History whispers around every corner at the ancient Philippi ruins.
On the second morning of our recent Voyages to Antiquity cruise, we traveled by bus through the small Greek city of Kavala (population 70,000) – built on a hill in eastern Macedonia and sporting a still-standing Roman aqueduct – to Philippi.
Greek and Roman history
Philippi was founded in 356 B.C. and named after King Philip of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great. Philip established himself here to take over the local gold mines, which eventually made him so rich, he earned over a whopping 1 billion dollars a year in today’s money.
But there’s evidence people lived in the city way before King Philip marched in. Carbonized grape seeds from the oldest cultivated grapes dating back to 5,000 B.C. have been found here. Proof, don’t you think, that man can’t live without wine?
Later, when the city was a Roman colony, Julius Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius, fought Mark Anthony and Octavian at the great Battle of Philippi in 42 BC and were killed on the plains outside the city. You history buffs out there will know that Octavian then went on to become Caesar Augustus (the first Roman emperor) and formed the Republic of Rome.
Ancient Philippi ruins
Half of the sprawling ancient city is still an active archaeological site.
Days before we visited, archaeologists had stumbled across a previously-undiscovered tomb of an important and revered person in nearby Amphipolis. Two sphinxes, two carytids and a giant carved lion statue were found in the first and second antechambers. A beautiful mosaic tile floor of a man driving a chariot had also been unearthed.
Could it be the long lost tomb of Alexander the Great? He’s thought to be buried in Alexandria. But perhaps not? While experts say it’s unlikely the skeleton found in the mysterious tomb is Alexander’s (and is more likely the bones of his mother Olympias or his wife Roxane), we’ll have to wait and see…
The news – and all the speculation surrounding this great discovery – obviously made it more fun for our visit. Would we be stepping over some future significant archaeological object or underground tomb?
Walking around the well-preserved Philippi ruins, we saw the ampitheater, stone walls of shops at the market, and part of the ancient Roman road which ran from Rome to Asia Minor.
Somehow we unfortunately missed the public marble toilets and baths. Here’s a fun tidbit we were told though: “Slaves sat first on the marble toilets, which were cold, to warm them up for their masters.”
St. Paul and the beginning of Christianity in Europe
The Christian apostle Paul left his mark in Philippi too.
After arriving in 49 A.D., he gave a sermon, sowing the seeds of Christianity in Europe. A woman he baptized in the local river, Lydia, became the first European Christian.
But St. Paul ran into trouble after performing an exorcism of a young slave woman and was thrown in jail – and we saw the small cell where he was imprisoned.
Fortunately for him, though, an earthquake broke open the prison and he was set free by his Roman jailers after converting them to Christianity.
Philippi continued to be occupied for hundreds of years but was eventually abandoned in the late 14th century. The first modern-day excavations began in 1914 by French archaeologists.
While, for us, the Philippi ruins didn’t have the same emotional impact as the beautifully preserved marble ruins of Ephesus in Turkey, they were still impressive to stroll about and see, because of the rich history associated with them.