Trade and merchantilism in the Roman empire (Revelation 18)

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Economic gain was the driving force of Rome’s imperial expansion. Egypt, for instance, supplied much of the grain for Rome, while Judea provided items such as processed fish and balsam. Colonial governance, military peacekeeping efforts and the extensive system of Roman roads were all designed for Rome’s material benefit. Local  people who joined forces with Rome also profited from the imperial enterprise. Thus Revelation 18:11 notes that the merchants would weep and mourn over Babylon (Rome) because no one would purchase their cargo any longer.

In Revelation John was especially concerned about Roman economic exploitation through the trade in luxury goods. John’s list of goods in 18:12-13 was modelled upon the listing of cargoes mentioned in the lament for the city of Tyre in Ezekiel 27, but he adapted it to the realities of the Roman empire. Items like gold, silver, cinnamon and citron wood were luxuries, not necessities, for the Roman elite. Taken in this light, Revelation  was not only a prediction of doom for the wicked kingdom of “Babylon” but also a challenge to any nation that focuses on wealth and luxury while rejecting the rule of God.


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