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The Forum of Philippi

The Forum of Philippi

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What is the history and significance of the church in Philippi?

The church at Philippi was the first Christian church in Europe, planted by the apostle Paul on his second missionary journey around AD 50 or 51. The initial converts of the church at Philippi were Gentiles, and the congregation developed into a predominately Gentile fellowship. Women also played an essential role in the life of the church at Philippi.

The city of Philippi was located in ancient Greece on the eastern border of the Roman province of Macedonia, about 10 miles inland from the coast, directly northwest of its nearest port city, Neapolis. A strategic area in ancient times, Philippi sat on a fertile plain through which passed the Via Egnatia (Egnatian Way), a trade highway that linked the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. Many travelers passed through Philippi on their way to Rome.

Originally founded by immigrants from Thrace, the city of Philippi was famous for its abundant gold mines and plenteous springs of water. From these springs, the town received its name Crenides, meaning “fountains” or “springs.” Later, around 359 BC, the city was renamed Philippi after Philip of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great. Under Alexander, the city rose to become the capital of the Greek Empire. By New Testament times, the city had come under Roman rule with a diverse population of native Thracians, Greeks, and Romans. A famous school of medicine existed in Philippi, where the gospel writer Luke may have studied.

Extensive archaeological and historical research has been done at Philippi, uncovering ruins that include the forum, agora, streets, gymnasium, baths, library, and acropolis. Also, the site contains what may be a 400 BC temple of Apollo and Artemis, along with numerous inscriptions and coins.

While in Troas on his second missionary journey, Paul was called by God in a vision to go to Macedonia: “So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night, Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:8&ndash10). Paul traveled to Philippi accompanied by Silas, Timothy, and Luke.

Paul’s custom was to go to the synagogue whenever he first arrived in a new city, but in Philippi, apparently, there was no synagogue, and he went to the river where he knew that Jews would be worshipping (Acts 16:13). There Paul met Lydia, a Gentile who became the first Christian convert in Europe: “One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us” (Acts 16:14&ndash15).

Lydia’s conversion was the first of three significant events associated with the beginning of the church in Philippi. The second was the exorcism of demons from a slave girl, which resulted in Paul and Silas being thrown into prison (Acts 16:16&ndash24). The third important event was the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his family (Acts 16:25&ndash40).

Paul visited the church at Philippi again on his third missionary journey, and the believers there gave generously to support Paul’s ministry (Philippians 4:15 2 Corinthians 11:9) as well as the church in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:1&ndash5). While Paul was imprisoned in Rome, the church at Philippi sent Epaphroditus to minister to him. In return, Paul sent Timothy to the congregation at Philippi.

From the time it was established, the church at Philippi was healthy, strong, and generous, becoming a model church that only experienced minor problems of disunity (Philippians 4:2&ndash7). After the apostolic age, the early church father Ignatius traveled through Philippi, and Polycarp wrote a famous letter to the church there.

Map of Archaeological site of Philippi

Philippi &ndash now part of Eastern mainland Greece - developed into a strategic provincial town under Roman rule and became an early centre of Christianity. Although its remains are not up to par with the great Ancient Greek sites such as Olympia or Delphi, I found it interesting enough. With its Roman and Christian roots it has a completely different background story than the other pure Greek WHS.

I walked around the archaeological site at ease for more than 2 hours. It is a large area that consists of different sectors. The path from the eastern entrance first passes the theatre. This originally Greek theatre was transformed by the Romans into an arena for animal fights. Their descendants, the early Christians, wanted to have nothing to do with that. They put it out of use and let it perish. Nowadays it is again a recognizable theatre with rows of seats, where a theatre and music festival is held annually. Interesting reliefs and sculptures still adorn the outside of its walls.

Central to the site is an open square, the former Roman forum. Just like in the rest of Philippi there is not much of it left: the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 619, but it looks like it happened last week. All stones that have fallen are still lying on the ground. Only the contours of such structures as a row of shops can still be seen.

At the edge of the archaeological site there are two structures which are worth a look: the Octagon, an early Christian church with reasonably well-preserved mosaics. And the remains of a section of the Via Egnatia , a road built by the Romans in the 2nd century BC. The location on this road has brought Philippi many traders and pilgrims in Antiquity.

