The History of Ancient Rome - Garrett G. Fagan - Constantine and the Late Roman Empire.mp3
If I were to ask you, is the United States the new Roman Empire of the modern world and in what ways? Would you be able to answer the question? But more importantly, do you know what the Roman Empire is? Most people nowadays turn to television for answers pertaining to history and important global current events. Movies such as Gladiator and King Arthur provide audiences with skillful recreations of the ancient world that are visually and emotionally satisfying, but are not entirely historically accurate. The audience walks out of the movie theatre with an assortment of distorted historical viewpoints. These half-truths are then reiterated until they become part of historical dogma, and this is where the danger lies. For example, Hollywood and Walt Disney still perpetuate the lie that Pocahontas, daughter of Powhatan, a great chief of the Algonkian-speaking tribes, had an intimate relationship with John Smith, an Englishman. In reality, the English kidnapped her in the middle of war against her people, and kept her prisoner for many months, while they negotiated with Powhatan for payment in the form of corn. The conflict between the English ended when Pocahontas converted to Christianity, essentially becoming the first Christian Native American. She married John Rolfe, an Englishmen, who was known as the “father of tobacco” for his lucrative marketing of tobacco in Jamestown, Virginia. She would later die of lung poisoning when she moved to England.
Having a better understanding of American history, which is significantly infantile when compared to the complexity and sophistication of the ancient and classical world, is extremely important because it demonstrates how much of our American civilization has been intimately embedded in those belief systems. After all, Rome and America started as republics. Rome, the one time conqueror of the ancient world, has undergone many transformations since its legendary founding in 753 BC by the brothers Romulus and Remus. What started out as a small village of shepherds and farmers would rise to power conquering and governing most of the known world. At its militaristic height, the Roman Empire had dominion over lands extending from Western Europe, the Balkans, North Africa, Asia Minor, and the British Isles, except for Ireland and Scotland, effectively controlling the Mediterranean Sea. Rome’s extraordinary achievements and influence are all around us.
Their presence exists through our art, architecture, engineering, language, literature, law, and religion, yet most of us are unaware at how we came to this present day mind set, incorporating them in our social, political, and cultural structures. The legacy of the Roman Empire influenced Western Civilization, but we must go back to the ancient Greeks and acknowledge their contribution also. According to traditional academic teaching, the Greeks expressed their genius through philosophy, mathematics, science, drama, and the arts. Their humanistic outlook introduced logic and reason, which replaced superstition and magic, as they learned more about nature, the universe, and humanity’s purpose. In trying to comprehend the world they lived in, Greek intellectuals omitted the gods as a first cause of how nature and the universe came to be. They valued the mind and its ability to rise above magic and miracles through reason and thought alone. The Greeks are known to have elevated human nature to the limit of its aesthetic self (1).
The Romans on the other hand preserved Greek culture, which constitutes the foundation of Western learning and human aesthetics. They expressed their genius through law, government, military engineering and campaigning, and large-scale building construction, which dignified and strengthened Roman ideology. Roman law evolved into three distinct types: the civil law (ius civile), the law of nature (ius naturale), and the law of nations (ius gentium). These laws became the legal system for modern European states. As Europeans established colonial empires in the Americas, Asia, and Africa, they transplanted the principles of Roman law (1).
The grandeur that was once Rome created a world-state. They were the first of the ancient world empire builders to create a centralized government in which they bound millions of people under Roman citizenship, law and government. They ultimately surpassed the Akkadians, Egyptians, Persians, and Greeks with their huge administrative network of taxes and officials, supported by an infrastructure of roads, aqueducts, and trading routes operating over an extensive area for centuries. Civil engineering projects such as bridges and aqueducts were designed to meet technical and military functions rather than decorative needs. The Romans built 50,000 miles of roads constituting a network of transportation connecting their empire. Large-scale road construction allowed Rome to maintain effective systems of communication and intelligence gathering with its far-flung outposts. Their technological ingenuity and military conquests made it possible for the empire to expand and flourish, thus becoming inescapably material (2). Roman cities were cosmopolitan, commercialized, and multi-national. They were highly developed urban centers due to their complex and rigid bureaucratic systems, public administration networks, and a strong cultural and religious life. The conquest of a great number of lands and people gave the Roman ruling class opportunities to enhance their wealth by exploiting the empire’s subjects. Senators appointed to govern provinces would often amass large fortunes through bribery, extortion, the confiscation of properties, and the enslavement and sale of captured peoples.
