Philippi to Thessaloniki

 
Spring of 50 AD - From Philippi, Paul, Silas and Timothy traveled west along the Via Egnatia, passing through Amphipolis and Appolonia on their way to Thessaloniki (Greek), Thessalonica (Roman), the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia.

Map of the second missionary journey

Amphipolis

Amphipolis was about 32 miles west of Philippi and 3 miles from the Aegean Sea on the Via Egnatia. Its name, meaning "around the city" (from amphi, "around," and polis, "city"), is derived from the fact that Strymon (Strimón) River curved around the site on which it was built.

Originally a Thracian town called Ennea Hodoi ("Nine Roads"), it was colonized by Athens in 437 BC. A Spartan named Brasidas seized it in 424 BC and defeated the Athenian Cleon, who tried to recapture it in 422 BC. It was officially returned to Athens in 421 BC but actually remained independent, despite Athenian attempts to regain control. Philip II of Macedonia occupied it in 357 BC, and it remained under Macedonian control until 168 BC, when Rome made it a free city and the prosperous capital of the first district of Macedonia. A strategic transportation center, it controlled the route from northern Greece to the Hellespont to the east, including the western approach to the timber, gold, and silver of Mount Pangaion in Thrace.

Excavations have revealed traces of the ancient walls, Roman aqueduct and gymnasium (below).

Outside the ancient city, immediately west of the bridge over the Srymon River, is a 4th century burial monument known as the "Lion of Amphipolis" (below).

Lion of Amphipolis

The site of the ancient city is now occupied by the modern Greek town of Amfípoli.

Apollonia

A maritime city of Macedonia located 38 miles east of Thessaloniki on the Via Egnatia; its name means "belonging to Apollo." Apparently Paul did not preach here or in Amphipolis because neither had a significant Jewish population.

Appolonia wall remnant

On their arrival in Thessaloniki, Paul, Silas and Timothy "as usual" made their way to the synagogue.

Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki was a port city about 100 miles west of Philippi and 190 miles northwest of Athens. The city was founded about 315 BC by King Cassander of Macedon, who named it after his wife Thessalonikeia, a half-sister of Alexander the Great. Little is known about her except that she was born under favorable circumstancesher father Philip II's conquest of Thessaly. Her name means "victory (niki or nica) in Thessaly." The city continued to develop until Rome defeated Perseus, the last Macedonian king, in 168 BC. Rome divided the former kingdom into four independent "free" districts, then, in 146 BC, established it as a province with Thessaloniki as its capital. At the time of Paul it had a population of about 200,000, making it the largest city in Macedonia.

Thessaloniki view of the modern city

Thessaloniki was located in a natural amphitheater on the slopes of the Kortiates Mountains at the head of the Thermaic Gulf, with a view (when not obscured by a prevailing haze) of fabled Mt. Olympus across the bay. It was an important trade and communication center at the junction of the Via Egnatia and the road north to the Danube.

Walking in the footsteps of Paul — Thessaloniki:

Paul first came to Thessaloniki in 50-51 AD during his second missionary journey, and there established the second Christian community in Europe (after Philippi). As in all Greek/Roman cities this new church was up against various cults, including ones to the Egyptian deities Serapis and Isis. Zeus was honored, as were Asclepius, Aphrodite. Dionysus and Demeter. There was also evidence of a cult to a number of gods collectively called Cabiri who were thought to promote fertility and protect sailors, especially important in a port city like Thessaloniki. Their importance is evidenced by coins from the first century AD which depict the Cabiri as the city's tutelary deities.

Unlike Philippi, most of the ancient city still lies under the modern city, now Thessaloniki, popularly called Saloniki. Still there are a number of ruins to help pilgrims envision what the city was like at the time of Paul. Among those that can be seen is:

Agora - Located in the center of town is the agora,* about 70 by 110 yards, which dates about 100 to 300 AD. The remains of shops can be seen today, but only about one-fourth has been excavated; the rest are under the surrounding buildings. A third century odeum (small covered theater) is preserved on the east side. It is also possible that a second agora was located close to the harbor, and that the Jews, who came to Thessaloniki possibly less than a decade after the city's foundation, located their synagogue in the vicinity. During the 1st cent. BC, a large Jewish community formed near the port, therefore this may have been the synagogue where Paul taught. As attested by a marble inscription, the city also had a Samaritan synagogue.

*Greek equivalent of the Roman "forum;" derived from the Greek ageiro, "to gather"

** (See note at bottom of page)

Thessaloniki ancient agora

Thessaloniki odeon in agora

Below, Circular bathhouse at the agora measuring nearly 25 feet in diameter, at the center of which was a sauna. Adjacent to this room were two pools for hot and cold water and a rectangular hall.

