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Pompeii › Origins

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 21 March 2018
A Pompeii Bakery (Colección de imágenes de las bibliotecas de Penn State)
Pompeii was a large Roman town in the Italian region of Campania which was completely buried in volcanic ash following the eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. The town was excavated in the 19th and 20th century CE and due to its excellent state of preservation it has given an invaluable insight into the Roman world and may lay claim to being the richest archaeological site in the world in terms of the sheer volume of data available to scholars.


The area was originally settled in the Bronze Age on an escarpment on the mouth of the river Sarno. The site of Pompeii and the surrounding area offered the twin advantages of a favourable climate and rich volcanic soil which allowed for the blossoming of agricultural activity, particularly olives and grapes. Little did the original settlers realise that the very escarpment on which they built had been formed by a long-forgotten eruption of the now seemingly innocent mountain that over-shadowed their town. However, in Greek mythology, a hint at the volcano's power was found in the legend that Hercules had here fought giants in a fiery landscape. Indeed, the nearby town Herculaneum, which would suffer the same fate as Pompeii, was named after this heroic episode. In addition, Servius informs us that the name Pompeii derives from pumpe, which was the commemorative procession in honour of Hercules' victory over the giants.


Greeks established colonies in Campania in the 8th century BCE and the Etruscans were also present until they were defeated by Syracusan and local Greeks at the battle of Cumae in 474 BCE. From then on the Samnite people from the local mountains began to infiltrate and dominate the region. The 4th century BCE saw Samnite infighting break out into the Samnite Wars (343-290 BCE) across Campania and the beginning of Roman influence in the region. Pompeii was favoured by Rome and the town flourished with large building projects being carried out in the 2nd century BCE. However, Pompeii, with its Samnite origins, had always been independently minded when it came to Roman authority and Sulla besieged the cityfollowing a rebellion and set up his colony of Venus in 80 BCE, re-settling 4-5,000 legionaries in the town. Another period of prosperity followed, a local senate ( ordo decurionum ) was formed and a new amphitheatre and odeion were built with capacity for 5000 and 1500 spectators respectively. After centuries of ups and downs, the town had reached its peak.
Following seismic activity and coastal changes, Pompeii now stands 2km inland but it would have been much closer to the sea and the mouth of the Sarno in Roman times and around four metres lower. The Roman town of Pompeii covers some three square kilometres (one third remains unexcavated) but the outer suburbs were also densely populated. There were also hundreds of farms and around one hundred villas in the surrounding countryside. The population of the town has been estimated at 10-12,000, with one third being slaves. Twice as many people again would have lived in the surrounding farms and villas. The coast of Campania was a favourite playground of Rome's well-to-do and so many of the villas were particularly grand with panoramic sea-side views. Even Nero (reign 54-68 CE) is thought to have had a villa near Pompeii and it is to be remembered that his wife Poppaea Sabina was a native of the town.
Anfiteatro del Fresco, Pompeya

Fresco Amphitheatre, Pompeii


The town was one of the more important ports on the Bay of Naples and the surrounding settlements such as Nola, Nuceria and Aceria would have sent their produce to Pompeii for transportation across the Empire. Goods such as olives, olive oil, wine, wool, fish sauce ( garum ), salt, walnuts, figs, almonds, cherries, apricots, onions, cabbages and wheat were exported and imports included exotic fruit, spices, giant clams, silk, sandalwood, wild animals for the arena and slaves to man the thriving agricultural industry. On the subject of food, besides the foodstuffs mentioned above, we know that the diet of Pompeians also included beef, pork, birds, fish, oysters, crustaceans, snails, lemons, figs, lettuce, artichokes, beans and peas.Although, some of these and other delicacies, such as honey-roasted mice and Grey Mullet livers, would only have been within the reach of the better-off citizens.
Pompeya y el Monte Vesuivus

Pompeii and Mt. Vesuivus

The town itself, in the Roman custom, was surrounded by a wall with many gates, often with two or three arched entrances to separate pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Within the walls, there are wide paved streets in a largely regular layout (with the exception of the rather haphazard southwest corner) but there were no street names or numbers. There is also evidence that traffic was limited to one direction in certain streets. The town presents an astonishing mix of several thousand buildings: shops, large villas, modest housing, temples, taverns ( cauponae ), a pottery, an exercise ground, baths, an arena, public latrines, a market hall ( macellum ), schools, water towers, a flower nursery, fulleries, a basilica, brothels and theatres. In amongst all of these were hundreds of small shrines to all kinds of deities and ancestors and around forty public fountains. In short, Pompeii had all the amenities one would expect to find in a thriving and prosperous community.


