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The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Archaeology What is This? Contains accessibly written entries for topics covering the religious, historical, and social aspects of the Bible.


When Paul visited Macedonia in the mid-first century C.E. it had already been a Roman province for almost two centuries. In 168 B.C.E. Perseus’s army was defeated at Pydna during the Third Macedonian War. In the aftermath of this decisive battle the Macedonian kingdom was divided into four administrative districts (merides), each having its own capital: Amphipolis of the first district, Thessaloniki of the second, Pella of the third, and Pelagonia of the fourth. These administrative districts are also mentioned in relation to Paul’s visit to the area (Acts 16:12). Although they did not exist by the time Paul visited the area, it seems that the memories of this first administrative organization by the Romans had not faded away. In the same period the Romans allowed the Macedonian cities to form a commonwealth, which in the imperial period was responsible for the imperial cult. In 149 B.C.E. a revolt broke out in the area. Andriscus, a pretended son of Philip V (r. 221–179 B.C.E.), claimed the throne of Macedon and rose against the Romans. Andriscus was defeated in 148 B.C.E., and Macedonia was annexed to the Roman Empire and organized as a Roman province. The provincial law that had been imposed by Aemilius Paulus, the victor of Pydna, remained the valid constitution of the province; and the Roman governor was settled in Thessaloniki, the capital of the province. The defeat of Andriscus was, however, hailed as deliverance by the inhabitants of Macedonia; and a new dating system was established. The Roman conquerors were honored as benefactors, and Rome was venerated.

In the ensuing years Macedonia suffered under the attacks of various barbarian tribes and the avarice of some of its Roman governors. In the turbulent period of the Roman civil wars (49–30 B.C.E.) Macedonia became one of the battlefields of the rival powers. The definite dominance of Octavian (Emperor Augustus, r. 29 B.C.E.–14 C.E.) in the political scene of Rome signaled a period of political stability and security. The cities of Macedonia hailed Augustus as their savior, and a new dating system beginning with the day of the victory in Actium (2 September 31 B.C.E.) was established. For a short period Macedonia became an imperial province, but it returned to its former status as a senatorial province under Claudius (r. 41–54 C.E.).

This period of tranquility and security led to the financial and cultural growth of Macedonia. The construction of Via Egnatia in the second century B.C.E., which connected Byzantium to Dyrrachium and the settlement of Roman merchants and their agents in various Macedonian cities, played an important role in this development too. The archaeological findings attest this growth as well as the vivid social life of the Macedonian cities and their multiform religious life.


Philippi was founded by Philip II (r. 382–336 B.C.E.), father of Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 B.C.E.), on the site of the small village of Krenides in 356 B.C.E. He stationed a garrison in the new city because he wanted to take control of the gold mines of Mount Pangaion (the Homeric Nysa) and of the road from Amphipolis to Neapolis (modern Kavala). Philippi was granted the rights of a free city, and according to some epigraphic evidence (the lists of theoroi [envoys sent to consult oracles] from Delphi and a decree from the Asclepius sanctuary of Kos) it retained its autonomy even later, during the Hellenistic period. However, there is not enough evidence from this early phase of the city’s life.

It is probable that in the late Hellenistic period Philippi lost its previous prestige and fell into oblivion. Strabo (Geogr. 7, frag. 41) described it as “a small village.” When the Via Egnatia was constructed Philippi became one of the Roman stations on this road. In 42 B.C.E. the significant battle between the army of Brutus and Cassius, on the one side, and that of Octavian and Antony, on the other, took place on the plain of Philippi. In the aftermath of the battle, one of the two victors, Mark Antony, founded the Roman colony of Philippi and had his veterans settled there. The name of the colony commemorated the great victory in Philippi: Colonia Victrix Philippensium. Two altars celebrating the great victory were also erected on the battlefield. A coin from Philippi bears evidence of the foundation of the colony by Mark Antony: on the one side there is a bust of Mark Antony, whereas on the other a priest uses a plow pulled by a bull and a cow to mark ritually the pomoerium (the sacred boundaries of the colony; see Burnett et al., 1992, no. 1646). Another coin depicts a magistrate supervising the drawing of lots for land, which was granted to the colonists (Burnett et al., 1992, no. 1647). After the defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra in Actium, Octavian refounded the colony of Philippi (30 B.C.E.). He had Italian peasants transferred to Philippi in order to have his veterans settled in Italy. Along with them came a cohort of praetorians, Octavian’s civilian supporters and soldiers. The colony took the name Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis.

