So far we’ve discussed the Third Servile War and popular sentiment resulting from the dictatorial rule of Gaius Julius Caesar, which led to the beginning of the Roman Empire — which from that beginning until its end would be home to a number of revolts, civil wars, and overall large-scale civil unrest.
Anti-Semitic views and hate crimes have fluctuated throughout history for thousands of years. Even right now in New York, hate crimes are on the rise — and in 2021! But this type of hatred goes back all the way to Roman times, when many revolts led to a rise in activism in the Ancient World.
A man named Publius Quinctilius Varus was responsible for a great deal of conflict between anti-Semites and the Jewish people. When there was a messianic revolt in Judaea when Herod the Great died there in 4 BC, Varus wasted no time in stamping it out. He occupied Jerusalem, crucified thousands of rebels, and sparked a great deal of disgust for Rome’s actions.
“Josephus, who made every effort to reconcile the Jewish people to Roman rule, felt it necessary to point out how lenient this judicial massacre had been…Indeed, at precisely this moment the Jews, nearly en masse, began a full-scale boycott of Roman potter.”
Historians believe Varus’s treatment of the Jewish people resulted in a great deal of protest. He was eventually recalled to Antioch. But his brother Drusus was campaigning in Germania in an attempt to acquire new territory for Rome to rule over, who in doing so subjugated many German tribes. This was the storied career of a typical Roman military commander or politician — the subjugation of other peoples.
Even so, Rome normally allowed its conquered peoples to retain their own culture and religions — and in fact, Rome routinely adopted the gods from other religions into its own pantheon. This was likely part of the reason the empire was so successful for so long. Subjugated peoples would reap the rewards of Roman rule — like new roads — and only have to pay taxes in exchange.
Eventually, Rome went through a period where the disparity between poor and rich became too great to bear, allowing the seeds of Christianity to take root. This was a religion that taught that being poor was not just okay, it was actually how one was supposed to live life (something that many modern-day Christiants seem to have forgotten). But the slow rise of Christianity led to a great divide in Ancient Rome — because Christians believed in only one god, which inevitably led every other god in the pantheon to be cast out.
This caused a great deal of social strife in Rome. One could say that Christianity kept the Empire alive for a bit longer at the cost of its soul. Social conflict between those who wished to keep their gods and Christians rose for centuries, and Rome’s grip on subjugated peoples was greatly weakened as a result. Christian activism caused the emperor himself to lose power, as he was an almost god-like figure.