the city may have had little contact in the century before the edict of Milan. Christian sources have little to say about the Jews of Rome in their accounts of the vicissitudes of the local Church. It would not be surprising if many Jews were unaware of the theological imperative which rendered a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem anathema to many Christians precisely because Jesus was believed to have predicted its destruction. It would take time for Jews to realize the significance for them of the emperor's adoption of his new faith. In the meantime, the city of Rome was to remain for much of the fourth century a society of genuine religious pluralism. In a book presented to a senator in 354, the pagan festivals in honour of Venus, Quirinus, Ceres, Flora, Sarapis and various divine emperors were recorded in a traditional Roman calendar alongside a Christian calendar of the martyrs of Rome.9
At least one Roman Jew seems to have been affected by this tolerant atmosphere sufficiently to propose the compatibility of Jewish law with the law of Rome. In this extraordinary Latin treatise, entitled the Collatio Legum Mosaicarum et Romanarum, the author, who was probably writing in the late fourth century, lists biblical texts from chapters 20 to 22 of Exodus, roughly according to the order of the second half of the Ten Commandments, following each text by excerpts from Roman jurists and imperial constitutions. The ostensible purpose of the Collatio was to demonstrate the excellence of the “divine law” which “Moses, the priest of God” had laid down, and the (alleged) remarkable congruity between the biblical and the Roman laws quoted. Such congruity is explained in one passage by the priority of Moses: “know, jurists, that Moses earlier decided this.” The author lays special stress on the sanctity of the “divine scripture” he cites, but his own versions of particular passages are free and compressed, suggesting that he had in mind a readership familiar with the Bible, perhaps in a different language, either Hebrew or Greek—in other words, fellow Jews. Despite his evocation of Roman jurists, no expert in Roman law was likely to be much impressed by such implausible claims of identity between the law of Moses and that of Rome as “Moses says: ‘If a fire breaks out and finds thorns and catches hold of threshing floors or ears of corn or a field, he who lit the fire will make restitution of its valuation.’ Paulus [a Roman jurist of the early third century CE], in the fifth book of his Sentences under the title About Incendiaries [writes]: ‘Whoever has set fire to a cottage or farm for the sake of enmity: the more humble are condemned to the mine or to public works, the more honourable are relegated to an island.’ ” By contrast Roman Jews might have been genuinely impressed by the collection of Roman legal materials from a variety of sources and the apologetic assertion that this learned compilation somehow affirmed the validity of the Torah in a Roman world. If author and intended readers were indeed Jews, the Collatio stands alone among extant ancient Jewish writings from the fourth century CE as an attempt by a Jew to persuade other Jews in the empire that their Roman identity did not conflict with their Judaism, or their Judaism with their Romanness—a real, if brief, attempt at accommodation before the Christian empire once again relegated Jews to the margins. The signs of the intolerance to come could be seen during Constantine's reign less in the pluralist atmosphere of Rome than in the dramatic changes imposed by Constantine on the homeland of the Jews and especially on Jerusalem.10
A NEW JERUSALEM
“NEW JERUSALEM was built as the very Testimony to the Saviour, facing the famous Jerusalem of old, which after the bloody murder of the Lord had been overthrown in utter devastation, and paid the penalty of its wicked inhabitants. Opposite this then the Emperor erected the victory of the Saviour over death with rich and abundant munificence, this being perhaps that fresh new Jerusalem proclaimed in prophetic oracles, about which long speeches recite innumerable praises as they utter words of divine inspiration.” So Eusebius in 337 described Constantine's building of the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Through his wealth and piety, Jerusalem was to become again under imperial patronage a great religious centre, a magnet for pilgrims, but, as the rhetoric made clear, emphatically not for the wicked Jews whose Temple had been destroyed because of “the bloody murder of the Lord.”11