The colonists were registered with the tribe Voltinia of the city of Rome, and Philippi was granted the ius italicum (privilege granted to non-Italian cities giving legal status of an Italian city). The Roman inhabitants were exempted from any direct taxes and had the rights of the citizens of Rome. The political status of the colony along with its geographical location (on the Via Egnatia) and the prosperity of the land that was annexed to its territory contributed to the economic growth of the city. The development of the city during the Principate and the Imperial period is attested by the monuments that came to light.

The problem of the territory of the colony has not been solved. The discovery of inscriptions mentioning the tribe Voltinia and magistrates of the colony in various locations in the surrounding plain indicates that villages and smaller settlements in the area were part of the Philippian territory. It is certain, therefore, that the fertile plain expanding to the northwest and southwest of the colony belonged to it. Its northern boundaries reached the slopes of Mount Phalakron and the valleys of Prosotsani and Platania. On the basis of epigraphic evidence the southwestern boundary should be placed near Neapolis. In the west the territory included the Pangaion Hills and spread up to Neon Souli. To the northwest the territory bordered Amphipolis near modern Palaiokomi. Finally, the southern border of the colony remains open to discussion. It is debatable whether ancient Galepsos and Oesyme were part of Philippian territory. It is also unclear what the status of Neapolis, which functioned as the harbor of Philippi, might have been.

It seems that the colony had reached a considerable prosperity level in the first century C.E. and continued to grow in wealth until the end of the second century C.E. This is made evident by the extensive construction program in the forum of the colony that lasted from the mid-first century C.E. to the beginning of the third century C.E.

Since the greatest part of the ancient site has not been excavated, it is difficult to reach any clear conclusions regarding the city size and plan of the colony. The land that was surrounded by the city walls was approximately 167.5 acres (67.8 ha), out of which almost three-fourths was occupied. According to calculations based on the number of seats in the Philippi theater, the population of the city must have been 5,000 to 10,000 people in the first and second centuries C.E. The most prominent feature of the city fortification is the acropolis on the northeastern corner of the city walls. The city walls themselves did not change much in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

Any reconstruction of the first-century C.E. colony is difficult since the archaeological excavations in the area of the city are incomplete (as of 2012) and most of the edifices that have come to light are dated later than Paul’s visit to Philippi. It is difficult, therefore, to create any direct associations between the account in Acts and the archaeological evidence from the area. Basilicas A and B as well as the Octagon (the octagonal cathedral church and the seat of the bishop of Philippi) that dominate the area east of the agora are all dated to later times (the Octagon to the fifth century C.E. in its earlier phases and the two basilicas to the sixth century C.E.). Furthermore, the alleged prison of Paul next to Basilica A used to be a water reservoir in Roman times; and it was later, in the early Byzantine period, that it was annexed to the basilica and identified as Paul’s prison. Hence, instead of establishing any direct correlation between Acts and the archaeological findings in Philippi, the material evidence and especially the inscriptions from Philippi should be employed in the reconstruction of the sociohistorical and semantic context of the early Christian community in Philippi and of the Philippian correspondence.

In the center of the city there was the forum of the colony, which is preserved in its second-century C.E. form. However, there are traces of the oldest forum as well as of monuments, buildings, and houses that can be dated to the first century C.E. The macellum (market hall) and a palaestra (wrestling school) stood on the southern side of the forum. These should also be dated to the second century. On the eastern side various buildings dating from the early Augustan to the Byzantine times have been excavated. On each end of the northern side of the forum there were fountains, and in the center of it the bema (a raised platform) of the forum can still be seen. It is assumed that Paul was brought here to the city magistrates by the angry masters of the young slaves whom he cured (Acts 16:19). A balneum (Roman bath) dated to the Augustan period has been excavated in the area of the Octagon, east of the agora and next to a Christian baptistery complex and the Via Egnatia. The Via Egnatia ran through the city and divided it into two parts. It entered the city at the Gate of Neapolis (east) and exited it at the Gate of Amphipolis (west). A third gate, at the western walls of the city, has also been excavated.

