Dio wrote the history of Rome around 230 CE. Until 315 CE, when Constantine made Christianity the state religion, Christianity was despised. Tacitus 115 CE explains that those of the Jewish and Egyptian religion gathered in Rome, where the worst of the world congregates (Annals 2.85), and Dio and his editors conglomerate the Christian and Egyptian religion of “magic”, a code word for Roman derision (71.8-9). Josephus, on behalf of Rome, seemingly links and repudiates all three (Antiquities 18.3.3-5). To me, Rome despises religions that profess equality like the Sicarii, again, seemingly Jewish, Christian, and Egyptian (1; Wars 7.10.1; Gal 3:28). Perhaps due to Rome’s anti-democratic dissimulation (Dio 44.2), Christianity’s historical origins are lost. Although Catholic historians would disagree, secular historians reviewing archaeology and anthropology stand firm. For whatever reason, Dio’s chronological Roman history fails to mention Christianity until within his life.
Dio refers to our religion as Christianity. To me, Catholicism is the correct translation. In Latin, the word means universal or whole, only coming into use after the Reformation against Calvin’s sixteenth-century Protestantism. While Christians focus on faith, to which Catholics have no objection, Catholics also focus on contrition and good works. Catholics venerate both Paul’s faith and Jacob’s works (James). In obedience and humility, Catholics stand for the Church. We meditate on statues’ meanings, perhaps leftover from an age of illiteracy, pray for souls in purgatory, and encourage children to pursue religious orders. Maybe this is Dio’s Catholicism while modestly avoiding the label (Wisdom 32.10). However, while investigating Dio’s Catholicism, the more interesting question becomes whether Roman philosophy or Catholic theology influenced each other more. For example, Rome called Josephus’s “innovation” (equality) “impiety” (57.8).
WHO WAS DIO?
Lucius Cassius Dio 150 – 230 CE, born on the Black Sea, Senator and Governor, wrote from Capua near Pompeii or Naples in Italy. Perhaps due to his having started a well-received history of Rome, Rome retired rather than executed Dio after his Pannonia governorship (Croatia/Hungary/Austria), when his soldiers, underpaid and with no foreseeable opportunity for plunder, revolted. Perhaps Dio wrote to guide readers into a good life, as he explains through Annaeus Cortunus (62.29). Cortunus protests Nero’s planned writing, explaining there will be no audience for Nero’s history of Rome due to Nero’s infamy. Dio books 61 – 63 cover Nero (54–68 CE), who banishes Cortunus. The Senate would even condemn remembrance (2), destroying authors and books as per Tacitus’s (115 CE) Cremutius Cordus (25 CE)(Annals 4.35). Cortunus’s memory remains, meaning that despite Rome’s apparent condoning of censorship, implying the logical conclusion that Rome censors people who protest or even discuss censorship, Rome approved publishing Nero’s censorship as unapprovable. Dio bypasses censors in the same way we do today (3). Minorly troublesome passages are allowed only by explaining what not to do while maintaining an overall context of being in both the readers’ and present and future censors’ best interests, making us wonder what hit censors’ editing room floors. (Some note Eusebius in 300 CE protesting that Josephus blamed the fall of Jerusalem on the murder of Jacob (James), suggesting multiple edits to our received copies of Josephus that currently credit the destruction as due to the crucifixion. –Testimonium Flavianium, Dave Allen 2022)
What Did Dio Teach?
After Nero, whose death ends the reign of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Roman authors like Dio all review the year of four emperors 68-69 CE and its lessons with the simultaneous destruction of Jerusalem’s temple in 70 CE, a timestamp in both worlds. Although Dio’s history is chronological, it mainly covers the lessons we can learn from each age or emperor. As noted, specific embarrassing lessons are only visible by their reflection. For example, Roman historians fail to note heavy taxation (48.9) or the levy for legions (73.2), but will propose munificence for their abrogation. Therefore, when Roman historians berate an emperor, we question, more so than the morals of the emperor, the heavily censored culture that allowed its historians to report on the mayhem.