Biblical tours through this region also like to stop at Philippi. In the year 49 or 50, the apostle Paul is said to have christened the first European close to here &ndash it was a local woman named Lydia. On his second missionary visit, he ran into a slave owner when he healed a slave from the evil eye and as a consequence she could no longer work as a fortune teller. So he was thrown in jail. A miracle follows &ldquoThey and the other prisoners, however, are soon freed due to a miracle. An earthquake occurs that causes Paul's cell door to open and his bonds to loosen up. This not only happens to him but to ALL those within the prison.&rdquo This prison cell is, according to reports or belief, still preserved and can be seen at the archaeological site.

A few practical notes to conclude: I left my (recommended) overnight stop of Kavala for Krinides (the modern town where these excavations are located) at 9 am. Buses seem to run every hour on the hour, also on Sundays. The return bus from Krinides leaves a bit past the half hour. At the Philippi Archaeological Site, I was the first visitor of the day and they did not have change from 20 EUR yet to pay for the 6 EUR entry fee &ndash but fortunately they did have a credit card machine. When I finished my tour of the site I found the café-restaurant that lies next to it totally overrun with what seemed to be local visitors.

The Forum of Philippi - History

Krenides River

Philippi apparently had only a small number of Jewish inhabitants and no synagogue. Consequently Shabbat worship was held outside the city on the Krenides River. Here Paul met a group of women to whom he preached the gospel. Lydia, a merchant trading purple cloth, believed Paul’s message and was baptized with members of her household. Subsequently Paul went and lived at her home.


Founded in the 4th c. B.C. and renamed after King Philip of Macedon, Philippi was an important outpost on the Egnation Way. Two important battles were fought here in 42 B.C. resulting in the defeat of Cassius and Brutus, conspirators in the assassination of Julius Caesar. After these battles, Philippi became a Roman colony encompassing 700 square miles.


Archaeological work has revealed a large and well-preserved forum, a theater, the alleged jail of Paul and several Byzantine churches, including one of the earliest churches known in Greece. The number of churches in the city in the Byzantine period indicate Philippi’s importance to Christians at this time. A series of earthquakes apparently destroyed many of the buildings and probably contributed to the city’s decline.

Egnatian Way

The Via Egnatia was built beginning in 145 BC and at its greatest extent connected Byzantium with the Adriatic ports. This route was Rome’s primary artery to the east and Philippi was an important outpost along the road. The Egnatian Way made it easier for Rome to move troops throughout the empire and it was the route that Paul traveled on from Neapolis to Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, and Thessalonica.

Philippian Jail

This traditional place of Paul and Silas’s imprisonment is of dubious authenticity, but it remembers the attack on these men and their subsequent flogging and imprisonment. In the course of the night, a violent earthquake shook the prison and the jailer feared that all might have escaped. After learning that none had fled, the Philippian jailer put his faith in Christ and was baptized with his family.


Public bathrooms were not uncommon in ancient Roman cities, but this one is a good illustration for Paul’s reference to scubalon, or human waste. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (3:8 NIV).

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Related Websites

Philippi (Ancient History Encyclopedia). A great place to start learning more, as it offers an overview of the history and the major archaeological finds.

Philippi ( Another good introduction, complete with a map and lots of pictures.

Philippi (BibleHub). A lengthy encyclopedia entry focusing on Philippi’s connection with the biblical text.

Philippi, Greece (David Padfield). This set of teaching notes is very helpful, covering background information, archaeological finds, and the biblical text itself.

Gods, Gold, and the Glory of Philippi (Lambert Dolphin’s Resources) A good article by Gordon Franz on the history of Philippi and Paul’s ministry here.

Philippi ( An interesting and brief article covering some political and religious aspects of ancient Philippi.

The Battle of Philippi: The Battle that Changed the Course of Western Civilization (Life and Land Seminars) Gordon Franz details the battle in which Mark Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius.

Where is Ancient Philippi? (Drive Thru History). An approachable video introducing the site. Possibly helpful as a teaching aid.

