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E00013: Ecclesiastical complex of mid-4th to early 7th c. dedicated to *Paul (presumably the Apostle, S00008) in the centre of Philippi (south Balkans/Greece). It engulfs a pre-existing tomb shrine; excavations revealed cult buildings and evidence for veneration of relics.

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posted on 2014-08-29, 00:00 authored by CSLA Admin
The first Christian cult building, epigraphically identified as the ‘Basilica of Paul’, replaced an older site of pagan cult centring on a Hellenistic tomb. It was a simple, single-aisled hall with an awkwardly shaped exedra on its east end (dimensions: 25.30 x 9.90 m). It had a mosaic pavement including the dedicatory inscription of bishop Porphyrios (E00010) (figs. 1, 2). This building was replaced by a sumptuous church in the shape of a free octagon, later transformed into an inscribed octagon (max. dimensions: 27.50 x 30 m). The octagonal church was richly decorated with opus sectile, marble architectural sculptures, and mural mosaics. An atrium with an ornate fountain was built to its west. The church was accessed through monumental gateways and a grand street with porticoes (fig. 2).

The older Hellenistic tomb was preserved and continued to be venerated after the construction of the Basilica of Paul and the octagonal church (fig. 1). It was surrounded by a corridor facilitating access by the pilgrims, a baptistery, a holy water installation, and a room containing a marble table. When the octagonal church was rebuilt as an inscribed octagon, a polygonal room with a marble reliquary was added to its south-east corner. The reliquary was probably used for the production of holy oil.

The whole ecclesiastical complex came to occupy three insulae and two streets, stretching over more than 7,000 m2 (fig. 3). It included a public bath and a complex variously identified as a bishop’s palace, hostel or other charitable institution.

East of the apse of the church and outside the precinct of the ecclesiastical complex, there was a small open site with seven graves of children.

The complex was destroyed during a great earthquake in the early 7th century and was probably not repaired. A small chapel was built within the ruins of the octagonal church during the Middle Byzantine period.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Paul, the Apostle : S00008

Saint Name in Source


Image Caption 1

Fig. 1. Plan of the basilica of Paul, the tomb shrine and the octagonal church (after Brenk 2003)

Image Caption 2

Fig. 2. Philippi. Ecclesiastical complex of the Octagon. 1) Hellenistic tomb. 2) Octagonal church. 3) Antechamber of the baptistery and the ambulatory surrounding the tomb. 4) Ambulatory. 5) Room with sacred spring and table for offertories or relics. 6) Baptistery. 7) North gate (on the ‘Via Egnatia’). 8) South gate. 9) Atrium. 10) Porticoed street. 11) Cemetery. 12) Bath. 13) ‘Bishop’s palace’ (after Gounaris 1990)

Image Caption 3

Fig. 3. Museum of Philippi. The dedicatory inscription of the mosaic pavement of the Basilica of Paul. (photo E. Rizos)

Type of Evidence

Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea) Archaeological and architectural - Internal cult fixtures (crypts, ciboria, etc.) Archaeological and architectural - Extant reliquaries and related fixtures

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Balkans including Greece

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Philippi Drizypera Δριζύπερα Drizypera Büyük Karıştıran

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Ceremony of dedication

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Appropriation of older cult sites

Cult Activities - Relics

Making contact relics Reliquary – institutionally owned Contact relic - oil Contact relic - water and other liquids Public display of relics


