Rome, the Eternal City, was established on the east bank of the Tiber River in about 753 BC as a city-state, although small village settlements had existed in the area for centuries. According to legend, Romulus and Remus were co-rulers, but in a battle over the founding of the city, Remus died, leaving the kingdom to Romulus, and the city was named in his honor (Livy, Roman History). Romulus fortified the Palatine Hill, although the other 6 hills of Rome, Cermalus, Velia, Cispius, Fagutalis, Oppius, and Sucusa were also considered part of the city. From this founding period, the 8th century BC, remains of the fortification wall and temples have been discovered. Beginning with Romulus, Rome functioned first as a monarchy (753-510 BC), then as a Republic (510-31 BC), during which time it underwent massive expansion, and finally as an Empire (31BC-476 AD). By the time of Emperor Augustus, who reorganized the city into 14 regions (regiones) and 256 neighborhoods (vici), Rome was the capital of an empire and the largest city in the world. Scholars estimate the population of Rome in the 1st century AD as approximately 1 million people, based on the grain dole for Rome in the time of Augustus, the geographical size of the city, and archaeological analysis of the residential buildings (Augustus, Res Gestae). No other city in the world reached 1 million inhabitants until London in the 18th century during the Industrial Revolution, and many of the major cities mentioned in Acts were actually larger in the 1st century AD than they were only 100 years ago.
Rome was home to the Emperors, including Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, the Four (Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian), Titus, Domitian, and Nerva of the 1st century AD (cf. Luke 2:1, 3:1; Acts 11:28, 25:10). During the Pax Romana, the Christian Church emerged and Christianity came to Rome at the most opportune period of ancient history when it was the capital and center of much of the world, united under one massive empire, and using one international language. This period was referred to by Paul as the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). At the beginning of the Pax Romana, Augustus vastly improved Rome, remarking that he found it a city of brick and left it a city of marble. In addition to constructing an Imperial palace, Augustus also had many temples built, including one to Julius Caesar. Subsequent emperors added to the city, and by the middle of the 1st century AD Rome included the Imperial palace complex, the Roman forum, the forum of Caesar, the forum of Augustus, the Praetorian barracks, the Circus Maximus, numerous temples, theaters, amphitheaters, baths, latrines, gardens, shops, aqueducts, fountains, bridges, villas, apartments, altars, statues, arches, and cemeteries. Many of these locations can be seen on the Forma Urbis Romae, a large marble map of ancient Rome created around 205 AD.
While in Rome, the emperors lived in the imperial palaces, the first of which was built by Augustus on the Palatine Hill. This Domus Augusti was located near the “Hut of Romulus” around the founding site of ancient Rome, and was described by contemporary historians as a modest dwelling (Suetonius, Augustus; Dio Cassius, Roman History). The nearby “House of Livia” was probably part of the palace complex of Augustus. Tiberius built his own palace, the Domus Tiberiana, that later connected to the house of Augustus. The following Emperors, Caligula and Claudius, used this palace complex, in addition to royal villas located in different parts of the Empire, but Nero thought it too simple and began to build a more lavish palace nearby, the Domus Transitoria, which extended from the Palatine to the Esquiline Hill. The Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD severely damaged all of these structures on the Palatine, but it also cleared a huge amount of space in the city, allowing Nero to construct a new gigantic palace complex, complete with an artificial lake and gardens, that occupied at least 100 acres in central Rome. This palace of Nero was called the Domus Aurea (“Golden House”) due to its opulence, including decoration with gold leaf, semi-precious stones, ivory, marble, exquisite paintings, and a revolving ceiling (Suetonius, Nero; Tacitus, Annals; Pliny, Natural History). Outside the main entrance to the palace complex was the bronze statue called Colossus Neronis, which towered over the area and was intended to portray Nero as a god. However, after the death of Nero, the palace was stripped and it was built over by the Baths of Titus, the Colosseum, the Baths of Trajan, and the Temple of Venus and Rome. Today, the ruins are located underground.
The Amphitheater of Statilius Taurus, completed in 29 BC, was the only stone amphitheater in Rome during the 1st century until the construction of the Colosseum. It was a small amphitheater located in the southern part of the Campus Martius, but during the Great Fire of 64 AD it was destroyed. In 57 AD, the wooden amphitheater of Nero was built, taking only a year to complete, because Nero wanted a larger amphitheater in which to host gladiatorial games (Tacitus, Annals; Suetonius, Nero). It was also built in the Campus Martius, north of the Saepta Julia, and was probably destroyed in the fire. The Saepta Julia, next to the Pantheon, was a building used for casting votes by the comitia tribute (Assembly of the People), finished in 26 BC just after the inception of the Empire. However, the Saepta Julia was also used for gladiatorial contests and then as a marketplace. The Pantheon (“every god”) was a major temple in Rome dedicated to all of the gods, perhaps deriving its name from the statues of many gods which surrounded it (Cassius Dio, Roman History; Pliny, Natural History). It was constructed by order of Marcus Agrippa between 29-19 BC, and the original dedicatory inscription mentioning Marcus Agrippa and its construction can still be seen today even after multiple remodels of the building over the centuries. In Latin, the inscription reads M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIVM·FECIT (“Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, constructed when consul the third time”). Originally, bronze rosettes decorated the inside of all the of the square coffers on the dome, perhaps giving the impression of the stars. The building was partially destroyed by fires in 80 AD and 110 AD, and its reconstruction was completed by Hadrian. Still standing today, the Pantheon is one of the most iconic buildings of ancient Rome.