Philippi of Macedonia

The city of Philippi in Macedonia was founded as Crenides by settlers from Thasos in about 360 BC, but only a few years after, Philip II of Macedonia conquered the city in about 356 BC and renamed it Philippi in honor of himself. The city was along the Via Egnatia, had its port at nearby Neapolis, many productive agricultural fields, and gold and gem mines were in the area, meaning that it was a strategic and wealthy city with access to many parts of the Roman Empire (Strabo, Geography Pliny, Natural History). After the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, which was instrumental in the downfall of the Republic and establishment of the Empire, Octavian (Augustus) founded the Roman “colony” of Philippi, where he settled former soldiers (Suetonius, Augustus). This battle occurred outside the city, to the west, with the forces of Octavian and Antony attacking the forces of Brutus and Cassius from the east, approaching the town. After the battle and establishment of the colony, the city still had its walls (2 miles in circumference) originally built by Philip of Macedon, and a theater from the Hellenistic period, which was expanded by the Romans in the 2 nd century AD. Philippi is mentioned by several Roman period authors, but the majority of the information is in relation to the civil war or its conquest by Philip. Luke specified that Philippi had “colony” status, and although many cities that Paul visited on his journeys were colonies, for some reason that fact is only noted for Philippi (Acts 16:12). Luke also described it as a city of the first (of the four) district of Macedonia, which is a fourfold division known from many ancient sources about Roman Macedonia and the location of Philippi (Acts 16:12 Hemer, The Book of Acts). Other major features of the city in the 1 st century included the Roman forum and the bema/judgement seat (between two fountains), the agora/marketplace (a section of the forum), baths, houses, workshops, the Via Egnatia highway, the eastern Neapolis Gate, western Krenides Gate, the decumanus maximum, an acropolis (tower on acropolis is 6 th century AD though), a palaestra (like a mini-gymnasium, covered now by Basilica B), a hero cult monument dedicated to the founder of the city, a temple to the Emperor (northeast corner of forum), a Serapeum (temple to Egyptian/Hellenistic gods, particularly Serapis), the Heroon (shrine) of Philip II, monumental statues of deified Julius and Augustus Caesar (see coin of Claudius), probably a temple to Apollo and Artemis/Diana (at the acropolis), an aqueduct, and many monumental Latin inscriptions (about 85% are Latin) as a result of its Roman colony status. This city, occupying about 167 acres/68 hectares, probably had a population of at least 15,000 people. Inscriptions with the name of the city from the Roman period are visible on the library and eastern temple.

In about 49 AD, after Paul and Silas had arrived in Philippi from Neapolis, they went down to the river (probably just outside the eastern gate of the city at the nearby stream near the ancient church, or alternatively outside the western gate at the Krenides river/stream, but unlikely to be the farther site about 1.5 miles west of the city at the Gangites river) on the Sabbath and found a group of people assembled for prayer. Excavations discovered a burial inscription from the 2nd century AD that mentioned a synagogue in Philippi, but apparently there was no synagogue at Philippi during the 1 st century, and the community of Jews may have been extremely small (Bakirtzis and Koester, Philippi). The Mishnah recommended that Jews live where the Torah was studied and at least 10 households were established, suggesting that the population of Jews in Philippi may have been too small to support an actual synagogue (Mishnah, Sayings of the Fathers and Sanhedrin). Therefore, the most logical place to find worshippers of God was in an assembly next to flowing water, which was related to the purity laws and the norm for communities lacking a synagogue (Philo, Flaccus). There, Paul, Silas, and Luke met Lydia, a woman from the city of Thyatira in Asia Province who had relocated to Philippi where she had a business dyeing and selling purple fabrics (Acts 16:14). The dyeing of fabrics with a red-purple dye made from the madder root was a major part of the economy in the area of Thyatira, and bringing this industry to Macedonia was probably a lucrative business decision. Although in previous centuries a relocation from Asia minor to Macedonia would have been extremely difficult, the new Empire allowed freedom of movement and excellent opportunities for commerce. Evidence for a relocation from Thyatira and starting a purple dye business, like Lydia, was discovered on a Roman period inscription in Philippi that translates “the city honored from among the purple dyers, an outstanding citizen, Antiochus the son of Lykus, a native of Thyatira…” (CIL 3.664.1 cf. also 2 nd century AD Thessaloniki stele of Thyatira purple dealer in Macedonia). Although we do not know if this Antiochus had any relation or business association with Lydia, it does demonstrate the accuracy of the historical setting of the Acts narrative in Philippi. It was uncommon, but not rare, for women to own and run businesses in the Roman Empire, and evidence of a woman owner of a purple dye business is even found on an inscription (Keener, Acts CIG 2519). However, it is also possible that Lydia co-owned the business with her husband, who is alluded to but not specifically named in the Acts narrative. It is speculative, but within the realm of possibility that the Antiochus mentioned in the inscription was the husband of Lydia. The message of Jesus Christ taught at the prayer meeting was accepted by Lydia, who is described as a worshipper of God or God fearer, and Lydia and her household became believers and were baptized (Acts 16:14-15). The name “Lydia” is absent from the epistle to the Philippians, which led a few scholars to theorize the possibility that Lydia, from Thyatira in the Lydia region, was merely a designation for a Lydian woman rather than her actual name (Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller). It was suggested that her actual name may have been Eudoia or Syntyche, but this seems unlikely due to the widespread use of personal names in Luke-Acts rather than regional “nicknames” (Philippians 4:2). The Byzantine period Basilica of Paul (Octagonal Church, not Basilica A/B/C), identified by a mosaic inscription on the pavement and dated to 343 AD or earlier, may have been to mark the location of the riverside prayer meeting, or the church that originally met in the house of Lydia (Porphyrios Acts 16:40).

