All roads lead to Rome

Natasha Moore follows the social media trend question to ask 'Why do we think about the Roman Empire so much'?

How often do you think about the Roman Empire? 

Originally a TikTok trend, it’s chugged along for weeks now – women asking their menfolk that question, and being bemused by their answers: a few times a week, multiple times a day, I am always thinking of the Roman Empire. 

Whether it’s roads or aqueducts, triremes or fighting formations, gladiators or emperors, apparently there’s a lot to think about.  

Some people, of course, have obvious reasons why a civilisation that disintegrated more than 1500 years ago might be front of mind. If you live in Rome, I guess, reminders are plentiful. Ancient historians can hardly avoid it.  

Christians have their own prompts: our central stories are about God coming to visit his creation, in person, at the height of the Roman Empire. The Gospels feature a census here, a centurion there. We set a Roman death machine around our necks and atop our churches.  

Seen as a pinnacle of the human exercise of ingenuity, power, coordination, the details of the Roman Empire seem worth dwelling on. 

On the other hand, given the cruelty and oppression we know to have been core to its power, does that mean we’re glorifying an empire of death? Is it only the passage of time that makes it a matter of fascination rather than horror?  

The New Testament, written in the shadow of the Empire’s long arm, can both describe governing authorities as established by God to bring justice (Romans 13), and also depict Rome in terms of a horrifying “beast” and a “great prostitute” that demands worship deceives the nations, and wages war against the good (Revelation 13, 17). God called people to be in but not of such a world. All roads may lead to Rome – but equally, then, away from it. 


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