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THESSALONICA (thĕs'a-lō-nī'ka, Gr. Thessa- lonikē). A Macedonian town founded by Cassander, Alexander’s officer who took control of Greece after Alexander’s death in 332 b.c. Thessalonica was probably founded toward the end of the century by consolidating small towns at the head of the Thermaic Gulf. It dominated the junction of the northern trade route and the road from the Adriatic to Byzantium, which later became the Via Egnatia. Its comparatively sheltered harbor made it the chief port of Macedonia, after Pella yielded to the silting that was the perennial problem of Greek harbors. It was a fortress that withstood a Roman siege, surrendering only after the battle of Pydna sealed Rome’s victory in the Macedonian Wars. In 147 it became the capital of the Roman province and was Pompey’s base a century later in the civil war with Julius Caesar. Prolific coinage suggests a high level of prosperity. The population included a large Roman element and a Jewish colony. Paul visited Thessalonica after Philippi and appears to have worked among a composite group, comprising the Jews of the synagogue and Greek proselytes, among whom were some women of high social standing. There was a high degree of emancipation among the women of Macedonia. In Acts.17.6, Acts.17.8, the “city officials” (so niv) are called “politarchs.” Its use was once dismissed as a mistake of the historian because it was a term unknown elsewhere. There are now sixteen epigraphical examples in modern Salonica, and one is located in the British Museum. It was evidently a Macedonian term, and Luke’s use of it was in line with his habit of using accepted terminology.——EMB

MODERN salonika. Political capital and chief seaport of Macedonia, it is situated at the head of the largest gulf on the Aegean Sea. It has been a cosmopolitan and important commercial center ever since its founding (c.316 b.c.) by Cassander, who named it for his wife, the sister of Alexander the Great. When Macedonia was divided into four districts in 167 b.c., Thessalonica was made the capital of the second district which extended between the rivers Strymon and Axius. Then in 148 b.c. Macedonia was made a Roman province, and Thessalonica became the seat of the Roman administration and later was declared a free city. The Roman road, Via Egnatia, was built through the city and walls were built around the city. It was ruled by politarchs (Acts 17:6), which has been recently confirmed by the discovery of inscriptions. In Paul's day Thessalonica had about 200,000 inhabitants, with an important Jewish community, with many Gentile converts (Acts 17:4). The ease with which the Jews at Thessalonica could influence the civil authorities reveals their power (Acts 17:5) against Paul and Silas. The incident of their imprisonment and deliverance suggests that the politarchs were bent on justice and legal protection for Paul and his companions, for the inability of free cities to keep public order always raised the threat of Roman interference.

Because of its continued occupancy, little archaeological information of the Thessalonica of Paul's day has been excavated. The main street is still the alignment of the Egnatian Way. Until 1876, at the western extremity of the city stood the Roman arch built by the citizens in honor of Octavian and Antony, and known as the Vardar Gate. It is one of the inscriptions on it that makes mention of the city politarchs, a previously unknown word, yet accurately described in the narrative of Acts 17:6. It probably dates from the period 30 b.c. to a.d. 143. Because of its location, Thessalonica has remained an important city throughout the Christian era, and now it has a population of almost 400,000.

See E. Oberhummer, “Thessalonike,” Pauly-Wissowa, Zweite Reihe, VI, 1 (1936), cols. 143-63.

THESSALONICA thĕs’ ə lə nī’ ka (Θεσσαλονίκη, G2553). The capital city of the Rom. province of Macedonia.


The city was strategically located on the Thermaic Gulf to the W of the Chalcidice. The Via Egnatia passed through it and linked it with all the important cities of Macedonia. Cicero (pro Plancio 41) described it as posita in gremio imperii nostri, “situated in the bosom of our domain.”


There are three accounts of the naming of the city. The most probable is that it was founded by Cassander c. 315 b.c. and named for his wife, the daughter of Philip II (Strabo VII, fragment 21). Others state that the city was founded by Philip himself and that it was named either for his daughter or in honor of his victory over the Thessalians. The new city incorporated the population of a number of neighboring towns, principally Therma, Anea, Cissus, and Chalastra.

