The Roman Empire was a second period of great importance to the people of Bible lands. The birth of Jesus is clearly set in Roman times: “in those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)” (Luke 2:1-2). Rome had only recently acquired an emperor. For hundreds of years it had been a republic governed by a senate of people who had proved themselves in public office. Two senior magistrates were elected to lead the republic on an annual basis, after which they returned to the senate. They represented the two main social groupings of the Roman people.
As the Republic began to expand through wars and through conquest, army commanders, supported by their loyal troops, became the most powerful people the Republic. About fifty years before the birth of Jesus three powerful generals dominated Roman politics and the senate dared not disregard them-Pompey (who was responsible, among other things, for bringing the Jewish people into the Roman realm), Crassus, and Julius Caesar. It was inevitable that there would be a power struggle and civil war. Julius Caesar was the ultimate victor and in effect became sole ruler. Before he was murdered in the forum, Julius had willed that his place be taken by his nephew, Octavius. Again, there was a power struggle between those who supported a republic (and had therefore planned the downfall of Julius Caesar) and Octavius. Octavius Caesar won, and the people, grateful for peace, gave him the title “Augustus” when he became emperor.
In controlling the Empire, it was agreed that Augustus should govern those areas where there was unrest among the local people or a threat of invasion from outside. This plan was devised because the emperor had sole control of the army. In effect this meant that he governed through army commanders, or legates, who held their positions for five-years periods. Quirinus was a legate (Luke 2:2). When smaller areas were involved, procurators were appointed who were responsible to the legate. Syria (which included Judea) was under the emperor’s control because there was considerable unrest among the people, and because the Parthians were a continual threat on the eastern frontier of the Empire. In provinces where there was no such danger, the senate appointed a proconsul (formerly consul) each year as govern.
Vassal kings were allowed to rule in some areas if they followed Roman policy. Herod the Great ruled from 40 BC until AD 4 as a vassal king (Matthew 2:1). When Herod died, his kingdom was divided among his sons. Galilee and Perea were governed by Herod Antipas; Herod Philip governed Ituraea and Trachonitis; and Archelaus governed Samaria, Judaea, and Idumaea (Edom). Archelaus (Matthew 2:22) could not keep order and so a Roman procurator (initially called a prefect) was appointed, subject to the legate of Syria. Pontius Pilate was the fifth procurator and controlled the area formerly run by Archelaus, but he had no jurisdiction over Herod.
Names of statue (not in order)