The Roman Empire, as seen in this map of Roman Empire Bible Map, was the post-Republican phase of the ancient Roman civilization, characterized by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean.
The term is used to describe the Roman state during and after the time of the first emperor, Augustus.
The Roman Republic, which preceded it, had been weakened and subverted through several civil wars. Several events are commonly proposed to mark the transition from Republic to Empire, including Julius Caesar's appointment as perpetual dictator (44 BC), the Battle of Actium (2 September 31 BC), and the Roman Senate's granting to Octavian the honorific Augustus (4 January 27 BC).
Judaism in Roman Empire
While Judaism was largely accepted, it was on occasion subject to (mostly) local persecution, such as in Capernaum. Until the rebellion in Judea in 66 CE, Jews were generally protected. To get around Roman laws banning secret societies and to allow their freedom of worship, Julius Caesar declared Synagogues were colleges. Tiberius forbade Judaism in Rome but they quickly returned to their former protected status. Claudius expelled Jews from the city however the passage of Suetonius is ambiguous: "Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus he [Claudius] expelled them from the city". Chrestus has been identified as another form of Christus; the disturbances may have been related to the arrival of the first Christians, and that the Roman authorities, failing to distinguish between the Jews and the early Christians, simply decided to expel them all.
Christianity, originally a Jewish religious sect, emerged in Roman Judea in the first century AD. The religion gradually spread out of Judea, initially establishing major bases in first Antioch, then Alexandria, and over time throughout the Empire. For the first two centuries, the imperial authorities largely viewed Christianity simply as a Jewish sect rather than a distinct religion. Suetonius mentions passingly that: "[during Nero's reign] Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief" but he does not explain for what they were punished.
Tacitus reports that after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE some in the population held Nero responsible and that to diffuse blame, he targeted and blamed the Christians. The war against the Jews during Nero's reign, which so destabilized the empire that it led to the first civil war since the days of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, as well as Nero's suicide, plausibly provided an additional rationale for persecutions against this 'Jewish' sect.
Persecution of Christians would be a recurring theme in the Roman Empire for the next two centuries. Eusebius and Lactantius document the last great persecution of the Christians under Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th century at the urging of Galerius. This was the most vicious persecution of Christians in the Empire's history. After Diocletian, however, the fact that emperors were often Christians themselves lessened whatever persecutions may have still been occurring.
As the 4th century progressed, Christianity had become so widespread that it became officially tolerated, then promoted (Constantine I), and in 380 established as the Roman Empire's official religion (Theodosius I). By the 5th century Christianity had become the Empire's predominant religion rapidly changing the Empire's identity even as the Western provinces collapsed. This would lead to the persecution of the traditional polytheistic religions that had previously characterized most of the Roman Empire.
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