After presenting the Gospel to people in Philippi, Paul and Silas faced opposition from a demon through the “Philippian slave girl” who had a “spirit of divination” or python spirit which was attempting to bring unwanted attention and problems to the Christians as they preached and taught (Acts 16:16-18). In ancient Greek mythology, Python or Phython was a pagan snake/dragon god who guarded the “navel of the world” at Delphi to the south, but Apollo defeated him and took over the area (Ovid, Metamorphoses). Delphi was a center for the oracle in the temple of Apollo, and the priestess was called a “Pythia,” so the term python had come to be used of the persons through whom a spirit of divination or soothsaying spoke. At Delphi, the priest interpreter would listen to the toxic fume induced babble of the Pythia High Priestess and make up an oracle out of it (Plutarch Valerius Maximus). In the pagan Hellenistic culture, “diviners” or soothsayers were quite common, and even closer to Philippi than Delphi there was a lesser oracle of Dionysus at nearby Mount Pangaeus (Herodotus). The people of Philippi associated the idea of Python (a god) and the oracles with her, and her fortune telling had been bringing her masters great financial gain according to Luke and comparisons to known fees for oracles in ancient Greece. The setup and process at Delphi and Pangaeus were different than the fortune telling seer slave-girl in Philippi, but both were related to demonic activity. Throughout Acts, magic and demonic activity are shown as something in opposition to the Gospel, but conquered time after time by the power of the one true God (cf. Simon the Magician in Acts 8, Bar-Jesus in Acts 13, the magic spells in Ephesus in Acts 19, etc.). After many days of her annoying shouting and following, Paul finally cast out the demon in the name of Jesus Christ, but this angered her masters who had just lost their money making “fortune teller,” for which they accused Paul and Silas of unlawful activity, leading to a public beating and imprisonment (Acts 16:18-21).

The forum, measuring 230 by 485 feet, was probably the location in Philippi where Paul and Silas were dragged before the Roman praetors (2 duumviri specifically, according to information from inscriptions at Philippi), and then illegally beaten (Acts 16:19-22 1 Thessalonians 2:2 2 Corinthians 11:25 Suetonius, Titus). On the northern end of the forum was the bema/judgement seat, which was the likely place that the Roman officials stood or sat as they listened to the accusations and then ordered Paul and Silas to be beaten with rods (carried out by lictors, probably 6 of them). These city magistrates held the position of duumvir, according to inscriptions found at Philippi, with the Latin title translated into the typical Greek usage by Luke (Acts 16:20, 22, 38 strategos translated from “duumvir” or the title “praetor” Hemer, The Book of Acts Keener, Acts). The two were then briefly put in prison, secured in stocks in the dark and poorly ventilated inner prison, which would normally have been reserved for the most serious crimes. Although there is a traditional location of the “prison,” this site was a Roman period water cistern rather than a prison house with foundations and doors as described in Acts, and there is little evidence for it beyond a 5th century tradition (Acts 16:23-26 McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament). Roman prisons were usually built near the forum of a city, so it was probably nearby, but the exact location of this prison is still a mystery (Vitruvius, On Architecture). Then, a great miracle happened that night when an earthquake shook the prison, the bonds were unfastened, and the doors opened. The jailer, being responsible for guarding the prisoners, thought that he had failed in his duty and was about to commit suicide rather than face the dishonor and execution that would come as a result of his prisoners escaping (Petronius, Satyricon Livy Urbe Condita cf. Acts 12:19). Fortunately, Paul prevented this fatal mistake by notifying the jailer that all prisoners were present. Then, the jailer asked the important question “what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas answered “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31).

