Except for the Roman, the ancient Roman Empire was formed by many other cultures such as Greek, Babylonian, Arabic, Hebrew, etc. Each of these cultures had their own characteristics including religious. Maintaining of the order in the empire demanded certain measures. The following question may arise: How did Rome administer regions that had different religious? There might be two opposing answers to this question. The first states that Rome suppressed religions in order to ensure loyalty to the emperor. In turn, according to the opposite point of view, Rome accepted and assimilated religions from other areas in order to legitimize the emperors’ role and to unite the empire. In my view, the first answer seems to be more reasonable. Given the imperialist character of ancient Rome, based on the expansion of its territorial boundaries and hence, on the enslavement of people, the pressure on various religious ideas might be a logical continuation of the policy of ancient Rome. The current paper analyzes the policy of the Roman rulers regarding the regions with their different religions, in order to understand its features.
The attitude of the Roman government towards the Jews who lived in Judea was based on the idea of subordination and oppression. Jews were suppressed by the Romans in order to ensure their loyalty to the Emperor. The great Jewish revolt against the Romans, which began in 66 AD, led to the greatest catastrophe in Jewish history. With the first occupation of the Land of Israel by the Romans in 63 BC, their rule became increasingly oppressive. Almost from the beginning of a new era, Judea was ruled by the Roman procurator, whose main task was to collect an annual tribute from Jews and send it to the metropolis. Procurators left for themselves the part of the money, which exceeded the amount of the sum they had to send to the metropolis. It is not surprising that they often levy extortionate taxes. The fact that the Romans usurped the right to appoint the high priest was no less galling for the Jews. As a result, the high priests, who were to present the Jews in their relationship with God during the temple service, were appointed from among Jews-collaborators.
The regimens of Porcius Festus and Lucius Albina were scandalous. Excessive taxes weakened society. Thousands of people were imprisoned for receiving a buyout from their relatives for the release. The officials openly robbed and often murdered Jews. The policy of Florus was even worse. He is responsible for a series of events in 66, which could not but lead to a bloody war. In Caesarea, he received eight talents for resolution of the dispute about a location for the new synagogue. After receiving the money, he did not make decisions and arrested the dissidents. What is more, he withdrew from the treasury of the Temple in Jerusalem 17 talents and, consequently, it added fuel to the fire. The protests against these actions in Jerusalem were brutally suppressed.
The rumors that Florus was going to rob the Temple increased the excitement. Florus responded by the order to plunder the market in Judea. Thousands of people were killed. Even the Jews, who held high positions and the Roman allegiance, were crucified. Jews had never seen such brutality by the Romans in peacetime. Legionnaires were breaking into their houses, killing and looting. Thus, the Jewish revolt was caused by religious, social and economic reasons, since the Jews could no longer endure the pressure from the Romans. The war between the Jews and the Romans lasted for several years, and finally, the Roman army won. As a result, the pressure of the Romans on the Jews was repeatedly increased, and their actions were subject to enhanced monitoring.
Christians, who lived in the territory of the Roman Empire, were persecuted by the Roman government, no less than the Jews. The Roman emperor Nero (54-68) presented one of the most striking examples of the persecution of Christians. In fact, he was the first to start the first major persecution of Christians. In 64 AD, Nero burned most of Rome and in order to divert suspicion from himself, he persecuted Christians. The period between 64- 68 AD was terrible for Christians since they were crucified, given to be devoured by wild beasts and even sewn into bags, which were poured with resin and lit during festivals.
The reasons for the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire are complex and varied. From the perspective of the Roman state, Christians were offenders of the Imperial Majesty, apostates from state deities, followers of the magic forbidden by law, and confessors of the religion unauthorized by the law. Christians were accused of lese-majesty, both because for their worship, which they had at nights in a secret (that was considered to be a rebellion against Rome) and the fact that they refused to honor the imperial images. The apostasy from state deities was also considered as one of the forms of lese-majesty. Pagans considered miraculous healings, which existed in the primitive Church, to be the things prohibited by law. They thought that Jesus gave his followers a magical book, which contained the secrets of the expulsion of demons and healing. The sacred books of Christians were a subject to a thorough investigation by the Romans and often were burned.
Except for the Jews and Christians, Manichaeans were also harassed and persecuted by the Roman authorities. Manichaeism, which penetrated into the empire from Iran, has acquired a large spread in the eastern provinces and in Africa. As well as Judaism and Christianity, Manichaeism was founded on the idea of a savior. Many people who were dissatisfied with the social and economic conditions of their lives in Roman Imperia, found solace in such religions. Manichaeism acquired a large number of followers fairly quickly. Diocletian, announcing Manichaeans to be a tool of the hostile Persia, ordered to execute their preachers and burn their books.
Another way one can understand Rome’s encounters with foreign religions is by examining how they assimilated them into their own beliefs. Mithraism became a religion, which was positively perceived by the Roman government and later successfully assimilated. The fact is that in the 3rd century BC, the imperial power in the Roman Empire, freed from the shackles of the Principate, was gradually becoming absolute. Such an authority needed a corresponding religion. Shortly after, the imperial cult turned into the reverence of the eastern god of the sun. The sun became the supreme deity. The Roman Empire received an official cult of Mithraism, based on a belief in god Mitra. This deity, whose cult came from Persia and was identified with the Sun, embodied the Roman ideas of loyalty, courage, and law. In the view of many inhabitants of the empire, Mitra-Sun protected the law and the truth as well as demanded austerity and strict observance of moral principles. The belief in Mithras created peace and unity.
It should be noted that the government objectives of the Roman emperors included their veneration as Pontifex Maximus (the chief priest) by Roman people. The emperor who received the title of Pontifex Maximus “was responsible for maintaining the pax deorum “peace with the gods”. The meaning of this policy was in the approval of perception of the imperial power as having a divine origin and performing divine functions.
To sum up, the Roman rulers facilitated the assimilation and supported the religions that did not contradict, but rather contributed to the idea of greatness and divinity of the Roman emperor. Given that most of the religions presented in the Roman Empire were against the divine authority of the emperor, suppression is a better way of understanding Rome’s relationship with foreign religions. Judaism, Christianity, Manichaeism, and other religions, which claimed the idea of a savior and did not recognize the authority of the Roman rulers, were a serious threat to the unity of the Roman Empire. They undermined the foundations of the Roman Empire, which was based on the deification of the Roman emperor as the Vicar of God on earth. Thus, in this case, suppression was a way to eliminate, in particular, political enemies in a form of religious ideas.