Roman Bath

City walls and acropolis - The upper part of the city was built on the cliffs of the quarry from which the stone for the walls came. Originally built shortly after 315 BC, the walls were 5 miles in length, from 10' to 15' thick and 33" to 39" high. In the 4th century AD, they were extensively strengthen by emperor Constantine. Later they were reinforced by the Byzantines and, in the final phase (14th and 15th centuries), towers were added by the Turks. Until the second half of the 19th century they completely surrounded the town. Today only about 2 1/2 miles remain; the sections nearest the waterfront were pulled down by Turkish authorities in the 1869. ** (See note at bottom of page)

Thessaloniki wall

Thessaloniki wall

Paul made a another visit to Thessaloniki in 56 AD. Both of Paul's letters to the Thessalonians were written from Corinth: 1 Thessalonians, in 52 AD, and 2 Thessalonians, perhaps about 6 months later, in 51 - 52 AD.

With a population of over a half-million people, Thessaloniki (popularly, Saloniki) is the most populous city in Greece after Athens. It serves as capital of the region of Macedonia and the province of Salonika. The second largest port in Greece after Piraeus (near Athens), it has an impressive waterfront, backed by wide and well-planned streets. The city's industries produce textiles, soap, carpets, tobacco products and ships. Exports include agricultural products and hides as well as manganese and chrome ores.

Landmarks dating after the time of Paul:

White Tower (115' high) - Built in 1530 on older foundations and was once part of the city walls during the Turkish rule. One sultan executed his rebellious bodyguard here in 1826 and locals began calling it the "Bloody Tower." The sultan took umbrage and painted it white It is no longer painted white and it provides a beautiful focus for a evening walk along the waterfront. ** (See note at bottom of page)

so called white tower

white Tower at Night

Basilica of Agia Sofia - Originally built in the 8th century AD, its name means "Holy Wisdom," two attributes of Christ. A mosaic inside the dome depicts the Ascension. The capitals of the interior columns are believed to be from the original church. ** (See note at bottom of page)

Agia Sophia church interior of dome

St. Demetrios Church - Originally built shortly after 463 AD and rebuilt in the 7th century and again in 1948, it is the largest church in Greece. Located north of the ancient agora, it was built over the place where a young Roman soldier named Demetrios (now the city's patron saint) was imprisoned, tortured and burned by the Romans in 305 AD for preaching the Gospel. The oldest part of the church, the crypt below the altar, was once the Roman baths near the agora. The remains of the Roman road can be seen in the crypt. ** (See note at bottom of page)

St. Demetrios Church interior

Triumphal Arch of Galerius (below) - In the 4th century AD, Thessalonika was one of the four capitals of the Roman Empire and served as the seat of co-emperor Galerius (d. 311 AD), who was absolutely opposed to Christianity. During the great persecution of 303-311, he issued several edicts authorizing the deaths of Christians and the destruction of Christian property. Only one of the monument's four sides remains. Reliefs on the piers depict the emperor's military campaigns.

Gallerius arch

Palace of Galerius - A large complex with a wide atrium, throne hall, the royal session hall, temples, barracks, dormitories, fountains and more, built around 300 AD.

Palace of Galerius

Rotunda - A colonnaded street once ran north to the Rotunda (right side of above photo), originally built as a mausoleum for Gallerius' remains. It was never used as such. Ironically it later became a church (St. George's). The damaged minaret to the west is a relic of the time when it was converted into a mosque.

RotundaPaul preaches the Gospel in Thessaloniki

(The account of Paul's visit is found in Acts 17:1-10)

While in Thessaloniki, Paul supported himself, as usual, by making tents ("Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you" 1 Thessalonians 9:2.) For three Sabbaths, Paul discussed the Gospel with the Jews in their synagogue to show them that Jesus' death and resurrection fulfilled the scriptures. Some of the Jews were convinced by his arguments, as were many God-fearing Greeks and "not a few prominent women" of the city. But other Jews, resenting Paul's success, "rounded up some bad characters from the market-place, formed a mob and started a riot in the city." Then they went to the house of Jason, where the disciples were staying, planning to drag them before the city officials. Unable to find Paul and his group, the instigators seized Jason* and some other Christians and brought them before the city magistrates, "shouting: 'These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.'"

Sound familiar? This last charge ("another king, one called Jesus") sounds very much like the one made against Jesus before Pontius Pilate.

Alarmed by this, the magistrates made Jason and the others post bond before setting them free. After dark, "the brothers" sent the missionaries away to Berea, 45 miles to the west-southwest.

*Jason is the Greek version of the Semitic names Joshua or Jesus. He would would later join Paul in Corinth (see Romans 16:21),

 

Thessaloniki to Athens