PERSECUTION AND DESTRUCTION
In this final study of the archaeological background of the Bible we shall continue to trace the development of the Church through the missionary efforts of Paul and others. Although we cannot do justice to the subjects, we will survey the important material from Cyprus, Philippi, Corinth, Thessalonica, and Rome. And with Paul’s arrival in Rome as a prisoner, we will turn to a consideration of the growing persecution of the Christians and the Jews, not only in Rome but in other parts of the Roman world as well. This will lead to a discussion of the Jewish revolt in 66 (just after Paul was martyred by Nero), the destruction of the Temple and a few years later the capture of Masada and Gamla. A few general observations then can be made about the revolt in 132 under Bar Kochba and the dramatic changes that took place in Judaism and Christianity.
Paul’s Tour of Cyprus
Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, measuring about 148 miles long and from fifteen to forty miles wide. It has a large mountain range along the northern coast, and a parallel range along some of the southern coast. In between there is a broad plain, known as the Mesaoria. Cyprus was the native land of Barnabas, and that probably was the reason that Paul made this island the first place to visit when he began his missionary journeys.
The island first appears in history in the 15th century B.C. on a list of the conquests of Thutmose III. By the 12th century Phoenician colonists established themselves in the land, introducing their art and their religion of Astarte. When Greek colonists arrived, the licentious cult passed into the worship of Aphrodite, who specialized in sex and war, and whose temples were places of legalized vice in the form of sacred prostitution. Cyprus was under the control of Assyria during that empire’s heyday. But in 550 B.C. it fell to Egypt, then in 525 to Persia. Under the Ptolemies it once again reverted to Egypt toward the end of the fourth century B.C. It finally was made a Roman province in 57 B.C.
The largest city on the island was Salamis; it was located on the eastern side and had a fine harbor. From Salamis visitors like Paul had access to the whole country through the central plain. Old Salamis lay about three miles from the modern city of Famagusta; the old harbor has filled up with silt.
Of the ancient remains a large aqueduct is extant, large enough to supply a city of 100,000 people with water. At the southern end of the limestone forum was the temple to Olympian Zeus.
Large numbers of Jews moved to Cyprus, especially when Herod the Great leased the copper mines from Augustus. Luke briefly mentions the synagogues and the Jews in Acts 15:5. It was a large population of Jews if several synagogues were built in the city. No information is given by Luke about the success of the ministry there, but Christianity did take hold of the island--at the Council of Nicaea in 325 three bishops were present from Cyprus! Tradition says that Barnabas was martyred in Salamis.
The missionaries went across the whole island to Paphos (Acts 13:6), present day Baffo, on the western shore of the island. This was the favored town, the cultic and governmental center, and the residence of the pro-consul, who had the rank of a praetor. Augustus had re-built the city after an earthquake, designating it New Paphos, or Sebaste (for “Augustus”) as it was officially called. In a third century inscription it is called Sebaste Claudia Flavia Paphos, a holy city and mecca of the Cyprian states. By the time of Jerome it was in ruins.
Found in the rubble of the earthquake-ruined city was the ancient temple of Aphrodite dating to pre-Hellenic times. It was still renowned when Paul and Barnabas arrived. People flocked from all over the island to participate in the worship of this goddess of love and reproduction. Paul’s gospel was successful here, but not without running into the demonic religious opposition. Sergius Paulus, the pro-consul, had a magician, in this case, a Jewish occultist named Bar-Jesus and Elymas, perhaps an appellative specifying his abilities (from Aramaic ’alima’, “powerful”). In the story this antagonistic man was temporarily blinded, and his master the pro-consul genuinely converted to Christianity. Christianity at this time (early 40s) had not been banned by Rome.
Luke was criticized in modern studies for calling Sergius Paulus a pro-consul instead of propraetor on the ground that Cyprus was an imperial province. It was an imperial province, but in 22 B.C. it became a senatorial province. At Soli, a city on the northwestern coast, an inscription was found which contained the phrase, “under Paulus the pro-consul,” The inscription is dated to the thirteenth year of Claudius (about 52, 53 A.D.). It is almost certainly the same man--with the proper title as recorded by Luke.
