Historical & Religious Context
Agora takes place in the 4th century C.E. (Common Era) in Egypt under the Roman Empire. This is the year that Christians in Alexandria go on an iconoclastic rampage, obliterating pagan statues and images throughout the city, as well as the Temple of Serapis. Co-emporer Theodosius (of Rome) orders that all non-Christian works be destroyed. Fire consumes the Great Library of Alexandria (established in 275 B.C.E. [Before Common Era]), considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. Among the works lost were parchments by the astronomer Aristarchus of Samos asserting that the Earth orbits the sun (see Ptolemy, 140 A.D.; Copernicus, 1543 A.D.), and dozens of dramatic works by Sophocles and Euripides.*
Hypatia, brilliant astronomer and philosopher, trapped inside the burning Library, fights to preserve ancient knowledge.
This is a mere 78 years after Constantine and his co-emporer Licinius accept Christianity (in 131 C.E.).*
In 321 C.E. (70 years prior to the setting of this film) Constantine declared that Sunday would thereafter be a day of rest throughout the Empire (although, he continued to worship Apollo despite his acceptance of Christianity).*
In 324 C.E. (67 years prior to the film setting) he bans “pagan” sacrifices and pillages “pagan” temples.*
A year after this the council of Nicaea is held* in which many issues are debated and doctrine of the Christian church is established (note, there are pieces of the Bible that were not included in the final agreement of this council, and Revelations was only barely approved.
From About.com:Women’s History**
Hypatia dressed in the clothing of a scholar or teacher, rather than in women’s clothing. She moved about freely, driving her own chariot, contrary to the norm for women’s public behavior. She exerted considerable political influence in the city…
Cyril [Christian bishop, later made a saint] probably objected to Hypatia on a number of counts: She represented heretical teachings, including experimental science and pagan religion. She was an associate of Orestes [“pagan” opponent of Cyril – who objected to Cyril expelling Jews from the city, and was murdered for his opposition to Cyril]. And she was a woman who didn’t know her place. Cyril’s preaching against Hypatia is said to have been what incited a mob led by fanatical Christian monks in 415 to attack Hypatia as she drove her chariot through Alexandria.