Category Archives: Western Civilization

A Constantinople song not by They Might Be Giants or The Four Lads

A little side-post—Byzantium was a city in the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Constantine I made Byzantium the empire’s eastern capital, and so the citizens started calling it Constantinople—Constantine’s city (poli is Greek for city).

Here’s British singer/songwriter Leslie Sarony to help you remember how to spell it. Feel free to sing along.

You got some change coming

It may have been time-consuming to send a letter across the Roman Empire (especially by today’s standards), but the Christians spread their new religion fairly quickly. You can read in The Acts of The Apostles how Christians traveled from town to town, telling people about the Gospel. Roman roads went everywhere and were well-maintained. The Roman army kept the roads safe. Roman soldiers who’d adopted Christianity spread the Word to far-flung regions of the empire where they were garrisoned.

In earlier posts I talked about how Christians were persecuted when they were a religious minority. Emperor Constantine turned that around when he became a Christian himself and issued the Edict of Milan, which made it legal for Romans to practice whatever religion they chose.

Christians learned how to build their religion mostly thanks to letters from Saint Paul. Saint Paul was a missionary who organized Christian thought. His letters are in the New Testament of the Bible. There were still issues to iron out, so in ad 325, Constantine got all the Christian leaders together in the Anatolian town of Nicaea to agree on what Christians believe. They wrote the Nicene Creed, which Christians still recite today (you can find it in the back of your gray hymnal).

Finally, in ad 380, Emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

I spent a few posts here showing you how Christianity grew within the Roman Empire; then became the official religion; the empire split into eastern and western halves; and each half developed its own culture. I wrote earlier how the Torah (the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament) changed the way people thought about time: as a line, not a circle.

Okay—what happens next?

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Christianity In The Roman Empire


https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/ancient-medieval/christianity/a/roman-culture
https://www.britannica.com/event/First-Council-of-Nicaea-325

How big was it?

The Roman Empire was so big, its belly-button had an echo.

As time went by, the Roman Empire grew bigger and bigger. How big? When it sat around the Mediterranean Sea, it SAT AROUND the Mediterranean Sea. It extended north into the British Isles; west as far as the coast of Spain; south to include Egypt and east as far as Mesopotamia. The space it took up was 2.2 million square miles. One hundred and twenty million people lived in the Roman Empire.

That’s huge. There weren’t cell phones, tv or radio for one end of the empire to instantly communicate with the other. You could send a letter, which had to be carried by someone walking or riding a horse. Managing such a big area—especially guarding the borders from Rome’s enemies—was really difficult. There were roads and bridges and waterways that needed to be built and maintained. It was becoming too much of a headache for just one emperor.

The Romans tried having more than one emperor at the same time, which sorta kinda worked for a while. By ad 285 the Emperor Diocletian decided it was too big and split the empire into two halves. The city of Rome continued to be the capital of the western half. Byzantium became the capital of the eastern half. Together they were still called The Roman Empire. Separately each half began to take on a distinct and different character.

https://www.ancient.eu/Western_Roman_Empire/
https://www.quora.com/How-big-was-the-Roman-Empire
http://reifshistoryclasses.weebly.com/the-beginning-of-the-byzantine-empire-map-activity.html

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Constantine dreams

Persecution means to target and punish a particular person or group of people. Christians who lived in the Roman Empire suffered persecution. They weren’t allowed to worship God and were arrested and punished for not worshiping the Roman gods. Yet despite being persecuted, the followers of Christ grew in number. You can grab a bible and read all about it in The Acts of the Apostles and Saint Paul’s letters (in the New Testament).

For the Christians, a big change happened when Emperor Constantine was about to fight the Battle of Milvian Bridge in ad 312. This battle was part of a civil war—Romans fighting Romans. Constantine had been a worshiper of Apollo, the Sun god. The night before the big battle, Constantine had a dream. In his dream, he saw the sun (Apollo’s symbol)—but with a cross in front, blotting it out. Beneath the cross a Latin inscription read, “In hoc signo vinces*”—“Under this sign, you will win.” Early the next morning, Constantine ordered his troops to paint crosses on their shields. Constantine won the battle and became the sole emperor of Rome. Out of gratitude he became a Christian and issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which allowed everyone in the empire to follow whatever religion they chose without being persecuted.

