Philippi

History

The site of Philippi is located in northern Greece, about ten miles inland from the port city of Kavala, or ancient Neapolis.  In Roman times, it was connected to Neapolis by the Via Egnatia, one of the major Roman highways use to travel throughout the Roman Empire.  The Via Egnatia was heavily traveled by anyone heading between Asia Minor in the east to the Adriatic Sea in the West.  Philippi’s location along the ancient road assured that the city was positioned to flourish.  Additionally, the area was rich with fresh water, pastureland, and other natural resources, including silver mines.

Philippi began as a small settlement called Crenides (the town is still called Krinides today) around 360 BC.  It was located along the border between Thrace to the east and Macedonia to the west.  The natural resources of the town quickly caught the attention of both kingdoms.  When Philip II of Macedon realized the abundance of gold and silver, he moved on the city and brought it under his control.  He also renamed the city after himself.  Philip II enlarged the city and fortified its walls.  He also drained some of the swampland around the city, providing more land for agriculture to support the growing town.  Philippi was on its way to becoming a wealthy and strategic city.

Via Egnatia running through the city

With the assassination of Philip II, his 20-year-old son, Alexander the Great, as he would become known, took over the kingdom and was determined to see his father’s ambition fulfilled.  And the city of Philippi served as one of the launching points for Alexander’s campaigns.  After bringing the city-states of Greece under his control, his army crossed into Asia, where he drove the Persian army from Asia Minor in 334 BC.  He then set his sights on the Persian Empire.  The Persians, led by Darius III, were defeated at Gaugamela in 331 BC, marking an end of the Persian Empire.  Alexander’s campaigns took him as far as India, making the Macedonian Empire the new superpower.  But his death at the age of 32 left no direction for the empire, and it was eventually broken up between his generals.

Philippi became a notable city again under the Roman Empire.  The construction of the Via Egnatia through Philippi gave it strategic importance.  Indeed, one of the decisive battles of the Roman civil wars was fought in Philippi.  In 42 BC, Antony and Octavian’s forces defeated the armies of Brutus and Cassius, despite being outnumbered.  The outcome of the battle would greatly impact the future of the city.  With the civil war at an end, Antony and Octavian would disband some of their veteran troops and allowed them to settle in Philippi.  Retired soldiers were given land to farm around the city and Philippi would become a Roman colony.  In essence, Roman colonies were meant to function as mini-Romes, reflecting the glory of Rome.

Philippi In The Bible

We are first introduced to Philippi on the Apostle Paul’s Second Missionary Journey.  He was accompanied by Silas and Timothy.  His original intent was to simply revisit and encourage the churches he established and visited on his first journey through Asia Minor.  But a couple spiritual encounters – dreams and visions – pushed him to cross over into Europe.  From the town of Troas, the team, now including Luke, left the port by boat and docked overnight at the island of Samothrace.  The next day, they completed the short journey to the port of Neapolis, where they would walk the Via Egnatia about ten miles to Philippi.

Luke, in Acts 16, records a lengthy narrative of what took place in Philippi.  Three significant events marked their time in the city.  First, on the Sabbath day, Paul found a group of women just outside of town gathered for a time of prayer.  This would indicate that the Jewish population of Philippi was very small, as there was no local synagogue.  Among these women was Lydia, who would accept Paul’s message.  She and her household would get baptized and her home becomes the base of operations for Paul in Philippi.

The next significant incident happened as Paul was making his way to this same place of prayer along the Zygaktis River.  On one occasion, “we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future.”  She followed the team shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way of salvation.”  While this may sound like an endorsement of Paul and his team, it was not meant as one.  And this went on for several days.  Finally, Paul, being deeply disturbed and increasingly annoyed, cast the spirit out in the name of Jesus Christ.  The result was that the girl was no longer oppressed by the prognosticating spirit.

This second event led to the third significant event that takes place in Philippi.  The owners of the slave girl were incensed at their loss of their ability to make money off her, and had Paul and Silas thrown in prison. During the night, as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns in jail, an earthquake struck the area.  The violent shifting caused doors to fall open and chains fastened to the prison walls to shimmy loose.  The jailer saw that the prison doors were no longer secured and naturally assumed that the prison would be empty.  His response was to draw his sword in preparation for taking his own life.  But out of the darkness, Paul’s voice reassured the jailer that everyone was present and accounted for.  As a result, the jailer and his household also accepted the message of Jesus.

Paul would return to Philippi on his third missionary journey, though few details are given of his stay.  And while standing trial in Rome, he would write a letter to the church, which is our Biblical book of Philippians.  The Philippian church was known for being generous and supportive of Paul’s missionary work.

Take A Photo Tour

Trip Journal

In October 2022, David and JR had an opportunity to visit the archaeological site of Philippi.  What follows are some observations and key insights.

