Coin of Nero. Macedonia: Thessalonika, copper, 21 x23 mm. This handsome coin is dated quite precisely to 55-57 A.D. Hence it would have been “brand-new” either when Paul arrived, or when he came back on his return trip east. It has Nero’s bare head left and on the reverse the word QECCALONIKEWN [written in Greek alphabet, not supported by this site's software] in three lines below an eagle, all within a wreath.
Now, at this point in Paul’s travels, I am going to deviate from the generally accepted itinerary by having him continue west along the Egnatian Way rather than turning south. Acts’ very brief, even rudimentary, account of Paul’s journey has him going directly from Thessalonika to “Greece” (i.e. the province of Achaia), ostensibly to visit Corinth.
Other scholars, however, point out a brief passage in Romans (15:19b), “…so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ”. Illyricum was a region of or near to western Macedonia. The only opportunity for Paul to have gone there would have been at this point in his Third Missionary Journey. It is about 200 miles almost due west from Thessalonika to the major port cities of Illyricum: i.e. Apollonia and Dyrrhachium. This trip could have been completed in about 2 weeks with steady traveling.
Coin of Illyria: Dyrrhachium (under Roman protectorate), silver drachm, 17 mm. This little silver coin is extremely common today; and we know that it had been produced in large numbers over a long period of time. The specimen I have was minted in ca. 4 B.C. As stated above (q.v. page 1) silver coins stayed in circulation far longer than bronze or copper. Hence it is entirely conceivable that Paul would have seen these silver drachms; and not only seen them. In fact, in order to book passage to Corinth via Patrae, as I propose he did, he would have needed them to pay the ship’s captain. These coins are all uniform in design and feature a cow standing suckling her calf on one side, and on the other, a square device within which is a double stellate pattern. The city’s name is spelled out in letters around the square, in this case D¡RDION¡SIO¡ [in Greek] for Dyrrhachium.
Of course Paul still planned to go to Corinth to minister to the important community he had established there on his last journey. Being in Illyricum on the coast of the Ionian Sea, Paul was admirably situated to voyage to Corinth by sea; a much easier trip than returning overland to Thessalonika, and taking ship from there. He would have traveled down the coast from Illyricum, past western Greece, to the northwesternmost coast of the Peloponessus. There at the entrance to the Gulf of Corinth is the great port city of Patrae. Paul could have disembarked there and easily taken a smaller vessel the rest of the way to Corinth.
Coin of Marcus Antonius. Achaia: Patrae, silver denarius, 32-31 B.C. Marc Antony minted these silver denarii to pay his legions during the war he fought with Octavian (later Augustus). This war culminated in the famous battle of Actium. Actium is but a short distance up the coast from Patrae where Antony had his main base of operations. The coin features on its obverse a praetorian galley, and on its reverse, a legionary eagle between two standards. A great number of these silver coins were minted and had a wide distribution (some have been found in Britain!). Even though these coins were struck more than 80 years previously, silver coins had a long circulation. Paul would surely have seen these when he reached Patrae, and may also have seen them in Corinth.
Late 56 to early 57 A.D. Corinth to Macedonia
We are told specifically, in Acts, that Paul spent three months in Corinth. This may have been the winter months when travel by sea was never attempted on account of prevailing winds and weather. Paul’s plan was to embark from Corinth, via its port of Cenchreae, and sail to Jerusalem; so he used this time to minister to the church at Corinth one last time. This must have been his most pleasant visit judging by the happiness with which he received Titus’ report (see above).
Once spring arrived and sea travel could again commence, Paul had to change his plan. We are told in Acts 20:3, “He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia”. This alternate plan sent Paul (and a sizeable company) back yet again to Macedonia where at Thessalonika he would have seen a third (and newly minted) coin of Nero.
Coin of Nero. Macedonian koinon: prob. Thessalonika, copper, 29 x 31 mm. This is a very large coin, weighing over 14 grams. It is on an oval flan and features Nero’s bare head left and on the reverse a complex, detailed image of Mars, the god of war, standing and holding a spear with a shield below. Paul would certainly have noticed this coin for its newness and its very large size.
57 A.D. Macedonia to Troas, Assos and Miletus
Paul continued to retrace his previous route, but backwards, by going from Macedonia to the great port of Troas. He stayed there seven days, as we are told by Acts (20: 7-12). No noteworthy coins would have appeared there since he was last in that port.
“He met us in Assos” Acts 20: 14a.
What Paul had decided to do was to travel overland from Troas to Assos, from whence he could take a ship for Miletus, his final point of departure from Asia for Judaea. We are not told why Paul decided to embark from Assos instead of from Troas. We do know that Paul and his companions were carrying monies for the “poor in Jerusalem”, and so Paul had to be careful. Assos was a port just south of Troas, no great distance. On the way to Miletus he would pass Ephesus, but he was particular in not wanting to revisit Ephesus for reasons almost certainly having to do with his imprisonment there and the great unrest.
The authors of The Pocket Guide to St. Paul spend some space and words on the coins that were minted at Assos, by Augustus, and then by Claudius. The Augustan coins would not have been much in evidence because of the number of years intervening. And although the Claudian coins were contemporary, Paul might not have seen them since for him Assos was simply a way station on his journey, and he was not there long.
“When he [Paul] met us in Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. We sailed from there, and on the following day we arrived opposite Chios. The next day we touched at Samos, and the day after that we came to Miletus”. Acts 20: 14-16.
