Rome was the capital of the first century World. The population in AD 14 was 1,300,000 and by AD 70 was 2,000,000. It sat upon seven hills: Palatinus, Capitolinus, Quirinalis, Caelius, Aventinus, Viminalis, Esquilinus, and was hence called the City of the Seven Hills.

Rome had always been a contradiction in terms. She began life as a republic, but never a democracy. The Roman economy was a system of laissez faire tempered with state ownership of natural resources - mines, quarries, fisheries, salt-deposits, and considerable tracts of cultivated land. Trade was moderately burdened with a 1% sales tax, light custom dues, tolls over bridges and through towns. In the eyes of Roman law all free men had inalienable rights as well as duties. State religious officials, especially the board of pontiffs under the Pontifex Maximus, supervised public sacrifices and festivals and set the public calendar. All Roman citizens technically had the right of appeal to the people in capital cases.

Early Rome began in central Italy a new people, they dressed the land to a high degree of perfection and the sword and spade were right and left hands. They had begun as a rural people with their eyes on the earth. Out of this beginning came the conquest of cities which ensured the enslavement of men, the greater the success of this conquest, the more rapidly the Roman lost his self-sufficiency and the need of rigorous, purposeful living. Trade flourished, or, if not trade, loot; ideas followed cargoes. Then Rome became the center of the civilized world, and by the first century, the city had become the largest concentration of people on earth and at that time, the most diverse - Romans, Greeks, Syrians, Arabs, Jews, Egyptians, Gauls and Spaniards. The great majority were poor, living in densely packed disease-ridden tenements. The government, however, supplied them with free grain, and, at little or no cost, with theaters, circuses, gladiatorial shows and public baths. Rome was a oligarchy state governed by patricians - the rich - with a political morsel now and then thrown to the plebeians - the poor. Senate members and the ruling consuls came from the ranks of the patricians only. The successful wars did not benefit the plebeians, who grew poorer, but only the patricians, who grew richer. As class distinctions sharpened, the gulf between the landless and the propertied grew into an unbridgeable chasm. One demagogue after another succeeded to power by bribery and treachery. Immeasurably removed from those needy and greedy freemen, and living chiefly amid crowds of corrupted and obsequious slaves, stood the throng of the wealthy and noble.

Wheeled vehicles were forbidden in Rome during the day. People walked, or were carried in slave-born chairs or litters. For longer distances they travelled on horseback or in horse-drawn carriages or chariots. Travel by public stagecoach averaged some 60 miles a day.

Greece, beautiful, cultured, haughty, the lover, Rome, strong rich, uncouth. The Romans never could wash off their mark of inferiority, and they keenly felt their lack of a culture and their inability to produce one. When she no longer had Greece to nourish her arts and sciences, Rome succumbed culturally and politically to the barbarian invasions. There is a strong parallel between Rome and Greece on one hand and America and Western Europe on the other. Its enormous wealth; its unbounded self-indulgence; its course and tasteless luxury; its greedy avarice; its sense of insecurity and terror; its apathy, debauchery, and cruelty; its hopeless fatalism; its unspeakable sadness and weariness; its self-righteous arrogance and ignorance; its strange extravagances alike of infidelity and of superstition and for these reasons, both were hated by the rest of the world.

At the lowest extreme of the social scale were millions of slaves, A little above the slaves were the lower classes, who formed the vast majority of the freeborn inhabitants of the Roman Empire. They were for the most part beggars and idlers, familiar with the grossest indignities of an unscrupulous dependence. Despising a life of honest industry, they asked for bread and the games of the circus, and were ready to support any government, even the most despotic, if it would supply those needs. The Flavian amphitheater, known as the Coliseum, was 574 feet in its greatest diameter, and was capable of seating over 40,000 spectators. By the first century BC some Romans were even attracted to Judaism; lured by its rigorous ethics, its noble theology, its vision of a just god, working in and through history.

Two phrases sum up the characteristics of Roman civilization in days of the Empire - heartless cruelty, and unfathomable corruption. Romans thought nothing of the death penalty, their justice was swift and ruthless, no mercy, no compassion, no liberality. Such are the scenes which we must witness, such are the sentiments with which we must become familiar, the very moment that we turn our eyes away from the spectacle of the little Christian churches, composed chiefly as yet of slaves and artisans, who had been taught to imitate a Divine example of humility and sincerity, of purity and love.

Rome is very often compared with American life today. In the beginning, Christianity itself was considered by Rome to be part of the Jewish religion. Christians, like Jews, were exempted from emperor worship. This did not last long. Rome believed in many gods, to choose One over the rest was atheism. Because Rome tolerated so many faiths, out of a hard political necessity, Christianity was combated. These followers of Jesus were a threat to the state, the imperial authority of republican oligarchy and even the whole fabric of Roman civilization. This state within a state, this Oriental sect with its stubbornly monotheistic Yahweh that refused to hold any communion with the gods of Rome, this secret and theocratic society that obstinately denied and consistently undermined the Roman way of life was dangerous.

At the time of the writing of Paul's epistle to the Romans there is no organized church in Rome. So Paul is not writing to a headquarters, nor to a particular assembly, but to a community of believers. The Roman Christians worshipped in various congregations about the city. They were divided into independent groups which met in different homes. To Paul, Rome was a ripe plum to be picked for the Lord.
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