Not only does Luke tell of this man’s understanding and knowledge (Acts 13:7), but so does Pliny the Elder mention it (there is no reason to doubt that he was referring to this Paulus). Barnabas and Saul and John Mark were certainly welcomed into his court. But when Sergius became a Christian he entered into a new area of understanding. And he became one of the few who are wise who also come to faith (see 1 Cor. 1:26). This man’s conversion was a harbinger of future success among the Gentiles; and to commemorate that direction in ministry, the apostle abandoned his Jewish name Saul for the un-Jewish name of Paul (Acts 13:2, 13).
It was on the second missionary journey that Paul and his grouped arrived in Philippi from Troas, about 175 miles across the Aegean Sea (stopping at Samothrace). The city was ten miles inland from the port city of Neapolis, which in effect connected Asia Minor and Europe for the travelers who came the way Paul did. Sir William Ramsey proposed the view that Luke was from Philippi, because it is from this point that he joins Paul’s company; if true that would explain the details about the city in Acts 16.
Philippi is named after the father of Alexander the Great. Philip of Macedon came here to take the gold from the nearby mountain (Pangaeus); he built a thriving city that was to become a military base.
In 42 B.C. this was the location of the battle between the murderers of Caesar and his avengers. To commemorate the victory, Octavius (Augustus) made it a Roman colony--a miniature Rome in the Middle East. Roman colonies were small replicas of the imperial city. Several hundred Roman citizens moved in to oversee the transition; and Roman roads were built top link the colonies. As a colony it was a free city; and this free city was also given tax exempt status. The citizens of such an honored city were the military and social aristocracy. Luke was understandably proud of this city (see Acts 16:10-17); when he claimed it was the “first city in the district of Macedonia,” he did not mean it was the capital, but that it had a rich history and a strategic location in the province. Because such colonies were “points of power,” Paul went to them on his journey.
Luke’s account was criticized by scholars for calling Philippi a “region” or “district.” The Greek word is meris; critics thought it was a blunder to use the word in a geographical sense. But archaeological evidence has surfaced to confirm Luke’s account. In the territory of the Fayyum in Egypt were found papyri that speak about colonists, many of whom came from Macedonia (remember that Cleopatra was Macedonian), and in the writings the word meris is used repeatedly to denote the divisions of a district.
The Church in Philippi
Paul and his company met with the small Jewish population on the sabbath day; the result of this meeting was the conversion of Lydia (i.e., a woman from Lydia”). She was a dealer in purple dye and native to the city of Thyatria on the edge of Lydia. Her name, then, most likely was a surname. Thyatria was a colony of Macedonia and a good market for purple. This connection explains why she was in Philippi. The church began to meet in her home. For the first two hundred years churches met in the homes of the wealthy Christians. If it was a typical wealthy residence, it would be large enough to accommodate four guests as lodgers, and to have meetings in either an atrium or a peristyle courtyard. This was the first private home in Europe to serve as a Christian church.
The fact that Lydia and her home receive such prominent attention is witness to the fact that, contrary to the opinions of modern critics, Christianity played a liberating role for women. Women were debased and actually enslaved by the pagan oriental cults and lifestyles; but in Christianity their freedom, respect, and responsibility in the churches form a striking contrast to their old environment.
But Paul and Silas clashed head on with paganism; in towns where there had been a strong Jewish population the opposition had been very different than this. Paul cast a demon out of a young woman who was apparently making money for her promoters. They saw their dupe changed from being a medium, and so they dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrate. All the forms of Roman law in this colony were ignored--Paul and Silas were unjustly condemned, flogged, and thrown into jail. But that led to the conversion of the Philippian jailor. Paul then made full use of his status as a Roman citizen to put far in the magistrates who had violated Roman law. After this clash the missionaries moved on.
Felibedjik (“Little Philippi”) is the location of the ancient ruins of the colony that covers many acres. It was worked from 1914 through 1938. On the site there was found Roman baths, the theater (rebuilt in the second century) and several churches (from a later time). The forum of the city was 300 feet by 150 feet; it was surrounded by porticoes and buildings. A rectangular podium with steps up to it indicates that it was a tribunal similar to what Paul and Silas saw. This one comes from the second century, but it would have been similar to and likely on the same spot as that in the time of Paul.
