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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Rome, Romans

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ROME, ROMANS.—Though the name ‘Romans’ appears only once in the Gospels (John 11:48), if we except the adverb Ῥωμαιστί (John 19:20), which is translation ‘in Latin’ by Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 , Rome and the Romans are a very real presence in the Gospel narratives, forming a sort of background to the action of the leading figures. The influence of the world-power is shown by the references to the Emperor (Matthew 22:17, Mark 12:14, Luke 2:1; Luke 3:1; Luke 20:22; Luke 23:2, John 19:12), the governor Pontius Pilate (see Pilate), the tax-gatherers (Matthew 5:46 etc.), the centurions (Mark 15:39, Luke 7:2 etc.), and the soldiers (Matthew 27:27 etc.). The Gospels testify to the ultra-national feeling of those Jews who were antagonistic to the Roman power, and illustrate the hatred and contempt felt for those of their countrymen—the tax-gatherers, for example—who took employment from the government. The more intellectually enlightened among the Jews—the Sadducees, for instance—welcomed the Roman rule as they welcomed the Greek civilization and culture which it brought with it; but the great mass of the people were in a state of unreasoning opposition to it. The disposition of Pilate may be advanced as an excuse for their attitude, but in general it cannot be denied that the Jews did not deserve to retain their former liberty, that they were ungrateful to the Romans for the special privileges conferred on them, and that they forgot the advantages which the powerful protection of Rome and the advancement and security of trade thus accruing brought to them. The student of history will regard the fate which came upon them in a.d. 70, and which is referred to in Luke 21:20 ff., as deserved. The stiffneckedness of the Jews brought upon them a ruin which other subject-races in the Empire had escaped by a wise submission.

The beginnings of Rome are shrouded in obscurity, but the spade has helped to correct and amplify what we learn from history. The city was situated on the left bank of the Tiber, about eighteen miles from its mouth. The original Rome was built only on the Palatine Hill. When the people of Romulus Mere united with the Sabines, the Capitoline Hill, the Forum, and perhaps part of the Quirinal, were added. Mons Cœlius was occupied by Etrusean colonists from the other side of the river, and conquest led to the later inclusion of the Aventine, the Viminal, the Esquiline, and Quirinal Hills, on which early settlements had existed. Tradition has it that one of the kings, named Servius Tullius, built a wall to enclose the now largely extended city. This wall, called the agger, because it was built specially for purposes of defence, remained the wall of Rome till, late in the Empire, in the time of Aurelian (3rd cent. a.d.), a new and extended line of fortifications was built. Outside the Servian wall there was a trench 100 ft. broad and 30 ft. deep. Within this the wall proper was built of large rectangular blocks, and behind this wall there was an embankment 100 ft. wide and 30 ft. high, pierced by the channels of aqueducts. Portions of the wall have been discovered in thirty-seven different places, and it is possible to trace its entire course. Advantage was taken by the engineers of all the natural features, and where these were lacking, as on the northwest, the above plan was followed. Between the Capitoline and the Aventine the river was thought to afford sufficient protection. The whole circuit of the wall was about 5 miles, and it was pierced by 19 gates. Within there was a large area of vacant spaces, which were gradually built on later, and at the beginning of the Empire the city was not only congested with buildings, but large areas without the wall were also covered with houses. In the year b.c. 10, Augustus divided the city into 14 wards (regiones), and these were in their turn subdivided into smaller quarters (vici). Some of the principal buildings must be referred to. The Roman Forum, an open space measuring over 300 ft. in length and about 150 ft. in breadth, was the centre of political, legal, and commercial life. At one end was the rostra or platform, from which speeches were delivered to the public; at the other end were shops. On one side were the Curia or senate-house and the Basilica aemilia, a law-court; along the whole of the other side, with the Sacra Via between, stretched the Basilica Julia, a very large law-court, surrounded by two rows of square columns. Other important buildings in the immediate neighbourhood were the Temple of Janus, the Temple of Caesar, the Arch of Augustus, the Temple of Vesta, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, and the Temple of Saturn, where was the treasury, with the Tabularium (record-office) behind. On the top of the Capitoline Hill was the Capitolium or great temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, and on the Palatine Hill the principal residence of the Emperor, and the Temple of Apollo containing the public libraries, Greek and Latin. In the Imperial period four additional fora were built, devoted entirely to legal, literary, and religious purposes—the Forum Julium begun by Julius Caesar, the Forum Augustum built by Augustus, the Forum Transitorium completed by Nerva, and the Forum Trajani built by Trajan, the most splendid work of Imperial times. Considerations of space will not allow mention of the markets, circuses, theatres, baths, and gardens, which were characteristic features of the city and its life. The great roads which converged at Rome, and the aqueducts, can merely be mentioned. Various estimates of the population of Rome in the time of Christ have been given, ranging from 800,000 to 2,000,000: the latter seems more likely than the former. All nationalities in the Empire were represented, and the slave population was very large.

