In modern times, Christianity is the most popular religion. However, this was not always the case. In ancient Roman times, Christianity was just starting to grow and raised many concerns to the Romans who did not understand this new monotheistic religion. Many of the traditions of modern Christianity originated from this time including the last supper. When Romans heard of people eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus, they viewed Christians as cannibals. Christians also referred to each other as their brother or sister in Christ. When Romans heard of this and saw weddings between Christians, Christians were viewed as incestual. Christians are also monotheistic and when they did not worship Roman gods or fear the emperor of Rome, Christians began to be viewed as a major problem and seen as a cult-like religion.
So of course, this new religion seemed to be a threat to order in the Roman Empire. Pliny, the governor of Pontus wrote to the Emperor Trajan regarding the Christians because he did not know how to treat them and bring peace to the region. Pliny wrote, “Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished” (Pliny, Letters 10.96-97). After checking up on the Christians the Romans began to fear the Christian faith because of their unwillingness to denounce their faith to the point of dyeing as martyrs. This “stubbornness” was what became the most threatening to the Romans.
Today’s culture calls for everyone to respect all religions, so in our view today, the Romans had no right to attempt to stamp out Christianity. However, to ancient Romans, it was not an issue of acceptance. In their eyes, Christianity was rising up against their order and authority and needed to be brought back into control. Only the Christians willing to die as martyrs were killed because these people were viewed as extremists and threats to the empire. They believed that if this radical form of Christianity, that was willing to die for their religion, spread that it could pose a real threat to the future of the empire.
Christianity was viewed as a cult and major threat rising in the Roman Empire because of their strong faith and weird customs. In the Romans eyes, Christians were a cult of cannibals that partook in incest and would die upholding their religion. The Romans justified their actions against the early Christians because they were bringing order and suppressing a civil uprising that threatened their empire. Though today, not much would justify persecuting people of a certain religion, it is for these reasons that the Romans justified their actions in persecuting the Christians in their empire.
Word Count: 500
Resources: Pliny, Letters 10.96-97