Two more buildings from the period prior to the second century C.E. should also be mentioned: (1) the Hellenistic theater of the city that was converted into a gladiatorial arena in the second century C.E. and (2) the monumental arch, now destroyed, which stood near the Gate of Amphipolis and is probably associated with the foundation of the colony. It is rather improbable that it marked the boundaries of the colony’s pomoerium since part of the city’s necropolis has been excavated in the area inside this arch.

Philippi had the same administrative civic system as every other Roman colony. The inscriptions attest the titles of various officials of the colony: decuriones (members of the civic council), duumviri (the highest officials of the colony), aediles (officials responsible for the market), quaestores (treasurers of the city), eirenarches (head of the city police), munerarius (responsible for organizing public events), and actor coloniae (responsible for the management of the city’s assets and its legal representative). The titles of the auxiliary personnel are also preserved: medicus (physician of the city), praeco (civic herald), archimimus (head of a group of actors), and choragiarius (responsible for organizing the theatrical performances of the city). Finally, the title of the servus coloniae (slave of the colony) is mentioned in the inscriptions of the city.

Philippi was mainly an agricultural colony. However, the mines and quarries of the area also contributed to its wealth. Additionally, the Via Egnatia, the main Roman road connecting Rome with the east, ran through the city. As a result the city became an important commercial center of the first administrative district of Macedonia. The inscriptions of the colony bear witness to the economic life of Philippi. The presence, for example, of merchants from Italy and Asia Minor can be epigraphically attested. An undated inscription mentioned a purple seller from Thyateira (Pilhofer, 2000, no. 697). Lydia, who according to Acts (16:15) was baptized along with the other members of her household by Paul, was also involved in the trade of purple and came from Thyateira. The presence of business agents (pragmateutes) in the inscriptions of Philippi is also an indication of the commercial relations between Philippi and various other parts of the ancient world.

Regarding the cults of the city and its territory, the archaeological findings bear evidence of the coexistence and merging of many different traditions. The most prominent cults of the city and its area were those of Dionysus, Bendis/Artemis/Diana, and the Thracian Horse Rider.

The myth of Dionysus is closely associated to Philippi and its area. According to one version the mountain Nysa, where the god was hidden by Zeus and brought up by the nymphs, should be identified with Pangaion. There is also literary evidence of a Thracian tribe bearing the name “Dionysioi” settled in the plain of Philippi. A hill near Philippi bore the name of the god, and there was a bacchic oracle on Pangaion. Two sanctuaries of Dionysus/Liber Pater have been located in the city, one on the acropolis and one in the center of the city, which was connected to an association of maenads. The active participation of women in associations of maenads is also known from other parts of the Roman Empire. However, it probably lacked the ecstatic quality of the ancient cult. In the case of Philippi and its area the maenadic associations seem to have also had a funerary function. The presence of the cult in the center of the colony indicates an official character. Furthermore, the fact that the maenads in Philippi dedicated a water main is also an indication of their financial situation. Various other associations (thiasoi) of the deity can be epigraphically attested in the territory of the colony. Like those of the maenads, they had funerary duties and were closely associated to the Rosalia, a Roman festival honoring the dead. The close association of Dionysus with life after death is also clearly depicted in an inscription found in Doxato describing eternal bliss in the Elysian Fields (Pilhofer, 2000, p. 439, dated to the second century C.E.).

The cult of Bendis/Artemis/Diana is also well attested. In the local cult of Philippi three different traditions were combined: the chthonic Thracian Bendis, the Greek Artemis, and the Roman Diana. This fusion of the three traditions is made clear by the fact that all three names appear on the inscriptions of Philippi. The major bulk of material evidence regarding the cult comes from the acropolis of Philippi. Various reliefs depicting the goddess hunting a deer were carved on the rocks of the acropolis, which is assumed to have functioned as an outdoor sanctuary in Roman times (51 percent of the reliefs on the rocks of the acropolis depict the goddess). The depictions of the goddess there combine elements from all three iconographical traditions of the deity. Some of the reliefs are also accompanied by dedications made by thankful worshippers. In these texts the goddess appears in her role as savior and healer. It is assumed that female participation in this outdoor cult of the goddess was particularly prominent. This is indicated by the reliefs of female figures, probably depicting the priestesses or worshippers of the deity, that are carved in close proximity to the representations of the goddess. According to Lilian Portefaix (1988, pp. 84ff.), the goddess of the Philippi acropolis adopted the role of Hecate or Persephone and the female figures on the rocks were dead women who were put under the protection of the goddess. Female participation in the cult of Artemis is attested by various inscriptions of the area as well (e.g., Pilhofer, 2000, nos. 451, 512, 519).