Theaters of Rome in use during the 1st century AD included the impressive Theater of Pompey, the smaller Theater of Balbus, and the massive Theater of Marcellus. The Theater of Pompey was the premier theater in Rome, completed in 55 BC, remodeled by Tiberius and Caligula, and gilded on the interior by Nero. It was also the location of the assassination of Julius Caesar, when on March 15, 44 BC, Cassius and Brutus led a group of senators who stabbed Caesar with daggers 23 times. The Theater of Marcellus, however, was the largest theater in the city of Rome, accommodating up to 20,000 spectators. Used for various purposes over the centuries, ruins of this theater have been preserved, and it is the only remaining theater of ancient Rome still visible today.
The largest of all entertainment venues in the Roman Empire, the Circus Maximus, was located south of the Palatine Hill. Originally constructed by King Tarquin the Elder around 600 BC, the circus was also the oldest known venue for public games in the Roman world. The Circus Maximus had been built for public games that were held in connection with religious festivals and celebrations, and it hosted horse races, chariot races, athletics, plays, music, gladiator contests, and beast fights. Expansion of the circus done by Julius Caesar enlarged the size of the track to 2037 feet long and 387 feet wide. Augustus remodeled the circus, adding an obelisk from Heliopolis, Egypt as the spina and a shrine of the gods so that they could “watch” the games. In the 1st century AD, a Roman source claimed that 250,000 spectators could fit into the Circus Maximus, although many scholars estimate that its capacity may have been closer to 150,000 (Pliny, Natural History). This great arena of Rome, along with the Circus of Nero, may have been used for the martyrdom of Christians during the early persecutions, forcing them to fight wild beasts or to endure various types of public executions. Paul may have used the imagery of Roman chariot races in the circuses in his first letter to the Corinthian church, when he wrote that a door has opened (gate for the chariots onto the track) and there are many adversaries (opponents in the race) (1 Corinthians 16:9).
The center of everyday life in Rome was the Roman Forum, located between the Palatine and Capitoline hills. Occupied by government buildings, shops, temples, statues, the Rostra (bema), the Regia (headquarters of the Pontifex Maximus), the Curia Julia (Senate House), the Arch of Augustus, the Arch of Tiberius, the Tullianum (Mamertine Prison), and a large open plaza in the center, which in the 1st century was about 430 feet by 165 feet. On the west side of this plaza were the Milliarium Aureum (“Golden Milestone”) and the Umbilicus Urbis Romae (“Navel of the City of Rome”). The Milliarium was a marker, erected by Augustus, which listed the major cities of the Empire and their distance from the Forum, calculated in Roman miles (Pliny, Natural History; Cassius Dio, Roman History). The nearby Umbilicus was considered the center of the city of Rome and of the Empire, and the place from which distances were measured. Marble fragments still visible in the Forum may be from the base of the Millarium, or possibly part of the Umbilicus. The Forum was also the location of many important Roman temples, including the Temple of Saturn, Temple of Caesar, the Temple of Augustus, Temple of Vesta and the House of the Vestal Virgins, and the Temple of Castor and Pollux. From the Forum, one could ascend to the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the most important temple in ancient Rome, located on the Capitoline Hill. The Forum was also the destination for Triumph celebrations, which entered the city through the Triumphal Gate in the west, then eventually entered the Forum on the Via Sacra. To the north of the Roman Forum were the Imperial forums of Caesar and Augustus. These forums were primarily used for official state business, such as meetings of the Senate, war councils, legal proceedings, and official ceremonies, but these forums also contained many statues and a few temples. To the east was The Market of Livia, a commercial complex or marketplace built by Augustus and used in some form through at least the 4th century. It was located outside the porta Esquilina, north of the road, and ruins of the complex still exist (Rome, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/; McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament; DeVries, Cities of the Biblical World; Gates, Ancient Cities).
Other sites of interest present in 1st century AD Rome included the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Ara Pacis (altar commissioned by Augustus, dedicated to Pax the goddess of peace), the Mouth of Truth (depicting the god Oceanus and probably from the Temple of Hercules Victor), the pyramid tomb of Cestius, and at least 7 bridges. Amazingly, many of these structures are standing and in excellent condition considering their approximate 2000 year age. Although it would be expected that stone would remain intact over the millennia, the Romans used concrete extensively in their construction. Had the Romans used modern concrete, many of these structures would have crumbled centuries ago, but Roman engineers had developed a special type of concrete that both hardened underwater and became stronger over time. Called pyroclastic aggregate concrete and attributed to Marcus Vitruvius in 30 BC, the recipe included a special type of volcanic ash, lime, sea water, and volcanic rocks spread into wooden molds and immersed in seawater (Pliny, Natural History; Jackson et al., “Imperial Roman architectural mortar”; Jackson et al., “Roman Marine Concrete”). Because of this genius invention, many Roman structures have withstood the ravages of earthquakes, waves, and time that otherwise would have reduced them to rubble.
