The Romans built a vast network of stone highways around its empire. They were durable, flood resistant, often guarded, and wide enough for soldiers to march six abreast. It’s been said that if all the roads from Rome were linked end to end, they would circle the earth twice. These are the roads that Paul and his companions often traveled. These are the roads that provided relative security.
However, just off the main Roman highway system was another world altogether. More often than not, Paul and his team were traveling these secondary dirt roads, where safety – and even survival – was uncertain. Flash floods, wild animals, and marauding bandits were just some of the well-known perils of traveling these ancient roads.
During the first century in the eastern Mediterranean, the back roads were only passable during the summer when streams were low or dry. In the late winter and spring, travelers had to navigate raging rivers and makeshift bridges — so drowning was a very real hazard.
Worse than the rivers were the robbers and thieves. Since people tended to travel with pretty much everything they owned, including their silver coins, travelers were prime targets.
But perhaps the scariest peril of ancient travel was the wild animals. Apuleius, a philosopher and poet living a few decades after Paul, wrote about the ferocious bears, boars, and wolves that roamed present-day Turkey and Greece, and how travelers journeyed in fear, especially through the forest areas. Apuleius wrote:
“We were told that the road we wished to take was strewn with half-eaten corpses, and clean-picked skeletons, and that we ought to proceed with all possible caution and in a compact body with no stragglers. The higher the sun the milder the wolves.”
In one of his letters, Paul wrote:
…on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:26-27)