The Rise of Christianity in Ancient Rome for Kids and Teachers Illustration

The Rise of Christianity in Ancient Rome

Christianity began in the Roman Empire. When Christianity was new, Christians were hunted as criminals.  They refused to worship Roman gods and that was against the law. People's names would be put on a list of suspects. These suspects went into hiding because they were wanted for questioning about anti-government activity. Since this was a serious crime, if they were arrested and found guilty, they would be thrown to the lions.

The Secret Sign: What was the secret sign? Answer: A drawing of a fish

It is early morning in Rome; so early that the Roman god Apollo has not yet driven his chariot across the sky to pull out the sun. A mother, a father, and two children are on the run, hiding. The Roman police are looking for them and for their friends. Their names have been put on a list of possible suspects. They are wanted for questioning about anti-government activity. Since this is a serious crime, if they are found guilty, they will be thrown to the lions. They know this. They don’t want to be caught.

They received word yesterday that today, before sunup, there is an important meeting of their group. They want to be there because they believe in what they are doing. No one told them where the meeting was to be held, but they know how to find the meeting place. They know the secret sign. That sign will be left for them, over and over, making a trail that will lead them to the meeting. By using a secret sign, the meeting place can be decided upon at the last minute for everyone’s safety.

The children are having fun, looking for the sign.

“There it is,” the young boy whispers, pointing at the secret sign. “There it is!”

His sister’s eyes glow with excitement. “Look! There’s another! We turn here, mother!”

On the way to the meeting, the family is caught and taken in for questioning. They refuse to tell the Roman police where they were going or with whom they are meeting.

In ancient Rome, would this family have been thrown to the lions? Their names were on a list of possible suspects. They refused to answer when asked what they were doing. Would that be enough to be found guilty? The answer sadly is yes. This family most probably would have been found guilty and punished very publically to discourage others from committing the same crime.

Even though Christianity was against the law, and the punishment severe if caught attending a Christian service or meeting, its numbers or followers grew rapidly.  Christians were always trying to convert people.  While some Christians were rich, most of the converts in Rome were from the poorer section.  There were two reasons for this.

  • First, Christians promised that if you lived your life right you went to heaven when you died.  In the other Roman religion, only the gods could live in heaven.  Everyone else was consigned to the underworld.

  • Second, every Christian considered themselves equal to every other Christian.  There was no nobility or higher caste.  (See plebeians and patricians.)

Things changed in 313 CE: In 313 CE, Emperor Constantine (the Great) converted to Christianity and made Christianity legal.  Under his leadership, Christians could no longer be arrested just for being Christian.  After a fairly short period of time, Christianity became the dominate religion of Rome.  After that, it became the law that you must be Christian to be a citizen of Rome. 

Christianity in Ancient Rome (Mr. Dowling)

Rise of Christianity (Khan Academy, video)

Quizlet: Spread of Christianity Flash Cards

Emperor Nero Goes Insane (cartoon presentation for kids, Donn)

Emperor Constantine the Great

Religion in Ancient Rome