Around the beginning of February 60 AD, after 3 months on Malta, Paul was placed on a grain freighter from Alexandria, which had been waiting out the harsh winter weather of the Mediterranean Sea. This ship is described as having the “Dioscuri” on its prow (Acts 28:11). This Dioscuri symbol was a good luck charm, a symbol of the twin brothers Castor and Pollux, patron protectors of travelers and especially sailors. Their story, found in variants throughout Greek mythology, names them as sons of Zeus and Leda. The myth claims that Zeus came down in the form of a swan and “seduced” the human woman Leda, who then gave birth (Epictetus, Discourses; Homer, Iliad and Odyssey; Anonymous, Cypria; Homeric Hymns; Hesiod; various inscriptions). In the 1st century, the veneration of the Dioscuri was quite common, and there was even a temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome. Probably departing from the area of Valetta on Malta, the ship made its way to Syracuse, then Rhegium, and finally to the port of Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli), where they found some Christians that journeyed on to Rome with Paul (Acts 28:13-14). Paul had written the letter to the church at Rome about 3 years earlier from Corinth, and since then the Christians in Italy must have become more familiar with him. A harbor town on the bay of Naples, Puteoli is known to have also had a forum and an amphitheater (Finegan, Apostles). Had their boat been a transit ship bound specifically for Rome, it probably would have sailed farther north to Ostia, the port city of Rome, but Puteoli must have been the original destination for the grain shipment, while still allowing easy access to Rome on the Appian Way. The journey by road from Puteoli to Rome, which was approximately 150 miles, normally took about a week (Acts 28:14). Probably the most famous road of the Roman Empire, the Via Appia, named for Appius Claudius who began its construction in 312 BC, connected Rome to the seaside city of Brindisi in southern Italy. Rest areas were built along this highway that turned into settlements, including Forum Appii (about 43 Roman miles/40 miles) and Tres Tabernas (33 Roman miles/30 miles), which were noted by Luke as places from which Christians came to greet Paul when he arrived in Rome (Acts 28:15; Cicero, Letters to Atticus). Approaching the city along the Appian Way, Paul would have passed near the Aqua Claduia, which had been recently built by the previous Emperor. During the 1st century, aqueducts were importing around 300 million gallons of water into Rome every day, far surpassing the needs of the population (McRay, Archaeology). Entering the city, he would have gone through Porta Capena, then approached the area of the Circus Maximus, and perhaps walked by the imperial palace before finally arriving at his destination. Because Paul was put under the watch of the Praetorian Guard, his rented quarters were probably near their fortress or barracks. Paul was probably taken to an apartment, located in one of the many multi-story insulae (apartment style housing blocks) of Rome, which he rented and lived in for 2 years while awaiting the time when he would make an appeal to Caesar. Like over 90% of the residents of Rome, Paul would have lived in an apartment, not a house. According to data from the late Roman period in the 4th century AD, there were around 45,000 of these insulae housing blocks in Rome, usually ranging between 2 and 5 stories high and often having shops on the ground floor (Packer, “Housing”). Depending on the construction quality, the upper stories of the building might be dangerous and have roofing problems, burning or collapsing at unacceptable rates, and because of this they were less expensive (Seneca, De Beneficiis; Juvenal, Satires). Sewage was also a problem in these overcrowded quarters, with many residents using chamber pots that had to be dumped, or being forced to use the public latrines (Livy, History of Rome; Lucretius, On the Nature of Things). If Paul rented one of the cheaper apartments, his rent would have been at least 100 denarii each year, or up to around 400 denarii per year for nicer accommodations. This was between half and double of the annual salary of a low-income worker in Rome, and rents in Rome were approximately 4 times higher than other areas of the Empire. Purchasing a house or domus in Rome, however, could have cost up to 875,000 denarii (Keener, Acts)! Because it was highly unlikely that Paul could have worked a trade while under arrest in Rome, and there is no reference to this activity, he must have been reliant on any money he saved and assistance from fellow Christians. Due to the shipwreck, however, he probably lost most of any possessions that he had taken with him when departing Caesarea. According to the Epistle of Philippians, the church at Philippi sent a monetary gift, which provided for Paul while in Rome (Philippians 4:10-20).
While under house arrest in Rome, Paul not only taught, but he also wrote several letters. Epistles in the New Testament attributed to Paul during his initial 2 year imprisonment in Rome include Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul mentioned that his imprisonment in the cause of Christ had become known throughout the whole Praetorian (Philippians 1:13). According to this information, Paul must have been under house arrest with a Praetorian Guard while in Rome, and it indicates that Paul was living near the barracks of the Praetorians. The barracks, or Castra Praetoria, were constructed by order of Sejanus in 23 AD, allowing centralization of the guard into one location (Tacitus, Annals). Measuring 1440 feet by 1250 feet, it was a massive fortress on the edge of the city, and the ruins are still visible today. Another reference to the “household of Caesar” shows that the people living and working in the Imperial Palace were very familiar with Paul, suggesting that Paul had interaction with those in the household of the Emperor, and probably lived near the Palatine Hill, where the palace complex was located until its destruction in the great fire of Rome in 64 AD (Philippians 4:21). To be under guard by the Praetorians means that Paul must have been considered an extremely important prisoner, since these soldiers were the personal, elite guards of the Emperor himself. Augustus had established the Praetorian Cohorts, then Tiberius stationed all of them in Rome at their own fortress. In the time of Claudius and Nero, the Guard was expanded from 9 cohorts to 12 cohorts, which each consisted of 500 to 1000 soldiers. Because of their important position as the guard of the Emperor, the Praetorians were given double pay (2 denarii/day instead of 1), special privileges, and were all ranked as