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Roman Empire

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the government of the Romans as conducted by the emperors, of whom Augustus was the first. The history of the Roman Empire, properly so called, extends over a period of rather more than five hundred years, viz. from the battle of Actium, B.C. 31, when Augustus became ruler of the Roman world, to the abdication of Augustulus, A.D. 476. The empire, however, in the sense of the dominion of Rome over a large number of conquered nations, was in full force and had reached wide limits some time before the monarchy of Augustus was established. The notices of Roman histora which occur in the Bible are confined to the last century and a half of the commonwealth and the first century of the imperial monarchy. But in order to appreciate these, some particulars of the condition of the Roman state is necessary. We have not, however, the intention of entering into an account of the rise, progress, state, and decline of the Roman power, but merely to set forth a few of the more essential facts, speaking a little less briefly of the relations formed and sustained between the Romans and the Jews. These, although comparatively late, became eventually important to the last degree. For a description of the capital city, (See ROME).

I. History. The foundations of Rome lie in an obscurity from which the criticism of Niebuhr has done little more than remove the legendary charm. Three tribes, however, according to the oldest account, formed the earliest population namely, the Ramnenses (probably Romanenses, still further abbreviated into Ramnes), the Titienses (shortened into Tities, from Titus Tatius, their head), and the Luceres (probably an Etruscan horde, who migrated to Rome from Solonium, under Lucumo). In order to increase his population, and with a view to that conquest which he afterwards achieved, and which was only a small prelude to the immense dominion subsequently acquired, Romulus opened in Rome an asylum, inviting thereto those who, for whatever cause, fled from the neighboring cities. To Rome accordingly there flocked the discontented, the guilty, the banished, and the aspiring, freemen and slaves. Thus were laid the foundations of the future mistress of the world, according to the ordinary reckoning, B.C. 753, the number of inhabitants at the first not exceeding, it is supposed, four thousand souls. What it arose to in the period of its greatest extent we have not the means of ascertaining. (See below.)

Though the date of the foundation of Rome coincides nearly with the beginning of the reign of Pekah in Israel, it was not till the beginning of the 2d century B.C. that the Romans had leisure to interfere in the affairs of the East. When, however, the power of Carthage had been effectually broken at Zama, B.C. 202, Roman arms and intrigues soon made themselves felt throughout Macedonia, Greece, and Asia Minor. The first historic mention of Rome in the Bible is 1 Maccabees 1:10, where it is stated that there arose "a wicked root, Antiochus, surnamed Epiphanes, son of Antiochus the king, who had been an hostage at Rome." About the year B.C. 161, when Judas Maccabaeus heard of the defeat of Philip, Perseus, and Antiochus, and of the great fame of the Romans, he sent an embassy to them to solicit an alliance, and to obtain protection against the Syrian government (1 Maccabees 8:1 sq.; comp. 2 Maccabees 11:34; Josephus, Ant. 12, 10, 6; Justin, 36, 3).

The ambassadors were graciously received, and Demetrius was ordered to desist from harassing the Jews; but before the answer arrived Judas was slain, having valiantly engaged the whole army of Bacchides sent by Demetrius into Judaea (1 Maccabees 11:1-18; Josephus, Ant. 12, 11, 1). In B.C. 143, Jonathan renewed the alliance with the Romans (1 Maccabees 12:1-4; 1 Maccabees 12:16; Josephus, Ant. 13, 5, 8), the embassy being admitted before the senate (τὸ βουλευτήριον ), and on his death, the same year, his brother Simon, who succeeded him, sent also to Rome to again seek a renewal of friendship. The Romans readily acceded to his request, and the valiant deeds of Simon and his predecessors were engraved on tables of brass. Shortly afterwards, Simon sent Numenius to Rome with a great shield of gold, of a thousand pounds' weight, to confirm the league with them. The senate at once consented to its reestablishment, and recognized him as high priest and prince of Judaea. The tables of brass on which the league was written were set up in the Temple (1 Maccabees 14:17 sq.; Josephus, Ant. 13, 7, 3). Lucius, the consul of the Romans, wrote to several kings and nations requesting them to assist the Jews (1 Maccabees 15:16-23). See Lycus. Hyrcanus, the successor of Maccabeus, again sent (in B.C. 129) an embassy to Rome, which was favorably received, confirming the alliance already concluded (Josephuis, Ant. 13, 9, 2). In the year B.C. 66, Pompey arrived in the East to take command of the Roman armies, and sent his general, Scaurus, to Syria. While at Damascus, the latter received an offer of 400 talents from Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, who were both fighting for the kingdom, each one wishing to be aided. Scaurus accepted the offer of Aristobulus, and ordered Aretas, who was assisting Hyrcanus, to withdraw his forces, or he would be declared an enemy to the Romans (ibid. 14, 2, 3).

