Search for page by title (auto-completes)
Advanced search
Translate into

The Bible

OT Overview

NT Overview

OT Books

NT Books

OT History

NT History

OT Studies

Pentateuch Studies

History Books Studies

Studies in the Prophets

NT Studies

Studies in the Gospels

Acts and Letters Studies

Revelation Studies

Inductive Study

Types of Literature


Early Church

British Museum


Historical Documents

Life Questions

How to Preach


SBS Staff

Advanced Search
Search for word or phrase within each page
Search by OT book and chapter
Search by NT book and chapter

Travel in the Roman Empire during the First Century

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Related articles

Virtual Missionary Journeys

Travel within the Roman Empire

The Romans did more to facilitate travel than any other empire. They built major roads, cleared the seas of pirates, and instituted one currency. Until the invention of the steam engine, there was no time easier to travel than in Paul's day. It is estimated that Paul travelled the equivalent of nearly half-way around the world, over 16,000 km (10,000 miles) by land and sea.

The Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, declared by Emperor Augustus (27 BC - AD 14) enabled people like Paul to travel relatively safely in the first century. Epicetus, the Stoic philosopher wrote: "There are neither wars nor battles, nor great robberies nor piracies, but we may travel at all hours, and sail from east to west."

Historian Lionel Casson writes: "The traveller could make his way from the shores of the Euphrates to the border between England and Scotland without crossing a foreign frontier. ... He could sail through any waters without fear of pirates, thanks to the emperor's patrol squadrons. A planned network of roads gave him access to all major centres, and the through routes were policed well enough for him to ride them with relatively little fear of bandits."

M. Ramsey, the NT archaeologist, writes: "The Roman roads were probably at their best during the first century after Augustus had put an end to war and disorder. ... Thus Paul travelled in the best and safest period."

Roman Roads

By AD 300, the Romans had built a marvellous network of over 85,000 km (53,000 miles) of well-made roads throughout their empire, primarily for military purposes. They were normally three to four metres (ten to twelve feet) wide, and paved with stones. The routes of many Roman roads are still followed by roads today.

Plutarch wrote about the work of one official: "The roads were carried through the country in a perfectly straight line, and were paved with hewn stone and reinforced with banks of tight-rammed sand. Depressions were filled up, all intersecting torrents or ravines were bridged, and both sides were of equal and corresponding height, so that the work presented everywhere an even and beautiful appearance. Besides all this, he measured off all the roads by miles ... and planted stone pillars as distance markers."

The Roman mile (mille passus = 1000 paces) was a thousand five-foot paces, about ninety-five feet shorter than a modern English mile, approx 1.6 km. The mile markers were inscribed stone columns 1.8 meters (five to six feet) tall.

Roman roads used by Paul

On his first missionary journey, after he had crossed inland from the southern coast of Turkey, he used the Via Sebaste to travel through Galatia. This road was built by Augustus in 6 BC, connecting six military colonies, including Antioch in Pisidia. Paul would have used this road on all three of his missionary journeys.

On his second missionary journey, after landing in Neapolis, he took the Via Egnatia from Philippi to Thessalonica. This was a major highway built by the Romans after they took over Macedonia in 148 BC. It crossed Greece and eventually reached Byzantium (modern Istanbul).

On his journey to Rome, he landed at Puteoli in Italy, then travelled along the most famous Roman road, the Via Appia, the road running south from Rome, which had been built in the third century BC.

How far did Paul travel?

Looking at the routes of Paul's travels in the Book of Acts it is possible to calculate approximately how far he travelled on his three missionary journeys, plus other journeys. We have to remember that Luke only gives a selective account in the Book of Acts, so it is certain that Paul also made additional journeys not mentioned by Luke, including the so-called painful visit to Corinth (2 Cor 2:1). The total is over 8000 km (5000 miles) on foot and 8500 km (5300 miles) by ship. At a rate of 30 km (20 miles) a day, Paul spent about 250 days, or eight months, walking.

First Missionary Journey1200 km walking, 900 km by ship
Council of Jerusalem1400 km walking
Second Missionary Journey2500 km walking, 2500 km by ship
Third Missionary Journey2800 km walking, 2030 km by ship
Journey to Rome310 km walking, 3080 km by ship

Foot or donkey

On Roman roads soldiers could march six km (four miles) per hour, and on forced marches at eight km (five miles) per hour. The average traveller walked five km (three miles) per hour for seven hours a day, making about 30 km (20 miles) in a day. Peter's trip from Joppa to Caesarea was 60 km (40 miles), and took two days (Acts 10:23-24).

If a person travelled on a donkey, there was the danger that the donkey could be requisitioned by any soldier or official without any recompense.