Centurions or higher. At the time of Paul, they served for 16 years instead of the 20 for a regular legionary, and upon their discharge were given a reward of 5000 denarii (the denarii was more than 1 days wage for the proletariat). However, over the years the Praetorians grew to be so powerful that they challenged and even assassinated emperors. During the reign of Tiberius, the captain of the Praetorian guard, Sejanus, became a consul and almost secured the position of Emperor for himself before being assassinated in a counter move by the Senate and supporters of Tiberius. After upheaval and confusion following the death of Tiberius, Caligula gained power as sole Emperor with the help of the Praetorian Guard (Jeffers, Greco-Roman World). However, after a short but turbulent rule in which Caligula nearly bankrupted the Empire, the Praetorian Guard assassinated him and installed Claudius. Emperor Claudius was a capable administrator, ruling the Roman Empire wisely from 41-54 AD, expanding territory, and instituting new laws. Due to illness in his youth, Claudius was kept out of politics by his family until being appointed consul in 37 AD. Luke situated many events recorded in the Acts of the Apostles during the reign of Claudius (Acts 11:28). Like numerous other Emperors, Claudius met a violent end, assassinated by poisoning, although it is unknown exactly who was responsible for the murder. The next Emperor, Nero, appointed at the age of 17, became one of the worst that Rome would ever see. Eventually, soldiers were sent to arrest him, but he opted for suicide by servant rather than trial and execution. At one point, after the Praetorians had been bribed by an Emperor that they assassinated 3 months later, they put the title of Emperor up for auction and sold it to Didius Julianus in 193 AD. After defeating Didius Julianus, the new Emperor Severus disbanded and banished the guard, but made the mistake of setting up a new guard. Finally, in the 4th century Constantine put an end to the power plays and plots of the Praetorians. When it had been decided that Paul would sail to Rome, he had been put under the charge of a centurion named Julius of the Augustan cohort. This cohort is known from inscriptions of the 1st century AD and was primarily stationed in Syria Province, but also functioned in Galilee and Judaea (ILS 1.2683; CIL 3.6687; Keener, Acts). Finally arriving in Rome, the Centurion Julius gave custody of Paul to the “chief of the soldiers” who was probably the commander of the Praetorian Guard (Acts 28:16). This is consistent with what is known from Roman history, since the Praetorian Guard was in charge of prisoners sent to Rome from the provinces (Pliny, Letters; Tacitus, Annals). There is a textual variant in this verse, with the Egyptian/Alexandrian text leaving out the entire section about the centurion giving custody of Paul to the commander of the soldiers, but this material is present in both the Majority Text and the Western Text. Some manuscripts even have the phrase “outside the barracks,” furthering the association with the Praetorian Guard and their barracks in Rome, although this was probably a later addition to the text based on historical memory (Witherington, Acts). When Paul arrived in Rome in about 60 AD, there was one commander of the Praetorian Guard, and his name was Afrianus Burrus, who held the position from 52-61 AD (Tacitus, Annals; Suetonius, Nero). Normally, excepting the time of Sejanus and the time of Burrus, there were two commanders or prefects of the Praetorians. Luke specified only one in this position, which fits perfectly with a 60 AD arrival for Paul. Burrus was influential, and along with his colleague Seneca the philosopher, helped to guide Nero and limited the Emperor from inflicting severe damage on Rome and its people. Unfortunately, Burrus died under mysterious circumstances in 62 AD, probably as a result of assassination with poison ordered by Nero (Tacitus, Annals; Momigliano and Griffin, “Burrus”). Regardless of the exact events, it is clear that Paul was under the guard of a Praetorian who favored wisdom, restraint, order, and sought what was best for Rome. Perhaps Burrus even became convinced of the Gospel that Paul must have discussed with him (Philippians 4:22). However, the soldiers normally on rotation duty that were chained to Paul, which was probably one every four hours, seem to have been lower ranking members of the guard, not a centurion and not the prefect (Acts 28:16-20; Josephus, Antiquities). Although Paul was given the freedom to write, have visitors, preach and teach, and receive gifts, he was also under constant guard and chained to the soldier on duty; Roman sources demonstrate that renting quarters and being chained to a soldier were both typical protocol for a prisoner under house arrest (Acts 28:20-31; Ephesians 6:20; Josephus, Antiquities; Ulpian, Digest of Justinian). This meant, however, that the soldiers guarding Paul and anyone in the “household of Caesar” that interacted with Paul heard the Gospel. The result was that many became believers in Jesus Christ, and must have been part of the 1st century church in Rome (Philippians 4:22). Imprisoned with Paul, at least for a time, were Aristarchus and Epaphras, while Luke was living in Rome but as a free man (Acts 27:2; Colossians 4:10-14; Philemon 23-24).
Three days after arriving in Rome, Paul called the leaders of the Jews to a meeting (Acts 28:17-30). They had heard no negative report about Paul individually, but they did know about the “sect” Christianity and how it had been spoken against “everywhere,” at least in synagogues and communities of Jews throughout the Empire. Because he was under house arrest, Paul could not venture to the synagogues to preach as was his normal protocol. However, the leaders gathered together again at his lodging and heard the story of his arrest, then he proceeded to try to persuade them about Jesus Christ, reasoning from the Scriptures all day. Some of the Jews assembled there were persuaded, while others disagreed, and a dispute arose amongst these leaders, similar to what had happened in many other cities that Paul had brought the Gospel to previously. However, due to already being under arrest, and guarded by a Roman soldier at all times, for 2 years Paul was able to preach the Gospel and teach about Jesus Christ without being hindered by anyone. At the end of those 2 years, Paul must have faced trial and had his appeal to Caesar before finally being released. Scholars have speculated that this trial could have taken place in the Basilica Julia on south side of the Roman Forum. Perhaps here, the evidence that Luke recorded in Luke and Acts was presented (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1).
