Early Christianity in Pannonia
c AD 50–400
|The western, Transdanubian region of old Hungary became a province of the Roman Empire in the 1st century BC, called Pannonia. It is very likely that the news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection had reached this province fast. With regard to the spreading of early (ancient) Christianity in Pannonia, we consider older sources (before the communist regime) to be the most authentic, then those written after the fall of the regime. We present excerpt from two books.|
|Some of the hills of Pannonia viewed from Budapest.|
Frőhlich Róbert, Kuzsinszky Bálint, Nagy Géza, Marczali Henrik
“If Church writers are to be trusted, by the 2nd century, there were Christians in every province of the empire. Christianity spread unperceived, similar to the cult of Mithras. It is said that Saint Peter was one of the first missionaries to travel to Pannonia. Martyrologies mention a man called Eleutherus as the bishop of Illyricum, who was martyred in AD 140. Eusebius, the bishop of Cibalae, lived during Valerian’s (253–260) or Gallienus’ (259–268) reign and was also martyred.
The persecutions started by Diocletian suddenly bring to light the advances of Christianity into our region in the first three centuries. The first in a series of persecutions was the death of 4 workers at the marble quarries near Sirmium. The edict of Galerius (AD 311) put an end to persecutions, and after the decree of Constantine the Great and Licinius in AD 313, Christianity could grow unabated. Julian’ pagan reign could only hinder but not stop progress. Hieronymus, born in Stridon, Pannonia, stated around AD 400 that Pannonia was full of Christian institutions.
The new religion gained ground first in cities, and lastly among the soldiers, whose hearts were harder to win. Most congregations were founded in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.* The oldest one was undoubtedly the church at Sirmium. Later on, its elders were the archbishops of the churches of Pannonia Secunda and Savia, and this was acknowledged in 381 by the Council of Aquileia. We know the name of some bishops of Sirmium. Irenaeus was tortured to death by Governor Probus in AD 304. He was followed by Domnio, Eleutherius, Photinus, Germinius, Anemius and Cornelius.
Christianity spread from Sirmium to the adjacent cities. Mursa, Cibalae and Bassianae9 had their own bishops. The records of the councils mention only one bishop of Nursia1, called Valens. The congregation of Siscia, the capital of Savia, is known by its leader, Saint Quirinus, who was imprisoned by Diocletian. After being tortured, yet not denying his faith, Maximus, the praetor of Siscia, sent him to the governor in Savaria. Christians welcomed him with respect everywhere along his journey. Seeing his perseverance in faith, governor Amantius threw him into the Gyöngyös river in AD 303. Christians buried his body in the basilica next to the ‘Sopron Gate’. In AD 395, they carried it to Rome as they were fleeing the barbarian invasions. We know of two more bishops of Siscia, Marcus (AD 347) and Constantius (AD 381), only from their signatures on the council papers.
The oldest data we have concerning the episcopate of Emona is from AD 381, when Maximus episcopus Emonensis signed the acts of the Council of Aquileia.
The congregations on the north side of the river Drava were supervised by the archbishop of Lauriacum (Lorch). Precise data is only available concerning the bishops of Poetovio. The first bishop we know of is Victorinus, who was martyred during Diocletian’s reign in AD 303. Another one was Aprianus de Petabione Pannoniae, according to the documents of the Council of Serdica (AD 347). Savaria must have had an episcopate too. We can also assume that there were bishops in Sopianae (Pécs) and Aquincum”
|The so-called monogram of Christ.|
“The information on the prevalence of Christianity in Pannonia, originating from church writers and council edicts, is nicely complemented by archaeological records. Christianity had been so widespread by the 4th century, that its emblems were found on state coins. Since Constantine the Great and Licinius, Christ’s monogram is more and more frequent on these coins. It can be found on the coins of Constantius, Jovian and Valens produced by the mint of Sirmium. The mint of Siscia produced more coins than that of Sirmium, and this emblem was printed on the coins of Constantine the Great, Constans, Constantius, Vetranio, Decentius, Constantius Gallus, Valentinian I, Valens, Gratianus, Theodosius and his wife Flaccilla. Most of the gold bars cast in the mint of Sirmium were also marked with this emblem.
With the spreading of Christianity, the number of stone inscriptions had diminished. As the worship of pagan gods ceased, people did not erect votive altar-stones. But the custom of marking the graves of the deceased with tombstones did not die out. The structure of the epitaphs remained the same, moreover the pagan D(is) M(anibus) opening was sometimes used by Christians who did not understand its meaning. Christian epitaphs in most cases can be recognized from Christ’s monogram, expressions like vivas in Deo, vivas in Christo, famulus or famula Christi, in pace requiescit, dormit in pace, etc., and some symbols, especially the fish, the anchor, the dove with an olive branch and the lamb.