Archaeologists have found the colonial archway to the west of the city that dates from the time of Paul. The road that headed west from the city went through this gate and then traversed the Gangites about a mile from the city. Foreign gods were not allowed inside this archway. It seems likely that this “archway” is the gate mentioned in Acts 16:13, for the Jews met beyond it as was required by law, and the river side where Paul spoke to the assembled women was the banks of the Gangites.
Seventy miles from Philippi is the city of Thessalonica, a Roman city of great importance. The city was strategically located; it was situated on the site of ancient Therma (“Hot Springs”) on the main roads to the major cities, and had a fine harbor with access to the sea-lanes. It had both commercial and military importance.
The city grew up under Cassander, one of Alexander’s generals. He named it after his wife’s name, Thessalonica, a sister of Alexander. It too was made a free state by Octavius because of its loyalty to Octavius and Antony in their fight with Brutus and Cassius after the death of Caesar. Today the city is called Salonika; it has a population of about 200,000, Jews numbering about half of the population.
Paul and Thessalonica
Paul found a friend here in Jason, and as soon as he could settle in went to work weaving tent cloth (1 Thess. 2:9). He began to minister in the synagogue, which was an interesting mix of Jews, Greek proselytes, God-seeking Gentiles, and women of status and power. The patient work of Paul and Silas led to the founding of a solid. Growing church. Two of Paul’s first letters were written to this congregation in the early 50s.
Jewish opposition to this new ministry came quickly. The leaders got a mob to set the city in an uproar. They dragged Jason outside and accused him of having another king beside Caesar. These kinds of people were pretty common in Roman cities--paid hecklers and trouble makers. Cicero called them subrostrani (“those under rostrum”). They simply did what those paying them to do wanted. The magistrates dealt with it wisely to pacify the crowd and to go lightly on Jason (Acts 17:9).
Philippi was a Roman colony, and so there were not many Jews or synagogues. Here though we have a great commercial center with many Jews and a large synagogue. It was a free city with a “people’s assembly” (demos) headed by five or six politarchs (Acts 17:5-9). The charge was that Paul and Silas were trying to supercede Caesar, and the rioters wanted to take them to this assembly. Not finding them, they took Jason instead.
Luke’s use of the word politarch has been confirmed by seventeen inscriptions from this period from the area. One was on the main gate’s arch which was at the western end of the main street. It was acquired by the British Museum.
Rather than cause more riots Paul and his company left town and went to Berea. When one door seemed to close, another opened. The Jews of this town were not as opposed to the message; they received the word with gladness and sincerity.
Paul apparently went by sea from the region of Berea around Cape Sunium on the southern tip of Attica and then up to Athen’s seaport of Piraeus, five miles from the city. If he entered the city from the northwest through the Diplon Gate he would have gone through a long avenue of buildings that led to the Agora.
Athens has been inhabited since the Neolithic era, from as early as 6000 B.C. But it was in the Mycenaean or Late bronze Age that it fully developed into a major city. The city has a long history of struggle and conflict with other city-states in the Aegean, as well as with Persia. When Persia was defeated, Athens began to flower into the cultural center it is known to be, especially under Pericles (in power from about 460-430). It was to be a time of great art, architecture, philosophy history and drama. Athens soon found itself embroiled in war with Sparta (the Peloponnesian Wars of 431-404). Sparta dominated from 404-371, until they were defeated by Thebes. Athens eventually was conquered by Philip of Macedon, then passed to Alexander, and then to several of the generals. Greece was conquered by Rome in 31 B.C., but Athens remained a strong cultural and religious center.
Paul visited the city on his second journey. While the city would have been impressive with its buildings and monuments, its great contributions to culture would have been overshadowed--certainly in the mind of Paul--by its idolatry. Acts 17:16 tells us that Paul was exasperated (provoked) to see the idols. It was a strange mixture of human learning and spiritual blindness. The beauty of Athenian temples, statues and works of art was ruined by the spiritual depravity it represented. Paul would have been particularly troubled by it coming from first century Judaism and then Christianity.
Paul tried first to minister in the synagogue, but it was small and not responsive. He then went to the Agora (market place) where he had daily discussions with those who were there (Acts 17:17). The people were content with spending leisure time in the market place, always ready to listen to something new (Acts 17:21). It was a vain and insincere climate, though; his labors were not very fruitful among the idlers in the Agora. But some philosophically minded folks engaged him (Acts 17:18), and he spoke of the resurrection of Jesus.
