Rome (Romans 2)

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During the first century A.D. Rome boasted a population of approximately one million people. The city was home to numerous temples, such as the temple of Concord, the temple of Castor and the temple of Vesta, the last a modest but ancient structure dedicated to the hearth goddess and served by the vestal virgins. The ancient centre of religious, cultural, commercial and political life was the Roman Forum, although in the first century several other large fors (such as the Forum of Augustus and the Forum of Julius Caesar) stood nearby.

Augustus Caesar and his lieutenant M. Vispanius Agrippa had overseen a great deal of construction in Rome a century earlier, during thr late first century B.C. Their works included the Pantheon (a temple dedicated to all Rome’s gods), the Altar of Peace, the imperial residence on Palatine hill, the temple of Julius Caesar, a triumphal arch, new aqueducts and sewer systems and numerous other structures. Augustus boasted that he had found Rome a city of stone and left it a city of marble.

Even so, many of Rome’s residents lived in squalor. Massive apartment buildings called insulae (lit. “islands”) were interspersed throughout the city. Besides being crime-ridden, these areas were firetraps, and in A.D. 64 a massive conflagration gutted three of the fourteen regions of the city, leaving only four unscathed. Nero, who was emperor at the time, used the denuded land to build an extravagant residence for himself that he called the domus aurea (“gold house”). The famous Colosseum, an amphitheatre seating 50,000, was dedicated in A.D. 80. The Arch of Titus, constructed in A.D. 81, commemorates the Roman sacking of Jerusalem.

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The Colosseum

Rome was home to an ethically mixed population, including a significant number of Jews. Ethnic groups tended to cluster in distinct neighbourhoods, and the city suffered from severe disparity of class. One-third to one-half of Rome’s residents were slaves or recently freed slaves, although slaves were not necessarily at the bottom of the social ladder. It is likely that the free poor experienced the most difficult lot and lived in the direst conditions. The needy depended upon government largess and could quickly become a mob (thus the common saying that people demanded “bread and circuses”).

Rome, the centre of trade within the empire, was easily accessible via a vast network of roads and seaways. Similar to the ethnic neighbourhoods, the marketplace was organized into quarters that were clustered according to categories of trade. This made it easy for the foreign visitor to find others who shared in his craft and for consumers to locate items for purchase. Those who shared a particular profession frequently formed clubs and associations, enabling a shared social life as well as a shared business community.

The Church of Saint Peter is located at the traditional (but unsubstantiated) burial site of the apostle Peter, while the Church of Saint Paul, outside the city walls, marks the traditional burial place of Paul; a lab found there dating to the time of Constantine in inscribed with the words PAULO APOSTOLO MART(YRI) (“the the Apostel Paul, martyr”).

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The Church of Saint Paul

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