According to the Historicist interpretation, I’ve found more and more that the Roman empire plays a significant role in biblical prophecies where God is communicating things to His people.
Specific points in time that are highlighted are essential from God’s perspective, even though there may be other more popular and historically significant ones elsewhere.
However, wading through the history and understanding the detail of the Roman system can get complicated.
Therefore, here is a quick summary of 6 critical points in time to be aware of, along with a narrative describing the general progression of things between these points in time.
This is deliberately kept as concise as possible yet including as much factual information as needed – there’s also external links at the end to explain things further.
In short, these are the critical points in time in Roman history that I believe are highlighted through prophecy in the bible:
1. Roman Conquest of Greece – 168 AD
First, Rome became the dominant force after the Greece period when Alexander the Great conquered the world.
The Battle of Pydna in 168 BC is where the Roman empire officially won the Greece Empire to become the next worldwide force.
2. Christ’s Life on Earth – 0 BC
Although there isn’t any specific event here, from the Roman Emporer’s perspective, it’s worth mentioning that it was the ruling force around Israel when Christ was alive and then for the decades afterwards when the early church began.
They were the authority that needed to authorise Christ’s death sentence, and Rome is where apostles like Paul had to account to.
The empire later turned against Christians and was offended by Christians believing in only one God and not acknowledging or sacrificing to their multiple ones who they thought brought them immediate earthly blessings rather than another afterlife.
Whilst adding extra gods was acceptable to the Romans, the idea of one exclusive God was not and seen as bringing bad fortune.
A Pontifex Maximus government position developed – a form of Secretary of State for religion within the empire – which was often fulfilled by the Emporers who were perceived as partly divine and deserving sacrifices and pagan gods. These Roman Emperors had mixed views of Christians.
On the religious side of things, as the original church Apostles died and future generations emerged within this broader Roman culture, new converts inevitably brought baggage and ways from paganism.
You then had Bishops result in different cities and regions as the prominent religious leaders, with the one in Rome looking to be the kingpin one. The respect each city’s Bishops/Pastors received was often proportional to the perceived rank of that city, with Rome being the richest and powerful one early on.
When there were disputes or differences in the regional Bishops across the widening empire, the Rome Bishop would step in to try and reconcile even at the expense of different theology for the sake of broader control and influence.
It wasn't easy to establish a unified set of religious beliefs across the whole of Christendom, with some splinter groups emerging, such as Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and Montanism. As the empire grew across the Mediterranean and what we know now as Europe, it split into the Eastern and Western sides around 285 AD when it became too large and manageable.
Two Emperors were then appointed in each half to help micro-manage these, but not working together as one holistic kingdom.
In the early fourth century and 300s, The Emperor of Rome Constantine allegedly had a conversion experience to Christianity after a personal vision, although many questioned how genuine this was.
Before this, in 260, Emperor Galeanous issued an Edict for Christians to worship more freely. However, in 330 AD Emperor Diadesean gave Edict against them and the destruction of churches and promoting paganism.
Constantine ruled the Western Empire and began to favour Christianity; on a practical level, this helped him unite the kingdom with a common faith transcending cultures.
He assisted with things like the Edict of Milan, which the East signed to legalise Christianity, and provided benevolence to Christians. He also helped get their buildings back and tried to favour the Christendom God but still with an appreciation of other ‘gods’ and the prominent Pontiff religious leader and pagan sun worship.
Emperor Constantine moved his capital city from Rome to Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 330 AD, based in the eastern part of the Roman Empire after he conquered it in 324 AD.
This enabled him to become the sole leader of both the East and West, with Christianity hopefully the glue to help unify the empire. Thus, he fulfilled both the post of Emperor and the Roman High Priest (Pontifex Maximus). In 325 AD, he invited 1,800 Bishops across the empire to the Nicaea conference to try and unite paganism and Christianity. However, only around 300 turned up and from the East.
After this time in 325 AD, there was the Nicene Creed following some thinking Jesus was not from God (Arianism), and formation of the Trinity doctrine, but by 380 AD and the Edict of Thessalonica stated that Christianity was, at last, the official religion of the Roman empire (and the bible cannon developing) rather than the polytheistic ones with many gods beforehand. Finally, in 429 AD, there was then the Theodosian Code to try and collate laws since Constantine.
This move of Constantine to the East created a gap of reign in Rome and the opportunity for more religious Bishops to edge in and gain more secular state power and titles of a kingdom on a larger, not just regional basis.
3. Western Roman Empire Downfall – 476 AD
Around 400 AD, the empire, unfortunately, split back to the East and West. The East prospered, but the West across a larger area didn’t, leading to Barbaric tribes invading the West from the north and eastern borders.
This was initially seen as a good thing, with them being attracted to the culture and beliefs of the Roman empire and them being assumed help and support within it. Then, however, they tended to favour the Arianism belief against the now mainstream Christendom one.
However, they soon started taking a stance and further control against the weakening Roman leadership, with the Visigoths attacking Rome in 410 and then the Vandals in 455.
This came to a head in 476 AD when Germanic tribes finally invaded Rome and took control of the whole Western region, and a subsequent division into ten western areas.
