During the Roman period, Patmos was known as part of the Sporades islands, a group of remote islands used for exiling (banishing) people that were somehow considered threats to the Roman Empire. While some of the islands were simple prison colonies, Patmos had a bit more going on, including a harbor, a town, a gymnasium, and a temple to Artemis on the acropolis.
The Apostle John and Patmos
Late in the first century, the Apostle John was living in Ephesus preaching the Gospel, teaching the Scriptures, and helping lead the church. Historians also maintain that he wrote his Gospel and three epistles in Ephesus, and was pretty outspoken against pagan worship there.
This didn’t sit well with the Roman Emperor Domitian. Roman historians such as Pliny described Domitian as a violent madman who persecuted Christians. Domitian was also a believer in prophetic omens, and he was one of the few emperors who insisted on calling himself a god during his reign. In about 86 AD, a temple to Domitian was built in Ephesus. At the same time, the people of Ephesus were forced to worship and make sacrifices to Domitian, practices that would have certainly been denounced by John.
John’s opposition to emperor worship, in addition to his continued preaching of the Gospel, ultimately reached the ear of Domitian and prompted him to take action. In 94 AD, the 14th year of the reign of Emperor Domitian, the elderly John the Apostle was exiled to the island of Patmos.