Rome: The Basilica Julia — Is this where Paul was condemned to death?

All visitors to Rome will visit the ancient heart of Rome—the Roman Forum.

View looking southeast at the west end of the Roman Forum. The Basilica of Julia is just to the right of the center of the image—to the left of the multiple columns on the right side of the image.

The Roman Forum was the central civil, commercial, and religious center of Ancient Rome.  Originally, it was a marshy swamp located below the Palatine and Capitoline Hills.  This stagnant area was drained by the Etruscan king Servius Tulius (6th century B.C.) when he constructed the Cloacae Maximus, a large drain system that diverted water into the Tiber river—it still is functioning today!

The Roman Forum grew during the Regnal, Republican, and Imperial Periods—expanding from the Capitoline Hill in the northwest toward the southeast.  Eventually, it was used for political and religious purposes—commercial enterprises were moved to a variety of fora to the north of the Roma Forum.

It fell out of use during the Medieval Period and was used for grazing animals, and as a source of building materials—some of the precious marbles were burned in kilns for lime (sigh).

View looking east over the west end of the Forum. The Basilica of Julia is on the right (south) side of the image.  The Basilica of Julia may well have been the place where Paul was tried and condemned to death—see below.

Only rows of column stubs, flooring, and steps of the large Julia Basilica have been preserved. The central nave is the large rectangular area with green grass—at the far end are three columns from the Temple of Castor and Pollux. To the left (north) of the nave, two long aisles are visible—the view of the southern aisles is blocked by the three arches in the lower right of the image.

The basilica was begun by Julius Caesar in 54 B.C. and completed by Augustus. All totaled, there were 5 versions of a basilica on this site over the centuries!

The Basilica Julia was known as a great center of Roman law, and it contained four law courts.  It is very likely that it was here that the apostle Paul eventually heard the sentence of death pronounced upon himself. (Finegan, p. 223)

The book of Acts ends with Paul under arrest, guarded by a soldier (Acts 28:26) in chains (v. 20) staying in his own “rented quarters” (v. 30) for two years.  Although it is not possible to know if he was tried and released, or merely released, much modern scholarhip believes that he was released (say from A.D. 62—67) and that he was rearrested and tried at the end of Nero’s reign (ca. 67/68).

Was The Basilica Julia
the Place of Paul’s Trials?

Although the final trial, condemnation, and execution of Paul are not mentioned in scripture, tradition and modern scholarship place the execution of Paul near the end of Nero’s reign—ca. A.D. 67/68.  No matter the date, being a Roman Citizen, Paul would have had a right to a trial in the courts of Rome, if not in front of the Emperor himself.  Since the Julia Basilica was the place where trials took place, it is very possible that the Apostle Paul, being a Roman Citizen, was tried and condemned to death by a Roman Court meeting in this structure!

On the other hand, tradition also places the martyrdom of Peter in Rome.  But Peter was not a Roman Citizen and thus his “legal rights,” if any, were very different than those of Paul.


Finegan, Jack. The Archeology of the New Testament: The Mediterranean World of the Early Christian Apostles. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981.

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What Were the Early Christians Like?

One of the earliest sources describing Christians is

Amisus-01that of Pliny the Younger who was the Roman “governor” of Pontus and Bithyna from A.D. 111–113 — very possibly describing the Christian community in Amisus.  He does this writing to the Roman Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98–117) asking him how to deal with the relatively new group.

Pliny writes this fascinating description of Christian (ca. A.D. 112):

that they [called Christians in the preceding paragraph] were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food.  —  (Pliny Letters 10.96–97)

This text does not say from where he was writing but in the paragraphs before those asking about Christian he mentions the people of Amisus (see map above) and in a paragraph after (99) he mentions Amastris.  Thus, many have concluded that he penned these words describing Christians in Amisus.

The modern Turkish city of Samsun is partially built over the ruins of Amisus.  At Amisus there is an ancient citadel (acropolis) and several large tumuli that contain burials from the Hellenistic/Roman Periods.

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The modern port of Samsun — Ancient Amisus — where Christians were persecuted by the Roman governor Pliny
Click on Image to Enlarge

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Two Tumuli (burial mounds) at Samsun (ancient Amisus)
They date roughly from 300 B.C. to 30 B.C. and were thus one hundred years old by the time Pliny wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan

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The marvelous head of a bronze statue from the first century A.D.
Click on Image to Enlarge

This finely crafted bronze statue, dating to the first century A.D., probably graced a villa of one of the elite residents of ancient Amisus.  Bronze statues from antiquity are very rare—for usually they were melted down and recycled.  Marble copies of bronze statues are much more common.  To view the complete statue Click Here.

