Roman Prisons

Roman Prisons
Written by: Samantha Wichman

Unlike today, Roman prisons in Paul’s time were primarily used as a holding place for people who were condemned to die. A person awaiting trial would occasionally be held in prison, but more often (and based on their class status) they would either be chained to a guard under house arrest, or voluntarily exile themselves. While those who break the law are sentenced to time in prison as punishment today, this wasn’t the case in Ancient Rome.

One of the most famous Roman prisons is the Carcer Tullianum (this translates to Tullianum Prison in Latin). This prison is an underground dungeon where some of Rome’s most well-known prisoners were once held, including (possible) Paul and Peter.

The Carcer Tullianum is located on the southern slope of the Capitoline Hill, near the Roman Forum. After digging in this area for three years, archaeologists now believe that the Tullianum actually predates Rome itself. You can read more about this by following this link. 

The Tullianum, also known as Mamertine Prison, was constructed sometime in the 7th Century B.C. and consists of an upper chamber and a lower dungeon. Both are now below street level, but the upper chamber used to be at street level. Stairs now lead people down to the upper chamber, which is a room with a small hole in the middle of the floor. Prisoners were let down through this hole into the dungeon below, which is approximately 6.5 feet tall, 30 feet long, and 22 feet wide. 

A small stream flows into this underground dungeon, and as “tullius” means “water spring” in Latin, may be how this prison received its name. The prison may also have been named after two of Rome’s kings: Tullus Hostilius or Servius Tullius.

Many people believe that Peter and Paul both spent time in this very prison, although this idea lacks some historical evidence. Some also believe that Paul miraculously caused the stream of water to begin flowing through this prison so that he could baptize his guards. Whether or not these apostles were actually imprisoned here, the Carcer Tullianum still gives us some important insight into what imprisonment in the time of Rome was actually like.

To learn more about this prison, check out the following article: https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium.MAGAZINE-ancient-prison-of-saints-jewish-rebels-reopens-1.5420806
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