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Holman Bible Dictionary
History Archaeological discoveries have demonstrated that Macedonia was settled as early as the Middle Bronze Age (about 1500 B.C.) probably by Thracian and Illyrian tribes. The Macedonians, Hellenic tribes which were part of the Dorian invasion, settled first in the western mountains (the upper Haliacmon valley) before 1200 B.C. They began to conquer the central plains about 700 B.C. The Macedonian kings established their first capital in Aigai, probably not at modern Edessa but at modern Vergina south of the Haliacmon river. There a golden sarcophagus, supposedly of King Philip II (father of Alexander), was found in a vaulted tomb. Later the capital was moved to Pella (birthplace of Alexander the Great) where houses of the Macedonian nobility with beautiful pebble mosaics and the gigantic foundations of the royal palace have been excavated. Between 800,600 B.C. the Macedonians expelled or subjected the older populations. They extended their realm to the east where they incorporated the lands between the Axios and the Strymon. They also reached southward to the coastal lands between Mount Olympus and the Aegean Sea. For several centuries, the Macedonian kings were involved in battles for the control of Upper Macedonia with its mixed Greek, Illyrian, and Thracian population. At the same time, Macedonia came increasingly under the influence of Greek culture and language (the original Macedonian language was probably a different Hellenic dialect). The famous Greek tragedian Euripides spent some time at the court of the Macedonian kings; and Aristotle, before he founded his philosophical school in Athens, served as the teacher of the Macedonian prince Alexander.
Philip II (359-336 B.C.) established firm control over the entire Macedonian area and extended it to the east beyond the Strymon into Thrace. There he founded the city of Philippi in place of the Thracian colony Crenides. It became the chief mining center for the gold and silver mines in the Pangaeon mountain. Philip II also subjected Thessaly to his rule and incorporated the Chalcidice peninsula into his realm. When he was assassinated in 336 B.C., Macedonia was the strongest military power in Greece. Its military strength and the wealth established by Philip II enabled his son Alexander to defeat the Persian Empire and to conquer the entire realm from the eastern Mediterranean to the Indus River (including today's Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, and parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan).
In the Hellenistic period the capital was moved to Thessalonica, founded 315 B.C. at the head of the Thermaic Gulf by Cassander and named for his wife Thessalia. During the Hellenistic period, Macedonia was ruled by the Antigonids, descendants of Alexander's general Antigonus Monophhythalmus. In 168 B.C. Perseus, the last Macedonian king, was defeated by the Romans. Rome first divided Macedonia into four independent “free” districts, then established it as a Roman province (148 B.C.) with Thessalonica as the capital and Beroea as the seat of the provinical assembly. During the time of Augustus, some of the Macedonian cities were refounded as Roman colonies: Dion, at the foot of Mount Olympus, became Colonia Julia Augusta Diensis; Philip pi , where Marc Antony had defeated the assassins of Caesar—Brutus and Cassius—was settled with Roman veterans and renamed Colonia Augusta Julia Philip pensium . While the general language of Macedonia remained Greek, the official language of the Roman colonies was Latin (until after A.D. 300 almost all inscriptions found in these cities are in Latin). At the time of the Great Persecution of the Christians (303-311), Thessalonica was one of the four capitals of the Roman Empire and served as residence of the emperor Galerius, one of the most fanatic persecutors of Christianity.
