Monthly Archives: August 2019

Those rotten Romans

I’ve been thinking about that last post—about the early Christian martyrs who were executed by being thrown to the lions. And it’s been bothering me.

For an image, I drew a fearsome-looking lion. I had drawn another picture which includes the condemned Christians, but my jokey style made it look like I were laughing at them, so I didn’t post it. The subject is too awful to look at, or draw, directly.

Let’s face it, the Romans built an awe-inspiring civilization—with a flowering of art, literature, architecture—but they were still barbarian enough that they condemned human beings to be torn apart by animals. They even made a show of the awfulness; they held the executions in an arena for entertainment and sold tickets. When you see historic pictures of these executions, the lions are always big and powerful. If you think about it, their keepers must have abused and starved the poor animals so that they’d be crazed enough to attack people.

This is something I didn’t expect to write about for this little history. I thought to trick you into reading my blog by keeping it light-hearted and fun. But, it’s not a bad thing to remind ourselves every so often: humankind is capable of great inhumanity. The Romans could be downright rotten and so can we. The only thing that keeps us from slipping into barbarism is our humanity, our empathy for our fellow creatures. Jesus encouraged His followers to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’

Wouldn’t it have been fantastic if His followers brought the Roman Empire around to that way of thinking?

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Being a Christian in the Roman Empire

Damnatio ad bestias (condemnation to the beasts) was a barbaric way of executing criminals and Christians. Worse, it took place in an arena for public entertainment.

Galilee, where Jesus was born, was part of the Roman Empire. After He was crucified and resurrected, Jesus’ disciples continued His ministry. They told people they met on their travels about Jesus, His life and His message. It wasn’t so easy to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God in an empire whose official religion was polytheistic—Romans worshiped many gods and considered their emperor a god, too. And so the early Christians (Jesus’ followers) were a persecuted religious minority. They started out with a small, devoted membership that grew larger quickly. As the Christian Church grew, the Roman government became uncomfortable with this threat to civil order. Romans who worshiped Jupiter and the other gods looked at Christians with suspicion. Being a Christian back then could get you arrested and put to death.

Nicola Denzey Lewis writes:

The Christian writer Tertullian complained…, “if the Tiber reaches the walls, if the Nile does not rise to water the fields, if there is no rain, or if there is earthquake or famine, if there is plague, the cry at once arises, ‘The Christians to the lions!’”

https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/places/related-articles/christian-martyrdom
http://www.jaysromanhistory.com/romeweb/christns/chrslion.htm