The Apostle Paul entered Italy via this port on the way to his trial (@ 60AD) in Rome. Acts 28: 13, 14 tell us that he stayed here for 7 days visiting with the saints. There must have been a thriving local fellowship in Puteoli, for the Apostle to stay as long as he did. This also gives you a sense of how much respect Paul had garnished with Julius – the Roman Centurion charged with bringing him to Rome (see Acts 27: 6).
“After three months we sailed in an Alexandrian ship whose figurehead was the Twin Brothers, which had wintered at the island. And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days. From there we circled round and reached Rhegium. And after one day the south wind blew; and the next day we came to Puteoli, where we found brethren, and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.”
Orthodox Church tradition holds that Patrobus (mentioned in Romans 16: 14) was from this area. The claim is that he was also one of those who were among the 70 commissioned by the Lord in Luke 10: 1 – 16. The Roman Catholic Church however rejects this assertion. It is likely that the fellowship in Rome did have some impact in the founding of the assembly here.
Puteoli is a port city along the coast of Campania in Italy. It is situated on the northern shore of a recess in the Gulf of Naples. Derived from a term meaning “sulfur springs”, the locale was said to have an odor due to the close proximity of sulfur-laden springs and wells.
The Carthaginians under Hannibal sought to gain a seaport here in 214BC. This would have been used a springboard for operations against Rome – and a place from which to bring in supplies. However, a Roman garrison was able to repulse the invaders near its ancient walls.
The Romans would eventually establish a colony here in 194BC. It was the first major port in the Gulf of Naples. The coast closer to Rome was more treacherous. As a result, this was the primary harbor used for commerce and travel to Rome itself (which lays some 142 miles away). It wasn’t until Claudius (10BC – 54AD) created an artificial harbor at Portus Augusti that another port would become a primary means for reaching the capitol city. Later, Trajan (53 – 117AD) would expand the mouth of the Tiber River as well and establish the Ostian Port (about 25 miles due west of Rome).
Alexandrian grains ships would use this port for unloading cargo. These same ships often carried minted Roman coinage for use in the Empire. Other ships would use this harbor for delivery of goods from the orient and elsewhere. It would have been famous in the 1st Century for being a resort town, having excellent pottery, perfumes, and mosaics. Its chief export would have been a strong form of cement made of volcanic ash. At its peak, the city may have reached 100,000 in population.
Did You Know?
It would appear that Puteoli had just gone through some political turmoil shortly before Paul’s arrival. Tacitus records that an uprising of sorts had occurred here in 58AD or two years earlier:
“During the same consulship a hearing was given to two conflicting deputations from Puteoli, sent to the Senate by the town council and by the populace. The first spoke bitterly of the violence of the multitude; the second, of the rapacity of the magistrates and of all the chief citizens. That the disturbance, which had gone as far as stoning and threats of fire, might not lead on to bloodshed and armed fighting, Caius Cassius was appointed to apply some remedy. As they would not endure his rigor, the charge of the affair was at his own request transferred to the brothers Scribonii, to whom was given a praetorian cohort, the terror of which, coupled with the execution of a few persons, restored peace to the townspeople”
Tacitus, The Annals XIII
Tradition holds that Emperor Diocletian martyred a number of prominent Church leaders here in 305AD within Puteoli’s amphitheater. The names of those who died include Proculus, Sossius, Festus, Desiderius, Acutius, Eutyches, Artemas, and Gantiol.
The remains of that large amphitheater are still in tact. The quay where Paul landed can also be seen. It is believed to have extended 418 yards out into the Gulf and acted as a protective barrier. The shoreline for commerce extended over a mile.