It is a little known fact that Pagan religion was still practiced throughout the Byzantine era, yet the Goddesses and Gods of Greece and Rome continued to be honored. Pagan religion survived past the founding of Constantinople as the capital of Rome in 324 AD through to – and even beyond – the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD.
This 1,129 year period was more than the “long twilight” of ancient faith. It was a time of transition from public Pagan rites to private prayer, ritual and offering. The Byzantine era was the time of the greatest ancient Pagan piety as pagans continued to honor the ancient Goddesses and Gods even under threat of death. It is a time to honor and build from, not to mourn and ignore.
Scholars have noted that there was still organized Byzantine Pagan resistance to persecution during the reign of Maurice Tiberius in 602 AD, and that at that time much of the Byzantine population was still Pagan.
John Zonaras, a Byzantine chronicler who held the position of Head Justice under Alexious I Komnenos in 1118 AD wrote that the religious practices of the Hellenes were still common even in that late time!
It is known that the Neoplatonist philosopher Gemistus Pletho was openly advocating a return to the ancient faiths in 1450, and that his students were publicly praying to the Pagan deities in the Byzantine city of Mystras (the “second capital of Byzantium”) in 1453 – the year Constantinople fell.
The lost history of Byzantine Pagan worship is extremely valuable for those who still honor the Ancient Goddesses and Gods today. It is the pagan tradition which continued into the beginning of the modern era, after paganism was supposedly long dead. It is a direct link between the ancient and modern worlds – and a path by which the ancient faiths may be restored today.
As a part of working toward becoming a modern Byzantine successor state, Byzantium Novum has made provision for restoring Byzantine Paganism as a modern religious path. We are working to establish a living spiritual community and Priesthood honoring the ancient deities worldwide, that all the faiths of the Eastern Roman Empire may be reborn.
Here, rites to the ancient deities continue and the ancient faiths remain alive. Here the ancient priesthoods are being rebuilt and ancient religious community restored. We invite you to join us in renewing this small spiritual spark into a bright flame once again!
There is no one set date which marks the passing of Classical Paganism and the beginning of Byzantine Paganism. The vision of the Emperor Constantine at the Milvian Bridge in 311 AD can be thought of as the start of the process, and the Edict of Milan in 313 AD as its first official step.
Even so the dedication of the City of Constantinople as the “New Rome” on May 11, 330 AD was presided over both Christian and Pagan priesthood equally. Both Priesthoods officially consecrated the city, and invoked blessings of Deity upon the new capital. This deliberate inclusion of Pagan faith included the burying of some of the most sacred relics of both religions at the pillar of Constantine to sanctify the city. Sacred Pagan objects such as the Palladium were set to empower Constantiople and it is believed they remain there to this day.
After Constantine’s reign subsequent Emperors expanded the powers and influence of Christianity. The Emperor Julian, (361-363 AD) the last Emperor from Constantine’s family, led a final renaissance of Classical Paganism which continued in places until perhaps 375 AD. Thereafter the process of Imperial change continued until the final adoption of Christianity as the official state religion of the Empire with the Edict of Thessalonica by the Emperor Theodosius in 380 AD.
Yet even that dire edict no means ended Paganism. It remained an “organized force” capable of putting up public resistance to persecution for at least 738 more years! By the 11th century, the practice of the ancient religions had been effectively driven underground, but ancient spirituality proved impossible to completely destroy. There were groups of Byzantine Pagans still known in the City of Mistras in 1453 AD, a full 1,142 years after the conversion of Constantine.
Traditionally, the history of Paganism in the Byzantine Empire has been presented through little more than lists of official edicts and persecutions detailing the “end” of ancient religion. More detailed research shows that this process happened much more slowly than is usually presented – and that in fact Paganism never completely died in the Byzantine world.
The history of Classical Religion in the Christian Eastern Roman Empire is not a happy history, but it is a surprising one. It is a story of faith and reason continuing to exist under overwhelming odds. Most of it remained unwritten – but enough facts have survived to show proof. Through Byzantium, the Classical faiths just barely managed to bridge the gap from the ancient world to the modern world. There were still those faithful to the Gods who fled to the West after the destruction of Constantinople, helping to bring ancient Classical writings and sciences which laid the foundations of the Renaissance.
A listing of known champions who defended, continued and or preserved Pagan religion, ideas and philosophy through the Byzantine Era from the time of Constantine until the Renaissance Era, which is commonly recognized as the birth of the modern world.
