Saturday, July 23, 2016


Philippi is a spectacular ruined city in northern Greece, six miles (10 km) from the Aegean Sea. (Pictures are all from Wikipedia)

The site had been a Greek colony of no particular significance, but in 357 BCE it was seized by Philip II of Macedon and repopulated with Macedonians. The site interested Philip II for two reasons: because of a nearby gold mine, and because it occupied a strategic spot where an old route running north from the sea crossed the great east-west route that the Macedonians made a royal road. Above is the theater, one of the few surviving structures from Philip's time.

That road was later improved by the Romans, who called it the Via Egnatia. A surviving piece.

In 168 BCE the Romans conquered the Kingdom of Macedon and incorporated it into their empire. They divided Macedon into four provinces. Philippi was not the capital of any of them, and it languished. Then in 42 BCE Octavian and Marc Antony fought a battle just outside the walls against Brutus and Cassius, the assassins Caesar. According to our sources the battle involved about 200,000 men, one of the largest of Roman times, and 40,000 were killed. Octavian and Antony were victorious. After the battle they allowed some of their veterans to retire to the town, founding a new Roman colony there. (The Agora)

That colony became a "little Rome," government by Roman law, and Latin long remained the dominant language. (View of the Roman Forum from the Acropolis, with a Byzantine Basilica beyond)

Latin inscription near the Forum.

Relief carvings by the theater.

Small relief carving of Nike by the entrance to the arena, likely put up by gladiators.

In about 50 CE, Philippi was visited by the Apostle Paul, who encouraged the fledgling Christian community there. Around 62 he wrote a famous letter to the Philippians, preserved in the New Testament. (Yes, this is one of the genuine letters of Paul, held by almost all experts to be the apostle's work. It is the source of one of my favorite Christian texts: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.) After the emperors converted to Christianity they showered largesse on what was by the fourth century a dying town, helping to build four significant churches of which ruins can still be seen. These pillars are parts of Basilica A, a sizable church dedicated to St. Paul.

Remains of Basilica B.

Mosaic floor in another church, an octagonal building of around 400 CE.

After the fifth century the town lasted in obscure poverty down to the Ottoman conquest, when it was finally abandoned. (Entrance to the Roman Library)

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