Luke concluded the Acts narrative with the 2 years that Paul spent under house arrest, ending in about 62 AD. The case against Paul was so weak, that unless the Roman authorities had a vendetta against Paul or Christians at that time, the logical outcome would have been release. New Testament epistles suggest the expectation of release and allude back to a previous imprisonment, and early church history recorded that Paul was temporarily released at the end of this 2 year imprisonment in Rome before a later arrest there (Philippians 1:19, 2:24; Philemon 22; 2 Timothy 4:16-18; Eusebius, Church History). According to Josephus, in the same year, Josephus was able to secure the release of some Jewish priests in 62 AD through the favor of Poppaea, who was an influential Roman woman previously married to the future Emperor Otho and the current love interest of Emperor Nero (Josephus, Life). Poppaea became the second wife of Nero in 62 AD, and seems to have exerted considerable influence over the Emperor until she was murdered in 65 AD by Nero, perhaps in a fit of accidental rage (Suetonius, Nero; Tacitus, Annals; Dio Cassius, Roman History). Whether or not Poppaea was involved in his hostile policy shift towards Christians is unknown, but some scholars see her as friendly toward Jews, and one hypothesis suggests that she became antagonistic toward Christians, a “sect” which the leaders of Judaism wanted eliminated in the 1st century, eventually influencing Nero to persecute Christians.
Around the same time, but probably after Paul’s arrival since there is no reference to Peter at the end of Acts or in the Prison Epistles of Paul, Peter may have come to Rome and wrote the Epistles of 1 and 2 Peter. Peter may have been living in Rome in an apartment or house in the Trans Tiberim quarter, on the west side of the river where many Jews lived. Many Christians probably lived in Transtiberinum (modern Trastevere), which had also been a neighborhood where the majority of the Jews in Rome lived. A community of Jews had existed in Rome since at least the 1st century BC, many of whom may have ended up in Rome after being taken back as slaves following the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BC (Josephus, Antiquities and Wars; Philo, Embassy; Shaw, “The Jewish Colony in Rome and Christianity”). Neighborhoods where the Jews lived included Transtiberinum on the west side of the Tiber River, where the majority probably lived, in addition to Campus Martius, Subura, and Porta Capena in central Rome, and there may have been around 30,000-50,000 Jews living in Rome by the time of Paul (Philo, Embassy; Juvenal, Satire; Jeffers, Greco-Roman World; Shaw, “The Jewish Colony in Rome and Christianity”). In the 1st century AD, there were as many as 13 synagogues or congregations in Rome, but unlike many other cities, in Rome they had no centralized leadership, which is probably why Paul invited all of the different leaders to hear him (Keener, Acts). Names of synagogues in Rome included patrons and honorific dedications, including Augustus, Agrippa, and a synagogue of the Herodians (Richardson, “Synagogues”). Seven of the largest congregations were the Augustenses, the Agrippenses, the Volumnus, the Campeuses, the Suburenses, the “Hebrews,” and the “Olive” (Shaw, “The Jewish Colony in Rome and Christianity”). Although there was a substantial population of Jews living in Rome during the 1st century AD, their community does not seem to have been particularly wealthy, influential, or united, and they had recently endured two temporary expulsions. All of this factored into the meeting of Paul with the Jewish leaders in Rome and the uncharacteristic lack of opposition to Christianity that had been a serious problem in so many other cities and provinces. Transtiberinum was one of the few areas that escaped destruction during the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, although this was not the reason for Nero blaming Christians for the fire. The Church in Rome seems to have had substantial number of members though, since it remained and flourished even after decades of persecution (cf. Revelation 17:6; 1 Clement; Ignatius, Ephesians; Ignatius, Romans).
There were probably several Christians of high status, especially if the “foreign superstition” with which Pomponia Graecina was charged was Christianity (Tacitus, Annals). Others who were probably of high status included Pudens, and possibly Sergius Paulus, at least temporarily (2 Timothy 4:21). Many other Christians are mentioned by name in the letter to the Romans, and although Sergius Paulus, the former governor of Cyprus who became a believer through the ministry of Paul, is not found among them, he may have been part of the church in Rome prior to when Paul arrived (Acts 13:6-12). A boundary stone inscription recording Curators of the banks and channel of the Tiber river in Rome mentions “L. Sergius Paulus” as Curator during the reign of Claudius ca. 47 AD, suggesting that the same Sergius Paulus lived in Rome at least for a short period before Paul arrived. In the 1st century and early 2nd century, the Church in Rome probably met in multiple locations, with multiple elders, using the homes of wealthy Christians as house churches when available (Romans 16:3-16). Early Church writings also suggest that there was less centralized control of the church in Rome during this early period, as a bishop of Rome is not mentioned, in contrast to several other cities of the time (Ignatius, Letters; Anonymous, Shepherd of Hermas). There is some conflict in the ancient Church sources, but eventually a bishop was appointed in Rome, which according to some sources was Linus, who was then followed by Clement (Irenaeus, Against Heresies; Eusebius, Church History; Tertullian, Against Heretics). Both Linus and Clement are mentioned by Paul as leaders of the church in Rome around 60-67 AD (2 Timothy 4:21; Philippians 4:3). A 4th century Church of Saint Clement in Rome, east of the Colosseum, was built over a 1st century house that may have even been one of the meeting places of the early church (McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament). Yet, years before Paul or Peter arrived in Rome, the