6.4 The Origins of Christianity

Early in the Pax Romana, a new religion, Christianity, arose in a distant corner of the Roman empire. At first, Christianity was one of many religions practiced in the empire. But the new faith grew rapidly, and by A.D. 395 it had been declared the official religion of the Roman empire.

Photo of ancient domed church in a desert setting.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is the burial site of Jesus. Christians continue to make pilgrimages to the church.


  • Understand the diverse religions included in the early Roman empire.
  • Describe the development and central ideas of Christianity.
  • Summarize the spread of Christianity.
  • Outline the development of the early Christian Church.

Key Terms

  • messiah
  • apostle
  • Paul
  • martyr
  • clergy
  • bishop
  • patriarch
  • pope
  • heresy
  • Augustine
  • Christian Bible
  • Constantine

Romans Accept Many Religions

As it gained strength and spread through the empire, Christianity reshaped Roman beliefs. When the Roman empire fell, the Christian Church took over much of its role, becoming the central institution of Western civilization for nearly 1,000 years.

Rome Tolerates Diversity

Within the vast Roman empire, numerous religious beliefs thrived. Generally, Rome tolerated these varied religious traditions. As long as citizens showed loyalty by honoring Roman gods such as Jupiter and Mars and by accepting the divinity of the emperor, they were allowed to worship as they pleased. Since most people were polytheistic, they were content to worship the Roman gods alongside their own.

As Rome expanded, people came into contact with different religious traditions, including those in Egypt and the Fertile Crescent. During turbulent times, a growing number of people turned to the so-called mystery religions, which emphasized secret rituals and promised special rewards to believers. Among the most popular of these was the cult of Isis, which originated in Egypt and offered women equal status with men. Roman soldiers favored the cult of the Persian god Mithras, who championed good over evil and offered life after death.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments