Sunday, February 03, 2008

AIGEAI (Vergina)

Aigeai was the first traditional «capital» of the Macedonian Kingdom. There were several versions for the etymology of its name, such as that it derived from:

  • the Greek word «αίγες» (=goats) referring thus to the oracle advising Karanos to found his capital «at the place he would see sleeping goats» (Euphorion [Sa.3], Diodorus [Sa.4], Justin [Sa.12])

  • the Greek word «αιγίς» (=windstorm) (Theophrastus [Sa.13]) being relevant to the windstorms that hit the area and especially the acropolis, situated at the top of the hill

  • the Greek word «αίγες» (=waves) (Hesychios [Sa.14]) re­ferring probably to a coastal site (or a site by the river).


  • Ancient authors
    1) Herodotus VIII, 137: «Τοϋ δέ Αλεξάνδρου τούτου έβδομος γενέτωρ Περδίκκης έστί ό κτησάμενος των Μακεδόνων την τυραννίδα τρόπω τοιφδε.»
    2) Thucydides I, 61: «αυτοί την Πύδναν έπολιόρκησαν μεν, έπειτα δέ ξύμβασιν ποιησάμενοι και ξυμμαχίαν άναγκαίαν προς τον Περ-δίκκαν, ... άπανίστανται έκ της Μακεδονίας, και άφικόμενοι ές Βέροιαν»
    3) Euphorion fr. XXXIV: «Κάρανος ... έλθών είς Μακεδονίαν έκτισεν πόλιν και Μακεδόνων έβασίλευσεν και την πρότερον καλουμένην "Εδεσσαν πόλιν Α ίγάς μετωνόμασεν από των αιγών»
    4) Diodorus VII, 16: «αλλ' ίθι έπειγόμενος Βοττηίδα πρός πολύμηλον, ένθα δ' άν άργικέρωτας ΐδης χιονωδέας αίγας εύνηθέντας ϋπνω, κείνηςχθονός έν δάπεδοισι θϋε θεοϊς μακάρεσι και άστυ κτίζε πόληος»
    5) Diodorus XVI, 92: «των αγώνων και γάμον συντελουμένων έν Α ιγεαϊς της Μακεδονίας»
    6) Diodorus XIX, 52: «Εϋριδίκην μεν και Φίλιππον, τους βασιλείς, έθαψεν έν Αίγαιαίς»
    8) Plutarch, «Pyrrhus», XXVI, 1: «τών δέ Αιγαίων κρατήσας φρουράν Γαλατικήν έν τη πόλει κατέλιπε»
    9) Arrian, «Anabasis» I, 11.1: «και τφΔιί τφ Όλυμπίω την θυσίαν την απ" Αρχελάου έτι καθεστώσαν έθυσε και τον αγώνα έν Αίγαϊς διέ-θηκετά Όλύμπια»
    10) Ptolemy III, 13.39: « Ημαθίας... Έδεσσα, Βέροια, Αίγαιά, Πέλλη»
    11) Justin Vn, 1.7: «... urbem Edessam ob memonam muneris Aegeas ... vocavit»
    12) Hesychios s.v. αίγες: «κύματα»

  • Inscriptions
    1) «ΕΥΡΙΔΙΚΑ ΣΙΡΡΑ ΕΥΚΑΕΙΑΙ» (4th BC) [inscribed base found in the sanctuary of Eukleia; see Παλιαδέλη 1993A, pp.25-34]
    2) «ΜΗΤΡΙ ΘΕΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΣΥΝΤΕΛΗΑ» (4th BC) [inscribed kantharos found in the sanctuary of Kybele; see Δρούγου 1993, pp.5-12]
    3) «ΕΞ [AIJFEAN... ΕΞ ΕΔΕΣΣΑΣ» (late 2nd BC) [catalogue at Argos; see IG IV 617.15]
    4) «ΗΡΑΚΛΗ ΠΑΤΡΩΙ» [found in the Tholos of the palace; see Ανδρόνι­κος, 1984, p.38]


Ptolemy [Sa.ll] recorded Aigeai as a place of Emathia, while Dio­dorus [Sa.4] considered it as a Bottiaian site. Moreover, as regards its exact location , from the previous century until 1976, there was a great misconception (mentioned in the account of Edessa below), that ancient Edessa was identical with ancient Aigeai, and thus the latter was situated in modern Edessa. However, this theory was refuted, as soon as it became clear that in literary evidence (e.g. Ptolemy [Sa.ll]) or inscriptions [Sb.3] both Aigeai and Edessa appeared at the same time. Furthermore, some of the results of the excavations of the last decades, especially the discovery of the royal tombs which, according to Diodorus [Sa.7] and Pliny, [Sa.8] lay at Aigeai, in combination with the existence of a well built palace -essentially related to the function of a «capital»- and the presence of many broken grave stelai at the Great Tumulus, explained as the result of the rapacity of the Gauls (Diodorus [Sa.7]), led to the undeniable identification of modern Vergina (in the southwestern edges of the plain of Thessalonike, to the southeast of Haliakmon) as the ancient Aigeai, and that it evidently lay in ancient Emathia.

