As I have freely anticipated the use of pagans and
paganism, I shall now trace the singular revolutions of
those celebrated words.
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- in the Doric dialect, so
familiar to the Italians, signifies a fountain; and the
rural neighbourhood which frequented the same fountain
derived the common appellation of pagus and pagans
(Festus sub voce, and Servius ad Virgil. Georgic. ii. 382).
- By an easy extension of the word, pagan and rural
became almost synonymous (Plin. Hist. Natur. xxviii. 5); and
the meaner rustics acquired that name, which has been
corrupted into peasants in the modern languages of Europe.
- The amazing increase of the military order introduced the
necessity of a correlative term (Hume's Essays, vol. i. p.
555); and all the people who were not enlisted in the
service of the prince were branded with the contemptuous
epithet of pagans (Tacitus "Histories" iii. 24, 43, 77. Juvenal.
Satir. 16 [v. 32]. Tertullian de Pallio, c. 4).
- The Christians were the soldiers of Christ; their adversaries
who refused his sacrament, or military oath of baptism,
might deserve the metaphorical name of pagans; and this
popular reproach was introduced as early as the reign of
Valentinian (A.D. 365) into Imperial laws (Cod. Theodos. 1.xvi tit. ii. leg. 18) and theological writings.
- Christianity gradually filled the cities of the empire: the
old religion, in the time of Prudentius (advers. Symmachum,
l. i. [v. 575 sqq.] ad fin.) and Orosius (in Praefat.
Hist.), retired and languished in obscure villages; and the
word pagans, with its new signification, reverted to its
- Since the worship of Jupiter and his
family has expired, the vacant title of Pagans has been
successively applied to all the idolaters and polytheists of
the old and new world.
- The Latin Christians bestowed it,
without scruple, on their mortal enemies the Mahometans; and
the purest unitarians were branded with the unjust reproach
of idolatry and paganism. See Gerard Vossius, Etymologicon
Linguae Latinae, in his works, tom. i. p. 420; Godefroy's
Commentary on the Theodosian Code, tom. vi. p. 250; and
Ducange, mediæ, et infimæ Latinitat. Glossar.