In the present article, I analyze Greek and Latin sources of pre-Nicene Christianity and argue that violence, although generally overlooked, constitutes an intrinsic and significant aspect of the early Christian model of pastoral rule. I premise my argument on an understanding of violence that rejects so-called ‘legitimist’ definitions, which subordinate the judgment on violence to a judgment on legitimacy and reserve the label of violence for illegitimate actions alone. Congenitally embedded in a network of conflictual relations, the shepherd of early Christian imagery is primarily tasked with the salvation of the sheep from enemies whose ambiguous identity, I argue, often betrays their provenance from within the flock. The shepherd is also engaged in disciplining his animals through measures that include severe physical punishments and exclusion from the herd. To conclude, I argue that the pastoral metaphor is itself an especially powerful instrument in the discursive construction of legitimate violence. For a relevant strand of ancient thought, to frame a particular institution in terms of the shepherd-flock relationship is, I argue, to conceive of it as replicative of the natural and normative order of reality, while also making certain acts of violence appear as the preferable course of action to be sought in the government of the community.