The Greek Agora has been thoroughly excavated and basically reconstructed. The Stoa of Attalos on the east side was the first to be uncovered. In the south was the Odeion, or music hall. In the southern sector two long stoa (colonnaded porches) were found that ran parallel around a commercial area. On the west side was the stoa of Zeus Eleutherios (Deliverer) who saved the Athenians from the Persians. Next was the Temple of Apollos Patroos (Father), and the Shrine of the Mother of the Gods, the Bouleterion (assembly room of the Council of the Five Hundred), and the circular Tholos, where the executive offices of the council were located. Near the center was the Temple of Ares (Roman Mars), the god of war.
On the west side of the Agora is a hill known as Kolonos Agoraios. It has the ruins of the Hephaisteion, a temple to the god of fire and metal works.
East of the Agora is the Roman Forum, consisting of arcades and shops along the rectangular area. And just beyond this is the Horologium (Tower of the Winds), an octagonal marble structure with sundials and a water clock. This was the town’s public clock, built in the second half of the first century B.C.
The Areopagus, the Hill of Ares, god of war, is a 377 foot high hill northwest of the Acropolis. The old Athenian Court met here; and here Paul made a speech. People who wanted to speak had to go before the council to see if they were competent to speak. Paul would have been brought here before delivering his address. Here the apostle became a Greek to the Greeks. He made no reference to the Hebrew Scriptures, but used philosophers and reasoning in his speech, and also used the religious background in his discourse.
Paul referred to an inscription to the “unknown God.” This has not been found. But one was found in Pergamum that was to the unknown gods. Pausanius, the geographer, visited Athens in 150 A.D. He claims to have seen “altars of the gods named Unknown.” And in 217 A.D. Apollonius said it was important to speak well of all gods, especially in Athens, where altars were set up even for the unknown gods. The situation arose in the 6th century B.C. when a plague hit the city. The people sent to Epimenides on Crete for help. He advised them to drive a herd of sheep away from the Areopagus, and wherever they rested to make a sacrifice. After the plague ended, they built altars throughout the region to an unknown god.
Luke does not mention the Acropolis, which is situated 512 feet above the city proper. It dates from the golden age of Pericles in the 5th century B.C. The famous Parthenon (built in 447-438) housed the forty foot high golden statue of the city’s goddess, Athena (carved of ivory and gold about 438 B.C. by the sculptor Pheidias. The bronze statue of Athena, however, towered above the Acropolis; it was about 30 feet high. Other temples were located in the region of the Acropolis, such as the Temple of Olympian Zeus, 354 feet long 135 feet wide, and 90 feet tall--the largest temple in Greece. Across from the Parthenon is the Erechtheion (built between 421-395); this was the place where the Athena cult was more developed.
Paul does not seem to have had a great deal of success in Athens; the philosophers would have totally rejected the idea of resurrection, and so only a small group of people believed. Paul does not seem to have returned to the city either.
Paul probably came by sea to the seaport of Corinth, Cenchraea. He had with him a handful of converts from Athens (Acts 17:34). He had left the center of culture, and now was entering the most wealthy, dissolute and thriving city of Greece.
Corinth is about a mile and a half south of the narrow isthmus that joins Greece with the Peloponnesus; it had two ports, one on the east, Cenchraea, and one on the west, Lechaeum. Each port was a gateway to the great countries in either direction. The land (ten miles) between the two ports provided the wealth for Corinth, as cargo was unloaded from the ships and taken over land to the other port. This had proved to be safer and easier than the 200 mile trip around the stormy Cape Malea. Nero attempted to dig a canal in 66 A.D.; but it was not until the 19th century that it was done (1881-1893).
The region also had been occupied since Neolithic times. It was particularly powerful in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C., planting many colonies. It tried to resist Rome in 146 B.C., but was defeated--completely destroyed. It lay in ruins for a century until Caesar rebuilt it and made it a Roman colony.
