Religious and Intercommunal Violence in Alexandria in the 4th and 5th centuries CE
By Lauren Kaplow
Hirundo, the McGill Journal of Classical Studies, Vol.4 (2005-06)
Introduction: The fourth and fifth centuries CE were a time of vast social and religious change in the Eastern Roman empire. Going into this time period, Christianity had just begun to be an important player in imperial politics and religious policy, and by the mid-fifth century it had become clearly dominant. The power politics of cities changed as ecclesiastical appointees began to compete with comparable civil officials. The conflicts involved in divisive doctrinal debates spread and then receded. Alexandria, like all eastern cities, was not left unscathed.
This paper deals with three discrete incidents of sectarian violence that occurred in Alexandria in the late fourth and early fifth centuries of the common era. These three incidents (including the build-up to the culminating event) are: the conflict between the Arian bishop George of Cappadocia and the rest of the Alexandrian population resulting in his death in 361 CE, the conflict between the Christians and the Hellenes resulting in the destruction of the Serapeum in 391 CE and the conflict involving Cyril, a Nicene bishop, Orestes, the prefect of Egypt, and the Alexandrian Jews, culminating in the death of Hypatia, a Hellenic philosopher and Neoplatonist, in 415 CE.