Diodorus was referring probably to a broader meaning of Bottiaia in his era, or he was trying to imply that Bottiaia should have accommodated both successive Macedonian «capitals», i.e. Aigeai and Pella.

The excavations in this site, started by Heuzey a French archaeologist who visited Macedonia in the mid-19th century and continued throughout the 20th century, have produced a great range of archaeological finds, thus allowing the reconstruction of the architectural development (fig. 1), and hence the political and social status of the site to a great extent.

Also, north of the ancient city, parts of the prehistoric Cemetery of the Tumuli have been excavated, as well as burial sites dating up to the early Classical period.

Leon Heuzey writes:
"It is indeed a wonderful place, this lesser-known side of the Pieria mountains, sloping to the open spaces of Imathia. Here, the vegetation of the nearly northern face of Olympus descends to the banks of the Aliakmon. Tall trees, mostly majestic elms, cluster in dense forests, often interspersed with fields of corn and sesame.

From league to league a village with red roofs is encountered, or some farm well-stocked with cattle, which resounds to the clamour of large flocks of geese. Then you lose yourself again in the depths of the forest, along shady paths churned every day by the hooves of buffalo and the wheels of carts.

The three villages of Koutles, Barbes and Palatitsia constitute the most remote group of the region. Between two ravines a peak rises, dividing the mountain into two parts and descending sheerly. Where the ravine broadens, the ancient inhabitants had built the citadel of a city, whose walls end at a gentler slope following the encir-cling bed of the torrents."

The French archaeologist continues: "Midway down the slope there projects a level space, the most prominent spot of the entire city, and best suited for the erection of some large edific-e. There, the fine archaeological remains, which had already attracted my notice in the year 1855, are piled in heaps. Magnificent elms crown this plateau, which the local people revere as an ancient grove, and which indicate to all from afar that this is a site hallowed by immemorial traditions of worship".

In first place, parts of the fortifications -being made of local stones and mudbrick, and reinforced with rectangular and semi-circular towers-were discovered along with the acropolis (to the south of the site), whose walls enclosed the palace as well. The acropolis, accommodated some pri­vate houses and workshops along with its own aqueduct, and communi­cated with the site through a gate at the north side of its peribolos. The earlier phases of the fortifications dated to the end of the 4th century BC or the early 3rd century BC (coinciding with Kassander's innovations), while a phase of repair in the time of Philip V and a destruction in the 2nd century BC (because of the Roman invasion after the defeat at Pydna) were also identified; the acropolis buildings dated from the late 4th century BC till the 1st century AD.

However, the literary evidence for its history is, compared to the ar­chaeological, less and rather scanty. In first place, Justin [Sa.12] and Euphorion [Sa.3] implied a mythological foundation by Karanos, while Herodotus [Sa.l] implied indirectly that Perdikkas was its mythical founder. Thucydides' [Sa.2] account of the Athenian actions (negotiations with Perdikkas II in their way from Pydna to Beroia) confirmed indirectly that Ai­geai (being the only important site between Pydna and Beroia, where the negotiations could have taken place) was the place of royal residence in this era. However, the first direct historical evidence referred to the marriage of Philip's daughter and his subsequent assassination in the theatre of Aigeai (Diodorus [Sa.5]). Later, Kassander buried there Philip Arrhidaios and his wife Eurydice (Diodorus [Sa.6]), emphasising thus the fact that Aigeai was the royal cemetery. However, Pyrrhos disregarded the holiness of the site and when he occupied it in 274 BC, he left a garrison of Gauls and moreo­ver, he did not stop them from ravaging the area of the royal cemetery (Diodorus [Sa.7] and Plutarch [Sa.9]), raising thus a public clamour. Fi­nally, after the defeat of Perseus at Pydna, Aigeai was sacked by the Ro­mans.

Evidently, Aigeai constituted a unique site, serving as the «capital» of the Macedonian Kingdom (till the movement of the «capital» to Pella, as will be apparent in the relevant reference) and simultaneously as the tradi­tional royal cemetery.

  1. Macedonian Heritage
  2. Maria Girtzi, Historical topography of ancient Macedonia,2001

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