The city was known for two major vices--greed for gain, and lust. The sea trade fed the first; the cult of Aphrodite the other. This goddess of love had a temple on Acrocorinth that was served by a thousand cult prostitutes who lived in quarters around the sanctuary. This immorality made the city infamous. Expressions like “to Corinthianize” meant to enter into illicit religious practices there (see also “a Corinthian girl” and “Corinthian sickness”). This was to be a major test for the ministry of Paul--he would plant a church here, but would it influence the city, or the city it?
Paul came to Corinth from Athens with many questions on his mind, all concerned with how effective the Gospel was. It did not make major inroads in Athens; and he had not yet heard from Silas and Timothy about the other churches in Macedonia. Besides, he needed to earn some money. There he met Aquila and Priscilla, who had been banished with the other Jews from Rome by Claudius.
There was a sizeable Jewish population in Corinth. At the foot of the Prophylaea there was found a stone inscribed with “[Sy]nagogue of the Hebre[ws]”-- not Jews but Hebrews, as Paul would say it also (see 2 Cor,. 11:22; Phil 3:5).
Paul began his ministry as usual. But when Silas and Timothy arrived, he became much more bold and preached more powerfully. When Jews rejected the message, he turned to the Gentiles. The conversion of Justus, who lived next door to the synagogue, was a strategic victory--Paul made it his headquarters. Then Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue was converted, and then a large number of Corinthians. He remained here for eighteen months, and wrote the two letters to the Thessalonians.
Corinth was not only a Roman colony since it was founded by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C., but it was also the capital of Achaia under a senatorial administration and a proconsul. In 51 A.D. the new pro-consul arrived; he was Gallio, the brother of the Stoic philosopher Seneca. A monumental inscription at Delphi makes this time accurate. The inscription is in the form of a letter from Claudius; it says, “Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Pontifex Maximus of Tribunican authority for the twelfth time, imperator the twenty-sixth time, father of the country, consul for the fifth time . . . .” The references to the twelfth and the twenty-sixth date this to August 52; Gallio had to have arrived just before this.
Paul must have arrived in Corinth about 50 A.D. since he was taken to Gallio fairly soon after the proconsul arrived--Paul had been there a year and a half (Acts 18:11). The charge was propagating a new religion, which was against Roman law. It was likely held in the Agora, at the Bema (the accused on a lower platform than the proconsul). Gallio wisely decided it was a Jewish matter over minutiae and did not concern him. This, of course, outraged the Jews. A riot broke out, as was beginning to happen throughout the empire. But Gallio’s disdain for the Jews worked to Paul’s advantage.
The excavations began in 1896. It was soon clear that as with other cities the Agora was the center of the city’s life, with its colonnades, shops and monuments. North of the Agora was the Temple of Apollo with its Doric columns (dating from the 6th century B.C.).
One significant feature of the Agora was the raised platform or bema. It was here that Paul probably stood to give an account of himself before the proconsul. Paul would then use the motif of the “bema” for the judgment seat of Christ.
The nearby Isthmian Games also provided Paul with some imagery from the field of sports or athletics. Much has been written on the games, the wreaths for the victors, and the bema seat for the awards. For example, we know that the wreath was made of celery (unlike the Olympic games); Paul’s mention of it being perishable certainly rings true since it would wilt and turn color very fast. These games were not as great as the Olympic Games, but they were very popular because of the unbridled celebrations or partying in the setting near Corinth.
Paul apparently wrote to the church in Corinth, but we do not have that letter (1 Cor. 5:9). On his third journey he wrote again to the church from Ephesus. He made a short trip to Corinth to try to sort out the difficulties, and then returned to Ephesus without having achieved his purpose. He then wrote the church the second letter, the sorrowful letter. He instructed the church to discipline his leading opponent (2 Cor. 5:10). Eventually Titus brought Paul word that most of the church in Corinth had repented and disciplined the trouble maker. Paul later visited Corinth again, probably 56-57, and from there wrote Romans. Paul visited the city again after he was released from Rome (2 Tim. 4:20). Later, when Clement of Rome wrote to the Corinthians (about 96 A.D.), he had to address some of the same problems that were there in Paul’s day.
Paul the Prisoner of Rome
A good portion of the Book of Acts is taken up with Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and his transference to Rome. Acts does not give us all the details, notably Paul’s death. But from other things Paul wrote and from tradition we can piece together the events in Rome to a satisfactory degree.