The earthquake may have been viewed as Divine retribution, or perhaps the magistrates thought the beating and night in jail was enough, or Lydia and others may have made a formal complaint. Nevertheless, the next day, the magistrates told the jailer that the two men could be released. However, Roman law had not been observed. Paul and Silas had been beaten with rods and thrown in jail without a trial, and Paul notified the authorities of their unlawful activities toward them as Roman citizens, which held great benefits and privileges in the Empire (16:37-39). Further, abuse of Roman citizens by the authorities could result in their expulsion from office and disqualification from ever serving again (Cicero, Against Verres). In some cases, extreme mistreatment of Roman citizens could carry harsh punishments for officials (Livy, History of Rome). Over the years, Paul often benefited from the great privileges of Roman citizenship, but he knew that heavenly citizenship was the most important. The Roman citizenship status of the residents of Philippi seems to have been an important issue, as it is not only emphasized in the narrative of Acts, but in theological illustrations used by Paul in the letter to the Philippians, where Paul points out how they must recognize that their true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 1:27, 3:20 “to be a citizen” used in both verses). Paul also used the metaphor of “soldiers” in the army of God in this letter, which would have resonated with many of the citizens of Philippi who were former soldiers in the army of Rome (Philippians 2:25). Philippians, known as one of the “prison epistles” of Paul, was written while he was under house arrest in Rome around 61-62 AD, awaiting trial before the Emperor Nero (Philippians 1:13, 4:22). In this epistle, Paul mentions a Clement, who may have been the later bishop of Rome known from church history and his own letters (Philippians 4:3). The ministry of Paul in Rome, even while imprisoned, was so effective that many of the people in the service of the Emperor became Christians (“Praetorian guard” “brethren in the household of Caesar”). According to coins found at Philippi, some former members of the famous Praetorian Guard had settled in the colony around the time of Paul, so the people would have been familiar with the Praetorians and may have even known some of those still in the service of the Emperor (Franz, “Gods, Gold, and the Glory of Philippi”). Epaphroditus, who is mentioned twice in the letter, was probably a leader in the Philippian church, as well as a friend of Paul who was described as a “fellow soldier,” and the deliverer of the epistle (Philippians 2:25, 4:18). Several years later, when he was back in Macedonia, Paul may have written to Timothy in Ephesus while Paul was briefly in Philippi (1 Timothy 1:3 Acts 20:1-6).

Begged to leave the city by the magistrates, lest more problems arise, Paul and Silas made a stop at the home of Lydia to greet the other Christians, then took the Via Egnatia westward, passing through an arch on the road just east of the Gangites river. Paul and Silas then went on to Thessaloniki by way of Amphipolis and Apollonia (Acts 17:1). However, Paul returned to Philippi at least once more and later wrote a letter to the church there, which consisted of a group of Christians very dear to him (Acts 20:6 cf. 1 Corinthians 16:5-6 and 2 Corinthians 2:13 Philippians). During the Byzantine period, several attacks on the city by numerous foes, plus a massive earthquake in about 620, weakened Philippi, which later became merely an outpost and then was eventually abandoned around the 14 th century.

Philippi: Singular or Plural?

I was reading about Horace recently, and how he fought in the two battles of Philippi. Yet as I look into it more, many sources treat this period as one battle, including the wikipedia page linked below. This makes no sense to me, as even on the wiki page in the column about the battle it give two dates when fighting took place, weeks apart.

So, can anyone on here shed some light on this for me? If you could I'd appreciate it.

[ame=""]Battle of Philippi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]


I was reading about Horace recently, and how he fought in the two battles of Philippi. Yet as I look into it more, many sources treat this period as one battle, including the wikipedia page linked below. This makes no sense to me, as even on the wiki page in the column about the battle it give two dates when fighting took place, weeks apart.

So, can anyone on here shed some light on this for me? If you could I'd appreciate it.

Eh, actually also Italian historiography tends to consider the two single battles as phases of one major battle [so that also in Italian you can read about the battle of Philippi, not the battles of Philippi].

It happens in historiography that conventions rule.

