A Brief History and Geography of Thessalonica

This quarter’s lessons focus on two of Paul’s letters to the church at Thessalonica. Today the city is called Thessaloniki and is a major a sea port of Greece on the northwestern shore of the Aegean Sea. It has a history that spans more that 2300 years.

The Cryptoporticus (Wikipedia article “Thesssaloniki”)

From its beginning in the kingdom of Macedon in 315, Thessalonica quickly became one of the most important sea ports of the kingdom due to its strategic location as a hub connecting several major trade routes, the most important one in Roman times being the Via Egnatia which ran east and west through Macedonia, connecting Europe with Asia. The city also connected trade routes that went north to the Balkans and south toward Athens. Under Roman rule Thessalonica was a free city (had its own government) that later became the capital of one of the four districts of Macedonia and eventually the capital of all the Greek provinces late in the history of Rome.

The Roman forum (Wikipedia article “Thessaloniki”)

Luke suggests an intriguing question when he writes about “Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony” (Act 16:12 NKJV) If he included Thessalonica in that statement as one of the lesser cities, his statement would seem illogical since Philippi never became a large city whereas Thessalonica did, even though both were free cities.

Philippi was established before Thessalonica in 356 BC by Philip II, and there are perhaps two good reasons why Luke referred to Philippi as “the foremost city of that part of Macedonia”:

  1. Philip II established it for military purposes due to its strategic location along a major trade route of the Roman Empire that could effectively cut off military movement.
  2. There were a number of gold mines in the area that made Philippi a rather rich city and economically important to Rome.

In spite of these considerations Thessalonica was more important from the standpoint of trade as a hub connecting several trade routes and the sea which made evangelizing that city a priority issue. You can see from the picture below the central importance that city had to Rome and why establishing a church there was important.

Picture from Google Earth of present-day Thessaloniki with trade routes that when through the ancient city super-imposed.

[Edited July 7, 2012 to correct an error in dating.]



A Brief History and Geography of Thessalonica — 8 Comments

  1. Hi Tyler,

    I got a bit confused by the BC dates you used there. My understanding is that according to your dates 356 BC would have come earlier than 315 BC making Phillipi older than Thesalonica but your statement: "Furthermore Philippi was established after Thessalonica by Philip II in 356 BC." is confusing. Please clarify.

    • There is no confusion. You are correct! That only goes to show that I am not always right in what I say which means that like the Bereans we all should test what is preached - always test. [The error is now corrected.]

  2. Nice to view someone was paying attention. Thank you
    I like the educaton and pictures so easy to see how kingdoms change and how America is so short lived and intwined in these last days.

  3. I stumbled into this by accident -- I usually go straight
    to the lesson. I love this information! It is also beautiful
    to see your response to a mistake. It shows that
    you are humble, teachable and a true Christian Brother Cluthe.

  4. Interesting story which can give insight in the whole lesson study.
    thank you pr.



    • If by pr. you mean preacher or pastor, I am neither. I am simply a lay person volunteering my time to SSNet. In spite of that I do appreciate what you and others have said concerning the article.

      I also believe that the other people that supply articles on a regular basis contribute heavily to this website - more so than I do. I have come to increasingly appreciate their contribution the more I work on this website.

      So thank you Elder Kalulu Ronald for your kind words.

  5. OK, so I am working on a sermon based on 2 Thessalonians 2:2-17. And my approach is to focus on the false information and leadership that these Christians faced. In your mind, how important was the Greek culture in setting the stage for these early Christians to be led astray?


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