Before the city's transformation by Constantine, the ancient status of Jerusalem was, for ordinary Romans, at most a distant memory. “Aelia,” the name of the Roman colony which had replaced the Jews' sacred city, was so firmly entrenched that it continued in official use even under Christian emperors, with the significant omission of the second part of the original name—“Capitolina,” which denoted the dedication of the colony to Jupiter Capitolinus, was felt no longer appropriate. Even the Church historian Eusebius used the name “Aelia” along with “Jerusalem” indiscriminately in his gazetteer of biblical sites in Palestine, the Onomasticon. In another work, the Martyrs of Palestine, he described a dramatic scene on 16 February 310, just before Constantine's conversion, when the pagan Roman governor of Palestine, Firmilianus, interrogating in Caesarea Eusebius' revered Christian teacher Pamphilus, was quite baffled by the martyr's insistence that “Jerusalem was his fatherland, meaning, indeed that Jerusalem of which it was said by Paul: ‘But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother,’ and ‘You have come to Mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’ … The judge … was puzzled and shook with impatience, thinking that the Christians had certainly established a city somewhere at enmity and hostile to the Romans; and he was much occupied in discovering it, and enquiring into the said country in the East.” The spiritual geography of the Christian martyr made no sense to the Roman magistrate, just a few years before the new Christian Jerusalem was to arise. In fact, Aelia, at the date of Pamphilus' martyrdom, had ceased to be of much importance in the administrative, economic and military life of the province. With the departure of the Tenth Legion from the colony over the course of the third century, the influx of wealth from the central state, in the form of military pay, had dried up. Aelia was well connected by military roads to Caesarea and other garrison towns, such as the secondary legionary base at Legio in the Jezreel valley, but the colony was isolated in the Judaean mountains and lay on no major trade routes. With no special natural resources, even intensive exploitation of the surrounding countryside could bring only meagre rewards. There is no reason to doubt that Aelia enjoyed the standard facilities of any city in the Roman East, such as public baths and a theatre, but, deprived of the oxygen of a large military presence or crowds of religious enthusiasts, it was sinking into obscurity.12
But for Christians, of course, the site of this obscure colony was significant because of what had happened there long ago. Back in the mid-second century CE, Melito of Sardis, author of the virulent depiction of the Jews as deicides in his poem on Easter, travelled “to the east,” where he “learned accurately the books of the Old Testament” in “the place where [these things] were preached and done.” Melito was the first known of a stream of pilgrims to the Holy Land, who came “for the purpose of prayer and investigation of the places.” In the case of Alexander, bishop of a community in Cappadocia in the time of Caracalla, the visit to Jerusalem proved permanent, since “the people there gave him the most cordial welcome, and suffered him not to return home again, in accordance with another revelation which was seen by them also at night,” and “with the common consent of the bishops who were administering the churches round about … compelled him of necessity to remain.” In due course, during the Decian persecution, Alexander “appeared once more for Christ's sake at Caesarea before the governor's courts, and for the second time distinguished himself by the confession he made; he underwent the trial of imprisonment, crowned with the venerable hoary locks of ripe old age. And … after the splendid and manifest testimony that he gave in the governor's courts, he fell asleep in prison.” But, although other Christians too were attracted to Jerusalem by its scriptural history, the Christian community there remained small in the second and third centuries, overshadowed by the much more powerful congregation in the provincial capital Caesarea, where the biblical scholar Origen was based in the mid-third century, and where Eusebius himself lived in the early fourth, becoming bishop soon after the edict of toleration in 313. There is little evidence that any Christians before Constantine thought the sites in Jerusalem, made famous (to them) by their biblical associations, were themselves to be venerated as holy. On the contrary, the new Jerusalem to which Christians like the martyr Pamphilus looked was not of this world. The new Jerusalem belonged to the last days envisaged many centuries before by the prophet Ezekiel and applied to the Church by the seer in the book of Revelation when he wrote of
that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal … And I did not see a temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is its light. And the nations shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth bring their glory to it.
