Rome, a great empire whose enemies feared its power, started off as a “pit-stop” for trading merchants. It didn’t take long for what is now known as a great and powerful civilization to build itself from the ground up. Its history is filled with both great and poor leaders and the hearts of passionate people who sought nothing but strength and excellence.
Legend has it the city of Rome was created by one of the offspring of Mars, the god of war. Mars, according to legend, had two sons – Romulus and Remus. In his zeal to become ruler over this city, Romulus kills his brother and named the city Rome after himself. According to legend this took place around 753 B.C.
Rome originated on the banks of the Tiber River, and started off it’s legend of a city through trade. Being in the location that it was, it made it extremely easy for merchants to pass through and trade their possessions. Rome was quickly expanding, and went from being ruled by one king to being ruled by seven. They became influenced by Greek culture as the Greeks started to colonize the southern parts of Rome. The Romans adopted their religion, architecture, and language.
Eventually Rome went from an established monarchy to two magistrates who were elected each year. Soon after, in 450 B.C., Rome established its first law code which became the foundation of future Roman law. About a hundred years later, politics were focused around the Senate, who were made up mostly of wealthy individuals. It became a struggle between the wealthy people taking too much power and the common folk voicing what they wanted but not having any real influence.
In 390 B.C. the thriving city of Rome was plundered and burned by the Gauls (present day French people). Even though this could have killed the spirits of the Romans and they could have very easily given up, they were inspired by a war hero Camillus and kept pressing on. In just over one hundred years, they managed to conquer the whole Italian peninsula, located right next to the Gauls’ territory. After all of the Punic Wars had ended, in 146 B.C., the Romans ended up possessing Sicily, the Western Mediterranean, a good chunk of Italy, and a section of Northern Africa called Carthage. Rome started out as a modest trade stop and had now become a powerful empire conquering hundreds of miles of land and people.
Gaius Marius, an important figure in the development of Rome’s politics and army, started off his influential career as a brave soldier and well-liked general. Although he was just considered a common man (Plebeian), important political figures noticed him and eventually Marius himself became a politician and consul. He sought to close the gap between the rich and the poor, and reconstructed how the votes were weighed come election time. This encouraged the poor to vote because now they had an equal say with the rich. Marius also changed and reorganized the Roman army to become stronger, and found a way for them to have better weapons than they did in the past. He lead the Romans to defeat invaders who dared attack their strong city. He later died in 86 B.C.
A few decades later, three different men fought both physically and politically for power in Rome. Marcus Licinius Crassus, Pompey Magnus, and Julius Caesar were all extremely determined, and stopped at nothing to pursue what they wanted. Magnus and Caesar were both respected generals, and Crassus was the richest man in Rome. Wanting the same good publicity as Magnus and Caesar, Crassus attempted to win a battle against the Parthians in modern-day Turkey, but ended up being killed. That left Magnus and Caesar to fight for the power. Magnus tried to accuse Caesar of certain things and tried to gain his victory through the legal system, but Caesar refused to listen and instead fought Magnus in battle for the power in 48 B.C. Caesar’s army won, and Magnus fled to Egypt but was killed anyways when he got there. Caesar had won the victory. He immediately had the Senate make him dictator, but was killed by some senators a few years later in 44 B.C. His victory was very short-lived.
Caesar’s great-nephew Octavian (who also happened to be the adopted heir) together with Mark Antony teamed up to defeat the two men who killed Caesar. Afterwards, they split up the power but soon found they each wanted all the power or nothing. Octavius ended up defeating Antony and Cleopatra (Queen of Egypt at the time), and became the ruler of all of Rome. He changed his title to Augustus Caesar, and crowned himself emperor in 27 B.C. He reigned for a full fifty-six years and became a tough act to follow with all of his military and citizen support. After his death in A.D. 14, there were a line of emperors who failed to live up to Caesar’s level. Tiberius, the adopted son of Caesar Augustus, became emperor after a series of events but he never lived up to his step father, partly because he never intended or wanted to become emperor. After Tiberius’ death in 37 A.D., Caligula became the new emperor which was exciting for most of the Roman civilians but soon proved to be somewhat of a disappointment as Caligula spent money on extravagant things, intimidated his Senators, having affairs with married women, and dressing up as a woman himself occasionally amongst many other strange activities. He became the first emperor to be assassinated, killed in A.D. 41.
