BMCR 2017.11.19

Philippes, de la Préhistoire à Byzance: études d’archéologie et d’histoire. Bulletin de correspondance hellénique. Supplément, 55

, Philippes, de la Préhistoire à Byzance: études d'archéologie et d'histoire. Bulletin de correspondance hellénique. Supplément, 55. Athènes: École française d'Athènes, 2016. 297. ISBN 9782869582804. €60.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Most often when historians think of the city of Philippi, they consider two things: the battle of Philippi (42 BCE), in which Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius, and the ministry of the Apostle Paul and the founding of the first Christian congregation on European soil (49 CE). This edited volume illustrates how much more there is to consider about Philippi. Philippes is a collection of essays devoted to the ancient city authored by thirteen archaeologists, epigraphists, geomorphologists, historians, and numismatists connected to the University of Aristotle at Thessaloniki, the Kavala and Thessaloniki Museums, the Museum of Byzantine Civilization at Thessaloniki, and the French School at Athens. Originally presented at a conference on 24 October 2014, entitled, “The Site of Philippi: Past, Present, and Future,” this assemblage of essays celebrates the French School’s one-hundredth anniversary of excavations at Philippi.

These contributions trace Philippi’s history from the prehistoric to the Byzantine periods through the archaeological, historical, topographical, and environmental records, with the goal of examining the circumstances and arrangements of the site’s occupations and its urban, political, and social characteristics. In short, these essays attempt to reconstruct the complex forms of exchanges and transfers of the language, religion, and culture of the various groups—Greeks, Thracians, Macedonians, Romans, Jews, and Christians—who called Philippi their home. They are divided into five parts: an introduction and four sections corresponding to historical periods of occupation.

Julien Fournier introduces the history of Philippi’s archaeological remains and excavations, including major publications of findings. He provides a summary of the essays and over-arching characteristics of Philippi throughout the historical periods examined: Philippi’s strategic placement between mountains and marshland, the city’s importance as a communication bridge from east to west, the abundance of minerals in the surrounding region, and the fertility of the soil on the Philippian plain.

The first part of Philippes discusses the landscape, environment, and occupation of the Philippian plain from the prehistoric to historical periods. Using archaeological, paleobotanical, and paleozoological data, Haïdo Koukouli- Chrysanthaki describes the settlement of the prehistoric site Tel Dikili Tash from the Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age. Early inhabitants settled there because of its strategic location and resources. They built domiciles from local wood, farmed (cereals, legumes, flax, and wine), practiced husbandry, and mastered metallurgy until the site was destroyed at the end of the Late Bronze Age.

Laurent Lespez employs geomorphological, geoarchaeological, and paleogeographical evidence to show the changes that the occupation of Philippi and its environs has wrought to the landscape. Before the Neolithic and Late Bronze Age settlements, there were pine and fir trees on the mountains and oak trees growing in the plain. These early settlers cleared the trees on the foothills to construct their homes and to practice agriculture and husbandry. The latter two practices led to some erosion of the plain and the creation of streams. During the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods, occupants took advantage of the landscape and cultivated cereals and wine and raised cattle, sheep, and goats.

The second part of the work discusses the Greek and Macedonian periods of occupation from Datos to Philippi. Oliver Picard relies on literary sources and material remains, especially coinage, to argue that the settlement of Philippi involved continuous conflict over the precious metals in the surrounding area. Thracians, Greeks, Persians, Athenians, and Philip II all coveted the site’s wealth and exploited it. In fact, one of the richest mining operations in antiquity was located in the region of Pangea from the Thracian occupation until Philip II. Sélène E. Psôma uses literary, archaeological, epigraphical, and numismatic data to discuss the location of Thasian Perea and the foundation of Philippi by Thasian colonists. She notes that Collart located Thasos between the Strymon and Nestos Rivers, but this is incorrect. Psôma instead places Thasos between the chora of Neapolis and Nestos.

