I took this photo of the Roman cardo in Jerusalem in 1999, using a camera with a size 110 film cartridge, which contained 17.5 mm film (half of 35 mm). Apologies for the reduced image quality, but I chose something personal rather than a stock photo.
The cardo, or cardo maximus, was the main north-south road in a Roman city. So, why are there ruins of a Roman cardo in Jerusalem? Was Jerusalem a Roman city? It is difficult to imagine it being that, since westerners tend to project onto Jerusalem the stories in the Bible, which are of events before Jerusalem was razed in 70 AD. Around 130 AD, the emperor Hadrian set about to turn Jerusalem into a Roman colony and named the city Aelia Capitolina. The cardo is dated from that time.
These ancient ruins are fascinating. There are many examples of Roman architecture in the Middle East, throughout Europe, and wherever the Roman empire reached. It is fun to study these structures and learn about history. For many people at the time they were built, however, these structures represented something that was not so fun. They represented Roman domination, crushing defeat, and forced assimilation. In the case of the Roman domination of Jerusalem, Hadrian attempted to remove everything related to Jewish worship and replace it with Roman religion. Jews were not allowed entry into their holy city except for one day a year, a prohibition that continued for another 500 years.
Some have soft-pedaled Roman control. “Rome was basically tolerant. If you paid your taxes and gave tribute to the emperor and the Roman gods, you were left alone, and everything was fine.” This presumed tolerance, however, vanished if you wanted to be free of Roman rule. Jewish culture and religion were seen as motivating factors in their rebellion against Rome. Consequently, those factors had to be eliminated. The same thing happened to the Celts. After the conquest of Gaul, the efforts to eliminate the Druids began. Suetonius wrote concerning Claudius:
Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome. … He utterly abolished the cruel and inhuman religion of the Druids among the Gauls, which under Augustus had merely been prohibited to Roman citizens.
Control of Culture
Here in the same section, Suetonius applauds the suppression of the Jews and the Celts. The expulsion of the Jews and the abolishment of the Druids involved religion, beliefs, mindsets that Rome saw as threats to their control. Notice also that Suetonius used the name “Chrestus.” Acts 18:2 records that Aquila and Priscilla, Jewish believers in Christ (Chrestus to Suetonius), took up residence in Corinth when Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. Clearly, Rome did not distinguish between Jews and Christians at this point. The influence of Christ was just another aspect of Jewish religion that had to be removed, according to Rome.
Suetonius goes on to relate that, while Claudius did not tolerate Jewish or Celtic religion, he “attempted to transfer the Eleusinian rites from Attica to Rome, and had the temple of Venus Erycina in Sicily, which had fallen to ruin through age, restored at the expense of the treasury of the Roman people.” Apparently, some religions were preferred above others. One could argue that the Druids practiced human sacrifice, so getting rid of this “cruel and inhuman” religion was a good thing. The hypocrisy is that Rome slaughtered thousands with their cruel and inhuman crucifixions, and they continued to murder people in arenas for their amusement.
The book Deehabta’s Song was inspired by the Celtic revolts against the Roman empire. These and the Jewish revolts are probably the most famous. There were many others, and I’m sure the Romans were consistent in their methods of suppression. I will explore this theme in future posts.