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):


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:

  1. pay Roman taxes,
  2. obey Roman laws,
  3. worship the Roman gods or even the Roman emperor himself.


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:



3.  Pax Romana:  Roman Peace


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?


  1. Roads.  The Romans built a road system throughout their empire.  Now, the reason for building the roads was military:  that way the Romans could move their troops quickly throughout the empire, but the result was a wonderful road system that the ordinary citizen could use for travel and commerce.  Therefore this allowed people to travel much greater distances.  Think about the difference between traveling on a two-lane road and a four-lane highway. 
  2. Protection.  During this time period the Romans controlled the entire Mediterranean Sea and all the lands that bordered it.  Therefore, travellers did not have to worry about any wars being fought on the Sea and so could travel in peace.
  3. Laws.  Rome required all conquered peoples to obey the Roman laws.  They allowed the conquered kingdoms to establish their own laws, but they were subservient to Roman laws.  This made travel easier because travelers did not have to be concerned about learning laws for different parts of the Roman Empire since everyone used the same laws.
  4. Money.  Rome supplied the coins that people used throughout the Roman Empire.  This made travel easier because money did not have to be traded in for a different currency when moving throughout the Roman Empire.  For example, if you traveled from present-day Egypt to present-day Spain, you could use the same money.
  5. Language.  During this time Greek was widely used throughout the empire.  Now, as Pax Romana progressed Latin became more prevalent, but during the First Century Greek was the language used most commonly.  One note:  this does not mean that everyone spoke Greek.  For example, in present-day Israel many if not all Jews spoke Aramaic, but many also spoke Greek.  That is why the New Testament books were written in Greek.  They wanted people throughout the Roman Empire to be able to read them, and so wrote in Greek instead of Aramaic. 


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. 


Dr. Nickens


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