Day 1 – We drove to Philippi in the evening, so the sun was setting as we were finding our way to our hotel.  I wasn’t entirely convinced that Google Maps was taking us to the right spot.  We expected to see more signs giving directions to the site.  One thing you realized driving through Greece is that there is a sign for a historical archaeological site about every ten miles.  So it wasn’t until we were a couple miles outside of town that we saw the first signs indicating we were close to Philippi.  The other realization was that in modern times, the town is called Krinides, and not Philippi.  It was off-season for tourists in the area, so we found a restaurant that stayed open for our dinner (literally, turning the lights out as we left).

Day 2 – At breakfast, our hotel owner offered some great insights into the area.  He used to be a teacher and was happy to give us some historical background, sites to see, and his own perspective on the history of Philippi.  It was like having our own personal guest lecturer to start each day!

After breakfast, we drove to the site of Philippi.  Any concerns that there might not be much to see were quickly erased.  Just inside the ancient city walls, which are still visible, lies the theater.  It is well-preserved and is the second oldest theater in Greece.  As you exit the theater and round the hillside, the ruins of the city spread out before you.  The largest area is the Roman Forum, which is remarkably well-preserved.  One notable site is the traditional location of Paul’s imprisonment in Philippi.  More recently, excavators have proposed another site.  We discuss this in the video below.

The theater at Philippi

The Via Egnatia is also now visible and runs directly through town, adjacent to the Roman Forum.  A modern road previously took traffic right through this area, but more recently it has been closed so that archaeologists can uncover what has been hidden by the road.  The remains of public baths and toilets are also visible. There are three large basilicas that have been identified as well, attesting to the importance of Philippi to early Christianity.  Overall, the site is very large, larger than Corinth.

The ancient site sits at the base of a large acropolis.  So, we made the hike up to the top and were rewarded with great views of the archaeological site, as well as the surrounding valley.  A small hill can still be seen in the distance, which marks the spot where Mark Antony commanded his troops during the Battle of Philippi.

The site is incredible and well worth a visit!

Day 3 – The day began with the owner of the hotel driving us to a field and showing us rock art among the oldest found in the region.  After parting ways, we did a beautiful hike through an ancient collapsed cave system, which today is a deep ravine with a stream running through it.  Afterwards, we drove to the site of Lydia’s baptism.  Lydia was among the first to accept the message of Christ in Philippi and her household became important in establishing the church there.  The site today is home to a beautiful church, as well as a small sitting area and platform for baptisms at the river.  See the video below for more insights to this location.

The Roman Forum and Acropolis

Site of Lydia's Baptism

The baptistery where Lydia was baptized

As far as general insights from the site, here are some additional thoughts:

Insight #1: Philippi, the Roman colony

The city that the Apostle Paul visited and wrote to was thoroughly Romanized.  Though named after Philip II of Macedon, Philippi experienced a resurgence under the Roman Empire.  Standing atop the acropolis, you can see the hill on which Antony commanded his troops in the Battle of Philippi.  You can see the plain where Cassius’ troops were stationed, with the Zygaktis River separating the two.  Cassius, mistakenly thinking that his side had lost, committed suicide in the city.

After Antony and Octavian ultimately won that battle, Roman troops were settled in the city and the city became a Roman colony.  Octavian would later settle more troops at Philippi.  The Roman Forum is the size of a football field, and the theater was updated to accommodate Roman entertainment.  Some of the expansion took place after Paul’s visit, but there is little doubt that Philippi was a very Romanized Greek city.  It was meant to function as a miniature Rome.

Insight #2: The Via Egnatia

The ancient port city of Neapolis, now called Kavala, was linked to Philippi by the Via Egnatia.  The Via Egnatia ran directly through Philippi, adjacent to the Roman Forum.  Back in Kavala, large sections of the road have been uncovered and preserved (see video below).  In Philippi, a modern road was paved over the ancient Roman road, but that is now being rerouted and excavated.  From Philippi, the Via Egnatia would have allowed Paul easy traveling on to Thessalonica and other cities.  Even today, as you travel to northern Greece, you start to see signs for the Egnatia Odos – the modern highway running through the north.  Roman roads truly sped the spread of early Christianity.

Insight #3: Philippi’s role in early Christian history

The first evening as we approached Krinides (Philippi), we saw signs for the town of Lydia.  A couple days later, we visited the site of Lydia’s baptism and St. Lydia’s Church Baptistery.  Though Lydia plays a prominent role in Acts 16, she is not mentioned in Paul’s letter of Philippians.  Presumably, she no longer lived in Philippi when Paul wrote to them.  Yet clearly, she was remembered in the region and played an important role in early church history.  The remains of three large basilicas have also been identified in Philippi, further attesting to the role that the city held in the early church.

Video Tour

Podcast

Stay In The Know!

Sign up to receive our email newsletter with the latest articles and discussions from Navigating An Ancient Faith!