The following year Pompey came into Syria, and deprived Antiochus XIII (Asiaticus) of his kingdom, reducing it to a Roman province. Ambassadors were sent to Pompey from the rival princes, and in B.C. 64, when Pompey returned to Damascus from Asia Minor, their respective causes were heard by him. Notwithstanding the prejudices of the people in favor of Aristobulus, Pompey, perceiving the weakness of character and imbecility of Hyrcanus, seemed to incline towards the latter, knowing that it was better to have a weak man under the Roman control. He, however, left the matter undecided, and Aristobulus, seeing that his case was lost, withdrew to make preparations for defense (ibid. 14, 2, 3). Pompey then occupied himself in reducing the forces of Aretas, and afterwards marched against Aristobulus, who fled to Jerusalem. Aristobulus, on his approach, met him, and offered him a large sum of money, and Pompey sent Gabinius to receive it; but on his arrival at Jerusalem he found the gates closed. Aristobulus was then thrown into prison, and Pompey marched to Jerusalem. Hyrcanus opened the gates to him, while the party of Aristobulus, including the priests, shut themselves up in the Temple and withstood a siege of three months. Pompey, observing that the Jews did not work on the seventh day, gained material advantage, and at last took the place by assault, killing, according to Josephus, as many as 12,000 persons, even desecrating the Temple by entering the holy of holies (comp. Tacitus, Hist. 5, 9), though he did not touch any of the treasures. Hyrcanus was then appointed high priest and governor of the country, but was forbidden to wear a diadem (comp. Josephus, Ant. 20, 10). Tribute was also exacted of him, and Pompey took Aristobulus and his two sons, Alexander and Antigonus, prisoners to Rome, whence thev subsequently escaped (ibid. 14, 3, 2; 4, 2; 3, 4; War, 1, 7, 6; Strabo, 16, p. 763).

The restoration of Hyrcanus was, however, merely nominal, as the Idumaean Antipater, an active friend of the Romans, was placed over him as governor of Judaea. "Now began the struggle which was destined to continue with little intermission for nearly two hundred years. It was nourished by feelings of the deadliest animosity on both sides; it was signalized by the most frightful examples of barbarity, in which each of the contending parties strove to outdo the other; but it was directed by a controlling Providence to a beneficial consummation, in the destruction of the Jewish nationality, and the dispersion throughout the world of the Christian communities." (See Merivale, Romans under the Empire [Lond. 1865, 8 vols. 8vo], vol. 21, ch. 29, where the events of the period are admirably summed up). In the year B.C. 57, Alexander, the eldest son of Aristobulus, escaped from Pompey, and took up arms in Judaea. Hyrcanus upon this applied for assistance to Gabinius, the Roman proconsul of Syria, who thereupon sent Mark Antony with a large force into Judaea. Antony, being joined by Antipater with the forces of Hyrcanus, defeated Alexander, and compelled him to fly to Alexandrium. Gabinius soon after arrived, and, through the mediation of the mother of Alexander, made peace with him and allowed him to depart. After these matters were settled, Gabinius went to Jerusalem, and there committed the care of the Temple to Hyrcanus, thus changing the government from a monarchy to an aristocracy. At the same time, he instituted five councils (συνέδρια ) instead of the two sanhedrims which had existed in every city, and he distributed these five among five cities. These were Jerusalem, Gadara, Amathus, Jericho, and Sepphoris, in Galilee (Josephus, Ant. 14, 5, 4). In B.C. 54 Gabinius was superseded in the government of Syria by Crassus, who plundered the Temple of about 10,000 talents, not withstanding that a beam of gold of immense value I had been given him, on condition that he would touch nothing else in the Temple (ibid. 14, 7, 1). All this time Antipater was gaining influence with the Romans; and after the death of Pompey, in B.C. 48, he was very useful to Julius Caesar in his war against Egypt. In return for this, he made Antipater procurator of Judaea, gave him the privilege of a citizen of Rome. and freedom from taxes everywhere.

Hyrcanus also was confirmed in the priesthood and ethnarchy, the claims of Antigonus, the only surviving son of Aristobulus, being set aside, and thus the aristocratical constitution of Gabinius was abolished (ibid. 14). The ascendency and prosperity of Antipater were now insured. At this period he had four sons. Two of them, Phasael and Herod, were holding important posts, the former being governor of Jerusalem, and the latter governor of Galilee. Finally, Antipater's son, Herod the Great, was made king by Antony's interest, B.C. 40, and confirmed in the kingdom by Augustus, B.C. 30 (ibid. 14, 14; 15, 6). The Jews, however, were all this time tributaries of Rome, and their princes in reality were mere Roman procurators. Julius Ceesar is said to have exacted from them a fourth part of their agricultural produce in addition to the tithe paid to Hyrcanus (ibid. 14, 10, 6). Roman soldiers were quartered at Jerusalem in Herod's time to support him in his authority (ibid. 15, 3, 7). Tribute was paid to Rome, and an oath of allegiance to the emperor as well as to Herod appears to have been taken by the people (ibid. 17,2, 2). On the banishment of Archelaus, A.D. 6, Judsea became a mere appendage of the province of Syria, and was governed by a Roman procurator, who resided at Cesarea. Galilee and the adjoining districts were still left under the government of Herod's sons and other petty princes, whose dominions and titles were changed from time to time by successive emperors. (See HEROD).

