Christianity developed rapidly in Rome and other parts of the world during the 1st century. In the first century AD, the Christian community in Rome was still diminutive with perhaps having as few as some hundreds or thousands of followers. Being a new religion with a different idea from the established Roman religion, it was not surprising that Christians were persecuted on several occasions. One apparent problem was that Christianity’s being a monotheist religion, one God and no other, was prone to being called traitor to the polytheistic religion of Rome.
During the time of Claudius, Christian religion was regarded as illegal and this meant that it was unlawful for them to hold public meetings and reunions thus implying that their probable meeting places were their private homes. This negative outlook which Romans had at that time was most evident in the tyrannical emperors of Rome who may have considered themselves gods on earth and to whom Christians were not in a position to display disrespect, paving way to Christian persecution in ancient Rome.
One such emperor was Nero, who used the Christians as an alibi during the “Great Fire of Rome” that swept and destroyed vast portions of the city. Nero was rumored to be behind the incident, and so in defense he used the Christians as a scapegoat inflicting persecution. Christian persecution in ancient Rome during the time of Nero was so severe that even Romans felt sorry for them, it included crucifixion (a punishment usually reserved for salves), other being dressed in skins for the dogs to attack, and perhaps the most dreadful were the many being drenched in oil and burned alive.
During the mid-second century, the crowd could be found throwing stones at Christians, preceded by crowd violence, assaults, robberies and stonings of Christians in Lyons. Desultory persecutions in Rome happened until the third century, and it was during this century under Maxim that the first Empire-wide persecution (though only the clergy was sought out) occurred.
The Christian persecution in ancient Rome is remembered throughout history and is often closely associated with the Amphitheater, where Christian martyrdom was more likely remembered. Christians were thrown into the lion’s den to be eaten, and Gladiatorial fights or “damnatio ad bestia” (thrown to the wild beasts) often took place. The first Christian martyred in the Colisseum amphitheater, is said to have been St. Ignatius who was apparently thrown to the lions with the last words of “I am as the grain of the field and must be ground by the teeth of the lions, that I may be fit for His table”.
In spite of the irregular periods of tolerance and Christian persecution in ancient Rome, the number of followers for Christianity still grew, particularly as the integrity and power of the Roman Empire weakened and the people of Rome lost faith in the old gods.