Rome’s aggressive materialistic nature is self-evident in military campaigns against the Celtic civilization. As Rome began to extend over the Mediterranean Sea and Western Europe, the Roman war machine took great care in eliminating anyone that would cause harm to its socio-political organization. The Romans pursued the Druids into Britain and Gaul, modern day France, Belgium, and portions of Switzerland, Holland, and west Germany. The Druids presented an absolute danger because their science and philosophy contradicted Roman rule. The Romans were materialistic and the Druids spiritual. Also, the Romans based their law on individual land ownership vested on the individual, typically the male head of the family, whereas the Druids lived in a society that believed in collective land ownership and woman were equal to men in all aspects, if not superior. In 58 BC, Julius Caesar became governor and military commander of Gaul and, without permission from the Roman senate, launched a campaign of conquest, which he described in his Gallic Wars, an invaluable written documentary of the Roman campaign. By 55 BC, Caesar was involved in two illegal wars. He first attacked Gaul under the pretense of national security and then claimed that Britain was harboring fugitives. Britain, also known as Brittany, was an industrious commercial center outside of Rome that had a good reputation for its woolen trade, highly prized metals such as tin and cooper, precious stones, and gems. “…for a Roman to own a British woolen cloak was regarded with the same prestige…” as theirs (Ellis 68). From an enterprising point of view, if Britain could be annexed into the Roman Empire instead of trading with it on an equal basis, the woolen industry could produce more revenue for Rome. Wars, even illegal ones, need hypothetical justification. If we are to believe Caesar’s reasons for attacking Gaul and Brittany, we limit our ability to seriously think about historical events in our own time. A conquering army will always write history and once they possess the historical, scientific, cultural, and human knowledge of the conquered, they will alter it. This layering of history is an educational template that has been passed down to every person in school. Caesar doctored his version of Roman occupation in Gaul to exalt his preeminence and that of imperial Rome.
Caesar was not only the commander of the army campaign in Gaul, but its editor and correspondent. According to Ramon L. Jimenez, Caesar decided what to include in his reports from the front and what to leave out. Interestingly enough, the dispatches that he sent to the senate after each battle have not survived (4). Caesar was a classic opportunist whose brilliant military gifts and claim to serve the Roman people only enriched himself, his legions, who where totally committed to him, and the majority of the senate. His conquest of Gaul proved to be very lucrative. Not only did he expand Rome’s frontier borders, but also coveted an abundance of copper and tin mines, large quantities of foodstuff, captured thousands of men, women, and children, which were brought back to Rome to be sold or placed under servitude, introduced Rome’s culture and its materialistic outlook, and enforced an effective system of taxation in conquered territories. History has always glorified Caesar, but history, generally written by the conquerors, tends to favor the conquerors.
We are living in very chaotic times and have been witnesses to some of the most extraordinary acts of inhumanity inflicted on a people. Human civilization has known nothing but world wars, diseases, extreme poverty, systematic acts of genocide, sexual-slavery, and natural disasters, which are the results of unrelenting depletion and destruction of the earth’s resources. The wanton obliteration of our planet’s possessions is nothing more than a global corporate agenda for unlimited profit at the expense of our world and human life. American and European multi/trans-national banks and corporations, with the aid of their high-powered law firms, immoral politicians, and militaristic coercion, have continued to actively deplete and destroy Mother Earth, for profit and population control. It is very important for us to break away from the hypnotic spells, which have clouded our judgment to evaluate the social, political, material, and religious structures that have been designed to control and deceive the masses. These days the hypnotist doesn’t need a pendulum to put you under a trance. Television, with its mastery of visual technology, has created an impenetrable mindlessness through its commercials, often involving sexy images, gratuitous violence, “reality” shows that never stop mutating, and the arrogant “in your face” promotion of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, who don’t give a damn about you, your children, or your future. Television has created a commercial sense of reality in which most people are actively playing the role of the happy go lucky consumer. For the most part the average person will just work overtime and weekends to pay off their numerous purchases bought on “credit” instead of living moderately and enriching their intellectual and spiritual capacity through meditating, reading a multitude of sources, going to museums, or befriending people from different cultural backgrounds. An open-mind allows us to acquire a better cultural understanding of people instead of the negative stereotypes that have been flippantly attached to people by television, movies, and commercials. Commercials today have underlying messages, the necessity of material objects, physical self-awareness, and their interpretation of what society is. Life is not a commercial, but isn’t if funny how some people measure their success and failures by the expensive cars they drive in, wide-screen televisions, and the stylish clothing apparel they have or don’t. It’s a programming process that they start us off early in life. Just look at children today. They are being exposed to the same material conditions that we underwent as children, but the quality of the images today are much more sophisticated and attractive to the viewers. Commercial ads are no different from the visual and hypnotic messages we are receiving when we watch the news. Our entire understanding of the world and current events are filtered through the media and then interpreted by so-called “experts” and “journalists”. Their point of view becomes our point of view simply because we are not given a choice or the truth. The staggering amount of misinformation and nonsense transmitted to us daily through television, radio, and newspapers is specifically designed to keep our rational frame of mind in the dark-ages. The United States government with its aggressive militaristic campaigning in Iraq and Afghanistan, under the pretense of national and global security, parallels the same attitudes and destructive nature unleashed on humanity by the ancient Romans. The United States is the new Roman Empire, but most people would not be able to make the connection because their system of intellectual intake has been significantly glossed over with insignificant matters, such as “reality” shows, afternoon soap dramas and home shopping network channels (specifically created for women), ridiculous big screen movies with no captivating storylines, just a lot of digitized special effects to awe the audiences, and the ever increasing idolatry worshipping of Hollywood actors, who are considered more newsworthy than American women and men who are fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.