Among Jews, a day's journey ranged from twenty to thirty miles. A large company would only go about ten miles. A Sabbath day's journey was less than two miles. Whenever travellers would meet on the road they would greet each other in a very lengthy manner, often delaying their trip.

Travel on foot was for the common and poor person. Walkers had to wear heavy shoes or sandals, and to carry tents, bedding and provisions. Travel in the winter was more difficult as snow often blocked high passes, and rains in October and May flooded the rivers, making them difficult to cross. People travelling by foot would try to travel in groups for protection against the numerous robbers, particularly in isolated areas. There was also danger from wild animals, such as bears and wolves. A caravan leader would often pay leaders of certain locations for safe passage through that territory. The roads were slower but safer than sea travel. Paul wrote: “I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits ... in danger in the country". (2 Cor 11:26)


On horseback, greater speeds could be accomplished. Julius Caesar covered the 1200 km (800 miles) from the River Rhone in France to Rome in eight days. Tiberius raced 800 km (500 miles) in three days to reach his wounded brother Drusus.

The official messenger system, the Cursus Publicus, used couriers who changed horses at stations every 15 km (ten miles), or at mansiones every 30 or 40 km (twenty or thirty miles). They were expected to cover 80 km (fifty miles) per day. The same messenger (rather than a relay of messengers) carried such important news as the death or accession of a new emperor. A courier could travel from Rome to Palestine in forty-six days, and from Rome to Egypt in sixty-four days.

Normally, only military personnel and government officials travelled by horse. The only time Paul used a horse was when he was escorted as a prisoner by soldiers from Jerusalem to Caesarea (Acts 23:23-24).

Horse and carriage

A carriage could cover between 35 and 40 km (twenty-five and thirty miles) in a day. Roman vehicles had no springs, so passengers felt every bump in the road. The carpentium was a two-wheeled deluxe carriage, and the redda was a four-wheeled wagon. A variety of carriages could be hired relative to a person's income. Carriages could be found outside a city's gate. Rich people with time travelled in comfort, ordering slaves to organise heavy luggage and transport. Some were even carried on litters. The Ethiopian treasurer of Queen Candace could afford a chauffeur-driven chariot (Act 8:28,38).


The Romans built official inns at regular intervals of a day's journey, adding smaller hostels between for slower travellers. An inn was an oblong building with stables, kitchen and dining room on the ground floor, and bedrooms on the upper floor. There was often a courtyard on the side with a smith and repair shop. Other inns were just an empty shell with a place for animals and people alike. In the cities there were a variety of hostels, restaurants and snack-bars, but due to a bad reputation, visitors staying more than a day or two would hire private lodgings. Affluent Romans avoided the inns, preferring to set up their own tents, or to stay with friends. Roman writers such as Horace or Apuleius criticized inns for their adulterated wine, filthy sleeping quarters, bed bugs, extortionate innkeepers, gamblers, thieves and prostitutes.

There is no record in the NT of Paul staying in an inn. Christians were urged to practice hospitality for travelling believers. John commended Gaius for opening his home to travelling preachers (3 Jn 5-6). Paul enjoyed the hospitality of Lydia in Philippi (Acts 16:15), of Jason in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5), and of Gaius in Corinth (Rom 16:23). However, Christian hospitality could be abused. The Didache warns of this, saying, "Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord. But he is not to stay for more than one day, unless there is need, in which case he may stay another. But if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle leaves, he it to take nothing except bread until he finds his next night's lodging. But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet." (Didache 11)


The fastest form of long-distance travel was by ship. Ship travel was only done between the months of April and October. Because of the danger, no one sailed in the winter unless business was urgent. There were no fixed sailing times. The captain would wait for the right wind and weather and for the right omens.

Paul normally sailed eastwards from Greece to Israel, but always travelled westwards by land from Israel to Greece. The only time he travelled west by ship was on his journey to Rome as a prisoner. The prevailing winds during the summer sailing season blew from the north-west. This made the eastward journey quicker and easier. It could take ten days to sail from Rome to Alexandria in Egypt and up to two months to return. The return trip was made by sailing north from Egypt along the coast of Israel, then west along the southern coast of Turkey, north of the island of Cyprus. Ancient ships normally only had one main square sail, so their ability to tack against the wind was limited. Whenever they could, ships would sail close to the shore to avoid bad weather.

There were no ships dedicated to carrying passengers. Passengers had to travel on cargo ships when space was available. It cost a family two drachma (two days wages) to sail from Alexandria to Athens. Because the ships carried cargo, they would often dock at night. Water was provided for passengers, but no food or accommodation. Passengers would go ashore to find their own housing and they were always responsible for their own food. All passage was arranged with the captain. The two main types of ships in Paul's day were merchant ships or warships. Ships were propelled by oar or by sail. Pirates were always a threat, although the Roman government did a good job in keeping them at bay.