NERO 54-68 CE
One of Nero’s teachers, Burrus, had the gall to tell Nero not to ask again once something had been explained. Nero had him poisoned. (Hee!) Dio details Nero’s rape parties of married women in Rome, dining his horse from a golden platter while threatening to make it a Senator, and his summer home in Corinth, Greece, suggesting he started the canal around 67 CE, but also noting Julius Caesar before him from 44 BCE (Dio 44.3). The canal was completed in 1893. Boudicca, a British heroine worshiping Andate/Andastre with rabbits (interestingly, rabbits are not native to Britain), supposedly derides Nero for acting like a woman for playing the zither and reciting poetry. Dio also notes Nero wandering around in public in a bathrobe. Nero marries and then kicks to death his pregnant mistress, killing both his mother and previously banished wife, later supposedly marrying two men, including an eunuch. Nero kills the Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, throwing her priests into the fissure and giving her property to his soldiers. Under Nero, temples near and far, functioning as banks, are investigated to ensure they aren’t corrupt, keeping too much of their disciple’s money, and Nero’s Olympic race “win”, having fallen from his chariot twice, was presumably to confiscate Herod’s eternal donation (Josephus Wars 1.21.12; Antiquities 16.5.3). Rome needed the money and didn’t respect property (Tacitus Annals 16.1-3). Per Dio, Nero’s gambling led to his confiscating local bigwig’s property to continue the dice. Again, tough to believe, for if the first part were genuine, who dared beat Nero at dice? Nero silenced one such Senator, who supposedly, not knowing it was Nero in disguise, beat up Nero at a bar for causing trouble.
One senator, Publius Thrasea Paetus, refusing to pay homage in light of Nero’s killing even friends, declares, “Nero can kill me, but he cannot harm me.” Perhaps Dio uses Thrasea to give Rome’s pre-Christian view of life, “Why should one stoop to indecent behavior and perish like a slave, when like a freeman one may pay the debt to nature? There shall be talk of me hereafter but of these men not a word save for the fact they were killed.” (Dio 61.15) Thrasea says, `Nero can kill me but cannot harm me.` Does this sound like Jesus’s, “Fear not him who can kill the body, but fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” (Mt 10:28)? Thrasea mentions a debt to be paid to nature. Did Rome consider life as creating an obligation to be paid by death? Is it a debt to one’s mother? Rome, like Native Americans, claimed the earth as our mother, but more on that later. Dio notes the Sybil as declaiming Nero as a matricide, thereby ending the Julio-Claudian dynasty. We still discuss Thrasea’s virtue, which, per Seneca’s On Tranquility of Mind, grants at least a type of Stoic immortality. Thrasea’s claim to immortality may be valid, like the actions of the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet, pouring spikenard ointment upon his head, “Wheresoever this gospels shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.” (Mt 26:13, Mk 14:9, Lk 7:50, Jn 11:2) Per the gospels, she never pours oil upon his head as an official anointing for priests, prophets, or kings, and the authors may have left us another clue to the Greek word game because even though Jesus explains she will be remembered wherever his story is told, we seemingly never hear anything further of her including even her name.
Although Nero is said to have killed himself, in Dio, Epaphroditus deals the finishing wound. Many have expressed doubts about this Epaphroditus being Paul’s sponsor (Philippians 2:25; 4:18), noting multiple roman Epaphrodituses, including even another Epaphroditus as Augustus’s advisor, to whom the care of Cleopatra’s children by Mark Anthony was given in 31 CE. However, to me and to Eisenman, Paul’s sponsor is this Epaphroditus, Nero’s executioner in 68, who, like the Amalekite who killed Saul for David, David kills (pg 281, Gary Greenberg, 101 Myths). Domitian kills Epaphroditus in 95 for supposedly having killed Nero. One wonders whether it was for the often unspoken unease of tyrants around those disposed to offing tyranny or whether it was due to Epaphroditus’s knowledge or opinions on subjects taboo. Dio notes the same treatment given to Augustus’s General, Agrippa, saying that in his old age, Agrippa became a ranting fisherman banished by Augustus (55.32). It sounds like a reclusive retirement to me that should have left an old man to his memories, but Tiberias has Agrippa killed (57.3). Although most Caesars get an elaborate funeral, with a pyre and the release of an eagle carrying their spirit into the heavens (Augustus – 56.42), Nero dies in ignominy except for one who later claims his name (Dio 64.9). Perhaps Nero didn’t die as supposed but left Epaphroditus with his secrets.