In the second half of the second century one prophetic Christian, Montanus, whose teachings were later to be condemned as heresy but who in 206 had won the allegiance of, among many others, Tertullian, had even claimed that the heavenly Jerusalem would soon descend in his homeland, in Pepuza in Phrygia. Such influence as the Christians of Aelia, the site of the real Jerusalem of old, exerted in the third and early fourth centuries over Christians in the wider region derived more from their role in combating heresies and in providing heroic martyrs, such as bishop Alexander, for admiration and emulation, than from the mystique of their sacred sites.13
The plan of Constantine to create a new Christian Jerusalem thus upset the long-established structures of power among the Christians of Palestine, who looked primarily to the bishop of Caesarea for guidance. Already at the Church council in Nicaea in 325, just a year after Constan-tine's conquest of the East, the assembled bishops agreed that “since custom and ancient tradition has held firm, that the bishop of Aelia should be honoured, let him have the honour due to him in accordance with such tradition, saving to the metropolis [i.e. Caesarea] the honour which belongs to it.” It is hard to know how much this ruling reflected the personal predilections of the emperor who presided at the council, how much the influence of the prominent bishop of Jerusalem, Macarius. Eusebius, our main informant about the council, was not disinterested in the matter, since, as bishop of Caesarea, he had much to lose; but it was Eusebius who recorded, in his biography of Constantine, the direct role taken by the emperor to enhance the status of Christian Jerusalem by clearing away pagan shrines and identifying places of Christian significance, particularly the Holy Sepulchre, since
he decided that he ought to make universally famous and revered the most blessed site in Jerusalem of the Saviour's resurrection … the cave of the Saviour that some godless and wicked people had planned to make invisible to mankind, thinking in their stupidity that they could in this way hide the truth. Indeed with a great expenditure of effort they brought earth from somewhere outside and covered up the whole place, then levelled it, paved it, and so hid the divine cave somewhere down beneath a great quantity of soil. Then as though they had everything finished, above the ground they constructed a terrible and truly genuine tomb, one for souls, for dead idols, and built a gloomy sanctuary to the impure demon of Aphrodite; then they offered foul sacrifices there upon defiled and polluted altars … At a word of command those contrivances of fraud were demolished from top to bottom, and the houses of error were dismantled and destroyed along with their idols and demons … As stage by stage the underground site was exposed, at last against all expectation the revered and all hallowed Testimony of the Saviour's resurrection was itself revealed, and the cave, the holy of holies, took on the appearance of a representation of the Saviour's return to life.
Once the underground site of the resurrection had thus been revealed, “against all expectation,” Constantine undertook the building of the greatest of all martyr churches, the Holy Sepulchre, right in the centre of the colony. The church was described by Eusebius, soon after its dedication, in admiring detail:
As the principal item he first of all decked out the sacred cave. It was a tomb full of agelong memory, comprising the trophies of the great Saviour's defeat of death, a tomb of divine presence, where once an angel, radiant with light, proclaimed to all the good news of the rebirth demonstrated by the Saviour … On the side opposite the cave, which looked towards the rising sun, was connected the royal temple, an extraordinary structure raised to an immense height and very extensive in length and breadth. Its interior was covered with slabs of varied marble, and the external aspect of the walls, gleaming with hewn stone fitted closely together at each joint, produced a supreme object of beauty by no means inferior to marble. Right up at the top the material which encased the outside of the roofs was lead, a sure protection against stormy rain; while the interior of the structure was fitted with carved coffers and like a vast sea spread out by a series of joints binding to each other through the whole royal house, and being beautified throughout with brilliant gold made the whole shrine glitter with beams of light … This then was the shrine which the Emperor raised as a manifest testimony of the Saviour's resurrection, embellishing the whole with rich imperial decoration. He adorned it with untold beauties in innumerable dedications of gold and silver and precious stones set in various materials. In view of their size, number and variety, to describe in detail the skilled craftsmanship which went into their manufacture would be beyond the scope of the present work.14
This magnificent remodelling of the centre of Aelia to provide a Christian focus for the city was intended less for the benefit of local inhabitants (as in Rome) than for pilgrims from around the Christian world. Constan-tine himself never visited the Holy Land after his schemes had been put into action, although his mother-in-law Eutropia did, and so, famously, did his own mother Helena, founding one church, the Eleona basilica on the Mount of Olives, and another, at the site of the nativity, in Bethlehem; in the course of the fourth century there arose a tradition that she had also discovered the wood of the original Cross on Golgotha, although the story, unknown to Eusebius, must have been a pious fabrication after Con-stantine's death. In contrast to his cautious approach in Rome, the emperor seems to have taken no account at all of the sensibilities of local pagans in Aelia as he demolished the temple “to the impure demon of Aphrodite” to make way for the Holy Sepulchre, or the pagan shrine at Mamre near Hebron to permit a new church there. Some, perhaps most, of the inhabitants of Aelia may have continued in their pagan