The Final Years
The Final Years
As the first millennium BCE neared it's close, Rome became embroiled in a series of civil wars, which resulted in dramatic changes to the character of Roman life. The government, which had previously been a democratic republic, quickly degenerated into dictatorship. Emperors came to power almost exclusively by treachery and violence, and their corrupt and decadent behavior soon began to contaminate the national consciousness.
By about 100 CE, all the major cities of the empire contained a veritable three-ring circus of foreign religions, street preachers, soothsayers, and charlatans. Strange new metaphysical practices and deities proliferated, while the genuine aspects of spirituality were all but lost. Amid this chaotic mass of hawkers, all vying for popularity and economic support, even the older, well-established religions... including that of Cybele... began to unravel.
Prompted by a public desire for a more prominent male deity, Attis was elevated from a minor character to a role fully equal to Cybele Herself. This was obviously a major blunder, for while most of the other religions in the ancient world had grown increasingly polytheistic, the religion of the Goddess had remained more true to it's original form.
Indeed, the Goddess was not merely the leader of some ever-expanding pantheon... She stood alone, as She had always done, from the very dawn of our primordial consciousness. That fact had set Her religion apart from the others for many millennium, and it was a grave error to sacrifice such a critical distinction for some fleeting political advantage.
Next, when the concept of life after death became popular, the religion of Cybele began to offer it to selected individuals for an exorbitant price. Around 150 CE they instituted a ritual known as the Taurobolium , which was supposed to confer immortality upon the recipient by anointing them with the blood of a sacrificial bull.
Later, public fascination with the stars and planets prompted the religion to promote Attis as the god of the moon... and still later, his role was changed to the god of the sun. This sort of blatant pandering to the public turned out to be a very serious mistake. Indeed, similar actions on the part of the other ancient religions would ultimately result in a major loss of their credibility, and contribute to their collective downfall.
By 300 CE, the end was near. Rome was morally and spiritually bankrupt, and corruption in the government was rampant. An empire which had derived it's prosperity from conquest and exploitation now found itself badly over-extended... and military defeats, rebellions, and economic hardships were rapidly mounting. As the empire began to collapse, a nervous population was searching frantically for some form of salvation. It was in this climate of apprehension and fear that the religion of Christianity began to gather social and political momentum.
Christianity was carefully crafted to offer something to everyone. Not only did it incorporate all of the most popular myths of it's day, such as life after death, gods taking human form, virgin births, rising from the dead, etc., but in addition, it very conveniently presented extremely simplistic solutions to spiritual matters. For example, people were told that the death of Jesus automatically absolved them of all their sins, and by simply believing in him they were guaranteed a place in Heaven.
This appealed to a desperate population in much the same way as the simplistic solutions of Adolf Hitler appealed to the German people during the depression. And in much the same way, the Romans later discovered that the cure was worse than the disease... for once they had given political power to the Christians, a reign of terror ensued, and it became impossible to regain the freedom that they had so foolishly surrendered.
The ascent of Christianity in the Roman government began in 312 CE, when a pro-Christian Emperor by the name of Constantine came to power. His first act was to issue the Edict of Milan , which ligitimized and protected the Christian religion. He then proceeded to financially support Christian clerics, build churches for them, and promote many of them to high goverment offices. This continued for about 20 years, until the Christians were firmly in control... and then the holocaust truly began.
In 331 CE, Constantine ordered all non-Christian religions to be stripped of their wealth, by confiscating all objects made of gold or silver from their temples. This immediately bankrupted them, cut off their flow of new donations, and publically humiliated them and their followers. In addition, it placed a fabulous amount of stolen wealth into the hands of their worst enemies... the Christians... whose openly-stated goal was to exterminate their competitors.
Following the death of Constantine in 337 CE, his three sons divided the empire between themselves. Constantius II initially took control of Egypt and the Near and Middle East, but eventually survived his brothers to become sole ruler of the entire Roman empire. During his reign, he ordered the closing of all non-Christian (now referred to as "pagan") temples, banned public rituals, and instituted the death penalty for anyone claiming to issue prophecies. In addition, he exempted all Christian clerics from taxes and compulsory public service, as well as granting them immunity from prosecution in secular courts, so that they would be free to attack pagans at will.
It was not long until the violent persecution and murder of pagans began. The temple of the goddess Astarte in Palestine was destroyed, and all it's Priests and Priestesses were murdered. Next, the Priests at the temple of the Nile were murdered, and when the population rioted, the temple complex and the library were also destroyed, and all the Priestesses were raped and murdered.
All across the empire, people were forced to convert to Christianity or face torture or the death penalty. In 386 CE the temple of Zeus in Syria was destroyed, followed by the temples at Carrhae and Hieropolis. In 389 CE Theodosius became emperor, and continued the destruction. The temple of Isis in Alexandria was next, followed by the temple of Tanit in Carthage, and innumerable smaller temples.
The religion of Cybele was especially hated by the Christians, for a number of reasons. It had a much more impressive history than theirs, having evolved from such pre-historic beginnings as Catal Hoyuk in 6000 BCE... and as such, it could readily lay claim to being mankind's first and oldest religion. In addition, it was very popular, with a long record of service to the community... and finally, as we have already discussed, the Sibyls of the ancient world were in fact Priestesses of Cybele.
Clearly the declaration of the death penalty by Constantius II, for anyone claiming to issue prophecies, was intended in no small measure to destroy the power of the Sibyls and their Oracles. Next, because many of the pagan religions (especially the temples of Cybele) employed transgender persons as clergy, Christian leaders convinced Theodosius that transgender people were unnatural and evil.
Consequently, in 390 CE, Theodosius issued orders that all transgender Priestesses were to be murdered, by torturing them to death or burning them at the stake. This would provide yet another excuse to attack the remaining temples. Christian death squads roamed throughout the empire, eager to carry out these orders. Over the next few years, nearly every small temple in Turkey, Egypt and the Middle East was destroyed, and their Priests and Priestesses murdered.
A civilization which had once been so advanced, in terms of it's art, literature, science and philosophy, soon lay in ruins... it's great temples and libraries, it's culture and traditions, gone. The temple of Apollo at Delphi, once the heart of the ancient world, was ordered closed. The Oracle spoke for the last time in 393 CE :
Tell the king; the fair wrought house has fallen.
No shelter has Apollo, nor sacred laurel leaves;
The fountains now are silent; the voice is stilled.
It is finished.
In 410 CE the western Roman empire finally collapsed. Looting the temples had provided enough quick cash to keep it going for a while, but when that ran out, the completely bankrupt empire, with it's old social fabric destroyed, and it's people terrorized by their own government, quickly fell to an attack by the Vandal chieftain Alaric.
The Byzantine (eastern Roman) empire survived a great deal longer. During the 5th and 6th centuries, under emperors like Justinian and Tiberius II , the destruction of the last remaining pagan temples continued, as did the murder of their Priests and Priestesses, and anyone else who refused to accept Christianity.
Many great teachers, doctors, scientists and intellectuals perished in this genocide. Libraries were burned, simply because their books had been written by pagans. This had the effect of plunging the world into what we call the "dark ages", a period of nearly 1000 years of poverty, ignorance and disease.
By the time the human race began to recover from this holocaust, Christian fanatics had forced the entire population of the western world to convert, and had taken control of virtually every aspect of organized religion, as well as having established a powerful voice in government. In addition, by destroying all non-Christian libraries, they had become the sole custodians of our written history... and they would use that power to slander and subvert our ancestors religious beliefs, while concealing their own horrible crimes against humanity.