Achaia (Ἀχαΐα) was, in the classical period, merely a strip of fertile coast-land stretching along the south of the Gulf of Corinth, from the river Larisus, which separated it from Elis, to the Sythas, which divided it from Sicyonia, while the higher mountains of Arcadia bounded it on the south. Its whole length was about 65 miles, its breadth from 12 to 20 miles, and its area about 650 sq. miles.
The Achæans were probably the remnant of a Pelasgian race ones distributed over the whole Peloponnesus. Though they were celebrated in the heroic age, they rarely figured in the great Hellenic period, keeping themselves as far as possible aloof from the conflicts between the Ionian and Doric States, happy in their own almost uninterrupted prosperity. It is not till the last struggle for Hellenic independence that they appear on the stage of history.
The cities which formed the famous Achæan League became the most powerful political body in Greece; and, when the Romans subdued the country (146 b.c.), they at once honoured the brave confederation and spared the feelings of all the Hellenes by culling the new province not Greece but Achaia. As constituted by Augustus in 27 b.c., the province included Thessaly, Ætolia, Acharnania, and part of Epirus (Strabo, XVII. iii. 25), being thus almost co-extensive with the modern kingdom of Greece. As a senatorial province Achaia was governed by a proconsul, who was an ex-prætor. In a.d. 15 Tiberius took it from the Senate, adding it to Macedonia to form an Imperial province under the government of a legatus; but in 44 Claudius restored it to the Senate. ‘Proconsul’ (ἀνθύπατος, Ac 18:12) was therefore the governor’s correct official title at the time of St. Paul’s residence in Corinth. Nero, as ‘a born ‘Philhellene,’ wished to make Greece absolutely free.
‘In gratitude for the recognition which his artistic contributions had met with in the native land of the Muses … [he] declared the Greeks collectively to be rid of Roman government, free from tribute, and, like the Italians, subject to no governor. At once there arose throughout Greece movements, which would have been civil wars, if these people could have achieved anything more than brawling; and after a few months Vespasian re-established the provincial constitution, so far as it went, with the dry remark that the Greeks had unlearned the art of being free’ (Mommsen, Provinces, i. 262).
To the end of the empire Achaia remained a senatorial province. The administrative centre was Corinth (q.v.), where the governor had his official residence. During a prolonged mission in that city, St. Paul was brought into contact with the proconsul Gallio (q.v.), the brother of Seneca. The rapid progress of the gospel in Achaia is partly explained by the fact that Judaism had already for centuries been working as a leaven in many of the cities of Greece. Sparta and Sicyon are named among the numerous free States to which the Romans sent letters on behalf of the Jews about 139 b.c. (1 Mac 15:23), and Philo’s Legatio ad Gaium (§ 36) testifies to the presence of Jews in Bœotia, Ætolia, Attica, Argos, and Corinth.
Only three Achæan cities are mentioned in the NT—Athens, Corinth, and Cenchreæ—but the address of 2 Cor. to ‘all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia,’ and the liberality of ‘the regions of Achaia’ (2 Co 9:2; 11:10), prove that there must have been many other unnamed centres of Christian faith and life in the province. While 1 Co 16:15 refers to the house of Stephanas as ‘the firstfruits of Achaia,’ Ac 17:34 rather indicates that the Apostle’s brief visit to Athens had already borne some fruit, ‘Dionysius, Damaris, and others with them’ being Achæan believers. Athens (q.v.) was either reckoned by itself or else entirely overlooked.
Literature.—The Histories of Polybius and Livy; A. Holm, History of Greece, Eng. tr. London, 1894–98, vol. iv.; T. Mommsen, The Provinces of the Roman Empire2, Eng. tr., London, 1909, i. 290 ff.; J. Marquardt, Röm. Staatsverwaltung, new ed., Leipzig, 1885, i. 321f.; C. v. Weizsäcker, Apostolic Age, Eng. tr. i.2 [London, 1897] p. 303ff.; A. C. McGiffert, Apostolic Age, Edinburgh, 1897, p. 256 ff.
q.v. quod vide, which see.