The Thracian Horse Rider, who in the area of Philippi was venerated under the name of Heros Auloneites, is a deity who in spite of its local pedigree was also venerated by Greeks and Romans and became part of the religious life of the colony. This is due to the popularity of the cult in Philippi and its region, as the diffusion of its monuments and the longevity of local sanctuaries, like the one in Kipia (south of Philippi on the slopes of Pangaion), indicate. Three unpublished artifacts, all discussed by Peter Pilhofer, demonstrate the inclusion of the cult in the public cults of the colony (1995, pp. 98–100): (1) a coin of Philippi found in the agora of Thasos, bearing on one side a portrait of Augustus and on the other an image of the Heros Auloneites; (2) an altar dedicated to Heros by the colony of Philippi, which was found at the site of the Kipia sanctuary; and (3) an inscription from the same sanctuary mentioning the procuratores (officials) of the deity’s cult, which indicates adoption of the Roman hierarchy by the local cult under probably the influence of the Roman colony of Philippi.

The traditional Greek deities were also venerated here: Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Athena, Ares, Artemis, Poseidon, and Asclepius. When the Romans settled in the area they brought their own deities, like Jupiter, Juno, Mercury, Silvanus, Minerva, Mars, Liber, and Diana. The cult of the imperial house was later added to them. The cult of Cybele was imported very early (perhaps in the pre-Christian era), whereas that of the Egyptian deities became prominent in the second century C.E. It remains uncertain whether their cult existed in the time that Paul visited Philippi. At least their sanctuary on the slopes of the acropolis must be dated to the second century C.E. The inscriptions also attest the existence of a variety of cult associations and of cult officials. An interesting example is the case of Silvanus, a Roman deity of the woods, whose sanctuary was found in the quarry north of the forum of the colony. The lists of the members of the association (collegium Silvani) are in Latin and are comprised of persons who were slaves, freedmen, members of the humbler social strata of the colony, a phenomenon typical of the cult in other places of the Roman Empire.

Philippi’s association to the glorious past of the Roman Empire as well as the fact that it was a Roman colony with close ties to Rome certainly molded the character of the city and the self-consciousness of its inhabitants. The coins and monuments of Philippi dated to the Augustan era clearly reflect the propaganda of Augustus and his efforts to associate Philippi with his greater program of restoring the ancient Roman traditions and values. On one of them a statue of Julius Caesar crowns the statue of Augustus, connecting thus the victory against Caesar’s murderers with Augustus himself. The theme of this Augustan victory (victoria augusta) appears very often on coins of this period. The ideals of the Augustan era are also advertised in inscriptions of the colony; for example, the treasurers of the colony dedicated to “Augustan equality” (aequitas augusti; Pilhofer, 2000, no. 249), and there are also dedications to the Augustan “peace” (Pilhofer, 2000, no. 203), “fortune” (Pilhofer, 2000, no. 251), and “victory” (Pilhofer, 2000, no. 224). The imperial cult was also part of the public religion of the colony. The names of various officials of the cult are epigraphically attested (e.g., flamines, sacerdotes Augustae, seviri augustales), and there is archaeological evidence of the existence of two temples of the imperial cult in the forum of the colony. It is interesting that, according to Acts 16:21, Paul and his co-workers were accused of “advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” This could be an indirect reference to the customs of the Roman ancestors that was part of the advertised restoration program of Augustus and decisively contributed to the construction of the collective Roman identity.

On the other hand, it is also interesting that Paul clearly advocated a new citizenship (politeuma) for the members of the newly founded Christian community of Philippi (Phil 3:20) and set Jesus Christ who humbled himself (Phil 1:8) as an example to the Philippian Christians. It could be assumed that there is a succinct criticism and opposition to the Roman pride and self-awareness of the Philippians, who prided themselves on being citizens of Rome and representatives of the new order. It can also be an indication of the social stratification of the Philippian church. On the basis of the few names of Philippian Christians that are preserved in the Acts and Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (e.g., Lydia, Euodia, Syntyche, and probably Syzygos) it could be assumed that some of the prominent members of this congregation belonged to the lower strata of Philippian society. They were probably non-Roman freedmen, a social group that generally displayed a tendency of social mobility and sought to establish its own status in the social system of the Roman Empire. Paul offered them a new identity and a new ethos, replacing the emperor and his order with that of Jesus Christ.

