Brief History of Thessalonica

1. Thessalonica was located at the head of the Thermaic Gulf. Thessalonica was a coastal town on Via Ignatia (the way of the nations), the major Roman road running eastward from Rome. A seaport, it was also very close to a rich, well-watered, coastal plain. These three advantages made Thessalonica the largest, most important commercial and political center in Macedonia.

2. Thessalonica was originally named Therma, derived from the hot springs located in the area. An early historian, Pliny the Elder, refers to Therma and Thessalonica existing together. If this is the case, Thessalonica simply surrounded Therma and annexed it (Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991, p. 11). Yet most historians believe Cassander, one of Alexander the Great's generals, renamed Therma in 315 b.c. after Philip of Macedonia's daughter and Alexander's half-sister and his wife, Thessalonica (Strabo VII Fragment 21). Sometime during the early centuries of the spread of Christianity, Thessalonica came to be nicknamed "the orthodox city" because of its Christian character (Dean Farrar, The Life and Work of St. Paul, New York: Cassell and Company, Limited, 1904, p. 364). Today Thessalonica is known as Salonika and it is still an important city in Greece.

3. Thessalonica was a cosmopolitan metropolis similar to Corinth, inhabited by peoples from all over the known world.

a. Barbaric Germanic peoples from the north were living there, bringing with them their pagan religion and culture.

b. Greeks lived there, coming from Achaia to the south and from the islands of the Aegean Sea, in turn bringing their refinement and philosophy.

c. Romans from the west also settled there. They were mostly retired soldiers and they brought their strength of will, wealth, and political power.

d. Finally, Jews came in large numbers from the east; eventually one third of the population was Jewish. They brought with them their ethical monotheistic faith and their national prejudices.

4. Thessalonica, with a population of about 200,000, was truly a cosmopolitan city. It was a resort and health center because of the hot springs. It was a commercial center because of its seaport, fertile plains and the proximity of the Ignatian Way.

5. As the capital and largest city, Thessalonica was also the central political headquarters of Macedonia. Being a Roman provincial capital and home of many Roman citizens (mostly retired soldiers), it became a free city. Thessalonica paid no tribute and was governed by Roman law, since most Thessalonians were Roman citizens. Thus, the Thessalonian rulers were called "politarchs." This title appears nowhere else in literature, but it is preserved by an inscription over the triumphal arch at Thessalonica known as the Vardar Gate (Farrar, p. 371).

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