There are three main related factors that contributed to the growth and expansion of Christianity, and ultimately its success. These were a combination of political, social and economic factors. The rise of early the mystical teachings of jesus has been the topic of much debate and historical analyses. I will be attempting to simply outline and comment on some of the main social factors that lead to the rise of Christianity.
Christianity seems to have come at the right time, in an age where life was uncertain and many circumstances could not be controlled such as the barbarians invading; fires burning down whole cities and plagues killing off quite a lot of the population, whether you were rich or poor it made no difference, life in the Greco-Roman world was very fragile and short. Life expectancy was not great and the average person lived until around the age of 30 or even considerably less.
Life expectancy was very low and what may have appealed to pagans was that the Christian religion and doctrines offered hope and certainty in the afterlife and even some personal divine protection in this world. These new doctrines would have seemed attractive to pagans, when there was growing discontent with pagan practices and a general spiritual unrest. Like Christianity the Roman Religion was for the ordinary man but interest was waning and the mystery religions were far too complicated for the common Roman, thus the people’s choice was likely to be Christianity.
Christianity also offered hope to a usually pessimistic society that believed that their destinies were fixed, either to be in the Gods’ favour or to be out of it, with no hope of redemption. Christianity offered an alternative with the much desired possibility of salvation.
Christianity was primarily an urban movement, in these urban centre’s Christianity grew at a steady pace, the urban areas of cities such as Antioch, were very condensed with people it is estimated that there were 117 people per acre. In comparison to modern cities of today this is rather overcrowded. The overcrowding was so extreme, entire families were living together in single room apartments; this left little personal space and allowed everyone to know each other’s business. Given that urban centre’s were dramatically overcrowded and that early Roman Greco cities had minimal sanitation or sewerage to the average apartments people would often just throw their bodily waste out the window of their apartments onto the streets. Starks describe the situation in these urbanized areas as:
Given limited water and means of sanitation and the incredible density of humans and animals, most people in the Greco-Roman world would have lived in filth beyond our imagining.
Apartment buildings were often Smokey, dark, damp and always dirty. The air was filled with the smell of sweat, urine and faces. Onto of these conditions the rodents and bugs were everywhere in these apartments. The city streets were not much better they had open sewers, animal manure and crowds in some places it was so bad there were dead human corpses abandoned in the streets. When cities were in a constant state of filth, insects and crowding, disease was rife in these conditions, especially when these Roman societies had no antibiotics or knowledge of germs. Often plagues would strike and physical illness was most likely a part of daily life. An example of this was the analysis of human faeces that were found in a cesspit in Jerusalem showed large amounts of tapeworm and whipworm eggs, which shows poor sanitary conditions where humans often came into contact with human faeces.