Journey through Ancient Greece


Philíppi (also spelt Philíppoi, Filíppoi or Filípi) is 15 kilometres north of Kavala. The archaeological remains here are mostly from the Roman and Byzantine periods of the city's history. The theatre is the only major building to have been excavated from the time of Philip II.


The city was originally the village of Krenides which because of its position close to the gold mines on nearby Mount Pangaion and proximity to the port of Neápolis (modern Kavala) attracted the attention of Philip II of Macedon. He took the town from the Thracians in 356 BC and renamed it after himself. The first century historian Appian called Philippi 'the gate between Europe and Asia' and in the Acts of the Apostles Paul refers to it as 'the foremost city in that part of Macedonia, a colony.'

Philip established a royal mint here and the large number of coins minted here is a testament to the city's prosperity.

Drainage of the marshes improved the climate and made the land suitable for agriculture; tobacco, corn and wheat are grown here now.

The Via Egnatia, the great road built between 146 and 120 BC linking Rome to Byzantium, passed through the centre of Philippi.

The Via Egnatia

To the west of the city is the plain on which in 42 BC theBattle of Philippi took place; it was actually two battles fought in the space of three weeks. Two years previously, after the assassination of Julius Caesar, Brutus & Cassius had fled east and assumed control of the army in Macedonia. In 42 the combined forces of Mark Antony and the young Octavian (Caesar's adopted son and heir) confronted the armies of Brutus and Cassius. In the first engagement Mark Antony defeated Cassius, who then committed suicide, and Brutus defeated Octavian. (Brutus buried Cassius, secretly on the island of Thasos.) Three weeks later another battle was fought and Brutus was defeated by Antony & Octavian, and also killed himself. Eleven years later Octavian fought Antony and Kleopatra at Aktium; Antony and Kleopatra committed suicide in Egypt and Octavian became Caesar Augustus, marking the end of the Roman Republic.

Mark Antony settled the veterans of the battle in the city which became a Roman colony with Latin as the official language. With Neápolis (Kavala) as its port Philippi formed the easternmost town of Roman occupied Europe.

In AD 49 St Paul arrived here preaching the gospel for the first time in Europe.

Christianity flourished in Philippi from the 4th century following the establishment of Constantinople as the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire in AD 330 and the Greek language was re-established.

Earthquakes at the end of the 5th century and beginning of the 6th destroyed the early basilicas.

Philippi went into decline after the arrival of the Franksin the 13th century and in 1387 after the Ottoman conquest the citizens fled and the city fell into ruins.

The Site

3/2 open 8.30 to 1500. There are ticket offices opposite the Forum & near the coach park. The museum has been closed for many years. There are loos, a café and picnic area between the coach park and the theatre.

The site covers a huge area in three parts, divided by a busy road; originally the via Egnatia passed through the centre.

It is not easy to make sense of the remains as earthquakes caused most of the buildings to collapse, and also the Early Christian basilicas and episcopal buildings were constructed over Roman and Hellenistic buildings, often incorporating the old materials.

I will try to help you identify the most interesting parts of the site but you may just want to wander and soak up the atmosphere.

From the coach park you go through the shady picnic area and through part of the ancient fortified wall which surrounded the site and reaches up to the acropolis on the hill to the north west.

The theatre is set into the hill of the acropolis. Originally built in the time of Philip (4th century BC) and one of the largest of the period, it was much altered by the Romans into an arena for gladiatorial and animal combat. The seating of the cavea was restored in 1959 and the theatre is now used for drama festivals in the summer. Substantial restoration work is now being carried out on the Roman stage buildings or frons scaenae. This is of the type found in Asia Minor with five doorways in a rubble wall. In the late 2nd century AD the Romans removed the first few rows of seats to build a parapet to protect the audience from the wild animals, erected vaulted roofs over the entrance passages or parodoi and built a double colonnaded stage building with niches for statues. The bas reliefs on the left hand side of the entrance are of Nemesis, Mars & Victory. A tunnel was constructed at this time to enable the animals to reach the orchestra without endangering the audience. Some of the white marble floor of the orchestra remains.
Continuing past the theatre you will come to the foundations of the 5th century Basilica A which was destroyed, probably by an earthquake, not long after it was built; only two restored columns of this vast church remain standing. (From here is a magnificent view of the forum and the rest of the site below.)

