A black and white photo capturing an ancient Roman coin, a worn leather-bound Bible, and a marble statue of Julius Caesar, evoking the historical connection between the Romans and biblical narratives.

Who Were The Romans In The Bible?

The Romans were one of the great civilizations of ancient history, ruling over a vast empire that stretched from modern-day England to Egypt. The Roman Empire occupies a prominent place in the biblical narrative, existing as a dominant pagan force during the time of Jesus.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Romans in the Bible refers to the Roman Empire which controlled Judea during Jesus’ lifetime. The Romans play an important role in the New Testament, most notably in Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the history of the Romans, their presence in Judea during the time of Jesus, and the specific Roman figures and groups mentioned in the New Testament. We will examine how the clash between the Jewish people and Roman authorities set the stage for pivotal biblical events.

Understanding the context of Roman rule over Judea gives greater insight into the world in which Jesus carried out his ministry and sacrifice.

The Rise of the Roman Republic and Empire

The Founding of Rome

According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by twin brothers Romulus and Remus. The city was built on the banks of the Tiber River in central Italy, with its early population composed of Latins, Sabines, Etruscans and others.

Early Rome had a monarchical form of government headed by kings, the last three of which were of Etruscan origin. This Etruscan dynasty was overthrown around 509 BC, leading to the establishment of the Roman Republic.

Expansion of the Roman Republic

Over the next few centuries, Rome grew from a small city-state to the dominant power in the Italian peninsula and beyond. Key events included the defeat of local rival Etruria, wars with Carthage, the conquest of Greece and Macedonia, and the incorporation of Egypt, Syria and other territories into the Roman sphere of influence.

Some major milestones:

– 396 BC – Romans conquer key Etruscan city of Veii

– 290 BC – Romans defeat coalition led by Italic tribes at Sentinum

– 264-146 BC – Punic Wars with Carthage end with the destruction of this rival power

– 168 BC – Romans defeat Macedon king Perseus and annex Greece

– 133 BC – King Attalus III of Pergamum leaves his kingdom to Rome in his will

At its height in the 2nd century BC, the Roman Republic controlled the entire Italian peninsula along with Greece, North Africa, Spain and parts of the Middle East. Power was concentrated among an elite patrician class, with tensions between commoners (plebeians) leading to political reforms over time.

Transition to Empire Under Augustus

After a series of devastating civil wars in the 1st century BC, the Roman Republic finally collapsed. It was replaced by the Principate – an autocratic form of government with the emperor holding supreme authority.

The first Roman emperor was Augustus, who ruled from 27 BC to AD 14 and oversaw an extended era of stability known as the Pax Romana (Roman Peace).

Some key aspects of the Augustan transition to empire:

– Concentration of military authority in the hands of Augustus and elimination of political rivals

– Retention of Senate but with limited real powers under the princeps (emperor)

– Use of tact and compromise by Augustus rather than overt despotism

– Continuation of institutional forms and offices from the Republic to help legitimize Augustus’ rule

Rome would continue to prosper as an imperial power for several more centuries before witnessing steady decline, loss of territories, and eventual fall in the 5th century AD. But the era from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius (c. AD 161-180) marked the empire at its cultural, economic and territorial peak.

Roman Rule Over Judea in the 1st Century AD

The Roman Provinces

In the 1st century AD, Judea was part of the Roman Empire. After the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC, the Romans divided Judea into several smaller provinces. The northern part was combined with Galilee and other areas to form the province of Syria.

The central mountainous region became Judea province. The southern part, including the coastal plain, became the province of Iudaea.[1] Jerusalem was the capital of the province of Judea.

The Romans maintained control over these provinces by appointing governors, collecting taxes, and suppressing revolts. Roman procurators like Pontius Pilate and Antonius Felix, mentioned in the Bible, were the governors of Judea.

They resided in Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast, and went to Jerusalem during major Jewish festivals.

