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New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians


In the last three years, as part of the Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities’ research for the maintenance study of the large building complex of Aegae located near the wall’s northwest gate and the queens’ burial cluster, new extremely interesting findings have come to light clarifying its picture and helping to identify its function.


New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians
Cleaning the marble tiles of the large SE space [Credit: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities]



“The inscriptions on the tiles allow us to associate the building we are excavating with the worship of members of the royal family. This is a building of the 4th century BC with major modifications in the era of Philip V, the late 3rd-early 2nd century BC. These floors come from this phase, as do the plasters, the roof and the figurines; elements that point us to a sanctuary”, says head of the Imathia Ephorate Angeliki Kottaridi.


New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians
Destruction layer from the middle of the 2nd cent. BC where the vessel with the poem was found
 [Credit: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities]

A rare find was also found during the works; a poem, which is probably a student exercise, on a vase. “Very interesting and very special”, notes Ms. Kottaridi, who will present the “New Finds in the City of Aegae” at the 33rd Scientific Meeting on the Archaeological Project in Macedonia and Thrace (AEMTH), taking place online.


New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians
The clay cup (skyphos) with the carved epigram [Credit: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities]

Like the palace and the temples, the complex is built of precious tufa stone that reached Aegae from the quarries of Vermion, covering a distance of 10-20 km. It is made up of a sequence of square and rectangular spaces, some of which are over 100 sq.m., organized in a regular manner round a large courtyard (the south and part of its east and west sides have been uncovered). To the east stands a temple-shaped space with a very deep antechamber and two Doric columns, facing the courtyard.


New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians
The floor of the large space after its clearing. The cracks and irregularities in soil levels are
due to a terrifying landslide in the 1st cent. AD which caused the city of Aegae to be
abandoned for good [Credit: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities]

The building acquires its basic form before the end of the 4th century BC, but in the times of Philip V (221-179 BC) extensive renovation works are carried out. In this phase there are floors with marble inlay , such as those of the palace, the walls are covered with multicoloured plaster, purple being dominant, with touches of ochre and green and are joined with architectural formations in relief foreshadowing the decorations of the houses of Pompeii. 


New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians
Tile fragments [Credit: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities]



Like the palace, sanctuaries and walls, the complex was destroyed in the mid 2nd century BC after Macedonia’s final occupation by Metellus’ army. Immediately after the destruction, however, part of its west wing and some spaces next to the east one were rebuilt, while in the years of Augustus (31 BC-14 AD), a large peristyle/colonnade of 1,000 sq.m. was added to its southeast along with an auxiliary building with a patio; building activity particularly remarkable for Aegae which was now in a period of decline.


New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians
Section of a marble frieze with plant decoration (4th cent. BC)
[Credit: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities]

“Its form, dimensions and elaborate construction, the rich materials and decorative elements, but also the obsession with the use of space, show that it is a public building”, notes the head of the Imathia Ephorate. “Monolithic altars, a marble support for a table, parts of a marble frieze with impressive plant ornaments and figurines of deities found in situ despite the savage looting, form the impression that it was a sanctuary complex; an impression that seems to have been confirmed in the most striking manner just when we started investigating the layer of tiles from its fallen roof that covered the area”.


New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians
Clearing, first aid and collecting of fallen plasters [Credit: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities]

Stamps with the Macedonian shield, the symbol used on their coins by the Macedonian kings of the Hellenistic period, and signs/panels with the name AMYNTOΥ printed on the tiles of its roof, revealed its close relationship with the royal family and more. 


New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians
Fallen plasters in one of the spaces on the SE side of the complex
[Credit: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities]

As in the case of the tiles with the corresponding inscription ΠΕΛΛΗΣ, the name indicates the owner who in this particular sacred building, at least in a part of it, cannot be other than the father of Philip II, Amyntas III who was given hero status and is known from the sources that his cult also existed in neighbouring Pydna. 


New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians
Ionian moulding from the wall decoration of the temple shaped space
[Credit: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities]



Eurydice, wife of Amyntas, is depicted as the goddess Hera in the statue commissioned for the sanctuary of Eucleia in Aegae, and it is certainly no coincidence that in the times of the Antigonids a temple-shaped building was built round the statue of the queen-mother.


New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians
Plasters in situ [Credit: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities]

“The cult of Alexander and his generation in the years of the successors was a source for legitimizing their power and it is very likely that the large building complex unearthed at the ancestral royal seat and grave site of the Temenides was one of its centers, which yielded another extremely valuable and unexpected finding in 2020. 


New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians
Head of a goddess, 4th cent. BC [Credit: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities]

In a modest clay cup found broken in the destruction layer of the 2nd century BC, someone, perhaps a student who confused the o with the ω and the ει with the ι while doing his exercises, carefully carved, as if on a papyrus, an epigram by an anonymous author, which has been handed down to us in its oldest and most authentic form: “the rose blooms for a while and when its time passes and you search for it, you will no longer find a flower, but only  thorns”.


New finds in Aegae, the royal metropolis of the Macedonians
Figurine of Athena, 2nd cent. BC [Credit: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities]

Known from the Palatine Anthology, the epigram of Aegae urges the reader not to waste time that flies by relentlessly and gives us in the most direct and original way a picture of culture in the ancient Macedonian metropolis as it draws its final breath. “The first finding is tremendously important for a greater understanding of the city and of history, but the second is very moving”, said Ms. Kottaridi.


Source: ANA-MPA [trsl. Archaeology Newsroom; April 23, 2021]



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