Finally, a Jewish community was resident in the city. Paul visited a Jewish place of prayer that was outside the gate and by the river (Acts 16:13), where he met Lydia and some other women. There has been some speculation regarding the character of this gathering place as well as its location. However, since there is no evidence regarding the Jewish presence in the first two centuries C.E., it is difficult to draw any definite conclusions. The first safe witness of the existence of a Jewish synagogue is dated in the third or fourth century C.E. and cannot, therefore, be used as evidence of Jewish presence in Paul’s time. Because of the lack of evidence it could be assumed that the Jewish community of Philippi was rather small in the first century C.E.


Thessaloniki was founded by King Cassander (r. 305–297 B.C.E.), who brought together 26 smaller townships located around the Gulf of Thermaikos in 315 B.C.E. and named the new city after his wife and half-sister of Alexander the Great, Thessalonike (Diodorus Siculus 129.52.1–2). Little is known about the city in this early period. It is highly probable that it was organized like a typical city of the Macedonian state: it had its own municipal administrative system, but it was not politically autonomous. After the fall of the Macedonian state in 146 B.C.E. Thessaloniki became the capital of the second administrative district (meris), and when later Macedonia was turned into a Roman province it was established as the capital of the province and the seat of the Roman governor.

The political turbulence of the period prior to the reign of Augustus affected the city’s life. Thessaloniki suffered lootings and destruction by invading barbarian tribes. From the later years of the republic onward, the political situation in the area was stabilized and the city began to grow in both wealth and population. Following the battle of Philippi, Thessaloniki was granted the status of a civitas libera (free city), which meant tax exemption, judicial independence, and the right to mint coins of small denomination. During the first and second centuries C.E. the city became an important and wealthy commercial center as the presence of foreign and especially Roman merchants and the flourishing of various nonindigenous cults attest. The city’s prosperity was due to many factors: the political stability after the end of the Roman civil wars and, especially during the reign of Augustus, its location on the Via Egnatia, as well as the fact that the city evolved into an important harbor.

The modern city has been built over its ancient predecessors. Therefore, a full reconstruction of first-century C.E. Thessaloniki seems impossible. The archaeological findings lead to the conclusion that there must have been three major construction stages. The original small settlement was located in the Gulf of Thermaikos. North of the settlement a Hellenistic extension following the Hippodamian building system of that period was added (i.e., parallel and vertical roads that divide the city into large building squares). The main road, which ran parallel to the seashore and can more or less be identified with the modern Egnatia Street, bore the name “Royal Road” (Via Regia).

The center of the Hellenistic and early Roman city was a two-leveled agora, which is preserved in its second-century C.E. form. However, some edifices from the earlier phase of the agora have also come to light: the mint, the city archive, the city assembly hall, and the Roman baths. Most of the temples of the city should be located in the area northwest of the agora, in the so-called sacred district. On the basis of archaeological and mostly epigraphic evidence, the temple of the imperial cult, the Sebasteion, as well as the temple of the Egyptian deities, the Sarapieion, and those of other cults should be located in this area. Northwest of the agora, at Kyprion Agoniston Square, the remains of an administrative building, probably the headquarters of the governor and city officials, dated to the first century C.E. have come to light. On the northern side of the agora traces of the ancient gymnasium and stadium have been detected. Later, in the third century C.E., during the period of the tetrarchy, Thessaloniki became the seat of one of the two augusti, Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus (r. 305–311 C.E.). At that point the city center was transferred eastward in the area where the complex of his palace (along with the triumphal arch and a round cult building, the Rotonda) can still be seen.

