When the Five Good Emperors of the Roman Empire concluded their reign in the 1800’s, the strength of the empire deteriorated. However, the empire did not collapse. When Diocletian rose to power, Rome entered into a new phase, a phase of rejuvenation. In this phase, the empire was divided into two and Diocletian ‘Orientalized’ the empire. He did this by assuming Near Eastern styles where he ruled as Dominus (lord) from Nicomedia. In this paper, I will revise the transformation of Rome by tracing the empire’s early history through the emergence and acceptance of Christianity in the state and the rise of Rome from captivity.
Christianity in early Rome
In early Rome, even during the reign of the five good emperors and Diocletian, Christianity was a serious criminal offence that would lead to a disgraced punishment and a painful death. This is because, Christians refused to esteem the emperor as the personification of the Rome gods and they only worshipped the Heavenly God. In addition, the Christians were hell-bent in ignoring the roman laws as they embraced the Christian law believing that Jesus was the only son of God who was sent to earth to rescue humanity from the clutches of hell. They believed that Jesus made a covenant with God who gave him rules that everyone should follow if they want to get eternal life.
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An example of a captured Christian was Paul. Paul, upon capture was brought before a judge Felix for judgment of is innocence and guilt. Since he was captured for being a Christian, he brought forth his argument to defend himself. He said that when he left for Jerusalem to pray, he did so in peace and did not harm anyone. He says that though Christians are referred to as a sect, they worshipped Him peacefully in temples and synagogues and had hope in an almighty God, and believed that everything lay down according to the law written in the prophets. He continued to say that he believed in resurrection of the righteous and the sinful when the Lord savior comes back. He says that for him to be righteous, he believes that he has to have a clear conscience toward God and all people; this implied that for one to be a Christian, he had to not only respect the Lord but had to also be good to humans and uphold the rule of law. The presiding Judge, Felix, gave him some freedom of getting visits from his friends and family but left he in prions for more than two years even after another judge took over. After years of trial, Paul was beheaded under the leadership of Nero. Unlike Jesus (who was crucified for being a Christian without trial in Rome because he was a noncitizen), Paul and any other Christian who were citizens of Rome had to undergo a trial before their verdict is given.
Christianity and the Roman State
In Rome, Judaism was a legally recognized religion while Christianity was an upstart religion that raised suspicion. However, by the 2 nd century, the roman officials had a tolerance for Christianity except when magistrates wanted to punish Christians for flouting the authorities. By the 3 rd century, a Roman emperor, Constantine had converted to Christianity and had enticed all his subjects to also convert. How did this happen?
When Constantine took over the leadership of the empire, he followed on the footsteps of Diocletian with the exception of the territory’s religion. Constantine changed his religion to Christianity and made Christianity the principal religion of the Roman Empire. The conversion of Christianity to be the key religion of the empire- which was neither roman nor medieval- ushered in the age of Late Antiquity. The embrace of Christianity as a state’s religion coincided with the roman’s empire most dramatic period of growth with lots of challenges.
A Senator Defends the Traditional Religion of Rome
In the fourth century, extreme doctrinal disputes arose over the interpretation of the New Testament. In 325, at the council of Nicaea, Christian dogma was established as Arianism was denounced as heresy. This led to a fixed set of beliefs that all Christians had to ascribe and follow to the latter. In the meantime, the doctrine of the Perrine succession specified that the pope has to be considered as the bishop of Rome. This hence lent a lot of organizational strength to the church.
When the monastic movement appeared, it attracted a lot of men at first and eventually women joined the movement thus living the life of a religious community. St. Basil and St. Benedict put a lot of effort to achieve the rule for the monastic orders. This insured their existence and prominence in the medieval society. During this period of the Late Antiquity, a religion of comfort was needed and thus it was during period that the last vestiges of the Roman Empire nearly disappeared. Alaric, a German barbarian, in 410 wanted to rule Rome but was not able to use military power so instead of being the conqueror of Rome, he became its destroyer. After prolonged siege, his army finally captured and sacked the city.
The Impact of the Fifth Century Migrations
Small groups moved through Rome’s core western provinces in the fifth century. However, while these small groups of immigrants moved to the western fronts, the strongest legions from the western provinces were withdrawn and dispatched to protect the richer eastern provinces. The immigrants lived with ‘barbarians’ for so long that there was no difference between the two in the archeological evidence. Over the years, the economy of the eastern Roman Empire was thriving thus making it easy for the leaders to equip and maintain a strong fighting force. This enabled Alaric to bride or buy off his potential invaders so that they can shift their attention to where he deems fit. Because of the flourishing economy and the benefits that it brought along, the eastern empire flourished while the western empire stumbled.
However, after the fifth century immigrations, the Goths sacked Rome and therefore, the revenues reduced tremendously. This reduction was further aggravated by the attacks from Gaul and Hispania. The immigrants began to create their own kingdoms by the 420s and in 439; the richest of western provinces had majorly collapsed. Because of this, the overall Roman life changed and the new barbarians took control. As much as Roman bureaucrats managed to survive, the proceedings from the taxes all went to either the new barbarians or the Christian bishops. Although the Goth took control of the Romans, the Romans’ culture and their values did not change.
The Shaping of a New Worldview
Due to attacks on the empire from several external forces, the empire began to break from different sides and thus a new age was beginning. This age was spearheaded by Jerome (340-420), Ambrose (340-397) and Augustine (354-430). The great church fathers, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine took the great task of setting Christianity on a firm philosophical basis and establishing a clear theology. They translated the Bible into a language that Romans were familiar with and encourage them to familiarize themselves with classical tradition of learning. Through this they were able to merge the Greek and Christian ideas to create a suitable Rome.
With the fall and rise of the Roman Empire, Christianity shifted from being an illegal sect to the imperial institution. The orthodoxy, deviation and imperial authority of Christianity was defined and set to avoid squabbles between authorities. The romans embraced the religion and stood firm to their culture and beliefs that even their enemies and the immigrants were unable to change them; in fact, they were able to assimilate them. Through all these, the Roman Empire might have lost a great deal but in the end got something even greater, unity.
Coffin, Cole, Stacy and Symes. 2006. The Transformation of Rome . Western Civilization. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.7 (1): 155- 163