Only a very brief sketch of the progress of the Romans can be given. Their history is curiously parallel to our own. They were a mixed race, and passed through the three stages, pastoral and agricultural, commercial, and imperial. The kernel of the race was Latin, but there was an early intermixture with Sabines and Etruscans, the latter, according to tradition, emigrants from Lydia, in Asia Minor. The Romans began as one of the members of the Latin league of which, having become presidents, they eventually became masters. After conquering Latium, they were inevitably brought into conflict with the other races of Italy. They rose again after the Gallic invasion and destruction of their city in 390, and by the time their trade interests brought them into conflict with the Carthaginians, about the middle of the 3rd cent. b.c., they were sovereign over most of Italy. The close of that century saw them possessors of Sicily and Sardinia, as well as conquerors over ‘Africa.’ About this time they began to interfere in Eastern politics, and the Macedonian wars and the conflicts which grew out of them resulted in the conquest of Macedonia and Greece in the same year as they finally became masters of ‘Africa.’ Ere this they had become possessed of most of Spain. The extension of Roman territory steadily continued, until in the time of Christ it included, roughly, Europe (except the British Isles, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Russia), the whole of Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, and the north-west of Africa.

The internal history of the Roman people was no less remarkable. Great dangers from within were successfully surmounted. The conflict between the patricians and the dependent class lasted for hundreds of years. At first the Roman State was ruled by a king, with a body of patrician advisers. On the substitution of a dyarchy for a monarchy—a change effected not without difficulty—the new office, called the consulship, tenable for one year, was open only to the patrician class. Even from the earliest times there appears to have been a popular assembly, which played some part in legislation, but to define its powers or to state their exact relation to the powers of the king and senate is impossible. The consuls were elected by the citizen-army, which assembled in classes according to the property qualification of each citizen-soldier. The whole procedure of this assembly was in the hands of its patrician presidents, so that there was more of the semblance than the reality of power. Further, the plebeian had no appeal against the arbitrary authority of a chief magistrate. At the very beginning of the Republic the famous Valerian law was passed, that no magistrate should put a Roman citizen to death unless the sentence had been confirmed by the assembly of citizen-soldiers. This law was always regarded as the great charter of a Roman’s liberties, but at first it was difficult to enforce. The plebeians adopted on more than one occasion the plan of deserting the city for a time, and thus wrung concessions from the unwilling patricians. It was in this way that they succeeded in obtaining magistrates of their own, called tribunes, who were authorized to protect them against the consuls. The development of the powers of this magistracy had more to do with the progress of the Roman democracy than any other factor, and even in the Empire the most important of the Emperor’s statutory powers was his ‘tribunician authority.’ The tribunes convened assemblies of the plebeians, and carried resolutions of importance to that class. The resolutions of this body, which met by tribes, were later on to become the most powerful force in the State, having at a comparatively early period been declared to have the force of laws (b.c. 287). The first plebeian consul was elected in 367, about a century and a half after the traditional date of the establishment of the Republic, and by the end of the fourth century b.c. every office in the State was open to the plebeian class. The plebeians had won all they sought.

The establishment of the equality of the orders was not the establishment of a real democracy. It was the beginning of a new struggle between the governing class, which was mainly plebeian in origin, and the mass of the people. The rapid expansion of the Roman territory, the necessity for the appointment of new magistrates to govern the new countries, and the establishment of a governing class alone possessed of the experience necessary for coping with foreign affairs, tended more and more to withdraw the real power from the popular assemblies and to concentrate it in the hands of the senate. By the theory of the constitution the popular assemblies had all the power, but in practice, between the middle of the 3rd and the beginning of the 1st cent. b.c., the senate was all-powerful. Circumstances also produced great distress among the people in general. In the absence of the farmer, serving in the army abroad, his farm was neglected, and trouble came upon him and his household. He had to borrow money, which in many cases he was unable to repay. His acres were bought by the rich, who worked them with slave labour, which was cheap owing to the enormous influx of captives seized in war. The small landholder disappeared, to join the hungry proletariat in Rome; and Italy became a country of large estates, which, in the words of Pliny, wrought her ruin. The attempts made by the Gracchi (b.c. 133–122) to redress this state of matters were rewarded with assassination. Periodically, to the end of the Republic, agrarian laws were brought forward, but were unable to check the evil. Even under the Empire it was only partially checked, and a large part of the Roman population was fed by the Emperors.

