Christian Persecution During the Roman Empire
The first three centuries of Christianity were characterized with a lot of killings from the Roman empires. The persecutions started during the reign of Nero and continued through the years until the Roman Empire became a Christian nation following Constantine’s rule. The persecutions were aimed at killing the religion but it only grew stronger. The reason identified for the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire was that they used religion for spiritual satisfaction. This was contrary to state expectations that religion was to be used only for unification and for state growth. Other factors that led to persecutions included consideration of laws rather than constant focus on wealth acquisition; ignorance of customs such as offering sacrifices to idols and Oedipodean intercourse during Christian meetings. It was believed that the Christians had sexual relations among themselves during their meetings. The Christian way of kissing was criticized as being sexual when the laws forbade sexual relations among those who are closely related (Wagemaker 37). Additionally, Christians could also be persecuted when natural disasters struck the land, with the accusation that they caused the disasters.
Jesus was born in Palestine after the establishment of the Roman Empire by Augustus. However, the reigns that followed Augustus failed to provide an environment that favored the growth of the Christian religion. The Roman Empire was facing serious military and administrative problems yet the Christian religion continued to proliferate, infiltrating the empire’s administrative system (Novak 139). The persecutions began under Nero following a fire that consumed much of Rome in six days and which was blamed on him. Nero argued that the fire was started by Christians and thus persecuted them. Following the reign of Nero, Domitian was the next emperor and he continued the persecutions as a matter of personal vendetta rather than state issues. During his reign, Domitian claimed the name “Lord and God” and commanded everyone to worship him.
The persecution of Christians continued in varying intensities through the reigns of Hadrian, Septimus Severus and Maximinus the Thracian. During the reign of Severus, Christians were persecuted solely as a result of their names as well as simply by proclaiming that one was a Christian. Several key practices were used in persecution including piercing with hot objects and beheading. In 249AD, the persecutions became worse since pagan mobs began to terrorize Christians. As such, the Christians had no freedom to walk on the streets of Rome. This was in the reign of Decius. The persecutions worsened during the period between 253 AD and 257 AD under the rein of Valerian and reduced during the reign of Diocletian and Miximian from 286 AD (Hinson 95). Diocletian even supported those who intended to run for political office. This was however reversed when he left office to his successor Galerius.
Since Galerius had a strong dislike for Christians, he continued with the persecutions, and Christians had the worst time for seven years until Galerius was affected with cancer. Following his reign, the subsequent leaders tolerated the Christians, asking them to pray for the state and once more the Christians enjoyed peace. During the periods of persecution, most Christians preferred to die rather than denounce their faith. Those who died in this manner were referred to as martyrs. The church on the other hand merely responded to the Christians and their families by writing apology letters.
Hinson, E G. The Church Triumphant: A History of Christianity Up to 1300. Macon, Ga: Mercer Univ. Press, 1995. Print.
Novak, Ralph M. Christianity and the Roman Empire: Background Texts. London: Continuum International Pub. Group, 2001. Internet resource.
Wagemakers, Bart. “Incest, Infanticide, and Cannibalism: Anti-Christian Imputations in the Roman Empire.” Greece & Rome 57.2 (2010): 337-54. ProQuest. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.
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