Many historians see this as the date of the final fall of the Western Roman Empire (As an aside, the Eastern Byzantine Empire finally fell many hundreds of years later in 1453).
After this fall of the West and civil decay, the East remained stronger with Ecumenical Councils.
This further developed the opportunity following Constantine’s earlier move in the West for the Bishop of Rome to become an influencer of other regional Bishops and take a more visible role and rule. But, unfortunately, after the fall in 476, there were also no further Emporers in Rome itself.
Leo the Pope is an example of such a religious influence in Rome of civil state negotiations with invaders like Attila the Hun in 452 and Vandals in 455.
This was the formation of the Pope’s role as the leading religious authority based in Rome. This evolved with Papal superiority of both secular society and spiritual matters. Rome was seen as the most important city with a religious pedigree from where the apostles like Peter and Paul died.
Therefore, the Holy Roman Empire emerged in the West, with an evolving relationship between Popes and Emporers, where the former crowned the Emperors. Still, the latter approved of the former and gave them the Papal States.
This caused the East to grow further away from the West with more orthodox Christianity and resistance towards this Papal Pope’s superiority over them (there is then the Great Schism and split between them many centuries later in 1054 AD, although they did join forces later in 1095 against Islam).
4. Papal Rome Influence Begins – 508 AD
Although 508 AD is not a popular date historically, it has a spiritual significance when the Papacy began to make headway with political and secular influence over Western Europe.
This hinges around Clovis, the King of France (or Franks then). He was converted to Catholicism and was baptised earlier in 496 AD, so France celebrated 1500 years of national existence in 1996.
He was the first of the pagan barbarians to invade Western Rome to adopt Catholicism. Other German invaders were still pagan or had accepted the Arian form of Christianity, which the Papacy saw as heretics regarding the doctrinal point of the trinity (plus some separate Celtics).
In the year 508 AD, Clovis finally conquered the Visigoths to take control of the empire by pushing them into Spain and killing their King Alarac.
Therefore, this is a trigger point for Catholicism's influence on the secular world. The Papacy gained much needed military and political power to gain control over Europe over the future Middle Ages. It was the beginning of Christendom and future successors to Clovis ruling the Holy Roman Empire.
This is just what the Bishop of Rome wanted, who gave Clovis the title of the "Eldest Son of the Church", and the beginning of future Pope's relating to French kings in the future. The Roman Emperor Anastasius also made an alliance with Clovis and gave him an honorary consulship to celebrate his victory over the Goths. Other rival Frank kings were also eliminated, and his capital settled in Paris.
5. Papal Rome Rule – 538 AD
Out of the ten sections of the Western empire, three of these would not submit to the kingdom's new ‘Christian’ beliefs – the Heruli, Ostrogoths, and Vandals.
The Heruli were the first Barbarians to be defeated in 493 after taking over the Romans with the Arian heresy, followed by the Vandals from Africa in 534.
Therefore, different Bishops within the regions concluded that these three rebellious areas must be conquered and effectively eradicated to bring a coherent religion to the whole empire.
In 533, you then have Emporer Justinian stepping in with various civil powers, including the Digest, to condense Latin laws and Institutions for standard laws and curriculum across the empire. He also decreed that the Bishop of Rome was the head of all churches in the East and West parts under his authority and wrote a letter to the Bishop of Rome in 533 to confirm this (placed in the code of Justinian).
However, this couldn’t affect the whole kingdom until the three rebellious areas against this formal religious stance and Bishops were eradicated. In 538, the Ostrogoths were the final ones to go from Rome by Belisarius (Justinian's General) when his army broke their siege of the city. Therefore, at this point, the sole religious position of the Bishop of Rome as the new Pope could take effect.
This was just as these three non-compliant regions had been eradicated from the empire. This finally provided authority to one point of contact and person acting for the whole kingdom from a religious perspective.
6. Papal Rome Ends – 1798 AD
You then have the dark middle ages, where the papacy is the main Christendom force in Europe and the Mediterranean.
At one point around 1400, there were actually three popes appointed simultaneously, causing frustrations and resignations as to whom was the ultimate one, which led to the Reformation from the early sixteenth century and the formation of new Protestantism.
In 1798 and the French Revolution, the Pope was captured in France by Alexander Berthier, a French General under Napoleon. He invaded the Vatican and took the Pope captive, which therefore technically ended the Pope’s control and reign as a religious force, even though, of course, they still existed behind the scenes.
Afterwards, in 1848 the pope was also driven from other European areas, leading to the final loss of temporal power in 1870.
Ironically France was the country to elevate Catholicism from 508 AD, as well as the one causing its political downfall from 1798 (but still remaining a religious church and influence of course).
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day.
As the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, with a long history of evolution as a secular, political and state system – before developing into a religious church-papal form afterwards.
As you go through critical prophetic books in the Bible like Daniel and Revelation, and others like Ezekiel and Zechariah, you can see how God highlights this for people to be aware of.
Video summary of 325 to 66 (from Later Day Saints), with other time periods here, here, here, and here.
Video explaining the transition from Bishops to the Pope, and another here
Overview video of church history, plus another here
Fall of Rome here, and also here
Historical detail of the 538 battle
Video of the period from 538 to 1798
Transition in 538 AD plus described here, and in-depth report here