The Jewish people, being at last worn out with the disputes and cruelties of the Herods, sent a mission to Rome, begging that Judaea might be made a Roman province. In the year A.D. 6, Archelaus was banished, and Judaea put under the government of Rome. The first procurator appointed was Coponius, who accompanied Cyrenius (the Greek form of the Roman name Quirinus) into Syria. The latter had been sent to take an account of their substance, and to make a census or ἀπογράφη, (See CHRONOLOGY); (See CYRENIUS), of the inhabitants of Judaea (Luke 2, 1; Josephus, Ant. 17, 13, 5; 18, 1, 1; War, 2, 8, 1). In A.D. 9 Coponius was succeeded by Marcus Ambivius, who remained at the head of the government till A.D. 12, and was then replaced by Annius Rufus. On the accession of Tiberius, Valerius Gratus was made procurator, a post he filled for eleven years, and was succeeded (A.D. 26) by Pontius Pilate (Josephus, Ant. 18, 2, 2), who entered Jerusalem with the military ensigns, on which were the effigies of the emperor. The Jewish law forbids the making of images, and a great tumult arose, and shortly Tiberius ordered him to withdraw them (ibid. 18, 3, 1; War, 2, 9, 3). Pilate tyrannically governed the Jews till A.D. 36; and at last, owing to continual complaints, was ordered by Vitellius, the president of Syria, to proceed to Rome to give an account of his administration. Tiberius died before he arrived, and he put an end to his life at the commencement of the reign of Caius (Caligula) (Josephus, Ant. 18, 3, 1-3; 4, 1; War, 2, 9, 2; Euseb. H.E. 2, 7). It was during his administration that our Lord was condemned and crucified (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 3:1; Luke 23; John 18; John 19). On Pilate's departure, Marullus was appointed over Judaea by Vitellius (Josephus, Ant. 18, 4, 2).

The new emperor, Caius, however, superseded him, and appointed Marcellus procurator of Judaea (ibid. 18, 6, 10). In A.D. 40 Vitellius was recalled, and Petronius sent as president of Syria, with orders from Caius to set up his statue in the Temple. This insult caused the whole nation to rise. The intercession of Agrippa, and ultimately the death of the tyrant, prevented this order from ever being executed (ibid. 18; War, 2, 10; Philo, Leg. ad Caiumn, 26). In the Acts it is recorded that the churches had rest through all Judaea, Galilee, and Samaria (9, 31), doubtless owing to the impious attempt of Caligula (Josephus, Ant. 18, 8, 2-9). Under Claudius, who succeeded to the throne in A.D. 41, the Jews had some peace. Agrippa I was nominally king from that period to A.D. 44, when he died, leaving one son. Claudius wished to allow the young Agrippa to rule his father's kingdom, but, evidently by persuasion, sent a Roman procurator to govern the province (Tacit. Hist. 5, 9). Cuspius Fadus was the first appointed (Josephus, Ant. 19, 9, 2; 20, 5, 1), A.D. 45. It was under his administration that a movement of the whole Jewish people broke forth, in consequence of the sacred vestments being placed under his charge. Longinus, the governor of Syria, interfered, an embassy was sent to Rome, and the matter ended in the Jews being permitted to retain these vestments under their care. Judaea was cleared of robbers by the care and providence of Fadus (ibid. 20, 1, 1, 2). He was succeeded by Tiberius Alexander, a renegade Jew, and nephew of Philo (ibid. 20, 5, 2; War, 2, 11, 6). In A.D. 49 Tiberius was recalled, and Ventidius Cumanus appointed in his stead. During his government a fearful tumult ensued, which would have spread far and wide had not Quadratus, the governor of Syria, interfered. The matter ended in the banishment of Cumanus and the appointment of Felix, the brother of Pallas, the favorite of Claudius, as procurator (Ant. 20, 6; 7, 1; War, 2, 12; comp. Tacit. Ann. 12, 54).

