It seems strange that the good Emperors were often worse persecutors than the bad ones, but the fact was that the bad ones let the people do as they pleased, as long as they did not offend them; while the good ones were trying to bring back what they read of in Livy’s history, of plain living and high thinking, and shut their ears to knowing more of the Christians than that they were people who did not worship the gods. Moreover, Julius Trajanus, whom Nerva adopted, and who began to reign after him in 98, did not persecute actively, but there were laws in force against the Christians. When Pliny the younger was propraetor of the province of Pontica in Asia Minor, he wrote to ask the Emperor what to do about the Christians, telling him what he had been able to find out about them from two slave girls who had been tortured; namely, that they were wont to meet together at night or early morning, to sing together, and eat what he called a harmless social meal. Trajan answered that he need not try to hunt them out, but that, if they were brought before him, the law must take its course. In Rome, the chief refuge of the Christians was in the Catacombs, or quarries of tufa, from which the city was chiefly built, and which were hollowed out in long galleries. Slaves and convicts worked them, and they were thus made known to the Christians, who buried their dead in places hollowed at the sides, used the galleries for their churches, and often hid there when there was search made for them.
[Illustration: TEMPLE OF ANTONINUS AND FAUSTINA.]
Trajan was so good a ruler that he bears the title of Optimus, the Best, as no one else has ever done. He was a great captain too, and conquered Dacia, the country between the rivers Danube, Theiss, and Pruth, and the Carpathian Hills; and he also defeated the Parthians, and said if he had been a younger man he would have gone as far as Alexander. As it was, the empire was at its very largest in his reign, and he was a very great builder and improver, so that one of his successors called him a wall-flower, because his name was everywhere to be seen on walls and bridges and roads—some of which still remain, as does his tall column at Rome, with a spiral line of his conquests engraven round it from top to bottom. He was on his way back from the East when, in 117, he died at Cilicia, leaving the empire to another brave warrior, Publius AEtius Hadrianus, who took the command with great vigor, but found he could not keep Dacia, and broke down the bridge over the Danube. He came to Britain, where the Roman settlements were tormented by the Picts. There he built the famous Roman wall from sea to sea to keep them out. He was wonderfully active, and hastened from one end of the empire to the other wherever his presence was needed. There was a revolt of the Jews in the far East, under a man who pretended to be the Messiah, and called himself the Son of a Star. This was put down most severely, and no Jew was allowed to come near Jerusalem, over which a new city was built, and called after the Emperor’s second name, AElia Capitolina; and, to drive the Jews further away, a temple to Jupiter was built where the Temple had been, and one to Venus on Mount Calvary.