Travelling by ship was dangerous. Most people would be reluctant or fearful about taking on the risks of sea travel, as there were frequent shipwrecks. Part of the way through his third missionary journey Paul wrote, "Three times I was ship-wrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea." (2 Cor 11:25). There are no records of these disasters in the Book of Acts. He was ship-wrecked a further time on the rocks of Malta on his journey to Rome, but all were able to reach the shore either by swimming or by holding onto planks or pieces of the ship (Acts 27:44).

The grain ships from Alexandria played a key role in the ancient world. Egyptian wheat supplied at least a third of the grain needed to feed the population of Rome. Rome needed to import between 200,000 and 400,000 tons of wheat a year to feed its population of about one million. Paul travelled on one of these grain ships on his journey to Rome. Some of these ships were huge: 180 feet long, 45 feet wide and deep, and could carry 1,200 tons of grain.

Some of the Major Routes

1. Via Egnatia. The post road to the East from Rome.
Rome to Brundisium, Dyrrhachium, Thessalonica, Neapolis (for Philippi), Troas, Pergamum, Philadephia, Acmonia, Julia-Ipsos, Philomelion, Tarsus, Syrian Antioch, Caesarea (Palestine) to Alexandria (Egypt).

2. Via Sebaste. The central route to the East from Rome.
Rome to Brundisium, Corinth, Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Laodicea, Apamea, Pisidian Antioch, (or Julia-Ipsos & Philomelion), Iconium, Tarsus, Syrian Antioch

3. Great Road North
Linking Ephesus, the main port of Asia, with Pergamum, the Roman capital of Asia, through Smyrna. This was the earliest Roman road built in Asia between 133-130 BC.

4. Imperial Post Road
Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Ephesus, or to the East
The cities of the seven churches of Revelation lay on these two roads (Great Road North and Imperial Post Road). A route using both these roads would make a circular route starting and finishing at Ephesus.

5. Anatolian Circuit
Pontus (Amastric, Sinope or Amisos) to Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.
The cities and regions addressed in 1 Peter lay on this road.


Edwin M. Yamauchi: On the Road with Paul - "The Ease - and dangers - of Travel in the Ancient World"

Related articles

Virtual Missionary Journeys

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
OT 2: Exodus and Wilderness
OT 3: Conquest and Monarchy
OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
OT 5: Return from Exile
OT 6: 400 Silent Years

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

NT 1: Life and Ministry of Jesus
NT 2: Birth of the Church
NT 3: Paul's Missionary Journeys
NT 4: Paul's Imprisonment
NT 5: John and Later NT

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Genesis Exodus Leviticus
Numbers Deuteronomy

Joshua Judges Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel 1 & 2 Kings Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah Esther

Job Psalms Proverbs

Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel

Hosea Joel Amos
Obadiah Jonah Micah
Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah
Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Matthew's Gospel Mark's Gospel Luke's Gospel
John's Gospel

Book of Acts

Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians
Colossians 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon

Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 & 3 John


Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

Canaanite Religion
Israel's Enemies During the Conquest
Syria / Aram
The Assyrian Empire
Babylon and its History
The Persian Empire
The Greek Empire
The 400 Silent Years
The Ptolemies and Seleucids
Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Jewish Calendar
The Importance of Paradox
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
OT People Search
Ephah Converter (volumes)
Holy War in the Ancient World
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
King Jeroboam I of Israel
The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah

Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Kingdom of God / Heaven
Parousia (Coming of Christ)
The Importance of Paradox

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Unique Passages in the Synoptic Gospels
The SynopticProblem
Genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey. More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?
Paul and the Greek Games

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
The Millennium (1000 years)
The Rapture and the Tribulation
Different Approaches to Revelation
Predicted Dates of the Second Coming

Revelation Commentary (10 pages)

How to do Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

How to Study the Bible Inductively
I. The Inductive Study Method
II. Observation Questions
III. Interpretation Questions
IV. Structure of Books
V. Determining the Historical background
VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
Major Archaeological Sites in Israel
Archaeological Sites in Assyria, Babylon and Persia
Virtual Paul's Missionary Journeys
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
Photos of the City of Corinth
Photos of the City of Ephesus

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
Israel Museum Photos

Difficult Theological and Ethical Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

Christian Ethics
Never Heard the Gospel
Is there Ever a Just War?
Why Does God Allow Suffering
Handling Disappointment

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

What is Preaching?
I. Two Approaches to Preaching
II. Study a Passage for Preaching
III. Creating a Message Outline
IV. Making Preaching Relevant
V. Presentation and Public Speaking
VI. Preaching Feedback and Critique
Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.

Teaching on SBS Book Topics for SBS