Imprisonment in the Roman World:
In Prison Versus House Arrest
Persons were imprisoned in Roman times while awaiting trial or execution, for political reasons or for ensuring compliance with a judicial order. Paul was detained for trial in Caesarea and in Rome.
The Mamertine Prison, otherwise known as the Tullianum, is located on the east side of the Capitoline Hill, adjacent to the Roman Forum, and near the Arch of Septimius Severus, and below the church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami.
The prison consisted of two vaulted chambers, one above the other.
The lower chamber is often referred to as the “Tullianum” as it is thought that the room was originally constructed to be a water cistern.
The name “Mamertine” originates from medieval times, probably to reinforce the claimed connection to the legends surrounding Saint Peter.
The ancient Romans simply called the site “carcer”, which is commonly translated to mean “prison”. The “carcer” the only prison in the ancient city, and was reserved for important state prisoners, often prior to their execution.
John the Baptist was imprisoned for accusing Herod of adultery and thus threatening his political authority and debtors were sometimes imprisoned to pressure them to pay their debts. Imprisonment as a method of formal punishment was rare.
Times of detention were neither limited nor strongly enforced, and ordinarily the prisoner was poorly treated. Many were beaten, tortured and given inadequate food and water, although a prisoner of higher status would often fare better.
Herod Agrippa I, before he became ethnarch of Judea and Samaria experienced various degrees of imprisonment.
At first Emperor Tiberius placed him in chains in a military camp under the prefect of the praetorians in Rome.
Tiberius’s sister-in-law, Antonia, lessened the severity of conditions during this incarceration, asking the guard to be more humane, to allow Agrippa to bathe every day and to permit his friends to bring him food and clothing.
After Tiberius died Agrippa was allowed to live in his own private residence. He was still guarded and chained at the wrist to a guard each day but was permitted to handle his own affairs (Josephus, Antiquities, 18.6.6-11).
Paul was probably detained in the Praetorium, a fortress or governor’s residence, while in Caesarea.
While in Rome he was allowed to dwell outside the military camp, as well as to find and rent his own quarters. He received this relatively mild treatment for three reasons:
The entrance to the prison records the tradition that Saint Peter and Saint Paul were imprisoned there.
* Paul was a Roman citizen.
* He had received favorable verdicts from governors Festus and Agrippa.
* The praetorian prefect overseeing prisoners from the provinces in the years 52 A.D. to 62 add was the honest Afranius Burrus.
Paul’s trial took two years to conclude. According to Eusebius (History,2.22,25), Paul was released but later detained again in Rome when Nero began to execute Christians.
Paul was at that point probably placed in the tullianum, the underground execution cell of the prison at Rome.
The Jews hated the Romans for two reasons, mainly because of the power they held over them, but also because they saw the Romans as pagans – call the kettle black.
The Jews feared the man Jesus, not seeing thatHe was God.
Therefore, they saw nothing, not even their own greed.
Yet, then again, through their own greed, they did see the greed of others.
Most people didn’t realize that Jesus, in three years, restructured the world forever. People feared Rome, but it’s also obvious they feared Jesus Christ.
Even the Sadducees who didn’t believe in the resurrection feared the mark the Jesus left, i.e., Christianity. And today, He is still feared.
Tomorrow we’ll look at…
Paul Sent to Rome
Paul’s Missionary Journeys
1 And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band.
2 And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.
“Adramyttium” – a harbor on the west coast of the province of Asia, southeast of Troas, east of Assos.
3 And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself.
After a year of excavations, the oldest Roman dungeon, dug into the hill of the Capitol and on which the church of St. Joseph of the Carpenters [San Giuseppe dei Falegnami] stands, is once again open to the public.
The archeologists, led by Patrizia Fortini, uncovered frescos of Jesus and Saint Peter from the eleventh and fourteenth centuries.
By removing pieces of wood and brick from the floor, the archeologists deduced that the site had been used as a sacred place in pre-Christian and pagan Rome.
“Sidon’ – about 70 miles north of Cesarea.
