What ended the Roman Empire's vicious and wildly popular blood sport, the gladiatorial games? In large part, Christians did. More precisely, one single Christian.
The spectacles came to an end at the turn of the fifth century, when an eastern monk named Telemachus journeyed to the mighty city of Rome. He was determined to put a stop to the madness, armed only with faith in God and the belief that human beings made in His image should not tear each other to pieces like wild animals. Entering the Coliseum one day as a spectator, he bided his time in the stands until the fighting had raised the crowd to a frenzy. Then he leaped into the arena and separated the combatants. He was cut to pieces, but he won the day. The spectacles ceased when the emperor Honorius abolished them, moved by what had happened in the arena that day.
In Roman society, fathers wielded tyrannical power and women had the status of virtual household slaves. Children could be abused, sold or murdered: Unwanted infants (usually girls) were commonly exposed abandoned in the streets, to be used in pagan sacrifices, raised as beggars or sold into slavery.
Christians campaigned relentlessly against these horrors and after decades, and in some cases centuries, of pressure got results. For the first time, rape became a crime with severe penalties. Women gained unprecedented property rights and divorce laws were tightened to protect them against serial divorce. Abandoned children sold as slaves were freed.
In these and many other ways the treatment of slaves, the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, the imprisoned Christians radically reformed the ancient world. They did it without anything close to the freedoms we enjoy, and sometimes at great personal risk.
One especially inspiring example of Christianity at work in the culture is 19th century English Member of Parliament William Wilberforce. Wilberforce worked tirelessly for 20 years to persuade his fellow lawmakers to outlaw Britain's slave trade. He fought this good fight while in poor health and often standing alone in the legislature.
Finally, the British Parliament passed the Abolition of Slavery Act on July 26, 1833 three days before Wilberforce died.