Tag Archives: Ostia

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!