Caveat on Sergius Paulus and the gens Pauli

Listening to Pink Floyd – Echoes, in Pompeii


In the last entry I adopted the suggestion by Charles Vergeer that Saul accepted patronage by a patronus Pauli and for that reason changed his name into Paul. This happens in Acts 13.6-9 when he met governor Sergius Paulus on Cyprus. The parallel is that Josephus received patronage by the Flavians. Vergeer suggests that Sergius Paulus would be linked to the gens Pauli (gens Aemilii Paulli).

(Addendum 2015-02-24. (1) This same suggestion was mentioned by Maurice Casey with reference to an article by Peter van Minnen 1994. A check showed that this article doesn’t state such an explicit link so that this can only be an inference by Casey himself. I have inserted a section in the last weblog entry. (2) The following was written before I was able to check the Van Minnen 1994 article. It all increases the caveat.)

Vergeer suggested also that Paul, after being in Cyprus around 45 AD, hoped for protection in 58 AD by Lucius Annaeus Seneca a.k.a. Seneca the Younger (4 BC – 65 AD). Seneca was married to Paulina and the idea was that Paulina would belong to the gens Pauli too.

But there are snakes in the grass.

I took the suggestion from a book review which is no full study targetted at this issue.

Just to be sure: the idea and connection is interesting. Seneca in 54 – 62 AD had good connections with emperor Nero. Seneca was his mentor – called for help in tutoring Nero but unfortunately rather late when Nero didn’t want to be tutored anymore.

54-62 AD: “From 54 to 62, Seneca acted as Nero’s advisor, together with the praetorian prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus. Seneca’s influence was said to have been especially strong in the first year. Tacitus and Dio suggest that Nero’s early rule, during which time he listened to Seneca and Burrus, was quite competent. However, the ancient sources suggest, over time, Seneca and Burrus lost their influence over the emperor. In 59 they had reluctantly agreed to Agrippina’s murder, and afterward, Tacitus reports that Seneca wrote a dishonest[vague] exculpation of Nero to the Senate.” (Wikipedia on Seneca the Younger) (NB. The article about Publius Suillius Rufus holds that Sejanus accuses him, but in 58 AD it is Suillius who accuses Seneca who has him banned to the Baleares.)

Also, Paul in Acts 18 goes to Corinth where he is judged by governor Gallio, who happens to be Seneca’s elder brother, who has been adopted by Gallio. We may wonder whether Paul would have known about that family connection too.

“12 And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat,” (Acts 18.12, KJV)

The discussion of the snakes is below. The conclusions can be put up front.


On the data we find:

  1. Based on Roman name conventions (Appendix), Sergius Paulus belongs to the gens Sergii, and Saul would rather change his name into Sergius Saulus – compare Flavius Josephus.
  2. Pompeia Paulina belongs to the gens Pompeii. Adoption remains a possibility though: her father Pompeius Paulinus might be a Paulus adopted by some Pompeius.
  3. Pliny the Elder refers to a Sergius Paulus – but without clear link to Cyprus.
  4. Archeological inscriptions generate explanations that are rather confusing for non-experts. (a) The name is used in Rome – but that is not Cyprus. (b) An inscription mentions a proconsul Paulus in Cyprus, but the period is unclear (to me). (c) An inscription of a Paullus Sergius (+ something ?) might confirm a gens Paulli (if the something isn’t there). But it is in South-West Turkey which is not Cyprus – and it might link to the Paulli of Macedonia too.
  5. Overall: The inscriptions draw a blank for Vergeer’s suggestion, while the very name “Sergius Paulus” superficially rejects it.

However, the scene & name change on Cyprus in Acts 13.6-9 is very remarkable, including the link to Philippi and Corinth. The idea that Paul got patronage from a patronus Pauli (now indicating the patron by the protegee) is too good to let it sink in this stadium. It may require additional assumptions to make it work.

We are not stuck with Seneca and Paulina. Saul might meet proper gens Pauli, some who actually had more interest in Judea than Seneca. Archeologists have been looking for confirmation of Sergius Paulus but may not have been looking for links to the gens Pauli.

