Amphipolis is mentioned only once in the Bible in Acts 17:1: “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews”. The word Amphipolis is derived from “amphi” (on both sides, or around) and “polis” (city) and refers to the fact that the city was built within a bend of the Strymon River and so was surrounded by water on three sides.

Throughout the 5th century BC, Athens sought to consolidate its control over Thrace in northern Greece because of valuable gold and silver mines between Amphipolis and Neapolis and the dense forests in that area, which were essential for ship building. The area was also close to the sea routes vital for Athens’ supply of grain from Scythia. With this strategic view in mind, Amphipolis was founded by Athens in 437BC and a tactical wooden bridge was constructed over the river.

There was constant war between Athens and Sparta over the city. Thucydides records that in 424BC, Brasidas led the Spartans across the wooden bridge at night in bad weather and, with the help of traitors and favourable terms of surrender, took the city. The Athenians attempted to recover the city two years later but failed. The city retained a degree of independence until it was finally absorbed within the kingdom of Macedonia in 357BC under Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II.

In the reign of Alexander the Great, Amphipolis was an important naval base, so much so that Alexander mustered his fleet there before setting forth on his Asian campaign. The city became one of the main stops on the Macedonian royal road (later to become the Via Egnatia) and was most likely the same road which Paul travelled on from Nepalis to Berea.

When Philip V, the last king of Macedonia, was defeated in 168BC, Macedonia was divided into four sections and Amphipolis became the capital of the first part. In the 1st century BC Amphipolis was devastated by rebellious Thracian tribes, but was rebuilt by Augustus (27BC–14AD).

From an archaeological perspective there are traces of all the impressive architecture one would expect from a thriving Roman city. A bridge, gymnasium, public and private monuments, sanctuaries, and cemeteries all attest to the city’s growth. The Museum of Amphipolis houses the material remains of the ancient city.

During WWI the famous Lion of Amphipolis was discovered (set up in honour of Laomedon of Mytilene, one of Alexander the Great’s important generals) and in 2012 a 4th century BC burial mound was unearthed. This tomb has a surrounding wall measuring almost 500 metres in circumference and constitutes the largest burial site ever found in Greece. The scale and impressive architecture of the tomb, which uses marble imported from Thassos, suggest the occupant was a person of great importance.

The implication we can draw from Luke’s description of Paul’s journey in Acts 17:1 is that there was no synagogue in either Amphipolis or Apollonia and that was why Paul moved on to Thessalonica, where there was one. The absence of Jews in Amphipolis was most likely due to the lack of business opportunities caused by the city’s destruction at the hands of the Thracians.

Whilst there is no further mention of the city by name, we know from 1 Thessalonians 1:8 that the preaching of the Truth “sounded out” throughout Macedonia, which meant that at some point there were converts made in Amphipolis. Furthermore, the city would have been included in the general description “the ecclesias of Macedonia”, ecclesias which were commended for their generosity in times of hardship (2 Cor 8:1-2).