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The First Rural Christians Toward an Explanation of the Christianisation of the Roman Phrygian Countryside

The First Rural Christians Toward an Explanation of the Christianisation of the Roman Phrygian Countryside

Bernard Doherty 

St Mark’s National Theological Centre, Charles Sturt University

Abstract: The cultural region of Phrygia in west central Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) was arguably the most heavily Christianised region of the Roman Empire in the pre-Constantinian period. While scholars have focused on the urban diffusion of Christianity across the cities of the Mediterranean and beyond, little attention has been paid to the spread of Christianity into more sparsely populated rural regions. The inland region of Phrygia, with its topography of small cities and imperial estates, provides an ideal case study for exploring what social factors may have assisted in the rural diffusion of Christianity in its earliest centuries. Utilising insights from the work of sociologist and historian Rodney Stark and a recent flurry of scholarship on Roman Phrygia, this article proposes that a degree of cultural continuity between Phrygian Christianity and its surrounding environs, coupled with the relative absence of the more intrusive elements of Roman rule, combined with other factors to provide an ideal social ecology within which the nascent Church could develop largely unimpeded.