It is easy to see how much misery followed in the train of Rome’s advancing greatness. Cruel suffering was a characteristic feature of the close of the Republic. Slave wars, civil wars, wars of conquest, had left their disastrous results behind them. No country recovers rapidly from the effects of a war which has been conducted within its frontier; and there was no district of the Empire which had not been the scene of some recent campaign. None had suffered more than Italy herself. Its old stock of freemen, who had cultivated its fair plains and terraced vineyards, was utterly worn out. The general depopulation was badly compensated by the establishment of military colonies. Inordinate wealth and slave factories were the prominent features of the desolate prospect.
This disastrous condition was not confined to Italy. In some respects the provinces had their own peculiar sufferings. To take the case of Asia Minor. It had been plundered and ravaged by successive generals, - by Scipio in the war against Antiochus of Syria, - by Manlius in his Galatian campaign, - by Pompey in the struggle with Mithridates. The rapacity of governors and their officials followed that of generals and their armies. We know what Cilicia suffered under Dolabella and his agent Verres: and Cicero reveals to us the oppression of his predecessor Appius in the same province, contrasted with his own boasted clemency. Some portions of this beautiful and inexhaustible country revived under the emperors. But it was only an outward prosperity. Whatever may nave been the improvement in the external details of provincial government, we cannot believe that governors were gentle and forbearing, when Caligula was on the throne, and when Nero was seeking statues for his golden house. The contempt in which the Greek provincials themselves were held by the Romans may be learnt from the later correspondence of the Emperor Trajan with Pliny the governor of Bithynia. We need not hesitate to take it for granted, that those who were sent from Rome to dispense justice at Ephesus or Tarsus, were more frequently like Appius and Verres, than Cicero and Flaccus, - more like Pilate and Felix, than Gallio or Sergius Paulus.
It would be a delusion to imagine that, when the world was reduced under one sceptre, any real principle of unity held its different parts together. The emperor was deified, because men were enslaved. There was no true peace when Augustus closed the Temple of Janus. The Empire was only the order of external government, with a chaos both of opinions and morals within. The writings of Tacitus and Juvenal remain to attest the corruption which festered in all ranks, alike in the senate and the family. The old severity of manners, and the old faith in the better part of the Roman religion, were gone. The licentious creeds and practices of Greece and the East had inundated Italy and the West. The Pantheon was only the monument of a compromise among a multitude of effete superstitions. It is true that a remarkable religious toleration was produced by this state of things: and it is probable that for some short time Christianity itself shared the advantage of it. But still the temper of the times was essentially both cruel and profane; and the Apostles were soon exposed to its bitter persecution. The Roman Empire was destitute of that unity which the Gospel gives to mankind. It was a kingdom of this world; and the human race were groaning for the better peace of "a kingdom not of this world."
Thus, in the very condition of the Roman Empire, and the miserable state of its mixed population, we can recognize a negative preparation for the Gospel of Christ. This tyranny and oppression called for a Consoler, as much as the moral sickness of the Greeks called for a Healer; a Messiah was needed by the whole Empire as much as by the Jews, though not looked for with the same conscious expectation. But we have no difficulty in going much farther than this, and we cannot hesitate to discover in the circumstances of the world at this period, significant traces of a positive preparation for the Gospel.
But in all that we have said of the condition of the Roman world, one important and widely diffused element of its population has not been mentioned. We have lost sight for some time of the Jews, and we must return to the subject of their dispersion, which was purposely deferred till we had shown how the intellectual civilization of the Greeks, and the organizing civilization of the Romans, had, through a long series of remarkable events, been brought in contact with the religious civilization of the Hebrews. It remains that we point out that one peculiarity of the Jewish people, which made this contact almost universal in every part of the Empire.