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Philippi - Biblical Sites in Greece


Matthew 16:13; Mark 8:27; Acts 16:12, 22; 20:6; Philippians 1-4; 1 Thessalonians 2:2


St. Paul's trip into Macedonia brought him from the harbor at Neapolis, 9 miles (15 km.) northwest over the ridge to Philippi. This strategic Roman garrison city became the place of the first established church congregation, with early converts to Christianity. Philippi was located 115 miles northeast of Salonika (Thessaloniki), now close to the Bulgarian border. The city occupies the edge of a plain east of Mt. Pangaeus, tucked in the valley between the Lekani (east) and Phalakro and Menikio (north). Mt. Pangeo was the sacred mountain of Dionysos in antiquity, as well as the area of great gold and silver mines. The plain area had a large swampy valley in the ancient period, but the swamp was drained in the 1930's by a canal system for irrigation.

The city may have been the home of the Physician Luke who traveled with St. Paul on occasion. As a result, Luke may have taken special interest in his description of the city as the "capitol of first district of Macedonian Rome" (Acts. 16:12) a reference to the historical division of Macedonia earlier in the Roman period. In addition to its historical importance, Philippi was located along the important "Via Egnatia", the Roman road from Asia Minor that traversed the Balkan Peninsula toward the Adriatic Sea to ports with direct passage to Italy. In a sense, Philippi was the great roadway garrison station for the "eastern gate" from Europe to the Persian cities. By Roman times, the city had two types of citizens: Italians commissioned to live here and "political proselytes" like St. Paul and Silas, who were brought into the Roman citizenry by legislation of Rome.

Excavations of the city began when Napoleon Bonaparte (C18-19th) gave an imperial edict to French scholars to begin the archaeology at Philippi in the Forum where some buildings were already showing or close to the surface. After a long delay from the original excavations, they were renewed in 1914 under the auspices of the French Archaeological School working until 1937. Modern excavations have been undertaken by the Hellenic Archaeological Service, the Archeological Society of Athens, and the University of Thessaloniki.

Archaeologists have carefully constructed a working model of the occupation of the site. The earliest periods (Neolithic to Early Bronze) yield evidence of a settlement referred to as the "Dikli-tach", a group that used the flood plain for agriculture eventually gave way to a Thracian culture settlement. The city was founded as early as 700 BCE, and the site was well populated by both Thasos and the Thracian peoples during the Classical Period. The Classical period name of the site was CRENIDES (fountains), possibly because of a large ornament in the city square or the vast amount of surface water.

As King Philip II of Macedon took complete control of the region (365 BCE, control after 358/7 BCE) as a border garrison fort against Thrace, he swept in to dominate the nearby gold mines at Mt. Pangaeus. The gold was used to finance the build up of Philip's (and later Alexander's) army. With the rise of Rome, King Perseus (last of the Macedonian Kings) was routed from the Macedonian throne and ceded the area to Roman control. The Romans initially divided the area into four districts, later reorganizing Macedonia by 148 BCE as a single province.

Philippi became a Roman possession after Rome punished the Macedonian King Philip V for supporting the Carthaginians in the Punic Wars. The first defeat of the Macedonians was first in 197 BCE at Kynoskephalai, and a later at Pydna in 168 BCE. In the process, Philippi was devastated by the Roman army, and needed great restoration. The addition of the "Via Egnatia" military supply roadway put the city firmly on the map. The Via Egnatia passed (west to east) from Apollonia and Dyrrachium (in Albania) to Lychidnus, Herakleia Edhessa, Pella, Thessaloniki, Amphipolis and Philippi to Neapolis. After 46 CE it was extended to Byzantium (called later Constantinople).

The city became famous as a result of the Battle of Mark Antony and Octavian (later Augustus Caesar) against the conspirators and murderers of Julius Caesar, Brutus and Cassius (killers of Julius Caesar). The battle raged beside the city (largely in the swampy region to the west of the city. Philippi was commemorated by being granted colony status (an outpost for immigrants and warriors). Its new full name became "Colonia Augusta Julia Philippensus". This colony status offered four practical things to the citizenry: 1) full voting rights; 2) free trade with Rome; 3) guarantee of protection of Rome (i.e. "Bullmark of the Empire"); and 4) soldiers of defeated battles and armies lived here in clemency. When Mark Antony turned against Octavian in 31 BCE and fought at Actium (NW Greece), Octavian defeated him. Octavian became Caesar Augustus, and garrisoned Philippi substantially as the eastern buffer of Europe.

Luke apparently joins St. Paul, Silas and Timothy in Neapolis. Acts 16:12 records the arrival of the Gospel to Macedonia through St. Paul's Second Journey. With no synagogue in the city, St. Paul goes to prosecute (a temporary place of prayer) to observe Sabbath. The stream off of the Gangites River (called the Zygakte River today) was the likely place where St. Paul came upon Lydia. The irony of the vision of the Macedonian man that brought St. Paul to Macedonia was that his first recorded convert was a Thyatiran saleswoman! (cp. Acts 16:4, 21-33). An inscription found in Philippi for her craft says the "city honors among the purple dyers, one Antiochus the son of Lyfos, a Thyatiran as a benefactor", an evidence that this trade was represented at Philippi.

St. Paul uses citizenship as protection (Acts 16:37-38). Later, St. Paul explains to the Philippian believers that their true "citizenship" is in Heaven in the letter written to them! The conversion of the Philippian jailer is another important story from the journey (Acts 16:21-33). Believers from this small church became important in St. Paul's ministry. This church became a chief financial supporter and Philippians 4:16 suggests that the epistle written to them by St. Paul was a "Thank You" letter for a financial gift! The trip of Epaphroditus to St. Paul was apparently the third support offering sent by them. With the town filled with soldiers and slaves, it is no wonder that St. Paul used language associated with the chariot racing language as "Press toward the prize".

The site today has yielded extensive evidence of worship of various pagan gods on reliefs, etc. found around the precipice of the city. These reliefs contain images such as Greek and Thracian gods, Eastern (Babylonian?) gods, and the Egyptian gods of Isis and Serapis. Harpocrates also had a shrine there. Above the city on the acropolis, one can still see remains of existing ramparts and citadel defenses. In addition, an impressive theatre built in C4th BCE and altered in C2nd CE is extant. A possible third alteration in C3 CE allowed the dramatic theatre to be transformed in purpose to a place for gladiatorial and beast contests. The Roman forum is well represented, with fountains on both the east and west ends. A Roman lavatory and several later Basilicas are also evident. The bishopric of the Byzantine occupation is under excavation now.


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