The great ecclesiastical complex of the octagon at Philippi has yielded a unique wealth of evidence for the development of a major Christian shrine from the 4th to the 7th centuries. Its particular interest lies not only in its potential relationship with the cult of the apostle Paul, but also in its early date and in the way it incorporates a sacred site from pre-Christian Antiquity. The complex was excavated mostly by Pelekanides in the 1960s and 1970s. The excavator published several long reports of his work in the Πρακτικά τῆς ἐν Ἀθήναις Ἀρχαιολογικῆς Ἑταιρείας, but no full publication of the excavation has appeared, except for a monograph by Gounares on the architectural remains of the bath complex and the rooms surrounding the Hellenistic tomb. The remains of the buildings have undergone restoration and are open to visitors of the site. The earliest structure of the site is the Hellenistic vaulted tomb, dating from the mid 3rd century BC. Structures which are thought to belong to the pagan tomb shrine were excavated under the 'Basilica of Paul'. North of the tomb, there was a bath complex from the imperial period, which was incorporated by the ecclesiastical centre and remained functional into the early 7th century. The first church ('Basilica of Paul') probably appeared in the mid 4th century, though the main basis for this dating is the identification of the bishop Porphyrios of the inscription with the homonymous signatory of the Acts of Serdica (see E00010). The 'Basilica of Paul' was in use at least through the late 4th century. It was replaced by the first octagonal church in the early 5th century, according to Pelekanides, or the late 5th, according to Krautheimer (1986, 128). Of the same date are the baptistery and the other cult-related rooms around the tomb, the monumental atrium and the portico street leading to the church. The octagonal church was destroyed, probably by an earthquake, in the early 6th century, and was soon rebuilt in the form of an inscribed octagon. The entire complex was destroyed in the early 7th century. Burials appeared among the ruined buildings in the Dark Ages. In pre-Christian times, the main structure on the site was a Hellenistic vaulted tomb of the so-called Macedonian type. It stood on a relatively prominent position overlooking the neighbouring decumanus, and had a monumental temple-like superstructure decorated with colourful wall paintings. The burial chamber itself was found empty of its goods and offerings which were removed during Antiquity. The raiders entered through the vault, emptied the tomb and resealed it. Only one sarcophagus escaped their attention because it was buried in the ground: it contained the remains of a boy, a certain Euēphenēs grandson of Exēkestēs or Exēkestos (Εὐηφένης Ἐξηκέστου υἱωνός) according to an inscription on the sarcophagus. This suggests that it was the family tomb of the prominent Philippian citizen Exēkestēs. The tomb was dated to the mid 3rd century BC. According to the excavator, D. Lazarides (1964), when the tomb was opened by the raiders, some earth with Roman pottery sherds and coins fell into the chamber; these finds were never published. Lazarides ascribed the looting of the tomb to the Christians who transformed the site into a Christian shrine in the 4th century. Recently, A. Mentzos expressed doubts as to whether the tomb received any veneration before the foundation of the Christian shrine (Mentzos 2005). How the Christians obtained the tomb and turned it into a church is difficult to deduce, and several theories have been proposed: C. Bakirtzis (1998) proposed that pagan worship coexisted for some period of time with the function of the church. A.D. Callahan (1998) proposed the hypothesis that the Philippians made an unsuccessful attempt to claim Paul’s place of death and tomb for themselves, presenting the ancient tomb of Exēkestēs and his family as the alleged tomb of the apostle. G. Gounares (1990, 57) postulated that it may have been an otherwise unknown local martyr named Paul, whose remains may have been buried in the upper part of the tomb, above the chamber vault (the excavation indeed located some bones in that part). More recently, Aristotle Mentzos pointed out that there is no evidence to suggest that the Christians continued to venerate the tomb as a tomb, or that they were aware of its existence. According to him, the object of veneration was the superstructure of the tomb, which was revered as the site of the public flogging of Paul and Silas. The importance of the site as a Christian shrine is demonstrated by its long life and by the octagonal plan of the church that replaced the Basilica of Paul - strongly suggestive of the site’s character as a martyrium. The configuration of the rooms around the tomb provides clear information about the cult. The tomb was surrounded on three sides (west, north and east) by a rectangular ambulatory which facilitated the access of visitors. One could enter the ambulatory through a trivelon (opening with two columns) west of the tomb and walk around it. Flights of marble steps on the west and north side of the tomb allowed worshipers to stand and look at it from above. The tomb itself was found full of small Roman and late antique coins, probably offered by worshippers. In the ambulatory corridor east of the tomb, there was a fountain whose water flowed through a sarcophagus-like marble box. This has been interpreted as a holy water installation, perhaps containing relics. Exiting the ambulatory through a door east of the tomb, the visitor entered another room which included a fountain and a marble table with a small ciborium. This has been interpreted as a room for the veneration of relics, a prothesis (the room where offertories and Eucharistic bread and wine were offered by the people) or diaconicon (sacristy). In this room, the visitor’s route around the tomb ended, and he/she entered the church proper through a door at its north-east corner. In the 5th century, a baptistery in the form of a suite of rooms was built immediately next to the tomb and its surrounding rooms. Both the baptistery and the tomb ambulatory were now accessed through the same antechamber and it is possible that the veneration of the tomb formed part of the local baptism and chrismation rites. The veneration of relics in a baptistery is attested in 6th century Gaul (see E00052). Besides the tomb and its paraphernalia, the octagonal church included a second site for relics at its south-east corner. This consisted of two small rooms, one of which was circular and the second irregularly polygonal. The latter contained what seems to have been a marble stand with a sarcophagus-like reliquary (a part of the lid was found). At the bottom of the stand there was a drain, suggesting that it was used for the production of holy oil or water through contact with the relics. Similar installations are frequently found in Syria and Jordan, but are extremely rare in the Balkans. To the east of the apse of the church, there was a small courtyard with an open cistern. The excavations revealed seven burials of children on the site, most probably of a late antique date. This small intramural cemetery could be interpreted as a form of burial ad sanctos.