beliefs and practices long after Constantine had died, but disgruntled pagan provincials posed no threat. Far more important, in Constantine's eyes, were the elite from across the empire whom he hoped to win over to his new faith. The churches of the Holy Land, with buildings smaller than the vast edifices built by Constantine in Rome, but large areas of open space, were designed for the reception of pilgrims in large numbers. Colonnades provided shelter in the great open courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre as the visitors gazed in awe at the newly discovered tomb, beautified with columns and other embellishments. On the side of the courtyard which faced the tomb was the Golgotha basilica, faced all over with gleaming marble, the place for liturgy, ritual and communal prayer. Since the whole complex seems to have sheltered behind impressive precinct walls, the locals uncommitted to the faith could only glimpse the pilgrims on their way to pray, and hope to earn something from this new source of income from religious tourism, but conversion must have attracted many: Constantine did not just ignore the susceptibilities of the pagans of Aelia, he positively attacked them through the destruction of the “hideous burden” of their idols and the suppression of their cults. The decision to build the great Christian basilica in the monumental centre of Aelia, in the northern part of the forum erected under Hadrian, may owe less to local traditions about the site of Christ's tomb than to Constantine's desire to demonstrate that this city was to be both Roman and Christian. It is an attractive hypothesis that the dedication of the Holy Sepulchre was fixed for September because the Ides of that month, 13 September, was the day for the ancient Roman festivals in honour of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, whose tutelage of the colony, long symbolized by the name “Capitolina,” had now been supplanted by that of Christ.15
It is less certain that the emperor was concerned to put the Jews in their place, since they had long been formally excluded from the city's territories in any case. The theology of Eusebius, for whom the glory of the new Jerusalem shone all the brighter because of the visible devastation of the old, was expounded at length in his various writings and had a long history in earlier Christian thought, but there is no evidence that such sophisticated notions were shared by Constantine, whose grasp of biblical materials, beyond the very basic, was shaky. On the other hand, Constantine also had no cause to favour the Jews in his Christian city. The Temple site was still left in ruins in 333, when it was visited by a pilgrim from Bordeaux: it was dominated by two great statues which the pious pilgrim took to represent the emperor Hadrian. In the mid-third century Origen, who probably also visited the site, thought that although one of these statues was of Hadrian, the other was of Gaius or Titus. In fact it was probably a representation of Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Pius, since a statue plinth with his name survives, incorporated upside down above the lintel of the Double Gate in the south wall of the Harem esh Sharif, built when the site became an Islamic shrine in the seventh century or after. It is significant, as evidence of Christian ideology, that the Christian Jerome, writing in nearby Bethlehem at the end of the fourth century, believed that the image was in fact a statue of Jupiter, the god whose worship had supplanted the God of the Jews, only to be supplanted in turn by Christ.16
Constantine was too preoccupied with pagans to attack Jews in Jerusalem, but such peace was not to last. At the end of the fifth century, or the beginning of the sixth, the pagan Zosimus, describing the exile from Constantinople in 395 of the wife and daughter of the murdered praetorian prefect Rufinus, wrote that they were allowed “to sail away to Jerusalem, which in olden times had been a habitation of Jews but from the reign of Constantine onwards was honoured with buildings by Christians.” The passage is an unusual example of a pagan adopting a viewpoint which had become increasingly common among Jerusalem Christians in the fourth century, and especially in the writings of Cyril, who was bishop from about 347 to 386, that to create a truly Christian Jerusalem required confrontation with deeply rooted local Jewish myth and symbolism and its replacement by those of the Church. In the time of Constantine, when the struggle which interested the emperor was not with the Jews but with paganism, Jews around the Holy City seem, for the most part, to have been left in peace, but the seeds of future conflict were all too well embedded in shared traditions about sites mentioned in the Bible. Once funds from the emperor and other wealthy Romans were available for the erection of monuments at places designated as holy to Christians, such sharing became increasingly difficult to sustain, as is clear from the enthralled description of Jerusalem and its environs which was composed by the Bordeaux pilgrim in 333, soon after the beginning of Constantine's building projects. His (or her) extraordinary document is memorable for the presentation, to a Latin readership at the other end of the Mediterranean, of Jerusalem as the centre of their spiritual world. The “itinerary from Bordeaux to Jerusalem and from Heraclea through Aulona, and through the city of Rome to Milan” was written mostly in the form of a list of towns along Roman roads, noting the distance between them, with occasional touristic asides interspersed: “here lies king Hannibal” or “from here was Apollo-nius the magician.” But when the description reaches Palestine, it changes into a sacred landscape evocative of scriptural stories. The reader is invited into the landscape by frequent use of second person singular verbs in the
present tense: “you can see where David had his palace … as you leave there and pass through the wall of Sion …” For both writer and reader, the Holy Land was now clearly different from all the rest of the empire.
