It is assumed by those who believe that Paul began this second journey in the spring of 50 A.D., that the company had made timely progress from Galatia and reached Philippi in that same year. This is important in deciding which coins to use in this part of the project; for, whilst we have some difficulty in dating Paul’s travels before Philippi, afterwards it becomes much easier. And, happily, it is also easier to find representative coins to illustrate this part of Paul’s journeying.
The Pocket Guide to St. Paul includes, at this point in time, two coins for Philippi. The first is a small copper coin and the second a much larger one.
Coin of Claudius or Nero. Macedonia: Philippi, copper 19-20 mm. This coin was once dated to the Augustan era, but later research, cited in the magnificent Roman Provincial Coinage (Vol. 1), found that copper coins were not produced in Macedonia before the reign of Claudius. Hence this coin is dated to “after 41 A.D.”, and it may have been minted by either Claudius or at an early part of Nero‘s emperorship. The obverse features the winged figure of Victory. This may refer to some victory of Claudius or Nero, even of Augustus' victory over Brutus and Cassius, we do not know. However the reverse has more clues: three Roman standards of three Praetorian cohorts, and the phrase COHOR PRAE PHIL. Soldiers certainly had been settled here and had established a Roman colony in Philippi. This little copper is a very common coin in the ancients trade today, and almost certainly would have been seen by Paul and company.
Coin of Claudius. Macedonia: Philippi, copper 27 mm. This much larger coin features on the obverse the bare head of the emperor with the inscription TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP; that is, Tiberius Claudius Caesar, Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, Tribunitia Potestate, Imperator. No Greek lettering here! Philippi was a thoroughly Roman city founded, as mentioned above, as a colony. The reverse features statues of Augustus and Julius Caesar standing upon a base with the words DIVVS AVG (the Divine Augustus) and with Roman altars to either side. All in all a very Roman coin honoring the founder of the empire Octavian-Augustus and his great-uncle Julius Caesar. Such a large copper coin would have been quite noticeable to Paul, Silas and Timothy.
Philippi was situated at the eastern end of the Via Egnatia which was the main thoroughfare crossing the Balkans to the west and linking Rome to Asia and beyond. It has been extensively excavated, most particularly by the French School at Athens in the years 1914 through 1938. A large forum has been discovered which has been dated to the 2nd century A.D., but it was discovered that this building had been built upon the foundation of a previous forum, the one that would have been known by Paul.
It was at Philippi that Paul actually began his ministry in Europe. Here he encountered a very different kind of city. As has already been stated, Philippi was unusual in that it was in essence a piece of Rome plopped down in Grecian Macedonia. The inhabitants were directly under the government of Rome and the culture was very much Roman, especially with regard to religion. It was this that led to Paul’s troubles there.
Initially Paul’s efforts were quickly rewarded. Through a woman named Lydia (from Lydia!) the evangelists learned that a small local group of “God-fearers” (i.e. pagans who honored Judaism’s moral precepts) had been meeting weekly by the river. These were all women. Since these women already worshipped the God of Israel, Paul, Silas and Timothy made quick progress, and soon had them converted and baptized. This was the beginning of one of Paul’s most successful churches for these women provided Paul and his company with food, lodging and even money.
However as Paul and the others went about their business in Philippi over time, a young pagan slave woman began to follow them around, proclaiming loudly, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation” (Acts 16:17) She kept doing this for many days and finally Paul had had enough. He exorcised her of this divining spirit. This antagonized the slave’s owners who had been making money from her abililties, and they had Paul brought before the city’s magistrates. The owners claimed that “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe” (Acts 16:20b).
The issue here regarding ‘unlawful customs’ had to do with recent changes in the religious policy of the emperor, Claudius. He insisted upon a renewed and strong support for ancestral Roman religion; “and Philippi as an insular Roman colony reflected that change more quickly and vociferously than most cities“, as Chilton (2004) puts it. As a result, armed guards stripped Silas and Paul of their clothing, beat them with short rods, threw them in prison, and kept them in stocks.
It was at this point that one of the more famous miracles in Paul's life occurred. Paul and Silas obtained their release from prison because of an earthquake which took place in the night. This broke open their cell and released their chains! The jailer responsible for them became distraught and would have committed self-murder but for Paul's remonstrance. This whole episode had the effect of a conversion experience for the jailer and he took Paul and Silas to his home, where he and all his household were baptized into the new faith. The jailer then interceded with the magistrate on their behalf, and after some discussion regarding their treatment, the two evangelists were sent safely on their way.
The next stage of Paul’s journey took him west along the Via Egnatia to Thessalonika, by way of Amphipolis and Apollonia. However, the company appears to have pushed on quickly from Philippi to Thessalonika (a distance of about 100 miles) without staying more than one night in these intermediate places. Therefore Paul probably did not see the coins of Amphipolis, at least on this occasion. But he passed through Amphipolis again on two later occasions.
50 A.D. THESSALONIKA
The author of Acts manages to narrate Paul’s travels from Philippi to Athens in 14 verses (17:1-14). This allows only a brief account of Thessalonika. This is possible if the narrative is correct in stating that the reception in Thessalonika was as bad as that in Phillipi. In that event, Paul and company would not have tarried long! Acts says that Paul went to the synagogue in Thessalonika on three successive Sabbaths, indicating that he spent at least three weeks there but not more. However, Wilson (1997) points out that Paul himself says in his own letter to the Thessalonians, “You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (I Thess. 2:9). Wilson adds that “He would not have written this about a mere three-week trip”. Actually, there is no mention of a synagogue in Paul’s letter. Therefore, I believe we can be reasonably certain that Paul was in Thessalonika for considerably longer than Acts’ approximately three weeks. And, as a result he would have seen most if not all of the coins common to the city in that time.
Coin of Tiberius (and Livia). Macedonia: Thessalonika, bronze 23 mm. This heavy bronze was minted in 22-23 A.D. or later. It features the emperor Tiberius on the obverse and his late mother Livia on the reverse. She is veiled as was the Roman custom when depicting deceased persons. This coin would have been in circulation for about 25 years when Paul and his companions were first in Thessalonika. This is quite a substantial coin, weighing over 11 grams, therefore it could have lasted long enough to have been seen and handled. In fact it is still in pretty good shape today in my hand, some 2,000 years later!
Coin of Gaius (“Caligula”). Macedonia: Thessalonika, leaded bronze, 22 mm. The young emperor who succeeded Tiberius was Gaius, known by his nickname of “Caligula” (meaning ‘little boots’). His time as emperor was short, only four years from 37-41 A.D. This would have meant that this coin had been circulating for about 9-10 years, and should have been in evidence in Thessalonika when Paul and company were there in 50 A.D. If, that is, these coins hadn’t all been relegated to the back of people’s drawers and into old jars! Caligula was notoriously crazy and even before he was assassinated he was not exactly popular. Nonetheless, I had to include at least one coin of him in this collection! It has on the obverse a portrait of Gaius and on the reverse a portrait of his late grand-mother Antonia.