Prison is represented in the A. V. by the following Heb. and Gr. words:
1. אֵסוּר, Aramaic for אסֵוּר, "a chain," is joined with בֵּית , and rendered a prison (Sept. οῖκος δεσμῶν; Vulg. carcer).
2. כּלוּא כֶלֵא, and כּלִיא, with בֵּית (Sept. οῖκος φυλακῆς; Jer 37:15).
3. מִהפֶּכֶת, from הָפִך, "turn," or "twist," the stocks (Jer 20:2).
4. מִטָּרָה and מִטָּרָא; φυλαςή; carcer (Gesenius, Thesaur. p. 879).
5. מִסגֵּר; δεσμωτήριον; carcer.
6. מִשׁמָר; φυλακή; custodia; also intens. מִשׁמֵרֶת; A.V. "hard."
7. עֹצֶר; angustia; ταπείνωσις (Gesenius, p. 1059).
8. — פּקִהאּקיֹח (Isa 61:1), more properly written in one word; ἀνάβλεψις; apestio (Gesenius, p. 1121).
9. סֹהִר; ὀχύρωνα; carcer: properly a tower.
10. בֵּיתאּהִפּקֻדֹּת; οἰκία μύλωνος; domus carceris. בִּיִת is also sometimes "prison" in the A.V. as Ge 39:20.
11. צִינֹק; καταῤῥάκτης; carcer; probably "the stocks" (as in the A.V.) or some such instrument of confinement; perhaps understood by the Sept. as a sewer or underground passage.
12. In the N.T. δεσμωτήριον, οἴκημα, τήρησις, usually φυλακή.
In Egypt it is plain both that special places were used as prisons, and that they were under the custody of a military officer (Ge 40:3; Ge 42:17). During the wandering in the desert we read on two occasions of confinement "in ward" (Le 24:12; Nu 15:34); but as imprisonment was not directed by the law, so we hear of none till the time of the kings, when the prison appears as an appendage to the palace, or a special part of it (1Ki 22:27). Later still it is distinctly described as being in the king's house (Jer 32:2; Jer 37:21; Ne 3:25). This was the case also at Babylon (2Ki 25:27). But private houses were sometimes used as places of confinement (Jer 37:15), probably much as Chardin describes Persian prisons in his day, viz. houses kept by private speculators for prisoners to be maintained there at their own cost (Voy. 6:100). Public prisons other than these, though in use by the Canaanitish nations (Jg 16:21,25), were unknown in Judaea previous to the captivity. Under the Herods we hear again of royal prisons attached to the palace, or in royal fortresses (Lu 3:20; Ac 12:4,10; Josephuts, Ant. 18:5, 2; Machzerus). By the Romans Antonia was used as a prison at Jerusalem (Ac 23:10), and at Caesarea the praetorium of Herod (ver. 35). The sacerdotal authorities also had a prison under the superintendence of special officers, δεσμφύλακες (Ac 5:18-23; Ac 8:3; Ac 26:10). The royal prisons in those days were doubtless managed after the Roman fashion, and chains, fetters, and stocks were used as means of confinement (see 16:24, and Job 13:27). One of the readiest places for confinement was a dry, or partially dry, well or pit (see Ge 37:24, and Jer 38:6-11); but the usual place appears, in the time of Jeremiah, and in general, to have been accessible to visitors (Jer 36:5; Mt 11:2; Mt 25:36,39; Ac 24:23). — Smith. From the instance of the Mamertine Prison at Rome (q.v.), in which the apostle Paul (q.v.) is said to have been confined, many have rashly assumed that the Roman prisons generally were subterranean; but at Thessalonica at least, even "the inner prison" (Ac 16:24) seems to have been on the ground-floor ("doors," ver. 26; "sprang in," ver. 29). SEE DUNGEON.