“Thy Kingdom Come”
There has never been a city in the world like the city of Rome. No political entity has ever been studied, admired, and emulated more than The Roman Republic. As one of the most fascinating civilizations in history, ancient Rome has never ceased to attract the interest of historians—professional and amateur alike.
Throughout the ages, Roman civilization has profoundly shaped the development of Western political institutions and powerfully influenced the world’s social and moral values. Our language still betrays the timelessness of Rome, with phrases such as: “All roads lead to Rome,” “When in Rome do as the Romans do,” “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” “Rome, the eternal city.” Although Latin long ceased to be a living language, the language of ancient Romans is still the language of medicine, law, botany, astronomy, and of much of the sciences. Virtually all months in our calendar are named after Roman deities and Roman emperors, or represent Latin words for numbers seven, eight, nine, and ten. We even use the Roman numerals. By its reception in the civil law codes, Roman law has laid the foundations of many European legal systems, and it is still an integral part of legal education in most countries based on civil law tradition.
The names of many American institutions—the Senate, Congress, President—all have Latin origin, and this is not by chance. The founding fathers of the United States of America spent most of their childhood and much of their adulthood reading the Latin classics. To America’s founders, the past, especially the Roman past, was not something that was dead but rather alive, with much personal and social meaning. Their understanding of the origins of The Roman Republic gave both meaning and shape to their undertakings in the American Revolution. They knew they were doing something unprecedented in that revolution, yet they felt that they were not the first.
A question may be asked about the reasons for surveying the history of The Roman Republic in a religious magazine. Instead of keeping the reader in suspense and guessing about those reasons, we are prepared to lay them out in the opening lines. Ancient Rome, and The Roman Republic specifically, are the subject matter of our investigation for the following reasons: For one, any individual and any organized group can learn valuable lessons from the rise and fall of The Roman Republic. Closely related to this reason is our interest in making a comparison between The Roman Republic and another great experiment in the republican form of government—the United States of America (USA). The third one, which is of primary interest to us, is the discovery and display of the intimate relationship that exists between history and Bible prophecy. The apocalyptic prophecies in the book of Daniel, and more explicitly in the book of Revelation, identify Rome (both pagan and Christian Rome) and the United States of America as major end-time religious and political forces. The fateful alliance between these global powers will lead to the greatest crisis in world’s history—to the end of human history as known to us, to the glorious return of Jesus Christ, and to the commencement of the eternal reign of Jesus Christ and His faithful followers.
The students of the apocalyptic prophecies have always recognized the unique place accorded to Rome in two biblical books—Daniel and Revelation—first to pagan, then to Christian, Rome. Almost without exception, Rome is viewed as an oppressive and persecuting power. Rome’s representative was behind the plot to kill the child Jesus. It was the Roman praefect of Judea who found Jesus not guilty of a capital offence, yet under pressure, consented to Jesus’ death on the cross. A few decades later, the Roman Empire executed the divine judgment upon the rebellious Jewish nation, the city of Jerusalem and its temple. As the Christian church emerged and spread rapidly, the Roman emperors persecuted the disciples of Jesus.
Then, sometime in the fourth century AD, a Roman emperor adopted Christianity and became an ally of the Christian church. Yet that fateful alliance between the church and state led to the emergence of the papacy—”the mingling of churchcraft and statecraft”1 embodied in the bishop of Rome as its visible head. Christian Rome then received from the pagan Rome “his power, and his seat, and great authority” (). Papal Rome, employing the powerful arm of the state, enforced its religious dogmas on all peoples living within its jurisdiction. Through many centuries and in many parts of medieval Europe, millions of religious dissenters were imprisoned and put to death. After long last, papal supremacy was ended in 1798 when revolutionary France took Pope Pius VI captive. By incapacitating the pope’s temporal power, France inflicted to the head of church-state craft a mortal wound.