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A well-preserved mosaic from the acropolis of Amisus. In the four corners are depictions of the four seasons. In the center (upside down) are Achilles and Thetis.

Winter in Istanbul — The Thrill of Discovery—in a Museum!

The Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul contains a number of “world class” objects that were gathered by the rulers of the late Ottoman Empire from all over the Middle East—including glazed tiles from the Ishtar Gate in ancient Babylon and a copy of the Treaty of Kadesh (between the Egyptians and the Hittite—late 13th century B.C.).

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“I am happy to meet you Mr. Lion!”
See below for the ferocious lion that this child is making friends with!
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

Often times people tire quickly when visiting museums, but one January we observed one young visitor who was in the process of making friends with a ferocious looking lion that once guarded the approach to an 8th century Hittite Palace at Zincirli (ancient Samal).

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One of the pair of basalt lions that guarded the entrance
to the 8th century Hittite Palace at Zincirli
Note the detail of the mane and whiskers
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

Oh, to see the world through a child’s eyes.  The joy of discovery/encounter!

Pictures of Acts — And a Short Survey

Our friend, Todd Bolen, has released the latest in his ongoing series A Photo Companion to the Bible — ActsIt consists of 28 PowerPoints—one for each chapter of the book of Acts.  Over 4,000 photos.  Right now it is available for $60 off normal price.


In addition, my friend, Wayne Stiles, is putting together a video series to help pilgrims better prepare for a Holy Land tour. If you have been to Israel before, will you give your advice by answering a few quick questions? Thanks in advance for your help! Click here: http://bit.ly/israel-tour-questions

Philippi (Greece) — Baptismal Site

Soon after Paul’s arrival at Philippi on his second missionary journey—on the Sabbath—he “went outside the gate to a riverside, where we [Luke included] were supposing that there would be a place of prayer”  (Acts 16:14).  There a woman named Lydia from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics” was converted to Christianity and was baptized (Acts 16:14–15).

Krenides River

The exact site of this event is not known, but its memory is preserved just north of the Krenides gate of Philippi, about 0.5 mi. [0.8 km.] west of the archaeological site.

Baptismal Church of Lydia

Continue reading

Syracuse, Sicily — Acts 28:12

Syracuse was a Greek and Roman city on the southern portion of the east coast of Sicily. Paul spent three days here when the ship that carried him from Malta to Puteoli docked here. (Acts 28:12).

Acts 28:11    After three months [on Malta] we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island. It was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12 We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13 From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli.

This probably happened in the spring of A.D. 60.  All of the structures shown below were over 100 years old by the time that the Apostle Paul passed through Syracuse—as a prisoner—on his way to Rome.

The Theater of Syracuse originally built in the fifth century BC. The blue in the distance is part of the harbor of ancient Syracuse—where Paul’s ship probably landed.

Syracuse was founded in 734 B.C. and reached its zenith in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. The Athenians laid siege to it (415–413 B.C.) but were seriously defeated and this defeat helped lead to the decline of the Golden Age of Athens. Syracuse, along with the whole of Sicily, was fought over by the Romans and the Carthaginians.

View of the huge altar that was constructed by Hieron II, ruler of Syracuse, in the third century B.C. It is the largest known altar from antiquity.

In 212 B.C. Rome conquered the city. It carried off many Greek captives and many pieces of Greek artwork to Rome. This influx led to the Romans turning their cultural “tastes” towards things Greek. Unfortunately, the great mathematician and inventor, Archimedes, was killed by a Roman soldier, in spite of the order that he was to be spared.

View of the Amphitheater of Syracuse. It was constructed in the late first century BC—and was about 100 years old when Paul passed through Syracuse.

Archaeological remains of the Roman city include an altar, theater, an amphitheater, etc.

Additional images can be viewed Here.

Would YOU like to follow Paul from Shipwreck on Malta to Martyrdom in Rome?  We are doing just that in June, 2019!  Check out the link above or see Here.

Royal Procession at Ephesus

Did you ever wonder what the Roman Elite of Ephesus looked like?  What their body guards and dancing girls looked like?  Well, here are some pictures of all of the people that I took at Ephesus!

The Elite of the Elite.

Those lower on the Social Register! But not too far down the “food chain!”

Paying homage to the Elite.

The Elite on Display.