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EDESSA Macedonia, Greece.

Very ancient city of Emathia on the NE slope of Mt. Vermion. The first inhabitants of the area were the Bryges, a Thracian tribe known under the name of Phrygians in Asia Minor, where they finally took refuge after being driven back by the Macedonians coming from the W, from the mountains of Pindus, and from Upper Macedonia, ca. 700 B.C. (Hdt. 8.137; Just. 7.1). Linguistically the word Edessa is considered Phrygian (from vedy-water), and it survived over the centuries, alternating at times with the word Aigai, a common name for many Greek towns. Edessa was the first capital of the Macedonians in historical times, until King Archelaos (413-399 B.C.) transferred his seat to Pella.

Under the name of Aigai (Diod. 16.3, 92, 19.52, 22 frag. 12; Just. 7.1; Arr. 1.11.1; Plin. HN 4.33; Steph. Byz. s.v. Aigai), the city was closely associated with the palace and the royal cemetery, both of which remained fairly important even after the transfer of the capital to Pella. It was there that religious ceremonies and festivals, weddings, and funerals took place; there that Philip was assassinated in the city theater while celebrating the wedding of his daughter Cleopatra with King Alexander of the Epirots. Members of the royal family were buried in the royal cemetery of Aigai according to the instructions of the head of the Temenid dynasty Perdikka, in order to maintain the dynasty (Just. 7.1). Only Alexander was buried far from Aigai and decline set in. But even after Alexander's death, Kassander buried the monarchs Philip Arridaios and Eurydice, as well as Eurydice's mother Kynna, in Aigai with royal honors.

The city is found under the name Edessa in Polybios (5.97), Diodoros (31.8.8), Strabo (7.223 and 10.449), Appian (Syr. 57), Plutarch (Vit. Pyrrh. 10, 12), Polynenus (2.29.2), Ptolemy (13.39 and 8.12.7), Hierokles, and other Byzantine writers. In later Byzantine years and during the Turkish occupation the Slavic name of the city, Vodena, became more common. Today the city is called Edessa again.

The acropolis extended over the great plateau where the modern city is situated with its famous cataracts. Its position is well fortified and strategically important because, of the three passes over Mt. Vermion, it dominates the one farthest N. Through it came the most important road that connected lower Macedonia on the coast with upper Macedonia and the Adriatic with the Aegean. During Roman times Edessa was a post on the Via Egnatia.

Few remains are preserved from the acropolis of Edessa because of the continuous life of the city and the perishable nature of the building materials in the area (poros and wood). The lower city, on the contrary, has valuable ruins. During the years 1923 to 1924 limited excavations were started, and from 1967 to the present extensive research has been carried on in the whole area of the lower city. The wall enclosure has been established and partly uncovered, as well as gates and rectangular towers. The first period of the walls, characterized by the technique of building with stones of unequal sizes, goes back to the 4th c. B.C., but extensive repairs are noticeable until the later Byzantine years, during which gates, as well as towers, were walled in or rearranged during successive additions and modifications. None of the monuments mentioned by ancient writers (temples, palace, theater, royal tombs, etc.) have yet been found. The artifacts which can be removed are mostly marble architectural fragments, inscriptions, and sculpture, the majority of them dating from the Roman period. An old Christian basilica was also excavated, as well as parts of other Byzantine monuments. The finds are kept in the Edessa Museum and the Thessalonika Museum.


S. Pelekides. Ἀνασκαφή Ἐδέσσης, Deltion 8 (1923) 259-69PI; F. Geyer, “Makedonia” (Topographie) RE 14.1 (1928) 658; J. M. Cormack, Inscriptions from Macedonian Edessa and Pella II (1953) 374-81; id., “Inscriptions from Macedonia,” BSA 58 (1963) 20-24; P. Lévêque, Pyrrhos (1957) 147ff passim; M. Karamanole-Siganidou, Χαλκῆ χείρ Σαβαζίου ἐξ Ἐδέσσης, Deltion 22 (1967) 149-55I; M. Michaelides, Παλαιοχριστιανική Ἔδεσσα Ἀνασκαφή Βασιλικῆς Α, Deltion 23 (1968) 195-220PI; Ph. M. Petsas, Χρονικά Ἀρχαιολογικά 1966-67, Μακεδονικά 9 (1969) 175-77II; id., Αἰγαί-Πἐλλα-Θεσσαλονικη, Ἀρχαία Μακεδονία, ἔκδ. Ἑταιρείας Μακεδονικῶν Σπουδῶν Θεσσαλονίκη (1970) 203-1911MPI; N.G.L. Hammond, A History of Macedonia I (1972).


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