Pompeii had many large villas, most of which were built in the 2nd century BCE and they display the Greek colonial origins of the town. The typical entrance of these plush residences was a small street doorway with an entrance corridor ( fauceis ) that opened out into a large columned atrium with a rectangular pool of water ( impluvium ) open to the sky and from which other rooms, for example, a bedroom ( cubicula ) or dining room were accessed. Movable screens, often decorated with mythological scenes, separated rooms and in winter kept in the heat provided by braziers. Other common features were a tablinum or hall space where archives and valuables were kept and there was also a place for the ancestor cult ( alae ) so much a part of Roman family life. A striking feature of these residences is their magnificent floor mosaics which depict all manner of scenes from myths to the homeowner's business activities.
Many houses had a private garden ( hortus ) with statues, ornate fountains, vine-covered pergolas, canvas awnings and the whole surrounded by a peristyle. Many private residences even had areas dedicated to viniculture. The House of the Faun is a good example of the typical grander residence of Pompeii.


Many of the larger villas also had a permanent triclinium or eating area in the garden so that guests might dine outside on cushioned benches. Ten such villas even had systems of small canals running between the diners so that as dishes floated past they could take their pick of the delicacies on offer. Those villas without such charms often employed trompe-l'oeil wall paintings to give the illusion of landscape vistas. Indeed, the wall paintings from these residences have also given insights into a myriad of other areas of Pompeian life such as religion, sex, diet, clothes, architecture, industry and agriculture. They also, on occasion, revealed the status of the guests as seating was formally arranged so that the importance of the guest ascended as one went clockwise around the circle of diners and sometimes the wall decoration reflected the status of the guest who ate in front of it.


In complete contrast to the richer residences, slave quarters have also survived and they show the cramped, prison-like existence of this large section of the population. Other more modest architecture included basic two or sometimes three-storied residences, simple taverns and small buildings, nothing more than curtained cubicles, where lower-class prostitutes plied their trade.


The area around Vesuvius received its first warning sign that the mountain was perhaps reawakening when a massive earthquake struck on the 5th of February 62 CE. The quake measured 7.5 on the Richter scale and devastated the surrounding towns; even parts of Naples, 20 miles (32 km) away, were damaged. At Pompeii, few buildings escaped damage.Temples, houses and parts of the thick city walls collapsed, fires ravaged sections of the town and even sheep in the surrounding countryside died from the release of poisonous gases. The death toll was likely in the thousands rather than the hundreds. The water supply to the town was also severely affected with damage to aqueducts and underground pipes. The recovery process was also hampered by the collapse of the bridge over the Sarno. Things were so bad that a significant portion of the population left the town for good. However, slowly, the town made repairs, some hasty and others more considered and life began to return to normal. The civic repairs and improvements must also have been spurred on by the royal visit of Emperor Nero in 64 CE, an occasion which led to the lifting of the ban on gladiator games imposed following the famous crowd riots in 59 CE.
Teatro, Pompeya

Theatre, Pompeii

Seismic activity continued for the next decade but it seems not to have unduly perturbed the population. Life, and repairs from the catastrophe of 62 CE continued until 79 CE. It was then, in high summer, that strange things began to occur. Fish floated dead in the Sarno, springs and wells inexplicably dried up and vines on the slopes of Vesuvius mysteriously wilted and died.Seismic activity, although not strong, increased dramatically in frequency. Something was clearly not right. Strangely, although some people left the town, the majority of the population seemed to still not be too worried about the events that were unfolding but little did they know that they were about to face an apocalypse.
On the morning of 24th of August (traditional date) a tremendous bang signalled that the magma that had been building over the last thousand years had finally burst through the crater of Vesuvius. Fire and smoke bellowed from the volcano. At this point, it may have seemed that the mountain was doing nothing more than offering a harmless pyrotechnic display but at midday an even bigger explosion blew off the entire cone of Vesuvius and a massive mushroom cloud of pumice particles rose 27 miles (43 km) into the sky. The power of the explosion has been calculated as 100,000 times greater than the nuclear bomb which devastated Hiroshima in 1945 CE. The ash that started to rain down on Pompeii was light in weight but the density was such that within minutes everything was covered in centimetres of it. People tried to flee the town or sought shelter where they could and those without shelter tried desperately to keep themselves above the shifting layers of volcanic material.
Then in the late afternoon another massive explosion rang the air, sending a column of ash six miles higher than the previous cloud. When the ash fell it was as much heavier stones than in the first eruption and the volcanic material that smothered the town was by now metres thick. Buildings began to collapse under the accumulated weight; survivors huddled near walls and under stairs for greater protection, some hugging their loved ones or clasping their most precious possessions. Then at 11pm the huge cloud hanging above the volcano collapsed from its own weight and blasted the town in six devastating waves of super-heated ash and air which asphyxiated and literally baked the bodies of the entire population. Still the ash kept falling and relentlessly the once vibrant city was buried metres deep, to be lost and forgotten, wiped from the face of the Earth.
Mosaico Cave Cavem de Pompeya

Cave Cavem mosaic from Pompeii


Pompeii was finally re-discovered in 1755 CE when work on the construction of the Sarno Canal began. Local stories of 'the city' were proved to have been based on fact when under just a few metres of volcanic debris lay an entire town. From then on, Pompeii became an essential stopping point on the fashionable Grand Tour and included such famous visitors as Goethe, Mozart and Stendhal. Indeed, the latter perfectly captured the strange and powerful impression on the modern visitor of this immense window into the past when he wrote, '...here you feel as if, just by being there, you know more about the place than any other scholar'.


