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History (1)


POLITICAL AND MILITARY HISTORY. Thessalonica was a place of some importance, even while it bore its earlier name of Therma. Three passages of chief interest may be mentioned in this period of its history. Xerxes rested here on his march, his land-forces being encamped on the plain between Therma and the Axius, and his ships cruising about the Thermaic gulf; and it was the view from hence of Olympus and Ossa which tempted him to explore the course of the Peneius. (Herod. vii. 128, seqq.) A short time (B.C. 421) before the breaking out of the Peloponnesian War, Therma was occupied by the Athenians (Thucyd. i. 61); but two years later it was given up to Perdiccas (Id. ii. 29.) The third mention of Therma is in Aeschines (de Fals. Leg. p. 31, ed. Bekk.), where it is spoken of as one of the places taken by Pausanias.
  The true history of Thessalonica begins, as we have implied above, with the decay of Greek nationality. The earliest author who mentions it under its new name is Polybius. It seems probable that it was rebuilt in the same year (B.C. 315) with Cassandreia, immediately after tile fall of Pydna and the death of Olympias. We are told by Strabo that Cassander incorporated in his new city the population, not only of Therma, but likewise of three smaller towns, viz. Aeneia and Cissus (which are supposed to have been on the eastern side of the gulf), and Chalastra which is said by Strabo (vii. Epit. 9) to have been on the further side of the Axius, whence Tafel (p. xxii.) by some mistake infers that it lay between the Axius and Therma. It does not appear that these earlier cities were absolutely destroyed; nor indeed is it certain that Therma lost its separate existence. Pliny seems to imply that a place bearing this name was near Thessalonica; but the text is probably corrupt.
  As we approach the Roman period, Thessalonica begins to be more and more mentioned. From Livy (xliv. 10) this city would appear to have been the great Macedonian naval station. It surrendered to the Romans after the battle of Pydna (Ib. xliv. 45), and was made the capital of the second of the four divisions of Macedonia (Ib. xlv. 29). Afterwards, when the whole of Macedonia was reduced to one province (Flor. ii. 14), Thessalonica was its most important city, and virtually its metropolis, though not so called till a later period. Cicero, during his exile, found a refuge here in the quaestor's house (pro Planc. 41); and on his journeys to and from his province of Cilicia he passed this way, and wrote here several of his extant letters. During the first Civil War Thessalonica was the head-quarters of the Pompeian party and the senate. (Dion Cass. xli. 20.) During the second it took the side of Octavius and Antonius (Plunt. Brut. 46; Appian, B.C. iv. 118), and reaped the advantage of this course by being made a free city. It is possible that the word eleutherias, with the head of Octavia, on some of the coins of Thessalonica, has reference to this circumstance (see Eckhel, ii. p. 79); and some writers see in the Vardar gate, mentioned below, a monument of the victory over Brutus and Cassius.
  Even before the close of the Republic Thessalonica was a city of great importance, in consequence of its position on the line of communication between Rome and the East. Cicero speaks of it as posita in gremio imperii nostri. It increased in size and rose in importance with the consolidation of the Empire. Strabo in the first century, and Lucian in the second, speak in strong language of the amount of its population. The supreme magistrates (apparently six in number) who ruled in Thessalonica as a free city of the Empire were entitled politarchai, as we learn from the remarkable coincidence of St. Luke's language (Act. Ap. xvii. 6) with an inscription on the Vardar gate. (Bockh, 1967. Belley mentions another inscription containing the same term.) In Act. Ap. xvii. 5, the demos is mentioned which formed part of the constitution of the city. Tafel thinks that it had a boule also.
  During the first three centuries of the Christian era, Thessalonica was the capital of the whole country between the Adriatic and the Black Sea; and even after the founding of Constantinople it remained practically the metropolis of Greece, Macedonia, and Illyricum. In the middle of the third century, as we learn from coins, it was made a Roman colonia; perhaps with the view of strengthening this position against the barbarian invasions, which now became threatening. Thessalonica was the great safeguard of the Empire during the first shock of the Gothic inroads. Constantine passed some time here after his victory over the Sarmatians; and perhaps the second arch, which is mentioned below, was a commemoration of this victory: he is said also by Zosimus (ii. p. 86, ed. Bonn) to have constructed the port, by which we are, no doubt, to understand that he repaired and improved it after a time of comparative neglect. Passing by the dreadful massacre by Theodosius (Gibbon's Rome, ch. xxvii.), we come to the Sclavonic wars, of which the Gothic wars were only the prelude, and the brunt of which was successfully borne by Thessalonica from the middle of the sixth century to the latter part of the eighth. The history of these six Sclavonic wars, and their relation to Thessalonica, has been elaborated with great care by Tafel.
