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The subject of this book is "Life in the Roman World of Nero and St. Paul." This is not quite the same thing as "Life in Ancient Rome" at the same date. Our survey is to be somewhat wider than that of the imperial city itself, with its public and private structures, its public and private life. The capital, and these topics concerning it, will naturally occupy the greater portion of our time and interest. But it is quite impossible to realise Rome, its civilisation, and the meaning of its monuments, unless we first obtain some general comprehension of the empire—the Roman world—with its component parts, its organisation and administration. The date is approximately anno Domini 64, although it is not desirable, even if it were possible, to adhere in every detail to the facts of that particular year. In A.D. 64 the Emperor Nero was at the height of his folly and tyranny, and, so far as our information goes, the Apostle Paul was journeying about the Roman world in the interval between his first and second imprisonments in the capital.
One cannot, perhaps, achieve a wholly satisfying picture in a treatise of the present dimensions. It would require a very bulky volume to realise with any adequateness the ideal aim. It would be well if, in the first instance, we could imagine ourselves standing somewhere far aloft over the centre of the empire, and possessing as wide-ranging a vision as that of the Homeric gods. From that exalted standpoint we might gaze upon the active life of towns, upon the labourers working their lands from the Atlantic to the Euphrates, and upon the men who go down to the sea in ships and do their business in great waters. We should perceive their occupations and amusements, their material surroundings, their various dress and manners, their methods of travel, the degree of their personal safety and liberty. Then we should descend to earth in the middle of Rome itself, and become for the time being inhabitants of that city, privileged to take part in its public business and its public pleasures, to enter the houses of what may be called its representative citizens, to share in the various elements of its social day, and to estimate the moral, intellectual, and artistic cultivation of Roman society.
Such would be the ideal. Here it must suffice, to select the most essential or interesting matters, and to present them with such vividness as the necessary brevity will permit. Very little preliminary knowledge will be taken for granted; the use of Latin or technical terms will be shunned, and every topic will be dealt with, as far as possible, in the plainest of English.