The Slums Of Rome, Jesus and Occupy Wall Street.

by Daniel Russ on May 20, 2014



Jesus and the Money Changers – El Greco


Around the time of Claudius, Roman historian Seutonius described his life in Rome.


“Now consider the dangers of the night in Rome. The tiles fall off of the roofs, and crack you in the head. Drunks spoil for a fight. Suddenly you are confronted with a raving madman. Our apartment here is a tottering ruin, and the owner props it up with thin poles and plasters over the gaping cracks in the wall. One must write the will before leaving for dinner.”



The good old days, huh. Much of Rome in antiquity was squalor. Human beings were still experimenting with crowded urban environments. There were a few before Rome, but probably few larger than Rome. This was one of the first cities where there was a large population and an infrastructure that supported it.




Rome was unprepared for fast growth and so new housing was often built by one emperor over the works of the previous emperor. Crime was rampart. There was an army but no police. You were on your own and target for predators in downtown Rome.


We forget when we look at the Coliseum and that it, like all the tall buildings in Rome, has stood the test of time. But Rome had slums in it, all over it in fact, and there was no city planning commission. The city improved when an emperor decided to improve it. These improvements could be centuries apart. After all the Romans bathed and shaved and had a much more sophisticated method of making it through the day than most of the Celts and the Gauls and the other peoples impinging on their territories. The truth of the matter is that Rome might have been the first city with urban blight.


It is also the reason why the oligarchs in Rome built their homes on high hills overlooking the city. It was a way to stay away from the stench of raw sewage and the madness in the city. It’s odd writing about the morass that was the back alleys of Rome.


It was in this context that Jesus of Nazareth was born. It was in the context of wealthy oligarchs and poor masses that Jesus grew to hate the money-changers and the usurers. It was income inequality as he saw Rome stood for that drove him mad. Of course he never visited Rome, but instead saw the influence of Roman capitalism on governance in Judea, then a Roman province.


Jesus essentially was an Occupy Wall Street charismatic of antiquity. He saw the system was rigged and it was rigged for the Roman aristocracy. Power, influence, possessions, all of this was the domain of the wealthy and the scraps were given to the poor. Jesus felt this was completely antithetical to the tenets of Christianity and for that he revolted against Roman rule. It wasn’t exactly for’ that reason he was executed. He was executed for what he symbolized to a growing group of people. Say what you will, no single creed ever survived a single person like Christianity. This rabel rouser destroyed Rome and transformed it into something completely new.




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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

collin earnest May 21, 2014 at 5:17 pm

We always think of Rome as this grand place. All white marble and what not. This reminds me of the reality.

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