  In the course of the Middle Ages Thessalonica was three times taken; and its history during this period is thus conveniently divided into three stages. On Sunday, July 29th, 904, the Saracen fleet appeared before the city, which was stormed after a few days' fighting. The slaughter of the citizens was dreadful, and vast numbers were sold in the various slave-markets of the Levant. The story of these events is told by Jo. Cameniata, who was crozierbearer to the archbishop of Thessalonica. From his narrative it has been inferred that the population of the city at this time must have been 220,000. (De Excidio Thessalonicensi, in the volume entitled Theophanes Continnatus of the Bonn ed. of the Byz. writers, 1838.) The next great catastrophe of Thessalonica was caused by a different enemy, the Normans of Sicily. The fleet of Tancred sailed round the Morea to the Thermaic gulf, while an army marched by the Via Egnatia from Dyrrhachium. Thessalonica was taken on Aug. 15th, 1185, and the Greeks were barbarously treated by the Latins. Their cruelties are described by Nicetas Choniates (de Andron. Comneno, p. 388, ed. Bonn, 1835). The celebrated Eustathius was archbishop of Thessalonica at this time; and he wrote an account of this capture of the city, which was first published by Tafel (Tubingen, 1832), and is now printed in the Bonn ed. of the Byz. writers. (De Thessalonica a Latinis capta, in the same vol. with Leo Grammaticus, 1842.) Soon after this period follows the curious history of western feudalism in Thessalonica under Boniface, marquis of Montferrat, and his successors, during the first half of the 13th century. The city was again under Latin dominion (having been sold by the Greek emperor to the Venetians) when it was finally taken by the Turks under Amurath II., in 1430. This event also is described by a writer in the Bonn Byzantine series (Joannes Anagnostes, de Thessalonicensi Excidio Narratio, in the same volume with Phranzes and Cananus, 1838).
ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY. The annals of Thessalonica are so closely connected with religion, that it is desirable to review them in this aspect. After Alexander's death the Jews spread rapidly in all the large cities of the provinces which had formed his empire. Hence there is no doubt that in the first century of the Christian era they were settled in considerable numbers at Thessalonica: indeed this circumstance contributed to the first establishment of Christianity there by St. Paul (Act. Ap. xvii. 1). It seems probable that a large community of Jews has been found in this city ever since. They are mentioned in the seventh century during the Sclavonic wars; and again in the twelfth by Eustathius and Benjamin of Tudela. The events of the fifteenth century had the effect of bringing a large number of Spanish Jews to Thessalonica. Paul Lucas says that in his day there were 30,000 of this nation here, with 22 synagogues. More recent authorities vary between 10,000 and 20,000. The present Jewish quarter is in the south-east part of the town.
  Christianity, once established in Thessalonica, spread from it in various directions, in consequence of the mercantile relations of the city. (1 Thess. i. 8.) During the succeeding centuries this city was the bulwark, not simply of the Byzantine Empire, but of Oriental Christendom, - and was largely instrumental in the conversion of the Sclavonians and Bulgarians. Thus it received the designation of The Orthodox City. It is true that the legends of Demetrius, its patron saint (a martyr of the early part of the fourth century), disfigure the Christian history of Thessalonica; in every siege success or failure seems to have been attributed to the granting or withholding of his favour: but still this see has.a distinguished place in the annals of the Church. Theodosius was baptized by its bishop; even his massacre, in consequence of the stern severity of Ambrose, is chiefly connected in our minds with ecclesiastical associations. The see of Thessalonica became almost a patriarchate after this time; and the withdrawal of the provinces subject to its jurisdiction from connection with the see of Rome, in the reign of Leo Isauricus, became one of the principal causes of the separation of East and West. Cameniata, the native historian of the calamity of 904, was, as we have seen, an ecclesiastic. Eustathius, who was archbishop in 1185, was, beyond dispute, the most learned man of his age, and the author of an invaluable commentary on the Iliad and Odyssey, and of theological works, which have been recently published by Tafel. A list of the Latin archbishops of Thessalonica from 1205 to 1418, when a Roman hierarchy was established along with Western feudalism, is given by Le Quien (Oriens Christianus, iii. 1089). Even to the last we find this city connected with questions of religious interest. Symeon of Thessalonica, who is a chief authority in the modern Greek Church on ritual subjects, died a few months before the fatal siege of 1430; and Theodore Gaza, who went to Italy soon after this siege, and, as a Latin ecclesiastic, became the translator of Aristotle, Theophrastus, and Hippocrates, was a native of the city of Demetrius and Eustathius.

This extract is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited June 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

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