How The Romans United Europe: Then and Now

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Does a united Europe sound plausible to you? It did to the ancient Romans, whose empire provides a model that many Europeans appreciate even today. A look at ancient Rome's techniques can help us understand Europe's very near future.


The modern drive to unite Europe began shortly after World War II, and has made remarkable progress in just a few decades. However, significant obstacles to European unity remain. There is no single central leader. There are many competing nationalisms. No single spiritual framework binds the diverse peoples of Europe together.

Two thousand years ago, the Roman Empire overcame similar hurdles. Ancient Rome created a cultural and political unity that led to history's most successful and longest-lasting empire. Today, proponents of a unified Europe look back with admiration on what Rome accomplished. This is not surprising, for Bible prophecy reveals that in the end-times, Europe will be united under a religious-political system using many of the same strategies that were used in ancient Rome. Few today understand the significance of events in Europe, but Bible students can recognize how long-prophesied events are coming together in Europe to affect the entire world.

Ancient prophecies reveal that the final phase of the Roman Empire will emerge in the "last days" (Daniel 2:28, 41–45). Over the last 50 years, we have witnessed the formative stages of this long-prophesied event. In 1946, Winston Churchill called for the creation of "a kind of United States of Europe" (The Principality and Power of Europe, Hilton, p. 21). Two years later, Churchill told the Congress of Europe, "We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think of being European as of belonging to their native land" (The European Dream, p. 200, Rifkin). In 1951, six European nations seeking to prevent a future war—France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg—signed the Treaty of Paris to form the European Coal and Steel Community. That treaty placed a long-disputed industrial region between France and Germany under a supranational authority with regulatory powers, a legislative assembly and a European Court. In 1957, the same six nations signed the Treaty of Rome, establishing the European Economic Community (EEC), which created a common market and a European Parliament. It also formed a European Commission that would formulate laws and regulations, harmonize tax codes and reduce internal customs barriers (ibid., pp. 201–202).

In 1992, the Treaty of Maastricht transformed the EEC into the European Union. Fifteen member nations agreed to form a European police force, a European bank—and a single currency, the euro. In 2002, ten additional nations from Central, Southern and Eastern Europe joined the EU, bringing the total membership to 25.

In 2004, EU representatives met again in Rome to sign the new European Constitution. Signatories felt they were gathered for a lofty purpose. A marble plaque commemorating the occasion reads, "On 29 October 2004 in this most sacred Capitoline Hill… the high contracting parties of the nations joined in the European Union signed a treaty about the form of constitution to be adopted, so that the races of Europe might coalesce into a body of one people with one mind, one will and one government."

British journalist Boris Johnson noted, "When did the Continent of Europe last have one mind, one will, one government? Not since the fall of the Roman Empire" (The Dream of Rome, pp. 30–31). Indeed, the use of Roman methods to create a unified Europe has not gone unnoticed. Johnson wrote: "In many ways the European Union can be seen as the inheritor of the Roman Empire, an attempt to unite this vast and disparate territory in the way that the Romans did… It is that memory, of a peaceful and united continent, that is so appealing… and that… is why the latest and most ingenious attempt to rebuild the Roman Empire… should have begun in the Eternal City" (ibid., pp. 1, 22, 52).

Belgian politician Paul-Henri Spaak was one of the "founding fathers" of the modern effort to unite Europe. Commenting on how it felt to sign the Treaty of Rome in 1957, he observed, "we felt like Romans on that day… We were consciously recreating the Roman Empire once more" (The Signature of God, Jeffrey, p. 191).

Few today realize that the prophet Daniel predicted these developments more than 2,500 years ago!

Ancient and Modern Parallels

When we study how the Romans unified Europe, the parallels soon become obvious. The Romans developed a system of laws, courts and administrative skills to manage their empire. Today, Roman law forms the basis of legal codes in France, Italy, Latin American countries—and the EU, as well as much international law. Roman law also undergirds Roman Catholic canon law (Civilization Past & Present, Wallbank, 6th edition, pp. 87–88).

