“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” –2 Peter 3:8
So, what in the world was going on in between the Old and New Testaments? God went dark for about 400 years (literary-wise) so only secular history tells us what led to the need for Him to send Jesus into the world. While it was a time for Alexander the Great, it was also a time for the rise of the Romans.
For us as Americans, it’s sometimes hard to relate to Biblical events that we didn’t read about in fifth-grade U.S. History. After all, when we talk about Biblical history, we aren’t talking about 9/11, December 7, 1941, July 4, 1776 or even October of 1492. The New Testament contains stories that happened thousands of years ago, not just hundreds! When we have to distinguish between B.C. and A.D. we tend to lose a lot of perspective, especially when the events happened on the other side of the world.
So, let’s take a look some red letter-dates of the Roman culture. Many of these dates likely coincide with events happening while the Hebrews were in exile in Babylon. Because most early Roman history was centralized on the Italian peninsula, they would have unlikely been noted in the Middle East.
753 B.C.: The traditional founding of Rome on April 21. The legend is that Trojan refugee Aeneas fled to Italy and founded the line of Romans around the time Troy was sacked in 1220 B.C. In the eighth century, Romulus founded the city after he killed his twin brother Remus, or had Remus killed.
The Old Testament books of Jonah, Amos, Hosea and Micah are believed to have been written.
600 B.C. (circa): archaeological evidence confirms settlements in the seven hills around Rome. The settlements led to the formation of one city, according to James Jeffers in his book The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era.
The fall of Jerusalem to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is believed to have happened.
509 B.C.: The final Etruscans king is overthrown and the Roman Republic begins. The Etruscans ruled Rome for hundreds of years. The Roman Republic was a government in which citizens elected representatives, the Roman Senate, to rule on their behalf, much like the American government of today.
494 B.C.: The Plebeians, the common lower class citizens, leave Rome after refusing to fight in the army or serve the patricians, the wealthiest aristocratic class. This succession led to the formation of the Plebeian Tribune and the first instance of real power in the Roman culture for the common citizen.
400 B.C.: Rome grows from an Italian power to a continental empire, even though it continues to have skirmishes with the Etruscans, its Italian neighbors in Veii. Rome expanded in Italy and to Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, Carthage (modern-day Tunisia in North Africa) and Gaul (modern-day France).
The book of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, is believed to have been written.
390 B.C.: Rome was overtaken and sacked by the Gauls, according to Jeffers. The Gauls had been wreaking havoc on the empire since the time of the Etruscans by continually invading northern Italy. They were an ongoing nuisance, like what the Philistines were to the Hebrews in the Old Testament.
367 B.C.: Plebeians gain the right for the personal use land won by Rome in war and the right to hold the highest offices of the land, according to Jeffers. These institutions gave rise to certain offices that only Plebeians could occupy. These changes were a big part of the continuing “Struggle of Orders.”
338 B. C.: Rome defeats the Latin League rebellion and abolishes the league. It set up colonies and settlements all over the Latin area and increased its land by one-third and its population by 200,000 people, according to Jeffers. The four largest Latin cities of the rebellion were left almost entirely intact.
326 B.C.: Rome seizes control of the southern Greek city of Neopolis (modern-day Naples). Naples is on the Italian peninsula and usually synonymous with Italian culture but it was actually Greek initially. It would become an important province of the Roman Empire and a major cultural center.
323 B.C.: The Hellenistic period begins. It was a period in history between the death of Alexander the Great and the rise of the Romans. During this time, Greek culture was dominant in the Mediterranean, thus the name Hellenistic, which is derived from the Greek “Hellas” and means “Greece”.
290 B.C.: Rome becomes the dominant military power on the Italian peninsula, according to Jeffers. To become dominant, the Romans engaged in a bloody war with the Samnites, the other powerful state on the Italian peninsula, and defeated a combined force of the Samnites, Etruscans and Gauls.
287 B.C.: The end of the Struggle of Orders. Historically, this is when the Plebeian Tribal Assembly became the main law-making body and could operate without the approval of the Senate. The Assembly gained the right to ratify treaties with foreign governments.