After Nero, the Senate appoints Galba, but the legions fail to ratify the appointment, killing him. Galba’s last words after being struck by a spear are, “Why? What have I done?” And he falls back into his sedan. After the soldiers appoint Otho, Vitellus marches into town with his German legions. Otho foresees the impending devastation and, to prevent civil war, begs to be allowed to follow Galba into death so that he might not see or hear anything to give himself further grief. Dio’s seeming approval suggests that Rome didn’t consider suicide as dooming one’s soul but as preserving it from calamities worse than death. Is that why armies killed themselves rather than surrender? (Josephus’s troops do so in Galilee, like Sadducees before the burning temple and at Massada.) Otho kills himself, explaining he dies to prevent soldiers from fighting each other, “It is far better and more just that one should perish for all, rather than many for one… You have chosen such an emperor as has not given you up to save himself but himself to save you.” Jesus has the High Priest’s words about how one should die rather than the nation, and I would suggest this is the meaning of “Jesus saves” by preventing war with Rome (Mt 1:21). The soldier who reports Otho’s legions’ loss kills himself to confirm the truth of what he had said, and Otho begs to be allowed to follow so that he might not see or hear anything to give himself further grief, seemingly like Brutus and Cassius at Philippi (47.46,49). Vitellus busies himself with killing Otho’s friends. (Again, based on the future emperor Vespasian’s bureaucracy’s censorship, Roman authors such as Dio probably busied themselves berating Vitellus.) And finally Vespasian marches into Rome with legions from Antioch and Alexandria. A Gaul taking pity on the dishonored Vitellus seeks to help him, “I will help you, as well as I can alone.” The wound fails to kill Vitellus, who is imprisoned and later killed by the soldiers for impudence in saying he was once their emperor. The year of four emperors runs from 68 – 69, after which Vespasian holds the emperorship until 79 when Pompeii’s volcano erupts. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Titus’s son continues the siege with a small force until troubles settle in Rome.
ROMAN HIGH PRIESTS – Julius, Augustus, and Lepidus (49 BCE – 14 CE)
Rather than following a timeline explicitly, Dio tends to focus on heroes. So, for instance, book 75 of 80 is not numbered, and book 48 skips around in time. Rome’s most famous hero is Augustus, whose mausoleum has just been refurbished as of 2023. Dio notes Augustus’s professionalism: He accepted all the care and superintendence of public business on the grounds that it required expert attention (53.12). Augustus rejects the prophesied kingship for which Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BCE. Julius was preparing to invade Parthia, and per the Sibyl, “the Parthians should never be captured in any other way than by a king.” (Dio 44.15) Cicero blames Julius Caesar’s murder on Anthony’s lavish praise and his giving him the Kingly diadem (45.41). The Roman King Sulla (78 BCE), whose records, Dio 30-35 were destroyed, presumably by censors, caused civil strife, seemingly by murdering the opponents of his kingship. Augustus circumspectly avoids the mistakes of Sulla by not murdering opponents, preferring banishment or resettling into foreign Roman colonies from Spain to Carthage and Greece. Similarly, after destroying Europe and including America in WWI 1914-1918, by the late 30s, Europe managed to export its troubles to include Africa and Asia in its destructions, seemingly recognizing the folly of losing a goodly portion of its people to destroy its immediate neighbors, thereby allowing foreign interests to benefit from reduced competition.