Besides architectural remains, scholars of Pompeii have been presented with a mine of much rarer historical artefacts, a real treasure trove of data providing unique insights into the past. For example, the quantity of bronze statues has led scholars to recognise the material was more commonly used in Roman art than previously thought. A particularly rich source of data has been skeletal remains and the possibility to take plaster casts of the impressions left by the dead in the volcanic material provide evidence that bad teeth were a common problem - enamel was worn away by stone chips in bread, residue from the basalt milling stone. Tooth decay and abscesses from an over-sweet diet were a common problem and tuberculosis, brucellosis and malaria were also rife. The skeletal remains of slaves, often found still chained despite the disaster, also tell a sad tale of malnutrition, chronic arthritis and deformity caused by overwork.
Víctima de Pompeya

Pompeii Victim

It has also been possible to reconstruct the daily life of the town through the wealth of written records preserved at the site.These take the form of thousands of electoral notices and hundreds of wax tablets, mainly dealing with financial transactions.The wax of these tablets has long since melted but often impressions of the stylus have remained on the wooden backing.Other invaluable sources of text include signs, graffiti, amphorae labels, seals and tomb inscriptions. Not only are such sources typically unavailable to the historian but also their variety permits an insight into sections of society (slaves, the poor, women, gladiators.) usually ignored or scantily treated in traditionally surviving texts such as learned books and legal records.We know that there were forty festivals of one kind or another every year and that Saturday was market day. Graffiti, for example, tells us how a gladiator was 'the sighed-for joy of girls', a mosaic in the house of a local businessman proudly proclaims 'Profit is Joy' and corrections on tablets reveal the changing status of citizens over time. Something more than names and figures has survived, however. The unique archaeological evidence from Pompeii allows us the rarest of opportunities - the possibility to reconstruct the actual thoughts, hopes, despair, wit and even the very ordinariness of these people who lived so long ago.

Choe Chiwon › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 27 October 2016
Choe Chiwon (Chae Yong-shin)
Choe Chiwon (857-915 CE) was a celebrated poet and scholar of the Unified Silla kingdom which ruled Korea from 668 to 935 CE. Choe Chiwon adopted the pseudonym or brush name 'Orphan Cloud' and he became the most celebrated scholar-official of his generation gaining valuable political experience in Tang China. Choe was a prolific writer, but unfortunately, only a small portion of his works survive. His poems are the oldest to survive in any great quantity from ancient Korea.


Choe Chiwon was born into a reasonably well-to-do family of Head Rank 6 status in the Silla capital Gyeongju (Kyongju). He lived during the final decades of the Silla kingdom before it was replaced by Goryeo as the most powerful state in Korea. The Silla kingdom had long enjoyed close ties with the Tang dynasty of China (618-907 CE) and Choe, when he reached 12 years old, was sent to China to study, as was common practice at the time. At 18, Choe was given a post in the Tang provincial administration after he passed the extremely difficult civil service exam in 874 CE. Choe then, as was also typical of the time, kicked his heels for a few years while he awaited an official appointment. During this limbo, he received no pay but was still expected to perform menial clerk duties. He did, however, enjoy the impressive title which went with this waiting period of 'Gentleman for Rendering Service and General Purpose Censor Auxilliary.'



Fortunately, the poet's early works gained the attention of the Tang court, and he was finally given a post in 879 CE. Choe was dispatched to act as a secretary to Gao Pian, a prominent official during the decade-long war to put down the rebellion led by Huang Chao. Choe's primary duty was to create posters to stir the public into condemning the rebels and assisting in their capture. In this task, he was able to show off his writing skills and ability to persuade. Choe also wrote poetry while in China, and in 886 CE a collection was published both in Korea and China. He made friends with contemporary Chinese writers like Ku Yun, Lo Yin, and Zhang Qiao but must have endured the difficulties of being a stranger in a foreign land for many of his poems from this period are concerned with sorrow, loss, and loneliness:
Don't think me strange gazing windward dispirited,
It's hard to meet a friend this far from home.
(Choe Chiwon, Seeing a Fellow Villager off in Shanyang )
He also produced a history on the founding of Balhae ( Parhae ), the Manchurian state, which he presented to the Tang court.The Huang Chao rebellion, though, would turn out to be the beginning of the end of the Tang dynasty and Choe returned to his native Korea in 885 CE as an official envoy of emperor Xizong.


Back at Silla Choe, now with valuable military and diplomatic experience, was made Vice-Minister of War. He also held the position of reader in attendance and appointed academic to the court. In 893 CE Choe was appointed envoy to China but did not go because dangerous rebellions had spread across the kingdom which meant he could not safely travel. In 894 CE he presented a memorial to the Silla queen Chinsong (r. 887-898 CE) formulating a set of administrative reforms, his 'Ten-Point Policy Recommendation,' but these were rejected. The Silla kingdom, like the Tang dynasty, was collapsing from within.
Choe then seems to have been frustrated by the rigid bone rank system of the Silla kingdom which limited the possibilities of promotion due to the status of his parents. Perhaps wisely, given the problems faced by the government to maintain its control over the state, Choe withdrew from public office at the capital and took up a position as local magistrate of Taesan prefecture in Chungchong province. He then left administration altogether and dedicated himself to poetry, spending the rest of his days in the Buddhist temple retreat of Haeinsa in the mountains of Gyeongsang province. His body was enshrined in a Confucian temple, and in 1074 CE the state awarded him the honorary title of Marquis of Bright Culture.