4 And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.
5 And when we had sailed over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.
“Cilicia and Pamphylia” – adjoining provinces on the southern shore of Asia Minor. From Sidon to Myra along this coast would normally be a voyage of 10-15 days.
“Myra…of Lycia” – the growing importance of the city of Myra was associated with the development of navigation.
Instead of hugging the coast from point to point, more ships were daring to run directly from Alexandria in Egypt to harbors like Myra on the southern coast of Asia Minor.
It was considerably out of the way on the trip to Rome from Egypt, but the prevailing western wind would not allow a direct voyage toward the west. Myra became an important grain-storage city as well.
6 And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein.
7 And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone;
“Cnidus” – from Myra to Cnidus at the southwest point of Asia Minor was about 170 miles. The trip probably took another 10-15 days.
“Crete” – an island 160 miles long. Rather than cross the open sea to Greece, the ship was forced to bear south, seeking to sail west with the protection of the island of Crete on the north (“under the shelter of Crete”).
8 And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The fair havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.
“Fair havens;…Lasea” – the former was a port about midway on the southern coast of Crete, and the latter was a city about five miles away.
The upper room, which is on a level that was once the ground level of the prison in ancient times, is thought to date back to the second century B.C.
The walls are made of blocks of tufa on which there is mounted a plaque on which are the names of the prisons most celebrated prisoners.
At the back is a small alter with busts of both Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
Originally access to the lower room was gained by throwing or lowering prisoners through a hole in the floor.
Nowadays for safety reasons the hole is covered b a metal grate, with access to the lower floor being gained via a set of comparatively modern steps.
9 Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,
“”The fast” – the Jewish day of atonement fell in the latter part of September or in October. The usual sailing season by Jewish calculation lasted from Pentecost (May-June) to tabernacles, which was five days after the fast.
The Romans considered sailing after September 15 doubtful and after November 11 suicidal.
10 And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives.
11 Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul.
12 And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west.
“Phenice” – also known as Phoenix, a major city that served as a wintering place, having a harbor with protection against the storms.
13 And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete.
14 But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon.
“Euroclydon” – a typhoon-like, east-northeast wind (a “northeaster”).
15 And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive.
16 And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat:
“Clauda” – an island about 23 miles from Crete.
17 Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven.
“The quicksands” – a long stretch of desolate banks of quicksand (called Syrtis) along northern Africa off the coast of Tunis and Tripoli.
The circular lower room or Tullianum, is where the condemned prisoners were thrown and sometimes strangled.
Here can be seen a small altar, backed with a relief of Saint Peter baptizing his fellow prisoners. On the front of the alter, standing out against a red marble background is the upside-down cross of St. Peter, depicting that he was crucified upside-down.
In the floor in the front of the alter is a round opening leading to the spring, the water from which it is said, Saint Peter baptised his fellow prisoners, and guards.
18 And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship;
19 And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.
20 And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.
21 But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss.
“In Adria” – that is, in the Adriatic Sea which lies between Italy,. Malta, Crete and Greece. In ancient times the Adriatic Sea extended as far south as Sicily and Crete.
Some think this sea included all the area between Greece, Italy and Africa and that it was known as the Adrian, not the Adriatic Sea.
22 And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship.
23 For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,
24 Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.
25 Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
26 Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.
The Roman Forum is a rectangular forum (plaza) surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum.
27 But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country;
28 And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.
29 Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.
30 And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under color as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship,
31 Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.
32 Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.
33 And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing.
34 Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.
35 And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat.
Rome is the capital of Italy and also of the homonymous province and of the region of Lazio.
With 2.7 million residents in 496.3 sq mi, it is also the country’s largest and most populated comune and fourth-most populous city in the European Union by population within city limits.
The urban area of Rome extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of around 3.8 million.
Between 3.2 and 4.2 million people live in Rome metropolitan area.
The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber within Lazio (Latium).
Rome is the only city in the world to contain in its interior a whole state; the enclave of Vatican City.
36 Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.
37 And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls.
38 And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea.
39 And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship.
40 And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoised up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore.
41 And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmovable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves.
42 And the soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape.
43 But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land:
44 And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.
…Greece: Roman domination and the growth of Christianity.