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COLONY (Gr. kolōnia, a transliteration of the Latin colonus, farmer). In the only occurrence of the word in the NT, Acts.16.12, Philippi is mentioned as a colony. A colony was a settlement of Roman citizens, authorized by the government, in conquered territory. The settlers were usually retired Roman soldiers, who settled in places where they could keep enemies of the empire in check. They were the aristocracy of the provincial towns where they lived. Such colonies had the rights of Italian cities: municipal self-government and exemption from poll and land taxes.

COLONY (κολωνία, G3149). The word derives from Lat. colere, “to cultivate.” Colonus was the common Lat. for a tenant farmer, and a colonia was an assemblage of such cultivators. Early in Rom. history the word assumed political and military connotations, and was used for groups of free Romans planted in conquered territory for reasons of security or strategy.

The earliest recorded colonies are groups of some 300 families sent to garrison the coastline at Ostia, Antium, and Terracina in the 4th cent. b.c. By 200 b.c. such coastal colonies were numerous. The first colony outside Italy was Junonia, an unsuccessful foundation by C. Gracchus, and part of his huge program of social reform in 123 b.c. The site was successfully colonized by Julius Caesar and Augustus, by whose time the foundation of colonies had assumed imperial significance.

The settlement of Rom. citizens in overseas territories received strong stimulus from the need to employ and reward large numbers of retired veteran legionaries. This immediate purpose tied in with a policy of imperial Rome, which may be traced back to Julius Caesar and Augustus, to Romanize the Mediterranean world and disguise the military power which held its multiracial mass together.

Philippi was such a foundation, as were Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Corinth, and possibly Iconium, but the word “colony” is used in the NT only in connection with Philippi (Acts 16:12), where Augustus planted a group of demobilized veterans in 30 b.c., to form an outpost and bastion of Rom. power in northern Greece. The citizen soldiers formed the petty aristocracy of the place, and three generations later, when Paul arrived, the tradition of self-conscious Romanism was still active. Perhaps this is to be accounted for by the fact that Augustus, following his usual policy of clemency, settled troops of his defeated rival Antony in Philippi. Their privileges, here and in all such foundations, included exemption from the oversight of the provincial governor, immunity from poll and property tax, and the judicial rights of Rom. citizenship. Luke’s account shows clearly the care with which these special privileges were guarded. The magistrates were considerably perturbed to learn that they had hastily denied a Rom. citizen his proper regard.

No new colonies appear to have been founded after Hadrian.


A. N. Sherwin-White, The Roman Citizenship (1939); E. M. Blaiklock, The Cities of the New Testament (1965).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The word occurs but once (Ac 16:12) in reference to Philippi in Macedonia. Roman colonies were of three kinds and of three periods:

(1) Those of the early republic, in which the colonists, established in conquered towns to serve the state as guardians of the frontier, were exempt from ordinary military service. They were distinguished as

(a) c. civium Romanorum, wherein the colonists retained Roman citizenship, also called c. maritumae, because situated on the coast, and

(b) c. Latinae, situated inland among the allies (socii), wherein the colonists possessed the ius Latinum, entitling them to invoke the Roman law of property (commercium), but not that of the family (connubium), and received Roman citizenship only when elected to magistracies.

(2) The colonies of the Gracchan period, established in pursuance of the scheme of agrarian reforms, to provide land for the poorer citizens.

(3) After the time of Sulla colonies were founded in Italy by the Republic as a device for granting lands to retiring veterans, who of course retained citizenship. This privilege was appropriated by Caesar and the emperors, who employed it to establish military colonies, chiefly in the provinces, with various rights and internal organizations. To this class belonged Philippi. Partly organized after the great battle of 42 BC, fought in the neighboring plain by Brutus and Cassius, the champions of the fated Republic, and Antonius and Octavian, it was fully established as a colony by Octavian (afterward styled Augustus) after the battle of Actium (31 BC), under the name Colonia Aug. Iul. Philippi or Philippensis. It received the ius Italicum, whereby provincial cities acquired the same status as Italian cities, which possessed municipal self-government and exemption from poll and land taxes.

See Citizenship; Philippi; Roman.