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OLYNTHOS Chalkidike, Greece.

About 3 km inland from the Bay of Terone and some 64 km SE of Thessalonika. Part of the site was inhabited in the Late Neolithic period but not in the Bronze Age. Continuously from perhaps as early as 1000 B.C. there was a small Iron Age settlement consisting, at least in part, of Boiotians. In 479 it was captured and turned over by the Persians to Terone and the Chalkidians. It appears on the tribute lists of the Delian League from 454 on (paying 2 talents) but in 432, encouraged by Macedon, it revolted and received a large accession of population from other revolting Chalkidic coastal cities. It was almost certainly at that time that the Chalkidic state (“league”) was formed and that a large new section of the city was laid out to accommodate the increased population. Olynthos weathered the Peloponnesian War successfully and about 389 B.C. made a treaty with Amyntas III of Macedon. Its growing prosperity and power led to an attack by Sparta and, after a lengthy siege, to its capitulation in 379 B.C. Though forced to become temporarily an ally of Sparta, its economy seems not to have suffered severely. At any rate Philip II, after his succession to the throne of Macedon in 360, seems to have found it expeditious to conclude a treaty (357) with the Chalkidians, a fragmentary copy of which was found close to the site. By his adroit political maneuvers Philip kept Olynthos and Athens from combining against him until 349 when open war broke out. Despite the “Olynthiacs” of Demosthenes, Athenian aid proved too little and too late; the city fell in 348 and was destroyed by the Macedonians. Coins indicate a slight continued habitation or rehabitation of a few poor houses at the extreme N end of the N Hill as late as ca. 316 B.C. when the few survivors were no doubt among those Olynthians settled by Kassander at Kassandreia on the site of Poteidaia (Diod. Sic. 19.52).

Four expeditions between 1928 and 1938 uncovered a part of the S Hill (the site of the older town, with small irregular houses and slight remains of at least one public building), and about a quarter of the N Hill and slopes to the E (the site of the new housing district and of a stoa-like public building). The district was laid out on a very regular Hippodamian plan. Blocks of 300 Ionic feet (300 x 29.5 cm) E-W x 120 feet N-S were divided into two rows of five houses, each house approximately 60 feet square. Normal streets were 17 feet wide but Avenue B, the main N-S street, was 24 feet—the extra 7 feet being deducted from the length of the A blocks. The hundred-odd house plans recovered, including five complete blocks (50 houses) provide the best evidence available for the form of the Hellenic house (430-348 B.C.). Each block was evidently built as a unit with continuous rubble foundation walls, and the individual houses, though no two are exactly alike, conform to a general pattern with court on the S and portico on at least the N side off which most of the principal rooms open; this S orientation, for shelter in winter, agrees with the prescriptions for domestic architecture given by Xenophon and Aristotle.

A typical house (A vii 4) has a porch (prothyron) opening from the street on the S into the SW corner of a cobble-paved court (aule) in the middle of the S side of the house (but the entrance is never axial). To the W of the court is a large storeroom or, possibly, shop; to the E is a cement-floored dining room (andron) with its anteroom; to the N is the broad portico (pastas—first identified at Olynthos) with a small storeroom at its E end. Off the N side of the pastas opens a series of rooms including a kitchen (ipnon), with flue (kapnodoke) and a cement-floored bathroom (balaneion) with built-in clay tub. A second story (with bedrooms?) was reached by wooden stairs from the court. The walls were of adobe brick on rubble foundations; the roof was sloping and tiled. The finest house discovered, the Villa of Good Fortune, measures about 85 x 55 feet; in addition to the pastas there were narrower and shorter porticos on the other three sides; pebble mosaic floors adorned four of the rooms, those in the andron and its anteroom having both patterns and mythological scenes (Dionysos in chariot; Thetis bringing armor to Achilles); the others bear inscriptions (Ἀγαθὴ τύχη, Εὐτυχία καλή, Ἀφροδίτη καλή).

The Olynthos mosaics, occurring principally in the andron, occasionally in the court or the pastas, constitute the most extensive and finest group of Greek pebble mosaics known in the period of the late 5th and early 4th c. B.C. Some sixteen inscriptions found in the houses give information regarding the sale, mortgage, or rental of houses, and mention values from 230 to 5300 drachmas.

Public buildings so far discovered are few and unimportant: on the S Hill a fountain house and some remains of a larger structure; on the N Hill, at the E end of Block A iv, another fountain house, a building with a central row of Doric columns, and traces of what was apparently a stoa facing S on a large open space probably reserved for an agora to be enclosed eventually by other public buildings. A city wall of adobe brick on rubble foundations was traced along part of the W and N sides of the N Hill (at the rear of the houses). Two fairly extensive cemeteries with both inhumation (ca. 90 percent) and cremation burials were excavated, and a plundered stone chamber tomb was cleared on a hill to the W of the site.

Most of the finds (large amounts of pottery, figurines, loom weights, grain mills, and other household objects) are housed in the archaeological museum in Thessalonika. The large numbers of Chalkidic silver tetradrachmas, tetrobols, and other coins (many found in hoards concealed in the houses) are in the Numismatic Museum in Athens.


D. M. Robinson in TAPA 59 (1928) 225-32; 62 (1931) 40-56; 65 (1934) 103-7; 69 (1938) 43-76 (inscriptions, public and private); Mabel Gude, A History of Olynthus (1929) provides a convenient collection of ancient sources referring to Olynthos and the Chalkidians, together with a prosopography of Olynthians known from literary or epigraphical sources; D. M. Robinson et al., Excavations at Olynthus (1930-52) I-XVI (Neolithic settlement: I; houses and other architecture: II, VIII, XII; coins: III, IX, XIV; pottery: V, XIII, XIV; figurines: IV, VII, XIV; minor objects: II, X; mosaics: V; cemeteries: XI; P. A. Clement in Olynthus 9 (1938) 112-61 (further discussion of the history of Olynthos based on the numismatic evidence); J. W. Graham in Hesperia 22 (1953) 196-207; 23 (1954) 320-46; 27 (1958) 318-23 (further studies of houses); D. M. Robinson in RE s.v. Olynthos.


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    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.52
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