At about the same time, on the new continent west of Rome, was arising a new republic. Its founders were to studiously examine the history of The Roman Republic and consciously adopt many of its democratic features. They would deliberately reject the kingly power and the papal supremacy by forming their own government under a written constitution that guarantees to all its citizens God-given, unalienable rights. However, notwithstanding the noble desires of its founders and all the safeguards placed in the constitutional framework of the new republic, the Bible prophecy foretells that this “Land of the Free” shall be transformed so that “he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed” (). The Bible affirms that the deadly wound would be healed, the apostate Christian religion will again control the state, and as in the past, the church-state craft will result in the persecution of religious dissenters. The examination of the rise and fall of The Roman Republic presents us with an excellent case study in history. By observing the causes and processes that led to the decline and downfall of The Roman Republic, we can much better understand the degeneration of the American Republic, its democratic institutions, and constitutional safeguards.
This is a worthy cause to be explored, unravelled, and taken account of as we seek to understand the current events and the imminent future. As we have already indicated, it is impossible to properly understand apocalyptic prophecy without understanding history. Let us therefore briefly survey the history of ancient Rome by examining first the value which the ancient Romans attached to the study of history and then the Roman historiography.
The ancient Romans were keenly aware of the valuable lessons that can be derived from the study of history. They diligently studied the histories of other great nations and kingdoms. Historical accounts written by ancient Greek historians served as their favorite literary sources and their main inspiration. The early Romans made a conscious effort to avoid the errors of the kingdoms that had either retreated or passed from the world stage. At the same time, they strived to repeat and even to exceed their accomplishments. In his monumental work, The History of Rome, the great Roman historian, Livy (Titus Livius), had this to say about the study of the past:
“There is this exceptionally beneficial and fruitful advantage to be derived from the study of the past, that you see, set in the clear light of historical truth, examples of every possible type. From these you may select for yourself and your country what to imitate, and also what, as being mischievous in its inception and disastrous in its issues, you are to avoid.”2
At this juncture, it may be appropriate to offer a brief survey of some notable historians whose written records illumine our path to the Roman past. In Roman historiography there are no contemporary witnesses to the early history of Rome. The earliest surviving documents are Annales Maximi, annual historical records kept by Pontifex Maximus during The Roman Republic. As the chief priest of the College of Pontiffs, Pontifex Maximus recorded in a concise form the key public events and the names of the magistrates. The earliest known Roman historian is Quintus Fabius Pictor (born c. 270 BC) who wrote in the annalist tradition and in the Greek language (Graeci Annales). Fabius’ Annals survey the Roman history from Rome’s legendary founding in 753 BC to the author’s own time (the Second Punic War, 218–201 BC). Lucius Cincius Alimentus, Fabius’ contemporary, was another noted Roman annalist who wrote his Annals in the Greek language, probably not later than 202 BC.
It is noteworthy that talented Greek historians also made significant contributions to Roman historiography. The best known among them is Polybius of Megapolis (c. 200–c. 118 BC). Polybius’ main work, The Histories, covers the period from 264 BC to 146 BC (from the First Punic War to the Achaean War). This is the period during which The Roman Republic grew immensely, becoming a global power in the ancient Mediterranean world. In the Histories, Polybius showed interest in the division of government responsibilities (”mixed constitution”), which made his work highly influential among political thinkers, from Machiavelli to the framers of the United States Constitution.Another remarkable Greek contributed to Roman historiography—Posidonius of Apameia or of Rhodes (c. 135–c. 51 BC). Posidonius was considered the most learned man of his time and of the Stoic school. He was a friend of leading Romans and a true polymath of the Graeco-Roman world—an astronomer, geographer, botanist, historian, philosopher, mathematician, politician, and teacher. As a historian, Posidonius is known for his work Histories that can be viewed as a continuation of Polybius’ Histories (the rise and expansion of Roman dominance). Posidonius’ Histories differ from those of Polybius, in the period surveyed (a later period, 146–88 BC) and in the approach to history writing (his writings being less detached and factual). Human psychology, human passions and follies, are seen by Posidonius as the cause of events and as such are submitted to reader’s approbation or condemnation. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (c. 60 BC–after 7 BC) is another prominent Greek narrating the history of Rome in his major work, Roman Antiquities. As a historian and teacher of rhetoric, Dionysius prospered during the reign of Emperor Augustus.