World history is not a sequence of unrelated events. What affects one group of people directly, affects all people indirectly. The extraordinary parallels between ancient Rome and the United States are there for us to see so we can come up with our own conclusions. Sadly, materialism has successfully replaced intellectualism in America, which has produced an impenetrable material mindlessness. Historical, cultural, and gender bias must always be taken into consideration whenever we study or come across information about people. History is a testament of truth. Careful examination reveals that if a people have ever been enslaved, dehumanized, grossly taken advantage of, and forced to give up their ancient traditions and customs, those who committed these acts have meticulously rewritten their history and sought to suppress cultural knowledge and information regarding those people. Therefore, one must always question “history” and the institutions that supposedly represent and safeguard our nation’s political and moral enlightenment. We must open our eyes and minds through thought and our ability to comprehend and intensely scrutinize all sources that have been passed down to us. Once our consciousness is exposed to true sources of knowledge and profound insight, as a replacement for the news media or newspapers whose primary purpose is to keep us in a state of perpetual anxiety with its constant barrage of war, violence, and crime, we’ll be in an incredible position to take back our thinking power. Once you take that initial fundamental step towards your intellectual salvation, the realization of how we’ve been manipulated through television, education, food, religion, politics, and technology will astound you.
The monumental growth and influence of Christianity within the Roman Empire, and its subsequent restructuring by altering the nature of Christianity to suit an alternate idea, which still continues today, is perhaps the pinnacle of its legacy. Several religious orders would later branch out from Christianity, such as Protestantism, Calvinism, and Mormonism, adding more religious ideology with different systems of moral understandings and beliefs, often leading to controversy, bloodshed, and long-lasting violence. One of Rome’s greatest achievements was its ability to absorb divergent cultures and mysterious religions into the empire. Rome’s digestive power, already influenced by Hellenistic civilization, achieved a remarkable mixing of East and West, and continued the process over a wider area. Such openness towards different cultures served to ease political situations and integrate different societies into the empire. Many gods of the classical world were readily adopted and amalgamated into the Roman religious infrastructure. Especially popular amongst the Romans were the mystery religions dedicated to Dionysus, Cybele, Osiris and Horus, and Mithras. These mystery religions of the ancient world had the most profound influence on Christianity. Even more astonishing than pagan influence on Christianity, is the mass ignorance of Christians and Catholics regarding the true founding of organized Christianity in the Roman Empire due to the brutal suppression of information or misinformation that was given to the public. Traditional Roman religion was a combination of rituals performed either publicly by representatives of the state or privately by members of a family. The relationship between gods and human beings was considered to be a contract. Pagan Romans fulfilled their obligations by performing rituals, offerings, animal and human sacrifices in hope that the gods would fulfill theirs, by providing protection and good fortune (2). Sound familiar?
With the coming of Christianity, everything changed. Christianity introduced a new idea of another worldly kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. The poor and the oppressed of the Roman world were drawn to Jesus’ message of love, compassion, concern for humanity, plus the promise of eternal life had an immense attraction to a people burdened with misfortune and fear of death. The remarkable courage they displayed in the amphitheatres and coliseums as they endured torture, maiming from wild beasts, and death, convinced Romans of all classes that Christians possessed supernatural powers. History is remarkably fascinating when you are able to comprehend the evolution of religious and political institutions. By studying the moral and economic background of those individuals directly involved, one can deduct that financial gain and controlling the masses are always directly mixed in. Religious masters have retained their supremacy at the expense of devotees who are genuinely seeking salvation and enlightenment. The Christian/Catholic church and various governments throughout the centuries have aligned themselves for the purposes of extending their religious ideology, territories, wealth, and power. This was heightened when Rome, under the eastern Roman Emperor Constantine, adopted Christianity as the state religion for the Roman Empire.
