Term of Award

Spring 2012

Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of History

Committee Chair

Timothy Teeter

Committee Member 1

John Steinberg

Committee Member 2

Nadya Popov-Reynolds


The late third century and the early fourth century in the Roman Empire was a period of profound change. The Romans struggled with several internal crises as well as constant harassment from foreign enemies. Because of this downturn, several emperors attempted to consolidate more control over several areas, including economics, the military, bureaucracy, and religion. While these episodes in political and social change are regarded among scholars a watershed moment in history, most historians refuse to acknowledge this era as a revolutionary period. This paper focuses on one aspect of change that occurred during this period, religion. Using a carefully constructed definition of revolution, this re-examination of the religious changes within the empire attempts to demonstrate that an evolution in the religious policies of men such as Decius, Valerian, and finally Diocletian and the Tetrarchy allowed Constantine to initiate a Christian Revolution that forever altered the future of the Roman Empire and molded the future of individual European kingdoms. Decius, Valerian, and Diocletian's religious policies altered the idea of what religion meant for the empire in two ways. First, their attempt to persecute non-traditional religious cults evolved religion from typically local institutions to giving religion a greater role throughout the state. Secondly, all three emperors attempted to use religion as a means of social control both to attempt to deal with the serious crises plaguing the empire and also to instill unity and consolidate power. Both of these changes allowed Constantine in 312 to begin to instill the Christian religion throughout the empire as he eliminated his rivals and became sole emperor.

Research Data and Supplementary Material