From Neapolis, Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke headed for the important city of Philippi, nine miles inland across a steep mountain ridge. As the foursome came to the top of the rise they could see the city lying at the foot of its acropolis and intercepting the Via Egantia, the main east-west highway of the Roman Empire.
Philippi, site of the first church on European soil
In the 368 BC, settlers from the island of Thasos founded a town there called Krenedes, after the springs (krenai) in the vicinity. Unable to protect their settlement, they requested the help of Philip II (359-336 BC) of Macedon (the father of Alexander the Great). He assisted them, but then seized the town because he needed the rich gold deposits in the nearby Pangaion hills to finance his battles to control Greece. He enlarged and fortified the town and renamed it after himself. But Philippi (from Greek philippos, from philos, "friend" and hippos, "horse," meaning "lover of horses") was of little importance until the construction of the Via Egnatia (Egnatian Way), as it guarded the narrow gap through which the great roadway had to pass.
In 42 BC the plain outside Philippi was the scene of a momentous battle that decided the fate of the Roman Empire. After assassinating Julius Caesar, Brutus and Cassius fled east and were forced to confront the pursuing armies of Octavian and Antony. After the loss of a large part of their forces in two successive battles, and with defeat imminent, Cassius and Brutus killed themselves. Octavian later defeated Antony and Cleopatra in a sea battle at Actium, Greece in 31 BC, and went on to become the first emperor, renamed Augustus. Afterward, Philippi was re-founded by Octavian with retired army veterans who were given land in the area so that the frontier city would have a military presence. Thereafter Philippi grew from small settlement to a city of dignity and privilege with the title Colonia Augusta Julia Philippinsis which gave the Philippians Roman citizenship, exempting them from taxes. They prided themselves on being Romans (Acts 16:21), dressed like Romans and often spoke Latin (numerous inscriptions in Latin are found around the site). No doubt this was the background for Paul's reference in Philippians 3:20:
"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ."
In the footsteps of Paul — Philippi
The excavations of ancient Philippi lie on both sides of the modern highway which follows the line of the old Via Egnatia. Generally the remains seen today are Roman or early Christian. Below, satellite view of the Philippi excavations.
Below, on the south side of the modern highway is the city's large rectangular agora (230' by 485'), dating from the time of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD). It must have been built over the agora of Paul's time.
The agora (from Greek ageirien, "to assemble") was a public square where goods were sold; also where trials and assemblies were held (in its original context, agora meant "I address the public;" eventually it came to indicate the marketplace also). There were colonnades on three sides.
Below, View from the acropolis of Basilica A (foreground), the Philippi agora (center) and Basilica B (beyond).
Below, another view of the Philippi agora, looking west. At the northeast and northwest corners were two large temples, while at the east end there was a library. Among the principal remains at the site are several impressive, though ruined, churches.** (See note at bottom of page)
Below, agora shops with storage jars ** (See note at bottom of page)
The paving stones of the ancient Via Egnatia (below) can be seen alongside the concrete embankment of the modern road. You can easily imagine Paul and Silas walking here with Lydia, her family and the other members of the fledgling Philippi congregation. ** (See note at bottom of page)
Below, In the center of the agora's north side was a bema ("court," NIV; "judgment-seat" ASV and KJV) which served as a place for public debate (as at Corinth).
The most conspicuous church, designated "Basilica B," (below) is on the south side of the agora. It was built in the 6th century by an architect from Constantinople who modeled it after the great church of St. Sophia in his home city. While attempting to add its dome, the eastern wall collapsed, so that the sanctuary was never dedicated. The west end, still standing in 837 AD, fell leaving only the narthex to be converted into a small church in the 10th century. The extensive remains include its massive corner piers and some pillars topped by capitals with interesting acanthus-leaf decoration.
Below, southwest of Basilica B are the well-preserved public latrines, with many of its fifty marble seats still intact. Waste was carried away by running water in a trough beneath the seats.
