Reference: Roman Empire
Pompey's lieutenant, M. Aemilius Scaurus, 64 B.C., interfered in the contest between Aristobulus and Aretas king of Arabia Petraea, who supported Hyrcanus, whom Aristobulus had driven from the high priesthood. Next year Pompey himself took Jerusalem (Josephus, Ant. 14:2-4; B. J. 1:6, section 7). Thenceforward Judaea was under Rome. Hyrcanus was titular sovereign and high priest, subject to his minister Antipater, the partisan of Rome. Antipater's son, Herod the Great, was made king by Antony, 40 B.C., and confirmed by Augustus 30 B.C. (Josephus, Ant. 14:14; 15:6). Roman soldiers were quartered at Jerusalem in Herod's time to maintain his authority (Ant. 15:3, section 7). Rome exacted tribute and an oath of allegiance to the emperor as well as to Herod (Ant. 17:2, section 2). On Archelaus' banishment, A.D. 6, Judaea became an appendage of Syria, governed by a Roman procurator residing at Caesarea. Galilee was still under the Herod's and other princes whose dominions and titles successive emperors changed from time to time.
In the New Testament we find such notices of Roman dominion as the Jews recognizing Caesar as sole king (Joh 19:15); Cyrenius "governor of Syria" (Lu 2:2); Pontius Pilate, Felix, and Festus, "governors," i.e. procurators of Judaea; the "tetrarchs" Herod, Philip, and Lysanias (Lu 3:1); "king Agrippa" (Ac 25:13); Roman soldiers, legions, centurions, publicans; "tribute money" (Mt 22:19); the "taxing of the whole world" (Lu 2:1); Italian and Augustan cohorts (Ac 10:1; 27:1); an "appeal to Caesar" (Ac 25:11). Three Roman emperors are named; Augustus, Tiberius (Lu 2:1; 3:1), and Claudius (Ac 11:28; 18:2). Nero is alluded to as "Augustus" and "Caesar" (Ac 25:10-26; Php 4:22), and "my lord" (compare also 1Pe 2:17; Ro 13:1). For notices of Rome's administration and magistrates in the provinces, see Ro 13:7; 27'>27'>16:27'>27,12-27'>27,27'>27,27'>27.
In theory at first Augustus was neither king nor dictator, but simply first citizen, "prince," or chief member of the senate (Tacitus, Ann. 1:9). The various prerogatives of the old magistracies, which nominally were retained, were conferred on Augustus. Others bore the chief official titles, while he really controlled every department. As "emperor" (imperator) he had full military authority over the army; Julius Caesar changed this title (commander in chief) into a permanent one, implying paramount military authority over the state. The real basis of the emperor's power thus was the support of the army. "Caesar" was the family name, "Augustus" the sacred name of majesty. The Romans shrank at first from designating him by a despotic title; but servility increased as the empire progressed. "My lord" (ho kurios, "dominus," in Ac 25:26) marks the downward tendency in Nero's time as contrasted with Augustus', for the latter and Nero refused the title. Caligula first took it. The empire, though nominally elective (Tacitus, Ann. 13:4), became hereditary or passed by adoption (Tacitus, History i. 15).
Each emperor in beginning his reign bribed the army by donatives, and fed and amused the mob in Rome at the cost of the provinces. So long as the army and mob were not touched, Caligula, Nero, and Domitian could shed the noblest blood with impunity. John the Baptist implies that the soldiers' characteristic sins were violence, false accusation, and discontented greed (Lu 3:14). The full danger of military government became apparent first at the death of Pertinax, A.D. 193. The bounds of the Roman empire were the Atlantic on the W.; the Euphrates on the E.; the African deserts, the Nile cataracts, and the Arabian deserts on the S.; the British Channel, the Rhine, the Danube, and the Black Sea on the N. Claudius added Britain, and Trajan Dacia, to the empire. Germany on the N. and Parthia on the E. were the only independent powers. Gibbon guesses the population of the empire in the time of the emperor Claudius at 120 million. An army of 25 legions, and the Praetorian guards (10,000) and cohorts in the capital, in all about 170,000 men, controlled this population.
The auxiliaries were about as many more (Tacitus, Ann. 4:5). In the New Testament the political condition of the provincial cities varies. The free cities were governed by their own magistrates, and were exempt from Roman garrisoning; as Tarsus, Antioch in Syria, Athens, Ephesus, Thessalonica. Politarchs ("rulers of the city") and the demos ("people") are mentioned at Thessalonica (Ac 17:5-8); the "town clerk" (grammateus) and "assembly" at Ephesus (Ac 19:35-39); "colonies" also, as Philippi, i.e. communities of Roman citizens, as it were a miniature Rome transplanted into another land (Ac 16:12-21,35). So Corinth, Troas, and the Pisidian Antioch. The magistrates bore the Roman designation "praetors" (Greek strategoi), and were attended by "lictors" (Greek rabdouchoi, "serjeants".) (On the PROVINCES, see PROCURATOR, PROCONSUL.)
Roman revenue was mainly drawn from the provinces by a "direct tax" (kensos, footos; Mt 22:17; Lu 20:22), from five to seven per cent on the produce of the soil. "Indirect taxes" (tete; vectigalia) also were heavy. By public gratuities to thousands of idle citizens, and pay to the army, Augustus found the revenue so impaired that he was under the necessity of making the valuation of the property of the empire alluded to in Lu 2:1. (See CENSUS; CYRENIUS; PUBLICANS (portitores), underlings of the Roman knights.) The state of the Roman empire shows that "the fullness of the time was come" (Ga 4:4) when Jesus came. The universal peace within the empire, so that Janus' temple was shut; the military roads constructed; piracy put clown; commerce uniting the various lands; Latin spread in the West as Greek in the East: these causes all combined in God's providential arrangements to prepare for a world-wide religion.