Beyond the basilica is a colonnaded court and on the left the remains of a small temple originally thought to be a Hellenistic heroon it is now believed to be a Roman building.

Further on you will find a marble staircase leading down towards the road and the lower part of the site. About half way down look out for the stone building which is believed to have been the prison of Saint Paul and Silas. Originally a Roman water cistern it was converted into a Christian chapel after Basilica A was destroyed; frescoes depicting Christ seated on a throne were found on the walls. Sadly it is now firmly shut off by a metal gate.

Saint Paul's Prison

Now follow the path along the fence round to the ticket office and take the steps down to the road. Cross the road (use the pedestrian crossing) and then continue down the broad flight of steps.

The lower site has three areas of interest: the forum, the Bishop's quarters and Basilica B. I suggest you go round clockwise starting with the Bishop's quarters and returning via the forum.

At the bottom of the steps you come to the remains of the Via Egnatia; look out for the ruts in the marble made by carts.

Turn left and walk along the Via Egnatia beside the forum and through the gate towards the Bishop's Palace and the Octagon. (You will see the metal roof which protects the mosaics.)

Now go along the three aisled stoa; some of the marble columns with Ionic capitals remain. On your left is the bath house, or Balneum, which provided the baptistry with hot water. At the end of the stoa, on your left, look out for the fountain. It is a small marble obelisk set in a rectangular cistern surrounded by four green marble columns (two are still standing).

Come back out to the stoa and continue along to the next doorway on your left which takes you into the Octagon. This was the Cathedral church dedicated to Saint Paul. It was built about AD 400 and survived until the beginning of the 7th century.

In the centre you will see the bases of the 20 columns of the octagonal colonnade and remains of some fine mosaic floors, including some unusual circular mosaics. On the east side (facing you) the brick remains of the apse. Go round the mosaics and northwards to an interesting shaped baptistry.

From the Octagon return to the Via Egnatia, through the gate and to the Roman Forum. The Forum is the Roman equivalent of the Greek Agora, the administrative and commercial heart of the city. Here stoas and buildings surrounded a stepped marble paved rectangular court, 100m by 50m, built in the 2nd century AD during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

I suggest you walk down the east stoa (along the left hand side of the forum), passing first the fluted columns of part of a Corinthian East Temple and then the library. Running along the south side of the forum is a wide marble road with the foundations of small buildings which were probably shops. Several of the columns of the south stoa remain standing, look out for the holes for games of marbles at the base of the second column from the end.

South of the road was the commercial agora and a palaestra(athletes training area) both of which were largely demolished in about AD 550 to build Basilica B; much of the Roman material was incorporated in the new building.

The basilica had an almost square nave (31m) divided into three aisles and covered by a domed roof supported on four massive pillars made from the Roman marble. The basilica is also known as the Direkler (Turkish for pillars) as before it was excavated only the pillars were visible. A few columns and arches in the nave are still standing, made from green marble from Thessaly the capitals decorated with acanthus leaves.

As a second dome was being erected over the sanctuary the walls collapsed under its weight and the church was never consecrated.

From the basilica go a little way south west to find the splendidly preserved 2nd century latrines which were part of the palaestra You can go down the steps to get a good look. There were 42 marble 'seats' set in a continuous bench around three sides of a rectangular area with walls 3 metres high. Water flowed through a channel under the bench to keep it clean!

Further south (and I haven't got that far yet!) is the Roman bath house. Reports would be welcome, I believe there are some mosaics there.

As you make your way back to the site entrance have a look at the west stoa of the forum; in the far corner there are some statues (reproduction I think) from the West Temple. (You remember there was an East Temple in the opposite corner?)

To get back to the coach park (and cafe & loos) you can either walk, carefully along the road, or go back past Basilica A and the theatre.

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