But pay attention that when you ready the chapter on an Italian history text, you discover that there were . the First Battle of Philippi and the Second Battle of Philippi [but don't hope, the chapter carries the title "The Battle of Philippi"].

The City of Philippi in the Bible

NOTE : This is a condensed excerpt from my forthcoming (2014) commentary on Philippians.

Located on the major Roman road known as the Via Egnatia, Philippi was “a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12). Because of its strategic location Philippi became a strategic location for trade despite the fact it was 13 km from Neapolis, the nearest sea port.

As a Roman colony, Philippi was intended to be a miniature version of Rome. However, the Roman character of the city did not erase the previously existing Greek Hellenistic culture. As the lingua franca of the Empire, Greek was widely spoken. Many of the Greeks and Thracians in the area who were displaced by newly settled Romans remained in the area. Witherington sums it up well when he writes “We must then talk about a Roman overlay of culture and custom on top of the indigenous Greek Hellenistic culture which still continued in various ways.”[11]

What was the population of Philippi in the middle of the first century A.D.? While any estimates must be tenuous at best, a safe estimate is 10,000–15,000.[14] The vast majority of that population would have consisted of slaves, service providers, and peasant farmers. Most of them would have lived either at or below subsistence level. With the grant of land to retired soldiers nearly 80 years before Paul set foot in Philippi, military veterans and their families would have comprised an important minority within the population. They would have been especially influential among the elite within Philippi. Yet as a percentage of the population they would have been quite small, perhaps as low as even three percent according to one estimate.[15] Although estimates such as these are necessarily speculative, Peter Oakes argues that about 40 percent of the population were Roman citizens, while the remaining 60 percent were “non-citizens who were largely Greek-speakers.”[16]

Religiously, Philippi was a typical first-century city in that there were a large number of gods worshiped. One particular area that deserves mention is the possible presence of the imperial cult, in which the emperor was worshiped as a god. There is no doubt that the ideology of Caesar’s claim to be Lord and Savior who brings salvation and peace to the world would have been widely known throughout the Roman Empire and particularly in the Roman colony of Philippi. Such ideas were part of the cultural milieu, consistently reinforced by proclamations and celebrations of the emperor’s acts. But it does not follow that the imperial cult was the central religious cult in Philippi and as a result serves as an interpretive grid through which Philippians must be read such a claim goes well beyond the evidence.

A final issue to discuss is the presence (or lack thereof) of Jews in Philippi. Since Luke refers to a “place of prayer” (Acts 16:13) rather than a synagogue, it appears that the Jewish population in Philippi was extremely small. According to Jewish tradition (Mishnah Megilah 3b, 5a), ten Jewish men were required to form a synagogue. Thus it would seem there were not enough Jews in Philippi to meet even this minimal threshold. In fact, Luke goes out of his way to emphasize that Paul and his companions spoke “to the women who had assembled” alongside the river (Acts 16:13). And Lydia, the woman singled out as the initial convert, is identified as a “worshiper of God” (sebomenē), a term that refers to a Gentile worshiper of Yahweh! Every piece of available evidence indicates a negligible Jewish presence in Philippi.

[11] Witherington, Philippians, 5-6.

[14] Oakes, From People to Letter, 44-50. He bases this estimate on the square acreage of the city, likely population density, and the size of the theatre. Other estimates range from 5,000 on the low end to 20,000 on the high end.

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Archaeological site of Philippi – UNESCO World Heritage Site

All-powerful kings of the ancient Greek world, Roman generals and thousands of soldiers, the most important Apostle of the Early Christian years and the first European Christian. Find the traces that they left behind with just one trip to the amazing archaeological site of Philippi!

Basilica B Photo by Iraklis Milas

The region of Philippi is connected to many exceptional historical figures and events that shaped the Western world. Stunning monuments, which have survived until today, are evidence of the long history of the cultures that interacted and grew in this region.

The ancient city of Philippi was initially (360 BC) a colony of the Thassians, with the name of Krinides. It was soon conquered, however, by the then all-powerful Philip II, king of Macedonia, who fortified the city and gave it his name. In the Hellenistic period the city gained its wall, theatre, public buildings and private residences. Undoubtedly, the most impressive building of this period, despite the changes that it has undergone over the centuries, is the ancient theatre of Philippi, which each summer plays host to productions during the Philippi Festival. In the 2nd century BC the Via Egnatia, one of the largest military and commercial roads of the ancient world, was built through Philippi, making the city a focal point of the region.