Livy indicates that the city was a great Macedonian naval base. It displaced Pella as the chief port of Macedonia when its harbor silted up. It surrendered to the Romans after the battle of Pydna and became the capital of the second of the four districts of Macedonia in 167 b.c. (Livy XLIV: 10,45; XLV:29). Later, Macedonia was made a single province and Thessalonica, the capital. During the civil war, it was the headquarters for Pompey’s army. In the campaign against Cassius and Brutus, it sided with Antony and Octavian and was declared a free city because of its loyalty (Plutarch Brutus 46). The city enjoyed local autonomy during the period of the Rom. empire and became the most prosperous of the Macedonian cities. Luke (Acts 17:6) appropriately uses the term “politarch” (πολιτάρχης, G4485) for the magistrates of the city, who were either five or six in number. Inscriptions found in the city, one on the Vardar Gate, verify this title, a unique one in the Rom. empire.


Remains of extensive Byzantine walls, built on earlier foundations, are still visible. The Via Egnatia ran from the SE to the NW. The two entrances to the city were spanned by the Vardar Gate, destroyed in 1876, to the W and the Arch of Galerius on the E. Nineteenth-cent. travelers have left sketches and descriptions of many of the monuments in the city, notably the early Byzantine churches, but most of these were destroyed by a fire that swept the city in 1917.

Biblical importance.


E. D. Burton, “The Politarchs,” AJT, II (1898), 598-632; O. Tafrali, Thessalonique des origines au XIVe siècle (1919).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(Thessalonike, ethnic Thessalonikeus):

1. Position and Name:

One of the chief towns of Macedonia from Hellenistic times down to the present day. It lies in 40 degrees 40 minutes North latitude, and 22 degrees 50 minutes East longitude, at the northernmost point of the Thermaic Gulf (Gulf of Salonica), a short distance to the East of the mouth of the Axius (Vardar). It is usually maintained that the earlier name of Thessalonica was Therma or Therme, a town mentioned both by Herodotus (vii.121 ff, 179 ff) and by Thucydides (i.61; ii.29), but that its chief importance dates from about 315 BC, when the Macedonian king Cassander, son of Antipater, enlarged and strengthened it by concentrating there the population of a number of neighboring towns and villages, and renamed it after his wife Thessalonica, daughter of Philip II and step-sister of Alexander the Great. This name, usually shortened since medieval times into Salonica or Saloniki, it has retained down to the present. Pliny, however, speaks of Therma as still existing side by side with Thessalonica (NH, iv.36), and it is possible that the latter was an altogether new foundation, which took from Therma a portion of its inhabitants and replaced it as the most important city on the Gulf.

2. History:

Thessalonica rapidly became populous and wealthy. In the war between Perseus and the Romans it appears as the headquarters of the Macedonian navy (Livy xliv. 10) and when, after the battle of Pydna (168 BC), the Romans divided the conquered territory into four districts, it became the capital of the second of these (Livy xlv.29), while later, after the organization of the single Roman province of Macedonia in 146 BC, it was the seat of the governor and thus practically the capital of the whole province. In 58 BC Cicero spent the greater part of his exile there, at the house of the quaestor Plancius (Pro Plancio 41, 99; Epistle Ad Att, iii.8-21). In the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, Thessalonica took the senatorial side and formed one of Pompey’s chief bases (49-48 BC), but in the final struggle of the republic, six years later, it proved loyal to Antony and Octavian, and was rewarded by receiving the status and privileges of a "free city" (Pliny, NH, iv.36). Strabo, writing in the reign of Augustus, speaks of it as the most populous town in Macedonia and the metropolis of the province (vii.323, 330), and about the same time the poet Antipater, himself a native of Thessalonica, refers to the city as "mother of all Macedon" (Jacobs, Anthol. Graec., II, p. 98, number 14); in the 2nd century of our era Lucian mentions it as the greatest city of Macedonia (Asinus, 46). It was important, not only as a harbor with a large import and export trade, but also as the principal station on the great Via Egnatia, the highway from the Adriatic to the Hellespont.