Rome had several types of priesthoods. The most obvious are the Vestals, usually the young daughters of Senators who kept contracts (48.12). Dio mostly mentions the Vestals as being walled up in an underground room for debauchery with their companion abused naked in the forum until dead (2.7.8), but in the case of Julius Caesar’s wife, Pompeia, Dio has Julius explain the duty of an honorable woman to avoid even the appearance of unchastity (37.45), which is very Catholic, although Julius Caesar’s divorcing her is not. Later, Dio notes Julius Caesar as having mistresses at fifty, presumably a double standard, shortly before his assassination on the ides of March 44 BCE (44.7) (ides = a fortnight into the month; halfway through the month; the 15th). Additionally, Dio mentions the priests of pontifices, augurs, and the fifteen when explaining Julius Caesar’s priesthood (42.51). Also, after becoming emperor, Augustus waits for the high priest, Lepidus’s, death before taking the high priesthood (Dio 49.50). In Ancient Rome, the king was also a priest as was Melchizedek, king of Salem (peace) and priest of the most high (Gen 14:18).
SUPERSTITION – Human Sacrifice
Roman mythology around human sacrifice is interesting. The myth is of Curtius, where a fissure appeared between the Palatine and Capitoline (Rome is a city of seven hills), and the oracle said that only Rome’s best possession might fill it. Curtius exclaims that man is a mortal god, and gods are but mortal men without bodies. (Sorry, women, it’s Rome.) Curtius dons his armor and charges into the chasm to save the city. Later, his son, Decius, sacrifices himself to ensure Rome’s victory against the Latins. Finally, in the war against Pyrrhus, Decius’s son, Decius, considered similarly sacrificing himself for victory. His counselors explain that one such death, incantations, or magic is not superior to the many arms and men. His opponent, Pyrrhus, orders soldiers not to kill any unarmed purple-clothed Romans riding into battle. Although Dio never tells us what happens to Decius, Pyrrus is defeated, seemingly without a struggle.
SUMMARY OF DIO’S CATHOLICISM
What might Catholics think of Dio so far? Can we discuss Dio’s Catholicism by his writing and what his history supports and opposes? In Dio’s Catholicism, Dio notes Roman censorship, although his “editors” seemingly later delete Dio’s opinions on Sulla. Dio’s discussion of Roman censorship seems supportive and Dio seemingly believes his works will pass the test. But do Catholics censor ourselves? We’re not allowed to interrupt the mass. For instance, we usually have a place for parishioners with babies, a crying room. Concerns about priests or preaching are typically brought to the bishop. In Coal Valley, IL, in the eighties, when the new priest drank a little too much, spending time with the wrong families, a prominent family discussed the issue with the bishop, and the priest was moved to another parish after, presumably, some talking. In Roswell, GA, in the nineties, when the priest brought in a speaker who denounced mixed-race couples, someone presumably discussed the outrage with the bishop, and the same for when a guest priest asked for information on homosexual seminarians in Woodstock, GA in the two-thousands. Dio is most Catholic with his support of censorship.
In denouncing Nero’s antics, Dio is most Catholic, seemingly advising against worshiping rabbits or the Greek Oracle and suggesting dressing modestly. You’ll notice Dio’s denunciation is modest while focusing more on how we should live rather than on Nero’s depravity. But can we separate Dio’s position from Rome’s? Rome presumably censored Dio, as in the case of Sulla. Neither Rome nor Cathoics seemingly have trouble denouncing Nero’s depravity, although historians suggest some of it as fiction due to Rome’s later disparaging view of Nero. Would Dio have been able to publish fiction? Still, some of the ancient myths Dio published were questionable as history, like Virgil’s Aeneid, but presumably used to support the legions in unity and courage, perhaps, as Crossan suggests, even more accurate than history (Kennesaw State College ~2015 with Ratio Christi). Meanwhile, Thrasea’s concerns show the difference Rome considered between spirit and body. Dio highlights a mere senator, presumably encouraging readers to follow his example of choosing to live well despite dangers. Again, this is most Catholic.
