PAGAN (Lat. paganus, of or belonging to a pagus, a canton, county district, village, commune) ... It has long been accepted that the application of the name paganus, villager, to non-Christians was due to the fact that it was in the rural districts that the old faiths lingered. This explanation assumes that the use of paganus in this sense arose after the establishment of Christianity as the religion generally accepted in the urban as opposed to the rural districts, and it is usually stated that an edict of the emperor Valentinian of 368 dealing with the religio paganorum (Cod. Theod. xvi. 2) contains the first documentary use of the word in this secondary sense. It has now been shown that the use can be traced much earlier. Tertullian (c. 202; De corona militis, xi.), says “Apud hunc (Christum) tam miles est paganus fidelis quam paganus est miles infidelis.” This gives the clue to the true explanation. In classical Latin paganus is frequently found in contradistinction to miles or armatus (cf. especially Tac. Hist. i. 53; ii. 14, 88; iii. 24, 43, 77), where the opposition is between a regular enrolled soldier and the raw half-armed rustics who sometimes formed a rude militia in Roman wars, or, more widely, between a soldier and a civilian. Thus the Christians who prided themselves on being “soldiers of Christ” (milites) could rightly term the non-Christians pagani. See also Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (ed. Bury, 1896), ch. xxi. note ad fin.
—Encyclopedia Brittanica Eleventh Edition (1910–1911)