3. Paul’s Visit:

But his success roused the jealousy of the Jews, who raised a commotion among the dregs of the city populace (Ac 17:5). An attack was made on the house of Jason, with whom the evangelists were lodging, and when these were not found Jason himself and some of the other converts were dragged before the magistrates and accused of harboring men who had caused tumult throughout the Roman world, who maintained the existence of another king, Jesus, and acted in defiance of the imperial decrees. The magistrates were duly alive to the seriousness of the accusation, but, since no evidence was forthcoming of illegal practices on the part of Jason or the other Christians, they released them on security (Ac 17:5-9). Foreseeing further trouble if Paul should continue his work in the town, the converts sent Paul and Silas (and possibly Timothy also) by night to Berea, which lay off the main road and is referred to by Cicero as an out-of-the-way town (oppidum devium: in Pisonem 36). The Berean Jews showed a greater readiness to examine the new teaching than those of Thessalonica, and the work of the apostle was more fruitful there, both among Jews and among Greeks (Ac 17:10-13). But the news of this success reached the Thessalonian Jews and inflamed their hostility afresh. Going to Berea, they raised a tumult there also, and made it necessary for Paul to leave the town and go to Athens (Ac 17:14,15).

4. The Thessalonian Church:

5. Later History:

For centuries the city remained one of the chief strongholds of Christianity, and it won for itself the title of "the Orthodox City," not only by the tenacity and vigor of its resistance to the successive attacks of various barbarous races, but also by being largely responsible for their conversion to Christianity.

From the middle of the 3rd century AD it was entitled "metropolis and colony," and when Diocletian (284-305) divided Macedonia into two provinces, Thessalonica was chosen as the capital of the first of these. It was also the scene in 390 AD of the famous massacre ordered by Theodosius the Great, for which Ambrose excluded that emperor for some months from the cathedral at Milan. In 253 the Goths had made a vain attempt to capture the city, and again in 479 Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, found it so strong and well prepared that he did not venture to attack it. From the 6th to the 9th century it was engaged in repeated struggles against Avars, Slavonians and Bulgarians, whose attacks it repelled with the utmost difficulty. Finally, in 904 AD it was captured by the Saracens, who, after slaughtering a great number of the inhabitants and burning a considerable portion of the city, sailed away carrying with them 22,000 captives, young men, women and children. In 1185, when the famous scholar Eustathius was bishop, the Normans under Tancred stormed the city, and once more a general massacre took place. In 1204 Thessalonica became the center of a Latin kingdom under Boniface, marquis of Monferrat, and for over two centuries it passed from hand to hand, now ruled by Latins now by Greeks, until in 1430 it fell before the sultan Amurath II. After that time it remained in the possession of the Turks, and it was, indeed, the chief European city of their dominions, with the exception of Constantinople, until it was recaptured by the Greeks in the Balkan war of 1912. Its population includes some 32,000 Turks, 47,000 Jews (mostly the descendants of refugees from Spain) and 16,000 Greeks and other Europeans. The city is rich in examples of Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture and art, and possesses, in addition to a large number of mosques, 12 churches and 25 synagogues.


The fullest account of the topography of Thessalonica and its history, especially from the 5th to the 15th century, is that of Tafel, De Thessalonica eiusque agro. Dissertatio geographica, Berlin, 1839; compare also the Histories of Gibbon and Finlay. A description of the town and its ancient remains is given by Leake, Travels in Northern Greece, III, 235 ff; Cousinery, Voyage dans la Macedoine, I, 23 ff; Heuzey, Mission archeol. de Macedoine,’ 272 ff; and other travelers. The inscriptions, mostly in Greek, are collected in Dimitsas, (Makedonia), 421 ff.