English common law differs from Roman law in one key area. Under English law, suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty. Roman law treats suspects as guilty until proven innocent. The contrast between these two legal approaches has had a profound influence on the types of societies built on those very different legal foundations.

The EU has also formulated an expanding body of laws and regulations that are slowly and quietly pulling the nations of Europe into an ever-closer union. These European laws, draining power away from member states, supersede national laws and apply to any countries or corporations wanting to trade within the EU. When the European Court enforces these laws, it will supersede the courts of member nations. This European legal system will bind countries together as a legal entity that will become a united federal Europe! As the nations of the world conform to European laws in order to do business in an economically prosperous Europe, the EU will become the chief power determining the rules of global trade.

The Romans developed a reliable system of coinage as they united the continent. From the time of Augustus, about 11bc, a single currency was in use throughout the empire. Coins were stamped with the head of the emperor and conveyed a powerful political message. The EU has also established a common currency—the euro. When EU leaders launched a single currency, they "knew that they were taking a huge step towards a political union in much of what had been the old Roman Empire" (Johnson, p. 175). The European Bank is located in Frankfurt, Germany. In the Middle Ages, Germany was the political center of the Holy Roman Empire. The EU is developing a tax that will be paid directly to Brussels—EU headquarters. The Roman Empire levied a similar tax that paid for the army, civil servants and public expenditures supporting the Empire. Both in the past and in the present, currency reforms have played a significant role in efforts to unify Europe!

Military power fostered peace in ancient Rome, and had significant economic implications. "The Pax Romana [Roman Peace] was responsible for the elimination of tolls and other artificial barriers, the suppression of piracy and brigandage, and the establishment of a reliable coinage. Such factors, in addition to the longest period of peace the West has ever enjoyed, explain in large measure the great expansion of commerce that occurred in the first and second centuries ad" (Wallbank, p. 83).

The EU has removed internal customs barriers and opened borders to facilitate trade and travel between member countries. This process began during an era of peace guaranteed by U.S. military power. However, like the Romans, the EU is building its own army, and recent reports suggest that the plan to set up a European coast guard is "a back-door attempt to create a EU navy" (The Sunday Telegraph, May 21, 2006).

Stealth Conquest

Ancient Rome conquered and united Europe openly by force. Today, the EU is attempting to unite the continent by legislative and regulative stealth. The Romans recruited provincial elites to become agents of the Romanizing process. In return for helping to raise taxes, local chiefs were backed by the Roman army and given citizenship—"and the Romans were careful to leave them with the illusion of self-government" (Johnson, pp. 126–127). In time, it became a mark of distinction to wear a toga, go to baths and games and hobnob at parties in Roman villas. Today, the EU is using the same process in its attempt to unite Europe. When individuals are elected to the European Parliament (or appointed to the European Commission), their salaries soar, they travel in style, and they live the good life as they spread the "gospel of Europe" to their home countries.

The Roman historian Tacitus described the process of inducing provincials to adopt Roman ways as a form of slavery: "So the population was gradually led into the demoralizing temptations of arcades, baths, and sumptuous banquets. The unsuspecting Britons spoke of such novelties as 'civilization,' when in fact they were only a feature of their enslavement" (The Agricola, 22). In the ancient world, Romanization enslaved the provinces in a gilded cage (Johnson, p. 131). Modern efforts by the European elite to unite the continent by stealth could spell trouble—as nations wake up to the fact they have been enmeshed in a legislative and regulatory prison from which escape will be difficult.