Privileged races and national religions were now blended in one rarity under one imperial ruler; so that men were the more ready to admit the truth that "God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Ac 17:24,26). Under all the outward appearance of unity, peace, and prosperity, moral death and stagnant corruption prevailed on all sides. There were no hospitals for the sick, no establishments for the relief of the poor, no societies for ameliorating men's condition, no instruction for the lower classes, no antidote to the curse of slavery. Charity and philanthropy were scarcely recognized as duties. Philosophers regarded all religions as equally false, the people all as equally true, magistrates all as equally useful for restraining anarchy.
Christianity came as the life-giving healer to this mass of death; "gradually withdrawing some of all orders, even slaves, out of the vices, ignorance, and misery of that corrupted social system. It was ever instilling humanity, coldly commended by an impotent philosophy, among men and women whose infant ears had been habituated to the shrieks of dying gladiators; it was giving dignity to minds prostrated by years of despotism; it was nurturing purity and modesty, and enshrining the marriage bed in a sanctity long almost lost, and rekindling the domestic affections; substituting a calm and rational faith for worn out superstitions, gently establishing in the soul the sense of immortality." (Milman, Latin Christianity, 1:24, quoted in Smith's Bible Dictionary) Daniel 2; 7 refer to Rome as the fourth kingdom; compare also De 28:49-57; Mt 24:15,28.
This is more often spoken of in scripture than is generally recognised. In the vision of the great image by Nebuchadnezzar, four great empires are prophesied of, each being inferior to its predecessor. The fourth is the Roman empire, which in its last phase is compared to iron and clay, materials which would not unite: the kingdom would be divided in itself. In the visions of Daniel the same four kingdoms are further portrayed, and whereas the first three are compared to known animals, the Roman is compared to some dreadful monster that cannot be named: cf. Da 7:7.
The history of the Roman empire fully answers to the prophecy. There were many changes before the line of emperors, but there was always the democratic element in the ruling power. When there were emperors they depended upon popular choice
1. The first historic mention of Rome in the Bible is in 1 Macc. 1:10, about the year 161 B.C. in the year 65 B.C., when Syria was made a Roman province by Pompey, the Jews were still governed by one of the Asmonaean princes. The next year Pompey himself marched an army into Judea and took Jerusalem. From this time the Jews were practically under the government of Rome. Finally, Antipater's son Herod the Great was made king by Antony's interest, B.C. 40, and confirmed in the kingdom by Augustus, B.C. 30. The Jews, however, were all this time tributaries of Rome, and their princes in reality were Roman procurators, On the banishment of Archelaus, A.D. 6, Judea became a mere appendage of the province of Syria, and was governed by a Roman procurator, who resided at Caesarea. Such were the relations of the Jewish people to the Roman government at the time when the New Testament history begins.
2. Extent of the empire. --Cicero's description of the Greek states and colonies as a "fringe on the skirts of barbarism" has been well applied to the Roman dominions before the conquests of Pompey and Caesar. The Roman empire was still confined to a narrow strip encircling the Mediterranean Sea. Pompey added Asia Minor and Syria. Caesar added Gaul. The generals of Augustus overran the northwest Portion of Spain and the country between the Alps and the Danube. The boundaries of the empire were now the Atlantic on the west, the Euphrates on the east, the deserts of Africa, the cataracts of the Nile and the Arabian deserts on the south, the British Channel, the Rhine, the Danube and the Black Sea on the north. The only subsequent conquests of importance were those of Britain by Claudius and of Dacia by Trajan. The only independent powers of importance were the Parthians on the east and the Germans on the north. The population of the empire in the time of Augustus has been calculated at 85,000,000.
3. The provinces. --The usual fate of a country conquered by Rome was to be come a subject province, governed directly from Rome by officers sent out for that purpose. Sometimes, however, petty sovereigns were left in possession of a nominal independence on the borders or within the natural limits of the province. Augustus divided the provinces into two classes -- (1) Imperial; (2) Senatorial; retaining in his own hands, for obvious reasons, those provinces where the presence of a large military force was necessary, and committing the peaceful and unarmed provinces to the senate. The New Testament writers invariably designate the governors of senatorial provinces by the correct title anthupatoi, proconsuls.
For the governor of an imperial province, properly styled "legatus Caesaris," the word hegemon (governor) is used in the New Testament. The provinces were heavily taxed for the benefit of Rome and her citizens. They are said to have been better governed under the empire than under the commonwealth, and those of the emperor better than those of the senate.
4. The condition of the Roman empire at the time when Christianity appeared has often been dwelt upon as affording obvious illustrations of St. Paul's expression that the "fullness of time had come."
The general peace within the limits of the empire the formation of military roads, the suppression of piracy, the march of the legions, the voyages of the corn fleets, the general in crease of traffic, the spread of the Latin language in the West as Greek had already spread in the East, the external unity of the empire, offered facilities hitherto unknown for the spread of a world-wide religion. The tendency, too, of despotism like that of the Roman empire to reduce all its subjects to a dead level was a powerful instrument in breaking down the pride of privileged races and national religious, and familiarizing men with the truth that "God had made of one blood all nations on the face of the earth."
Put still more striking than this outward preparation for the diffusion of the gospel was the appearance of a deep and wide-spread corruption, which seemed to defy any human remedy.