Church had existed there (Romans 1:7). Most likely, the Gospel had been brought to Rome in 33 AD or soon after, as visitors from Rome are among those listed as being in Jerusalem during Pentecost and hearing the Gospel (Acts 2:5-10; cf. Ambrose 4th century). The Church in Rome had to deal with the always lingering Imperial authorities, excessive paganism and hostility towards what the Romans called “atheists” (monotheists), and sometimes oppressive taxes, which Paul alluded to, referencing recent protests under Nero around 55-57 AD and the expulsion of Jews under Claudius in 49 AD (Romans 2:22, 13:1-7; cf. Orosius quote in Josephus). Many Jews in Rome rejected the message of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:1-4), and historical sources suggest that problems were caused in Rome by Jews hostile to Christianity, resulting in a banishment and loss of rights to assemble in synagogues during the reign of Claudius (Romans 10:1-4; Acts 18:2; Suetonius, Claudius; Dio Cassius, Roman History). However, once Nero became Emperor, those edicts would no longer have been in effect. In the early period, before Christianity was legalized, the Christians used houses as the meeting places for local churches. In Rome, one such church is mentioned by Paul at the house of Pudens (2 Timothy 4:21). Pudens is thought to have been the son of Senator Quintus Cornelius Pudens, and the church would have met at their villa, or domus, in Rome. In the 4th century a church of Santa Pudenziana (Saint Pudentiana, daughter of Pudens, or more likely Domus Pudentiana “house of Pudens”) was built around an earlier house church which dates back to at least 140 AD, and it is recognized as the oldest Christian church in Rome. The building may even have originally been the house of the Roman Christian Pudens who was mentioned by Paul, as excavations have revealed a mosaic floor of a house from the time of Augustus underneath the 2nd century “church” building (McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament). Peter was probably in Rome with Mark around the same time as Paul, or shortly after Paul had been released, and Peter sent greetings from the Church there in his first letter (1 Peter 5:13; Philemon 24; Clement of Alexandria). At this time, Mark may have written the Gospel of Mark, with Peter as his source. Afterward, Mark may have gone on to Colossae, then to Timothy in Ephesus, and finally called back to Rome by Paul about 3 years later, just prior to Paul’s execution (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11).
Following his release at the end of a 2 year imprisonment and the trial in Rome, Paul had a brief period of freedom where he continued to spread the Gospel and teach from approximately 62-66 AD. During the temporary release, Paul seems to have traveled to Spain and brought the Gospel there, which was his stated intention a few years earlier (Romans 15:24-28; 1 Clement 5:5-7). Although we know very little about this journey, a brief record of it has been preserved in the 1st century writings of Clement. Spain, which included three Roman Provinces, was at the far west of the Empire. Hispania Tarraconensis covered northern and most of eastern Spain, Hispania Baetica covered southern Spain, and Lusitania covered western Spain. Although it is unknown if Paul went to all of these provinces or just to one, Baetica, with its southern tip on the Strait of Gibraltar, was the most wealthy and peaceful, and a senatorial province. Thus, Paul had traveled across the entire Empire, from the farthest east to the farthest west, and to the capital of Rome in the center, bringing the Gospel and teaching the Bible wherever he went (1 Clement 5:5-7). While Paul was away from Rome for about 4 years, he also went to Crete and then on to Nicopolis in late 65 AD (area of Epirus in the Province of Macedonia), after visiting Spain. There in Nicopolis of Macedonia, according to a subscript in several ancient copies of the Epistle to Titus, Paul wrote to Titus on Crete (Titus 1:5; Titus 3:15 A, P, K, H, L, etc). Probably also while spending the winter in Nicopolis, Paul wrote to Timothy in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3; McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament). Nero actually visited Nicopolis in 66 AD to participate in the Actian games, “winning” every event he competed in. This was one of the many musical competitions, theater contests, and chariot races that Nero won by default as a megalomaniac Emperor feared by the populace (Pliny, Natural History; Suetonius, Nero). Did Paul and Nero meet again in Nicopolis? Was Paul arrested there and brought back to Rome? Eventually, Paul was arrested again, Perhaps in connection with the Christian persecution by Nero after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD (Suetonius, Nero). Paul was then condemned to death, and it was during this second imprisonment that he may have awaited execution in Mamertine Prison by the foot of Capitoline Hill and the temple of Concord (2 Timothy 2:9). The dungeon of this prison is called the Tullianum (from tullius, meaning a spring of water), and it is known to have been used for many high profile criminals awaiting execution during the Roman Empire period, including Vercingetorix (leader of the Gauls), Adiatorix (a high priest and ruler in Galatia), Sejanus (commander of Praetorian Guard), and Simon bar Giora (leader of a faction in the First Judean Revolt). This prison was used specifically for those under sentence of death, in contrast to Paul’s earlier imprisonment while awaiting trial. A tradition claims that Peter also awaited death in this prison, although there are no currently known ancient records associating Mamertine with Peter. Prisoners were kept in a rounded subterranean chamber called the Tullianum that was about 23 feet in diameter, and had to be lowered down through the hole in the ceiling. The prison was originally constructed as a cistern in the late 7th century BC and is usually thought to be “the prison…in the middle of the city, overlooking the forum” (Livy, History of Rome). Usually, prisoners were removed from this chamber to be executed, although some faced their end inside the chamber.
