What were the short and long term effects of Christianity on the Roman Empire?

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This is one of the major questions of the Roman Empire (and a question that could inspire entire books written about it). In any case, Christianity plays a critical role in Roman history, both in the short and long term.

In the short-term, we should admit that Christianity represented a challenge to Imperial authority. Roman religion had historically had a civic function, and this continued in the time of the Emperors, where Emperors had cults and carried with them a divine, religious claim to authority. The Early Church, then, represented a critique of Imperial authority, especially as the Church continued to grow throughout the Empire. At the same time, and in a similar vein, we might make note of conflict between Christian and Pagan communities within the Empire. To the early Emperors, Christianity represented a disruptive force within the Imperial Order. When looking towards the Early Church itself, you will observe a great deal of suppression, most famously expressed in the many stories of Christian martyrdom which precede the reign of Constantine.

In the long term, you should note that Christianity actually emerged as the official religion of the Empire. Part of this was undoubtedly the work of political calculation, but even before emerging as the religion of the State, Christianity had been spreading fast, and had emerged as a powerful force within the Empire. It had an egalitarian bend which was rare among ancient religions, and its message of salvation was immensely powerful in the Classical World. Even after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Christian Church remained ascendant, and would become a powerful force (politically, religiously, socially and intellectually) across the Middle Ages and beyond.

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