Choe Chiwon wrote a great deal of essays on many themes, and his work displays a wide knowledge of Confucian principles, Buddhism, political administration, and poetry. Choe often wrote in the rich style of late Tang literature, something he was later criticised for, even if his works regularly appeared in anthologies printed after his death. He mostly wrote in 'parallel prose,' the highly stylised form of writing popular in China at the time, where lines are presented in couplets.
I only chant painfully in the autumn wind,
For I have few friends in the wide world.
At third watch, it rains outside,
By the lamp my heart flies myriad miles away.
(Choe Chiwon, On A Rainy Autmn Night )
Besides the 'Ten-Point Policy Recommendation' for Queen Chinsong, other known works include a historical chronology, the Chewang yondaeryok, the Chungsan igwe chip, a collection of essays, and the Sui chon, a collection of supernatural folktales from Silla. Besides those few printed volumes which survive by Choe, there are several long inscriptions made on stone. These latter are known as the 'four mountain inscriptions' and reflect the tradition of carving the achievements of great men on commemorative stones at temple and stupa sites. They were made by Choe himself and are, in addition to their historical content, an important record of Korean calligraphy. Choe's poems written while he was in China were collected into the 20-chapter, Kyewon-pilgyong ('Brush-pen Ploughings in Gardens of Cinnamon') and published in 1834 CE.
Dismounting on the sandbar I wait for a boat,
A stretch of smoke and waves, an endless sorrow.
Only when the hills are worn flat and the waters dried up,
Will there be no parting in the world of man.
(Choe Chiwon, At the Ugang Station )

Christianity › Origins

Definition and Origins

by John S. Knox
published on 22 September 2016
La Última Cena (Escarlati)
Christianity is a monotheistic, deontological, grass–roots, Jewish sectarian movement that focuses upon the life, teachings, and mission of Jesus of Nazareth (also known as Jesus the Christ). It began in Jerusalem in Judea in the 1st century, CE, and moved northward and westward in the Mediterranean region through the efforts and activities of Jesus' personally chosen disciples & apostles - Peter, Paul, James, and John (among others). Once a small, Messianic Jewish sect, by the 4th century, CE, Christianity dominated all other religions in Greco- Roman society and spread throughout the Roman Empire even as far north as ancient Britain and possibly as far east as India. Unlike other Gnostic movements of the era, the Christian message was meant to be openly and honestly shared to anyone who would hear it - regardless of race, gender, economic, or social status. The narrative of Christianity is complex as are the early Christian doctrines, which are best understood in the cultural and historical contexts of the Christian movement and through the pivotal decisions and actions of its adherents.


Based upon traditional Christian Scripture, community creedal statements, and non-canonized historical writings of the Christian Church Fathers, primitive Christianity taught that Jesus of Nazareth (also known as Jesus Christ ) was/is the Son of God who, fulfilling centuries–old Jewish prophecies of a coming Messiah to set God's people free from bondage, was paradoxically incarnated as a fully-human being, living a sinless life in order to become the perfect sacrifice to reconcile all humanity to Yahweh, the Jewish creator God. In Jesus' earthly mission, he ministered to the spiritually and physically hurting people of Israel (and nearby regions), he promoted a purist, personal faith based upon absolute love of God and neighbor, and he challenged the corruption/oppression of the political and religious elite.
Socially, this led to controversy and conflict with the ruling powers in Jerusalem, Judea, and Roman demesnes. Eventually, Jesus was arrested, tried, and convicted by the Sanhedrin under Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest, and for treason in the Roman courts under Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea (although Jesus' Jewish enemies wanted him convicted of blasphemy). Ironically, in both instances, the trial of Jesus violated traditional, official Jewish and Roman jurisprudence for capital crimes, procedures, and protocol, ending with an unlawful sentence and subsequent execution by crucifixion, which was carried out by Roman soldiers on what later came to be called, “Good Friday.”


According to multiple eyewitness testimonies in the region (as detailed in the Gospels and the Epistles), through a supernatural resurrection by God, Jesus -miraculously alive and well - appeared to a variety of people, having perfectly performed his father's mission on earth. Somewhat ironic considering the Patriarchy of the era, Jesus' first appearance was to a woman - Mary Magdalene - who immediately ran and told the other Disciples about what she had seen and heard. Later encounters of Jesus included Mary, the mother of James; Salome; Joanna; James, the half-brother of Jesus; the lead Disciple Peter and eventually all of the remaining eleven Disciples (except for Judas who had committed suicide, earlier); and the Apostle Paul (formerly known as Saul of Tarsus ) who would be later so instrumental in establishing Christianity in Europe. In fact, in Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, he records that over 500 people saw Jesus, the risen Christ, all at the same time, although some of them had already died by the time he wrote his second letter to Corinth (1 Corinthians 15:6, NASB).
After a forty-day period of visitation and confirmation that he had indeed risen from the dead as he said he would, Jesus left the earthly realm and ascended into Heaven, sending the Holy Spirit to guide and empower them, having already prepared and called his disciples to be teachers, guides, and proclaimers of a fulfilled Messianic promise of God's loving plan for salvation that was to be shared from Judea to all the known Gentile (non-Jewish) world.