Roman Control and Taxation

The Romans imposed a poll tax and a land tax on the Jewish people. They also took a share of agricultural produce as tax.[2] Heavy taxation fueled Jewish resentment against Roman rule. Roman soldiers were stationed in Judea and intervened to quell any form of rebellion.

The port city of Caesarea housed a large Roman garrison. At times over 20,000 Roman soldiers were stationed in Judea.[3]

The Romans permitted the Jews to practice their religion but kept a close watch on activities at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish high priest and Sanhedrin council were under Roman control. The Romans even appointed high priests like Ananus and Caiaphas, who presided during Jesus’ trial.

Jewish Revolt and Resistance

Jewish resistance against Roman rule began shortly after Judea became a Roman province. The Jews deeply resented pagan Roman rule over their land and worship. Jewish rebels known as the Zealots carried out guerrilla attacks on Roman forces and assassinations of Roman officials.

Major revolts occurred in AD 66-70, 115-117, and 132-135.[4]

In AD 66, the Jews launched a large-scale rebellion later known as the First Jewish Revolt. Rebel forces gained control of Jerusalem and parts of Judea. The Romans responded by sending a massive army under Vespasian and his son Titus.

They crushed the revolt and destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70.

Roman repression after this revolt led to further Jewish resistance under leaders like Simon Bar Kokhba. His revolt in AD 132-135 also failed, resulting in even harsher Roman rule over Judea.

New Testament Mentions of Romans

Roman Officials and Soldiers

The New Testament mentions several Roman officials and soldiers who interacted with Jesus and early Christians (Bible Gateway). For example, Pontius Pilate served as prefect of the Roman province of Judea from AD 26–36. He oversaw Jesus’ trial and ordered his crucifixion (John 18:28-19:16).

Roman soldiers carried out the mockery, flogging, and crucifixion of Jesus (Matthew 27:27-37).

The Roman centurion Cornelius was the first Gentile convert to Christianity, baptized by Peter after receiving a vision (Acts 10). Julius, a Roman centurion, accompanied Paul on his journey to Rome (Acts 27:1-3).

The commander Claudius Lysias protected Paul from a Jewish mob in Jerusalem (Acts 21:31-40). And Paul’s appeal to Caesar led to him stand trial before the Roman prefects Felix and Festus (Acts 25-26).

Pontius Pilate and Jesus’ Trial

As prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate presided over the trial of Jesus around AD 33. The Jewish leaders accused Jesus of declaring himself King of the Jews, which challenged Roman authority (Luke 23:2). Though Pilate found no basis for a charge, he sentenced Jesus to crucifixion when the crowd called for his death.

According to the historian Josephus, Pilate’s cruel governance eventually led to his removal from office. But the New Testament presents a more complex character—wavering between justice and appeasement of the mob.

Jesus’ trial highlighted the tension between Roman law and Jewish customs that shaped much of Pilate’s leadership.

Roman Persecution of Early Christians

The Book of Acts records several instances of Roman authorities persecuting the early Christian church. After Stephen’s martyrdom, Saul pursued Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-4). King Herod Agrippa killed James and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12:1-4).

And Paul’s preaching provoked riots that led to arrests, floggings, and imprisonment (Acts 16-28).

Roman hostility toward Christianity eventually grew into empire-wide persecution. Ten major persecutions occurred over nearly 300 years, finally ending in AD 313 under Constantine. But even early on, Rome saw this fledgling movement as a threat to imperial authority that needed suppressing.


The Romans were the dominant political and military force during the time of Jesus Christ’s ministry. As an occupying power over Judea, the Romans crossed paths with biblical figures including Jesus, setting the stage for pivotal events.

Examining this historical context expands our understanding of the world of the New Testament. While the Romans were antagonists in biblical events like Jesus’ crucifixion, the spread of the early church throughout the Roman Empire paved the way for Christianity to become a major world religion.

Similar Posts