The Making of a Christian Aristocracy: Social and Religious by Michele Renee Salzman

By Michele Renee Salzman

A magnificent piece of labor. Salzman has produced the main whole quantitative research of conversion of noblemen to this point. I rather loved her concluding bankruptcy on their effect on Christianity. She exhibits that fourth-century bishops followed the rhetoric of the Aristocracy and honor of their preaching and writing in a manner that appealed to aristocrats. (Elizabeth Clark, Duke college )

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92 Although these offices now entailed little in the way of administrative responsibilities, they were still important ceremonial moments in the lives of young aristocrats who made a name for themselves by giving lavish public games. These magistracies were important to the emperor too. They constituted an indirect tax on aristocrats and served to keep the good will of the urban populace. Imperial recognition of senatorial designation reinforced the senate’s control over access to these offices and hence to entrance into the senate.

Wherever the aristocrat went, whether hunting with friends at his country estate or vacationing at a seaside retreat, he would be certain to express the public face of the elite: proud, identifiable by dress and manners, surrounded by slaves and clients, but at ease among his equals. The aristocrat’s concern for belonging to the right status group extended to religion. Senatorial aristocrats traditionally sought pagan priesthoods because they offered another arena in which to demonstrate and augment honor; pagan ceremonies, rituals, festivals, and holidays had for centuries allowed the aristocrat to assert preeminence in public.

Despite its resurgence, however, the senate after Constantine had limited political powers as an institution. It was not required to vote on imperial policy nor would it generally advance its own initiatives. In setting policy, emperors consulted with the senate in conformance with traditions, not out of any constitutional necessity. 103 The senate seems most often reactive; it could express its wishes and did so, but largely in response to imperial initiatives. The senate could also send embassies of eminent men to the emperor to try to change policy or to inform the emperor of contrary senatorial views.

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