Ancient Rome and the Rise of Christianity


The Roman Empire and the Rise of


Religion in Ancient Rome

• Important role in peoples lives

• Worship was impersonal-little emotion

• observed rituals

• Sacrifice

• Public gods/goddesses

• Whole family worshipped household


(gods) every day

Emperor Marcus Aurelius offering a sacrifice

Religion in Ancient Rome

• Temples

• Family alters/shrines

The Pantheon

Temple Sacrifice of Animals

Religious Diversity in

Ancient Rome

• Diverse & tolerant

• Required to honor

Roman gods

• acknowledge divine spirit of emperor

• Most conquered people were polytheistic

Mystery Religions -

Emphasized secret rituals and promised special rewards

Mithra- Persian god who championed good over evil and offered life after death.

Favored by

Roman soldiers

Cult of Isis-Very popular w/ women

Originated in Egypt

Judea: Birthplace of Christianity

• Remote east end of Mediterranean Sea

• Once been kingdom of Israel (King David & Solomon)

Judea, 4 BCE

• Rome appointed military governor

• Judea forced to pay tribute

• Left local affairs to the Jews

• Peaceful period, but Jews hated


Divisions in Judea

• During

Hellenistic age, many Jews had absorbed Greek customs & ideas

• Many Jewish conservatives rejected these influences called for strict obedience to

Jewish laws & traditions

Who were the Zealots?

• Jews who believed a Messiah, a savior, would be sent as king to lead Jewish people to freedom

• frequent revolts= destruction of Temple of Solomon &

DIASPORA (dispersal) of the Jews in the 2 nd century

How did Rome deal with Jews?

• Jews were monotheistic

• Roman battle standards and shields were offensive to them

• displayed Caesar as emperor-god

• Jews protested

• Romans repressive


dispersed Jews into exile after revolt

What sources provide information about


• Jesus’ life was reconstructed from events as seen through a lens of faith

• At his death, Jesus’ followers thought the end of world was imminent

• when it didn’t happen, they had to reconstruct his life

• Accounts vary

• These writings are the New

Testament of the Christian


• Four gospels (good news) written in Greek

The Gospels (Good News)

• Oral and Written sources 30 -70 years after Jesus’ death

• Worked miracles

• Message to love one another


• Born in about 7 BCE in


• Began his teachings at about age 33

• Believed to be a


foretold in Jewish traditions

• Challenged religious & civil authorities

• Tried and executed

• Teachings spread by his disciples, especially Paul

• Challenged the Roman


Jesus’ Birth

• Difficult to pinpoint exact time

• Not until middle of 6 th century that Christians began to use Christ’s birth as reference point

• Thought to be about 4

BCE, in Bethlehem

Birth of Jesus

• And Joseph also went up from

Galilee, from the city of

Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called

Bethlehem, because he was of the house of lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was not place for them in the inn.

(Luke 2:4-7)

Jesus’ Teachings

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountains, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

• (Matthew 5:1-3)

The Crucifixion and Resurrection

So they took Jesus, and he went our, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of the skull, which is called in

Hebrew Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read,

“Jesus of Nazareth, the

King of the Jews.”

– (John 19:17-19)

Missionary Work of Paul

And he lived there two whole years in his own hired dwelling, and welcomed all who came to him, preaching the

Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord

Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered.

– (Acts 28:30-31)

Paul’s Missionary Journey’s

Persecutions of the Christians

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubles, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord.

– (1 Peter 3:13-15)

Why was Christianity so appealing?

• Jesus welcomed all people esp. humble, poor, oppressed

• Message of love, equality, human dignity, promise of a better life after death

• Paul included ideas from Plato, Stoics, etc.

• Educated Romans attracted by discipline and moderation

How did Christianity Spread?

• Missionaries traveled all over the empire

• Provided unity to the weakening empire

• Early writings were in Greek or Latin

• Persecution and martyrs brought new converts

Emperor Constantine I

(280-337 CE)

• He had a powerful religious experienceconverted in 312


• gave primacy of church rule over the west

Edict of Milan

• Constantine

• Declaration issued in 313 CE

• Christianity an approved religion

• Theodoscius - 395

CE made

Christianity official state religion of

Roman Empire

How did Christianity become the official religion of Imperial Rome?

• Despite brutal persecutions,

Christianity continued to spread

• By 300 CE, 5 million

Christian followers

• Adopted by lower economic classes

• Offered community & salvation

• Over time, all classes converted

• Many tired of continual warfare- sought peace and security

The Early Christian Church

• Common faith in the teachings of Jesus

• Common way of worship

• Baptism offered forgiveness of sin

• Members were equals-

”brother” & “sister”

• Sunday-gathered for ceremony of thanksgiving to God

• Ate bread and drank wine in sacred supper

What was the role of women?

• attracted by the message of equality

• Teachers & administrators

• Worked to win converts

Structure of the Church

Each community had its own priest

Only men


– a Church official responsible for all Christians in an area called a


Bishops traced their authority back to the original apostles and then back to Jesus

Bishops of the important cities called


– most were in the east

Developed into a hierarchy with officials arranged according to rank

Church Divisions

• Rivalry among the patriarchs

• Latin-speaking popes claimed greater authority

• Greek-speaking patriarchs believed that spiritual authority should be shared


– beliefs contrary to official Church teachings-emerged

• Councils were formed to resolve disputes

• Missionaries sent out to convert beyond the

Roman Empire

What are the Central Beliefs of


• Jesus is the Son of God and came to earth to teach love & fellowship and to redeem the sins of man

• Model for all Christians

• Bible is the teachings and expectations for


• 39 books from the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament