In the darkest periods of human history, we consigned some people to be sources of entertainment. The more barbaric of these times, when the Roman empire forced enslaved people to fight for their amusement, is long past. The original Star Trek seemed to love imagining alternate histories for Earth, however implausible they would be on a distant planet. Either way, when the Enterprise finds a modernized Roman civilization, it presents an interesting example of what might have been if we never grew out of our more savage human nature.
Near planet 892-IV, the Enterprise discovers the wreckage of the SS Beagle. Looking for survivors, they find a 20th century style broadcast of a gladiator battle. The Beagle’s flight officer was killed in the battle. Kirk and crew beam down to investigate, and they are immediately captured by members of a slave class, calling themselves Children of the Sun. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy learn that planet 892-IV is almost exactly like Earth, but one in which Rome never fell. Any other historical implication of this must have been lightly overlooked, as the planet of Rome experienced the same industrial revolution.
Whether fans choose to scrutinize all the inexplicable issues with the alternate timeline, or just indulge the writer’s enthusiasm for history, the story does more than parallel Earth’s Rome with one set in a hypothetical 20th century, it compares Roman civilization with Christian philosophy. Kirk and crew get mixed up in the gladiator battles, and work to help the slaves, but they also spend time learning why the slaves have become discontent. The ‘sun’ that the slaves were worshipping was their version of Jesus, the Son. His messages of equality and dignity, love, and forgiveness resonated with the persecuted people of this modernized Rome.
In the alternate Rome, and in the real Rome most likely, human beings became objects of entertainment. Their humanity was removed so they would serve as instruments to be used as the masters see fit. In contrast, the Children of the Son hold on to hope of a brighter future by worshipping the image of real humanity. Theirs was a symbol of equality. Worshiping the Son is to believe that everyone deserves dignity, even if they are your enemy or borne into slavery. It was not a direct attack, only a quiet belief which, by its own logic and appeal, spread through society to shift a civilization.