In which we take a closer look at “home” in Philippi

by Craig on March 3, 2011

So far we’ve trekked across Greece (here), entered the city gates of Philippi (here), and we began a look at the tenements (here).  I want to stay here a little more today because this was how our Philippian brothers and sisters lived.

We know everyone was cramped in the apartments like cans on a grocery store shelf.

But there’s more.

They were noisy too.

We joke about paper thin walls – but their walls really were about that thick. Paper thin pieces of wood. So there was nothing blocking the noise of the neighbors – or the din of the city.

To get a tiny bit more quiet you could close the shutters of the window – if you happened to have one.  But if you did that you got no fresh air – and no breeze in the heat of day or night.

There was a Roman poet, named Martial. He  lived in Rome, on the third floor of one of these apartments called an “insula”. He gets points from me because he had problems sleeping.

With his sleep thing, he often wrote his poetry at night.

Living in an insula only made his sleep thing worse and he writes of being robbed of slumber by continual noise:

“…from school teachers in the morning, bakers all night, and coppersmiths, currency exchangers, worshipers involved in ecstatic rites, bawling beggars, and shopkeepers all day long.”

But things were worse than noisy.

These apartments were often just built for quick profit. Quality workmanship was not at a premium. Fires were frequent and building collapses were accepted as a normal part of city life.

The insulae were built on the cheap

to pack people in,

rake in rent,

and then rebuild again after they fell down,

often for new renters,

because the previous ones were dead.

It was all.  just.  business.

Fires were that biggest killers. Cooking meals indoors meant setting a portable cooking stove by the window. Then hoping (mostly in vain) that the smoke would leave through it.

In a poorly constructed apartment made of wood, with no fire escape, and vulnerable to collapse, disaster was an oft invited dinner guest – and wasn’t big on skipping meals.

Even a small fire would spell doom.

It would spread like flames in dry grass.

Nobody on the third floor or above would leave alive.

Remember that Great Fire of Rome – the one Nero “fiddled” through? It began in the insulae. It was only one of many – but one that got really out of hand. And it was blamed on Christians.

There was another Roman writer named Juvenal, who had this to say abut living in the “insulae”:

“Who at cool Praeneste, or at Volsinii amid its leafy hills, was ever afraid of his house tumbling down? … But here we inhabit a city propped up for the most part by slats: for that is how the landlord patches up the crack in the old wall, bidding the inmates sleep at ease under the ruin that hangs above their heads’.”

The Romans saw to it that there were distractions in town:



statuesque marble buildings,

pretty fountains.

But these wouldn’t ease the cruel fact that although their hearts might be in the home, the home of most of our Philippian church relatives was not so sweet.

The letter to the Philippians speaks of a church going through a rough time.

Many think this meant that they were in the midst of an isolated event that might have to be endured.

The truth was, though, that everyday life for most of our ancient church was tough enough.

Tomorrow we leave the apartments – and head out into the streets of Philippi.

God Bless.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim March 3, 2011 at 8:28 am

Beautifully written, Craig. You’ve taken me there. And given me a new perspective on hard times…


Craig March 3, 2011 at 9:17 am

Thank you Kim, I really want to put us all back then – and have us see and know things we didn’t before. God Bless you.


Patti March 3, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I am visiting you after you found my blog through 1000 Gifts. Wow! Your blog is amazing! I love how you give an idea of what life was like for the Phillipians. It gave me a deeper understanding of the book, and what life was like for the early believers. I am adding your blog to my blog honor roll. God bless you and your writing.


Craig March 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I am honored – thank you – thank you a whole lot. I love this church at Philippi – they had it hard – really hard – and yet Paul says their giving rivaled the big churches – Philippi was about 100 strong. I heart the Philippians. Again – thank you so much – and God Bless you.


Dianna McBride March 3, 2011 at 9:24 pm

I’m grateful for your descriptive work here ~ both with words and pictures, Craig. I’m a visual kind of person. While I have a good imagination it helps me to “see” things. Thank you for painting such vivid pictures. How else could we even begin to fathom what tough times were like for the Philippians? Thanks so much!


Craig March 4, 2011 at 8:05 am

Thank you Dianne – good pictures for this stuff are hard to get a hold of. Most are really boring and dull – blech. But I’m trying :) Life wasn’t this hard for all Christians – but it was for most. We (read I) forget that too often. God Bless. and thank you.


Michelle March 4, 2011 at 5:19 am

Isn’t it funny. No matter how hard life is, we can always be distracted by the shiny, for a short while anyways.
Because, why would they build for the plebs when they were beneath them anyway and easily replaced? Human life had no value (unless you were Roman, or superior in some way).


Craig March 4, 2011 at 8:07 am

You know sometimes it makes me wonder about T.V. and Movies and sports – “the opium of the masses”. The Romans used festivals and fountains and free bread to placate the poor and keep them in their place. I look around – have we repeated history – except with technology? Gd Bless, Michelle.


Stuart Fisher UK June 2, 2013 at 2:19 am

Many thanks for your excellent article on walk around Philippi.
You could actually imagine that you were with Paul and his companions.
Have you done any more “walk arounds”, say like Ephesus?
Best regards


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