Moderately Interactive Map of the Roman Empire — This is a fairly sweet resource — you can click through and see the size of the Empire at various times. The point of the map is to compare the Celts and the Romans — use whatever is of interest to you.
Cicero on Crucifixion — Concerning ancient Roman attitudes toward crucifixion, you can find quotations from the ancient world by Googling “Cicero on crucifixion,” but this link is to part of the fuller speech of the Roman orator Cicero. The center of this reading is a paragraph that reveals Cicero’s horror at crucifixion and its shamefulness.
Introduction to the Septuagint — This is a fairly basic introduction to the Septuagint (that is, the early Greek translation of the Old Testament that early Christians used). If you’re interested in some similar content from a slightly more scholarly perspective, you should consult this link.
The “Mystery Cults” in the Greco-Roman World — This site discusses the “mystery cults” as part of a generally interesting discussion of non-monotheistic religions in the ancient Roman empire.
Images of Ancient Feasts — There are lots of resources out there about “feasts” and dining in ancient Rome, but very few combine solid text, accessibility for the amateur, and some images. This one is pretty good, with both actual images and digital reconstructions, and it lets you learn more about what typical Romans feasts looked like. Christians as well as non-Christians would have partaken in these feasts, if they had the means to do so.
Gladiatorial Combats — This is a very nice source with lots of follow-able links on many matters concerning gladiatorial combats.
The Cult of Asclepius — The healing cult of Asclepius was widespread in the ancient world, and there are many parallels to the early Christians’ view of Jesus as healer. This link includes ancient testimonies to that cult. You might browse the various quotations here, as they will help you get a sense of what that cult entailed.
The Destruction of Jerusalem — This site provides an account about the destruction of Jerusalem, from a Jewish eyewitness named Josephus. This text is, in fact, the only eyewitness account to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. And, incidentally, while Josephus was Jewish, he had surrendered to the Romans, which was how he survived the destruction. NB: the text is rather long and is in an old-fashioned translation. If you want, you can peruse the section headings to see what you might be interested in, rather than reading through the whole thing.
Ignatius of Antioch — Here’s a nice Wikipedia page on Ignatius, one of the most important bishops of this time period, in terms of his textual legacy. If you follow the links under “Letters,” you can find online versions of a number of his letters.
More Correspondence between Pliny and Trajan — This is a very important early correspondence depicting “official” Roman policy concerning Christians — at least in one region of the empire. The earlier letters give you the sense of the two men’s working relationship; the last portion concerns Christians. Notice how Trajan says that anonymous “lists” of purported Christians are not to be admitted — it seems that he thinks the Romans too “enlightened” to accept such under-handed tactics.
The Catacombs in Rome: This is the Vatican site on the catacombs. There’s some nice information here, along with some good images. It’s not exhaustive, but it provides a good introduction.
The Epistle to Diognetus — This text is a second-century letter that nicely illustrates early Christian attitudes toward the world around them. Notice especially chapters 5-6 of the Epistle, where the author clearly articulates the distinction between Christians and everyone else. The reason I give you this text is that it helps illustrate the mindset that could be questioned in times of grave sin, as discussed in chapter 7. Are Christians really that separate from the world? We need strong leaders to guide us when we fall.
Greco-Roman Thought and Philosophy — Trying to find a good but brief introduction to Greek philosophy is challenging, and this site is the best thing I’ve been able to find these days. It’s pretty readable, and it does have a view toward the emergence of Christianity. This link is also helpful, especially on the philosophical side.
Justin Martyr and Early Christian Worship — People often cite Justin Martyr as the first description of early Christian worship. This is the fuller text, which is an excerpt from Justin’s “1st Apology.”
Thumbnail image credit (Fra Angelico’s painting of St. Peter preaching): Wikimedia Commons
Suggested next click: the next set of links (the patristic period)