In 313 AD, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which granted Christians the freedom to worship and allowed them to recover property confiscated by Roman government. The Edict decreed that Christians were no longer to be persecuted, that is, not brought before judges to be tortured or killed simply because they were Christian. In the 200's, as well as in the times of Emperors Caligula and Nero in the 1st century AD, there were terrible persecutions, and since records were incomplete records, we do not know how many Christians met their deaths, perhaps hundreds or thousands. In 311 AD, Constantine fought another Roman general, Maxentius in the Battle of Red Rocks, over the Milvian Bridge for possession of the empire. What is remarkable about Constantine’s victory is not the battle itself, but what occurred happened before the battle. According to history, Constantine had a vision or dream in which he saw the Chi-Rho, and the words in hoc signo vinces, literally meaning “by this sign you will conquer” or “conquer by this sing” on top of the sun. As a result of these divine apparitions and the Christian’s moral force and unprejudiced nature, Constantine honored their God by allowing his soldiers to put the Chi-Rho sign on their shields. Constantine’s much smaller army overwhelmingly defeated Maxentius’ forces, convincing many that the Christian God favored Constantine and his undertakings. Are you kidding me? If we are to believe a Roman general, who supposedly saw these incredible visions, then ask yourself this, why would a compassionate all loving God profess such violence and encourage Roman soldiers to fight other Roman soldiers? Why didn’t God say to Constantine, “put down your weapons and show mercy, kindness, and love to your enemies” in his dream or vision? There is no doubt in my mind that Constantine took full advantage of Jesus’ message of forgiveness and moral transformation to give basis to a new significant movement within the Roman Empire. Jesus’ message was both moral and political because it was typically directed at a segment of the population, the poor, destitute, and slaves, which could have political consequences. Constantine was an astute general and politician who saw the enormous potential of attracting large numbers of Christians and the many pagan religious orders throughout the Roman world, which had similar, if not identical, creeds as Christianity. If one is seeking large numbers of followers to recruit for their allegiance, one must promulgate a message to enlist them. Jesus’ message of hope and salvation was that inspiration.
Constantine, perhaps the greatest influences in promoting the Christian church, second to Christ, is credited with bringing idols into the church and blending it with pagan practices, especially sun-worshipping. Sun-worshippers were easily converted to Christianity because of their similarities and practices. The new Roman church had found the message of Jesus of love for one’s neighbor could ennoble and blend civic-duty and state responsibility. His military victory of Maxentius changed the course of Christianity forever. As more Roman political leaders and those below them converted, the nature of Christianity began to change. The humanitarian message of Jesus eroded and became more political. After Constantine, Roman orthodoxies took on an entirely different view. They demanded more obedience and belief on the basis of faith rather than reason.
Romanized Christianity became a powerful institution that could be counted on to war with opposing factions or “heretical” views. The Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine simply identified itself as the progressive movement and made concessions with the popular religious group to attract more Christians and pagans. It makes absolute sense that Rome would become the progenitor of the Christian faith. After all, Roman civilization had reached towering pinnacles of engineering, learning, architecture, military stability and campaigning, and created an extensive network of trading and commerce over a large geographical area, maintaining civil and maritime order through politics and law. Rome became the new physical and spiritual capital of the Christian Church, hence the Roman Catholic Church. Needless to say, Jesus Christ was born in the Roman Empire and Constantine, believing himself to be God’s chosen instrument, organized the Christian church with a new directive of upgrading the nature of Jesus by omitting those Gospels that spoke of Jesus’ human traits, and focusing mainly on the Gospels that spoke of his god-like supernatural powers. It is easier to believe in someone who can work miracles and manifest god-like powers, than just an ordinary man.
In 325 AD, Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, modern day Turkey, to settle the Arian dispute, or the Arian Heresy concerning the nature of Jesus Christ. It was here that Emperor Constantine restructured Christianity into a new socio-political organization, reinforcing and encouraging an ecclesiastic patriarchal religious order. The merger of the Christian Church with imperial Rome saw the establishment of orthodoxy. Religious orthodoxy would become a position of power since the individual could no longer contradict it. It created an entirely different belief system, in which church leaders could now resolve their internal and external disputes with the emperor’s aid. Today many naive Christians and Catholics go to church without any knowledge that a Roman emperor was responsible for the restructuring of the New Testament, Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, and God. Without historical awareness the individual will not be able discern for themselves how much of their religious, cultural, and social values have been reshaped from an inherited past.
