Roman Imperial Propaganda

One facet of the early Christian preaching that often goes unnoticed is its counter-cultural/governmental message. This neglect, however, is not surprising considering that many students of the Bible often neglect the material culture of nascent Christianity.
Take for instance this coin that I recently purchased:
On the obverse (or heads side) Caracalla is pictured (198-217 CE) 
Although it is dated in the late second century, it is a good representation of Roman Imperial propaganda. The impact of coins on the denizens of the Graeco-Roman world should not be underestimated. Concerning the role of numismatics (or coins) in the Roman World Carlos F. Noreña notes, “The distinctive feature of the coinage as a medium of communications ensured that coins played a crucial role in shaping public discourse—critical for the maintenance of any configuration of power. . . . No other commodity in the Roman world was produced on that scale. And coins were portable. As a result of their mass production and portability, coins were everywhere, constantly crossing back and forth between the public and private spheres. . . . In a world without modern technologies of mass communications, the only medium capable of such a deep impact was the coinage.” Carlos F. Noreña, “Coins and Communication,” in Social Relations in the Roman World (ed. Michael Peachin; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 265.  
Now let us consider the symbolism of our coin whose function was to “shape public discourse.” Notice first and foremost that on the reverse side (or tails side) of the coin we have the goddess Tyche or Fortuna. Fortuna is the Roman goddess of fortune and her job was to govern the destiny of the city. Moreover, notice what she is holding in her hands. In her left hand she is holding a cornucopia, which is the ancient symbol of prosperity and blessing. And in her right she is holding a rudder that is attached to a globe! (Yes the Romans were well aware that the earth was round!)
Think about the message of the coin and the public discourse it was supposed to shape. We are Rome and it is our destiny to steer, like one steers a ship, the course of the world and provide blessings for it!
Now consider the early Christian preaching of one God who is the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of everything. Do you think there would have been some eyebrows raised at the message of nascent Christianity?
Does this not better explain what is going on in Acts 17, when the Christians are accused of turning the world upside down and preaching another king besides Caesar?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *