18 Reasons Why Being a Christian in Roman Times Was So Difficult

SharePinEmailChristianity is still the dominant religion in the United States with over two-thirds of American adults identifying as Christian. The freedoms that Christians enjoy today were not always present, particularly for the early Christians who faced endless persecution from the Roman authorities. Here are 18 facts you need to know about life as a Christian…

Christianity is still the dominant religion in the United States with over two-thirds of American adults identifying as Christian. The freedoms that Christians enjoy today were not always present, particularly for the early Christians who faced endless persecution from the Roman authorities. Here are 18 facts you need to know about life as a Christian in the Roman era.

Jewish Heretics

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The very first followers of Christianity were considered a sect of Judaism. The Romans were not particularly concerned with this emerging group during this period. It was the wider community of Jews who viewed the early Christians as heretics, persecuting followers and viewing them as deviating from traditional Judaism.

Roman Dissent

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As the years progressed, Christianity moved away from Judaism to become a separate entity. The Roman state began to view Christianity as a threat as the Christians refused to worship Roman gods. Christians showed dissent and were thought to be a threat to the order of the Roman Empire.

Emperor Nero

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At around 64 AD, Emperor Nero led the persecution of Christians that would become notorious for its brutality. The Great Fire of Rome had occurred, causing devastation to the Roman community. Over 70% of the city was destroyed by the fire, which Emperor Nero blamed on the Christians, prompting a revolt against them.

Nero’s Scapegoat

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Some experts think that Emperor Nero scapegoated Christians, blaming them without evidence. Some theories suggest that Nero did so to shift the blame from himself. Other experts believe that Nero started the fire to clear land for his Domus Aurea palatial complex and thus orchestrated the entire event, including the consequent persecution of Christians.

Human Torches

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One of the most brutal persecutions of Christians was the use of human torches, demonstrating Nero’s utter contempt and savagery. A Christian would be covered in a flammable material and then set alight. Nero used these “human torches” to light up his garden at night, particularly during parties and festivals. Nero also made a public spectacle of these executions, displaying the “human torches” as entertainment.

Domitian’s Reign

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During the reign of Emperor Domitian between 81-96 AD, the persecution of Christians continued. Some experts argue that Christians were not solely targeted during this period as any known dissenter to the Empire was persecuted.

Trajan’s Rule

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In the later rule of Emperor Trajan during 98-117 AD, Christians were punished if they openly practiced their religion and did not recant their stance when accused.

Emperor Decius

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During the later reigns of Roman Emperors, Christians faced hardships and difficulties. The reign of Emperor Decius during 249-251 AD required every citizen of the Empire to make a religious sacrifice to the Roman Gods and Emperor Decius. Those who refused were executed or placed in prison. Christians had to refuse this act due to their own religious beliefs.

Valerian’s Reign

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In the years between 253 and 260 AD, Emperor Valerian escalated his persecution of Christians, targeting Christian leaders in particular. There was also a purge of the property and possessions of Christians.

The Great Persecution

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The Great Persecution occurred under the rule of Emperor Diocletian between 284-305 AD. Many historians argue that this era was the worst period of the persecution of Christians in Roman times. Christians were forced to comply with the practices of the Roman religion. Dissenters faced execution, torture, or imprisonment, with many churches and religious texts destroyed in the process.

Brief Intolerance

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Several years of relief for Christians began in 260 AD under the leadership of Emperor Gallienus. He fostered an attitude of tolerance, putting a stop to the persecution of Christians during this period.

The Edict of Milan

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A turning point in the treatment of Christians during the Roman era was marked by the Edict of Milan. Produced in 313 AD under the leadership of Constantine the Great, Christians were granted tolerance. Constantine the Great was Emperor of the Roman Empire between 306-337 AD.

Religious Conversion

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Constantine converted to Christianity during his reign in Rome. This began the ultimate conversion of the Roman state to Christianity, completed under the rule of Emperor Theodosius in 380 AD.

The Battle of Milvian Bridge

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The reason for Constantine’s conversion to Christianity is said to be the Battle of Milvian Bridge. During the battle, Constantine had a vision in which he saw a cross along with the words “In hoc signo vinces”. This quote translates as “In this sign, you will conquer”.

Council of Nicaea

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The First Council of Nicaea was convened in 325 AD. The purpose of this gathering was to discuss theological disputes, encourage unity across the Christian church, and create a universal doctrine of Christianity.

Theodosius I

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The ascension of Theodosius I in 380 AD witnessed the final conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity. Other religions, such as paganism, became ostracized and suppressed to the benefit of the Christian faith.

The Edict of Thessalonica 

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The Edict of Thessalonica was the document that laid down the foundations for Christianity to be adopted as the official religion of the Roman state. Officially, Nicene Christianity was the religion of the Roman Empire, adhering to the bishops of Rome and Alexandria. One doctrine was created to dispel the rise of Arianism which denied Jesus Christ’s divinity. Many experts think this is the groundwork for the establishment of Christianity as we know it today, linking the Church and the Roman state which influenced Europe for centuries to come.

The Nicene Creed

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A lasting legacy of the Roman Empire’s impact on Christianity is the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed became a fundamental belief that the many denominations of Christianity still follow today, such as Catholicism. This defines the Holy Trinity which dictates that Christians believe in the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit. The Edict of Thessalonica stated that followers who believed in the Nicene Creed were “Catholic Christians”. Non-believers of the creed were deemed to be heretics, and they faced penalties and were denied legal status.

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