Paul’s Journey to Rome
There is no need at this point to discuss Jerusalem and Caesarea in conjunction with Paul’s arrest and trial. We may pick up the story when Paul appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen, and so had to be sent to Caesar in Rome. Under the protective custody of a centurion Justus, Paul was taken by ship from the harbor of Caesarea to Italy. The first port was Sidon, just seventy miles up the coast; here Paul was allowed to visit with people in the church there. They then set sail again and went on the east and north sides of Cyprus because of the prevailing winds. The voyage hugged the coast as it made its way west to Myra, a city of Lycia (present day Dembre). From Myra they found a ship going to Italy, probably a grain freighter from Egypt. With some difficulty the shape made its way along the side of Crete to Fair Havens. Luke says that the “Fast” had already passed, meaning Day of Atonement (which would have been Oct. 5, in 59 A.D.). This means that the safe time for sailing had past, and bad weather was more likely to be encountered. After leaving the area of Crete they were caught in the storm and driven towards Ghavdo, modern Gozzo. When the ship actually wrecked, the people made their way to shore on the island of Malta.
Each of these sites would be a valuable study as well, if time permitted. Malta, for example, is an ancient place important to Phoenician sailors who gave it the name (Semitic melita, from malat, “escape” or “refuge”). Some of the archaeological remains there go much farther back than Paul’s experience, in what is now called St Paul’s Bay. The primitive folks worshiped “the fat lady,” a goddess of fertility. And as with other similar cults in this region of the world, the temples were made in a series of round buildings, representing the head (smaller circle), upper body (next largest), and then hips or torso (largest circle) of the goddess. New Testament scholars, however, are more interested in the nomenclature that Luke uses for Publius, or the “Maltese fever” of Publius’ father that Paul healed, or the language Luke uses for that notorious fever (caused by an organism in the goats’ milk) and for Paul’s being bitten by the viper.
But from Malta they found another stranded ship that had sought refuge from the storm in the harbor of Valetta, and so after three months on the island (an island that is seventeen miles long and eight miles wide) they sailed to Sicily--probably about March 5. Here too there is much to see archaeologically; but it will have to be the subject of another study. Finally they came to the port of Neapolis (Naples), and the sea voyage part of the trip came to an end. From there to Rome they traveled on the Appian Way, large stretches of which still exist today. At the Forum of Appius, 43 miles from the city, some of the Christians from Rome came out to meet Paul. Luke uses apantesis in Acts 28:15, a term that describes the official welcoming of a dignitary by an advance group of emissaries.
Paul arrived in Rome in the spring of 60 A.D. For the next two years he was a “free prisoner” in Rome; during that time he wrote the prison epistles, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. What seems to have happened is that Paul waited around for his case to come up, but there was no case against him--the Jews did not come to Rome to charge him, and perhaps the records and papers had been lost at sea. He was apparently released in 63 and journeyed to visit various churches. He went to Ephesus, then Macedonia where he wrote I Timothy. (People who say there was only one imprisonment and Paul was executed, would then mean that someone else wrote the epistles of Timothy and Titus). He went to Crete to visit Titus, then to Corinth where he wrote Titus. He left in 64 for Spain or some point west (at the time of the burning of Rome). When he returned in the spring of 66 he was imprisoned again, in the midst of the persecution of the Christians. Someone probably informed on him, or he was simply recognized as a leader in an outlawed sect (Nero had made this rule in 64). In prison he wrote II Timothy. He was beheaded at the end of the year, or early in 67 A.D, according to Eusebius (Jerome says it was in 68). Beheading was the appropriate custom for Roman citizens--as opposed to crucifixion. This persecution overlaps with the time of the Jewish uprising around the world that Rome also had to deal with, that led to the wars in Israel from 66-70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed.
In 95 A.D. when Clement wrote his first epistle, both Paul and Peter were known and revered as martyrs in Rome. Tertullian in Carthage said (about 200) it was by beheading. And Gaius of Rome, early in the third century, said it was on the Ostian Way. Origen said it was under Nero (54-68), and Eusebius concurred. The testimony is clear and unanimous (Edgar J. Goodspeed, Paul, p. 211).
Paul at Rome
There is no way to do justice to the archaeology of Rome in a couple of pages; all we can do is mention some of the highlights that will perhaps inspire further reading and study of the subject, or a visit.
