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Military Veterans and Philippi

A view of Philippi from the summit of the acropolis

Originally settled in the seventh century B.C.E. under the name Krinides (“springs”) and later renamed after Philip II of Macedon (356 B.C.E.), Philippi was reshaped by veteran settlement and colonization in the aftermath of the Roman civil wars that saw Octavian (Augustus) come to power. As the site in northeast Macedonia where the army of Brutus and Cassius was finally broken by the future emperor and Mark Antony at the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C.E., the inhabitants of the city experienced the trauma of the civil wars firsthand. The connection between the city and warfare was further enhanced by Philippi’s position on the Via Egnatia, which was a major supply line that extended out to the militarized frontiers of the empire.

Shortly after the Battle of Philippi, Antony settled a first wave of retired veterans in the city as part of its transformation into a Roman colony, which was originally named Colonia Victrix Philippensium in honor of Octavian’s victory. A second wave of veteran settlers arrived after the defeat of Antony by Octavian at Actium in 27 B.C.E. A number of these new arrivals had been veterans of Antony who had already been settled in Italy. Augustus likely resettled them both to offer his own soldiers better land in Italy and to remove from Italy potential threats to his own power base.

The arrival of veteran settlers in Philippi needs to be seen in the context of the larger dislocations experienced by the local, Greek inhabitants as the city was remade into a Roman colony. New colonists were assigned land that would have to be seized from the locals, who themselves would also have lost their citizenship in the newly reformed colony, except perhaps for the richest members of the local elite. In addition, these new land grants would not have all been equal, as land was apportioned based on rank, status, and patronage. There is evidence that imbalances among the colonists led to a small number of well-connected families acquiring larger shares of land and property as poorer veterans fell into debt. The arrival of these veterans was thus part of a complicated process of colonization and should make us consider carefully whether we should call the newly constituted Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis a “pro-Roman” landscape.

Scholar Joseph Marchal has suggested that a better way of thinking about Philippi at this time is as a “contact zone,” a social landscape in which various cultures, peoples, and groups interact, struggle, and come into conflict with one another—all within the constraints of broader imperial power relations of domination and oppression. Among the inhabitants in the mid-first century, one would find descendants of Roman soldiers, an entrenched local elite, Macedonians, Greeks, and a whole host of peoples moving in, out, and through the city along the Via Egnatia. And they all found their own ways to negotiate their places in a broader provincial landscape. Further, we should also be wary of imagining a large percentage of veterans among the apostle Paul’s audiences in Philippi. By Paul’s day, the percentage of veterans in the colony would have been significantly diminished, and those families that had been most successful in the initial waves of colonization would have been part of the city’s elite, who themselves were not connected to Paul’s community.

  • Cavan W. Concannon

    Cavan W. Concannon is assistant professor of religion at the University of Southern California.  His research focuses on Paul, early Christianity, and Roman history and archaeology. He is the author of When You Were Gentiles: Specters of Ethnicity in Roman Corinth and Paul’s Corinthian Correspondence (Yale University Press, 2014).