Previously: Revelation 6, the black horseman
Verses 7 and 8 describe the fourth seal:
Then when the Lamb opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come!” So I looked and here came a pale horse! The name of the one who rode it was Death, and Hades followed right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill its population with the sword, famine, and disease, and by the wild animals of the earth.
The Greek word translated “pale” means a sickly pallor, when referring to persons. One fourth of the earth means one fourth of the Roman world, just as Caesar Augustus decreed that all the world should be registered in Luke 2:1. Of course, that means all the Roman world. So the symbolism of this horse and horseman is very clear: one quarter of the population will experience death by sickness and disease, death by the sword, or battle, death by famine, and death by wild animals.
In Oxford historian George Rawlinson’s seminal history of the ancient world, he describes the period in time we are discussing, 250 to 300 ad, thusly:
Gallius commenced his reign by purchasing a peace from the Goths, to whom he consented to pay an annual tribute, on condition of their respecting the Roman frontier, ad 252. He then returned to Rome, where he rapidly became unpopular, partly because of the disgraceful peace which he had made, partly on account of his inertness amid the fresh calamities which afflicted the unhappy State.
Pestilence raged in Rome, and over most of the Empire; [death by famine, overlapping the previous seal of the black horseman, with death by disease following; most historians acknowledge this well- documented outbreak to be the black plague, the same which decimated the population of Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries] while fresh hordes of barbarians, incited by the success of the Goths, poured across the Danube. Aemilianus, governor of Pannonia and Moesia, having met and defeated these marauders, was proclaimed Emperor by his army, and, marching upon Rome, easily established his authority. …
The calamities of the Empire went on continually increasing. On the Lower Rhine there had been formed a confederacy of several German tribes … under the name of Franks (i.e. Freemen), who had became one of Rome’s most formidable enemies. South of these, the Alemanni … had broken through the Roman rampart … and assumed from this position an aggressive attitude, threatening not only Gaul, but Rhaetia, and even Italy. On the Lower Danube and on the shores of the Euxine [the Black Sea], the Goths, who had now taken to the sea, menaced with their numerous fleets Thrace, Pontus, Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece. Finally, in the remote East, Persia, under its new monarchs, the Sassanidae, was growing in strength, and extending itself at the expense of Rome towards the northwest. [The wars with the barbarians affected the population in almost every province, thus death by the sword.] … The entire … reigns of Valerian and his son (ad 254 to 268) … was one uninterrupted series of disorders and disasters.
George Rawlinson, Manual of Ancient History, Oxford, 1869.
Thus the civil war of the red horseman and the poverty, shortages, and famine of the black horseman combined, contributed to disease and emboldened the advance of the barbarians, which together served to decimate 25% of the population of the Empire — even modern secular histories (Broken link, active June 16, 2006) label this period The Decline in Population. People died of starvation; starvation encouraged pestilence; people died of disease; the barbarians continually harassed the borders; people died by the sword; and the Christians, who were blamed for the troubles of the past century, were furiously persecuted; people died by wild animals in the Circus.
To be continued …
Update: continued in Revelation 6, the Christian martyrs