Immediately east of the agora are the remains of a 5th century octagonal church (below) inscribed in a square. It had an inner colonnade of 20 columns on seven sides with a marble iconostasis (altar screen) on the eighth. It was built on the site of an earlier chapel constructed by Porphyrios, the bishop of Philippi (312-342). ** (See note at bottom of page)
Below, Greek inscription from the earlier chapel. It reads: "Porphyrios, bishop, made the embroidery [mosaic floor] of the basilica of Paul in Christ." It dates the earlier structure to about 343 AD, when the Serdica council, which Porphyrios attended, took place. ** (See note at bottom of page)
On the north side of the Octagon church was a cross-shaped baptistery (below). The church was approached from the Via Egnatia by a great gate. ** (See note at bottom of page)
North of the agora, across the modern highway and up a flight of steps, are the ruins of another church, "Basilica A" (below), probably destroyed by an earthquake soon after its construction, then used as a quarry. The large three-aisled church was built toward the end of the 5th century AD. It had a marble floor and was ornately furnished. Its north walls, with remains of its frescoes, still stand to a considerable height.
Below, Basilica C, dating to the 6th century
Against the east the east slope of the acropolis is the ancient theater (below). It dates back to the founding of the city by Philip II in the mid-4th century BC, but it has been remodeled a number of times. It had seating for about 5,000. One of the oldest edifices in Philippi, it was certainly in its prime at the time of Paul's visit. ** (See note at bottom of page)
Now, as then, Philippi was dominated by its acropolis (below, with remains of bathhouse). At its summit are three massive medieval towers built on the ruins of the Macedonian walls. The climb is recommended for the view of the agora and the surrounding plain. On the ascent are the ruins of a sanctuary to three Egyptian deities, Isis, Serapis and Harpocrates. ** (See note at bottom of page)
Philippi was protected by a six-mile long circuit of walls starting from the summit of the acropolis and descending the steep slope on the south side to encompass a large part of the area at the base of the hill. The earliest part dates to the time of Philip II; the latest to Justinian I (527-565 AD).
Paul preaches the Gospel in Philippi
At Philippi, Paul did not follow his usual pattern of first going to the Jewish synagogue. Philippi had no synagogue, and it is assumed the Jewish population was small. Also, there are no Old Testament quotes in Philippians. For whatever reason, the Jews and "God-fearers" (those who honored the Jewish beliefs but were not full converts, i.e., circumcised) of Philippi chose to meet outside the city near the river. One of the more memorable incidents of Paul's second missionary journey took place outside the Philippi city walls: "On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who 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 16:13-15).
Today, the baptism of Lydia from Thyatira (in Turkey; one of the Seven Cities of Revelation), the first baptism on European soil, is commemorated on the banks of the Gangites river, beyond the Krenides Gate and about 3/4 mile west of the ancient city center. ** (See note at bottom of page)
Here, there is a small chapel, the Baptistery of the Lydians, and a ground-level baptistery (below) near the the riverbank.
I especially recall the sound of rushing water and the pink rose bushes sprinkled around the area. Our visit here was made more memorable when a member of my tour group, Kongo Kimura, from Hilo, Hawaii, chose to be baptized here.
Luke recorded another significant incident at Philippi
One day, as the missionaries were heading for the riverside sanctuary, a strange confrontation brought them to the attention of the whole city:
"Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned round and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her. When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice."
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!"
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God--he and his whole family."
Across the modern highway from the agora and just west of the aforementioned "Basilica A" is a small crypt designated as the "Prison of Paul." However, a guidebook sold at the site states that this "prison" was, in reality, a double water cistern converted into a place of worship. The tradition that Paul and Silas were imprisoned there dates from the 5th century. There is no proof that they were held in this specific locale. ** (See note at bottom of page)
The next day the city magistrates sent some of their men to the jailer to have Paul and Silas released. But Paul became outraged that he and Silas, who were Roman citizens, had been beaten and imprisoned without a trial.
Rather than leave quietly, as the officials wanted, Paul demanded an escort out of the city. He was not being difficult. It was important for him to be seen leaving with dignity so as to ensure the future of the new church members he left behind. But before je left, he visited Lydia's house to encourage the new believers.
Of all the churches he established, Paul had a special bond with the Philippians. No church supported him with more genuine love, prayers and gifts, as the opening to Paul's later letter to them shows:
"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now" (Philippians 1:3-5).
The next target city for Paul, Silas and Timothy was Thessaloniki (Roman Thessalonica), 100 miles west of Philippi, continuing along the Via Egnatia.
Note: The "we/us" references in Acts stop at chapter 16:17; the third person "they" is used until 20:5. Therefore it is assumed that Luke was among those who stayed behind to assist the Christians at Philippi, and later rejoined Paul there.
** High resolution versions of these and other images of the ruins at Philippi available for purchase at CIR Photos.com