In the case of Brutus (2.7.11), who kisses the earth as the mother of us all, fills a staff with gold as a gift to the Pythia showing his inner nature, speaks as a dog to fulfill the oracle, and kills his masters, the story only exists in fragments. Catholics tend to support authority as per Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” (Mt 5). Paul relates that authority bears not the sword in vain (Ro 13:4). Catholics would not kiss the earth as our mother, for we consider the church our mother as the bride of Christ (Mt 25). However, we would not condone the Tarquin treatment of their servant, Brutus, as a dog. Perhaps this is why part of the story exists only in fragments. Maybe Dio needed to include the story of kissing the earth to explain how Brutus fulfilled the oracle. Perhaps later censors, in light of the later Brutus and his suicide in Philippi, opted not to remember Dio’s entire story. And times change. Maybe it was not entirely erased because Brutus’s story shows our Catholic concern for human dignity.
Dio presents Galba’s lesson as not accepting undue honors. Otho’s lesson is how to lead as a servant and, sorrowfully, when to sacrifice oneself for others like our Lord. Vitellus learns not to carry vindictiveness into higher office, and Vespasian is praised as saving Rome from Vitellus’s civil war. Later authors suggest Vespasian as the creator of our church (Joseph Atwill, Valliant & Fahy). However, as per the above, Rome’s destruction of unapproved records makes the investigation challenging.
DIRECT EVIDENCE OF DIO’S CATHOLICISM
From the above, the Church would claim Dio, but would Dio claim the Church? Dio’s opinions align with the church, but Dio only mentions the church a few times, and only after 150 CE, when he might have been a direct observer. Dio praises a few emperors for their tolerance and then includes a most notable story of how the Thunder legion prays for rain, saving the 175 CE battle (71.8-10). Interestingly, Dio blends in an Egyptian wizard of Mercury who also invokes the rain.
I would suggest that these were not two separate religions. To me, Dio’s editors mixed up the story a bit. Dio’s editors also insert themselves where Dio’s direct experience might have created too much personal focus in his writing, as when Dio’s emperor praised a long list of Dio’s friends which copyists ignore (77.6). My review finds Egyptian pyramids in Jerusalem proclaiming equality and liberty against the tyranny of Rome (Josephus, Wars 7.10.1). Tacitus, likewise, has Rome declaiming these of the Jewish and Egyptian religion as a motley rabble with a foreign religion or none at all. Dio 43.32, seemingly supporting Rome’s position, castigates the defeated Pompey for presuming equality. “Pompey, thinking that one man was not much superior to another and quite confident in his strength…” Dio continues the lesson (44.2): Democracy has a proper name that conveys the impression of bringing equal rights from equal laws, but its results do not seem to agree at all.”
But that’s a different story. For now, Dio’s 230 CE Catholicism specifically says nothing to offend Catholics, perhaps recognizing our importance in preserving his works while teaching his lessons to improve our lives. One wonders whether Dio creates or reflects Catholic lessons, whether Dio’s lessons were Roman, or whether Dio recognized Rome as being or becoming Catholic. Perhaps Dio’s Catholicism is most noticeable by his modestly avoiding the label (Wisdom 32:10).
- Eisenman links Christians and Sicarii linguistically using this same passage of Ant 18 that puts these in Egypt and Libya pg 492-493 James, the Brother of Jesus 1999, and suggests Sicarii as at least sharing some components of mainline Judaism with Jacob (James) – pg 9 ibid.
- Damnio Memoriae was coined by an seventeenth-century German biblical historian describing the Roman practice of erasing someone’s memory, much like the Dead Sea Scrolls failing to give their enemies power by naming them directly.
- Sometimes censorable material is presentable as a denunciation – ie Dua Lipa New Rules.