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Aegae: The Cradle of Ancient Macedonia

aegae vergina macedonia
A golden crown found in the burial tombs at Aegae, or Vergina. Credit: Tilo 2005/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

The archaeological site of Aegae next to the contemporary town of Vergina was the first capital of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. The site is located 65 km (40 miles) west of Thessaloniki in Northern Greece’s province of Central Macedonia.

Aegae is protected by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage monument and a site of outstanding natural beauty. It is also a site of immense historical significance.

It was in Aegae’s theater in 336 BC that Philip of Macedon was assassinated and his son, Alexander the Great, was declared king of Macedonia.

Due to Aegae’s prominence in antiquity, some of the most significant archaeological findings ever made were at the site in the 1970s.

Discoveries at the Macedonian capital Aegae

It was November 8, 1977 when after almost forty years of excavation in the area, archaeologist Dr. Manolis Andronikos found a priceless treasure—both literally and historically—in the village of Vergina in northern Greece.

The archaeologist began digging at the Great Tumulus of Aegae, a large mound of earth near Vergina that had been undisturbed since ancient times.

Located just five meters below the earth, there was an intact pair of royal tombs from the fourth century BC which contained many objects of gold, silver, bronze, and iron, as well as several wall frescoes.

More importantly, however, there were two caskets of human bones, which Andronikos believed to be the remains of the parents of Alexander the Great, Philip II (382-336 BC)— who had conquered all of Greece—and his fourth wife Olympia.

Dr. Andronikos, a professor of archeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, based his stunning conclusion on ivory busts found on the tomb floor which greatly resembled known portraits of Philip and Alexander.

Chemical dating placed the tomb at the right time, namely between 350 and 320 B.C.. Additionally, it is known that no other Macedonian king was buried in northern Greece during that time.

The tomb of Philip of Macedon

Philip Macedon Tomb Vergina
Philip of Macedon’s tomb. Credit: Public Domain

The bones were further linked to Philip after it was discovered that greaves, or armor for the legs, found in the tomb matched descriptions of the Macedonian king. According to ancient sources, Philip had broken his tibia in one of his legs.

One of the greaves was fit for someone with a misaligned tibia, strengthening the link between the ancient king and the tomb.

Moreover, the skull found at the site had significant damage to the right eye, where, according to ancient sources, an arrow pierced Philip.

Visitors to Vergina, the site where the burials were found, can view the treasures of the tombs firsthand.

The archaeological site of Aegae consists of the Polycentric Museum, the Palace, the city, the Acropolis, and the surrounding area with fields and houses.

The Palace of Aegae is considered to be the largest ancient Greek building to be discovered and is widely agreed to be one of the most significant in antiquity along with the Parthenon.

Currently, the palace is under restoration and is set to be completed in 2022.

Visiting the site’s exhibitions, such as the Royal burial cluster of Philip II, the King of Macedon, that are open to the public, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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