Finds in 141 tombs add to picture of ancient Macedonia
Bronze helmet with gold decoration from a mid-sixth-century-BC warrior’s grave. Many Macedonian officers were buried in full armor, together with swords, spears and knives.
By Iota Myrtsioti - Kathimerini
The gold of the ancient Macedonians still gleams on the soldiers’ uniforms being unearthed by excavations in the ancient necropolis of Archontiko in Pella.
Fully armed Macedonian aristocrats, gold-bedecked women in elaborate jewelry, faience idols and clay vases of exceptional beauty had lain concealed for centuries in 141 simple rectangular trench graves that were discovered recently in the ancient settlement.
In their tombs, Macedonian officers wore armor and — in the late Classical and early Hellenistic periods — were equipped for the journey after death with coins for Charon, copper utensils made by local metalworkers, and rare incense or oil containers with the war of the giants depicted in relief.
These are not the first discoveries of gold-embroidered uniforms at Archontiko. Archaeologists Pavlos and Anastassia Chrystostomou from the 17th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities found the first warriors in full armor four years ago while excavating the cemetery.
The contents of the latest 141 tombs to be discovered were presented recently at the ephorate’s archaeological conference.
The typical Archontiko tomb contained gold masks, gold breastplates, clothes and shoes adorned with gold strips, helmets, shields, swords, spears and knives embellished with gold strips or rosettes.
Though only 2 percent of the 20-hectare cemetery has been excavated, the harvest has already been rich.
The dozens of finds help form an image of the socioeconomic organization, burial rituals, high living standard, aristocratic origins and leading role of the families in one of the most significant urban centers of ancient Macedonia from prehistoric times until the end of the fifth century BC.
As the Chrysostomou couple explained, the ancient settlement built in the middle of the plain of Bottiaia, close to the ancient route connecting East and West — later name the Egnatia Road — was one of the most important urban centers before the foundation of the capital of Pella.
This is confirmed by the 541 tombs dating from the Iron Age, through the Classical period and up to the early Hellenistic era (seventh century BC - 280 BC). This year’s investigation of a family cluster (in the broad sense of a clan) produced rich finds, as important as those of previous years.
A trove of grave ornaments was found in the 25 male and 17 female tombs dating to the Archaic era (first half of the sixth century BC to the beginning of the fifth century BC).
The men were mostly in full armor, with helmets adorned with incised gold strips, steel swords with gold on the handles, spears and knives. Gold foil sheets with embossed ornamentation adorn the leather breastplates, clothing, footwear and hand coverings of the warriors. Apart from gold and silver jewelry, numerous other objects, such as bronze and clay vases, clay idols, metal likenesses of farm carts, furniture and spits accompanied the male burials.
These objects present the first impression of a warrior, while the other grave offerings reveal the deceased’s personal and social prestige, two centuries before the rule of Phillip II and Alexander III.
The women were bedecked in jewelry that reveals their high social status. The grave ornaments (clay and metal vases, more rarely of glass of faience, or metal likenesses of carts) are related to the funeral customs of the journey to Hades.
Impressive items among this year’s finds were large silver clasps with disk-shaped heads adorned with rosettes and an 85-centimeter braided chain decorated in a style that predates those of Ephesus, Rhodes, and Eleutherna in Crete.
The necklace went around the chest where it was fastened by pins onto the clothing. It has gilded snake heads, seated lions and the heads of the female divinity Potnia of Thera.
The funeral ornaments in the women’s graves seem to have come to Macedonia from distant places. Among them are faience idols, probably from workshops on Rhodes, and clay vases from Kerameikos in Athens and Corinthian and Ionian workshops.