Rome, the famous capital of the ancient world, is situated on the Tiber at a distance of about 15 miles from its mouth. The “seven hills,” Rev. 17:9, which formed the nucleus of the ancient city stand on the left bank. On the opposite side of the river rises the far higher side of the Janiculum. Here from very early times was a fortress with a suburb beneath it extending to the river. Modern Rome lies to the north of the ancient city, covering with its principal portion the plain to the north of the seven hills, once known as the Campus Martius, and on the opposite bank extending over the low ground beneath the Vatican to the north of the ancient Janiculum. Rome is not mentioned in the Bible except in the books of Maccabees and in three books of the New Testament, viz., the Acts, the Epistle to the Romans and the Second Epistle to Timothy.
1. Jewish inhabitants.—The conquests of Pompey seem to have given rise to the first settlement of Jews at Rome. The Jewish king Aristobulus and his son formed part of Pompey’s triumph, and many Jewish captives and immigrants were brought to Rome at that time. A special district was assigned to them, not on the site of the modern Ghetto, between the Capitol and the island of the Tiber, but across the Tiber. Many of these Jews were made freedmen. Julius Cæsar showed them some kindness; they were favored also by Augustus, and by Tiberius during the latter part of his reign. It is chiefly in connection with St. Paul’s history that Rome comes before us in the Bible. In illustration of that history it may be useful to give some account of Rome in the time of Nero, the “Cæsar” to whom St. Paul appealed, and in whose reign he suffered martyrdom.
2. The city in Paul’s time.—The city at that time must be imagined as a large and irregular mass of buildings unprotected by an outer wall. It had long outgrown the old Servian wall; but the limits of the suburbs cannot be exactly defined. Neither the nature of the buildings nor the configuration of the ground was such as to give a striking appearance to the city viewed from without. “Ancient Rome had neither cupola nor campanile,” and the hills, never lofty or imposing, would present, when covered with the buildings and streets of a huge city, a confused appearance like the hills of modern London, to which they have sometimes been compared. The visit of St. Paul lies between two famous epochs in the history of the city, viz., its restoration by Augustus and its restoration by Nero. The boast of Augustus is well known, “that he found the city of brick, and left it of marble.” Some parts of the city, especially the Forum and Campus Martius, must have presented a magnificent appearance, of which Niebuhr’s “Lectures on Roman History,” ii. 177, will give a general idea; but many of the principal buildings which attract the attention of modern travellers in ancient Rome were not yet built. The streets were generally narrow and winding, flanked by densely-crowded lodging-houses (insul™) of enormous height. Augustus found it necessary to limit their height to 70 feet. St. Paul’s first visit to Rome took place before the Neronian conflagration; but even after the restoration of the city which followed upon that event, many of the old evils continued. The population of the city has been variously estimated. Probably Gibbon’s estimate of 1,200,000 is nearest to the truth. One half of the population consisted, in all probability, of slaves. The larger part of the remainder consisted of pauper citizens supported in idleness by the miserable system of public gratuities. There appears to have been no middle class, and no free industrial population. Side by side with the wretched classes just mentioned was the comparatively small body of the wealthy nobility, of whose luxury and profligacy we learn so much from the heathen writers of the time. Such was the population which St. Paul would find at Rome at the time of his visit. We learn from the Acts of the Apostles that he was detained at Rome for “two whole years,” “dwelling in his own hired house with a soldier that kept him,” Acts 28:16, 30, to whom apparently, according to Roman custom, he was bound with a chain, Acts 28:20; Eph. 6:20; Phil. 1:13. Here he preached to all that came to him, no man forbidding him. Acts 28:30, 31. It is generally believed that on his “appeal to Cæsar” he was acquitted, and after some time spent in freedom, was a second time imprisoned at Rome. Five of his epistles, viz., those to the Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, that to Philemon, and the Second Epistle to Timothy, were in all probability written from Rome, the latter shortly before his death, 2 Tim. 4:6, the others during his first imprisonment. It is universally believed that he suffered martyrdom at Rome.
Ruins of Forum at Rome.
3. The localities in and about Rome especially connected with the life of Paul are—(1) The Appian Way, by which he approached Rome. Acts 28:15. [Appii Forum.] (2) “The palace,” or “Cæsar’s court” (prætorium, Phil. 1:13). This may mean either the great camp of the Prætorian guards which Tiberius established outside the walls on the northeast of the city, or, as seems more probable, a barrack attached to the imperial residence on the Palatine. There is no sufficient proof that the word “prætorium” was ever used to designate the emperor’s palace, though it is used for the official residence of a Roman governor. John 18:28; Acts 23:35. The mention of “Cæsar’s household,” Phil. 4:22, confirms the notion that St. Paul’s residence was in the immediate neighborhood of the emperor’s house on the Palatine. (3) The connection of other localities at Rome with St. Paul’s name rests only on traditions of more or less probability. We may mention especially—(4) The Mamertine prison, or Tullianum, built by Ancus Martius near the Forum. It still exists beneath the church of St. Giuseppe dei Falegnami. It is said that St. Peter and St. Paul were fellow prisoners here for nine months. This is not the place to discuss the question whether St. Peter was ever at Rome. It may be sufficient to state that though there is no evidence of such a visit in the New Testament, unless Babylon in 1 Pet. 5:13 is a mystical name for Rome, yet early testimony and the universal belief of the early Church seem sufficient to establish the fact of his having suffered martyrdom there. [Peter.] The story, however, of the imprisonment in the Mamertine prison seems inconsistent with 2 Tim. 4:11. (5) The chapel on the Ostian road which marks the spot where the two apostles are said to have separated on their way to martyrdom. (6) The supposed scene of St. Paul’s martyrdom, viz., the church of St. Paolo alle tre fontane on the Ostian road. To these may be added—(7) The supposed scene of St. Peter’s martyrdom, viz., the church of St. Pietro in Montorio, on the Janiculum. (8) The chapel Domine quo Vadis, on the Appian road, the scene of the beautiful legend of our Lord’s appearance to St. Peter as he was escaping from martyrdom. (9) The places where the bodies of the two apostles, after having been deposited first in the catacombs, are supposed to have been finally buried—that of St. Paul by the Ostian road, that of St. Peter beneath the dome of the famous Basilica which bears his name. We may add, as sites unquestionably connected with the Roman Christians of the apostolic age—(10) The gardens of Nero in the Vatican, not far from the spot where St. Peter’s now stands. Here Christians, wrapped in the skins of beasts, were torn to pieces by dogs, or, clothed in inflammable robes, were burnt to serve as torches during the midnight games. Others were crucified. (11) The Catacombs. These subterranean galleries, commonly from 8 to 10 feet in height and from 4 to 6 in width, and extending for miles, especially in the neighborhood of the old Appian and Nomentan Ways, were unquestionably used as places of refuge, of worship and of burial by the early Christians. The earliest dated inscription in the catacombs is a.d. 71. Nothing is known of the first founder of the Christian Church at Rome. Christianity may, perhaps, have been introduced into the city not long after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost by the “strangers of Rome,” who were then at Jerusalem. Acts 2:10. It is clear that there were many Christians at Rome before St. Paul visited the city. Rom. 1:8, 13, 15; 15:20. The names of twenty-four Christians at Rome are given in the salutations at the end of the Epistle to the Romans. Linus, who is mentioned 2 Tim. 4:21, and Clement, Phil. 4:3, are supposed to have succeeded St. Peter as bishops of Rome.
The Appian Way at Rome.
Appian Way restored. (Fifth mile out of Rome.)