Philippi is an ancient city 15km north-west of Neapolis (modern Kavala in the north of Greece). As you leave Neapolis you first cross a mountain ridge with captivating views over the city and the Aegean Sea. After cresting the ridge, the remaining part of the journey is generally flat and leads directly to Philippi.

The ancient city of Philippi was built on a plain at the base of a hill with a fortress on its crown which affords wonderful views over the adjacent plains in all directions. The city walls included the city itself and an accompanying fortress.

The city was founded in 360BC by colonists from the island of Thassos, 26km from Neapolis by sea and was originally called Krinides (The Place of Fountains). It was rich in water springs, fertile ground, timber, gold and silver. Due to threats from neighbouring Thracians, the inhabitants sought aid from King Philip II of Macedon, who built the walls and theatre and named the city after himself. He drained some of the surrounding marshlands and made extensive use of the mines. The city retained some internal autonomy but there is little recorded of it during the Hellenistic period.

The Romans conquered Macedonia in 168BC and forged the Via Egnatia from Rome to Constantinople, passing through Philippi immediately next to the agora. This road would have been used by the Apostle Paul.

In 42BC the decisive battle of Philippi occurred just outside the city. On that occasion Octavian (the chosen heir of Julius Caesar) and Mark Antony defeated Cassius and Brutus (the assassins of Caesar and champions of the Republican cause) in a conflict that was to decide the fate of the whole empire and finally bring to an end the 500-year old Roman Republic. This momentous battle involving 36 legions and 200,000 men would have been only about 90 years before the ecclesia was established.

Later in 31BC when Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, he assumed the name Augustus and rebuilt the city of Philippi. He placed retired soldiers there to ensure loyalty to Rome and established it as a military outpost. He also gave the new colony the highest privilege obtainable by a Roman provincial municipality—the ius italicum. This honour allowed the city to legally treat their land as if it were in Italy. This meant that it was governed under Roman rather than local or Hellenistic law, had a greater degree of autonomy in their relations with provincial governors and allowed the land to be exempt from certain taxes. More significantly the citizens were regarded as citizens of Rome and were entitled to protection by Roman law. It was this last privilege that Paul took advantage of when he was released from prison (Acts 16:35-39).

Being a Roman colony and border-garrison town it was a miniature similitude of Rome and the source of much civic pride for the Philippians, who used Latin as their official language (even though the majority spoke Greek), adopted Roman customs, and modelled their city government and architecture after that found in Italian cities. With this Roman background in mind (cp Acts 16:21 – “being Romans”) we find that there are a number of allusions in Paul’s epistle to the Philippians linking themes to this Roman heritage and military colony.