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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
thes-a-lo-ni'-ka (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.
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:
Paul visited the town, together with Silas and Timothy, on his 2nd missionary journey. He had been at Philippi, and traveled thence by the Egnatian Road, passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia on the way (Acts 17:1). He found at Thessalonica a synagogue of the Jews, in which for three successive Sabbaths he preached the gospel, basing his message upon the types and prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 17:2,3). Some of the Jews became converts and a considerable number of proselytes and Greeks, together with many women of high social standing (Acts 17:4). Among these converts were in all probability Aristarchus and Secundus, natives of Thessalonica, whom we afterward find accompanying Paul to Asia at the close of his 3rd missionary journey (Acts 20:4). The former of them was, indeed, one of the apostle's most constant companions; we find him with Paul at Ephesus (Acts 19:29) and on his journey to Rome (Acts 27:2), while in two of his Epistles, written during his captivity, Paul refers to Aristarchus as still with him, his fellow-prisoner (Col 4:10; Philem 1:24). Gaius, too, who is mentioned in conjunction with Aristarchus, may have been a Thessalonian (Acts 19:29). How long Paul remained at Thessalonica on his 1st visit we cannot precisely determine; certainIy we are not to regard his stay there as confined to three weeks, and Ramsay suggests that it probably extended from December, 50 AD, to May, 51 AD (St. Paul the Traveler, 228). In any case, we learn that the Philippines sent him assistance on two occasions during the time which he spent there (Phil 4:16), although he was "working night and day" to maintain himself (1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3:8). Paul, the great missionary strategist, must have seen that from no other center could Macedonia be permeated with the gospel so effectively as from Thessalonica (1 Thess 1:8).
But his success roused the jealousy of the Jews, who raised a commotion among the dregs of the city populace (Acts 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 (Acts 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 (Acts 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 (Acts 17:14,15).
Several points in this account are noteworthy as illustrating the strict accuracy of the narrative of the Acts. Philippi was a Roman town, military rather than commercial; hence, we find but few Jews there and no synagogue; the magistrates bear the title of praetors (Acts 16:20,22,35,36,38 the Revised Version margin) and are attended by lictors (Acts 16:35,38 the Revised Version margin); Paul and Silas are charged with the introduction of customs which Romans may not observe (Acts 16:21); they are beaten with rods (Acts 16:22) and appeal to their privileges as Roman citizens (16:37,38). At Thessalonica all is changed. We are here in a Greek commercial city and a seaport, a "free city," moreover, enjoying a certain amount of autonomy and its own constitution. Here we find a large number of resident Jews and a synagogue. The charge against Paul is that of trying to replace Caesar by another king; the rioters wish to bring him before "the people," i.e. the popular assembly characteristic of Greek states, and the magistrates of the city bear the Greek name of politarchs (Acts 17:5-9). This title occurs nowhere in Greek literature, but its correctness is proved beyond possibility of question by its occurrence in a number of inscriptions of this period, which have come to light in Thessalonica and the neighborhood, and will be found collected in AJT (1898, 598) and in M. G. Dimitsas, (Makedonia), 422 ff. Among them the most famous is the inscription engraved on the arch which stood at the western end of the main street of Salonica and was called the Vardar Gate. The arch itself, which was perhaps erected to commemorate the victory of Philippi, though some authorities assign it to a later date, has been removed, and the inscription is now in the British Museum (CIG, 1967; Leake, Northern Greece, III, 236; Le Bas, Voyage archeologique, number 1357; Vaux, Trans. Royal Sec. Lit., VIII, 528). This proves that the politarchs were six in number, and it is a curious coincidence that in it occur the names Sosipater, Gaius and Secundus, which are berate by three Macedonian converts, of whom the first two were probably Thessalonians, the last certainly.
4. The Thessalonian Church:
The Thessalonian church was a strong and flourishing one, composed of Gentiles rather than of Jews, if we may judge from the tone of the two Epistles addressed to its members, the absence of quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament, and the phrase "Ye turned unto God from idols" (1 Thess 1:9; compare also 2:14). These, by common consent the earliest of Paul's Epistles, show us that the apostle was eager to revisit Thessalonica very soon after his enforced departure: "once and again" the desire to return was strong in him, but "Satan hindered" him (1 Thess 2:18)--a reference probably to the danger and loss in which such a step would involve Jason and the other leading converts. But though himself prevented from continuing his work at Thessalonica, he sent Timothy from Athens to visit the church and confirm the faith of the Christians amid their hardships and persecutions (1 Thess 3:2-10). The favorable report brought back by Timothy was a great comfort to Paul, and at the same time intensified his longing to see his converts again (1 Thess 3:10,11). This desire was to be fulfilled more than once. Almost certainly Paul returned there on his 3rd missionary journey, both on his way to Greece (Acts 20:1) and again while he was going thence to Jerusalem (Acts 20:3); it is on this latter occasion that we hear of Aristarchus and Secundus accompanying him (Acts 20:4). Probably Paul was again in Thessalonica after his first imprisonment. From the Epistle to the Philippians (Acts 1:26; 2:24), written during his captivity, we learn that his intention was to revisit Philippi if possible, and 1 Tim 1:3 records a subsequent journey to Macedonia, in the course of which the apostle may well have made a longer or shorter stay at Thessalonica. The only other mention of the town in the New Testament occurs in 2 Tim 4:10, where Paul writes that Demas has forsaken him and has gone there. Whether Demas was a Thessalonian, as some have supposed, cannot be determined.
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.
M. N. Tod
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'thessalonica'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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