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During the first century, a new religion took hold in Rome. It was called Christianity.
The followers of Christianity were called Christians. Christians believed in one god.
They refused to worship the Roman gods. In ancient Rome, that was against the law.
Christians were hunted as criminals. Persecution of the followers of Christianity took
place publicly, often as entertainment.
Forty years after the death of the Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar, the new
emperor Nero came to the throne at the age of sixteen. He was a wildly extravagant
leader, taxing the people heavily to support his personal projects. He was also a
wicked man.
In the year 64 A.D. a terrible fire raged for days in the slum districts of
Rome, killing thousands of people and leaving thousands more homeless.
Nero is thought to have started the fire as a sinister way to rid Rome of
both the slums and their occupants. However Nero used the young
community of Christians as his scapegoats, saying that they had started
the tragic fire. He ordered many of these Christians to be massacred in the
Colosseum and elsewhere.
The official Roman dislike of Christianity was surprising, for the Romans were usually
quick to adopt the gods of other faiths into their own religion. Early on, the Christians
were allowed to practice their religion in private as long as they worshiped the Roman
gods in public. The Romans declared their emperors to be gods, beginning with
Augustus Caesar. Eventually, the Christians refused to take part in the worship of
emperors and were as a result, disliked by the Roman State!
Christians were also seen as enemies because of their actions to encourage
people to join their religion. Despite the persecutions, particularly under
the emperors Nero and Diocletian, the number of Christians increased.
In 313 A.D., the emperor Constantine granted the Christians freedom
of religion. This does not mean that Rome finally had religious
freedom. It meant only that it was now legal to worship Roman gods or to be
Christian. Every other religion was still illegal.
The lack of religious freedom in ancient Rome contributed to the fall of the Roman
Examine Source A. How did historians know that
the owner of the house was a Christian? _______
Source A
The very wealthy owner of the villa at Hilton St
Mary in Dorset was a Christian. The mosaic in
the main room in his house had this picture of
the head of Christ as well as the Chi-Rho symbol.
Chi and Rhoare the first two letters of the name _________________________________________
Christ in the Greek alphabet.
X- Chi.
P- Rho.
Source B
“Their executions became sporting
entertainment… they were covered in
wild animal skins and torn apart by dogs”
Tacitus. A Roman historian
Examine Sources B and C. Would these be
considered primary or secondary sources? Explain
your answer for each.
Source C: A modern day painting