272 B.C.: By this time Rome has conquered all of Italy. In the years following the Pyrrhic War, a five-year series of battles which ended in 275, Rome had completed the conquest of Italy by subduing the Umbrians and Picentes in the north and the Sallentini and Messapii in the southeast.
264-146 B.C.: The Punic Wars. The Punics were natives of Carthage in North Africa, once a colony of the Phoenicians. The empire grew into Africa and farther into modern-day Spain following the Punic Wars. Hannibal was a military force at this time. The first war was 264-241 and ended with Rome winning the island of Sicily from Carthage. The second was 218-202 and Hannibal won the Italian city of Cannae in 218. The end of the third Punic War resulted in Rome controlling most of the Mediterranean.
200-168 B.C.: The Roman Empire grows eastward after wins in two Macedonian Wars. Alexander The Great’s successors from Greece, Macedonia and Syria fought against the Romans in the wars. In 197 B.C., Rome defeated Macedonia in Greece and the Macedonians exited Greece in the next year. In 190 B.C., a Roman army defeated Antiochus in Asia Minor. In 168 B.C., Rome destroyed the Macedonian kingdom and then later in 148 B.C. it established the province of Roman Macedonia.
180 B.C.: The Gauls in northern Italy are subdued after 20 years of fighting, according to Jeffers.
Judea gains its independence from the Seleucid Empire, a division of Alexander’s empire.
108 B.C.: Gaius Marius is elected consul, one of two elected executives of the Roman government. He established the professional army by paying the expenses of landless citizens to be the soldiers, according to Jeffers. His professional army would become the model for future Roman generals.
82-79 B.C.: Sulla serves as dictator and broadened, plus re-established, the aristocracy powers of the Senate by adding to its number 150 members. To do so, he put bounties out and killed more than 200 senators and 1,600 members of the equestrians, the next level of social class, according to Jeffers.
80 B.C. The entire Italian peninsula is united under the single political and legal system.
63 B.C.: The early Roman period begins.
62 B.C.: The First Triumvirate, consisting of Pompey the Great, Crassus and Julius Caesar, rise to power primarily through their military reputations. Their revolution reversed all the aristocracy actions previously instituted by Sulla. Pompey was credited with being the first to conquer the Holy Land, earlier in 63 B.C. While the Hellenistic period officially ended around 31 B.C., the First Triumvirate effectively ended the dominance of the period even though the culture continued to some degree.
44 B.C.: Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by senatorial forces on the Ides of March (March 15). The assassination plot was led by two Senatorial “Liberators” named Brutus (Marcus Junius Brutus) and Cassius (Gaius Cassius Longinus) who feared Caesar would overthrow the Senate and set up a tyranny.
42 B.C.: Second Triumvirate consisting of Gaius Octavian, Marc Antony and Lepidus.
36 B.C.: Lepidus is dropped from the Second Triumvirate, according to Jeffers. Also at that time Octavian and Marc Antony split the empire’s power base. Octavian retained the power of the east in Italy while Marc Antony built his power base in the west with finances and military backing in Egypt.
31 B.C.: Octavian declares war on Egypt and is victorious over Marc Antony and becomes the first and undisputed Roman Emperor. As the nephew of Julius Caesar and his adopted heir, Octavian takes the name of Caesar Augustus during his reign. These actions officially end the Hellenistic period.
6 B.C.: Jesus Christ was born.
From beyond Babylon to Spain and through North Africa, the world was oppressed. Whether it was the Babylonians, the Greeks or the Romans, empires ruled the ancient world for more than an ancient millennium. No wonder Paul’s words in Corinthians brought peace to so many in the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 3:17 reads, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” The only empire Jesus came to overthrow was the one ruled by Satan, the one that bound our souls.
Did you know the Old Testament and the Roman Republic overlapped?
How much did you know about the time between the Old and New Testaments?
Did you know that Julius Caesar was not an official Roman Emperor?