Miltiade Hatzopoulos employs epigraphic and literary evidence to describe the events surrounding Philip II’s founding of Philippi, his objectives of securing natural resources and establishing maritime trade with the eastern Mediterranean, and the city’s boundaries and institutions from 356 BCE to the end of the Macedonian period. He acknowledges the diversity of Philip’s city and that the king reinforced a core of Thasians and Athenian exiles with Macedonians. In the second section’s final essay, Patrice Hamon attempts to adopt a Thasian perspective of Philip II’s establishment of Philippi by focusing on the memory of the events from literary and epigraphic sources, even though the evidence is minimal.

The third portion of Philippes describes facets of the Roman colony. In the first essay, Michel Sève uses epigraphic and archaeological data to discuss the Roman colony’s territory, urbanism, and architecture. He points out that while the territory of Roman Philippi is vast and consisted of villages on the plain, its exact dimensions are debated. The urban development of the colony is due to its strategic location on the Via Egnatia between the acropolis and marsh. All told, Roman Philippi covered about 68 hectares, corresponding roughly in size to the city of Pompeii. The landscape and the organization of the Hellenistic city affected how the Roman colonists organized their colony. Finally, Sève stresses the limitation of archaeological data for the architecture of the early colony, since most of civic structures date to the second century CE.

George Tirologos demonstrates the large impact that each period of colonization had on the local populace and the cultural landscape surrounding Philippi through landscape archaeology, ancient literary sources, and archaeological remains. Each time Philippi was colonized, it was organized according to the hegemon’s political, economic, and administrative characteristics. Athanase Rizakis uses epigraphic evidence and comparative data from other Roman colonial constitutions to offer a reconstruction of what Roman Philippi’s charter, now lost, probably looked like: the laws governing the denizens, the city’s social institutions, and its cultic regulations. He describes events that probably took place at the founding of the Roman colony such as the division of inhabitants into three social bodies: the populace (comitia tribute), the ordo decurionum, and magistrates and priesthoods. While there was ethnic diversity in Roman Philippi, Italian colonists were at the top of the social hierarchy. Finally, Rizakis notes that the colony’s pantheon would have been decided at its founding. Unlike other colonies, the colonists of Philippi changed the traditional cultic topography of the city at its foundation.

Cédric Brélaz uses epigraphic evidence to focus on the social history of the Roman colony, demonstrating that it consisted of Italian colonists and Thracian and Greek migrants. He shows through a close reading of inscriptions that power remained in the hands of a small group of elites who descended from the original Italian colonists. This power was not open to those who acquired Roman citizenship, including freedmen. Latin, not Greek, was the dominant language in Philippi and even most of the migrants used it in their epigraphs, which makes Philippi unique among the colonies that Rome planted in the Greek East, in which non-Italians and non-Romans typically used Greek in their own inscriptions.

The fifth section of this collection of essays focuses on Christian and Byzantine Philippi. Samuel Provost examines the archaeological remains of the interior fortifications of Byzantine Philippi, showing that during this period the center of public activity shifted to the periphery of the city. This migration is similar to what is found in other Byzantine cities in Greece such as Corinth. Aristotélis Mentzos discusses the archaeological evidence for the Christian basilicas of Byzantine Philippi. While an eighth century earthquake damaged these structures, the inhabitants did not abandon them and continued to use them through the tenth and eleventh centuries.

Finally, Philippes provides a bibliography arranged by the various periods of Philippi’s history, including pre-modern travellers to the site. While not exhaustive, this bibliography contains the most important works on the ancient city, some of which are still forthcoming.

This collection of essays is one of the most complete diachronic surveys of Philippi since Paul Collart’s early twentieth century work. 1 The obvious strength is that Philippes discusses every occupational period of the site, including the prehistoric period. Moreover, these contributions are from scholars with the most intimate knowledge of ancient city. This fact is important because as scholars focusing on Philippi know all too well, there are still many inscriptions that have yet to be published. 2 In addition to containing the most accurate up-to-date information on Philippi, the work contains maps, plans, diagrams, satellite images, and pictures, some of them in color, from the early days of excavation to the latest discoveries.