Most Christian epitaphs were found in Sirmium and Siscia, and this was surely not by chance. The number of Christian epitaphs in Savaria is also amazing. We know about eight in Sirmium, and two of them tell us that the deceased were buried close to the grave of the martyr Synerotus. Three were found in Siscia, one of them was erected for Christ’s servant, Severilla, by her husband Marcellianus, on another one the Greek word ZAESIS appears, which is equivalent to vivas in Deo. According to the epitaphs of Savaria, one gravestone was set up by Aurelia for her centurion husband, the second one was carved by four sons for their mother, the third one was for two Christian brothers, the fourth one says that the deceased Aurelius Iodorus was a Greek citizen from Laodicea, the fifth one was set up for two foreign painters by their colleagues. Not too many similar epitaphs were found in other locations. Most recently two were found in Ó-Szõny, one on the left side of the Danube river at Zseliz, one in Fischamend, south of Vienna. We may assume that the expression s(it) t(ibi) t(erra) l(evis) carved on these and on a few other stones in Óbuda is of Christian origin.”
“Based on epitaphs, the members of the Christian communities in Pannonia were mostly of eastern origin and Greek-speaking. According to tradition, the city of Sirmium already had a bishop around AD 100, in the person of Andronicus, the disciple of Saint Paul.”
“In the middle of the 3rd century, under the short but bloody persecutions by Caesar Decius (249-251) and in the following decades, it became questionable whether Christianity would survive the many casualties. It did. There were already churches in eight Pannonian cities by the end of the century, whose members met every Sunday morning to worship God. The eight cities were: Singidunum (Belgrade), Sirmium, Cibalae (Vinkovce), Siscia, Poetovio (Ptuj-Pettau), Aquincum (Óbuda), Savaria and Scarbantia (Sopron). Five of these cities (Sirmium, Cibalae, Siscia, Aquincum, Poetovio) had a bishop as the head of the congregation and as the moral and religious leader.”
“Christianity was considered a religion of the cities from the beginning, and the provincial capitals – especially Savaria and Sopianae – were the foremost centers of the new religion, as the abundant archeological findings testify. The ratio of Christians and the heathen changed in time, but at the great persecution of 303 Christians were still a prosecutable minority. The very first martyr in this region was Eusebius, the bishop of Cibalae.”
“In February of AD 313, at the urge of Constantine the Great, Licinius, the joint emperor,s agreed to settle the status of the Christians: they, like the followers of any other religion, were to be granted freedom of conscience and worship. This had a charitable effect on the life of the Christians in Pannonia. When Constantine governed from Sirmium for almost ten years after 317, paganism retreated quickly and Christianity spread in the larger estates as well as the cities.”
“In the first years of the 5th century, the Vandals were attacking from the north and the Goths from the east. Then Sirmium and Pannonia Secunda was invaded by the Huns, and the flight began… Part of the now mostly Christian population fled, the other part stayed and waited for the inevitable. The attack of the eastern people could not be held back.”
In the Roman Lapidarium of the Hungarian National Museum (Budapest, 14–16 Múzeum blvd. ), among the altars of pagan gods (Jupiter, Mithras, etc.), we find the gravestone of the above mentioned Aurelius Iodorus, a Christian of Greek origin. Below is a copy of the informative text placed beside the gravestone:
“Marble sepulchral tablet of the Christian AUR(ELIUS) IODORUS from Laodicea in Syria. 4th century A.D., Szombathely”
|1.||Hungary, before losing the greater part of its territory in 1918.|
|2.||The province of Pannonia included the Transdanubian region of modern Hungary, along with parts of modern Slovakia, Austria, Croatia and Yugoslavia.|
|3.||Ancient region of Europe to which Pannonia was added in 9 BC.|
|4.||Modern Vinkovce in Croatia.|
|5.||Modern Sremska Mitrovica in Yugoslavia.|
|6.||Eusebius Hieronymus (Saint Jerome, c AD 347–419) was a Bible scholar who translated the Bible into Latin, and his famous edition is known as the Vulgate. He was born in Stridon, on the border of the Roman provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia.|
|7.||Aquileia is a town in northeastern Italy, near Trieste. It was founded by the Romans as a colony in 181 BC and became an important trade center. It was destroyed in AD 452 by Attila the Hun, but later rebuilt.|
|8.||Modern Osijek in Croatia.|
|9.||Modern Petrovce in Slovakia.|
|10.||Located in central Italy.|
|11.||Modern Sisak in Croatia.|
|12.||Modern Szombathely, a city in western Hungary. It was founded by the Romans in AD 48 and was the site where Lucius Severus was proclaimed Roman Emperor in AD 193.|
|13.||Modern Ptuj in Slovenia. It was founded by the Romans and it became a trade center between the Roman provinces of Pannonia and Noricum.|
|14.||Modern Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.|
|15.||Modern Óbuda in the north-western part of Budapest.|