EMPEROR MAXENTIUS – Roman pagan Emperor, defeated by Constantine at the Milvian bridge 306 to 312 AD
EMPEROR JULIAN – Last public Pagan Emperor of All the Roman World – 361 to 363 AD
SALLUSTIUS – Roman General and friend of the Emperor Julian – 361-363 AD
LIBANIUS – Neoplatonist Philosopher and teacher of the Emperor Julian – 314-394 AD
SYMMACHUS – Roman Pagan Senator who argued to retain the Altar of Victory in the Senate 345 to 342 AD
VETTIUS AGORIUS PRAETEXTATUS – Pagan priest and Roman Praetorian Prefect under Valentinian II – 384 AD
EMPEROR EUGENIUS – Western Roman Emperor and last to raise Pagan banners in battle 392 to 394 AD
FLAVIUS ARBOGASTES – pagan Roman general who helped raise Eugenius to the throne in the West, 394 AD
VIRIUS NICHOMACHUS FLAVIANUS – pagan Praetorian Prefect who supported Eugenius in 394 AD
EUNAPIUS – last heirophant of Eleusis 410? AD
HYPATIA OF ALEXANDRIA – Neoplatonist Philosoper, murdered by a Christian mob 350 to 414 AD
RUTILIUS CLAUDIUS NAMATIANUS – Pagan author and friend of Senator Symmachus 414 AD
PRISCUS ATTALUS – Pagan Senator proclaimed Emperor by the Visigothsin 409 and 414 AD
PALLADAS – Pagan teacher and author who wrote a eulogy to Hypatia and decried religious violence 369-420? AD
STOBAEUS – 5th century Pagan writer who collected and preserved works from ancient Greek authors 410-420? AD
MARTIANUS CAPELLA – 5th Century Pagan Author, the lunar crater “capella” is named for him. 410-420? AD
MARCELLENIUS – Roman general, who was considered a candidate for Emperor to revive Paganism, 464-468 AD
EMPEROR ANTHEMIUS – Privately pagan Western Roman emperor, from 467 to 472 AD
MESSIUS PHOEBUS SEVERUS – Roman official who planned Pagan revival with Anthemius, 467 to 472 AD
MARCELLINUS – Roman Pagan General and ruler of Dalmatia 454 to 468 AD
MACROBIUS – Neoplatonist Philosopher and Pagan Author 395 to 428 AD
PROCLUS – Neoplatonist philosopher who is known to have been initiated into several Mystery cults, 412 to 485 AD
HERMIAS – Pagan Neoplatonist philosopher who taught in Alexandria 410-450 AD
AEDESIA – female pagan philosopher and wife of Hermias, who taught in Alexandria 410 to 475 (?) AD
ILLUS – Roman pagan general who made a final attempt at restoring Paganism with usurper Leontius in 488 AD
LEONTIUS – Last pagan usurper of Roman Emperorship who hoped to reopen Pagan temples – 488 AD
HORAPOLLO – One of the last leaders of ancient Egyptian priesthood, 474 to 491 AD
ZOSIMUS – Pagan historian in Constantinople, from 491 to 518 AD
AMMONIUS HERMIAE – pagan philosopher and son of Hermias and Aedisia who taught in Alexandria 440-520 AD
HELIODORUS – pagan philosopher, son of Hermias and Aedisia, teacher of Damascius 520 AD
DAMASCIUS – Last president of the Neoplatonist school in Athens, fled to Persia in 560 AD.
SIMPLICIUS – One of the last Neoplatonist philosopers from Athens, moved the school to Persia in 560 AD
EULAMIUS – Another Pagan Neoplatonist philosopher from the school of Athens who went to Persia in 560 AD
IOENNES LYDOS – pagan Praetorian Prefect under Justianian who wrote on ancient subjects 490-566? AD
OLYMPIODORUS – Neoplatonist and last head of the school at Alexandria 570 AD.
THE CITIZENS OF BAALBEK – Pagans of this city planned a religious revolt in 578 AD.
THE CITIZENS OF BARBAGIA – Founded a short lived independent Pagan principality in 590 AD.
ACINDYNUS OF CARRHAE – Governor of the city of Carrhae, executed for being Pagan in 602 AD.
STEPHANUS OF ALEXANDRIA – Neoplatonist who returned the school of Philosophy to Constantinople 610-641 AD
THE CITIZENS OF LACONIA – Pagans of this city were still actively resisting conversion in 804 AD.
JOHANNES SCOTUS ERIUGENA – Neoplatonist – did translations for Byzantine emperor Michael III 815-877 AD
THE MANIOTS – The last Greek community to practice ancient Hellenism, finally subdued around 875 AD.
THE NARANTINES – This former Roman province retained public Classical-Slavic paganism until 880 AD.
MICHAEL PSELLOS – Neoplatonist philosopher, author and politician, accused of Pagan heresy 1018-1078? AD
JOHN ITALUS – Byzantine Neoplatonist philosopher and writer condemned for heresy 1082 AD
IOANE PETRITSI – Neoplatonist philosopher who worked to reconcile ancient belief with Orthodox thought 1125 AD
MICHAEL OF EPHESUS – Byzantine philosopher who promoted Neoplatonist ideals 1150? AD
GEORGE PACHYMERES – Byzantine philosopher, astrologer and author of a magical treatise 1242-1310 AD
MAXIMOS PLANOUDES – Byzantine author who translated philosophical and magical works 1260-1305 AD
DEMETRIOS CHLOROS – Byzantine philosopher and magician put on trial by the Church 1310? AD
GEMISTUS PLETHO – Neoplatonist Philosopher and pagan who raised the last Byzantine Emperor 1355 to 1454 AD
SIGISMONDO MALATESTA – The Lord of Riminy, probable cryptopagan – builder of Pletho’s tomb. 1417-1468 AD
BASILIOS BESSARION – Philosopher and Author, student of Pletho – probable cryptopagan – 1403 to 1472 AD
DEMETRIUS KABAKES – Pagan student of Gemistus Pletho, put to death for heresy 1397-1487 AD
JOHN ARGYOPOULOS – Neoplatonist associate of Pletho, traveled to Italy after Constantinople’s fall 1415-1487 AD
The Byzantine school of Gemistus Pletho, through contact with the West, sparked Platonism in the Renaissance and brought the ideas and spirit of ancient Paganism into the modern world.