The tone of the pilgrim's report reaches a new pitch of piety as Jerusalem is reached:
In Jerusalem beside the Temple are two large pools, one to the right and the other to the left, built by Solomon … There is also a crypt there where Solomon used to torture demons, and there is the corner of a very lofty tower, which was where the Lord climbed and said to him who tempted him, and the Lord said to him: “You shalt not tempt the Lord your God, but him only shall you serve.” And there also is the great corner-stone of which it was said, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.” And below the pinnacle of this tower are very many chambers where Solomon had his palace. There too is the chamber in which he sat and wrote Wisdom, and it is roofed with a single stone … And in the sanctuary itself, where the Temple was which Solomon built, on the marble in front of the altar you would say the blood of Zacharias had only been shed there today. All around you can see the marks of the hobnails of the soldiers who killed him, as plainly as if they had been pressed into wax … Inside Sion, within the wall, you can see where David had his palace. Seven synagogues were there, but only one is left—the rest have been “ploughed and sown” as was said by the prophet Isaiah … Near by, about a stone's throw away, are two memorial tombs of remarkable beauty. In one of them, formed from a single rock, the prophet Isaiah was laid, and in the other lies Hezekiah, king of the Jews … Four miles from Jerusalem, on the right of the highway to Bethlehem, is the tomb in which was laid Jacob's wife Rachel. Two miles further on, on the left, is Bethlehem, where the Lord Jesus Christ was born; there a basilica has been built by command of Constantine. Not far away is the tomb of Ezekiel, Asaph, Job, Jesse, David and Solomon. Their names are written in Hebrew characters low down on the wall as you go down into the crypt.17
The only reference by the Bordeaux pilgrim to contemporary Jews in Jerusalem is the brief mention of their annual mourning ritual at the Temple site: the pilgrim notes that, not far from the statues of Hadrian was “a pierced stone which the Jews come and anoint each year. They mourn and groan and tear their garments, and then depart.” Occasional hints in rabbinic texts compiled in the fourth century and later suggest that, despite the prohibition by Hadrian on Jewish settlement in the city, in practice Jews had been visiting the site of the Temple in small numbers at least since the early third century CE : “Rabbi Jonathan was going up to worship in Jerusalem, when he … was seen by a Samaritan. He asked him, ‘Where are you going to?’ He said: ‘To worship in Jerusalem.’ ” To which the Samaritan is said to have responded, “Is it not better to pray at this blessed mountain than at that dung hill?” Later rabbis preserved a tradition that a group of pupils of Rabbi Meir founded a small “holy community” in Jerusalem in the Severan period, although there is no reference to any Jewish settlement in the city by the time of Constantine. Eutychius, patriarch of Alexandria in the tenth century, asserted that Constantine prohibited the Jews from living in Jerusalem or passing within it, but, if this was not simply a confusion with the edict of Hadrian, it represented no more than a reaffirmation of existing law, perhaps strengthened by the enthusiasm of the local bishopric. Evidently the Jews who came to mourn at the Temple site, presumably on the fast of 9 Ab, were perceived neither by pagans nor by Christians as a threat.18
In the time of Constantine Jews might not have been seen as a threat to Christianity in the new Jerusalem, but they, as much as pagans, could be converted to the true faith, as is evident from the efforts in these years by a certain Joseph, originally a Jew from the court of the Jewish patriarch in Tiberias, to bring the Jews of Galilee to Christianity. The story of Joseph was told by Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis, in his huge and unreliable Refutation of All the Heresies, composed in the second half of the fourth century. Epiphanius was himself a native of Palestine and had met Joseph when the latter was an old man of seventy years or more. According to Joseph's own account, as mediated through Epiphanius, he had been introduced to Christian ideas through reading Christian books kept in the archives of the Jewish patriarch in Tiberias, and had converted to Christianity while on a mission to the Jews of Cilicia on behalf of the patriarch. Shunned and attacked by the Jews there, he underwent baptism and was welcomed at the court of Constantine and honoured with the title comes, “Count,” returning to Galilee to build churches under imperial protection in the cities and villages of the Jews where no one had ever been secure enough to put up churches, since there were no pagans, Samaritans, or Christians in their midst … Joseph, taking the letters and the authority accompanying his rank, went to Tiberias, having also letters authorizing his expenditures from imperial funds. He had himself been granted the honour of receiving supplies from the emperor. Thus he began to build in Tiberias … Now he needed quicklime and other material. So