Category Archives: Paul

Paul in the Cities — Where Did They Eat?

The Apostle Paul resided in many cities of the Roman Empire including Tarsus, Antioch, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and Rome.  As I lead tours to these ancient cities, we often wonder what life was like in them in the first century A.D.  One of the interesting “institutions” are the thermopolia—”fast food establishments” that were found in every large city.  For example, eighty–three thermopolia have been discovered at Pompeii, and more have been discovered at nearby Herculaneum and at Ostia—the port of Rome.  (be sure and see the final two paragraphs of this blog)

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View of a Fast Food establishment (thermopolium, popina, taberna) at Pompeii. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This is the Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus (aka T. of Asellina) that is located on the lower floor of his house in Pompeii (Italy).  It is situated on the main street of Pompeii, the via dell’ Abbondanza.  Food and drink were sold and consumed here.  Note the large storage jars that are built into the masonry and marble counters.

On the back wall is a well–preserved lararium—a shrine dedicated to the household gods.   Among others Mercury, the god of trade, and Dionysus, the god of wine are depicted (maybe assisted sales?!).  A hoard of 6.6 lbs. of worthless coins were found in one of the jars.  It was evidently left behind when the owner fled Pompeii as ash rained down from the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius (picture below).  In the back of the shop, not visible, was a slightly more private eating area.  A staircase led to guest rooms on the second floor—a brothel?  These thermopolia were situated street side on the ground floor of apartment buildings and even elite houses.

The thermopolia were visited primarily by the lower classes as the upper classes would dine in the luxurious surroundings of their own homes.  The houses of lower classes of people rarely had kitchens, thus they would eat at an establishment such as this, or they would “carry out” the food to take back home.

Since many (most?) of the early Christians were from the lower classes, they probably frequented places like the local thermopolium.  And, it is very probable that Paul and other leaders of the Early Church did so as well in the cities that they resided in!  Is it not possible that in establishments like this that the Early Christians shared their belief in “Jesus is Lord”—rather than “Caesar is Lord?”

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A Thermopolium from nearby Herculaneum—also destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius.

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Mount Vesuvius that erupted in August of A.D. 79 covering Pompeii with ash and Herculaneum with a pyroclastic flow.

For use or publication of any of these images please see this link.

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Paul in the Cities: Where did They Meet? 2 (Ask Eutychus! Acts 20:9)

Alexandria Troas — Paul on His Return to Jerusalem
on His Third Journey

Acts 20:7     On the first day of the week . . . Paul spoke to the people . . . and kept on talking until midnight.  8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting.  9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.

What kind of building was this group of believers meeting in?  Probably an “apartment building” (insula).  After 2,000 years do any still exist?  Yes!

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High Density Roman Housing at Ostia — the Port of Rome  View of a street on which the Casa di Diana is located. On the left side of the image note the high–density housing (insulae). There were at least three floors, with rooms arranged around a central courtyard where there was a communal fountain.  The upper stories were probably made of perishable materials such as wood.

The term insula refers to a multi–story housing block, that was subdivided into apartments for rent with shops on the ground floor.  Windows and balconies were the principal light sources for the tenants.  The insulae were probably first built of wood and thus susceptible to destruction by fire—a big problem!  (I am not aware of the preservation of any wooden insula)  Often times they were constructed of baked Roman bricks—like this example at Ostia.

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View of a street lined with apartment buildings (insulae) near the via Della Fontana at Ostia. The staircase on the left led up to the upper floors of the building—at least 3 stories high.  This large structure was probably owned by one person who rented apartments, shops, and workplaces to tenants.

The ground floor of insulae were usually shops and stores.  The best apartments were on the lower floors and sometimes were decorated with simple paintings and mosaics.  The upper apartments (on floors 2 and 3) were smaller, more difficult to reach, and dangerous (fire!)—because they were built out of wood!  The upper storeys were typically without heat, running water, and toilets.  The poor, who lived there, would sometimes dump trash and human excrement out of the windows into the street below!  Most of the people, poor and “middle class,” would live in these structures.

New Testament Importance:
Since Acts 20:9 mentions Eutychus falling from a third floor, the group of Christians that Paul was speaking to must have been meeting in a cramped, lower class apartment such as the above.  But to date, no such insulae have been found at Alexandrian Troas, but they were probably built of wood and have perished over the last 2,000 years!

Paul: From Asia Minor to Europe — From the Port of Alexandria Troas

One of my favorites follows:

Acts 16:11  ¶  From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis.

It was at Alexandria Troas (see map below), on Paul’s second missionary journey, that in a vision he received a call to proceed to Macedonia (Acts 16:8–11). Because of the use of “us” it seems that Luke joined Paul and Silas on this portion of the journey.

