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Touches from Thessaloniki

Published by Athina Tha — 9 years ago

"Before becoming the name of a city, Thessaloniki was a woman. And that, in a few words, is its story.

The father of Alexander the Great, the King of Macedon, Philip II, married seven princesses, one from every kingdom he conquered. When he gained control of Pherae in Thessaly, they gave him the princess Nikisipolis to wed. Nikisipolis (“the city of victory”) gave Philip a daughter but died shortly after giving birth. They named the daughter Thessaloniki, and so, while the mother’s name meant “the city of victory”, the daughter’s meant “victory of the Thessalians”. Mother and daughter, like all princesses, lived to ensure the glory of their royal families. At 30 years of age, Thessaloniki was given in marriage to Cassander, the son of Antipater. General Antipater had been the right-hand man to Alexander the Great, now dead, and so the marriage of Thessaloniki and Cassander formed an important episode in the dynastic struggles for control of the enormous empire Alexander the Great had created. Immediately following the wedding, Cassander gave the name Thessaloniki to the new city he founded between two natural bays in the southern part of Macedonia, between the peninsula of Halkidiki to the east and Pieria to the west. In reality, however, he might not really have “founded” the city at all, since there were already many small cities in the area, the domains of lords with their surrounding farmers and craftsmen. The traditions of these small cities are lost in the depths of prehistory and myth; several lines from Homer’s Iliad mention the princes of these cities and their exploits. These small cities united to form one, Thessaloniki.

When the Roman army led by Aemilius Paulus defeated the last Macedonian king Perseus (168 BC), the Thessalonians surrendered to avert disaster. The Kingdom of Macedonia was then dissolved and replaced by four self-governing provinces. The third of these stretched from the Axios River to the River Strymonas and had Thessaloniki as its capital.

The Via Egnatia (named after its creator Gnaeus Egnatius) connected Dyrrachium (now Durrës) on the Adriatic Sea with the Evros River to the east. Its proximity to the Via Egnatia and its magnificent harbour made Thessaloniki an important commercial hub between Rome and Asia Minor and, with the flourishing of trade, the arts blossomed as well. Thessalonians enjoyed the polished speeches of skilled orators and attended with respect their wise men and poets. They worshipped Greek, Roman and eastern deities, as well as the mystic deities of the ancient Thracians."

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