Travel in Bible Times–Tomb of Merchant Flavius Zeuxis

The necropolis of Hierapolis is one of  the largest ancient burial sites in Turkey. Tombs there date from 2nd century BC through 3rd century AD. One of the more interesting is that of T. Flavius Zeuxis and his sons (1st century AD).

Tomb of Flavius Zeuxis, merchant of Hierapolis. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Tomb of Flavius Zeuxis, merchant of Hierapolis. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Dr. Carl Rasmussen observes: “Note the finely carved doorway with doorposts and lintel, the carved base, the slightly protruding stones of the corners (pilasters) of the tomb, the upper molding, and the Doric frieze composed of triglyphs and metopes filled with rosettes!” Click here.

The inscription above the tomb entrance is translated, “Flavius Zeuxis, merchant, who sailed seventy-two trips around Cape Malea to Italy, built this.”

Tomb Inscription above door. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Tomb Inscription above door. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

This inscription is helpful on several counts. Cape Malea is the southern tip of Greece’s Peloponnesus peninsula. It is famous for its treacherous weather and seas. William Barclay wrote:

It was a dangerous cape, and to round Cape Malea had in ancient days much the same sound and implications as to round Cape Horn had in later times. The Greeks had two sayings which showed what they thought of the voyage round Malea-“Let him who sails round Malea forget his home,” and, “Let him who sails round Malea first make his will.” (The Letters to the Corinthians, p.1).

Obviously it would have been considered quite an accomplishment to have made 72 trips around the Cape. This would mean a total of 36 round trips this merchant had made from Hierapolis of Asia Minor to Italy and back! Some have suggested that Zeuxis would have made two or three trips per year from Hierapolis to sell his goods in Italy.

This has implications for several biblical texts. For example, when Paul (as a prisoner under house arrest) was writing the NT letter of Colossians from Rome, Epaphras of Colossae was with him (Col. 1:7). Paul went on to referenced the tri-cities of Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea as he spoke of Epaphras’ work among them:

Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis. (Col. 2:12-13, NKJV).

The Zeuxis inscription shows it would not be unusual for residents of the Lycus River Valley, such as Epaphras, to make the voyage to Rome and back.

The travel of merchants such as Zeuxis also helps us relate to Paul’s journeys recorded in Acts, many of which were by sea. Further, it is not without significance that Paul mentioned the dangers he faced, including those on the sea:

 I have been on journeys many times, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own countrymen, in dangers from Gentiles, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers from false brothers (2 Cor. 11:26, NET).

But notwithstanding the potential dangers faced, travel by sea in the 1st century was common!

Also we might think of Rev. 18:11-13, with its extensive list of trade good that merchants (like our Flavius Zeuxis) from various locations in the Empire, brought to Rome. Contextually this passage speaks of the mourning that will come as a result of the fall of Rome:

And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men.

Click on images for larger view.

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