A lot has been written about Rome, but no description is more significant or factual than the prophecy of Daniel: “After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. “(Da 7:7)
I am not going to speculate on the final outcome of this prophecy, although I am sure it has great bearing on our not-too-distant future and the coming of the Lord. Nor am I going to try to re-construct a summary of Roman history, but rather give the perspectives and insights that dawned on me as I stood in the remains of the Emperor Domitian’s Palace.
To get our bearings time-wise, Domitian followed his brother Titus as Emperor of Rome in AD 81. Titus is the infamous Emperor that ransacked Jerusalem in AD 70, as Jesus had predicted in Matt 24. Domitian’s greatest passions were the arts and the games. He finished the Colosseum, which was started by his father Vespasian in AD 71 and then opened to the public in AD 80, and implemented the Capitoline Games in AD 86. Like the Olympic Games, they were to be held every four years and included athletic displays, chariot races, but also oratory, music and acting competitions.
I’m high-lighting Domitian, not because he was a particularly important Emperor, but because a great deal of his gigantic palace is still standing today and because I happened to be standing in his Sun Room gazing across his enormous private courtyard towards his massive kitchen and entertainment area, which runs parallel to his covered pavilion that overlooks the enormous Circus Maximus , where the Games and chariot races took place. A short chariot ride down the road from the palace (or a 15 minute walk for Plebs) would take Domitian into the Colosseum which held between 50 and 75,000 people, watching Gladiator contests, with fellow gladiators or wild animals and various other games.
Let’s also try to assimilate the fact that Domitian’s Palace is built on top of the ruins of many such palaces on the same spot; the Palatine Hill, from which we get our word “palace” and where the first King of Rome, Romulus, built his dwelling back in 753 BC and where many subsequent Kings and Emperors, built palaces.
Domitian also built an Arch to commemorate his brother Titus’ victory over Jerusalem in AD 70. Look closely at the figures on the inside of the Arch. The Jewish Candlestick (Menorah) , being carried by the Roman Legion makes it obvious where they had come from.
The might, glory and ingenuity of the Roman Empire can only be grasped when we recognise their military, engineering, cultural and political feats. As Daniel so accurately predicted, the Roman Legions had rammed, bashed, bombarded and trampled down most of the nations in the ancient world. They demonstrated their engineering skills by building the most advanced aqueduct system, feeding fresh water into the baths and fountains all over Rome. Their aqueducts, still operational today, were built to remarkably fine tolerances, such as a gradient of 34cm per kilometre over a 50 km distance to maintain the correct speed and flow of water. These aqueducts were constructed on brick arches across ravines and granite channels chiselled through mountains to maintain this gradient right into the city.
The Romans are also renowned for their brick yards, road, bridge and general construction, with unique architectural and engineering designs. They even had an additive that caused cement to set under water for their bridge arches, constructed under water in rivers.
The same power, glory, might, art, sculptures, architecture and wealth can be seen. Rome has not been conquered, it has just undergone a name change.
The Emperor’s Palace is the Pope’s residence, the Pagan Roman Temple, is called St Peter’s Basilica, many of the pagan Roman rituals and practises have been assimilated into the “Christian Church”. Thousands of people from all over the world gather in St Peter’s Square every Sunday to almost deify a man, who appears from an exalted window, several storeys above the masses. It is no surprise that the popes are known as the “Pontiff” which is very similar to the Roman Emperors who were known as “Pontifex Maximus” a title they bore as heads of the pagan priesthood. Time and space does not allow me to compare all the similarities between pagan Rome and Roman Catholicism.
An excellent book on the subject, “Pagan Christianity”, gives a detailed comparison. Sufficient to say that my very strong, first-hand impression of all that I saw, left me convinced that when the Emperor Constantine signed the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, legalizing Christianity, he did not Christianize Rome, he Romanized Christianity.
While we owe a debt of gratitude to the Reformers of the 16th century for rescuing Christianity from some of the Roman pagan influences, I do believe that we, as Christians still wrestle under the burden of the ‘Empire’ mentality.
Paul’s warning stands in vivid contrast: “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his cunning, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Co 11:3)
The prophetic words of Jesus endorse this warning, where He says, “Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel you to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white clothing, that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness does not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.“(Re 3:17-18)