The objectives of the authors of the NT matter too:

  • One option is honesty but partial incompetence:
    • They knew only about a proconsul Paulus and plugged in that name from Pliny that seemed to fit.
    • As Josephus accepts patronage, they wanted someone in the NT to do so too.
  • Another option is (competent or incompetent) duplicity. There is always the conspiracy card.
    • To suggest a gens Sergii but leave a clue for the gens Pauli.
    • To select Cyprus for that location since Citium ~ Kiton ~ Kittim.
    • To enhance Paul’s claim for Roman citizenship – like they also emphasize that he would be from Tarsus while he need not be.
  • There still is the time shift hypothesis: real events took place around 70 AD but the NT projects it a generation earlier, around 30 AD.

Thus, it is useful to keep an open eye in the future for new data and insights that would confirm or contradict the idea that Paul’s change of name signifies his adoption of patronage. The idea still allows the generation of new hypotheses that can be tested.

These conclusions are supported by the discussion below.





Let us see what snakes there are:

(A) We need to distinguish the story in the NT and the historical data – and our imagination:

  • Paul getting a patronus Pauli might be either historical or conflict with historical data.
  • Whatever history, the NT might still suggest that Paul got a patronus Pauli and hoped to be saved in Rome.
  • The writers of the NT might also have an objective to hide Paul’s patronage.

(B) Looking at naming conventions in the Roman Empire (Appendix) – we find:

  • Sergius Paulus means a gens Sergii and not gens Pauli.
  • Pompeia Paulina is daughter or sister of Pompeius Paulinus – and gens Pompeii is not gens Pauli. But the father might be a Paulus adopted by some Pompeius.

(C) Other data are:

  • Pliny the Elder in Natural History mentions a Sergius Paulus, but it is not clear whether he comes from Cyprus.
  • There is an inscription about a proconsul Paulus at about the time of emperor Claudius.
  • There are other inscriptions about Lucius Sergius Paulus but these concern a gens Sergii.

(D) Complications are:

  • For Tarsus: tarsos = basket, which may refer to Paul as a new Moses. Also, Moses came from Egypt, which might refer to The Egyptian in the works by Flavius Josephus.
  • Given the time shift hypothesis, Saul may have gotten a patronus Pauli at a later period. The writers of the NT projected this back to an earlier period, and may have abused Sergius Paulus.

Let us look in more detail at the historical data under B & C and continue at another time with A & D.

Sergius Paulus in Acts 13.7 in Greek and Latin

The name change occurs only in Acts 13.7. in the original Greek we find Sergius Paulus and in the Vulgata Clementina we find the same order. Presumably the original Greek kept the Roman name sequence.

“7 ὃς ἦν σὺν τῷ ἀνθυπάτῳ Σεργίῳ Παύλῳ, ἀνδρὶ συνετῷ. οὗτος προσκαλεσάμενος Βαρναβᾶν καὶ Σαῦλον ἐπεζήτησεν ἀκοῦσαι τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ.” (Acts 13.7, NA28, German Bible Society)

“qui erat cum proconsule Sergio Paulo viro prudente. Hic, accersitis Barnaba et Saulo, desiderabat audire verbum Dei.” (

The Roman naming conventions (Appendix) are Praenomen (home name), Nomen (gens), Cognomen (sub-gens, nickname).

  • Compare with Gaius Julius Caesar: the gens Julii and publicly known as Julius Caesar.
  • Compare with emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus. When Josephus accepted his patronage, he called himself Flavius Josephus.
  • Thus Sergius Paulus decodes as: gens Sergii and cognomen Paulus.

This does not fit a patronage by the gens Pauli. On the surface at least.

Sergius Paulus in Pliny the Elder

The collected Natural History of Pliny the Elder can be found at The editor explains Pliny used abstracts by Sergius Paulus. His name still concerns a gens Sergii.

The editor also suggests that this must be from the person mentioned in the Acts – but it is not clear here how the provenance from Cyprus is established. But he seems to link the perhaps Gnostic heresies of Elymas to the interests of Sergius Paulus:

“and from the nature of his pursuits we are enabled to perceive the reason why, at one time, he was the patron of Elymas the Sorcerer”. (editor of Pliny, p28)

“The Roman writer Pliny the Elder also makes reference to a “Sergius Paulus” whom he used as a source along with others in Book 2 and 18 of his work on “Natural History.” It is also interesting to note that Pliny mentions that the island of Cyprus was overrun with those who practiced sorcery just like Elymas who the Bible says tried to deceive Sergius Paulus. Pliny writes: “There existed different groups of magicians from the time of Moses such as Jannes and Lotape , of whom the Jews had spoken of. And in fact many thousands yearly follow after Zoroastrian ways especially during recent times on the Island of Cyprus.” (Bible History net)

Sergius Paulus in archeology
Blackwell Companion to Paul

A main document is Stephen Westerholm (ed) (2011) “The Blackwell Companion to Paul“.  The companion does not adopt the time shift hypothesis yet.