The first Roman known to us who wrote on the history of Rome in the Latin language isMarcus Porcius Cato (also known as Cato the Censor or Cato the Elder, 234–149 BC). His Origines (c. 168 BC) was written to teach Romans the virtues of their honorable ancestors and to oppose Hellenizing influence. Cato was succeeded by several other principal authors who wrote in the annalistic tradition.
The Roman histories that are best known to us come from the historians that wrote monographs or histories dedicated to a single topic, often taking the form of biographies. The goal of ancient Roman historians was not so much an objective presentation of facts but rather an interpretation of those facts for the benefit of future statesmen and policy makers. Therefore, we say that ancient Roman historians wrote pragmatic histories. Romans consciously extolled the virtues of their ancestors and deliberately omitted the past events unfavorable to the image of Rome they intended to convey to their contemporaries or leave to future generations. This approach to history writing was abundantly employed in the times of political unrest and social turmoil. Histories produced in such times are little less than propaganda or rewriting of history for the purpose of convincing the audience to adopt desirable views on social and political issues.
On the other hand, Roman historiography can at times display subversive writing styles. Some historians did not have favorable views of either the contemporary or of the past rulers, or of both. To avoid censure or persecution, several Roman histories communicate the information by implication and insinuation. Tacitus’ historical writings about Augustus and his critical attitude of the emperors in general, is a good example of such subversive writing style. Another tendency is noticeable in the writings of Roman historians. In their lifetime, a good number of Roman historians held high government offices and later in life either stepped down or were dismissed from their office. In other words, historians in the ancient world, including ancient Rome, were often individuals who could no longer participate in the political process. Being temporarily or permanently removed from power, they often recognized in historical compositions and in the permanence of the written record a suitable vehicle for voicing their perspectives to those closer to the center of political deliberation.
The best-known Roman historians lived in the time of the late Republic and during the Empire. We shall list just a few notable names and some of their major works. Most of these works, regrettably, survived only in fragments. The writings of some historians are completely lost. We know about them indirectly—through later historians who either quoted or otherwise relied on their historical accounts.
Julius Caesar (100–44 BC) distinguished himself not only as a superb military commander and an exceptional statesman, but also as a prolific and competent writer. Caesar’s De Bello Gallico is his account of Gallic Wars, and his Commentarii de Bello Civilii describe the course of the Civil War (49–48 BC). In these historical writings Caesar displayed outstanding literary skills which he cleverly used to aid his political agenda.
One of the most popular Roman historians is Titus Livius (59 BC–17 AD), commonly known as Livy. Livy wrote a monumental history of Rome titled Ab Urbe Condita (”From the Founding of the City”). This work consisting of 142 books covers the history of ancient Rome from the founding of the city until the year 9 BC (reign of the emperor Augustus). Only one quarter of the original work is still extant (from the founding of Rome until 293 BC, and from 219 to 166 BC). Livy’s history was written with the aim to preserve the memory of the Roman past and to teach the contemporaries how the moral virtues elevate their nation and moral decline leads to nation’s failure. Since Livy often relied uncritically on his sources, his writings are not always historically reliable.
A generation older contemporary of Livy was Gaius Sallustius Crispus (86 BC–c. 35 BC), commonly known as Sallust. Sallust served the Republic as questor, tribune, and praetor. He produced two significant monographs, Bellum Catilinae (”Conspiracy of Catiline”) and Bellum Jugurthinum (”Jugurthine War”). In these works, Sallust not only traced the progress of these military conflicts and conspiracies, but also provided a valuable backdrop for his exploration of the party struggles in Rome in the 1st century BC. In them Sallust reveals how decadent and corrupt aristocratic behavior led to the political and moral decline of Rome, especially after the fall of Carthage (146 BC).
