The social and political implications of expressing atheistic thought in Ancient Greece and the early Roman Empire, and why these implications changed over time : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History at Massey University, New Zealand

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Atheistic thought is as old as known records exist. It is not surprising that over thousands of years, many people – we will never know the actual number, relative to population – have had doubts about the religious doctrines that were presented to them by their society, and to which they were expected to strictly adhere. However, until recent times, relatively few people have felt sufficiently free to express their heretical doubts, either orally or in writing. The aims of this thesis are threefold. Firstly, to analyse the development of atheistic thought in Ancient Greece and the early Roman Empire. Secondly, to investigate the social and political implications of expressing such atheistic thought. And thirdly, to determine the reasons for the different outcomes which occurred as a result of these implications. To achieve these aims, relevant philosophers and philosophical movements concerning this period have been investigated, with the use of both primary and secondary sources. The period under analysis starts in the time of the Greek philosopher/scientist Thales (born c.624 BCE). It also includes other pre-Socratic philosophers, Socrates himself, and the effect of the later deification of rulers. The study continues up until the time of the Christianisation of the Roman Empire by virtue of the Edict of Constantine in 313 CE – a total period of almost one thousand years. The research has demonstrated that religion and politics were always inextricably intertwined during this long period, regardless of place or time. It also demonstrated that the implications for expressing atheistic thought varied greatly over time; however, the implications always depended on the political will of the ruling class at the time, whether this was an oligarchy, a monarchy, or a democracy. The political will of the ruling class maintained a close correlation with the religious belief and religious practice of the populace. Certainly, other religious cults were frequently tolerated, however any denial of the power or existence of the gods of the State was often treated with great severity. But the degree of this severity was always in the hands of the ruling political class.