Religions Ancient Macedonian religion was dominated by two different elements. (1) The Macedonians who had conquered the country brought their own gods which are on the whole the same as the traditional gods of the Greeks. Among them, Zeus as the father of Makedon, founding hero of the Macedonians, and Herakles are the two most important deities. Also the cult of the Greek god Dionysus was widespread. Both Dionysus and Herakles appear as the patron deities of Alexander the Great. (2) At the same time, the Macedonians adopted several of the older cults and deities of the indigenous population, especially of the Thracians. A female deity of Thracian origin appears under the Greek name Artemis; numerous rock reliefs of this Artemis have been discovered on the Acropolis of Philippi where she sometimes appears with a tree of life in one hand. In Lefkopetra, a few miles west of Beroea, a temple of the “Aboriginal Mother of the Gods” has recently been discovered. Most important became the acceptance of the Thracian Cabirus. On the island of Samothrace two Cabiri were worshiped in a famous mystery cult together with a Thracian mother goddess. In the cities of Thessalonica and Philippi, one Cabirus was venerated as the founding hero of the city. As he is depicted with a hammer in one hand and a drinking horn in the other, he also seems to have been revered as the patron deity of construction workers and miners. In Thessalonica, his role was later assumed by the Christian martyr Demetrius. A widespread religious symbol was the “Macedonian rider,” depicted on coins of the Macedonian kings and on many tombstones. He may have been understood as a guide to the afterlife. This originally Thracian hero became the prototype for the Christian saint George. Belief in the judgment of the dead and an afterlife is in evidence in the paintings of a Macedonian tomb found near Lefkadia.
In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, new cults were introduced to Macedonia. The cult of the Egyptian gods Sarapis, Isis, and Anubis was established in Thessalonica before 100 B.C. The Egyptian sanctuary discovered in Thessalonica included, together with many inscriptions and votive offerings, a dining club for slaves and freedmen under the tutelage of the god Anubis. An Egyptian sanctuary was also excavated on the slope of the acropolis of Philippi and in the Roman colony Dion. Worship of “God the Most High” (Zeus Hypsistos), elsewhere associated with the God of the Israelites, is also in evidence. Roman veterans who were settled in the newly founded colonies brought their gods to Macedonia; a sanctuary dedicated to the Italian god Silvanus was found on the acropolis of Philippi. Temples for the worship of the Roman emperor were established in most cities. In Thessalonica the imperial cult appears in the special form of the worship of the Roman benefactors. The evidence for ancient Judaism in Macedonia is meager. An inscription (still unpublished) recently found in Philippi mentions a synagogue. The only evidence for Israelites in Thessalonica comes from a Samaritan inscription dating after A.D. 400. A Jewish synagogue has been excavated recently in the Macedonian city of Stobi in the valley of the Axios (Vardar) River (in Yugoslav Macedonia).
Christianity in Macedonia The Christian message came to Macedonia through the preaching of the apostle Paul. Acts 16:9-10 describes the dream vision that came to Paul in Troas: a Macedonian appeared to him and invited him to Macedonia. Paul and his associates, sailing from Troas via Samothrace, arrived in Neapolis (today Kavalla), the most important port of eastern Macedonia, and went inland to Philippi where, according to the account of Acts 16:14-15 , they were received by Lydia, a God-fearer from Thyatira, and founded the first Christian community in Europe, probably in the year A.D. 50. The correspondence of Paul with this church, now preserved in the Epistle to the Philippians, gives testimony to the early development, organization, and generosity of this church. Forced to leave Philippi after an apparently brief stay (Acts 16:16-40 reports the incident of the healing of a possessed slave girl and Paul's subsequent imprisonment), Paul went to the capital Thessalonica via Amphipolis on the Via Egnatia ( Acts 17:1 ). The church which he founded in Thessalonica (compare Acts 17:2-12 ) was the recipient of the oldest Christian writing, i.e., the First Letter to the Thessalonians which Paul wrote from Corinth after he had preached in Beroea and in Athens (Acts 17:13-15 ).
Apart from this Pauline correspondence, our information about the Macedonian churches in the first three Christian centuries is extremely slim. Shortly after A.D. 100, bishop Polycarp of Smyrna wrote to the Philippians who had asked him to forward copies of the letters of the famous martyr Ignatius of Antioch. Polycarp also wrote to advise the Philippians with respect to the case of a presbyter who had embezzled funds. Otherwise, almost no detailed information is available for the time before Constantine.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Macedonia'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/m/macedonia.html. 1991.