Excavation reports: Pelekanides, S., in Πρακτικά τῆς ἐν Ἀθήναις Ἀρχαιολογικῆς Ἑταιρείας 1958-1983. On the church complex: Bakirtzis, C., “Paul and Philippi: the Archaeological Evidence,” in: C. Bakirtzis and H. Koester (eds.), Philippi at the Time of Paul and after His Death (Harrisburg PA: Trinity Press International, 1998), 37-48. Brenk, B., Die Christianisierung der spätrömischen Welt: Stadt, Land, Haus, Kirche und Kloster in frühchristlicher Zeit (Spätantike, frühes Christentum, Byzanz. Reihe B, Studien und Perspektiven; Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2003), 8-10. Callahan, A.D., “Dead Paul: The Apostle as Martyr in Philippi,” in: C. Bakirtzis and H. Koester (eds.), Philippi at the Time of Paul and after His Death (Harrisburg PA: Trinity Press International, 1998), 67-84. Dassmann, E., “Archäologische Spuren frühchristlicher Paulusverehrung,” Römische Quartalschrift für christliche Altertumskunde und Kunstgeschichte 84 (1989), 271-298, at p. 278. Gounares, G., Το βαλανείο και τα βόρεια προσκτίσματα του Οκταγώνου των Φιλίππων (To valaneio kai ta voreia prosktismata tou Oktagonou ton Philippon) (Βιβλιοθήκη της εν Αθήναις Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας; Athens, 1990). Krautheimer, R., Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture (4th ed., revised by R. Krautheimer and S. Ćurčić; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986). Mentzos, A., “Ζητήματα τοπογραφίας των χριστιανικών Φιλίππων,” Egnatia 9 (2005), 101-149. Pelekanides, S., “Kultprobleme im Apostel-Paulus-Oktogon von Philippi in Zusammenhang mit einem älteren Heroenkult,” in: Atti del IX Congresso internazionale di archeologia cristiana. Roma, 21-27 settembre 1975, 2 vols. (Studi di antichità cristiana; Roma: Pontificio Istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1978), vol. 2, 393-399. Pelekanidou, E., and Mentzos, A., “Οκτάγωνο Φιλίππων. Πρώτα συμπεράσματα μετά τις νεότερες έρευνες ” in: Μνήμη Δ. Λαζαρίδη. Πόλις και χώρα στην αρχαία Μακεδονία και Θράκη (Mneme D. Lazaride. Polis kai chora sten archaia Makedonia kai Thrake) (Recherches franco-helléniques; Thessaloniki, 1990), 597-607. On the Hellenistic tomb: Excavation report by D. Lazarides in Αρχαιολογικόν Δελτίον (Archaiologikon Deltion) 19.B1 (1964), 372-4. Koukouli-Chrysanthaki, Ch., “Philippi,” in: R. Lane Fox (ed.), Brill's Companion to Ancient Macedon: Studies in the Archaeology and History of Macedon, 650 BC - 300 AD (Leiden and Boston, 2011), 443-444.

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