The most important event during the Roman years, however, which left an indelible stamp on the history of the town was the battle of Philippi in 42 BC, when the Roman Republicans, led by the generals Brutus and Cassius, faced the supporters of the monarchy – Mark Antony, Octavian (subsequently Caesar Augustus, first Emperor of the Romans) and Lepidus. The Republicans lost and their leaders committed suicide. From now on, Rome would be ruled by an aristocratic government.

Even so, another significant event was to change the town yet once more: the arrival of the Apostle Paul, who founded the first Christian Church on European territory in 49/50 AD. The prevalence of the new religion and the transfer of the capital of the Roman state to Byzantium (later Constantinople) shone glory on Philippi. In the Early Christian period (4th-6th centuries AD) the Octagon complex, the metropolitan cathedral dedicated to the Apostle Paul and the “Bishop’s Palace” as well as three grand Christian basilicas were built upon the sites of Roman buildings and private houses.

The Early Christian monuments of Philippi are among the best-preserved of their type and for this historical period in the whole world!

The city was gradually abandoned from the early 7th century AD, due to large earthquakes and Slavic raids. It survived in the Byzantine period as a fortress, but was completely abandoned after the Turkish conquest in the late 14th century.

Archaeological excavations at Philippi were started in 1914 by the French Archaeological School. After the Second World War, the Archaeological Service and the Archaeological Society conducted systematic excavations here. Today, the Archaeological Service, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the French School of Archaeology are continuing the archaeological research. The finds from the excavations are stored in the Archaeological Museum of Philippi. In July 2016 the archaeological site of Philippi was inscribed on the UNESCO register of world heritage sites. You can find further information on the criteria according to which the site was selected on UNESCO’s website.

Panoramic view of the archaelogical site of Philippi Photo by Achileas Savvopoulos

The visitor today can reach the archaeological site of Philippi to the west of the Municipal Department of Krinides by following the provincial Kavala-Drama road. The site’s most important monuments and archaeological groups are: the walls and the acropolis, the theatre, the forum, Basilica A, Basilica B, and the octagonal church.

The walls begin from the peak of the hill, where the fortified acropolis dominates, and they enclose its foothills and a section of the plain (first phase: Philip II – mid-4th century BC second phase: Justinian I, 527-565 AD). Inside the acropolis there is a tower dating to the Late Byzantine period. The total length of the perimeter of the walls is 3.5 km.

The theatre was built probably by King Philip II in the mid-4th century BC. In the 2nd and 3rd century AD significant changes and additions were made, to adapt its functions to the needs of the spectacular entertainment offered in the Roman era.

Basilica A dates to around the end of the 5th century AD. It is a large, three-aisled basilica measuring 130 x 50 m., with a transept aisle in the east side, a square atrium, a gallery above the aisles, and the narthex and a peculiar phiale. The middle aisle preserves sections of the luxurious tile floor and part of the pulpit. The wall paintings in the vestibule of the chamber, which imitate marble revetment, are particularly impressive.

The “Jail” of the Apostle Paul is located to the south of Basilica A. Tradition holds that this is the spot where Paul was jailed. In reality, however, it is a Roman water cistern, which was later converted into a place of worship.

The Roman forum was the administrative centre of Philippi during the Roman period. It is a unified planned complex of public buildings, which are arranged around a central square with monumental buildings, the northeast and the northwest temples. A large paved road passes through the north part of the forum, which has been identified with the ancient Via Egnatia.

The rectangular building (27 x 10 m) uncovered to the south of the forum of the Roman town, with a portico that consisted of a colonnade of six Corinthian columns on its facade, has been identified by its architectural layout and the accompanying inscriptions, as the Roman commercial market (macellum). The complex consisted of a central colonnaded court, to the right and left of which there were shops. The complex of the commercial market is separated from that of the Forum by a wide road, 9 m wide, which was the commercial road. This building was constructed during the Antonine period (second half of the 2nd century AD) and is contemporary with the Forum. In the mid-6th century AD, most of it was destroyed to the foundations in order to create the space needed to build Basilica B. Only its northern section was preserved, with the six-column colonnade that the Byzantine architect incorporated into the Basilica to create a monumental entrance in its north aisle.