  • The accepted inscription is L. Sergius Paullus in Rome, thus of the gens Sergii.
  • Thus in Rome, and no link to Cyprus.
  • The other inscriptions are dismissed.
Westerholm (ed) on Sergius Paulus ((c) Wiley)

Westerholm (ed) on Sergius Paulus ((c) Wiley)

Dismissed sources

Another document online is by dr. H. Wayne House, who mentions the dismissed sources in more detail and in a less critical tone.

Revision on Soli ?

The Soloi / Soli inscription apparently has been discussed by Mitford with different dating outcomes in both 1947 (below, time of Claudius) and 1980 (above, 2nd century).

Apparently discovered in 1877 on the northern coast of Cyprus in Soli. It has a reference to a proconsul Paulus. Only the nomen and no prae- or cognomen. It refers to the time of the proconsul (not his being there at the same time when the stone was cut). But there can be more proconsuls in the family. Potentially the Apollonius dedicating this stone to his father might be a Greek version of Latin Paulus too. (Perhaps he had some time to write letters too ?)

“Apollonius to his father….consecrated this enclosure and monument according to his family’s wishes….having filled the offices of clerk of the market, prefect, town-clerk, high priest, and having been in charge as manager of the records office. Erected on the 25th of the month Demarchexusius in the thirteenth year [of the reign of Claudius—54 AD]. He also altered the senate by means of assessors during the time of the proconsul Paulus.” (Keith Hunt with permission of H. Wayne House.  See Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Oak Harbor,WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997). p 734. Discussed by T. B. Mitford, Annual of British School at Athens 42 (1947), 201-06, quoted from Sergius Paulus, (last visited November 11, 2011))

It is a pity that the Companion to Paul does not indicate the reason of Mitford to change his or her mind on the period. Addendum 2015-02-24: Nobbs p 283 in D.W.J. Gill cs. (eds) gives the reason that the term dekaprootoi for magistrates wasn’t used before Hadrian (c. 126).

Lucius put into the name

Wikipedia (today) turns Sergius Paulus’s name into “Lucius Sergius Paulus“. This is based upon a stone found in Rome in 1887, for which a historian claims to know the sequence of events too.

“A remarkable memorial of this proconsul was recently (1887) discovered at Rome. On a boundary stone of Claudius his name is found, among others, as having been appointed (A.D. 47) one of the curators of the banks and the channel of the river Tiber. After serving his three years as proconsul at Cyprus, he returned to Rome, where he held the office referred to. As he is not saluted in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he probably died before it was written.” (Easton 1897)

Observe that a possibility that cannot be ruled out is turned into a fact:

“The third inscription is written in Latin, and discovered in Rome, reading Lucius Sergius Paullus (Latin spelling of name in contrast to Paulus for the Greek), was discovered in Rome. [9] It served as a boundary stone erected by emperor Cludius Caesar, and discovered in 1887.

Witherington considers this inscription the most helpful because “we have a clear reference to one Lucius Sergius Paulus, who was one of the curators of the Tiber River under Claudius. There is nothing in this inscription that would rule out the possibility that this Sergius Paulus was either at an earlier or a later date a proconsulon Cyprus, and in fact various classics scholars have been more ready than some NT scholars to identify the man mentioned in Acts 13 with the one in the Latin inscription.  [10]”  (Keith Hunt with permission of H. Wayne House) [9] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Acts of the Apostles: A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 501 – 02. [10] Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles : A Socio – Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 399 – 40.

A troubling stone

There is a stone with a different order: Paulli Sergii and not Sergius Paulus as in the NT.

  • We have a gens Paulli, provided that the cognomen didn’t drop too.
  • Are these two persons Paulus Sergius and Lucius Sergius (+ something ?) or just one ?