With the command of Jesus to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20, NASB), the followers of Jesus began sharing the good news of the resurrected Messiah (the Christ, gr.) - along with Jesus' earlier ethical admonishments of perfect love of God and neighbor.

Jesus Christ

Although the Pharisees and Jewish leaders considered the dangerous influence of Jesus to be quelled with his execution (especially with the threat/warning of crucifixion for embracing such beliefs), the Christian message continued to be as appealing and inviting as ever, and the movement grew, exponentially. Moreover, whereas oppressive and politically controlling leaders of Judaism continued in their reactionary ways, the early Christians offered inclusivity and freedom to those who wished to join in “The Way” (as the movement was sometimes called).
In this period of great economic and social hardship, the Gospel writer, Luke, records in his church history work, The Acts of the Apostles,
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:44–47, NASB).
Not surprisingly, as the number of Jesus disciples rose, the Jewish leaders who had earlier been threatened by Jesus' message and influence upon a society which they wanted full hegemony, worried the Jesus movement could reignite, and turned their criticisms and persecutions upon Jesus' disciples and followers, many of whom fled the area to safer, more receptive areas (at least, initially). Still, many early Christian leaders bravely stayed in Jerusalem and Judea to speak their message of Christian love and salvation, leading to public abuse by authorities determined to extinguish this dangerous sect of Messianic Judaism. The Apostle Luke records,
... and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them... And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5: 40, 42, NASB).
Los santos Pedro y Pablo, de un aguafuerte de catacumba

Saints Peter and Paul, from a catacomb etching


This Christian zeal energized many to follow; however, it energized many on the other side of the argument to more serious efforts. Thus, the Apostle Stephen is the first recorded martyr of the Christian movement (Acts 7, NASB), and based upon extra-biblical accounts of the time, others soon thereafter followed Stephen's demise. The Disciple Andrew was crucified on an 'X' in Greece ; the Disciple Matthew was killed by the sword in Ethiopia; the Disciple Bartholomew (also known as Nathanael) was whipped to death in Armenia ; the Disciple James Zebedee was beheaded in Jerusalem; the Disciple Thomas was stabbed by a spear in India; the Disciple Jude was killed by arrows during his missionary work; the replacement Disciple, Matthias was stoned and beheaded for his faith; the Apostle John (and Gospel writer) was boiled in oil but somehow survived;the Apostle Barnabas was stoned to death in Salonica; the Gospel writer, John Mark, was dragged to death by horses through the streets of an unnamed Egyptian city ; James the Just was thrown over a cliff, somehow survived, but then was immediately clubbed to death; the leader of the Disciples, Peter, was crucified upside down in Rome under the Emperor Nero ;and the Apostle Paul was beheaded under the persecutions of Nero.
As the early Christian movement spread, the early Jesus followers passed on their understanding of the new covenant between God and humanity with the Greco-Roman sub-cultures that they encountered. Even more so, they shared a new and affirming religious philosophy that ran counter-cultural to the superstitious, hedonistic, relativistic mores of the day. They spoke of the reality of the one, real God to polytheistic communities that had never known life without an ever–increasing (and very often unknowable) pantheon of gods. They encouraged people to live by the spirit and not the flesh, embracing chaste lifestyles that honored other people's bodies (and their own) instead of exploiting and abusing sexuality for momentary pleasure. They exhorted people to take care of the weakest and neediest in society - the orphans, the widows, the poor - and to avoid activities like divorcing and suing that poisoned their relationships with each other. In the Greco–Roman world, ideas like these were radical, refreshing, but were sometimes considered quite subversive, if not perverse.
Such Christian activism did not go unnoticed, especially by the provincial leaders who disliked any civil unrest that interfered with the Pax Romana and monetary gain. With the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE and Diaspora (the forced dispersion of the Jews from Israel) that followed, after the first century, CE, Christian castigation mostly came from Roman leadership who feared little, if any, reprisal or revenge from the Christians who were known for their passivity and peacefulness (and who had few political friends in the Senate). Thus, members of the Early Christian movement often became political targets and scapegoats for the social ills and political tensions of specific rulers and turbulent periods during the first three centuries, CE; however, this persecution was sporadic and rarely Empire -wide, but it was devastating, nonetheless.
Pablo el Apóstol

