10 Greek and Roman Trials for Magic and Witchcraft You Probably Haven’t Heard Of
10 Greek and Roman Trials for Magic and Witchcraft You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

10 Greek and Roman Trials for Magic and Witchcraft You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

Natasha sheldon - March 30, 2018

10 Greek and Roman Trials for Magic and Witchcraft You Probably Haven’t Heard Of
Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria. Google Images

Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria

Early Christianity was by no means one unified religion. By the time of its acceptance by Constantine I in the early fourth century, several opposing doctrines were at large which created strife and tensions between the various factions. Trinitarianism or the belief that God was three consubstantial entities: the father, son and Holy Ghost, was one. Arianism, which maintained that Christ was a separate entity was another. These opposing doctrines led to bitter conflicts and even accusations of witchcraft.

Athanasius was Bishop of Alexandria for 45 years between 328 and 373AD- on and off. The Bishop was a confirmed Trinitarian and a firm adversary against what he viewed as the Arian heresy. Unfortunately for Athenasius, in 355AD, the emperor of the time Constantius II, did not share his views. Constantius was an ardent Arian and determined to promote his doctrine. This determination meant that all opposition had to be removed. In 355AD, Constantius decided he wanted the contentious Athenasius removed from his post in Alexandria. So, in direct opposition to the pope, he called a synod and accused Athenasius of witchcraft.

The Synod sat in Milan, composed of 300 bishops, mostly of Arian persuasion. Athenasius himself was absent. The charge put before the bishops was that Athenasius was guilty of divination. The Bishop of Alexandria was accused of using prophetic lots, reading omens through the flight of birds and generally “practices repugnant to the purposes of the religion over which he presided.” Without giving him any chance to defend himself, the committee found Athenasius guilty and removed him from his office.

Six days later, Athenasius was expelled from Alexandria. He withdrew into the desert where he remained for the next six years until he was once again reinstated. No one sincerely believed Athenasius was a magician, and it was widely recognized that his trial had been based upon doctrine rather divination. However, the Bishop of Alexandria retained a reputation as a seer for the rest of his life.


Where do we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

Against Aristogeiton, 25.79 Demosthenes, Perseus Digital Library.

Speeches, 19.28; Demosthenes, Perseus Digital Library.

On the false embassy, 19.281, Perseus Digital Library

The Annals of Imperial Rome, Tacitus 2017

Libanus’s Autobiography (Oration I) Trans A F Norman, University of Hull Publications

The History, Books 14-31, Ammianus Marcellinus (trans John C Rolfe), Loeb Classical Library

Roman Magic and Witchcraft in Late Antiquity, Natasha Sheldon, Flying Witch Publications, 1999

Who’s Who in the Roman World, John Hazel, Routledge, 2001

Magic and magicians in the Greco Roman World, Matthew W Dickie, Routledge, 2001

Magic, Witchcraft and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman world, Daniel Ogden, Oxford University Press, 2009.