Saturday, October 2, 2010

Christians in the Roman Empire

Healing of the Paralytic (c.235), oldest known depiction
of Jesus found in a house-church in Dura Europos (Syria)
Before I write the second part of my reflections on the Book of Ezekiel I thought I would post something you all may find fascinating. I did a small study on Roman emperors last year; I studied the biographies of emperors from Julius Caesar to Nero written by two ancient Roman historians: Tacitus and Suetonius. Below is an exerpt from Tacitus' account of Nero. Nero burned the city of Rome in 64 AD for no apparent reason and blamed it on the Christians.

"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular."

Taken from:

Roman officials certainly were disgusted by this "mischievous supersition." In A Brief History of the Romans by Mary Boatwright, the author explains why:

“The egalitarian Christian “community”(agape) ignored differences of legal, social, or political status. This alternative approach attracted many individuals excluded from Rome’s elites. Women were welcome in the Christian commuity, too, and they seemed to have played important roles as organizers and proselytizers in the early church.

For these and other reasons, there developed the impression that Christians rejected Roman order and society. Their scriptures advocated peace. Many of their rites and customs were misunderstood. Their “eating the body and drinking the blood of their Savior” was called cannibalism, and their habit of addressing one another as “brother” and “sister” was taken to signify incestuous promiscuity” (p.271).


  1. Good Morning Carnival

    I really just dropped in to wish you a happy feast day of St Francis Assisi. As you may have guessed, he is a favourite of mine.

    This is a very interesting post. I was struck by the sentence, "there developed the impression that Christians rejected Roman order and society". That is a similar situation to the English Martyrs. Because they were loyal to the Pope in spiritual matters, they were suspected of being disloyal to the Crown in matters temporal. This, of course, was not the case but they were condemned as traitors anyway.

    Every age has its martyrs and we have a lot of good examples of faithfulness. Pray God we too remain faithful.

    Thanks Carnival and God bless you.

  2. Thanks breadgirl. I don't know too much about English martyrs I must admit. I know a bit about St. Thomas More but that's it. Christians, it seems, have been misunderstood in almost every age just under different pretexts. God Bless and Happy St. Francis Day!!