Christanity and the Roman Empire

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Christianity and the Roman Empire
Tara Bogle
Sociology 101
August 12, 2004

Christianity has become one of the largest religions in the world. It is a religion that began in the Mediterranean over 2,000 years ago with the death of Jesus Christ. Where it began, however, is not what make Christianity unique. The most startling part about this is that it began in the Roman Empire , the very empire that crucified Christ, and within 400 years, was the only religion allowed. How did this happen and how did it shape the Roman Empire?

To understand the magnitude of the rise of Christianity, you have to understand the world at the time of the Roman Empire. It is not uncommon for an empire to have an ‘official' religion. Through the years, conquering armies often brought the religion of their empire to their newly acquired territories. What makes Christianity and the Roman Empire unique is the mentality of the Romans of the time. The time during Christ's life was in a period known as Pax Romana, or ‘Roman Peace", which lasted from the beginning of the reign of Augustus in 27 B.C. until almost 200 years later. Pax Romana was an attempt to bring peace and prosperity to the Roman Empire. Augustus, who was then the emperor of Rome, had halted the expansion of the Empire, ‘cleansed' the Senate of nearly 200 ‘questionable' members, leaving 800 who were loyal to Augustus. He also reduced the size of the military, paying soldiers with 20 or more years of experience to be loyal to the Roman state, not their commanders and stationed the army in the surrounding provinces instead of Rome (he had created the Praetorian Guard to be his bodyguards; these were Roman citizens who were better paid than a Roman legionnaire). This made the area around the Mediterranean stable economically and nearly self-sufficient. (History Guide, 2004)

Another factor in the stabilization was the Roman businessmen who formed social units in many of the cities in the Mediterranean, which brought Roman rule along with it. Realizing the need for local governmental control, provinces and client kingdoms were established by the Romans. One of these kingdoms was Judea, which was under the rule of Herod the Great, who ruled until his death in 4 B.C., also about the time of Christ's birth. After his death, a decade of turmoil ensued until finally Pontius Pilate was appointed the first governor of the province. (Jews and the Roman Empire, 2004)

One of the problems with Pax Romana is that the Empire still followed many of the laws and customs they had for many years already. This included a religion that believed in many gods, who were often fighting and playing tricks on one another, with humans often caught in the middle. Roman entertainment was centered around brutal gladiatorial contests, violent public executions of those seen as a threat to the Empire and a long line of emperors with serious personality issues and violent tendencies. Herod, the king of Judea prior to Christ's birth, was a ruler along the lines of the Roman emperors. Herod used his brutality and ambition to bring him success, as well as always being on the Roman side of everything. As a result, Judea was politically independent. One of the great things Herod did for Judea was to order the construction of many beautiful buildings, including the Temple at Jerusalem.

Judea was largely Jewish in population and much of Jewish life centered around the temple, specifically the Temple in Jerusalem. There were two major holidays in the Jewish religion of the time, with the biggest being the Passover. The Passover is a holiday commemorating Moses and the Jewish slaves deliverance out of Egypt. During Passover, many Jewish families made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice at the Temple. It was during the Passover in 33 A.D. that Jesus came to Jerusalem. Tradition had Jews arriving a week prior to Passover to begin cleansing themselves, which is about the time that Jesus entered the...
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