Christianity within the Roman Empire

Christianity within the Roman Empire

The Romans viewed religion as very important, though they banned Christianity and punished Christians for a long time. Christians were at first targeted for persecution by Nero in 64 AD - some were killed and eaten by dogs and others set on fire. They continued to be persecuted over the next 100 years, with some Christians even fed to the lions as a form of entertainment within ancient Rome.

Christianity’s message began to spread throughout the vast Roman Empire thanks to the work of St Paul, the man who had already established churches in Greece and Asia Minor before targeting Rome itself.

The first Christian converts were normally poor people and those locked in the chains of slavery - this is because these sections of society stood to gain the most should Christianity successfully spread through Rome as the religion preached helping those most in need. It was a risky practice though; if they got caught then Christians could be killed as they were only supposed to worship the Roman emperor of the time, even if that leader did little to help their cause.

Persecution of Christians
Persecution of Christians

The tension between Christians and the Romans heightened in 64 AD when a section of Rome was burnt. The Emperor Nero responded by blaming Christians and there was a swift backlash as the Roman people quickly turned against them, with a large number of Christians either arrested or executed. Nero ordered the arrest and torture of all the Christians in Rome. They were then executed in front of huge crowds. Some were crucified, some were thrown to wild animals and others were burned alive.

A Christian’s faith was tested by forcing them on pain of death to swear by the emperor and offer incense to his images, or a sacrifice to the gods.

Christians in ancient Rome were forced to carry out their meetings and worship in secret because of the continual dangers they faced - usually in underground tombs which were out of sight. Christianity kept on growing and in 313 AD, Emperor Constantine made the religion legal - meaning it was acceptable for them to worship openly. Churches were then built throughout the whole empire and in 391 AD it was illegal to worship other gods.

However, Nero’s persecution of Christians was brief and not widespread. In other areas of the empire, Christians were not actively pursued but they could be punished if they refused to surrender their beliefs.

See also: Julius Caesar

MLA Citation/Reference

"Christianity within the Roman Empire". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.