The main port of Rome was Ostia. It was being dredged when Paul arrived, necessitating the docking down south. But an inscription was found there in 1941 with statistics from the first year of Tiberius’ reign (14 A.D.). The city of Rome had a population of 4,100,000 people (three times the size of the modern city, and three times the usual estimate that was given for it during the first century). The houses varied between shanties and marble estates; in the poor sections there was no sewage and no lighting in the streets, and the buildings were unsafe.
But the city had many major roads or thoroughfares that made travel easy. These roads went around the hills and led directly to the city center with all the monuments and public buildings. The city was given over to pleasure, and so the roads were lined with baths, theaters, amphitheaters, and circuses. These were usually filled, because the people in Rome enjoyed numerous holidays--they numbered more than half of the calendar year. The state supplied the entertainment for 93 of the 159 holidays. One of the famous circuses was the chariot races held at the Circus Maximus (its form is still traceable). In Nero’s time it seated a quarter of a million spectators. Other famous circuses were the Circus of Caligula and the Circus of Nero (in the Vatican).
Of the theaters, the Theater of Pompey was built in 55 B.C. and could accommodate 10,000 people. The Theater of Marcellus was built in 11 B.C. and could hold 14,000 people. Most of the famous amphitheaters of Rome date from after Paul’s time. This would include the Colosseum, or Flavian amphitheater, where gladiators massacred each other and Christians were thrown to the wild beasts. It was completed by Titus, the same one who invaded Jerusalem; it was to become the symbol of Rome’s degenerate lust for blood and violence.
Rome also had numerous parks and courtyards for the public. In the area around the Vatican were the gardens and landscaped estates of Domitia, Nero’s aunt.
Rome also had numerous baths or thermae. These were lavish places, judging from the archaeological remains of them. These too date from after Paul’s time. But it was a life style that the early Christians had to deal with.
Rome also had many palaces and temples. Some of the best remains are the murals in the house of Livia, Augustus’ wife. Nero’s house was the epitome of splendor and wealth. The Temple of Apollo and the Temple of Cybele were located in the Palatine. The Temple of Castor and Pollux constitutes the most important ruin in the Forum. There was also the Temple of the divine Julius, Temple of Augustus, Temple of Saturn, and the Temple of Jupiter.
Southwest of the Forum, near the Arch of Tiberius, stood the Militareum Aureum. This was a gilded shaft set up by Augustus as a sign post listing all the places to which Roman roads went, including Londinium on the west, and Jerusalem on the east. Paul at that point was truly standing at the center of his world.
Of course, no visit to Rome for a Christian would be complete without a visit to the early catacombs where later Christians lived and worshiped during times of great persecution.
The Wars Against the Jews
As we mentioned earlier in the Roman history, in the year 66 A.D. a Jewish revolt began all over the world in major Jewish centers. It seems to have started in Caesarea by the Sea, probably against Roman strictures on Jewish customs as well as reaction to Roman cruelty and persecution. The war in Judea lasted for about three years, and ended with the destruction of the Temple and much of the Upper City (including the rich Herodian Quarter). The temple was utterly destroyed, the huge stone of the upper walls toppled to the streets below, some of which the archaeologists have simply left in the place they land at the southwest corner of the then temple mount. Tradition says that the heat from the flames burned so hot that the gold melted and flowed between the stones; the Roman soldiers, eager to get the gold, had to pry the stones apart and as a result contributed to the complete devastation of not leaving a stone on another (they did not go down to the foundations and the bedrock). The toppled stones and the burnt house are about the only primary evidence of the great destruction. Here and there in the city one comes across other bits of evidence. For example, on a side street near Jaffa Gate there is a standing stone monument, about four or five feet high, that was set up by the Roman legions that were there at the destruction. The inscription on the standing stone is very clear.
Even though the war was really over in 70 A.D., the Jewish zealots dragged it out for another three years. They fled to the desert fortress of Masada and held out there as the Roman army laid siege to place. The story is at one and the same time troubling and amazing, for at the end when they realized that all was lost, and that a fate worse than death awaited them if captured, they killed their families and themselves before the end came.