Thessaloniki was ruled according to the administrative system of a typical Greek city. The epigraphic evidence bears witness to the existence of the free citizens’ assembly (demos), the city council (boule), the elders’ assembly (gerousia), a gymnasium, as well as youth associations. The citizens were organized in various tribes (inscriptions attest the names of four of them, Asklepias, Antigonis, Dionysias, and Gnaias, while Stephanus mentions two more, Kekropis and Boukephalia). The titles of various civic offices of the Roman period are also known: bouleutes (member of the boule), gerousiarch (head of the gerousia), agoranomos (clerk of the market), and oikonomos tes poleos (city steward). However, the most important officials of the city were the politarches, who seem to have had administrative, judicial, and more general municipal duties. They appear on the inscriptions usually in groups of five, they were elected annually, and their presence is also epigraphically attested in various Macedonian cities besides Thessaloniki (Beroea, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Anthemous, Lete, Pella, etc.). They are also the officials mentioned in the Thessalonian incident of Acts (17:5–9); Jason, the host of Paul, and some members of the newly founded community were brought in front of them and had to pay bail.

Thessaloniki developed close ties to Rome and its rulers. Four aspects of this relationship are of particular importance: (1) the existence of the cult of Rome and Roman benefactors from the second century B.C.E. onward as well as that of Julius Caesar and of the emperors from the early Principate onward; (2) the presence of a significant number of Roman merchants in the city, of the so-called Roman negotiatores (citizens who lent money on interest), who participated to the city life and the city cults; (3) the romanization of the upper and middle social layers; and (4) the special connection of the city to Mark Antony and Augustus, who were regarded and venerated as the city saviors after the battle of Philippi. An expression of this gratitude was the monument, later lost, erected over the Golden Gate of the city, where the two men were depicted as the Dioscuri and hailed as saviors.

Another interesting aspect of this pro-Roman atmosphere in the city is the fact that Thessaloniki chose to imitate the iconographic motifs of coins of the city of Rome on its own bronze coins, especially during the period of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasty. Finally, presumably during Augustus’s reign, a large temple of the fifth century B.C.E. was transferred from Aeneas, one of the ancient townships in the Gulf of Thermaikos, to the “sacred district” of the city in order to host the cult of the emperors, thus creating ties between the past of the city and the new order of the Roman emperors. The accusations against Paul in Thessaloniki (Acts 17:7) should, therefore, be placed within this political context. The Jews and the agoraioi andres of Thessaloniki (probably attorneys that frequented the marketplace) regarded Paul’s preaching as being against the diatagmata kaisaros (decrees of Caesar). These diatagmata could refer either to various decrees that were issued against the Jews of the empire (e.g., Claudius’s letter against the Alexandrinian Jews uses a similar formulation to the accusations in Thessaloniki) or to the oaths taken by the citizens of various cities of the Roman Empire in order to affirm their political loyalty to the emperors.

Apart from the imperial cult there is ample archaeological and epigraphic evidence of a vivid variety of religious cults in Thessaloniki. Among the deities whose cults are attested in Thessaloniki were various Greek deities, like Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hercules, and Dionysus, but also some Anatolian deities, such as Sabazius, Hecate, and Mithras, as well as the Celtic goddess Epona. Moreover, one of the most prominent cults in Thessaloniki was that of the Egyptian deities Isis, Sarapis, Anubis, Ammon Zeus, Osiris, etc. The inscriptions attest the celebration of the mysteries of Osiris and of the feast of Isidis Navigidium (ploiaphesia). There is also epigraphic evidence of various religious voluntary associations that venerated one or more Egyptian deities (e.g., of Sarapis, Anubis, or Harpocrates). The Sarapieion of the city should be situated in the “sacred area” and was founded probably in the third century B.C.E. under the influence of the Egyptian cult in Delos. The sporadic archaeological and epigraphic findings from the sanctuary’s site lead to the conclusion that it was made up of a complex of buildings and that it hosted the cult of other non-Egyptian deities as well (the so-called synnaoi theoi, in the case of Thessaloniki the emperors, Dionysus, Artemis, etc.). A copy of the famous Isis aretalogy has also been found.

The patron deity of the city, at least in the period of tetrarchy, must have been Cabirus, a young and beardless god who is presented on the city coins from the time of Vespasian (r. 69–79 C.E.) onward and is associated with an orgiastic cult. He is depicted on the city walls holding a hammer and protecting it from barbarian intruders, a role which was later ascribed to the young martyr and patron saint of Thessaloniki, Demetrius. It is assumed that Paul’s emphasis on holiness in his first letter to the Thessalonians should be understood as an indirect critique against the orgiastic cult of Cabirus, who was also addressed as “holy” in Thessaloniki. However, Cabirus was not the only deity who was venerated in such a way in the city.

