Philippi, Greece

Philippi (Ancient Greek Φιλιπποι, Philippoi) is a city in eastern Macedonia, founded by Philip II in 356 BC. According to the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Philippi is "the most important archaeological site of eastern Macedonia." Because it was visited by St. Paul during his missionary journeys and later the recipient of one of Paul's letters (Philippians), Philippi is an important site for Christians and a main stop on pilgrimage tours of Greece. The site is extensive and there are many structures of religious interest to see here.


History of Philippi

Philippi was founded by the king of Macedon, Philip II, in 356 BC on the site of the Thasian colony of Crenides (Κρηνἱδες, "the fountain"), near the head of the Aegean Sea at the foot of Mt. Orbelos (the modern Mt. Lekani), about 8 miles north-west of Kavalla, on the northern border of the marsh that in Antiquity covered the entire plain separating it from the Pangaion hills to the south.

The objective of founding the town was to take control of the neighboring gold mines and to establish a garrison at a strategic passage: the site controlled the route between Amphipolis and Neapolis, part of the great royal route which crosses Macedonia from the east to the west and which was reconstructed later by the Roman Empire as the Via Egnatia.

Philip II endowed the new city with important fortifications, which partially blocked the passage between the swamp and Mr. Orbelos, and sent colonists to occupy it. Philip also had the marsh partially drained, as is attested by the writer Theophrastus. The discovery of new gold mines near the city, at Asyla, contributed to the wealth of the kingdom, and Philip established a mint there. The city was finally fully integrated into the kingdom under Philip V.

The city remained despite its modest size of perhaps 2000 people. When the Romans destroyed the Antigonid dynasty of Macedon in 167 BC and divided it into four separate states (merides), it was Amphipolis and not Philippi that became the capital of the eastern Macedonian state.

Almost nothing is known about the city in this period. All that remains is the Greek theater, the foundations of a house under the Roman forum, the walls, and a little temple dedicated to a hero cult. This monument covers the tomb of a certain Exekestos and is dedicated to the κτιστης (ktistès), the foundation hero of the city.

The city reappears in the sources during the Roman civil war that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar. His heirs Mark Antony and Octavian confronted the assassins of Caesar, Marcus Junius Brutus and Cassius, at the Battle of Philippi in the plain to the west of the city in October, 42 BC. Antony and Octavian were victorious in this final battle against the partisans of the Republic. They released some of their veteran soldiers, probably from legion XXVIII, and colonized them in the city, which was refounded as Colonia Victrix Philippensium.

In 30 BC, Octavian became Roman emperor, reorganized the colony, and established more settlers there, veterans possibly from the Praetorian Guard and other Italians. The city was renamed Colonia Iulia Philippensis, and then Colonia Augusta Iulia Philippensis after January 27 BC, when Octavian received the title Augustus from the Roman Senate.

Following this second renaming, and perhaps after the first, the territory of Philippi was centuriated (divided into squares of land) and distributed to the colonists. The city kept its Macedonian walls, and its general plan was modified only partially by the construction of a forum, a little to the east of the site of Greek agora. It was a "miniature Rome," under the municipal law of Rome and governed by two military officers, the duumviri, who were appointed directly from Rome.

The colony recognized its dependence on the mines that brought it its privileged position on the Via Egnatia. This wealth was shown by the many monuments that were particularly imposing considering the relatively small size of the urban area: the forum, laid out in two terraces on both sides of the main road, was constructed in several phases between the reigns of Claudius and Antoninus Pius, and the theatre was enlarged and expanded in order to hold Roman games. There is an abundance of Latin inscriptions testifying the prosperity of the city.

In 49 or 50 AD, the city was visited by the apostle Paul during his second missionary journey. According to the book of Acts, he was guided there by a vision of "a man of Macedonia" (Acts 16:9). Accompanied by Silas, Timotheus, and Luke, Paul preached in Philippi. The Jewish community there seems to have been small, but Paul and his friends found Jewish women gathered at a river to the west of the city on the Sabbath. There Paul baptized Lydia, a purple dye merchant, who invited the missionaries to stay at her home (Acts 16:14-15).

In another account recorded in Acts, Paul drove out an evil spirit from a slave girl who worked as a fortune teller. Her owners became angry and dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace and complained about them before the magistrates. A crowd joined in the condemnation, and the missionaries were stripped and flogged, then thrown into prison. At midnight, however, a great earthquake came and the prison doors flew open. The jailer nearly killed himself over it, but Paul talked him out of it and converted him. The next morning, the magistrates released Paul and Silas and asked them to leave the city. (Acts 16:16-40)

Paul visited the city on two other occasions, in 56 and 57 AD. The Epistle to the Philippians dates from around 54-55 and shows the immediate impact of Paul's preaching. The subsequent development of Christianity in Philippi is well-attested, notably by a letter from Polycarp of Smyrna addressed to the community in Philippi around 160, and by funerary inscriptions.

The first church attested in the city is a small building that was probably originally a small prayer house. This Basilica of Paul, identified by an mosaic inscription on the pavement, is dated around 343 from a mention by the bishop Porphyrios, who was present at the Council of Serdica that year.

Although there is neither archaeological nor literary evidence for the foundation of the Christian community by Paul, the prosperity of the city in the 5th and 6th centuries was attributed to him and to his martyr cult. As in other cities, many new ecclesiastical buildings were constructed at this time. Seven churches were constructed in Philippi between the mid-4th century and the end of the 6th, some of which competed in size and decoration with the most beautiful buildings in Thessalonica, or even those of Constantinople.

The relationship of the plan and of the architectural decoration of Basilica B with Hagia Sophia and Saint Irene in Constantinople accorded a privileged place to this church in the history of early Christian art. The complex cathedral which took the place of the Basilica of Paul at the end of the 5th century, constructed around an octagonal church, also rivaled the churches of Constantinople.