Felix was procurator A.D. 53-55. Of his government Tacitus speaks: "Per omnem saevitiam ac libidinem jus regium servili ingenio exercuit" (Hist. 5, 9), and his corruptness is shown by his expecting to receive money from St. Paul (Acts 24:26). He had induced Drusilla, the daughter of Agrippa I, to live with him. She was with him when Paul preached "of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come" (ver. 25). Felix, however, did some good services while he was in power; for, the country being infested with robbers and impostors, he cleared several parts of it. He also drove out the Egyptian impostor (comp. Acts 21:38). These are, doubtless, the very worthy deeds alluded to by Tertullus (24, 2). Bearing ill will against Jonathan, the high priest, Felix had him barbarously murdered. By treachery, also, he put to death Eleazar, the captain of a company of robbers (Josephus, Ant. 20, 8, 5). At last his misgovernment caused his recall, and Porcius Festus succeeded. His government seems to have been milder (ibid. 21, 8, 9; War, 2, 14, 1). He heard Paul with king Agrippa at Caesarea (Acts 25; Acts 26). Festus died after two years. He was succeeded by Albinus, a bad and cruel man, who, on hearing that Gessius Florus was coming to succeed him, brought out all the prisoners who seemed most worthy of death, and put them to death, and at the same time released many of them, but only on receiving a bribe (Josephus, Ant. 20, 9, 5; War, 2, 14, 1). He was recalled in A.D. 65, and Gessius Florus appointed in his stead. He was the last and the worst of the Roman procurators (Ant. 20, 9, 1; 11, 1; War, 2, 14, 1). Josephus does not hesitate to accuse him of the most flagrant and horrid crimes (Ant. 20, 11, 1; War, loc. cit.); and even Tacitus says that the Jewish patience could endure the yoke no longer "duravit patientia Judaeis usque ad Gessium Florum" (Hist. 5, 10). In A.D. 66, Cestius Gallus, the praefect of Syria, found it necessary to march a powerful army into Palestine. He was, however, defeated with great loss, and immediately sent word to Nero, laying the whole blame on Florus Florus, likewise, laying the blame on him. He soon afterwards died, as some have supposed, from chagrin or disappointment (Josephus, War, 2, 19; Sueton. Vesp. 4; Tacit. Hist. 5, 10). (See GOVERNOR). The following year Nero sent Vespasian into Judaea (Josephus, War, 3, 1, 2). (Accounts of the war and siege of Jerusalem will be found in the article (See JERUSALEM).) In 68, Nero died; Galba, Otho, and Vitellius followed in quick succession; and Vespasian himself was elected emperor by the legions in Judaea. In A.D. 70, Titus was sent by his father to conduct the war; and after a four months' siege Jerusalem was taken. Josephus states that 1,100,000 were killed during the siege (ibid. 6, 9, 3), that several were allowed to depart, and an immense number sold to the army and carried captive. These numbers are of course exaggerated See Luke 21:24.

Under Trajan the Jews again broke out into open revolt, and the disturbances continued under Hadrian. At last, A.D. 131, one Bar-cocheba, the son of a star, was placed at the head of the Jews. Several times the Roman arms were defeated; but Julius Severus, by reducing their fortresses one by one, finally defeated him in A.D. 135. Dion Cassius says that 580,000 Jewish people were slain in these battles (69, 14). This statement is as extravagant as that of Josephus (ut sup.).

In A.D. 136 the emperor Hadrian founded a new city, under the name of AElia Capitolina, to which he gave the privileges of a colony. None but Christians and pagans were allowed to enter (Dion Cass. 69, 12; comp. Gibbon).

The New Test. history falls within the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. Only Augustus (Luke 2:1), Tiberius (3, 1), and Claudius (Acts 11:28; Acts 18:2) are mentioned; but Nero is alluded to in the Acts from ch. 35 to the end, and in Philippians 4:22. The Roman emperor in the New Test. is usually called Caesar (Acts 25:10-12; Acts 25:21), though sometimes Augustus (Σεβαστός, ver. Acts 21:25), and once Lord ( κύριος, ver. 26). We thus find many characteristics of the Roman rule constantly before us in the New Test.: we hear of Caesar the sole king (John 19:15) of Cyrenius, "governor of Syria" (Luke 2:2); of Pontius Pilate, Felix, and Festus, the "governors," i.e. procurators, of Judaea; of the "tetrarchs" Herod, Philip, and Lysanias (3:1); of "king Agrippa" (Acts 25:13); of Roman soldiers, legions, centurions, publicans; of the tributemoney (Matthew 22:19); the taxing of the whole world" (Luke 2:1); Italian and Augustan cohorts (Acts 10:15; Acts 27:1); the appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:11). Several notices of the provincial administration of the Romans and the condition of provincial cities occur in the narrative of Paul's journeys (Acts 13:7; Acts 18:12; Acts 16:12; Acts 16:35; Acts 16:38; Acts 19:38). (See JUDEA).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Roman Empire'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature.​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​r/roman-empire.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.