A Roman ‘province’ consisted of the sphere of duty of a magistrate, and the word had not primarily a territorial application. The inhabitants were disarmed and taxed. The main lines under which a province was to be governed were set forth in a special law, generally drawn up by the senate. This law always took account of local conditions, such as the form of government already in existence before annexation, and the favour shown to Rome by particular cities. In some provinces certain States were free, such as Athens in the province of Achaia. It was the custom to send a body of commissioners to start the new constitution on its way. Some of these constitutions were modified as time went on, but others which had been established in Republican times were found still existing in Imperial times. Much was left to governors in the time of the Republic. Cruelty and rapacity were very common, but incompetence was unknown. The provincials could hardly get redress for injuries inflicted on them in Republican times. All the eloquence of a Cicero, engaged to plead the cause of the province of Sicily, availed only to remove Verres, the cause of the evil; the evil was not healed.

During the last century of the Republic, Rome and Italy were torn by a long succession of ruinous civil wars. It said much for the machinery of the government that foreign enemies did not imperil its very existence. There was a longing among all the better citizens for an era of peace and prosperity, and it had become increasingly clear that this goal could be reached only under an Imperial rule. The need of the time was satisfied by Augustus, who ruled as autocrat under constitutional forms. The appearance of a republic was retained, but the reality was gone, and the appearance itself gradually disappeared also. For the city the Empire was a time of luxury and idleness, but the provinces entered upon an era of progressive prosperity. The Emperor was responsible for the government of all provinces where an army was necessary, and governed these by paid deputies of his own. The older and more settled provinces were governed by officials appointed by the senate, but the Emperor had his financial interests looked after by procurators of his own even in these. The provinces were now much more protected against the rapacity and cruelty of governors. The Emperors themselves stood for just as well as efficient administration, and most of them gave a noble example by strenuous devotion to administrative business.

The resident Romans in any province consisted of (1) the officials connected with the government, who were generally changed annually; (2) members of the great financial companies, and lesser business men, whose interests kept them there,—the publicans of the Gospels were agents of the former; (3) citizens of coloniae (or military settlements), which were really parts of Rome itself set down in the provinces; (4) soldiers of the garrison and their officers. These formed the aristocracy of any city in which they lived. A fifth class of Roman citizens might be made out of those natives of the province who, for services rendered to the State, were individually gifted with the citizenship. It was a great honour, which was not conferred on all the inhabitants of the Empire till a.d. 212.

The Romans have left a great legacy to the world. As administrators, lawyers, soldiers, engineers, architects, and builders, they have never been surpassed. In literature they depended mainly on the Greeks, but they claimed that satire was a native product. So with sculpture, music, painting, and medicine. In the arts they never attained more than a respectable standard, by imitating the Greeks, who could turn their hands to anything.

Literature.—For an account of Rome itself, nothing surpasses the various works of R. Lanciani (all published by Macmillan): Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries, Pagan and Christian Rome, The Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome, The Destruction of Ancient Rome, and New Tales of Old Rome,—see also his chapters in W. Ramsay, A Manual of Roman Antiquities15 [Note: 5 designates the particular edition of the work referred] (London, 1894); three excellent Maps, with Key, are in II. Kiepert and Ch. Huelsen, Formae Urbis Romae Antiquae: accedit nomenclator topographicus (Berlin, 1896). For the Forum, see Ch. Huelsen, The Roman Forum: its History and its Monuments (Rome, 1906). For the general history, Th. Mommsen, The History of Rome, 5 vols. (London; Macmillan) [the Republic], The History of the Roman Provinces, 2 vols, [one aspect of Imperial history]; H. F. Pelham, Outlines of Roman History (London, 1893, 4th edition, 1905), a masterly work; J. B. Bury, A History of the Roman Empire from, its Foundation to the Death of Marcus Aurelius (London, 1893, 1896, and later). On the political life, A. H. J. Greenidge, Roman Public Life (London, 1901). On the literature, W. S. Teuffel, History of Roman Literature, 2 vols. (London, 1891–92); and esp. M. Schanz, Geschichte der Romischen Litteratur, four parts (second half of part 4 to complete the work, as yet unpublished), (München; first three parts in second edition: publication began 1892). The above list constitutes only a small selection of the very best works on what appear to be the more important topics.

Alex, Souter.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Rome, Romans'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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