The spread of Christianity was made a lot easier by the efficiency of the Roman Empire, but its principles were sometimes misunderstood and membership of the sect could be dangerous.
Although Jesus had died, his message had not. Word of his teachings spread to Jewish communities across the empire. This was helped by energetic apostles, such as Paul and by the modern communications of the Roman Empire.
Spreading the word
Over 30 years, Paul clocked up around 10,000 miles, traveling across the Roman Empire. He preached in some of the empire’s most important cities. Although places like Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth and Athens looked magnificent, they were also home to tens of thousands of poor, desperate people who were the perfect audience for the Christian message of eternal life.
Like Jesus, Paul spoke to people in their homes and synagogues. But he went beyond Jesus, who had only preached to Jews. Paul believed his message should also be taken to gentiles – the non-Jews.
Relaxing the rules
This meant taking a more relaxed approach to ancient Jewish laws about food and circumcision. It was a slap in the face for Jewish tradition, but it was also the central reason for the rapid spread of Christianity.
As the Christian movement began to accept non-Jewish members, it moved further away from the strict rules imposed on Jews. In so doing, it gradually became a new and separate religion.
An easy target
Despite its growing popularity, Christianity was sometimes misunderstood and membership could bring enormous risks. Widely criticized after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, the Emperor Nero tried to divert attention away from his own failings by providing an easy scapegoat: the Christians.
Although the followers of Jesus were working hard to spread the message, there were still very few Christians in Rome. They were regarded with suspicion. Some important Christian rituals were mistaken as cannibalism, others as incest. Christians became an easy target.
Nero wasted no time. He arrested and tortured all the Christians in Rome, before executing them with lavish publicity. Some were crucified, some were thrown to wild animals and others were burned alive as living torches.
A new approach
Despite this, Nero's persecution of the new Christian sect was brief and, in the first century at least, was not repeated in other parts of the empire. When asked by Pliny the Younger how to deal with Christians in the Asian provinces, Trajan replied that they should not be actively pursued. However, they could be punished if they were publicly criticized and refused to abandon their beliefs.
Over time, the Christian church and faith grew more organized. In 313 AD, the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which accepted Christianity: 10 years later, it had become the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Where to next:
Emperors - Nero
Religion in Ancient Rome – Jesus
Religion in Ancient Rome – Paul
Religion in Ancient Rome – Jews