Most of the Palaestra has been covered by Basilica B. It included a colonnaded central courtyard, rooms and a small amphitheatre. The best-preserved section is that of the latrines (toilets) in the southeast corner of the building.

Basilica B dates to around 550 AD. It is a three-aisled basilica with a narthex and outbuildings in its north and south (phiale, diaconicon). The almost square central aisle was covered by a dome, which was supported by large pillars. The altar area was covered by a dome, the sculptural decoration of which reflects a Constantinople influence.

The Octagon was the complex of the episcopal church of Philippi. It encloses the octagonal church that had three building phases (from the late 4th/early 5th centuries to the mid-6th century AD) and was built on the site of a house of prayer dedicated to the Apostle Paul (early 4th century AD). This house had in turn been built on the site of a Late Hellenistic tomb/hero monument. The complex even contains a phiale, baptistery, baths, a two-storey Bishopric and a monumental pillar facing the Via Egnatia.

Basilica C is a grand, three-aisled basilica with a narthex and a transept, double pulpit, luxurious marble floor and rich sculptural and architectural decoration. It dates to the 6th century AD.

Major Themes

Paul seems to have written this letter as a “thank you” letter to the church in Philippi in response to their gifts. 5 Paul was so impressed with the Philippian’s generosity that he used them as an example to other churches (2 Corinthians 8:1-5 9:1-5). Paul appreciated that they were a church committed to support the proclamation of the gospel. According to Paul, this was a church others would do well to imitate. 5

Philippians is also written to give a proper perspective on unjust suffering, persecution, and even death. Paul memorably writes, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The Book of Philippians spells out just how this expression should define our perspective. 5

Paul mentions joy or rejoicing 15 times in this letter (on average “joy” or “rejoicing” appears every 7 verses). This is even more significant considering Paul wrote this letter while in prison in Rome and chained to a Roman guard. 7 No doubt the Philippians would remember that Paul had ended up in prison when he first evangelized Philippi. And that while in prison, he and Silas sang praises to God. 13

Below are some concepts Paul found joy in:

  • The joy of prayer (Philippians 1:4)
  • The joy that Jesus Christ is preached (Philippians 1:18).
  • The joy of faith (Philippians 1:25).
  • The joy of seeing Christians in fellowship together (Philippians 2:2).
  • The joy of suffering for Christ (Philippians 2:17).
  • The joy of news of a loved one (Philippians 2:28).
  • The joy of hospitality (Philippians 2:29).
  • The joy of finding our confidence in Christ (Philippians 3:1).
  • The joy of remaining steadfast in the faith (Philippians 4:1).
  • The joy inherent in every gift (Philippians 4:10) as an expression of another’s caring. 11

Humility as a Means to Unity

Paul admonishes the Philippians to live humbly as servants of Christ (2:1-11). He appeals to them on the basis of membership in the body of Christ (2:1-4), reminding them that selfishness hurts everyone. Then he weaves an early Christian hymn (which they probably had sung many times) into the fabric of his argument. The Carmen Christi (2:6-11) functions as a reminder for them to follow in the steps of Christ: if he who was in the “form of God” could humble himself, what right do believers have to refrain from doing the same thing? Further, after Christ “emptied himself” (by adding humanity, 2:6-8) God exalted him (2:9-11). The implication, if this is part of Paul’s argument, is that God will exalt believers who also humble themselves. 9

Remaining Faithful to Jesus Despite Opposition

Paul takes on two groups opposing him in this letter.

The first is an unnamed group of believers in Rome who are jealous of Paul’s success. Paul doesn’t condemn their message, just their motives. 9

The second group is likely in Philippi, perhaps part of the church already. They are the Judaizers who believed that to become a true follower of Jesus one had to become a Jew first. This group had already infected the churches of Galatia. And, as the Acts record shows, they hounded Paul wherever he went. Not only this, but the evidence from Paul’s letters shows that they had infiltrated—or were about to infiltrate—several of his churches (cf. 1 Thess. 2:13-16 Phil. 3:1 etc.). 9

Paul points out that he had the proper Jewish credentials (3:3-6), just as his opponents did, but that all of it was useless for attaining salvation. The basis of a right relationship with God is through faithfulness in Christ (3:9) and the true goal is Christ’s resurrection power (3:10-11). 9

Watch the video: Philippi - Footsteps of the Apostle Paul Vlog 28 (May 2022).