Landing at Syracuse (Acts 28:12)

November 3, 2020

The city of Syracuse, located on the southeast coast of Sicily, was founded in 733 BC by Greek settlers from Corinth. Some names associated with Syracuse include Aeschylus, considered the father of the Greek tragedy. The philosopher Plato was in Syracuse. Syracuse was the birthplace of Archimedes, the famous mathematician and most influential scientist of the ancient world.

But to the Bible student, it is its mention in connection with Paul’s journey (as a prisoner, among 276 passengers) to Rome that gives this ancient site special interest. Of that point in the sea voyage portion of the trip Luke writes, “And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days” (Acts 28:12). Here is a photo of the harbor.

Harbor at Syracuse. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

Syracuse is rich in archaeological remains, including Roman and Grecian.

The Roman amphitheater was built in/on a natural rocky outcrop. The building would have been crowned with a portico. The inscriptions on the marble parts of the balustrade designate the seats of the dignitaries from Siracusa. There were eight entrances from the crypta onto the arena.

Roman Amphitheater at Syracuse. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

Fodor’s Italy has this info:

The well-preserved and striking Anfiteatro Romano (Roman Amphitheater) reveals much about the differences between the Greek and Roman personalities. Where drama in the Greek theater was a kind of religious ritual, the Roman amphitheater emphasized the spectacle of combative sports and the circus. This arena is one of the largest of its kind and was built around the 2nd century AD. The corridor where gladiators and beasts entered the ring is still intact, and the seats (some of which still bear the occupants’ names) were hauled in and constructed on the site from huge slabs of limestone. (Fodor’s Italy 2014 Kindle Locations 21621-21622).

Another important site at Syracuse is the Altar of Hieron (perhaps dedicated to Zeus) built in the Hellenistic period by King Hiero II. It is the largest altar known from antiquity.

Grand Altar of Hieron II (275-216 BC), Syracuse. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

The Lexham Bible Dictionary has info on this Grecian period of ancient Syracuse, including references to Hieron I & II.

Syracuse became prominent in the affairs of Sicily under the rule of Gelon from 485–478 BC and his brother Hieron I from 478–467 BC. It flourished after the establishment of a popular government in 466 BC (Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, Hist. 11.68–72). The Syracusans successfully withstood the siege by the Athenians in 414 BC (Thucydides, Hist. 6, 7).

The most famous of the later rulers was Hieron II (275–216 BC). Perhaps the most famous resident of Syracuse, the mathematician and inventor Archimedes, flourished during Hieron’s rule. Under Hieron’s grandson and successor Hieronymus, the Romans under Marcellus conquered the city and it fell in 212 BC (Livy, History of Rome 24.21–33). After that, Syracuse was the capital of the Roman province of Sicily. Wentz, L. Syracuse. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary).

Click images for larger view.


Miletus

April 20, 2010

Miletus was a seaport on the Mediterranean, on the Bay of Latmus. Because of silting filling the gulf, the site is now more than five miles from the coast. The modern name of Miletus is Yeni-Balat. Miletus was a leading harbor during the Persian and Greek periods. Miletus was still an important trade center in Roman times. A temple devoted to the worship of Apollo was located at Miletus.

I had the opportunity in summer of 2006 to visit Miletus.  The photo below shows the ruins of the harbor, and the harbor monument. The circular base in center of photo is the foundation of the great harbor monument.

Miletus Harbor. Foundation of Great Harbor Monument. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Again I had the occasion to see Miletus last month.  This is a shot of the same area, but reflecting winter and spring rains.

Miletus Harbor March 2010. Monument foundation under water. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Note the building which can be seen in both photos, upper right.  This is the ruins of a synagogue.  There is no record of a church at Miletus in the context of Acts 20.

Bible and Spade has this to say regarding Paul’s brief stay at Miletus:

At the head of the harbor Paul would have landed on the marble paved street in front of the harbor stoa, stretching 525 feet along the south end of the bay. On his right he would have seen the large harbor monument built to honor the Emperor Augustus shortly after 31 B.C. The foundations of the Harbor Stoa and Monument are still there today, and not far from them is a partially excavated synagogue, which Paul may have visited. Had the Apostle walked through the center of town, as he no doubt did, he would have passed the Delphinion, the city’s chief religious center, where Apollo was worshiped. After walking 325 feet down the processional road he would come to the great South Agora, equal in size to some sixteen city blocks and surrounded by something like one hundred shops (Vol.2.4.103).

Biblical Significance. On the return route of the 3rd missionary journey, Paul asked the Ephesian elders to meet him here at Miletus (Acts 20:17). Miletus was 37 miles south of Ephesus. The elders accommodated Paul, and thus enabled him to stay near the harbor so that he would not miss the ship going on to Israel. It was here that he poured out his heart to them, admonishing them to take heed to themselves, and to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (Acts 20:28). They prayed and wept freely; then he departed on the ship, sailing to Cos and the following day to Rhodes (one of the islands included on our tour). Reference is later made to Miletus in Paul’s final letter, in 2 Tim. 4:20, as he notes having left Trophimus there due to sickness.

Archaeological work has been conducted mostly by German teams from 1899-1914, 1938-9 and since 1955. We plan to share more photos of Miletus within the next day or two, including some of the areas referenced above in the Bible and Spade quote, so be sure to check back for more.


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