Philippi (Philippians 1)

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The city of Philippi in Paul’s day boasted a remarkably colourful history:

  • In 359 B.C. the orator Callistratus and some Greek colonists from the island of Thasos founded a colony called Krenides in the northern Greece near Macedonia and Thrace.
  • In 356 B.C. Philip II of Macedon seized the gold mines near the site, fortified the city wall, drained the nearby marshes, constructed a theatre, increased the city’s size and renamed it after himself.
  • Alexander the Great (the son of Philip II) used Philippi as a base for his conquests.
  • In the second century B.C. Macedonia was captured by the Romans and Philippi became a Roman outpost.
  • In 42 B.C., in the civil war following Julius Caesar’s assassination, Octavian (Augustus) and Mark Antony defeated the forces of Cassius and Brutus at a major battle near Philippi.
  • Octavian, also victorious in a subsequent war against Mark Antony and Cleopatra, renamed the city Colonia Julia Augusta Philippensis and settled a number of Roman veterans there.
  • Pul’s missionary work in Europe began at Philippi, and it was there that the first baptisms in Europe took place (Acts 16:9-33).

Situated near the Via Egnatia, Philippi lay between Asia and Europe and was thus an excellent base of operations for Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth (Acts 16:14-15), since she could acquire this commodity from the east and sell it to the Romans and Greeks in the west. Acts 16:12 is sometimes taken to mean that Philippi was the administrative centre of the district of Macedonia, but the Greek text of this verse is uncertain and may actually mean that Philippi was “a city of the first district of Macedonia”. Evidence from Pliny the Elder (Natural history, 4.38) indicates that the capital city of this region was Amhipolis. A theatre that was in use in Paul’s day can still be found in Philippi, and a stone crypt near the forum is traditionally identified as Paul’s jail (Acts 16:23), although this tradition has not been verified.

The Philippi of Paul’s day was essentially a Roman city in Greece. Its Roman citizens enjoyed the same legal rights as those in Italy, and Latin became the common language of the city. The heavy Roman presence in Philippi may account for the greeting from “Caesar’s household” in Philippians 4:22. Still, Paul reminded his Christian readers, their citizenship was in heaven (Philippians 3:20).


 

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