The Roman approach to religion also helped to assimilate diverse peoples into a united empire. Foreign religions were seldom divisive in the Roman world, because "the Romans were both cunning and easy-going… they welcomed new gods and just merged local gods with Roman divinities" (Johnson, p. 50). Prior to the coming of Christianity, "the chief imperial cult [in Rome] had become Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun, whose temple was dedicated 25 December)"—the time of the winter solstice and the rebirth of the Sun god (ibid., p. 33). When Constantine made "Christianity" the religion of the Empire, the notion spread that Jesus was born on the already-sacred day of 25 December, even though Christ was born in the fall of the year. In the Roman effort to use religion to unify the empire, the birthday of the sun god became the birthday of the "Son of God" to facilitate pagans' conversion to the new state religion!

Ephesus had been the worship center of the virgin-mother goddess Artemis, and was a major tourist attraction with a magnificent temple and thousands of priests and priestess-prostitutes. Gradually, it became associated with stories about the virgin mother of Christ. A large church was built in Ephesus, and souvenir statues of the "Virgin Mary" were sold in place of Artemis, as the tale was told that Mary had been buried there (Johnson, pp. 119–120). This exemplifies the Roman technique of using their malleable religion to bind their empire together.

In Europe today, religion has been sidelined by secularism. There is no Euro-religion, and there are no Euro-religious rituals to cement the unity of the continent (see Johnson, p. 186). The "spiritual dimension" that bound the Roman Empire together is missing today—the religious factor has yet to be used. Watch for a powerful religious personality who will coax European political leaders into a spiritual union.

Cult of the Emperor

Powerful personalities have played important roles in efforts to unite Europe, and the cult of the Roman emperor is a prime example. Octavian (later titled Augustus Caesar) was "the founder of the Roman Empire" and "one of the great pivotal figures in history" (The 100, Hart, p. 127). Only 18 years old when his great-uncle Julius Caesar was assassinated, Octavian used ambition, cunning, courage and determination to rise to the top of the Roman political system. Once in control, he ended the strife and civil wars that nearly destroyed the Roman Republic, and he reorganized the government. He formed a capable civil service, built an extensive network of roads, reorganized the army and established a permanent navy. As a populist—"delighting in the pleasures of the people"—he beautified Rome, attended the games and sanctioned their mounting extravagance (Johnson, pp. 92–94). During his 40-year reign, Augustus talked of restoring the Republic, but kept his fingers on the sources of power—becoming a benevolent dictator who used a democratic façade to maintain his personal tyranny.

Augustus understood the people he ruled—their "obsession with tradition, and the validation of the past" (ibid., p. 91). He built temples and promoted the old Roman religion. Because he ended decades of strife, and ushered in a golden age of peace and prosperity, many saw him as a "savior" and some kind of god. Augustus used Roman poets (the "media" of the ancient world) to mold a "single political consciousness" throughout the empire and spread the idea that the "boy emperor" was a "wonder child" who would "pacify and rule the world" (Johnson, pp. 74, 82). The feeling grew, "that the success of Rome was divinely ordained, and… that the Roman emperor was also divine" (ibid., p. 96). This fusion of religion and politics became a powerful strategy for unifying the empire.

Boris Johnson makes this cogent observation: "The emperor cult was a key element in the process by which Europe was Romanized… to understand how the Romans ran Europe so well for so long, we have to understand the mesmerizing way in which Augustus set up the idea of a divinely ordained empire, with a divinely ordained emperor at the center… The great advantage of the Roman system was that their emperor-god actually existed… This had enormous political advantages, and it helps to explain how the Romans ran Europe and created that sense of unity that has eluded everyone else ever since… it was the pagan system with emperor worship at its heart that allowed the Romans to run Europe… Augustus had the imagination to see how it might work, and the authority to fulfill the role so successfully that it was centuries before it finally fell apart" (Johnson, pp. 98–100). This strategy has yet to be tried in Europe today.

An Ancient Vision

What, then, is the real significance of modern efforts to unite the nations of Europe? What do Bible prophecies reveal about future developments on the European continent? More than 2,500 years ago, King Nebuchadnezzar had a vision of a giant image, picturing four empires that would dominate the Mediterranean world (Daniel 2:36–43). The two legs of the image reveal that the fourth empire—Rome—would divide into eastern and western parts, and that the final phase of this fourth empire (the feet of iron and clay) will be a "fragile… sort of federation" composed of nations that were once part of the Roman Empire (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 47). This is exactly what is developing in Europe today! The ten toes indicate that there will be ten nations or ten national leaders involved in the final revival of the Roman Empire.

