The ascetic Persian cult founded by the Babylonian prophet Mani in the middle of the third century began to penetrate the Roman Empire C. A.D. 270. This cult, which is regarded by some scholars as a Christian heresy, was persecuted by both the Persian and the Roman governments. It was destined, nevertheless, to become one of the great universal religions. The following edict against the Manichaeans was issued by Diocletian, probably in A.D. 296, as part of his policy of strengthening the traditional native cults.)
(Diocletian and Sol Invictus)
The Emperors Diocletian and Maximian,
Augusti, and Constantius and Maximian, most noble Caesars, to Julianus,
proconsul of Africa.
Excessive idleness, my dear Julianus, sometimes drives people to join with others in devising certain superstitious doctrines of the most worthless and depraved kind. In so doing, they overstep the bounds imposed on humans. Moreover, they lure on many others to accept the authority of their erroneous doctrine.
But the immortal gods in their providence have deigned to dispose and arrange matters so that good and true principles should be approved and fixed by the wisdom and constant deliberation of many good, eminent, and very wise men. These principles it is not right to oppose or resist, nor ought the age-old religion be disparaged by a new one. For it is the height of criminality to reexamine doctrines once and for all settled and fixed by the ancients, doctrines which hold and possess their recognized place and course. Wherefore it is our vigorous determination to punish the stubborn depraved minds of these most worthless people.
We take note that those men concerning whom Your Sagacity has reported to Our Serenity, namely the Manichaeans, have set up new and unheard-of sects in opposition to the older creeds, with the intent of driving out to the benefit of their depraved doctrine what was formerly granted to us by divine favor. We have heard that these men have but recently sprung up and advanced, like strange and unexpected portents, from the Persian people, our enemy, to this part of the world, where they are perpetrating many outrages, disturbing the tranquility of the peoples and also introducing the gravest harm to the communities. And it is to be feared that peradventure, as usually happens, they may try, with the accursed customs and perverse laws of the Persians, to infect men of a more innocent nature, namely the temperate and tranquil Roman people, as well as our entire Empire with what one might call their malevolent poisons. And since, as Your Sagacity has set forth in your report on their religion, all types of offenses against the statutes have very plainly been devised and falsehoods contrived, we have accordingly established for these people afflictions and deserving and condign penalties.
Now, therefore, we order that the founders and heads be subjected to severe punishment: together with their abominable writings they are to be burned in the flames. We instruct that their followers, and particularly the fanatics, shall suffer a capital penalty, and we ordain that their property be confiscated for our fisc. But if indeed any office holders or persons of any rank or distinction have gone over to a hitherto unheard of, disgraceful, and wholly infamous sect, particularly to the creed of the Persians, you shall cause their estates to be added to our fisc, and the persons themselves to be sent to the Phaenensian or Proconnesian mines.
In order, then, that this plague of iniquity may be extirpated by the roots from this most happy age of ours, Your Devotion shall carry out with dispatch the orders and enactments of Our Tranquility.
Given on March 31, at Alexandria.