Paul the Apostle

The persecution of the Christians did not end with the deaths of the Disciples and the Apostles; their pupils and successors, the Church Fathers (ancient theologians, church leaders, and defenders of orthodox Christianity) also endured Roman hostility and maltreatment for their beliefs, as did other peripheral Christian men, women, and children (of all ages) who called themselves, “Christian.” The three main periods of persecution occurred from 64 – 95 CE (Emperor Nero to Emperor Domitian), 112 CE – 250 CE (Emperor Trajan to Emperor Decius ), and 250 – 311 CE (Emperor Valerian to Diocletian ).
Generally, people of all religious persuasions were tolerated within the Roman Empire; after all, polytheism was the norm for most Mediterranean societies at that time. Yet, for the Empire to operate, efficiently and profitably, social order had to be maintained at all costs. Submission to the Emperor was not an option, but Christians could not and would not say, “Lord, Lord,” to the enthroned emperor or make a divine offering in their deified honor. This caused frequent friction with Roman authorities, and who started a conflict was less important to the Roman governors than maintaining peace and acquiescence; therefore, the troublesome elements were eliminated as a warning to others about challenging the absolute rule of Rome.
Senator and Roman historian Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (56 CE – 120 CE) recounts,
Nero set up as culprits and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians. Nero's scapegoats (the Christians) were the perfect choice because it temporarily relieved pressure of the various rumors going around Rome. Christus, from whom their name is derived, was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. Checked for a moment, this pernicious superstition again broke out, not only in Judea, the source of the evil, but even in Rome...
Being so counter-cultural and morally provocative, many Christians found themselves to be entertainment (or a warning to all who would also create conflict or rebellion in Roman society) in the Roman Circus or at other various gladiatorial arenas in the Empire, wherein they could be crucified, burned alive, thrown to lions or other wild beasts without weapons of defense, beheaded, impaled on pikes or spears, hanged, drawn and quartered, or killed by gladiators (although such events were not very spectacular considering the peaceful non-resistance of the early Christians). How many Christians were killed during these Great Persecutions is unknown; however, many scholars believed it numbered in the thousands. Some martyrs (one who dies for the faith) were leaders in the still–growing church, but most others were mere grassroots followers in the Jesus movement.
Circus Maximus, Roma

Circus Maximus, Rome

Although not every Roman emperor was merciless in their treatment of Christians, several rulers stand out because of their severity or cruelty. Emperor Nero, who reigned from 54 CE – 68 CE, was emotionally unstable, involved in several conspiracies, a poor administrator, and used the Christians as a distraction of his imperial failings and frustrations. Emperor Domitian, who ruled from 81 CE – 96 CE, was said to be “a thoroughly nasty person, rarely polite, insolent, arrogant, and cruel.” A black-and-white thinker, he introduced anti-Jewish and anti-Christian laws, and demanded Christians worship him as god (people were to refer to him as dominus et deus - —'master and god'). Emperor Decius, who ruled from 249 CE – 251 CE, also issued royal edicts to suppress Christianity, demanding that all Christian bishops offer sacrifices to him.
Despite the famous cruelty of Nero, perhaps the greatest persecutions of all happened during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, who reigned from 284 CE – 305 CE. A zealot for Paganism, he called himself, “the Vicar of Jupiter,” and believed that the eclipsing of Roman power was more due to Christianity than bad governorship. Thus, he issued the strongest anti-Christian edicts of all the emperors, commanding that all Christian churches were to be burned, all Christians were to be deprived of political office, all Christian scriptures and bibles were to be burned, and all private and public worship of Jesus was to cease.Despite his austere measures, though, the Christian movement grew stronger.
One of the most famous Christian martyrs was Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna ( Turkey ), who was executed during or around the reign of Marcus Auerlius (121 CE – 180 CE). One of the Apostle John's disciples - the others being Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 70 CE – 163 CE), Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 35 CE – 108 CE), and Irenaeus of Lyons (early 2nd century – 202 CE) - Polycarp was a guardian of the faith and unyielding to the end of his days. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the (unknown) author writes,
Eighty and six years have I served Christ, nor has He ever done me any harm. How, then, could I blaspheme my King who saved me? You threaten the fire that burns for an hour and then is quenched; but you know not of the fire of the judgment to come, and the fire of eternal punishment. Bring what you will.
Martyrdom was not limited to officials in the Christian movement or believers only from the male gender, either. In 203 CE, five Carthaginians defied the Imperial orders of Septimus Severus (145 CE – 211 CE) prohibiting conversion to Christianity and were subsequently arrested, including Vibia Perpetua, a twenty-two-year-old Roman noblewoman and her servant/handmaiden, Felicitas. A young mother, Perpetua was allowed to breastfeed her young child in prison, and Felicitas was eight months pregnant, but both women still refused to recant their faith (despite the objections and pleading of Perpetua's father). During their execution, they were first mauled by a mad cow, finally being dispatched by sword in the arena. The three other male slaves - Revocatus, Saturnius, and Secundulus - were whipped and then thrown into the arena to defend themselves against a wild boar, a bear, and a leopard.