he ordered that many kilns be built outside the city … But the dreadful Jews, bold to try anything, did not refrain from their habitual tricks of magic. These noble Jews made every effort to restrain the fire with magic and strange arts, but they did not reach their goal … When those assigned to put the fuel on the fire reported to Joseph what had happened, he was stung, and, burning with zeal for the Lord, he ran outside the city, and, ordering water to be brought in a vessel … took the flask in the sight of everyone (a crowd of Jews had gathered at the sight, eager to see what would happen and what Joseph would try to do), and signing the cross upon it with his own finger, he called upon the name of Jesus in a loud voice: “In the name of Jesus the Nazoraean, whom the fathers of me and of all these bystanders crucified, may power come to be in this water to render void all sorcery and magic which these people have practised, and to activate the power of the fire in order to finish the house of the Lord.” And he takes the water in his hand and sprinkles each [kiln] with the water. And the spells were broken, and the fire blazed forth in the sight of all. The crowds present, shouting, “There is one God, who helps the Christians!,” departed. Those men [the Jews] continued to treat Joseph badly, but finally he built some part of the shrine in Tiberias and, having completed a small church, left.
The fact that these efforts to build churches with the patronage of Con-stantine took place precisely in the part of the land of Israel in which the rabbinic academies were to be found, and the alleged relationship of Joseph himself to the patriarchs (named by Epiphanius as Hillel and his son Judah, “from the family of that first Gamaliel who lived at the time of the Saviour”), make all the more striking the lack of attested rabbinic reaction to this extraordinary change in imperial interest in their country. It seems almost inconceivable that the rabbis had nothing to say about the uprooting of pagan shrines which had existed for centuries in the land, or about the dire punishments threatened by Constantine in 329 for Jews who, “as we have learned is being done now,” dared to attack apostates from Judaism “by stoning or by other kind of fury.” The silence of the rabbis about such changes was more probably the product of solipsism than deliberate ignoring. That conversions of Jews to Christianity did indeed occur is evident not just from the career of Joseph but from Constantine's repetition on 21 October 335 of the burden of the law issued almost exactly six years earlier, and apparently not sufficiently effective: “if one of the Jews shall unlock for himself the door of eternal life, shall bind himself to the holy cults and choose to be Christian, he shall not suffer ought of harassment or molestation in the hands of the Jews. For if anyone of the Jews shall consider that a Jew who became Christian should be attacked and injured, we want the instigator of such contumely to be subjected to avenging punishments commensurate with the nature of the crime committed.”19
Not all Jews in the land of Israel in the time of Constantine had anything to do with the intense circles of scholars who produced rabbinic literature, and other Jews, like the pagans (and perhaps the Jews) in the city of Rome, may have taken Constantine's edict of toleration at face value as an opportunity to accommodate their religion within a pluralist world. Certainly the fourth and fifth centuries saw an increasing production of artefacts and buildings within the land which displayed a distinctively Jewish iconography alongside appropriation of characteristics of the culture of wider society. Perhaps the most startling example of such accommodation was the display of images of the sun god Helios in depictions of the signs of the zodiac on the mosaic floors in late-Roman synagogues. It is not impossible that such images were intended by those who commissioned them to represent the Jewish God, since centuries earlier Josephus had described the Essenes as “offering certain prayers” to the sun before sunrise, “as though entreating him to rise” and as “covering their excrement [with a spade] to avoid offending the rays of the deity,” and early rabbis sometimes conceived of God in terms both anthropomorphic and fiery, noting that, because God is fire, it is impossible to go up to the heavens to join him.20 But regardless of the intentions of those who paid for or made these images in late-Roman synagogues, the mosaic pictures are hard to divorce from the ubiquitous image of the sun god in the non-Jewish world of the time. Sol Invictus (“the Unconquered Sun,” in Latin) and Helios (“Sun,” in Greek) were frequently depicted in imperial religious propaganda in the third and fourth centuries in forms close to those found in the synagogue mosaics. That the sun became the symbol of monotheism among pagans in the fourth century is attested most coherently in the Hymn to King Helios composed by the pagan emperor Julian in the 360s. The worship of the sun was closely connected to the widespread cult of Theos Hypsistos, “the Highest God,” whose adherents lacked (like Jews) any iconography of the deity but