The Church commemorates the early Christian martyrs in Rome or those who perished in the terrible massacre that occurred in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero.
The history of early Christian martyrs in Rome
Numerous Christians were martyred during the first persecution of the Church that Nero started. St. Clement Romans, in his epistle to the Corinthians, and the pagan author Tacitus (Annals, 15, 44), asserts that it was Nero himself who set Rome on fire and that, to allay his suspicions, he blamed the Christians for the crime, are trustworthy witnesses to these atrocities.
Despite not feeling particularly sorry for the early Christian martyrs in Rome, Tacitus admits that he cares about them in light of Nero’s horrendous atrocities: “It was apparent that they were exterminated not for the public welfare, but to satisfy the brutality of an individual.
Some were left for dogs to maul, while others were covered in animal hides. Some were crucified, others had their bodies covered in animal skins, and yet others were lit on fire at the end of the day to use as night lighting.
The two most famous victims are Paul, who was decapitated, and Peter, who was crucified in the Neronian circus.
How was Rome in the 1st century A.D.?
Given the backdrop described, attempting to comprehend Rome in the first century A.D. is vital. It is helpful to think back on an early succession of emperors starting from a political setting. Augustus (27 B.C.–14), Tiberius (14–37), Caligula (37–41), Claudius (41–54), and Nero are the members of the Julio–Claudian dynasty.
The safety of Jewish worship in the Urbe was secured spiritually by several special laws. Jews were not permitted to take part in the emperor’s devotion. This was done in practice rather than on a formal level (because there was no such exemption under the law). The authorities accepted a veiled form of homage.
The latter took the shape of inscriptions with phrases like “Deo aeterno pro salute Augusti” (discovered, for instance, in the synagogue at Ostia) and similar expressions. In addition, Jews were excused from the obligation to observe pagan holidays, except those in honor of the emperor.
The accusations against early Christian martyrs in Rome
The emperor was informed of the population’s tensions by reports sent to him. There was a potential for a coup. Finding a scapegoat was vital to prevent it. Senators could not be held accountable. The nobility was above reproach. It was necessary to defend the army. Several protected communities existed at that time.
The Jews’ was one among them. So who should we target? Therefore, Christians were picked out. In actuality, they were the weakest link in the chain. They were few and absent from positions of authority. They had previously been accused of acting unworthy of a civic Romanus.
It had become possible for some at the time to put an end to a group of persons whom observant Jews regarded as heretics. The early Christian martyrs in Rome originated in Jewish society, which had kept some traditions. Still, they were increasingly departing from it to practice a separate (Christocentric) ideology and observe new rituals.
The arrests and trials against early Christian martyrs in Rome
The arrests and detentions started at this moment. However, given that the Christians lacked any distinguishing characteristics, how did the soldiers able to find them? I believe a determination was likely taken in connection with Emperor Claudius’s prior action. However, no distinguishing differentiation between Jews and Christians was drawn in this instance. In actuality, the latter were regarded as essential Judaism rather than followers of a separate religion.
On the other hand, a new fact emerged in 68 C.E. Jews were not taken captive, only Christians. One wonders how precisely the authorities separated Christians and Jews at the time. Various theories could answer this question.
One argument claims that, in the past, Orthodox Jews who could not condemn followers of Christ turned to the local courts for help. The attempt, however, did not have the expected effect because Romans were tolerant and uninterested in theological debates on matters of religion. However, names with the indication of residences emerged from the complaints.
Another argument prefers to suggest that delators may act in some way. At the time, the wealthy had a network of informants. The apostles Peter and Paul were both detained in this situation at what are thought to be distinct occasions.
The execution of Peter
There are no contemporary accounts of Peter’s murder’s manner. Peter was one of the early Christian martyrs in Rome, and his upside-down crucifixion was allegedly shown in later records.
When we speak about Peter’s murder, it is essential to keep in mind two things:
– The Romans practiced crucifying the convicted alongside the major thoroughfares of the day. Consider what transpired, for instance, after Spartacus and his gladiators’ uprising was put down.
– It was necessary to watch the blood, screams, misery, and agony of the condemned up close. The people of the period witnessed a “spectacle.” Still, they also internalized a “memoir,” a warning: those who disobeyed the government would suffer “that” fate. It is reasonable to conclude that Christians were crucified, particularly in the initial segment of the Via Cornelia. The placement of the poles “within” Nero’s Circus was a locale known for astral symbolism.
The following events after St. Peter’s execution
Beyond 64 C.E., Neronian persecutions persisted. As a result, early Christian martyrs in Rome were not entirely eradicated. The justification for this was that it was vital to show the people (who were left homeless) that government policy remained rigid regarding those responsible for major crimes. In light of this, it makes sense that historians tend to date St. Paul’s beheadings as occurring around 67 C.E. The Milan Agreement between Constantine and Licinius in 313 AD made Christianity the only faith the emperor did not reject.
Only then was it possible to create a public shrine to the martyrs, though their graves were still known? This perspective was distinguished by liturgical occasions and recollection procedures (tradition and writings).
St. Peter’s Basilica was constructed between 318 and 322 AD. A long history begins to unravel after this. A cemetery and the tomb of the apostle Peter were found during a series of excavations conducted below the Vatican basilica of St. Peter’s between 1939 and 1949.