Troas is a site that is not often visited by visitors to Turkey—yet it is huge — about 1,000(!) acres [405 ha.] in size. It is situated 31.2 mi. [50 km.] northwest of Assos — via the ancient road system. It is 15.5 mi. [25 km.] south of Troy and is largely unexcavated.

There are three parts to the harbor of Troas—from which Paul set sail—the breakwater/quay?, Outer Harbor, and Inner Harbor (see below for pictures of all).

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Breakwater/Quay of Troas — It is very probable that Paul and his companions set sail for Samothrace/Neapolis (Europe) from this point (Acts 16:11) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Protruding into the Aegean Sea are the remains of a Breakwater or Quay that protected the entrance of the harbor.

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Ephesus — The Commercial Agora

Ephesus was the major city of Asia Minor during the New Testament era. It was a major port – now silted up – located at the end of the Spice and Silk Road that ran west from Arabia and Asia to Ephesus on the Aegean Sea.

Paul visited the city on his second and third missionary journeys – staying there for about 3 years on his third journey. Ephesus is also one of the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation (1:11; 2:1–7). It is mentioned 18 times in the New Testament.

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View of the large square Commercial Agora. It was here that shops lined the four sides of the 360×360 ft. space. It is very possible that here Demetrius and other silver smiths sold their wares to pilgrims who were to visit the Temple of Artemis—one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It is even possible that Paul, and Pricilla and Aquilla, had a leather working shop in the area. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or download. BTW the “white” structure in the distance on the far left is the famous “Library of Celsus” (not in existence in Paul’s day).

During his three year stay Paul was evidently so successful in preaching the Gospel that the sale of silver statues of the goddess Artemis fell off significantly.  This led Demetrius and other silversmiths to instigate a riot protesting the ministry of Paul and his companions.  This lead to a gathering of the ecclesia in the great theater where a riot was in the making (Acts 19:23–28).

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View looking north down at the Commercial Agora (lower left). The large theater where the riot took place is in the upper right of the image and the “marble street” leads from the bottom of the photo to it. the Library of Clesus is the columned structure in the lower left of the image. Click on Image to Enlarge.

View looking south from the top northern edge of the theater. Right and above center, the open area with trees is the commercial agora. Probably Paul worked here, as did the artisans who made the silver images of Artemis. So it is no wonder that when the riot of the silversmiths, led by Demetrius, began (in the Commercial Agora?) that the crowd moved into the near by theater.

View looking south from the top northern edge of the theater. Right and above center, the open area with trees is the commercial agora. Probably Paul worked here, as did the artisans who made the silver images of Artemis. So it is no wonder that when the riot of the silversmiths, led by Demetrius, began (in the Commercial Agora?) that the crowd moved into the near by theater.

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For additional high resolution images of Ephesus Click on the Following:  General Images, Artifacts, Terrace Houses, Cave of Paul and Thecla, and Ships.

Beating the Air — 1 Corinthians 9:26

A new archaeological discovery—Rare Roman boxing gloves were found near Hadrian’s Wall in England. [see below for link]  The Greeks were especially fond of “competition” and engaged in a contest known as pancratium (a combination of boxing and wrestling that allowed such tactics as kicking and strangling).

The Apostle Paul uses athletic imagery in 4 different places in his writings.  And in 1 Corinthians 9 he wrote:

1 Cor. 9:26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

View of the “Terme Boxer” (Pugile delle Terme). This contestant participated in pancratium (a combination of boxing and wrestling that allowed such tactics as kicking and strangling)

This bronze statue of a boxer, a pugilist, is signed by Apollonius. He is seated, weary, and battered. The realism of this statute is characteristic of the Hellenistic period. It was found in Rome. It is a first century A.D. copy of a third or second century B.C. original.

The leather gloves that the boxers wore—sometimes with metal bands, as in this case—are clearly visible.

Recently it was announced that a pair of such “gloves” were found in a Roman cavalry barrack near Hadrian’s Wall in the United Kingdom (“Rare Roman boxing gloves found near Hadrian’s Wall“).  These artifacts are dated to 120 A.D.

In the Fullness of Time (Galatians 4:4) and the Altar of Peace (Rome)

An Era of Peace and Harmony. Full-size image below.

The Ara Pacis Augustae, (the “Altar of Augustan Peace”), commonly called the Ara Pacis, is not one of the places normally visited by groups that only spend a day or two in Rome.

As Christians begin to celebrate the season of Advent, I thought I would share a reflection on how the Ara Pacis illustrates at least one aspect of “the fulness of time.”

Gal. 4:4 But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,

The Ara Pacis Augustae, (the “Altar of Augustan Peace”) is commonly called the Ara Pacis.  Please see below for two images of the altar that illustrate these “peaceful conditions.”

This altar was dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of peace in honor of the peaceful conditions that the Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–A.D. 14) was able to bring to the Roman Empire. It was dedicated on January 30, 9 BC.  Thus, this altar was over 60 years old by the time Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner!

