Neither John Chrysostom’s efforts to evangelize in Sasanid Persia nor the conflict fought between Rome and Persia in 421 have drawn a great deal of attention.1 So this paper will attempt to navigate the 20 years from John’s initial efforts up to the outbreak of the war without much modern support. Beginning from a series of clues in ancient sources I will try to gather apparently unrelated narratives into a story of how John inadvertently contributed to the even that Kenneth Holum called ‘Pulcheria’s Crusade’. Not that this war earned any of the historical significance of the later crusades. Our sources tell of various religious disputes on the border that led to a Roman incursion into Sasanian territory, the conflict was quickly dropped without any major strategic outcome.2 On the other hand, this conflict could be seen as a milestone in the development of the role of exclusive religions in imperial politics. Though the term ‘crusade’ will at first sound anachronistic in the early 5th century, there does appear to be a development of religious motivations in conflicts between Romans and Sasanids. Roman battles against the first Persian invaders in the early 3rd century could hardly call upon any crusading attitudes, but Heraclius’ climactic battles against Khosro II in the 7th century were able to return the true cross to Jerusalem. So when we see Theodosius’ court react to Persian persecution of Christians with a full scale military attack, we may be tempted to test its status as the first Roman crusade and look for motivations and causes. However complex and manifold these may be, I will argue that the unique missionary zeal of John Chrysostom initiated a concatenation of events that led to war.

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Copyright © 2010 Peelers Publishers. This article first appeared in Studia Patristica 47 (2010), 301-307.

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