This stone was found in Antioch in Pisidia – in the South-West of Turkey – and the weblink doesn’t give a date and name of discovery. It is not known whether there is a connection with Cyprus.

2015-02-24 addendum: Interestingly, in Acts after Paul has met Sergius Paulus, he moves on to Antioch in Pisidia:

“14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.” (Acts 13.14, KJV)

Mark Humphries sees a connection to the governor on Cyprus and estates held around Pisidia, see here. It does not say much about patronage yet, however. But it fits Vergeer’s suggestion that Paul was more effective as a preacher later on in cities like Philippi and Corinthe, that had influential gens Aemilii Paulli.

We see two lines with names separated by dots:

  • On the first line: .. VI – PAVLLI – SER :  potentially (a) Sexti Paulli Sergii, or (b) (…something… Paulli Sergii (and unknown what is missing next)
  • On the second line:  … L – SERG : potentially (c) Lucius Sergius (+ something ?).

However, there is a drawing at that has: “CRV F PAVLLI SER”.  Thus “F” (filius ?) instead of “I -“. We can compare with the other “I -“. Indeed, the foot of the F looks like the foot of the P. But the top of the F might derive from a higher inscription. This weblink gives a discovery date of 1912. See also the scholarly sources there.

Confusion on a troubling stone ?

The following discusses another stone from 1912 or the same one. If it is the same inscription then the discoverer Ramsay may have given a wrong interpretation for the name: namely “Lucius Sergius Paullus, the younger son of Lucius“.

Given the name that Ramsay reported, it cannot be the inscription in the picture of Yalvac. But it might be another source for Wikipedia to turn the Biblical “Sergius Paulus” into “Lucius Sergius Paulus”.

Also the name “Sergia Paulla” indicates that we have a gens Sergii and not a gens Paulli.

“David Williams mentions additional inscriptions that might relate to the family of Sergius Paulus. In addition, William Ramsay and John George Clark Anderson discovered in 1912 an inscription near Pisidian Antioch that mentions a “Lucius Sergius Paullus, the younger son of Lucius.” In 1913 Ramsay discovered the woman’s name “Sergia Paulla” on an inscription in the same region. These discoveries played an important part in his theory that the family of Sergius Paulus was Christians.” (H. Wayne House, ftnt 2, referring to David J. Williams, New International Biblical Commentary: Acts [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990], 227-228)) (It is not clear why they would be Christians.)

Conclusions from inscriptions
  • It is important to establish why Mitford 1980 rejected his or her earlier acceptance of 1947 of a proconsul Paulus on Cyprus around 50 AD.
  • This proconsul may well have been a Paullus Sergius of the gens Pauli or a Lucius Sergius Paulus of the gens Sergii who preferred his cognomen.
  • These unfinished archeological findings make ethnomethodology and literary analysis more important.
Seneca and Paulina in 58 AD

Unfortunately, there is little known about Paulina. We recover that her full name is Pompeia Paulina. She cannot be from the gens Pauli since it would be gens Pompeii.

Remember the naming conventions for women (Appendix). In the Republic she would be from the gens Pompeii. In that convention her father had the cognomen (nickname) Paulinus. However, the changing conventions in the Empire would allow that she would come from the gens Paulini – not Pauli – but took the more fanciful Pompeia. This would depend upon the fancy of her father.

We find a reference that she would be the daughter or sister of Pompeius Paulinus. He would be consul suffectus around 54 AD (with double ll). He is mentioned by Tacitus in 13.53 in Lower Germany and in 15.18 together with Lucius Piso.

Given the rules of names for adopted children, it is possible that Paulus was adopted by some Pompeius, giving Pompeius Paulinus.

Curiously – it is a small world – he was governor of Holland in 54-58 AD. A nice report of Dutch activity in that period – the Frisians:

“Thereupon the Frisii moved up their youth to the forests and swamps, and their non-fighting population, over the lakes, to the river-bank, and established themselves in unoccupied lands, reserved for the use of our soldiers,(…)” (Tacitus 13.53-54) (Thus the Dutch were pushed back by the Romans, where-after they started building dikes to reclaim land from the sea.)

