Shean, Soldiering for God. Christianity and the Roman Army
Annotation author: Krumbiegel, Manuel
Book author: Shean, John

John Shean, Soldiering for God. Christianity and the Roman Army (History of Warfare 61), Leiden 2010

The relationship between Christianity and the spheres of war and military service is ambivalent, which makes a universal characterisation hardly possible. John F. Shean’s monograph Soldiering for God approaches the topic by giving a thorough analysis of the development of Christianity within the Roman army, since the idea of the compatibility of Christianity and military service appears to be especially relevant in the first three centuries AD. Shean argues that the religious attitude within the Roman army was in fact a crucial factor in the Christianization of the Roman world.  

After some introductory considerations, Shean addresses such aspects as the “Christian Attitudes towards the Roman State, War, and Military Service” (Chapter 3), “the Sociology of Early Christianity” (Chapter 4) or the “Evidence for the Presence of Christians in the Roman Army” (Chapter 5). In Chapter 6 “The Thirteenth Apostel”, Shean offers a brief overview of the relations between the Christian community and the Roman government, in which he shows that the conversion of Constantine along with all its implications concerning the army laid the groundwork for the transformation of the Roman army into a Christian military force. In the seventh chapter “Church and State in the Fourth Century”, Shean continues his description of the developing Christianization of the Roman world by discussing the religious policies of the fourth-century emperors. In the last two chapters Shean examines the “Impact of ‘Barbarization’ on the late Roman Army” and provides a summary of the “Consequences of Conversion” as well as the religious program of late fourth-century emperors acting under the influence of Christian bishops.

Shean provides a wealth of information that goes far beyond the question of the relationship between war, military service, and early Christianity. By studying Shean’s monograph, readers across disciplines are enabled to make a sound assessment of the core-topic of Christianity within the Roman army. It is particularly important to note that Shean successfully shows that the participation of Christians in the military service was primarily seen as a cultic and less as an ethical problem with regard to the Decalogue’s prohibition of killing. Unfortunately, Shean fails to refer to essential works in the German-speaking area that have already achieved similar results, such as the works of Hanns C. Brennecke. This hardly changes the fact that Shean’s monograph is a valuable contribution to refuting certain theories based, for example, on the assumption that Christianity is a religion of peace, which have often formed the basis of understanding the role of Christianity considering war in Late Antiquity.