In the same age, the fortifications of the city were rebuilt in order to better defend against the growing instability in the Balkans. In 473, the city was besieged by the Ostrogoths, who were unable to take it but burned down the surrounding villages.

Already weakened by the Slavic invasions at the end of the 6th century, which ruined the agrarian economy of Macedon, and probably also by the Plague of Justinian in 547, the city was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake around 619, from which it never recovered. There was a small amount of activity there in the 7th century, but the city was now hardly more than a village.

The Byzantine Empire possibly maintained a garrison there, but in 838 the city was taken by the Bulgars under khan Isbul, who celebrated their victory with a monumental inscription on the stylobate in Basilica B, now partially in ruins. The site of Philippi was so strategically sound that the Byzantines attempted very soon to recapture it ca. 850. Several seals of civil servants and other Byzantine officials, dated to the first half of the 9th century, prove the presence of Byzantine armies in the city.

Around 969, Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas rebuilt the fortifications on the acropolis and in part of the city. These gradually helped weaken Bulgar power and strengthen the Byzantine presence in the area. In 1077, Bishop Basil Kartzimopoulos rebuilt part of the defenses inside the city. The city began to prosper once more, as witnessed by the Arab geographer Al Idrisi, who mentions it as a centre of business and wine production around 1150.

After a brief occupation by the Franks after the Fourth Crusade and the capture of Constantinople in 1204, the city fell into the hands of the Serbs. Still, it remained a notable fortification on the route of the ancient Via Egnatia; in 1354, the pretender to the Byzantine throne, Matthew Cantacuzenus, was captured there by the Serbs.

The city was abandoned at an unknown date. When the French traveller Pierre Belon visited it in the 16th century, there was nothing but ruins, used by the Turks as a quarry. The name of the city was preserved at first by a Turkish village on the nearby plain, Philibedjik, which has since disappeared, and then by a Greek village in the mountains.

Only noted or briefly described by 16th century travellers, the first archaeological description of the city was made in 1856 by Perrot, then in 1861 by L. Heuzey and H. Daumet in their famous Mission archéologique de Macédoine. Nevertheless, the first excavations did not begin until the summer of 1914, and were soon interrupted by the First World War.

The excavations, carried out by the École française d'Athènes, were renewed in 1920 and continued until 1937. During this time the Greek theatre, the forum, Basilicas A and B, the baths, and the walls were excavated. After the Second World War, Greek archaeologists returned to the site.

From 1958 to 1978the Société Archéologique, then the Service archéologique and the University of Thessalonica uncovered the bishop's quarter and the octagonal church, large private residences, a new basilica near the Museum and two others in the necropolis to the east of the city.

What to See at Philippi

The archaeological site of Philippi lies on either side of Highway 12; it is best to begin your visit on the south side, across the highway from the ticket booth. The entrance leads right onto a section of the Via Egnatia, the main east-west road through the city. The road was built by the Romans, but over top of an earlier Hellenistic road.

Adjacent to the road is the Roman forum, the administrative center of Philippi. On the west side was a temple, probably dedicated to Antoninus Pius as part of the imperial cult. Other temples surround the forum as well. South of the forum is Commercial Road, which was lined with shops. There are still games engraved in the floor.

On the southern half of the Commercial Agora and extending further east are the splendid ruins of a Christian basilica church dating from 550 AD. Known as Basilica B, the Direkler (Turkish for "columns"), or the Pillars Basilica, the church had three aisles and a square nave covered with a dome.

East of the Roman agora are the remains of the Octagon or Basilica of Paul, a cathedral church built c.400 AD over the ruins of an earlier chapel. A mosaic inscription here reads, "Porphyrios, bishop, made the embroidery [mosaic floor] of the basilica of Paul in Christ." The Octagon was destroyed in the early 7th century.

North of the Octagon were more ecclesiastical buildings, including a baptismal area with a dressing room, font, and anointing room. This complex incoporated a 2nd-century Hellenistic heroon (shrine of a hero) dedicated to Euephenes, who also appears in a list of initiates into the cult of the "Great Gods" at Samothrace. Northeast of the Octagon complex are the ruins of the episcopal palace, which also included staff apartments, offices, winepresses, storerooms and courtyards.

Across the highway is a large three-aisled church known as Basilica A. Built towards the end of the 5th century, it had a marble floor and was ornately furnished with frescoes and sculptures. A heroon was also incorporated into this basilica.

To the east of the stairway is a structure traditionally identified as St. Paul's Prison (Acts 16). However, this is not where a prison would have been located, and it was actually a Roman cistern or crypt transformed into a Christian chapel. There are some frescoes inside.

West of Basilica A is yet another early Christian church, dubbed Basilica C. Dating from the 6th century, it has three aisles, chapels, and a gallery accessed by a spiral staircase. It was also beautiful decorated and paved in marble, and a large amount of colored glass was found in the ruins. The church was destroyed in the 7th century and subsequently used as a cemetery.

Nearby is the Philippi Archaeological Museum, with artifacts from Philippi and surrounding areas. A path on the north side of the museum leads to the acropolis, which includes a variety of Hellenistic sanctuaries and a theater.

Quick Facts on Philippi

Site Information
Categories:biblical sites; city ruins; ruins
Status: ruins
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:41.012179° N, 24.283991° E
Hours:Summer: Tue-Sun 8am-7pm

Winter: Tue-Sun 8am–3pm
Lodging:View hotels near Philippi
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.


  1. Philippi - Wikipedia (some text incorporated under GFDL)
  2. Philippi - Hellenic Ministry of Culture

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Map of Philippi, Greece

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