Book Review: Soldiering for God: Christianity and the Roman Army


by John F. Shean

Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2010. Pp. xviii, 452. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $224.00. ISBN: 9004187316

In this work, a volume in Brill’s "History of Warfare" series, Prof. Shean (LaGuardia), takes on the question of the relationship between Christianity and the Roman Army, to demonstrate that the traditional image of pious converts martyred for their pacifism is not only inaccurate, but that in fact the early church was by no means anti-military. 

Displaying a masterful command of the literary, archaeological, and numismatic evidence, Shean opens with a look at the social, moral, and religious status of the warrior in early societies, and goes on to examine the religious experience of the Roman Army.  He then looks at the early Church and its relationship to the army and military service.  Shean shows that, despite modern attempts to portray early Christians as pacifists, there was no inherent moral objection to military service in the early Church, noting, for example, that the many soldier-martyrs were persecuted for refusing to take part in pagan rituals, not for refusing to fight.  He goes on to discuss the evolution of, and religious changes in, the Roman Army from the late-third century into the early fourth, a period in which several faiths supplanted the traditional Capitoline deities.  This, in turn, suggests that Constantine’s conversion was influenced by the fact that Christians had become sufficiently numerous in the ranks to make it a smart move.  There’s much more, of course, such as the Christianization of the state, the “barbarization” of the army, and so forth. 

Soldiering for God is an important work for anyone interested in the rise of Christianity, the later Roman Empire, and the Roman Army.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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