Even with the aforementioned challenges to the Christian movement, from its earliest days through the centuries of development, Christianity's focus stayed on its founder - Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The Apostolic and Church Fathers labored to preserve the authentic message of Jesus and his Disciples, rejecting works and ideas that were more than just unsubstantiated myth, personal biases, or incongruent teachings concerning theology on God and Jesus. Moreover, a majority rule or belief had to be accepted by the ecumenical councils from all areas of the Roman Empire - Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, Carthage, etc.; before there was commitment, there had to be careful Christian consensus.
Piso de mosaico de una villa en Hinton St. Mary

Mosaic Floor from a Villa at Hinton St. Mary

In determining the standard or canon for Christian scripture, the early Christian leaders used a four-part “rubric” and international community affirmation to approve or reject books and letters for biblical inclusion. First, the writings had to be Catholic, used universally all over the Mediterranean religion ; second, the writings had to be Orthodox, or included correct truths of Jesus and his message; third, the writings had to be Apostolic, or written in the time of Jesus by his Disciples/Apostles; finally, the writings had to be Traditional, or used often and regularly by Christian churches. If a book or letter could place this “COAT” upon its back, it was worthy of inclusion in the biblical canon.
Moreover, because of their historical closeness to Jesus and his direct training of their authors, the Gospel accounts and letters (the Epistles) of the Disciples/Apostles were considered to be superior, authoritative sources in discerning authentic Christian doctrine. Contrary to some who claim these early Christian church fathers made their choices out of personal benefit, it is interesting to note that none of the Apostolic Fathers' own writings (The Didache, 1 & 2 Clement, the Epistles of Ignatius, the Epistle of Polycarp, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, etc.) made it into the biblical canon despite having great cultural value and influence.
Thus, despite regional differences and emphases, despite strong personalities and community dominance, the major tenets of Christianity were established for the church, using Scripture as the main guide, and only confirmed through ecumenical councils from all over the Mediterranean region. This was done both for unity within the Christian body, but also to protect against heretical ideas seeping into Christianity from various false teachers and movements (many of which are still held today by some people).
Por ejemplo, los gnósticos promovían un camino secreto hacia lo divino que vilipendiaba la carne y contradecía la teología de las escrituras hebreas con su propio panteón de deidades, demonios y seres espirituales. El Docetismo promovió la idea de que Jesús solo parecía morir en la Cruz, ya que solo era espíritu y nunca verdaderamente se encarnó. El arrianismo sostenía que Jesús era un ser creado, no igual que Dios el Padre. El nestorianismo sostenía que Jesús existía como dos personas separadas, y que solo el Jesús humano sufrió y murió en la Cruz. El pelagianismo sugirió la idea de que el pecado original de Adán no se transmitió a través de él a toda la humanidad, y que todos los seres humanos pueden efectuar su propia salvación a través de la voluntad y las decisiones sabias. Todos estos movimientos contradicen, de alguna manera, la evidencia de las Escrituras en el Antiguo y el Nuevo Testamento delBiblia.
Santísima Trinidad

Holy Trinity

Therefore, utilizing biblical verification, early church leaders arduously strived to compose and communicate the supernatural relationship of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, which they eventually termed, “The Trinity” - the Latin word for “Three-ness.” Specifically, the Church Fathers concluded that God exists as a single deity with three separate but permanently connected persons in his ontology. So, though one God, he is also differentiated within himself to accomplish his divine will in Heaven, the universe, and on earth. He is not three separated entities or beings; nor is he a single person revealing himself in three forms (which the heresy, Modalism, contends). Paradoxically, God's persons are simultaneous and not consecutive, and, via “Perichoresis,” they “dance around each other,” focusing on specific activities although still enveloping each other and each other's work. Though not specifically referenced in the Bible by word, the reality of the Trinity can be observed in both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, although it is more noticeable in the New Testament writers' assertions and explanations.
To preserve the original message and meaning of Christianity, several Christian communities created creeds (a formal statement of religious belief) to help define and defend Christian doctrine and characteristics. Many consider Romans 10:8-9 to be the first Christian creed - “The word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Christian tradition suggests that, later on, the Jesus' Disciples wrote the Apostles Creed (c. 150 CE) after Jesus' crucifixion, although modern scholarship puts the date to be post 2nd century CE. In this ancient creed, it presents God as the creator, discusses Jesus' birth, death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. It also references the Holy Spirit and his communication with the World (although it omits an official discussion of the Trinity), and ends with an explanation of the Church, its saints, and the afterlife.
Under the supervision of Emperor Constantine I, the Nicene Creed (325 CE) was composed by an ecumenical council, which was and is accepted as authoritative by most Christian groups, but not by the Eastern Orthodox Church (at least, the second version in 381 CE is rejected for adding in the Filioque Clause—"And the Son"). It describes the pre-existence of Jesus Christ, his role in the future judgment of humanity, how Jesus is "homoousis" - of one substance with God, how/why the Holy Spirit is to be worshipped as part of the holy family, discusses the requirement of baptism, and minimizes the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, interestingly.
Aunque hay otros, el Credo de Atanasio (328 EC) es importante ya que trata principalmente con la Trinidad, y empuja contra las herejías del día: Arianismo, Docetismo, Modalismo y Monofitismo. Se expande sobre el Credo de Nicea y promueve una comprensión más exclusiva de la salvación y el rechazo eterno para los no creyentes.


