The Mighty Roman Empire Has Fallen,
But The Cross Of Christ Still Stands -
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” —I Corinthians 1:18
Who Was Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus?
A good many years ago, I was shopping in an old used bookstore and ran across a very old book entitled, The Twelve Caesars by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, which was originally written about AD 100. I bought it, took it home, and left it on one of my bookshelves for years.
Not long ago, I picked it up and began to read it. I have always been interested in the great Roman Empire since it provides the geographical, political, and historical backdrop for the story of the New Testament, especially the book of Acts and the missionary travels of Paul the Apostle.
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus lived from about AD 69 to AD 122, and was simply known as Suetonius, a Roman writer. Although a biographer of others, Suetonius tells his readers very few details of his own life. His birthplace is uncertain, but some suggest that it was in the Hippo Regius area, near Numidia in North Africa. Suetonius’ grandfather was possibly a member of Emperor Caligula’s court, and his father was a knight, a member of the equestrian class, holding the position of tribune of the Thirteenth Legion during the 69 CE civil war. As a legion, he commanded at the battle of Bedriacum in northern Italy. Historical records show that Suetonius was the Director of the Imperial Libraries in Rome and was also a private secretary to Emperor Hadrian.
The Great Roman Empire Lasted More Than Five Hundred Years
Officially, the awesome Roman Empire existed from 27 BC, with Augustus Caesar (Octavian), until Germanic King Odoacer, AD 475-476, deposed Emperor Romulus Augustulus. The eastern branch of the empire, called the Byzantine Empire, continued to 1449-1453, up to the fall of Constantine by the Ottoman Turks.
When one studies the life of Christ, which is found in the four gospels, and also the founding of the church, which is laid out by Luke in the book of Acts, it is abundantly clear that everything that happened in Judea, Samaria, Nazareth, and yes, throughout Israel during the earthly life of Jesus, occurred in the political world of the Romans. The birth of Christ is told within the context of taxation by the Romans. In the ministry of Jesus, He was quick to minister to the Roman centurion. At the time of the crucifixion, the government under Pontius Pilate called the shots and made the final decision that Christ was to be crucified. Yes, the wicked Sadducees, Sanhedrin, and high priest brought the charges against our Lord, but the Roman government executed the plan. The apostles launched their ministry in the shadows of the Roman government. Pentecost occurred close to the actual center of Jerusalem. The Roman fortress was nearby. Great persecution by the Romans came against the church early on, as is told throughout the many chapters of the book of Acts. Peter and John were imprisoned. James, the brother of John the apostle, died by the hands of the Roman government. Paul, the beloved apostle and missionary, had to deal with the Roman government throughout his ministry. He cites that he was imprisoned many times. When the book of Acts concludes, we read of Paul, a prisoner of Rome, awaiting trial for his life. The beloved Paul and the beloved Peter eventually lost their lives as witnesses for Christ by the powers of Rome. The history of the church tells us that all the apostles, except for the apostle John, were martyrs, caused by the Roman government. However, the great Roman Empire is gone, and the church is still here. Think about that point. This is powerful. The church is still here, and the mighty Roman government is in ruins.
A Brief Look at the First Twelve Caesars of Rome
Gaius Julius Caesar, 100 BC to 44 BC: He was born in wealth and had multiple marriages. Caesar was not a title to Julius, it was his name, and it was later used as a title of respect. He was a great orator, quite wicked, and a powerful Roman general. He ruled for five years and died in Rome at a friend’s home, by twenty-three dagger thrusts, at the age of fifty-five. It was said of Julius Caesar, “He never lost a battle in war.”
Augustus Caesar, 62 BC to AD 14: A nephew to Julius Caesar, he became a great general early on, conquered all from Germany to Egypt, ruled Rome forty-five years, and died at the age of seventy-six. At some point during his tenure as emperor, Augustus announced to Rome, “I found Rome a city of clay, but left it a city of marble.” Augustus’ rule of Rome ushered in an era of peace.
Tiberius Caesar was born in 42 BC, died in AD 37, and was a stepson to Augustus Caesar. He had a long military career and ruled Rome for more than seventeen years. He retired early to live on the Island of Rhodes and died on March 16, AD 37. He was one of the very few emperors who had some peace toward the end of his life. When Emperor Tiberius died, his will named Caligula to be his successor.
Gaius Caligula Caesar was born August 31, AD 12, and died on January 24, AD 42, at the age of twenty-nine. Early on, he became a lawyer, a gladiator, and young general in the Roman army. He was selected to be emperor by Emperor Tiberius but ruled only three years and ten months. Caligula was killed by his associates, with more than thirty wounds, on January 24, AD 42.
Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus was born August 1, 10 BC, and died October 13, AD 54. His mother Antonia despised him, and called him stupid, a fool, and a monster. He married Agrippina and adopted Nero. He reigned for fourteen years, from AD 41 to AD 54.
Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was born December 15, AD 37, and died June 9, AD 68. He was the last of the bloodline of the Caesars to serve as emperor. As a boy, he received many honors, including leading youth in the Trojan Games in AD 47 and the Spring Latin Games in AD 53. He was known as a musician, playing the lyre, a miniature harp or zither. He ruled Rome fourteen years and died by killing himself to escape an attacking mob. In death he is quoted as saying, “How ugly and vulgar my life has become.” He committed suicide at the age of thirty-one. Known as an extremely wicked and evil ruler, he was emperor when Paul and Peter were murdered.
Emperor Servius Galba was born December 24, 3 BC, and died AD 69. Born and reared in the country outside Rome, he became a skilled lawyer. Early on, he was widowed, and remained one for the rest of his life. He ruled for a time in Germany, in Africa, and in Spain. Emperor Galba was assassinated by the Pretorian Guard after ruling only seven months. He was dead at the age of seventy-two.
Marcus Salvius Otho Caesar Augustus was born April 25, AD 32, and died AD 69. As a young man, he became a confidant of Emperor Nero and was elevated in government. Eventually, he betrayed Emperor Nero for Galba. He died in office after serving only three months, at the age of thirty-seven. General Vitellius sought power for himself and so initiated the brief civil war, which ended with Otho’s suicide.
Emperor Vitellius was born September 24, AD 14, and died December 22, AD 69. He served as governor of Africa and in Lower Germany and France for a time. Upon the suicide of Otho, Vitellius was elected as the new emperor and ruled in extravagance and cruelty. He died at the age of fifty-six, with his enemies dragging him through the streets of Rome with a rope and torturing him until dead. His body was thrown in the Tiber River. He served as emperor eight months and died at the age of fifty-six.
Please see the August issue of The Evangelist for Part II of this article.