An interesting but often neglected cult of the Greco–Roman period is that of Theos Hypsistos (“most high god”). Eight inscriptions that have come to light and are dated from the mid-first century to the beginning of the second century C.E. attest the existence of a voluntary Theos Hypsistos cult association. All these Thessalonian monuments come from an assembly building of the cult, which probably stood near the Sarapieion. Two of the monuments of Thessaloniki are member lists of the association. The members were called synklitai, those who share a common meal or participate in a symposium; and their leader bore the title triklinarches, the man who is responsible for a symposium. The fixed position of the names of some of the synklitai in both lists seems to indicate some kind of hierarchy. These two inscriptions, along with a third that has come to light, indicate that the major expression of the association’s life and cult was a common meal, a symposium, a feature also known in the case of other associations in Thessaloniki as well as in other parts of the Greco–Roman world. This feature is of particular interest since it was also the central event in early Christian, and especially Pauline, communities; it established solidarity among the cult members and expressed their community with the venerated deity. Most of the persons mentioned in the Theos Hypsistos inscriptions from Thessaloniki are Roman citizens, either free Greek citizens who were granted Roman citizenship or freedmen of Roman families.

There is no indication that any of the adherents of the cult was of Jewish origin. Furthermore, there are no indications that the Theos Hypsistos of Thessaloniki was a Greek interpretation of the Jewish God or that the cult adherents were Gentile god-fearers. The Thessalonian monuments should rather be related to a general trend of this period toward more abstract and transcendent perceptions of divinity and should thus be associated with similar cult monuments from other parts of the eastern Roman Empire as well as with the cult of other abstract concepts, especially in Asia Minor. They indicate the existence of a common ideological background shared by pagans, Jews, and Christians in first-century C.E. Thessaloniki in addition to a possible interaction between these religious realities.

According to Acts (17) there was a prominent Jewish settlement in the city and at least one synagogue, which attracted many Gentile men as well as women. There has been much discussion about the location of the first-century C.E. synagogue. However, there is no concrete material or literary evidence that could lead to any safe conclusions, which means that all proposed solutions must remain in the realm of speculation. Unfortunately, all the information regarding the Jewish presence in the city comes from later ages. The earliest (mostly epigraphic) evidence of the Jewish presence in the city is dated to the mid-second century C.E. It is, therefore, impossible to come to any safe conclusions regarding the size and organization of the Jewish community in the first century. On the other hand, this argumentum ex silentio should not lead to an easy rejection of the evidence of Acts. It is highly probable that some of the persons mentioned in the inscriptions of this period who bear Greek or Roman names were Jews. It is, for example, of particular interest that in one of the earliest Jewish inscriptions of Thessaloniki the text mentions more than one synagogue, an indication of the size of the Thessalonian Jewish community in the third century C.E. Additionally, an inscription of the early Byzantine period bears witness to the existence of a Samaritan community in the city. It is probable that Jews were attracted to Thessaloniki because the city was an important commercial center in the Roman period.


Beroea was the second-most important city in Macedonia. It was named after the daughter of Beretus, who was a hero of Macedonian mythology. Thucydides mentions it as a small village that fought against the Athenian army. In the fourth century B.C.E., under the reign of Alexander the Great and his successors, Beroea became a typical Greek city and reached its peak under the Antigonids. Later, Beroea became an ally of Pyrrhus of Epirus, and it was the first Macedonian city to capitulate after the battle of Pydna. The fact that the city voluntarily surrendered to the Romans led to its economic and social growth.

In the republican period several families of Italian merchants settled in the city and were granted the right to own land. The permanently settled Italians, along with the remaining nobility, formed the new upper social layer of the city and continued the harmonious relation with Rome in the period of the Principate and in the imperial times. These good relations are epigraphically attested by the letters sent by various emperors and provincial governors to the city as well as by the numerous inscriptions erected by the city honoring prominent Romans.

