The port city of Thessalonica (now called Salonica or Thessaloniki) was founded by the Macedonian General Kassander in celebration of the successful campaigns against the Persians (315 BCE). With the triumphs and expansion of their influence, new wealth poured into Macedonia and allowed new settlements to be established. This port was constructed on the Thermaic Gulf and knitted together twenty-six villages (including a village called “Thermae” by Herodotus – C5 BCE in his book Polymnia -the description of Xerxes expedition against Greece) as the main seaport and naval base of Macedonia. The original villages were Doric settlements of the period of Macedonian Kings (C5-4 BCE). The new city was named after his wife (Thessalonike, daughter of Philip II and half sister of Alexander the Great).
As the successor of Alexander the Great, Kassander had considerable resources. He erected a massive wall around the city. The position of the city only improved with the completion of the “Egnatian Way” which made the port easily accessible to other Macedonian cities. The “Via Egnatia” ran through the city and can still be seen today. Strabo the geographer (C1 BCE) in “Geographic Elements” referred to the port as the “Metropolis of Macedonia”.
The Celts attacked the city and smashed many of the defenses and walls (during the battle in which Ptolemaeus – “the Thunderbolt” was killed) but were turned back by the defenders of the town. Even the Romans were repelled in their early advances, but the city was surrendered after Perseus (King of Macedonia) was defeated at Pydna in 168 BCE. Under the Roman Empire, Thessalonica became the capital city of the Roman province of Macedonia (146 BCE). The city was referred to as the “Mother of Macedonia” in Roman writings. The orator Cicero stayed here and delivered oratory. With the rise of the Roman Civil War (49-31 BCE) Thessalonica backed Antony and Octavian (who stayed in Thessalonica after their victory). Later, the “Gate of Axous” (arch) was erected to commemorate victory at the Battle of Philippi (42 BCE). Octavian declared Thessalonica a “free city” under Politarchs (Magistrates).
Thessalonica was a wealthy city and had a Roman, Greek and Jewish population. After 42 BCE, Thessalonica enjoyed liberty as a free city with a large population. Paul used the city as a gateway to reach the region. Recent excavations uncovered mile markers that say Thessalonica was the halfway point in the travel along the Via Egnatia (they said there was a distance of 260 Roman miles in either direction to end points).
Paul came to Thessalonica from Philippi (probably in 50 CE). He went to the synagogue for three Sabbath days (Acts 17:1-9). In Thessalonica, some proselyte Greeks and the chief women believed Paul’s preaching. The Jews who did not believe caused uproar in the city and assaulted the house of Jason in order to bring out Paul and Silas. The people took Jason (Paul’s host) and other believers to the rulers, accusing Jason of harboring traitors to Caesar. Jason and the other brethren were given a bond on the agreement that Paul would leave the area. Paul and Silas were sent away immediately by night to Berea. The decree of Claudius that expelled Jews from Rome was probably broadcast to the people along the Via Egnatia at about the time of Paul’s visit. The Politarchs of the city were no doubt forced to act against Paul.
The preaching of the gospel in Thessalonica was very important and facilitated the spreading of the faith to all of Macedonia (1 Thessalonians 1:8). From Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians it was evident that their faith was known throughout the region. They were a group of believers Paul remembered with great love and commendation in his letters. Aristachus and Secundus (of Thessalonica) believers labored with Paul (Acts 20:4; 27:2).
After his departure, Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica. The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians were written in Corinth after Timothy offered a good report concerning the welfare of the church. Paul may have revisited Thessalonica and mentions his intention to visit in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:5). This church suffered persecution (1 Thessalonians 2:14). Other important figures of the Thessalonians included Jason, Gaius, Secundus, Aristarchus and perhaps Demas (Acts 19:29; 20:4).