Thessaloniki (AV Thessalonica) was located at the intersection of two major Roman roads, one leading from Italy eastward (Egnatian Way) and the other from the Danube to the Aegean. Its location combined with its natural port facilities made it a prominent city. In 168BC it became the capital of the second district of Macedonia and later it was made the capital and major port of the whole Roman province of Macedonia (146BC). Thessalonica was made a free city in 42BC after Octavian and Antony defeated Brutus and Cassius at Philippi to revenge the death of Julius Caesar.

The city was founded in 316BC by Cassander who named it after his wife Thessaloniki, who was Alexander the Great’s half-sister. She was given this name because she was born the same day her father, Philip II, returned from a successful battle in Thessaly called the Battle of Crocus Field. Thessaloniki means “Victory in Thessaly”.

Paul would have travelled along the Via Egnatia from Philippi to Thessaloniki and Luke records that he found there a synagogue of the Jews, in which, for three successive sabbaths, he preached the gospel, basing his message upon the types and prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 17:2-3). Some of the Jews became converts and a considerable number of proselytes and Greeks, together with many women of high social standing, believed (v4). Among these converts were, in all probability, Aristarchus and Secundus, whom we afterward find accompanying Paul to Asia at the close of his third missionary journey (Acts 20:4). The former of them was, indeed, one of the apostle’s most constant companions (Acts 19:29, 27:2; Col 4:10; Phm:24). Gaius, too, who is mentioned in conjunction with Aristarchus, may have been a Thessalonian (Acts 19:29).

The apostle’s success roused the jealousy of the Jews, who raised a commotion among the dregs of the city’s populace (Acts 17:5). An attack was made on the house of Jason, with whom the evangelists were lodging, and when Paul could not be found, Jason himself and some of the other converts were dragged before the magistrates and accused of harbouring men who had caused tumult throughout the Roman world in defiance of the imperial decrees. No evidence was forthcoming and so Jason and his friends were released on security (v5-9) whilst Paul and Silas were sent on to Berea by night (v10).

The apostle later wrote two epistles to the ecclesia. The first expressed Paul’s thankfulness for their steadfast faith under trial (1 Thess 1:2-10). He went on to counter the false accusations made against him and his fellow-labourers (2:1–3:13). He also explained why he had not returned to visit them even though he yearned to be with them (2:17-18, 3:10) and in conclusion he exhorted them to live a life of godliness (4:1-12, 5:12-18).

His second epistle was sent shortly afterwards. This time he wrote to correct a misunderstanding on the return of Christ from heaven (2 Thess 2:1–3:5) and to once more strengthen them in the face of increasing opposition (1:3-12) as well as continue the exhortations to godliness (3:6-15).

The illustration with this article shows the little that is left dating back to the first century. It depicts the remains of the Agora, or market, with its ground and underground levels. There is also a section of Roman road underneath the church of Agios Dimetrius, which has been restored.

Most of the historical sites belong to the time when Galerius was a member of Diocletian’s tetrarchy (AD293–313). He built a palace, hippodrome, rotunda, and a triumphal arch which is still standing, to celebrate his victory over the Sassanid Persians. Sections of the wall are still standing from Byzantine times, and the city’s most famous monument now is the White Tower, which was built by the Ottomans.