When Macedonia was divided into four administrative districts (merides), Beroea became one of the significant cities of the third district. By the end of the first century C.E. Beroea bore the title of neokoros, which meant that it was granted the right to erect a temple of the imperial cult. During the same period the city was given the title of “metropolis of Macedonia.” Later, during Elagabalus’s reign (r. 218–222 C.E.) the city was granted the right to build a second temple and was acclaimed as “twice neokoros.” In imperial times Beroea also became the seat of the Macedonian commonwealth, which was responsible for the imperial cult in the province. During Roman times Beroea was, therefore, an important commercial center with significant cultural life. The inscriptions of the city attest that Beroea hosted music and poetry contests as well as gladiatorial games. The remark in Acts that the Jews of the city were more “receptive” than those of Thessaloniki could be associated with the high cultural level of the city. Beroea owed its prosperity to two important factors: (1) its geographical location in a particularly fertile area and at the crossroads of the main roads that connected Macedonia to Epirus and southern Greece and (2) political circumstances that were favorable to the city during the Roman period.

Like Thessaloniki, Beroea has been inhabited since ancient times. It is, therefore, very difficult to draw any conclusions regarding the boundaries of the city and its size. The city is built on a natural plateau on the slopes of Mount Vermion. On the west its natural border is Mount Vermion and on the southeast, the lake of Giannitsa. The northern boundary must have been the territory of the town of Mieza, and on the south the territory of the city must have included the land between the Tripotamos and Aliakmon Rivers. The famous sanctuary of the Indigenous Mother of Gods in Leukopetra as well as the fertile plain south of Beroea must have belonged to the territory of the city. In the center of the city was the agora, public buildings, and sanctuaries. The housing areas of the Roman city were located south and north of the agora. The city plan followed the Hippodamian system of vertical and parallel roads. One of the two main roads, the one identified with Metropoleos Street of the modern city, led to the temple of the imperial cult in the area of the modern Dikastirion Square; monumental colonnades ran along the two sides of this road.

Beroea was organized like any other typical city of Macedonia. The epigraphic texts mention the existence of a city council (boule) and a free citizens’ assembly (demos), and they preserve the titles of various civic officials: politarches, clerk of the market (agoranomos), police magistrate (eirenarches), registrar (grammatophylax), secretary (grammateus), official dealing with corn (sitones), and steward of the city (oikonomos tes poleos). There is also epigraphic evidence of various youth associations and of a gymnasium. The gymnasiarchy law of Beroea, dated probably to 168 C.E., is one of the most important epigraphic documents from the early Roman period and provides useful information about the organization and social stratification of Beroea. The citizens of the city were organized in tribes (the names of three of them are known: Peukastike, Paionis, and Bereike). There is also ample epigraphic evidence regarding the officials of the Macedonian commonwealth.

An interesting feature of the city’s society is the prominence of persons bearing Roman names. This was a result of mixed marriages between Roman settlers and the locals, as well as the granting of Roman citizenship to the local nobility. These “new Romans” who had wealth and political power became the carriers of the Roman imperial ideology. They ascended to the highest civic offices and to those of the imperial cult using their wealth and power in order to act as benefactors of their fellow citizens and to establish their city’s fame.

Archaeological and epigraphic evidence bears witness to the various cults and several cult associations in Beroea in the Roman period. Female deities, especially Artemis but also the Indigenous Mother of Gods and the Syrian Mother of Gods, Isis Lochia (i.e., the one responsible for safe childbirths), Aphrodite, and Ennodia, were especially popular. Additionally, various other Greek deities, like Zeus, Athena, Hermes, Dionysus, Apollo, and Hercules, were venerated. One particular aspect of the religious life of the city is the acts of manumission that took place through the dedication of a slave to a deity, most prominently to the Indigenous Mother of Gods at Leukopetra. Finally, the cult of the emperors was one of the major religious features of the city since Beroea was granted twice the right to build a temple for the imperial cult.

According to Acts (17:10) Paul visited the synagogue of the city and preached there. Unfortunately, there is no material evidence of the Jewish presence in the city from the time of Paul’s visit. The first presumably Jewish names (Maria, Sambatis, and Sambation) appear on inscriptions in the second and third centuries C.E., and the first information about a Jewish synagogue there is dated to the fourth century C.E. As in the case of Thessaloniki it is probable that some Jews are hidden behind the Greek names, which appear in inscriptions of earlier periods. It is also probable that the Jews settled in Beroea because it was a prosperous commercial center.


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Ekaterini G. Tsalampouni

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