Chapter V.—Constantine destroyed the Places dedicated to the Idols, and persuaded the People to prefer Christianity.
As many nations and cities throughout the whole realm of his subjects retained a feeling of fear and veneration towards their vain idols, which led them to disregard the doctrines of the Christians, and to have a care for their ancient customs, and the manners and feasts of their fathers, it appeared necessary to the emperor to teach the governors to suppress their superstitious rites of worship. He thought that this would be easily accomplished if he could get p. 262 them to despise their temples and the images contained therein. 1149 To carry this project into execution he did not require military aid; for Christian men belonging to the palace went from city to city bearing imperial letters. The people were induced to remain passive from the fear that, if they resisted these edicts, they, their children, and their wives, would be exposed to evil. The vergers and the priests, being unsupported by the multitude, brought out their most precious treasures, and the idols called διοπετῆ, 1150 and through these servitors, the gifts were drawn forth from the shrines and the hidden recesses in the temples. The spots previously inaccessible, and known only to the priests, were made accessible to all who desired to enter. Such of the images as were constructed of precious material, and whatever else was valuable, were purified by fire, and became public property. The brazen images which were skillfully wrought were carried to the city, named after the emperor, and placed there as objects of embellishment, where they may still be seen in public places, as in the streets, the hippodrome, and the palaces. Amongst them was the statue of Apollo which was in the seat of the oracle of the Pythoness, and likewise the statues of the Muses from Helicon, the tripods from Delphos, and the much extolled Pan, which Pausanias the Lacedæmonian and the Grecian cities had devoted,—after the war against the Medes.
As to the temples, some were stripped of their doors, others of their roofs, and others were neglected, allowed to fall into ruin, or destroyed. The temple of Æsculapius in Ægis, a city of Cilicia, and that of Venus at Aphaca, near Mount Lebanon and the River Adonis, were then undermined and entirely destroyed. Both of these temples were most highly honored and reverenced by the ancients; as the Ægeatæ were wont to say, that those among them who were weakened in body were delivered from diseases because the demon manifested himself by night, and healed them. And at Aphaca, it was believed that on a certain prayer being uttered on a given day, a fire like a star descended from the top of Lebanon and sunk into the neighboring river; they affirmed that this was Urania, for they call Aphrodite by this name. The efforts of the emperor succeeded to the utmost of his anticipations; for on beholding the objects of their former reverence and fear boldly cast down and stuffed with straw and hay, the people were led to despise what they had previously venerated, and to blame the erroneous opinion of their ancestors. Others, envious at the honor in which Christians were held by the emperor, deemed it necessary to imitate the acts of the ruler; others devoted themselves to an examination of Christianity, and by means of signs, of dreams, or of conferences with bishops and monks, were convinced that it was better to become Christians. From this period, nations and citizens spontaneously renounced their former opinion. At that time a port of Gaza, called Majuma, wherein superstition and ancient ceremonies had been hitherto admired, turned unitedly with all its inhabitants to Christianity. The emperor, in order to reward their piety, deemed them worthy of the greatest honor, and distinguished the place as a city, a status it had not previously enjoyed, and named it Constantia: thus honoring the spot on account of its piety, by bestowing on it the name of the dearest of his children. On the same account, also, Constantine in Phœnicia is known to have received its name from the emperor. But it would not be convenient to record every instance of this kind, for many other cities about this time went over to religion, and spontaneously, without any command of the emperor, destroyed the adjacent temples and statues, and erected houses of prayer.
Eus. V. C. iii. 54–58; iv. 38; Soc. i. 18; Zos. ii. 31.262:1150
i.e.“sent down from Jupiter.” Such were the Palladium of Troy, the Ancile at Rome, and “the image” of Diana, “which fell down from Jupiter,” mentioned in Acts xix. 35.