There are only a few areas in which this collection of essays could be strengthened. The first is that occasionally some contributors do not use all the data at their disposal. For example, while Picard’s and Rizakis’s essays on Macedonian and Roman Philippi use numismatic evidence extensively, Brélaz’s essay on the social and religious institutions of the colony relies almost exclusively on inscriptions. However, the use of Latin inscriptions and images related to Roman cults on Philippi’s coinage would have strengthened his already sound conclusions that Roman culture, including the Latin language, exerted a large influence over non-Romans living in the colony.

Several essays mention the apostle Paul’s founding of the Christian congregation in Philippi, but there is no essay related to the early Christian presence in the city. Some New Testament scholars have proposed that the letter(s) that Paul wrote the Philippians takes into account the status of Philippi as a Roman colony. The letter(s) contains Paul’s only references to Christians as citizens of a heavenly πολίτευμα (Phil 3:20; cf. 1:27, μόνον ἀξίως τοῦ εὐαγγελίου τοῦ Χριστοῦ πολιτεύεσθε). Paul’s address of the Philippian Christians as Φιλιππήσιοι (Phil 4:15) appears to render in Greek the Latin spelling of the inhabitants of the Roman colony ( Philippeus). Notwithstanding these minor limitations, Philippes is an excellent addition to our knowledge of this ancient city and a necessary tool for any archaeologist, historian, or scholar working on Philippi. Moreover, this work provides comparanda for research into the formation of communities in Macedonia and Greece from the prehistoric to the Byzantine periods.

Authors and titles

Introduction / Julien Fournier
Première partie: De la préhistoire à l’histoire. Paysages, environnement et occupation de la plaine de Philippes
Le cadre géographique et la présence humaine à l’époque préhistorique / Haïdo Koukouli-Chrysanthaki
Les recherches géoarchéologiques et les dynamiques environnementales / Laurent Lespez
Deuxième partie: De Datos à Philippes. Les fondations grecques et macédoniennes
Philippes avant Philippes: une affaire d’argent / Oliver Picard
Réflexions sur la localisation de la pérée thasienne et sur la foundation de Philippes / Sélène E. Psôma
Philippes, πόλις ἑλληνὶς Μακεδόνων κτίσμα / Miltiade Hatzopoulos
Philippes, vue de Thasos et d’ailleurs (IV e -II e s. av. J.-C.) / Patrice Hamon
Troisième partie: Philippes, colonie romaine
Urbanisme, architecture et territoire / Michel Sève
Colonisation romaine et organisation de l’espace rural: le cas du territoire de Philippes / George Tirologos
Société, institutions, cultes / Athanase Rizakis
Le faciès institutionnel, social et religieux d’une colonie romaine dans la province de Macédoine / Cédric Brélaz
Quatrième partie: Philippes chrétienne et byzantine
Esquisse du paysage urbain entre le IX e s. et le XII e s., d’après les sources archéologiques / Samuel Provost
Les complexes ecclésiastiques à l’époque mésobyzantine: renaissance ou survivance? / Aristotélis Mentzos


1. Paul Collart, Philippes, ville de Macédoine, depuis ses origins jusqu’à la fin de l’époque romaine (2 vols.; TravMém V; Athens: École française d’Athènes, 1937).

2. Cédric Brélaz, Corpus des inscriptions grecques et latines de Philippes II, La colonie romaine 1, la vie publique de la colonie. (ÉtÉpigr 4; Paris: École française d’Athènes, 2014) (BMCR 2015.08.03); Peter Pilhofer, Philippi II, Katalog der Inschriften von Philippi II 2 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009). Brélaz notes that two more volumes of inscriptions are envisaged: one on the Hellenistic city and another on the Byzantine period.