Resilient citizens: religious dissent and civic rights in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages

In Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, failure to align with normative religion could have serious consequences for citizens, with effects on social and legal relations. From the time of the Emperor Constantine, heresy became a legal category and heretics, considered a threat to the State welfare, were punished – or at least threatened – with the loss of multiple civic rights, with the practice being imposed that the religion of the ruler was the religion of the citizens. This initiated a process of legal penalisation of religious dissent which, starting with Christian dissidents, was extended to other religious groups (pagans, Jews, apostates, Manicheans), who, branded as public enemies and marked with the stigma of infamy, were deprived of civic rights and socially segregated. Expulsion from cities, prohibition of assembly and teaching, loss of freedom of discussion, censorship and burning of books, exile, confiscation of property, loss of the right to test and receive legacies, marriage limitations, prohibition on holding public office, were some of the measures applied to religious dissidents. However, those who were excluded proved to be extremely resilient, developing strategies to defend their cases (social networking support, apologetic writing, court appeals). Taking advantage of the tolerance intervals to reintegrate into their local communities, the excluded saw their prestige and authority enhanced.

Contributions to this panel are invited to present cases of civic exclusion related to religious dissent, both of individuals and groups, as well as citizenship discourses during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Legal sources, canons of Church councils, hagiography, and theological texts provide a rich and varied material to document religious resilience in a crucial formative period in the history of Europe, giving rise to new forms of social and political belonging.

Juana Torres: