Internment in Caesarea
Upon Paul’s return to Jerusalem, he was welcomed by his Christian brethren. He was able to share the wonderful results of all his travels. The church leaders in Jerusalem, though, were concerned about reports that they had been receiving that Paul had encouraged the believing Jews to forsake the laws and customs of Judaism.
In order to show that he had not abandoned his ancestral faith, the disciples asked Paul to go with four of the converts to the temple to be purified. He agreed to do it, but his conduct was misinterpreted. He was recognized there by some of the Jews who had opposed him in the province of Asia. They accused him of “teaching men against the people” and of defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into the inner courts. This charge was apparently untrue, though.
There was an ensuing riot in the temple area because of this, and it resulted in the intervention of the Roman tribune and Paul’s arrest. Although they let him speak to the people, they wouldn’t listen to what he had to say. It ended up that Paul was taken into custody and allowed to plead his case before the high priests and the Sanhedrin.
It became very obvious that the Sadducees and Pharisees were bitterly divided in their opinion about Paul, so he was once again placed under custody so they could investigate things further. During this time, the officials learned of a plot against Paul to assassinate him, and they sent him by night to Caesar. There he was tried by Felix the governor, and imprisoned for two years. During this two years, he was allowed more privileges than a prisoner would usually have, though. Festus became Felix’s successor. He also examined Paul, and didn’t really know what to do with him, so he decided to send him before King Agrippa II. This was honoring Paul’s request that his fate should be determined by “Caesar’s tribunal” since he was a Roman citizen.
Paul’s Journey to Rome
Paul set sail for Rome under guard in late summer or early autumn of A.D. 59. He was able to sail with Luke, Aristarchus, and some other prisoners. Luke’s account of the voyage and shipwreck is truly unique among biblical materials. It contains an abundance of geographical and navigational terms, and is regarded as one of the most instructive documents of ancient seamanship.
The ship which they embarked from had its home port at Adramyttium, which was southeast of Troas. Julius, the centurion, knew that the ship would be stopping at the many various ports of Asia Minor, and he knew that he could find a ship bound for Rome at one of them.
They traveled north to Sidon and then along the southern coast of Asia Minor to Myra. It was one of the chief ports of the grain fleet that carried wheat from Alexandria to Rome. Julius secured passage for all of them and they set off for Rome.
In ancient times, sailing on the Mediterranean was considered safe mainly during the spring and summer months. During the months of September through mid-November and February through March, it was subject to sudden winds and storms. Mid-November through January was regarded as “off season” since small vessels, especially, could be dashed to pieces by the sea’s sudden winter storms. They would come very sudden and violently.
By the time Paul and his companions arrived at Fair Havens on the island of Crete, the Day of Atonement, which was October 5th, had already passed. It was very close to the time of the transitional season being upon them. Paul tried to counsel them to just stay put, but they decided to try to get to Phoenix, where the harbor was much better to weather the winter winds.
The Terrible Storm
They had intended just to hug the shore as much as possible until they got to Phoenix, but while they were en route, the wind changed suddenly and the ship was caught by a northeasterly gale that pushed them from the safety of Crete’s shores to the storm-tossed waters of the central Mediterranean Sea. They spent 14 days drifting before they came to the island of Malta. As the crew was trying to bring the boat ashore to the beach, they got stuck on a reef and the boat started to soon break up. This time they did what Paul said, though, and all 276 passengers and crew arrived safely on land.
They spent November through January on Malta, and were treated very hospitably. In February, Julius secured passage for his prisoners on an Alexandrian ship headed for Rome. They stopped along the way at Syracuse (in Sicily) and Rhegium (at the toe of Italy’s boot), and finally disembarked at Puteoli. This was the great emporium for the Alexandrian wheat fleet in the Bay of Naples. Just across the bay from where Paul landed was the city of Pompeii, which was later buried under 20 feet of volcanic debris when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79.
Finally in Italy
Paul visited with some believers in Puteoli and was then taken by land along the famous Appian Way toward Rome. Many Christians had heard he was coming, and they came out to escort him into Rome. Some of them met him at Appii Forum, which was 43 miles south of Rome; and some met him at Three Inns, which was 33 miles south of Rome.
So late in February of A.D. 60, Paul finally got to Rome, which at this time served as the very hub of the Mediterranean world.
The City of Rome
The city itself was on the Tiber River at a ford that was indispensable for traveling between northern and southern Italy. An important east-west route from the sea to the mountains ran through the same general area. Ridges that were called “Rome’s famous seven hills” surrounded the Tiber Valley and provided hilltop fortifications and places of refuge in time of attack. There were communities that clustered on top of and around these significant ridges. Finally they grew so much that they all hooked up together and developed into the huge city of Rome, capital of the Roman Empire.
When Paul entered Rome through the Porta Capena, he received his first view of the Circus Maximus. An aqueduct also ran over the place where Paul entered. The Circus Maximus was an enormous area that was designed for chariot races and had a seating capacity of an estimated 200,000 people. To the right of this area were the palaces of the Caesars that crowned Palatine Hill. Then on the other side of the hill was the Roman forum with all its magnificent temples and its great senate. This is where Paul may have appeared before the Emperor.
At the west end of the forum was the Mamertinum Prison, where according to tradition, Paul and Peter were later imprisoned before their execution. Half a mile further west were the Baths of Nero, built about A.D. 60. The Colosseum that impresses people so today, was only in the process of being built and was not dedicated until A.D. 80.
Paul under House Arrest
Rather than being in prison, Paul was placed under house arrest. He remained in his own quarters under the supervision of the Praetorian guard. This arrangement gave him a great deal of freedom for ministry and interaction with visitors. Luke writes that for two full years Paul continued to preach the kingdom of God and teach about Jesus very openly and unhindered.
Paul wrote at least four Epistles during this period: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. He rejoices in his letter to the Philippians that his imprisonment has only served to further advance the Gospel, and that his witness had even penetrated the Praetorian guard and even Caesar’s household.
It appears that his accusers never showed up in Rome. Without any witnesses or an indictment, there was no trial to be had. After two years of confinement, Paul was released from prison and was able to continue his ministry throughout the Mediterranean world.
Below is a map of the journey that Paul took to finally get to Rome.