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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Greatness of Rome?

Why is the Roman Empire admired?
The Twelve Caesars, written by the Greek historian Suetonius on the greatest Roman Emperors, has left me wondering why the Roman Empire is so much admired.

These guys bullied, bribed and bluffed their way into power and once there were often nothing more than plain brutes. True, some, like Julius Caesar seemed to have extraordinary gifts of military leadership, but apart from a reputation for power and might, what can be said for the Roman Empire? People say the Empire brought the world a season of peace (the so-called Pax Romana), but largely, or so it seems to me, peace by the edge of the sword. Yes they built great monuments and roads and renamed months after them (July after Julius Caesar, August after Augustus; relief that Tiberius declined to have September named after him), but what lasting good did they achieve? 

Give it to him: Suetonius, the author does try to be fair. On one occasion Julius Caesar was captured by pirates. The wait for the ransom money was frustrating to him and during it he told the pirates - who probably thought he was joking - that he would find them and crucify them one day. This is exactly what he did. He raised a fleet, found them and crucified them. Julius Caesar, however, was a generous fellow, according to Suetonius, because before he crucified them he had their throats slit. If that is generosity.....

The grisly end of many of the Emperors remind us of the words of Jesus, that those who live by the sword, will also die by the sword. 

The overuling of Providence
There was one good thing God did through the Empire. Its roads provided highways across which the apostles could travel quickly and effectively to spread the Good News of Jesus with the whole world. The Pax Romana provided a stable environment in which the Kingdom of Christ could spread and grow. And Paul, the great Apostle, because he was a Roman Citizen could travel about unhindered.

The Empire might have been thoroughly bad, but God in his Sovereign power overruled evil to bring about good. That's the way he so often works.

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