At the Council of Nicaea the Doctrine of the Trinity (all male) was declared to be orthodox Christian belief, the holiday Easter was established, Jesus was declared a god and not just a mortal prophet, rules defining the authority of bishops, concentrated power in a male-dominated ecclesiastic hierarchy, the belief in angels and demons became part of Christian dogma, the Roman Sun-day, or Day of the Sun declared to be the Christian Sabbath, and the symbol for God or the Cross of Light was adopted as the Christian emblem. Constantine wanted to subordinate church leaders at a time when bishops were emerging as a ruling class. Bishops, once persecuted by Roman soldiers, would now rule over them. The year 325 AD was paramount because the Christian Church, supported by imperial Rome provided the foundation of an entirely new belief system, one contrasting the simple humanitarian message of love and divine spiritual greatness within us, spoken by Jesus. If Jesus were to materialize in the Vatican today, there is no doubt that he would be angered and disgusted by the pompous wealth the Roman Catholic Church has been able to amass at the expense of its devout followers. The Roman Catholic Church through its spellbinding religious imagery has successfully ensnared millions of devotees through emotive, ornamental, and ceremonial support systems, as seen in Christian medieval and renaissance artwork, sculpting, and cathedral construction, giving the illusion of a hypothetical and glorious heavenly kingdom through visualization.
As investigators of the truth, we need to do is review the controversies surrounding the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church, past and present, or any other religious institutions for that matter, to sharpen our awareness of their monarchial power, and the manner in which they’ve compromised Biblical truth and subordinated spiritual enlightenment for political and commercial favors. The gradual political and social development of the Christian/Catholic church through the Roman Empire, in my opinion, is a clear-cut testament on how it was organized strictly by men to sanctify their political and religious agendas. The New Testament, as it exists today, is essentially a product of the 4th century, compiled by editors and writers that omitted many significant facts surrounding Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Adam and Eve, the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, and the influence of ancient pagan religious in the early Christian church (Please see essay on the Gnostic Gospels.) Christ opposed formalized worshipping in all appearances, religions that ignored the poor and scorned society’s outcasts, while flattering and enfranchising rulers and religious leaders. Religious hierarchies replaced his message of love and spiritual truth. Roman Christian orthodox leaders realized that they could maintain people in ritual and fear, rather than have them seek true enlightenment on their own. The restructuring of the Christian church allowed imperial Rome to impose its own set of rules, which followers had to adhere in order to achieve salvation and heavenly admittance. Seeking spiritual salvation defaults to the order of popes, bishops, and other ecclesiastic authorities, which were not be questioned or challenged. The church is organized into strict terms of superiors and subordinates, with Constantine as leader of the Christian church. In order to maintain discipline among Christians in Roman society, supernatural sponsorship of state orthodox laws and edicts were conjured up in such a way that no citizen questioned or digressed from them without fear of retaliation from divine power or Roman authorities.
It’s simply amazing how most Christian and Catholic devotees are unaware of these basic facts or their inability to recognize the manipulation of something so important as pertaining to their faith. History is much more intellectually satisfying when one can associate the religious and political falsehood from the present and the past. It’s all the same lies undergoing literary and visual transformations to adapt to the current age. From a religious point of view, look at how we’ve been taught to never question God’s authority and actions, the Bible, or the clergy. As Christians, Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, Pentecostals, Mormons, and the other denominations that emerged out of Christianity, you're taught never to question what you’ve been taught, even though there are glaring controversies. For example, as a child in Catholic school, I never understood why God in the Old Testament, who was supposed to be full of love and wisdom, sent a deadly plague to kill the first-born male children of Egypt. Clearly this is infanticide, but we’re given a more pleasant explanation that God was demonstrating his love and commitment for the enslaved Hebrews, rather than explaining that God was terrorizing the Egyptians into submission. Obscured religious explanations are what most of us received as children. However, there comes a time when one must take an evolutionary mental leap from what they’ve been taught in religion class and church, and embrace our intuition, life-long experiences, and reasoning capabilities to uncover some of the most amazing alterations in the human history.
Jose R. Castilla III.
1. Sources of Western Civilization: From Ancient Times to the Enlightenment. Fourth edition., Vol, i., Perry, Peden, & Von Laue. Houghton Mifflin
Company, Boston & New York.
2. The Illustrated History of the World: Rome and the Classical West, Vol, iii., J.M. Roberts. New York, Oxford University Press.
3. The Druids. Peter Berresford Ellis. Willaim B. Eardmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1994.
4. Caesar Against the Celts: Ramon L. Jimenez. Castle Books Publishing: 1996.