Lonely Port

Chapter 5

Roman Holiday

 Slowly, the men worked the winches—and an immense section of sand-covered floor arose to the surface of the Coliseum. On it were four wild African lions. As it moved upward, the men could hear the muffled cheers of thousands as they sat in the bleachers awaiting the end.

The men at the winches were slaves brought in from the provinces. They knew that as the massive framework neared the surface, it would become suddenly lighter as the beasts bounded out onto the floor of the vast amphitheater.

 Overhead, they knew that more Christians were preparing to die.

The city of Rome, in the years that followed those when Christ walked the dusty lanes of Galilee, was a metropolis unmatched by any other in all history. And yet we must go to Rome in order that we may better understand the mystery of Pitcairn.

But the power of Rome went on for centuries. And as we shall learn, history was made—and changed—at Rome. For Rome was a different kind of place—in many ways.

The remains of the Coliseum are to be seen in Rome to this day. Shaped like a football stadium, its four stories were 161 feet high, 600 feet long and 500 feet wide. 45,000 spectators could watch as men and beasts fought and died on the vast amphitheater floor.

Jesus taught and suffered and died in the early part of the First Century A.D. By the end of that century the Bible had been finished, as the Apostle John penned his books.

Turning time back, we walk its streets and find about us a metropolis such as the world has not otherwise seen. Many of the free citizens may have been poor, but at their disposal was the luxury of this city that ruled the civilized world. For Rome was a welfare state within itself. Always available was the free food, attendance at the theaters, circuses, amphitheaters, and stadiums. Romans exercised, refreshed, amused and educated themselves in the baths. They enjoyed the shade of a hundred massive colonnades, and walked under decorated porticos that covered many miles of streets, -three miles in the Field of Mars alone.

In the center of town was the Roman Forum, ever busy with business, echoing with oratory and debates. Encircling it were the majestic temples to the gods, the palaces of nobility, the theaters and baths for the masses. Gardens and pleasure places were to be found everywhere.

Marriage, once sacred in ancient Rome, had now become a passing adventure. Amid a heavy overextension of credit, everyone was in debt, and no one wanted children. Abortion of babies had become not only a city-wide pastime, but a publicly approved science.

For Rome had become decadent. Expensive silk cloth from the Orient was so common in the Eternal City that men as well as women wore it. Delicate eye makeup, exotic facial cosmetics, and high-heeled shoes were common. Jewelry was in abundance among the middle and upper classes; so much so that the manufacture and sale of imitation "emeralds" and other fine jewels was a thriving business. Rome was not only decadent; it had become artificial.

The luxuries of their homes exceeded the luxuries of their clothing: floors of marble and mosaic; columns of alabaster, many-colored marble, and onyx. On the walls were to be seen brilliant hand-painted murals, or inlays of costly stones. Ceilings were often in gold or plate glass, while beneath them rested tables and divans decorated with ivory, silver, gold or tortoise shell.

By the fourth Century A.D., there were 856 baths and 1352 public swimming pools in Rome. The Baths of Nero had 1600 marble seats and accommodated 1600 bathers at a time. But there were others that held 3000 bathers each. This was Rome.

Banquets began at four in the afternoon and lasted until late in the night or till the next day. The tables were strewn with flowers and parsley, the air was scented with perfumes. Rare fish, birds and fruit from far-away lands were to be had. Eels and snails, ostrich wings, flamingo tongues, geese livers and songbirds were favorite dishes.

But everything in Rome centered around the Roman holidays. Every century, more were added until fully one-half of each year was dedicated to some festival or other.

The festivals took the people to the races at the Circus Maximus, where forty-four races might be run in two days. Or a holiday might be spent just outside the imperial city viewing the stupendous naval battles that took place on artificial lakes. For each such occasion, enormous boats were constructed and, as the people gazed from the sidelines, massive battles would take place for their amusement. In one contest alone, 19,000 men in ships fought and died together while the people on shore applauded.

But even more popular was the Coliseum: The arena was an immense wooden floor strewn with sand. Parts of this floor could be lowered and then quickly raised with a change of scene. At brief notice the whole floor could be covered with water. Beneath it, in large rooms, were the wild animals, men and machines that would be used in the fights for that day. No admission was charged. All Rome could come and sit in its thousands of seats, beneath huge canvas awnings, and watch what took place. In one day, under Nero, 400 tigers fought with bulls and elephants; on another day, under Caligula, 400 bears were slain; Claudius made a division of the Praetorian Guard fight panthers.

And this is where the humble Christians were brought to die, for no other crime than that of following the teachings of the Bible and living as Jesus lived.

But the influential Roman Christians lived above all this.

They were able to enjoy the good life. The worst of the world flowed into Rome, for that is what it wanted. And the Church at Rome also wanted that which the world had to offer.

As if there were not already enough at Rome, new deities and gods were imported from everywhere. War captives, returning soldiers and merchants brought in new religions and philosophies from many lands. And they were welcomed by worldly pagans and worldly Christians. Yes, there were faithful Christians in the city who lived and died in the catacombs or in the Coliseum. But it was the worldlings who were the leaders of the Christian Church at Rome. It was they who demanded that all the other churches of Christendom bow to their brand of Christianity.

And, as we shall see, it was the Church at Rome that introduced paganism into the Christian churches everywhere, by requiring that they accept these heathen rituals and beliefs.

But more than just new ritualsit was the Church at Rome that was destined to give to all the world the new Roman holiday.