This Augustus is the same Roman Emperor who is mentioned in

Luke 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

Roman Emperor Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–A.D. 14) could write about himself

I extended the borders of all the provinces of the Roman people which neighboured nations not subject to our rule. I restored peace . . . with no unjust war waged against any nation.

It is interesting that Paul wrote in the book of Galatians

Gal. 4:4 But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under 1the Law,

During the years following Augustus—ca. First Century A.D.—it was relatively safe to travel by land and by sea, the Greek language was understood and spoken by many, and peaceful conditions prevailed.

In the providence of God, it was during such an era that people such as Paul had the freedom to travel about to spread the “Good News”—the Gospel of Jesus Christ (but see note 1 below).


The following two images of the Ara Pacis exhibit the “peacefulness of the era”—think Royal (governmental) propaganda!

Harmony and peace surround either Pax herself, or Tellus, the earth goddess.  See below for a color representation of how it might have originally looked.

View of the upper left rear panel of the Ara Pacis with Tellus, the earth goddess—or possibly Pax, the goddess of Peace. Note the peacefulness of the image—Augustus had established peace in the Roman Empire (= pax Romana).

The two infants look so contented in the arms of the goddess.  The two semi-nude figures on the left and right of the goddess, with the billowing cloth, may represent the sky (on the left with the bird) and the sea (on the right with a tamed sea creature).  The sheep and the large ox seem very docile!

A procession of dignitaries processing to the dedication of the altar—including Augustus himself on the very left side of the image.

View of the upper south panel of the Ara Pacis.  Near the center of the procession is a child holding his father’s hand.  The father, tall, head–covered (like a priest), facing to the left of the image, is the son–in–law of Augustus, Marcus Agrippa.  The woman on our right of the child is Agrippa’s wife, Livia/Julia, daughter of Augustus, and the child is Gaius Caesar their offspring—an intended heir of Augustus.

On the left side of the image, there is a partial figure with a sharp vertical break.  This figure is that of Augustus himself!

The Ara Pacis was located in the Campus Martius, a large, formerly swampy, parade ground on the east side of the Tiber River—about 1 mi. northwest of the center of the Roman Forum.  Because of the flooding of the Tiber, it was buried in 12 ft. of debris and gradually fragments of it have been recovered.  It was reassembled in 1938.

Check Here to view additional images of the altar.

BTW — Ara Pacis was originally in full color:

This image is from this website.

Note 1 — obviously, in Judea and Galilee there was much discontent with Roman Rule during the first century A.D.

Ship Names — Paul’s Shipwreck—Part 3

In two previous posts I shared some images and thoughts on anchor stocks that are in the Malta Maritime Museum—here and here.  The final anchor stock that I want to mention is one that actually has Isis—the name of an Egyptian Deity—inscribed on it.

The name “Isis” is clearly visible on the left side of this anchor stock.

This is a detail of the name Isis, that appears in high relief, on this anchor stock.

Isis, an Egyptian deity, was a name (among others) commonly used for ships during the Roman Era.  There was a very famous ship called Isis that is mentioned by the ancient author Lucian that was about 180 feet long, 45 feet wide (beam), and 45 feet deep—I am not saying that this is an anchor stock from that ship, but it is interesting that the name appears here.

In his book Πλοἶον ἢ Εὐχαί (“The Ship, or The Wishes”) the sophist Lucian described the Isis when he saw it in Athens’ seaport Piraeus:

I say, though, what a size that ship was! 180 feet long, the man said, and something over a quarter of that in width; and from deck to keel, the maximum depth, through the hold, 44 feet. And then the height of the mast, with its huge yard; and what a forestay it takes to hold it! And the lofty stern with its gradual curve, and its gilded beak, balanced at the other end by the long rising sweep of the prow, and the figures of her name-goddess, Isis, on either side. As to the other ornamental details, the paintings and the scarlet topsail, I was more struck by the anchors, and the capstans and windlasses, and the stern cabins. The crew was like a small army. And they were saying she carried as much corn as would feed every soul in Attica for a year. And all depends for its safety on one little old atomy of a man, who controls that great rudder with a mere broomstick of a tiller!

(Wikipedia Isis (ship)

Please note that from Malta Paul sailed to Rome on:

Acts 28:11    After three months 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.
[Two Greek Deities]

In addition, I found another inscribed anchor stock in the Museo Nazionale in Reggio, this time with the name Hera on it.

An anchor stock in the Museo Nazionale in Reggio (Italy) with the name Hera on it.

Hera was believed to be the wife of the chief deity ZeusReggio is located in southern Italy, on the coast facing Sicily.  Reggio is considered to be ancient Rhegium.

Acts 28:11    After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island [=Malta]. 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.

Detail of the name “Hera”—in reverse order—on the anchor stock.

To view images of items on display in the Malta Maritime Museum check here.