Los seguidores de Jesucristo finalmente verían un alivio de sus luchas de siglos para adorar a Jesucristo como su rey y Señor en la sociedad romana bajo el emperador Flavio Valerio Constantino, también conocido como Constantino.Yo el Grande (c. 280 CE - 337 CE). Contrariamente a sus predecesores, y tal vez por los estragos y el debilitamiento que siguió a la abdicación de Diocleciano del trono imperial en 305 CE, Constantino vio valor (y posiblemente la verdad) en el camino cristiano y, una vez en el poder, tomó medidas para eliminar a todos los ex restricciones legales sobre el cristianismo. Específicamente, en el Edicto de Milán, compuesto en 313 EC, Constantino ofreció a los ciudadanos del Imperio nuevas libertades y protecciones contra edictos fanáticos de siglos de antigüedad. Sin duda, los cristianos del siglo IV sintieron una paz como ninguna antes mientras leían (o escuchaban) en el Edicto de Milán,
When you see that this has been granted to [Christians] by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made that we may not seem to detract from any dignity of any religion.
Constantino I

Constantine I

Although Constantine's “conversion” to Christianity is controversial (was it for personal or political reasons?), the future sole emperor later spoke of a dream that he had the night before his pivotal battle with Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge (312 CE) wherein God told him to have the Christian “Chi-Rho” monogram painted on his soldiers' shields to ensure success.Considering that Maxentius' forces were double that of Constantine's, Constantine's chances were slim, at best. Whether due to desperation or blind faith, he purportedly submitted to the instructions in his dream (although early reports of the battle omit the divine vision telling him, In hoc signo vinces - ”—“In this sign conquer ”), carried a new banner of allegiance into battle, and won the day.
His victory achieved, and with the drowning of Maxentius earlier in battle, Constantine went on to become sole emperor of an undivided empire in 324 CE. An apt and inspirational administrator, he set forth to reform the great Roman Empire that had been dwindling down for decades, with God at his back. More so, he became a patron of Christianity and its church, appointing Christians to high political office and giving them the same rights as other Pagan political officers, paving the way for Christianity to lead society - not be dragged down or crushed by it.
By the 5th century CE, Christianity had become the state religion of the Roman Empire, leading to a dramatic change in how the faith played out in greater society. This caused a shift in Christianity from private to public worship; from a distinctly Jewish character to one more aligned with the Gentiles; from an individual matter to more of a community affair; from a seeker-driven faith to an exclusively chosen body of believers; from a looser, more informal structure to that of distinct strata of operation and authority; and from gender empowering to more specific gender-specific limitations. Additionally, Christian leaders had to figure out how Christianity integrated with Roman law and government, dealt with barbarian peoples, and still maintained the essence of Jesus' teachings and missions for his followers.
Los Evangelios

The Gospels

The next two centuries of Christianity would see the development of the episcopacy and the rise of a religious aristocracy - the clergy and laity, the papacy, the priesthood of some, not all, believers. Furthermore, where previously riches were a sign of greed and exploitation, once endorsed and involved with the emperor, now riches were seen in a more favorable light. An even greater juxtaposition was the shift from Christian pacifism to militarianism (also no doubt due to the syncretization of Christianity into secular society). Theologically, there was a move away from Millennialism and the Second Coming of Christ to a more practical, earthly understanding of the kingdom of God; the enforcement of clerical abstinence and the condemnation of simony; the addition of Purgatory to key church dogma; the establishment of the Sacraments, which institutionally demonstrated the outward signs of God's inward grace in the lives of his followers; and the evolution of Christian monasticism throughout Europe and Africa.
Some might consider such institutionalism contrary to the original Jesus movement; however, it is best to remember that, according to Christian scripture, Jesus was confirmed by Jewish scripture to be the prophesized Messiah, he taught regularly and enthusiastically in the Temple for years, he affirmed and participated in the numerous Jewish festivals and customs required of Judaism, and he became the perfect priest and sacrifice before God on humanity's behalf. Moreover, Jesus also established his Twelve Disciples to be official ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, to act as heralds of the new covenant between God and humanity. He also promised them that at the Final Judgment, they would be the ones to judge the tribes of Israel.
Yet, Jesus was quite adroit at making the best of all situations, whether personal or public, private or institutional, turning every situation into an opportunity to love God with all his heart, soul, and mind; and to love his neighbor as himself. He also called upon his believers to follow his loving model in reaching the world for God. As the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians, which includes one of the oldest self-definitions of Christianity, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins so that he might rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever more. Amen" (Galatians 1:3-5, NASB).
In the twenty-plus centuries since the ministry of Jesus, many Christians have willingly and sacrificially tried to reach the world for God, to continue the great commandment of Jesus Christ in their own complicated lives, changing cultures, and imperfect ways - sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. This was true in the 1st century, CE, and, century after century, it is still a reality for the Christian movement, 2,000 years later.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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