I have no idea why the writer of Acts is so precise about the sea route taken, but it is easy to follow on a map. The boat they were on must have been some sort of trading vessel visiting every Aegean port along the way (except Ephesus). In any event, once Paul and company reached Miletus he arranged for the church leaders still in Ephesus to come down and meet with them there. Miletus is only about 30 miles as the crow flies from Ephesus, but that over a large inlet, necessitating an overland route quite round-about. The Ephesan elders may have had the good fortune to take a ferry to get to Miletus. The Pocket Guide points out that Miletus was an ancient city, even older than Ephesus. In Paul’s day it was a “busy trading center acting as a seaport for the Meander Valley which extended well into Anatolia”.
Paul’s short stay in Miletus may have precluded seeing any of that city’s coins. Nevertheless, there was a short series of coins minted there by Gaius (Caligula) and also some by Claudius. I have never seen any of these offered for sale.
57 A.D. Patara, Tyre, Ptolemais, Caesarea
“We came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. When we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail… We landed at Tyre…and stayed there seven days…We arrived at Ptolemais… The next day we left and came to Caesarea…staying there for several days”. Acts 21:1b, 2, 3b, 4b, 7b, 8a, 10a.
We are nearing the end of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey. Paul has now set sail from the Ionian coast, leaving the Roman province of Asia, never to return. He has set his sights on getting to Jerusalem. There he hopes to renew his ties to the Christian brethren there, and no doubt is hoping that the monies he is bringing will smooth over any disagreeable situations; for we are told in Romans 15:31 and in Acts 20:22-23 that he expected trouble in Jerusalem (more on that below).
As usual, when Acts has nothing to say it reverts to the “travelogue”. We need not pay any attention to what coins might have been in use in these intermediate ports of call, because Paul and company would not have been in any of them long enough to need local money. It is only when they reach Tyre in Syrian Phoenicia that we must again review what coins might have been in evidence.
We have spoken of Tyre previously when discussing the silver coins used by Jews wishing to enter their temple in Jerusalem (the so-called “temple tax”). These full and half shekels were minted for hundreds of years in Tyre. They were recognized everywhere in the Province of Syria (and beyond) because of their silver content which was consistently 90% pure by weight. My specimen half-shekel was minted in the years 35-36 A.D. If Paul had not seen my coin or one like it on his previous visits to Jerusalem, he would have had another chance in Tyre for we are told he stayed there for a week.
Tyre itself was a busy seaport and had been an important Phoenician city going back into antiquity; it is mentioned in Egyptian texts of the 19th century B.C.! It was originally an island but “in 332 B.C. Alexander the Great built a causeway to it which slowly expanded over time to become a wide isthmus, converting Tyre into a peninsula” (Pocket Guide).
The next port of call was Ptolemais (originally known as Akka or Akko). The name was changed to Ptolemais by Ptolemy II, and named after himself when he took it from Seleucus I in 281 B.C. By the time of Claudius the name appears to have been changed again to ‘Germanicia in Ptolemais’:
Coin of Claudius. Syria: Ptolemais (Akka), bronze 20 mm. This coin dates to 50-51 A.D. so it would have been fairly new when Paul arrived in about 58 A.D. There are no legends on the obverse, only the head of the emperor (and a counter-mark). On the reverse however, we see the inscription GERMANIEWN TWN EN PTOLEMAIDI, which means ‘of the Germanicians in Ptolemais’. The city had become a Roman colony sometime after this coin was minted and the name Germanicia derives from one of Claudius’ titles, Germanicus, which he inherited from his illustrious father, Nero Claudius Drusus. Also featured on the reverse is an image of Tyche standing with a rudder and cornucopia.
Moving on down the coast Paul and company finally arrived at their destination, the great port of Caesarea Maritima, constructed by Herod the Great. I will discuss the coins of this place later. We are told that Paul stayed with a Christian called Phillip “who was one of the seven officers appointed by the early church to supervise the distributions of food” (Pocket Guide). Paul must have felt some real relief after carrying for so long the monies he had collected for the “poor in Jerusalem”, which were given by the churches of Asia and Macedonia. In Caesarea he could safely give them over to Phillip, and in any event, Caesarea was a very well policed place being the seat of the Roman governor.
May 57 A.D. Jerusalem
“After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem.” Acts 21:15
How Acts describes what happened to Paul in Jerusalem is, in my opinion, perhaps the most problematic of any of the accounts. The events simply do not follow logically one to the other. This is a brief synopsis: Paul goes to Jerusalem and immediately seeks out the Christian leadership there, to report on what he had been doing on his recent missionary journey and (although never reported) it must be assumed he also presented the collection of monies for the saints there. Whereupon the elders there praised God. But upon the heels of this praise, the elders begin to speak of all of the Jews who believed that Paul was teaching contrary to their laws (e.g. circumcision). The elders then suggested that to ameliorate this situation and mollify the Jews, Paul should undergo a rite of purification to show he was an observer of the law. The rite took seven days and when these were almost finished, suddenly Jews from Asia arrived! They brought their usual charges of apostasy against Paul, inciting a crowd to attack him. Was this simply a coincidence? It seems hardly believable.
Paul had been gone from Asia, depending upon the length of time he stayed in Ephesus, for at least one year and perhaps even two years. And yet as soon as he arrives in Jerusalem a delegation of Jews from Asia arrive?! Something is mixed up here. In any event, Paul is rescued by the Roman soldiery and taken for safe-keeping to the fortress. There he meets with the Roman tribune and to avoid punishment divulges that he is a Roman citizen. The Roman tribune is impressed by this. The following day he brings the Jews and Paul together to hear the complaints against him. Paul speaks to the Jews. As usual they do not listen and become agitated all over again. Paul is once again rescued and taken back to the Roman headquarters.
Then we are told a new plot has been hatched by the Jews to kill Paul in an ambush. The son of Paul’s sister (his nephew) learns of this plot and tells Paul and the tribune. At this point the tribune decides nothing can be done whilst still in Jerusalem and orders that Paul be taken to Caesarea Maritima to the governor there, Antoninus Felix.