worshipped sun and fire. The essence of the divinity was encapsulated in an oracle of Apollo of which a copy was engraved in an inscription at Oenoanda in Asia Minor: “Born of itself, untaught, without a mother, unshakeable, not contained in a name, known by many names, dwelling in fire, this is god … Aether is god who sees all, on whom you should gaze and pray at dawn, looking towards the sunrise.” Constantine's continued depiction of the sun god on his coins after his conversion to Christianity is best understood as his identification of the Sun with the Highest God worshipped by Christians. When the emperor Julian planned to rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 361, he described it, according to the report of John the Lydian two centuries later, as the shrine of Theos Hypsistos. Since, in his letter to the emperor Gaius quoted by Philo, Agrippa I had used the term Hypsistos, “the Highest,” to denote the Jewish God, as had Josephus when quoting a decree by Augustus in favour of the Jews, the Jews in fourth-century Palestine who used the image of Helios to grace their synagogue floors may have been demonstrating their confident conviction that the God to whom both pagans and Christians paid greatest observance was the God of Israel.21
All that remained to be done was for Jews to be allowed to worship their God in the way he had laid down, through sacrifices and libations in a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. Constantine had put an end to pagan practices in the city. The shrines of Jupiter and Aphrodite were destroyed or empty. Whatever was going on in the new church of the Holy Sepulchre did not involve sacrifices to idols, and, in any case, Jews more aware of imperial rhetoric might see it as a shrine to the God of the Jews erected by those whom rabbis referred to in this period as gentile “fearers of heaven”: in fourth-century Aphrodisias, in Asia Minor, an inscription records honour paid by the local Jewish community to a large number of such theosebeis, “god-reverers,” who appear to have contributed to a Jewish communal fund. The Temple site itself remained in ruins, ripe for redevelopment. Memories of how to organize the cult in accordance with the divine will had been codified in the Mishnah in considerable detail. Plenty of priests could be identified and called into service: attestation of local knowledge about the priestly courses in Palestinian synagogue inscriptions of the fifth and sixth centuries is more likely to reflect continuity since 70 CE than a reinvention of tradition. The epitaph of a Jew buried in Zo'ar, on the southern edge of the Dead Sea in the province of Arabia, in 358/9, dates his death to “year 290 after the hurban, destruction.” The passage of nearly three hundred years had not removed the sense of loss.22
If any Jews did react with such optimism to the conversion of Constan-tine and the Christianization of Jerusalem, they were gravely deceived. Over the following decades of the fourth century, the leaders of the Jerusalem Church bolstered their position within the Christian world not least by virulent hostility to Jews and Judaism. When on 7 May 351 a cross, “flashing and sparkling with brilliant light,” was seen in the sky above Jerusalem, the bishop of Jerusalem, Cyril, informed the emperor, Con-stantine's son Constantius, that the sign signified that the Son of Man was coming to judge the enemies of the Church, and that these enemies were the Jews:
During these holy days of the holy Paschal season, at around the third hour, a gigantic luminous cross was seen in the sky above holy Golgotha, extending as far as the holy Mount of Olives; not seen by one or two only, but clearly visible to the whole population of the city; nor, as might be expected, quickly vanishing like an illusion, but suspended for several hours above the earth before the general gaze and by its dazzling splendours conquering the sun's rays … Immediately the whole population, overcome with joy mingled with fear of the heavenly vision, ran to the holy church: young and old, men and women of every age, even to the maidens closeted in their homes, local and foreign Christians, as well as visiting pagans—all with one accord, and as with a single voice, extolling Christ Jesus our Lord, the Only-begotten Son of God, the worker of wonders … In this miracle, your most God-beloved Majesty, testimonies of the Prophets and the holy words of Christ contained in the Gospels find now their fulfilment—though they will be more amply fulfilled hereafter. For in the Gospel according to Matthew, the Saviour, imparting the knowledge of future events to his blessed Apostles, and through them to later generations of Christians, declared plainly beforehand: “And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in the heaven.” When you take in your hands, as you are accustomed, the sacred book of the Gospels, you will find written there the predictions of this prodigy. I urge you above all men, my Lord, to peruse this prophecy with the more anxious attention on account of the whole context of the passage, for the predictions of our Saviour demand the most reverent study if we are to escape injury in the hands of the opposing Power.