The group was led by Eleazar ben Yair, and numbered about 960 people. The Roman commander was Flavius Silva; he marched against Masada with the Tenth Legion, auxiliary troops and tens of thousands of prisoners to work for them. But Masada was quite formidable, and his plan to crush the revolt would take some doing. So they prepared a siege, setting up their camps around the mountain (eight of them can be seen today), and building a three mile defense wall around the entire fortress in case someone tried to escape.
On the western side they began to construct a ramp of dirt and large stones and timber frames (some of the two thousand year old timber can still be seen). The zealots on top thwarted the effort for a while by throwing large boulders down on them; but Rome then used Jewish slaves to build the ramp. Finally the Romans were able to move their huge battering ram and siege tower up the ramp; from the tower they could shoot down on Masada while down below they battered the walls. So the zealots built an inner wall of timber and mud at the point of the battering. When the ram battered away it simply helped make the earth and rubble more of a barrier. So the Romans shot flaming arrows at the timber and set it ablaze. They returned to camp, delighted that they had destroyed the Jew’s last line of defense. They were determined to end the fight at the break of day.
Eleazar had only two choices now--surrender or death (although surrender meant either crucifixion or the salt mines). He summoned all the people together and made his appeal. This was reconstructed by Josephus from the witness of two survivors, two women with their five children who apparently did not go through with the plan but hid themselves. Josephus gives the speech of Eleazar along these lines:
Can we think of submitting to the indignity of slavery? Can we see our wives dishonored and our children enslaved? . . . While freedom is ours, and we are in possession of our swords, let us make a determined use of them to preserve our liberties. Let us die free men, gloriously surrounded by our wives and our children. And let us be expeditious. Eternal renown shall be ours by snatching the prize from the hands of our enemies, and leaving them with nothing to triumph over but the dead bodies of those who dared to be their own executioners.
As long as the Jews had hope they fought; now they would die by their own hands. Josephus tells us that they wept and embraced their families, and then stabbed them at the same time, taking comfort that this deed was not done by their enemies. Those who had done this, now filled with grief, collected their belongings and set them on fire. They then cast lots for ten men who would finish the job. When these ten had completed the disagreeable task, they then cast lots again to find the one who would take the nine. This last man then fell on his own sword.
At dawn the Romans prepared for the final assault, but were amazed at the lack of opposition. At the top they learned why. They saw the bodies of the people and heard the story from the two women. Josephus adds:
Far from exulting in triumph of joy that might have been expected from enemies, they united to admire the steady virtue and dignity of mind with which the Jews had been inspired, and wondered at the generous contempt of death by which such numbers had been bound in one solemn pact.
Modern scholars have raised a number of questions about this event, even concluding that the events may have been very different than what Josephus says. They are toubled by devout jews committing suicide on the one hand, and the fact that almost no skeletal remains were found to bear out the story. Moreover they suspect that Josephus embellished the story to glorify the Jews to the Romans.
But modern scholarship may be too skeptical here. The remains of the jews might have been burnt or thrown over the edge by the Romans, and in this region they would not survive for 1900 years. They might have also been given some kind of a burial by subsequent groups that stayed here. Concerning the issue of mass suicide, Josephus does not say they did that, but that they killed their families before the Romans killed them. They might have been devout Jews, but they were also zealots, used to killing. And desperate times called for desperate acts. And finally, since Josephus did not like the zealots it is highly unlikely that he would try to glorify them if there was no truth to the matter. He may have colored the account dramatically, but there is no reason to doubt the basic facts.
After this the Romans had a garrison up there for about forty years.
In the fifth century a group of Monks settled there; they built the small Byzantine chapel in the middle of the plateau.
The story does not end there, for the second Jewish revolt occurred in 132 A.D., led by Bar Kochba against Hadrian. This revolt was put down with a crushing blow, hundreds of thousands of Jews being killed, others exiled, laws being written banning Jewish customs, Jews being prohibited from the holy city for the most part, and the land being renamed “Palestine.”
The archaeological contribution to the study of that revolt is also significant and worthy of study. Afterwards archaeology must focus on the churches and cities of the Byzantine Empire, then the Islamic incursion, then crusader castles, churches and cities, and later the Islamic rule that settled in for good. But all these periods of time call for a good deal more reading and study, and that will have to await another time.