“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears …” –William Shakespeare
In 42 B.C., Mark Antony and Octavius set out for Macedonia to punish the assassins of Julius Caesar./1 West of Philippi, they met the armies of Brutus and Cassius. Here, the Roman Republic would become the Roman Empire./2
Taking a defensive position, Brutus and Cassius occupied the high ground on the Via Egnatia./3 To outflank this placement, Mark Antony ordered his legions to attack by approaching through the marshes south of the city.
Discovering this movement, Cassius ordered his men into the wetlands to counter Mark Anthony’s offensive. In doing so, a gap developed between his fortified outpost and the marshes. Seeing this mistake, Mark Anthony ordered his troops to push through the gap, thus dividing Cassius’ army. Thinking all was lost, Cassius committed suicide.
Meanwhile at the other end of the battlefield, Brutus’ soldiers charged forward without orders. Consequently, their surprise assault routed Octavius’ men. Capturing three legions, their spontaneous attack was a complete success. At the days end, both sides celebrated victory and mourned defeat. Fortunately for Octavius, the premature looting of his abandoned encampment allowed time for his army to reform./4
Several days later, Brutus’ army went on the offensive again. This time they were repulsed by the combined forces of Mark Anthony and Octavius. Upon recognizing his defeat, Brutus followed the example of Cassius, and took his life./5
When the fighting ceased, the remnants of his conquered army were rounded up and drafted into the victor’s army. Those not suitable for military service were discharged and allowed to return to Rome. However, some chose to remain at Philippi making it a Roman colony (Colonia Victrix Philippensium). A decade later, it was enlarged and became a retirement home for many Roman military veterans.
Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul used military terminology when he addressed the Philippians (Philippians 2:25). Appian of Alexandria referred to Philippi as “the gate of Europe to Asia,” and a century later Paul used this gate to enter Europe.
On his second evangelistic journey, he traveled from Troas to Neapolis, and from Neapolis, he took the Via Engatia to Philippi. While in Philippi, he preached his first gospel sermon on European soil (Acts 16:6-15).
Eventually, Paul was not welcomed in Philippi. Accused of being a Jew who was causing trouble, Paul was beaten and thrown into prison (Acts 16:16-24)./6
While in stocks, Paul and his companion prayed and sung songs of praise. About midnight, an earthquake shook the city. The prison doors opened, and the prisoners chains fell to the ground. Fearing the prisoners had escaped, the jailer contemplated suicide. Fortunately for him, and unlike Cassius and Brutus before him, he did not complete the task. Paul shouted “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
Later that night the jailer died, but it was not with his sword. The sword that caused his death was the sword of the Spirit. After hearing the story of Jesus Christ, he was filled with joy and responded by being united with Christ’s death in baptism (Acts 16:25-34; Romans 6:3-7).
The following morning the Roman authorities learned that Paul was a Roman citizen, and they realized that they had treated him unlawfully (1 Thessalonians 2:2). Alarmed at their mistake, they asked him to leave the city. In victory, he did so, but he left behind a church firmly planted in the faith and love of Christ (Acts 16:35-40; Acts 16:13-15).
Christian, where are you traveling? What will you leave behind when your trip is completed? Will it be regret, or will it be joy? Christian, are you up for the task?
“Take the name of Jesus with you,
Child of sorrow and of woe;
It will joy and comfort give you,
Take it then wherever you go.”
1/ Gaius Octavius (later known as the Emperor Octavius Caesar Augustus) was the adopted grand-nephew of Julius Caesar. On March 15, 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was assassinated by the Roman Senate.
2/ Over 200,000 men participated in the battle of Philippi. The armies of Mark Antony and Octavius were known as the Triumvirs, and the armies of Cassius and Brutus were known as the Liberators. After defeating the conspirators at Philippi, Octavius Caesar Augustus would turn on his friend Mark Antony and become the first Emperor of Rome (Luke 2:1).
3/ The Via Egnatia was a Roman highway that connected Thessalonica on the west (Acts 17:1), and Neapolis on the east (Acts 16:11-12).
4/ After the first battle of Philippi, the Roman battle cry became, “Complete the battle once begun!”.
5/ Primary sources for this battle can be found in the writings of Appian, Caesar Augustus, Dio Cassius, Plutarch, Suetonius, and Velleius Paterculus.
6/ The previous year, Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. In Philippi, Paul was arrested for healing a slave girl who had a spirit of divination. The pagans believed in a mythical snake, which was associated with the Oracle of Delphi and the Greek god Apollo. This “python spirit,” allowed those processed to predict the future. To what extent this “python spirit” actually allowed this girl to prophesy is unknown.
Philippi was the scene of important battles, political and spiritual.