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The Apostle Paul famously made an extensive series of missionary journeys around the eastern Mediterranean (in various company, and stopping off in some places for months or years, also getting shipwrecked at one point). These are described in Acts and in the letters.

I am curious about the rough financial cost of these travels, in terms of the means of typical first-century people. Basically, how wealthy would you have to be in order to make these trips (assuming you're paying for it all yourself)? How much support might therefore have been required from other Christians in order to finance the voyages?

I'm not after exact numbers - just an estimate of where these trips fall on the scale of "Paul could easily have paid for the whole thing out of his own money" to "this was a major outlay for the whole church community".

The missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul (from Wikimedia Commons)

Image from Wikimedia Commons - JWooldridge CC-BY-SA

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This might be a better question for History.SE. –  Flimzy May 18 '12 at 17:24
I disagree- I think this is a fabulous question. I hope we can find some answers for it. It helps contextualize the conditions in which the faith was written. –  Affable Geek May 21 '12 at 4:10
@AffableGeek The reason this is probably not a good question is that experts in Christianity are unlikely to be experts on travel costs in New Testament times. You are more likely to find such an expert on a history site. –  DJClayworth May 22 '12 at 13:03
@lulian A brief reading of the Bible will show that Paul did in fact stay more than 2 days in one place. –  DJClayworth May 22 '12 at 13:04
@lulian: As noted, both the Bible and other historical accounts show that Paul and other Apostles stayed weeks, months and even years in many locations. –  Caleb May 23 '12 at 21:48

2 Answers 2

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Searching the web I came across this fascinating site which allows you to enter a route and it will calculate the cost of freight and passenger transport as it was in Roman times along that route.

For example entering Antioch to Ephesus, and forcing a land route, gives you a cost of around 30 denarii to ship 1kg of wheat, and 1500 denarii for a passenger in a carriage! Remembering that a denarius is about a day's wages for a peasant, this is a not inconsiderable cost. Shipping is noticeably cheaper than land transport, and I'm guessing Paul travelled more cheaply than a passenger in a carriage, but even 50kg of wheat would cost 1500 denarii - a considerable sacrifice for those who sent him.

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I suspect the considerations that site is aiming at are profoundly different from those facing Paul. As an analogy, if you were in modern day Antioch and wanted to get up to see the congregation in Smyrna for the weekend, a modern day travel site would place the trip cost at > $1,300. However living in the area, I know a way I could make the same trip for less than $40 and that the congregation on the other end would gladly house and feed me during my stay even if I wasn't going specifically to preach or otherwise serve them. –  Caleb May 23 '12 at 9:36
Thanks for the hyperlink! As you say, "fascinating." After reading Acts 11:19-21 I used ORBIS to calculate the distance and cost of Barnabus's journey from Jerusalem to Antiochia. Thanks again! Don –  rhetorician Oct 5 '14 at 12:53

Here's a Jewish biography of Paul, known to the Jews as Saul of Tarsus. As you might imagine, it's not very complementary.

Here's what we know.

  • Paul was a tent maker. (Acts 18:3)

Here's what we can deduce.

  • Paul was not a wealthy man.
  • Paul was epileptic. (Galatians 4:13, outside sources)

I suspect that the local Christian churches supported Paul's missionary travels, by providing meals and lodging while he preached.

As to how he traveled from place to place, probably on foot or hitching rides on wagons or ships as goods were transported from place to place.

Edited to add: I don't think there was much difference between a tent maker and a sail maker in the first century. Perhaps, Paul was able to sail by trading sail making or repair for the voyage.

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<Unconstructive comments removed.> –  El'endia Starman May 22 '12 at 16:36

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