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pauline studies

Roman Culture


  • Language
  • Class
  • Home Life
  • Immorality
  • Slavery
  • Gladiators

  • Language back to top

    Latin was the official language, and was most common in the Western Empire, whereas Greek was spoken in the East. Palestinian Jews also spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. The Roman Empire developed a road system that was unsurpassed for centuries and was the main mode of transportation in that day. The ordinary method of travel was by donkey, horse, mule, or by carriage. Communication between cities occurred by letters or by oral messengers.


    Class back to top

    Roman society was basically two-tiered. The upper class consisted of aristocratic landowners and government officials, while most of the people in the lower class were slaves. Criminals, debtors, and prisoners of war were often condemned to slavery. Eventually, as many as one third or more of the Empire's population was slaves. These slaves included doctors, teachers, philosophers, and businessmen. Most of the businesses were small, due in part to the difficulty of transporting goods. Agriculture was common and relatively advanced utilizing fertilizers, pesticides, and the rotation of crops. Banking included loaning of money and exchanging foreign currency.


    Home Life back to top

    The family was the most important social group in the Roman Empire. Families were often small and because of this the government offered incentives for couples to have larger families. Romans ate four times a day. Common foods included bread, soup, goat's milk, fish, wine, fruits, vegetables, sausage, and bacon. Meals were often eaten while lying down.

    Homes in the city were mainly brick or concrete, while those in the country were modest huts. Houses usually did not have windows low to the ground because of the high crime rate and lack of proper law enforcement. Palestinian towers were slightly different because they had a wall around the city. One entered an open square once inside the city and this is most likely where Jesus made many of His speeches to the people.


    Immorality back to top

    Immorality prevailed in the Roman Empire. Sexual sin in the form of prostitution, pederasty, and homosexuality was common. There were also high rates of divorce and murder.


    Slavery back to top

    Paul's epistles often address the idea or institution of slavery. Paul frequently uses slavery to explain our status; an example of this is when he states that we are either slaves to sin or slaves of righteousness. Paul also addresses the institution of slavery in his letter to Philemon.

    Slavery was a prevailing feature of Mediterranean societies in Paul's day, but the Romans had more slaves than any other people. Many, if not most of the people in Rome who read the epistle of Paul to the Romans would have been slaves. Reliable, yet cautious, sources estimate the slave population to be 300,000 - 350,000 out of a total population of 900,000 - 950,000 in the 1st century AD.


    Gladiators back to top

    Along with chariot races and the Olympic games, gladiatorial shows were a popular form of entertainment. Gladiators were some of the most moving figures in Roman society. The fighters were slaves, prisoners, and/or even volunteers. During these staged fights as many as 10,000 people were killed. In addition to people, animals such as lions, elephants, tigers, panthers, crocodiles, and snakes were killed for sport.

    Colosseum
    Gladiators fought in the Colosseum

    The gladiatorial combats found their origin in rites of sacrifice owed the spirits of the dead and of the need to turn them away with offerings of blood. They were introduced to Rome around 264 BC when the sons of Junius Brutus honored their father by matching three pairs of gladiators in combat. Originally these rites were owed to important men at or in honor of their death, but they did not have to be presented at that time. Julius Caesar commemorated the death of his daughter Julia, 8 years after her death, with elaborate games at her tomb. Julius Caesar honored his father 20 years after his death with 320 pairs of gladiators who fought in armor of silver.

    Most gladiators were prisoners of war, slaves bought for that purpose, or criminals sentenced to serve. During the 1st Century AD 3 of every 5 persons did not reach their 20th birthday. The odds of a professional gladiator being killed in any bout were approximately 1 in 10. The criminal who was to be executed or the Christian martyr who refused to renounce his faith and worship the gods had no hope of survival in the arena.

    Free men also volunteered to be gladiators and by the end of the Republic they made up half of the gladiator population. Often they were social outcasts, freed slaves, discharged soldiers, or former gladiators who had been liberated on retirement but chose to return for a period of service. Even a victorious and celebrated gladiator still remained an outcast of society and was regarded no differently than a criminal or member of some other shameful profession. The gladiatorial games lasted almost 600 years to AD 404 when finally prohibited by Honorius; after Constantine abolished them in AD 326. The gladiatorial shows aptly represent the Roman culture of war, discipline, and death.