The church in Rome, to which Paul wrote the Roman letter from Corinth, was not founded by Paul. He had not yet been to Rome, but hoped to visit the city soon and with that church's help go on to preach in Spain (Rom 15:22-24).
The church in Rome was probably founded by early converts, "visitors from Rome, " who had been converted on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). It seems to have been composed of both Jews (Rom 7:1,4) and Gentiles (11:13) when Paul wrote his letter. The letter addresses problems between the two groups.
Rome was typical of the urban metropolises of the day, filled with arches, streets, and aqueducts, crowded with buildings, and, unlike some others, punctuated with imported Egyptian obelisks. Its population is estimated to have been between six hundred thousand and one million in the first century. Rome was built on seven hills along the east bank of the Tiber River, twenty-two miles from its mouth. The heart of the city was the area between the Palatine and Esquiline Hills, occupied by the Roman Forum and the Imperial Fora. Adjacent to this area on the south was the Colosseum and to the west, between the Palatine and Aventine Hills, stood the Circus Maximus. Not a few ancient Christians lost their lives in this circus. Many impressive buildings, such as temples and bathhouses, were built surrounding this central area. These included the still beautifully preserved Pantheon.
During the period of the Republic, prior to first century b.c., many ancient buildings were restored or rebuilt and the Appian Way, the major road from Rome to points south culminating in Brindisium, was lined with tombs. Paul traveled a part of this road from Capua to Rome as he passed through Three Taverns and the Forum of Appius (Acts 28:15). At the close of this period, Julius Caesar reconstructed the Roman Forum. It has been suggested that Paul probably heard his death sentence in the Basilica Julia at the western end of this forum.
In the period of the empire, the city was greatly expanded, beginning with the work of Augustus, in whose reign Christ was born. The Mausoleum of Augustus was erected in the Campus Martius on the east bank of the Tiber River as was the Pantheon, which was a temple dedicated to all the gods by Augustus's architect Agrippa, between 27 and 25 b.c.
After the fire of Rome in a.d. 64, which the first-century Roman historian Tacitus insisted was caused by Nero, this depraved emperor rebuilt a considerable portion of the city, including his two hundred-acre imperial palace, the Golden House, which contained a 120 feet high gilded bronze statue of himself as the Sun.
Vespasian began work in 72 on the Colosseum, which his son Titus completed as emperor in 80. It still stands as a landmark in Rome. The beautifully preserved Arch of Titus, giving access to the Forum Romanum from the south, was erected by Domitian and the Senate in honor of Titus in a.d. 81, just after his death. Faced with Pentelic marble, it contained one arch with depictions on the inside. Among other things these include the spoils of Jerusalem's temple being carried awaythe minora, the table of showbread, the sacred trumpets, and tablets fastened on sticks.
Paul spent two years under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:16-30) and years later was imprisoned again, awaiting execution (2 Tim 4:6-8). It is possible that Paul was incarcerated in the Mammertine Prison, located at the foot of the Capitoline Hill. Since the sixteenth century it has been called San Pietro in Carcere, preserving a tradition that Peter was imprisoned here as well.
Four churches in Rome were possibly directly connected with the New Testament. The Church of St. Peter in the Vatican, on the west side of the Tiber River, has marked the spot where tradition dating to the second century places the burial of Simon Peter. Excavations have produced no conclusive evidence of the bones of Peter as some have claimed.
The Church of St. Clement located in the district of the Caelian Hill, east of the Colosseum, is built over a first-century house that is thought to have belonged to Clement of Rome, who was the probable author of a letter (1 Clement) around a.d. 90 from the church in Rome to the church in Corinth.
This may be the person who is referred to by Paul in his letter from Rome to the Philippians (4:3). Irenaeus, in the late second century, wrote that Peter and Paul founded the church in Rome and were succeeded by Linus, Anacletus, and Clement. Jerome seems to have known this church.
The Church of Santa Pudenziana, located on the Via Urbana, between the Viminal and the Esquiline hills, may stand over the site of the house of Pudens, a person referred to by Paul in his last letter, written from Rome (2 Tim 4:21). He was a Roman Christian who sent greetings to Timothy via Paul's letter. A tradition suggests that he may have been a senator in whose home Christians met and that the church may preserve the name of his daughter.
The largest church in Rome after St. Peter's is the Church of St. Paul Outside the Walls, located about a mile from the Gate of St. Paul, on the Via Ostiense. No real excavation has been done here, but the site is thought to be the location of the church built by Constantine to replace an oratory that had been built over the place where Lucina, a Roman matron, had buried Paul in her vineyard.
Bibliography. M. Cary, A History of Rome Down to the Reign of Constantine; S. A. Cook, et al., eds., The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. 10, The Augustan Empire 44 B.C.-A.D. 70; J. Finegan, The Archaeology of the New Testament: The Mediterranean World of the Early Christian Apostles; J. McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament.
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.