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A now conventional model, developed by Robert Markus, sees late Roman cities as fundamentally secular landscapes. Focusing on Augustine's sermon against a feast of the genius of Carthage (Sermo 62), this article argues that narratives of ‘secularity’ have neglected pagans’ own attitudes and the circumstances that drove ordinary Christians’ participation in civic rites. Behind Augustine's charges of ‘idolatry’ lay the religious convictions of the feast's non-Christian sponsors and behind their expectations of Christian attendance lay the recent destruction of a pagan shrine on church property. For Augustine's listeners to construe the feast as religiously irrelevant was an expression not of routine social solidarity, but of fear before powerful patrons. What was ‘secular’ was open to doubt and negotiation, both here and in empire-wide celebrations such as the Kalends of January; the boundary between the ‘pagan’ and the ‘secular’ can be located only with careful attention to the diversity of opinions about each particular rite.
Cyprian's baptism is usually placed in 245–6, two to four years before he became bishop. The early treatise Ad Donatum is thus taken as a witness to the neophyte's spiritual ‘transition’. This article challenges this common biographical narrative. A date just before Cyprian's ordination in 248/9 fits the evidence better than 246. As comparison with Ad Quirinum suggests, the winsome portrait of Cyprian the true convert that Ad Donatum paints might have done more than exhort neophytes to zealous spirituality: it may also have been meant to silence the presbyters whom Pontius’ Vita and Cyprian himself portray as critics of his ordination.
We are ruled by judges whom we know, we enjoy the benefits | Of peace and war, as if the warrior Quirinus, | As if peaceful Numa were governing (Claud. IV Cons. Hon. 491–3).
With these words the poet Claudian lauds the Emperor Honorius on the occasion of his fourth consulship in 398 by comparing him to Rome's deified founder, Romulus-Quirinus, and to Numa Pompilius, its second king, who was proverbial for wisdom and piety. Claudian's panegyric stands in a long literary tradition in which the legendary Roman kings were depicted as models of statesmanship. This exemplary tradition left its mark on a broad array of late antique works, including historical compendia such as the pseudo-Aurelian De uiris illustribus, which narrates the kings’ deeds as soldiers and statesmen, and the writings of antiquarians such as Macrobius and Servius, who collected information on the kings’ invention of cults and calendars. Servius’ interest in the kings implies that they featured in the teaching provided by other late antique grammatici as well, and thus that most literate Latin-speakers would have had some knowledge of their deeds. Advanced education in rhetoric likewise drew on Virgil and other school texts for historical exempla including Romulus and Numa, who appear in panegyrics and in brief histories, such as Eutropius’ Breviary, that probably served as reference texts for the political elite. The kings thus loomed large in Roman perceptions of the founding of their empire, which began with the heroic Romulus, was strengthened by Numa's establishment of the Roman cultic system, and was secured by the later kings’ political and military successes.