The Roman World
1. Roman History
2. After the Romans conquered a kingdom, what did the conquered people have to do?
a. What exception did the Jews have?
3. Pax Romana: What did the Romans give the conquered people in return?
4. Critical thinking: Jesus could not have been 50 years before: why?
5. Roman persecution of Christians
1. Roman History
Rome, as a city, was founded in 753 BC. Other kingdoms overshadowed Rome for much of Rome’s early history. After the death of Alexander the Great (who was Greek) in 323 BC, Roman began to grow in prominence.
Video of the growth of the Roman Empire (see the year in the upper left hand corner; sorry for the advertisement): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiIXC1U8HNo
63 BC: Roman takes over Israel.
44 BC: Julius Caesar assassinated by Brutus, Cassius, et al. Mark Antony (Caesar’s master of the horse) seizes power and from here he and Octavian (Caesar’s nephew) fight for power.
40 BC: Antony married Octavian’s sister Octavia.
37 BC: Antony married Cleopatra in Egypt.
32 BC: Antony divorced Octavia; Octavian declares war on Antony and Cleopatra.
31 BC: Octavian’s forces defeats Antony and Cleopatra’s forces; they commit suicide the next year.
27 BC: Octavian is given name of Augustus, becomes Augustus Caesar. This is the beginning of Pax Romana (more on that below)
Up until 12 BC: Battles around the Roman Empire. The Empire is finally solidified by this year.
AD 14: Augustus Caesar died
14-37: Tiberius is emperor
37-41: Caligula is emperor
41-54: Claudius is emperor
54-68: Nero is emperor
68-69: Three different men are emperors in one year
69-79: Vespasian is emperor
79-81: Titus is emperor
81-96: Domitian is emperor
96-98: Nerva is emperor
98-117: Trajan is emperor
[Hint: for this study of the NT, the only emperors we will discuss are Nero and Domitian because they persecuted Christians.]
The Romans control the entire region around the Mediterranean Sea, thus making it (as the joke goes) a Roman lake.
2. The Roman idea of what to do with a conquered people
The Romans, upon defeating a kingdom or people group, allowed them to remain in their homeland with the same (more or less) religions, laws, and leaders.
The only differences, the conquered people had to:
This was a great improvement over the old way of handling a defeated people and allowed the Roman empire to last for hundreds of years. But why was this successful? Because it was more cost efficient than the old way of handling conquered people.
The practice of forcing the conquered peoples to worship the emperor in addition to other gods caused a problem for the Jews and Christians. The Jews and Christians were the only faiths within the Roman world that were monotheistic, meaning they believed in one God. It didn’t bother other religions to worship the Roman gods or the Roman emperor; they just added them to their list of gods. Remember, this was during the time when a god’s power was partially seen by its ability to defend a kingdom. If a kingdom was defeated then perhaps the god of the conquered nation was weaker than the god of the victorious nation and so there was not as much reluctance to add that god to the list.
But the Jews and Christians did not accept this idea, because they only worshipped one God. But an interesting thing happened in the relationship between Rome and Israel. Out of all the peoples Rome held dominance over, the Jews were the only ones Rome allowed not to worship the Roman gods or the Roman emperor. This extended to the Christians for a short time mainly because Rome considered the Christians simply a Jewish sect for decades after Jesus’ death. Once the Romans realized that Christians were not Jews, sometime in the late first century AD, then the Romans required Christians to worship the Roman gods and emperor, but the Christians refused. This happened in the AD 90s and will affect the last book in the New Testament, Revelation. (This is explained in 5. below)
As an example of the view of the divinity of Roman emperors consider these two examples:
The period from 27 BC to AD 180 in the Mediterranean Sea area is known as Pax Romana, which mean “Roman peace.” This was a period when, for the first time in history, the Mediterranean Sea area experienced peace due to the presence and control of the Roman Empire. This will include the lifetime of Jesus and the writing of the New Testament.
Many people who the Romans conquered did not like being conquered and having to pay taxes, but some people did not mind. Why? Because they could take part in Pax Romana. So what did the Romans provide as part of Pax Romana?
This five allowed the followers of Jesus tremendous access as they traveled and evangelized the Roman Empire.
So, the NT came into existence at a time when Pax Romana reigned over the land of Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.
4. Analysis: Jesus could not have been 50 years before: why?
If Jesus had been born 50 years earlier, the disciples would have had to deal with civil wars and could not have traveled freely, therefore Christianity would have remained a small religion in a small part of Israel instead of an empire-wide religion.
5. Roman Persecutions of Christians in the First Century
The Romans persecuted Christians in two separate events:
AD 64: The Fire in Rome
In AD 64 a fire in Rome lasted for six days and destroyed or damaged over half of Rome. The area where the Christians lived was not burned, and so Nero blamed Christians for setting the fire. He had them killed in terrible ways, including being sewn in bags and fed to hungry dogs as well as being crucified and then lighting fires under the crosses while the Christians were still alive.
While this was the first persecution of Christians by Romans, it was not due to the beliefs of Christians but to the fact that they lived in areas not damaged by the fire. Also, this was not an empire-wide persecution but instead was limited to the area around Rome.
Mid-AD 90s: Domitian
Domitian became emperor in 81. His family did not come from nobility and so Domitian tried to strengthen the idea that the emperor (and his family) came from the Gods. In his last years he put to death some Christians and had the Apostle John placed on the island of Patmos because they did not worship the emperor or the Roman gods. John wrote the book of Revelation while there, probably in the year 95. Domitian died in the year 96 and Nerva became emperor. He had all prisoners jailed on charges of being a Christian released. Therefore the Apostle John was released, and traveled to Ephesus where he died several years later.
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