Attention!
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Roman Empire

Additional Links

Pompey's lieutenant, M. Aemilius Scaurus, 64 B.C., interfered in the contest between Aristobulus and Aretas king of Arabia Petraea, who supported Hyrcanus, whom Aristobulus had driven from the high priesthood. Next year Pompey himself took Jerusalem (Josephus, Ant. 14:2-4; B. J. 1:6, section 7). Thenceforward Judaea was under Rome. Hyrcanus was titular sovereign and high priest, subject to his minister Antipater, the partisan of Rome. Antipater's son, Herod the Great, was made king by Antony, 40 B.C., and confirmed by Augustus 30 B.C. (Josephus, Ant. 14:14; 15:6). Roman soldiers were quartered at Jerusalem in Herod's time to maintain his authority (Ant. 15:3, section 7). Rome exacted tribute and an oath of allegiance to the emperor as well as to Herod (Ant. 17:2, section 2). On Archelaus' banishment, A.D. 6, Judaea became an appendage of Syria, governed by a Roman procurator residing at Caesarea. Galilee was still under the Herod's and other princes whose dominions and titles successive emperors changed from time to time.

In the New Testament we find such notices of Roman dominion as the Jews recognizing Caesar as sole king (John 19:15); Cyrenius "governor of Syria" (Luke 2:2); Pontius Pilate, Felix, and Festus, "governors," i.e. procurators of Judaea; the "tetrarchs" Herod, Philip, and Lysanias (Luke 3:1); "king Agrippa" (Acts 25:13); Roman soldiers, legions, centurions, publicans; "tribute money" (Matthew 22:19); the "taxing of the whole world" (Luke 2:1); Italian and Augustan cohorts (Acts 10:1; Acts 27:1); an "appeal to Caesar" (Acts 25:11). Three Roman emperors are named; Augustus, Tiberius (Luke 2:1; Luke 3:1), and Claudius (Acts 11:28; Acts 18:2). Nero is alluded to as "Augustus" and "Caesar" (Acts 25:10-11-21-25-26; Philippians 4:22), and "my lord" (compare also 1 Peter 2:17; Romans 13:1). For notices of Rome's administration and magistrates in the provinces, see Romans 13:7; Romans 18:12; Romans 16:12-35; Romans 16:38; Romans 19:38.

In theory at first Augustus was neither king nor dictator, but simply first citizen, "prince," or chief member of the senate (Tacitus, Ann. 1:9). The various prerogatives of the old magistracies, which nominally were retained, were conferred on Augustus. Others bore the chief official titles, while he really controlled every department. As "emperor" (imperato r) he had full military authority over the army; Julius Caesar changed this title (commander in chief) into a permanent one, implying paramount military authority over the state. The real basis of the emperor's power thus was the support of the army. "Caesar" was the family name, "Augustus" the sacred name of majesty. The Romans shrank at first from designating him by a despotic title; but servility increased as the empire progressed. "My lord" (ho kurios , "dominus," in Acts 25:26) marks the downward tendency in Nero's time as contrasted with Augustus', for the latter and Nero refused the title. Caligula first took it. The empire, though nominally elective (Tacitus, Ann. 13:4), became hereditary or passed by adoption (Tacitus, History i. 15).

Each emperor in beginning his reign bribed the army by donatives, and fed and amused the mob in Rome at the cost of the provinces. So long as the army and mob were not touched, Caligula, Nero, and Domitian could shed the noblest blood with impunity. John the Baptist implies that the soldiers' characteristic sins were violence, false accusation, and discontented greed (Luke 3:14). The full danger of military government became apparent first at the death of Pertinax, A.D. 193. The bounds of the Roman empire were the Atlantic on the W.; the Euphrates on the E.; the African deserts, the Nile cataracts, and the Arabian deserts on the S.; the British Channel, the Rhine, the Danube, and the Black Sea on the N. Claudius added Britain, and Trajan Dacia, to the empire. Germany on the N. and Parthia on the E. were the only independent powers. Gibbon guesses the population of the empire in the time of the emperor Claudius at 120 million. An army of 25 legions, and the Praetorian guards (10,000) and cohorts in the capital, in all about 170,000 men, controlled this population.

The auxiliaries were about as many more (Tacitus, Ann. 4:5). In the New Testament the political condition of the provincial cities varies. The free cities were governed by their own magistrates, and were exempt from Roman garrisoning; as Tarsus, Antioch in Syria, Athens, Ephesus, Thessalonica. Politarchs ("rulers of the city") and the demos ("people") are mentioned at Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-8); the "town clerk" (grammateus ) and "assembly" at Ephesus (Acts 19:35-39); "colonies" also, as Philippi, i.e. communities of Roman citizens, as it were a miniature Rome transplanted into another land (Acts 16:12-21; Acts 16:35). So Corinth, Troas, and the Pisidian Antioch. The magistrates bore the Roman designation "praetors " (Greek strategoi ), and were attended by "lictors " (Greek rabdouchoi , "serjeants".) (On the PROVINCES, see PROCURATOR, PROCONSUL.)

Roman revenue was mainly drawn from the provinces by a "direct tax" (kensos , footos; Matthew 22:17; Luke 20:22), from five to seven per cent on the produce of the soil. "Indirect taxes" (tete; vectigalia ) also were heavy. By public gratuities to thousands of idle citizens, and pay to the army, Augustus found the revenue so impaired that he was under the necessity of making the valuation of the property of the empire alluded to in Luke 2:1. (See CENSUS; CYRENIUS; PUBLICANS (portitores ), underlings of the Roman knights.) The state of the Roman empire shows that "the fullness of the time was come" (Galatians 4:4) when Jesus came. The universal peace within the empire, so that Janus' temple was shut; the military roads constructed; piracy put clown; commerce uniting the various lands; Latin spread in the West as Greek in the East: these causes all combined in God's providential arrangements to prepare for a world-wide religion.

Privileged races and national religions were now blended in one rarity under one imperial ruler; so that men were the more ready to admit the truth that "God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts 17:24; Acts 17:26). Under all the outward appearance of unity, peace, and prosperity, moral death and stagnant corruption prevailed on all sides. There were no hospitals for the sick, no establishments for the relief of the poor, no societies for ameliorating men's condition, no instruction for the lower classes, no antidote to the curse of slavery. Charity and philanthropy were scarcely recognized as duties. Philosophers regarded all religions as equally false, the people all as equally true, magistrates all as equally useful for restraining anarchy.

Christianity came as the life-giving healer to this mass of death; "gradually withdrawing some of all orders, even slaves, out of the vices, ignorance, and misery of that corrupted social system. It was ever instilling humanity, coldly commended by an impotent philosophy, among men and women whose infant ears had been habituated to the shrieks of dying gladiators; it was giving dignity to minds prostrated by years of despotism; it was nurturing purity and modesty, and enshrining the marriage bed in a sanctity long almost lost, and rekindling the domestic affections; substituting a calm and rational faith for worn out superstitions, gently establishing in the soul the sense of immortality." (Milman, Latin Christianity, 1:24, quoted in Smith's Bible Dictionary) Daniel 2; 7 refer to Rome as the fourth kingdom; compare also Deuteronomy 28:49-57; Matthew 24:15; Matthew 24:28.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Roman Empire'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/fbd/r/roman-empire.html. 1949.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z
Prev Entry
Roll