And what would the emperor discover when, as Cyril urged, he perused the context of the text to which the bishop drew his attention? A verse in the Gospel of Matthew deals with the final judgement—“And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”—and in his catechetical lecture on this subject, Cyril made clear his view that those who, according to Matthew's prophecy, would mourn when a sign of the Son of Man appeared in heaven would be the Jews:
A sign of a luminous cross precedes the King, showing Him who was formerly crucified; in order that the Jews, who before had pierced Him and plotted [against Him], on seeing it, will mourn tribe by tribe, saying, “This is He who was struck with blows, this is He whose face they spat upon, this is He whom they fastened with bonds; this is He whom of old they crucified and held in derision. Where shall we flee from the face of your wrath?” They will ask, but, surrounded by the angelic hosts, they will not be able to escape anywhere. The sign of the Cross brings fear to the enemy.23
For the great Christian scholar Jerome, writing half a century after Cyril, it was imperative that any Jews who came to Jerusalem should do so only to mourn the Temple destroyed for their sins. Jerome, who came to know a number of Jews in the process of producing in Bethlehem his new Latin version of the Hebrew Bible, nonetheless describes with some relish the lamentations of the Jews in Jerusalem on 9 Ab, the anniversary of the destruction of the city in 70 CE as in 586 BCE:
Right up to the present day the treacherous inhabitants, having killed the servants and finally the Son of God, are prohibited to enter Jerusalem except to lament, and they pay a price to be allowed to weep over the ruin of their state. Thus those who once bought the blood of Christ buy now their own fears, and not even their grief is free. On the day when Jerusalem was captured and destroyed by the Romans you may see a mournful populace arrive, a confluence of decrepit females and old men “covered with rags and years,” demonstrating in their bodies and their condition the wrath of the Lord. The congregation is a crowd of wretches, but as the yoke of the Lord glitters, and His resurrection shines, and from the Mount of Olives the standard of His cross gleams, the populace keening over the ruins of their Temple is pitiable, yet not suitable to be pitied. So you have tears streaming down cheeks and arms blue from bruises and hair in disarray, and a soldier demands a fee for allowing them to weep more. And would anyone, when he saw these things, be in doubt about the day of tribulation and straitness …?24
Earlier in the fourth century, in Constantine's time, a full appreciation of the theological underpinning of this Christian animus against the Jews and against their longing for a restored Temple was perhaps beyond most Jews in Palestine, or, indeed, anyone who was not, or at least had not been at some time, a Christian. The plan of the pagan emperor Julian to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple was that of a former Christian who knew what would hurt most his erstwhile co-religionists. If Julian's attempt in 361—3 had come to fruition, the marginalization of the Jews in the Roman world which had begun in 70 CE, nearly three hundred years before, would have come to an end. But Julian died and was succeeded by Christian rulers, the rebuilding was abandoned, the site of the Temple was left in ruins, and Jews throughout the empire had to learn to live within an increasingly Christian society, their status as outsiders in the Mediterranean world fixed for many centuries to come.
Jerusalem became for the Jews a city to mourn and idealize. “A man may plaster his house, but he should leave a small area unfinished in remembrance of Jerusalem. A man may prepare what is needed for a meal, but he should leave out an item of the menu in remembrance of Jerusalem. A woman may put on all her ornaments but should leave out some small thing, in remembrance of Jerusalem.” The rabbinic sages speculated on the glorious Jerusalem to come, when the Holy one will build Jerusalem out of sapphire stone, “and these stones will shine like the sun, and the worshippers of stars will come and look upon the glory of Israel.” Jews scattered all over the world continued to face towards Jerusalem in their prayers. The Seder service on the eve of Passover ended with the hopeful prayer, “Next year in Jerusalem,” and at the end of every recitation of the Amidah, the main statutory prayer in Jewish worship both public and private, spoken standing before God three times a day, a petition was added: “May it be your will that the Temple be rebuilt soon in our days.” The tears of mourning concealed hope, and hope refused to die.25