An outstanding historian of the Imperial Rome in the 1st century AD is Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. AC 56–c. 120). Modern scholarship widely regards Tacitus as one of the greatest Roman historians of all times. Tacitus was an orator, lawyer, and politician who held the highest offices in the Empire (from questor, to praetor, to suffect consul, and provincial governor). He was a close friend of Pliny the Younger. Tacitus’ most notable works are Annals (Ab excessu divi Augusti) and Histories (Historiae). These two great histories form a continuous narrative from the death of Augustus (14 AD) to the death of Domitian (96 AD). His other works include: The Life of Agricola, Germania, and Dialogue on Oratory. As stated earlier, Tacitus employed a subversive writing style and displayed superb mastery of the Latin language. He is known for asserting that he wrote sine ira et studio (”without anger and partiality” – Annales I. 1).
There was another famous Roman historian and highly positioned magistrate. He is noted for writing biographies of twelve successive Julio-Claudian and Flavian emperors (from Julius Caesar to Domitian). De Vita Caesarum (”The Life of Caesars” or “The Twelve Caesars”) was the literary creation of Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, commonly referred to as Suetonius (c. AD 69–after AD 122). In this work Suetonius does not record the events chronologically but presents them thematically. Suetonius chose this approach consciously for the purpose of comparing various emperors and for evaluating their achievements.
For the students of Roman history worthy of mention are a few other historians. One of them is Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus – AD 23/24–79), who was uncle of Pliny the Younger (governor of Bithynia and Pontus, known for his letter to Emperor Trajan in AD 112, inquiring how to proceed legally against Christians). Pliny the Elder was an officer in Roman army who died in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79. He is known for his encyclopedic work Naturalis Historia (on natural history) and Bella Germanica (on the history of the German wars; the book is not extant but was heavily relied on by other 1st andnd century AD Roman historians). Pliny the Elder also wrote history of Julio-Claudian Rome. A notable historian of Jewish origin who became an ally of Romans was Titus Flavius Josephus (c. 37–c. 100). Josephus is best known for his work, The Jewish War, providing a historic account of the First Jewish-Roman War (66–70 AD), Antiquities of the Jews, and Against Apion. Plutarch (46–after 119 AD) was yet another great historian and biographer of Greek ethnicity. His works strongly influenced development of literary genres like biography, essay, and historical writings. Plutarch’s best-known work is Parallel Lives, a series of biographies of illustrious Greeks and Romans, arguably written to encourage mutual respect between Greeks and Romans. Lives display impressive learning and research.
Lucius Cassius Dio (c. 155–c. 235) or Cassius Dio was a Roman historian and senator, native of Nicaea, Bithynia. Cassius Dio published in the Greek language Roman History in 80 books covering the period of about 1,000 years of history (beginning with the tales from Roman mythology and the founding of Rome until 229 AD). There is a famous Roman who did not produce a comprehensive historical writing, yet who deserves honorable mention. His name is Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 BC). As a prominent Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher, and arguably the greatest Roman orator, Cicero made an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the Roman society, its politics, philosophy, culture, Latin language, influential men and women of his age. Cicero’s writings are regarded as one of the most renowned collections in all classical antiquity. His best-known works are De Re Publica (”On the Commonwealth”) and De Legibus (”On the Laws”). Cicero’s opus is enormous: he wrote on rhetoric, politics, philosophy, and delivered numerous speeches (88, of which 52 survived). Cicero’s letters, however, are the most valuable source of information about the people and events associated with the fall of the Roman Republic. Of the total of 72 books of letters, only 37 have survived into modern times.
[In Part Two of this series we propose to offer a brief historical survey of the Roman Republic by examining the salient features of its political and social organization. We will consider the institutions and policies that contributed to Rome’s rise but also the degenerative processes that transformed The Roman Republic into dictatorship and finally into an empire. That survey shall serve as a point of departure for the comparison of The Roman Republic with the American Republic.]