The prophecies also reveal: "In the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed" (Daniel 2:44), and that the returning Jesus Christ (the stone) will strike the image and put an end to those worldly kingdoms (Daniel 2:44–45). These events will occur at the close of this age, when Jesus Christ returns to this earth.

The real significance of the modern efforts to unify Europe using Roman methods and the Roman model is that we are witnessing the final revival of the Roman Empire that was prophesied to occur just before the return of Jesus Christ! We can expect to see the current European Union of 25 nations rearrange itself around a core of ten nations as we approach this climactic event.

Bible prophecies indicate that the leaders of these final ten nations will be "of one mind, and will give their power and authority" to a clever and charismatic politician called "the beast" (Revelation 13:1–10; 17:12–13). This individual will allow, and then stop, daily sacrifices by Jews in Jerusalem, and will set up an idol that will defile the temple (Daniel 8:11–14; Matthew 24:15). He is described as an evil person who will gain power by deceit and flattery, appearing as an advocate of peace, yet becoming militant and using state power for his own ends—not unlike Augustus, Napoleon, Mussolini or Hitler (Daniel 11:21–24). He will "cast truth to the ground" and blaspheme what is holy during a brief period of prosperity, "and he shall magnify himself in his heart" before meeting his demise (Daniel 8:12, 23–26; 11:36–39). The modern attempt to unite Europe lacks a strong, cunning, central leader, but the Bible reveals that such a leader will appear! The Roman Empire was founded by such a man, and the leader of the final revival will reflect the founder (Daniel 2:28, 45).

A Turn to Religion?

The Bible and history indicate that European leaders will again turn to religion to provide the glue to hold disparate nations together. Just as the Romans tapped the power of religion and the emperor cult to bind their empire together, European leaders are beginning to echo the same theme. For decades, popes have spoken of Europe's spiritual vacuum, and have warned that economic regulations cannot truly bind peoples together. In 1975, Pope Paul VI declared, "it is faith, the Christian faith, the Catholic faith that made Europe… It is there that our mission as bishops in Europe takes on a gripping perspective. No other force in Europe can render the service that is confided to us… to awaken Europe's Christian soul, where its unity is rooted" (Hilton, p. 35). In 1979, Pope John Paul II said that to find fundamental unity, Europe "must turn to Christianity. Economic and political reasons cannot do it. We must go deeper" (ibid., p. 33). In 1982, the pope entreated Europeans, "Find yourself again. Be yourself. Discover your origins, revive your roots" (ibid., p. 33). Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the EU must be something more than an economic or political union, and said that Germany would push for a clear reference to God in the European Constitution—to make Europeans more aware of their Christian roots.

Many of the founding fathers of the modern European movement were devout Roman Catholics. Observers have noted that the idea of a united Europe is "essentially a Catholic concept" and that "Catholic churches in many continental countries are influenced by a desire to see a shadow Holy Roman Empire recreated in Europe" (Hilton, p. 37). Bible prophecies indicate that the final revival of the Roman Empire will be "ridden" by a woman (Revelation 17:1–6). In prophetic symbolism, a woman represents a church (see Revelation 12:1–6). The woman who rides the beast power at the end of the age has persecuted true believers, meddled in politics and spread a paganized form of Christianity around the globe. In the years ahead, the Roman church and its leaders will promote Catholicism as the necessary glue to bind together a core group of European nations as the final revival of the Roman Empire emerges in Europe.

Just as Constantine used the religion and the emperor cult to unify his empire, Bible prophecies indicate that European leaders will once again look to religion and to a strong man to unite Europe, just before the return of Jesus Christ. Watch and be prepared for these dramatic events!

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