Claudius was brought to power after Caligula was murdered, and he made some good decisions as emperor but was ruthless with his enemies because of his constant paranoia. He brought some peace to Rome by reinforcing the law and addressing matters in a mature, emperor-like way, he led an army and conquered Britain, and he imported corn to feed the citizens in Italy who were suffering from drought. He did many good things, but he did a few things out of paranoid haste. He made quick, swift decisions to execute his enemies, or even those who may seem to be his enemies, and exiled the Jews because they didn’t exactly favor him and he wanted to avoid an uprising. He married four women throughout his reign, the last of whom is the main suspect in his death. Agrippina, his wife and niece, fed him mushrooms that had been poisoned, probably to make sure her son Nero was the next in line for the throne. He came to power in A.D. 54, when he was only seventeen years old. He ended up killing his controlling mother a few years later, and placed the vast majority of his attention on his passions: art and entertainment. It wasn’t until A.D. 64 that Nero began persecuting Christians by placing the blame on them for the major fire that he reportedly started. After a series of events that proved Nero an unfit ruler, the Senate labeled him as a public enemy in which case anyone could kill him without receiving any form of punishment. Nero was murdered in AD 68.
During the time Paul wrote Romans, Rome was led by emperors, who were emperors from the day their predecessor died until the day they themselves died (naturally or through assassination). The culture in Rome during the first century AD was centered around entertainment, art, and luxury. There was a pretty distinct gap between the social classes – where you stood socially depended on the wealth you inherited, the property you owned, your citizenship, and your freedom. As a woman, your social status was linked to that of your father’s or husband’s. Women in ancient Rome had little personal autonomy – they mostly stayed at home, cleaned and took care of the children.
The Roman Empire was polytheistic from the very beginning. They started out mainly animistic, meaning that they believed spirits inhabited creatures and objects around them. Some of them believed that spirits even inhabited some people, and that some of those spirits were their ancestors watching over them. Their religion expanded to include mythical gods of these spirits. They included Mars the god of war (who, according to legend, was the father of Romulus and Remus), Quirinus the god who protected the people of Rome, and Jupiter the main god over all. Since Rome is a neighbor to Greece, the Romans began to worship the same gods they did, just with slight variations and as the Roman Empire grew larger and larger, each city had its own gods and worshipped them in different ways. One common belief held throughout Rome was the idea that the gods lived in the temples and since the Romans didn’t want to intrude, they worshipped them outside of the temple. Worship and sacrifices to the Roman gods were considered necessary, so when Jews and Christians refused to participate in the worship or sacrifices, persecution rose up against them, especially under the reign of emperors Nero and Titus. Nero is the main suspect behind the burning of Rome, but he tried to transfer the blame to the Christians. Even though Christians faced a lot of persecution in Ancient Rome, Christianity eventually dominated the other Roman religions, and Rome became known as the center of Christianity.
Rome started out as a small town with not much to offer, but through trade and some successful leaders became a great and powerful empire. Although founded in paganism, both Jews and Christians were able to make a difference in the lives of the Romans who were persecuting them, and Rome was changed forever. After studying Rome and its beginnings, I have re-learned that just because you have small beginnings doesn’t mean God won’t use you for something great down the road. Just because your parents may not have pastored a mega church, or any church at all for that matter doesn’t mean that you won’t grow and effect thousands of people for Jesus. Just because you start out small and seemingly insignificant doesn’t mean you’ll grow to be great, influential and effective.
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