Not long after his return to Rome, Paul was executed in about 67 AD (Eusebius, Church History; Muratorian Canon; Tertullian, Against Heretics). During this final imprisonment before his execution, Paul wrote a second letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:8-17, 2:9). While in prison this last time, Paul seems to know the verdict of execution and is simply awaiting the sentence to be carried out (2 Timothy 4:6-9). According to ancient historical sources, Paul was executed by beheading, a death befitting a Roman citizen. Early tradition placed his death at Acquae Salviae, on the Via Laurentina, near a place that earned the name Three Fountains. Ancient records suggest that Nero knew Paul personally, and that Paul was beheaded by order of the prefects of Rome (Chrysostom, Concerning Lowliness of Mind; Tertullian, Against Heretics; Acts of Paul). Christians took Paul’s corpse up the road to the second mile marker of the Via Ostiensis, buried him in the family tomb of a Christian Roman woman named Matrona Lucilla, and put up a grave marker on the Via Ostiensis. This burial inscription was still visible in the 4th century AD, and in about 320 AD, the Church of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in southern Rome was erected at the location of his burial (Eusebius, Church History; Chadwick, “St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome”). Recent excavations at this church uncovered a sarcophagus, a marble tombstone with the Latin inscription Paulo Apostolo Mart (“Apostle Paul, Martyr”), a purple linen cloth laminated with gold, and bones dated to the 1st or 2nd century (Thavis, “Archaeologist Says He Has Found St. Paul’s Tomb”). At the nearby Catacomb of Saint Thecla in Rome, a 4th century fresco, which is the earliest known depiction of Paul, was also recently discovered.
Less than 3 years prior, during the same time period as Paul, but while Paul was away from Rome, Peter had been executed by crucifixion in Rome about 4 months after the fire, at the beginning of the persecution of Christians by Nero in 64 AD (Jackson, “Evidence for the Martyrdom of Peter and Paul in Rome”; 1 Clement 5:4; Sulpicius Severus, Chronica; Lactantius, Of the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died; Tertullian, Against Heresies; Dionysus of Corinth, Epistle to the Romans). Jesus had predicted the crucifixion of Peter over 30 years prior (John 21:18-19). Mentioned first in an apocryphal source from about 200 AD, Peter was crucified upside down (Acts of Peter; Origen, Contra Celsus). His burial was rediscovered in the 20th century during excavations under the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican. In the 1st century, Peter had been buried in a cemetery near the north wall of the Circus of Nero, probably being crucified in the gardens nearby (Tertullian). Archaeological work at the basilica revealed that the area had been a cemetery in ancient times, and while most of the graves showed pagan iconography, others were Christian. In the 4th century, Constantine had the church built to commemorate the martyrdom of Peter at the location of the “Trophy” or tomb that Gaius mentioned in the 2nd century (quoted in Eusebius), but in modern times no archaeological evidence for the tomb of Peter was known until the discovery. When the area of the cemetery was excavated, archaeological material such as coins and inscriptions indicated its use as early as the 2nd and 1st centuries, confirming the antiquity of the site in which “the tomb of Peter” was located (O’Callahan, “Vatican Excavations and the Tomb of Peter”; http://sspx.org/en/content/2788). Later, bones were also discovered at the site which underwent analysis and were determined to be those of a man between about 60-70 years old. Additionally, the bones of the feet, below the ankles, were missing, suggesting the possibility that the man had been cut down off of a cross after being crucified upside down, just as the ancient accounts record Peter’s death (Walsh, “The Bones of St. Peter”). While not definitive, the skeletal remains at least allow the possibility that Peter had been buried there. Finally, an inscription Petr[os] (“Peter”) from about the late 2nd century or early 3rd century AD was discovered on the wall near the tomb (Guarducci, “The Tomb of St. Peter”). Therefore, the tomb monument itself seems to have been made in the 2nd century, in a cemetery that had been used as early as the 1st century, then continuously visited and revered until the 4th century when Constantine built a church to protect the tomb and commemorate the martyrdom of Peter.
That Paul and Peter were executed in Rome during the Christian persecution under Nero fits the historical context perfectly (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History). Earlier in his reign, Nero had been guided by Seneca and the Praetorian Burrus until 62 AD, when Burrus was assassinated and Seneca was publicly denounced, forcing Seneca to retire to the countryside. According to Roman history, prior to this time, Burrus and Seneca had effectively set policy for the Empire (Cassius Dio, Roman History). Once Burrus was dead and Seneca had to leave the service of the Emperor, the Imperial policies changed radically. In light of the extreme transformation due to Nero lacking good advisors, Paul was probably released in early 62 AD before the death of Burrus and departure of Seneca, when Nero was encouraged to grant clemency. Earlier in his reign, Nero had murdered his brother in law Brittanicus and his mother Agrippina (Tacitus, Histories and Annals; Suetonius, Nero). However, after this time Nero became more openly violent and despotic, including the divorce and execution of his first wife Octavia, the murder of his new pregnant wife Poppaea, treason trials, the execution of Cornelius Sulla and Rubellius Plautus, disregarding the Senate, marrying the freedman Pythagorus in which Nero took the role as bride in the ceremony, marrying the young boy Sporus who Nero had castrated and made into a “woman,” mutilated slaves and others in his service, carried out debauched stage performances that the Romans regarded as even more scandalous than his marriages to men, perhaps set fire to the city of Rome, and then ordered a massive persecution of Christians (Dio Cassius, Roman History; Tacitus, Annals and History; Suetonius, Nero). During the Great Fire of 64 AD, Nero was supposedly watching from the tower of Maecenas or on the roof of the palace while singing a song about the destruction