It is an even smaller world: he appears to have been a commander for Pliny the Elder:

“Pliny’s last commander there, apparently neither a man of letters nor a close friend of his, was Pompeius Paulinus, governor of Germania Inferior AD 55-58. Pliny relates that he personally knew Paulinus to have carried around 12,000 pounds of silver service on which to dine on campaign against the Germans (a practice which would not have endeared him to the disciplined Pliny).” (Wikipedia)

Seneca the Younger writes to some Paulinus in his book Hardship and Happiness. Editor Gareth Williams:

“The Paulinus addressed in this book is in all likelihood Pompeius Paulinus, a knight of Arlete (modern Arles) who, as praefectus annonae probably from 48 to 55 CE, was responsible for overseeing the Roman grain supply; it is now generally accepted that he was the father of Pompeia Paullina, Seneca’s wife (..)”

Judith P. Hallett, in her book Fathers and Daughters in Roman Society: Women and the Elite Family, however holds that Paulina and her father were siblings. Referring to his command in Lower Germany and Holland:

“Paulinus surely owed his occupation of this important post to Nero’s tutor and counselor Seneca, wed to Paulinus’s sister.”

Regrettably, Nero thought that Seneca was involved in a Piso conspiracy, and asked him to commit suicide. Paulina wanted to join him but cruel Nero stopped her from doing so.

Forced suicide by Seneca and Blocked suicide by Paulina (Source: Wikipedia commons)

Forced suicide by Seneca and blocked suicide by Paulina (Source: Wikipedia commons)

Did Saul change his name in 58 AD ?

In 58 AD not only Pompeius Paulinus returned from Holland to Rome but also Marcus Antonius Felix was called back from Judaea. To determine a successor for Felix, perhaps Paulinus was considered a candidate too. Relations between Seneca and Nero were still good.

In Vergeer’s time reckoning, Paul might have been brought along by Felix to be judged by Nero. In Vergeer’s model, Paul is already old.

In the time shift hypothesis, we would still have a younger Saul. Would he have come along with Felix too ? Perhaps Paulinus discussed the options that were left for Saul. Rather than Paulinus Saulus he preferred the shorter Paulos. Or the editors of the NT liked it better.

The options for Vergeer’s suggestion are still open.

The gens Pauli are problematic anyway

According to Wikipedia, the gens Pauli actually ended in 160 BC. When we see their name occur in higher offices then it is because they found it fanciful to remind of the heroic past.

The Aemilii Paulli vanished with the death of Lucius Aemilius Paullus, the conqueror of Macedonia, in 160 BC. His sons, though grown, were adopted into the families of the Fabii Maximi and the Cornelii Scipiones. (…) The family of the Aemilii Lepidi came to prominence at the beginning of the third century BC, and from then to imperial times was one of the most distinguished in the state. In the first century BC they revived several old names, including the praenomina Mamercus and Paullus, and the cognomina Paullus and Regillus.” (wikipedia)

The list of consuls for the first century seems to give only Lucius Aemilius Paullus (consul 1), executed by Augustus for a conspiracy, after which the Paulli seem somewhat out of favour.


Appendix: Naming conventions in Rome, Republic and Empire

Naming conventions are, according to (wikipedia is too tedious):

  • Men: “In more formal circumstances, a man would be called by his praenomen and nomen or cognomen; in very formal circumstances and inscriptions, all three names were used”. For example: Gaius (for family, praenomen) Julius (gens, tribe, nomen) Caesar (branch, friends, cognomen).
  • Women in the Republic: All female children of citizen families were named with the feminine form of the clan into which they were born; hence, all women whose fathers had the nomen Julius were named Julia, and all women whose fathers had the nomen Cornelius were named Cornelia. In public, they would be identified by the possessive form of their father’s cognomen (e.g., Julia Caesaris, “Julia, the daughter of Caesar”), or if married by the possessive form of their husband’s cognomen (e.g., Clodia Metelli, “Clodia, the wife of Metellus”). If families had more than one daughter, they were distinguished by the words maior and minor (“elder” and “younger”), or prima, secunda, tertia, etc.”
  • Women in the Empire: “Starting with Augustus, names of the most prominent women did not necessarily follow the Republican convention, but rather reflected the family connections that were most significant to the namers. For example, the two daughters of Augustus’ daughter Julia, who was married to Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, would normally have been named Vipsania; instead one was called Julia and the other Agrippina.”

For adoptions, the explanation at wikipedia however is convenient: it creates a cognomen based upon the nomen and added with “-inus” or “-anus”. Compare Octavianus.


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