The Battle o the Milvian bridge seems ideal for a rousing climactic scene in a sword & sandals movie—the hopeless odds, the clever general, a lightning strike at the enemy’s vulnerable spot, the victory as the enemy retreats in confusion. You can read about it here.

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http://www.ushistory.org/civ/6f.asp

The Growth of Christianity in the Roman Empire


https://www.britannica.com/topic/Battle-of-the-Milvian-Bridge

*EEN HOKE SEEN-yo WEEN-kays, for you pronunciation purists.

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?

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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.

Judea, 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

Long time ago in Bethlehem

The custom of naming years after whoever wore the crown lasted well into the time of the Roman Empire.

Two thousand and some years ago, a baby was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea—in the country we now call Israel. The baby was Jesus, son of Mary, the Holy Spirit in human form. He would grow up to begin a ministry that led to His crucifixion and resurrection—in order to save all of humankind. Jesus is the Redeemer; the Christos in Greek; the Mashiach in Hebrew.

The Christian evangelist Luke wrote about the Nativity before there were numbered years. How could he put a date on Jesus’ birth? Here’s how: Luke tells us that Jesus was born while Augustus was emperor of Rome and Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Luke knew his readers would remember when those guys were in charge and place Jesus’ birth in that time.

1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In fact, it would be 5 more centuries before someone thought of numbering the years.

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

https://biblehub.com/library/ramsay/was_christ_born_in_bethlehem/chapter_11_quirinius_the_governor.htm

The ancient cheeks

In the ancient world there wasn’t a numbering of years as we have today. People would remember years or events by who was king at the time. For the ancient Greeks time was a cycle, so they didn’t think of time as a progression of numbered years, as we do. The Greeks of each city-state named the years after whoever was their archon (AR-kon—ruler or king) at the time. Later on the Greeks numbered years by a 4-year cycle, called an olympiad. The Olympic games were held every fourth year, then the cycle started over.

For what it’s worth, the Olympic athletes supposedly competed in the nude. The tradition may have begun when one runner somehow lost his gym shorts during a race. Okay, you guys. No. I’m absolutely not going to draw a cartoon of naked Greek runners. What a buncha sickos!

Well, okay. Maybe one cartoon.

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Bend me your years

Rome’s second king, Numa Pompilius, felt kind of bad about those unnamed extra winter days, so he came up with two new months: Januarius and Februarius. King Numa tacked his new months onto the beginning of the year, which bumped all the other months back. That wasn’t such a big deal for the first four months, which were named for gods (Mars, Aphrodite, Maia, Juno)—but it’s darned awkward for the other months, which were named for their numbered positions in the year. ‘September’ means ‘seventh month’ but now it’s the ninth. October means eighth, but it’s the tenth. November means ninth, but it’s the eleventh. December means tenth, but it’s the twelfth.

The calendar year still kept coming up 10 days too short, so every 2-3 years a leap month—Intercalaris—was added.

In 45 bc, Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar by uncoupling it from the Moon—no more figuring out lunar cycles. He must have decided that having a set number of days in a year—365—meant fewer headaches when running something as big as the Roman Empire. Julius ditched the leap month. But because a year is actually 365 days and 6 hours, he added an extra day (February 29) every fourth year—the Leap Year.

What about Quintilis and Sextilis? Quintilis (means ‘fifth month,’ now it’s the seventh) was renamed July for Julius Caesar and Sextilis (means ‘sixth month,’ now it’s the eighth) was renamed August for Caesar Augustus (Julius’ nephew and Rome’s first emperor).

This was the Julian Calendar. It’s more or less the same one we use today.

Julius Caesar reforming the calendar.

Romulus’ days were numbered

Romulus’ 10-month calendar featured adorable wolf puppies on every slab.

The original Roman calendar was invented by Romulus, the first king of Rome, around 753 bc. The calendar started the year in March (Martius) and consisted of 10 months, with 6 months of 30 days and 4 months of 31 days. The winter season didn’t get any months with names, so the calendar year only lasted 304 days with 61 extra days in the winter. Everybody stayed home during those 61 days and looked at seed catalogues.

Here are the months of Romulus’ calendar:

Martius – 31 Days
Aprilis – 30 Days
Maius – 31 Days
Junius – 30 Days
Quintilis – 31 Days
Sextilis – 30 Days
September – 30 Days
October – 31 Days
November – 30 Days
December – 30 Days

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