In which are the insulai of Philippi

by Craig on March 1, 2011

Until I was 10 I lived in Brooklyn.

We lived in a brownstone apartment like everybody else. The apartments lined the streets wall to wall. Some had pizza parlors on the 1st floor, or a vegetable store, a butcher, or some other shop. But above them – all apartments.

Each city block was a rectangle ringed with the apartment buildings. The area on the inside of those blocks was  a place for laundry to be hung, or balls to get lost.

Everything was about “the block”. Everybody on “the block” knew “Franky boy” or “Big Al” “or “Mikey’s Rochelle” or even “Mary’s Craig”.

It was all blue collar back then.

Things have changed.

Somewhere along the line Brooklyn became trendy and rich people bought all the buildings, and the poor people skidaddled.

Philippi was like that.

The Romans conquered, then moved out the hoi polloi – and moved in.  All the poor were pushed to the south of the city – huddled together like sardines.

Philippian sardines.

The apartments in the Roman Empire were called “insulae”.

One was called an “insula”.

The first floor, facing the street, probably would be a shop of some sort. Just like Brooklyn except no dry cleaning or pizza. If you were a shop owner in Philippi, you’d work all day in your bakery, vegetable store, or restaurant. Your “home” would be a tiny apartment just above the store.

Sometimes a rich family would own some of the better buildings.

They’d live on the first floor, and rent the space above.

The insulai of Philippi came in rectangles, just like Brooklyn. Except, where in Brooklyn, you could shout across alleys to your neighbors. In Philippi you could reach across the alley between the buildings, and actually hand something off to your neighbor.

In the middle of the rectangles there was a small area. If a rich family lived on the first floor this would be their private courtyard. If the whole building were rented, this area would be shared by everybody.

But with the buildings being stories high the small courtyard would be nothing more than a light well.

The second floor housed the ‘luxury apartments’.

These might have as much as 200 square feet apiece. For those of us who don’t think in square, that would be four rooms about six feet by ten feet in size.

But those were the big ones.

Everyone else would be able to claim a single six by six foot room. Larger families, made up of maybe a father, mother, 6 children, and grandparents, might rent two or three of these.

There would be no running water,

no direct sunlight,

no heat for cold nights,

and no breeze during the hot day.

Each morning you would haul water back from the public fountains outside.

If you were lucky you might have a water cistern in the courtyard below.

Either way,

every day would consist of trips to fill up jars,

and then carry the heavy load back to the apartment,

and up dark, dirty, dangerous, and creaky stairs,

where you would squeeze in,

with the rest of the sardines.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle March 1, 2011 at 5:01 am

So, I won’t be a pleb, and I don’t like small spaces or crowds…..think I could get a small plot of land somewhere far away from the towns?


Craig March 1, 2011 at 9:31 am

Sorry – Michelle. If you were Greek, you used to own all that nice farmland – now you can only work for the elite – because they own and control EVERYTHING – oh – and if you were one of those weird – what do they call them – oh yeah – Christians? Well good luck with that.

God Bless Michelle – thank you for reading :)


Anonymuss March 1, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I am really liking the way you are doing this study! The photos combined with your unstuffy writing is almost as good as being on a tour with a very good guide!! I am definitely still on the bus!

Michelle, so funny and so true!


Craig March 1, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Actually I look at he first couple of days of the “tour” and they were a little stuffy – funny how writing this stuff can get so stuffy and blah blah – so fast. Gently – GENTLY – remind me if I ever get blah blah with any of this OK? God bless. and thank you as always A.


violet March 1, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Well isn’t this fun! Love your take on explaining the setting of Philippians. So fun and relatable.

I too have a Bible-only blog — two of them actually. Other Food daily devos is daily devotions for adults (based on a reading schedule put out by the Canadian Bible Society — it’s my daily writing prompt from the Bible and quiet time all tied into one).

Bible Drive-thru is a year’s worth of devotions for kids (which I am cycling through now for the third year). I would be totally honored if you would pay them a visit.


Craig March 1, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Thank you Violet – I hope it’s fun. It is for me :) I’ll be visiting :)


Michelle March 1, 2011 at 3:05 pm

So, what you’re saying is that Phillipi and surrounding countryside (nation) isn’t really the place for me? Ok then, I’ll just stay at my near beach location in Australia and enjoy the tour. :)


Craig March 1, 2011 at 3:23 pm
Debbie March 1, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I really enjoy learning history and what was happening to who and how. Thank you, Craig! Whenever I read something like this though, it just amazes me that the poor weren’t wiped out altogether. How did they survive such bad conditions?
God bless you and all your readers! I love the comments! :) On the bus with A . . .deb


Craig March 1, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Remember Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you”? Truth is, the poor did keep dying way faster than the rich – but there were so many “poor” back then – well there were always more to take their place. And if not them – there were slaves. The rich 1-3% ruled everything – and the 97% were just replaceable parts. It’s like that still in a few places around the globe. Sad isn’t it?


Dianna McBride March 1, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I’m sure you do have a plan, Craig! I have no doubts.

Thank you for this background because I know when we do return to James that I’ll understand it so much better because of seeing the pictures and reading the descriptive. Kind of interesting that Brooklyn and Philippi are so similar.

Have a good evening.


Craig March 1, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I KNOW – who’d ‘uv thunk Brooklyn is Philippi – New Your City is a lot like Rome – from the streets that are grids, to the stadiums, to the public parks. The more things change – the more they stay the same. Thank you for reading Dianna. God bless.


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