of Troy and playing his preferred stringed instrument the cithara, similar to a lyre, but 7 strings (Tacitus, Annals; Suetonius, Nero; Dio Cassius, Roman History). The palace of Rome was traditionally located on the Palatine Hill, but Nero had built a new place that may have spanned part of the Palatine and gardens to the east and north, which is a part now covered by the Colosseum. After the fire, Nero built a new palace complex to the east called the Domus Aurea (Golden House) because of the lavish use of gold in its construction. The great fire seems to have started in the area of the Circus Maximus, then spread toward the slopes of the Palatine Hill area (north), burning for 6 days. Looters and rioters supposedly threw torches and hindered efforts to stop the fire in certain places. The main firefighting tactic was to clear areas that the fire was approaching so that it could not continue to burn, such as tearing down small wood buildings, clearing the streets of debris, and perhaps making dirt ramparts. When it was over, 10 of the 14 districts of Rome were damaged, with 3 of them having been completely destroyed. Those on the western side of the Tiber River escaped the conflagration. [“Now started the most terrible and destructive fire which Rome had ever experienced. It began in the Circus, where it adjoins the Palatine and Caelian hills. Breaking out in shops selling inflammable goods, and fanned by the wind, the conflagration instantly grew and swept the whole length of the Circus. There were no walled mansions or temples, or any other obstructions, which could arrest it. First, the fire swept violently over the level spaces. Then it climbed the hills, but returned to ravage the lower ground again. It outstripped every counter-measure. The ancient city’s narrow winding streets and irregular blocks encouraged its progress…Nobody dared fight the flames. Attempts to do so were prevented by menacing gangs. Torches, too, were openly thrown in, by men crying that they acted under orders” (Tacitus, Annals).] Rumors had spread, however, that Nero started or ordered the fire intentionally, and many of the people in Rome regarded this to be true, so Nero attempted to shift the blame to the Christians. “To get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians” (Tacitus, Annals). In addition to throwing Christians into the arena to fight beasts such as lions and bears and wild dogs, he crucified them and burned them alive, using them as human torches to light the city at night. Eventually, the power structure in Rome, including the Senate and the Praetorian Guard, had to eliminate Nero for the sake of preserving the Empire. A trial was held and Nero was declared a public enemy with intention to execute. However, the Emperor found out and fled, and when the soldiers were closing in on him he forced his assistant Epaphroditos to stab him, as he could not muster the courage to kill himself or face the consequences of the trial. Nero died on June 9, 68 AD, and the Empire was thrown into mayhem during the Year of the Four Emperors.
From the destruction brought about by the civil war, a new dynasty of Emperors arose in 69 AD. The Flavian Dynasty also left their mark on Rome, but these structures were only seen by those Christians who survived the persecution of Nero, such as the Apostle John. Vespasian, a general with no ties to the ruling Julian dynasty, took power and started the Flavian dynasty while his son and future Emperor Titus finished suppressing the revolt in Judaea. The Arch of Titus was erected by Emperor Domitian in 81 AD, after the death of his brother Titus and the declaration of deification by the Senate. The Latin inscription translates as “The Senate and the Roman people to the deified Titus Vespasian Augustus the son of the deified Vespasian.” In addition to honoring the former Roman Emperor, the arch also commemorates the Roman conquest of Judea and destruction of Jerusalem, which was led by Titus and predicted by Jesus (Luke 21:20-24). Reliefs on the arch display the Roman celebration of the Triumphal procession, and sacred items from the Jerusalem Temple, such as the menorah, the table of showbread, and two silver trumpets. The Romans often acquired sacred and significant treasures through their conquests, brought them back to Rome, and placed them on display in the Imperial Palace and the Temple of Peace. These buildings and their treasures, however, were destroyed and looted when Rome fell. The Flavian Amphitheater, built between 72-80 AD, was nicknamed Colosseum because of the nearly 100 foot tall bronze Nero statue called “Colossus” that was located nearby, on part of the grounds of the former palace of Nero (ancient sources record the height of the statue as 99 feet and 121 feet, but the discrepancy may be between the statue itself and the total height including the pedestal; Pliny, Natural History; Suetonius, Nero). The pedestal base is still visible today. However, after the reign of Nero in 68 AD, the statue was modified into a statue of the sun god Sol. Thus, the legacy of Nero was wiped away by the next dynasty of the Flavians. During the inaugural games taking place in 81 AD, tens of thousands of people watched gladiatorial and beast fights, and over 9,000 animals were killed (Cassius Dio, Roman History). A few years later, Domitian constructed additional seating, bringing the capacity to an estimated 80,000. The massive occupancy of the Colosseum, however, paled in comparison to the Circus Maximus, which at its largest held approximately 250,000 people. Domitian became increasingly despotic, and the Senate began to despise him. In 86 AD he required officials to address him as Lord and God. His policy of self-deification was resisted by many throughout the Empire, resulting in massive persecution, including Christians. About 27 years after the death of Nero, John was taken to Rome from Ephesus by order of Emperor Domitian and thrown into boiling oil. However, John survived this ordeal, so he was instead banished to the remote island of Patmos. The Apostle John seems to have made reference to Rome and its seven hills in his final work (Revelation 13:1, 17:9, 18). Domitian was assassinated in 96 AD, while John was released from exile and returned to Ephesus. Despite persecutions and opposition to Christianity, the Church persisted and Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 AD with the edict of Milan. Nearly 2000 years after the Gospel was brought to Rome, Christianity persists in the Eternal City.