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PELLA Macedonia, Greece.

A city in the region of ancient Bottiaia to which King Archelaus (413-399 B.C.) moved the capital of Macedonia. It was the seat of Philip and the birthplace of Alexander.

Stephanos of Byzantium (s.v. Pella) mentions the pre-history of the place: “Pella of Macedonia was formerly called Bounomos or Bounomeia . . .” In historical times it was first mentioned by Herodotos (7.123) in the description of Xerxes' journey to the Axios river “which is the boundary between Mygdonia and Bottiaiis. The latter has a narrow coastal strip occupied by the cities of Ichnae and Pella.” Later, Thucydides mentions Pella twice, first in the passage about the Macedonians spreading E, before his time, and then in the attack of the Thracians under Sitalces against the Macedonian king Perdiccas, in his own time (Thuc. 2.99.4, 100.4). Southern Greeks took scant notice of Archelaus' activities in the last years of the Peloponnesian War, and laughed at his building of a palace in Pella (Ael., VH 14.17). But in Archelaus' time the painter Zeuxis came to Pella to decorate the palace, and the poet Timotheus also came, and the dramatist Euripides, who wrote the Archelaus there and died in Macedonia. After the time of Archelaus, Pella grew larger, so that in Xenophon's time it was called the “largest of the cities of Macedonia” (Hell. 5.2.13). The statement of Demosthenes (18.68) that Philip grew up “in a small and insignificant village” was a rhetorical exaggeration. Information about Pella is curiously scanty in the time of Philip, Alexander, and the Diadochoi, but from a political and artistic point of view the best days of Pella were probably during the long reign of the philosopher king Antigonos Gonatas (274-239 B.C.).

The only description of Pella which has survived is that of Livy (44.46.4-7), who writes of the capture of the Macedonian capital by Aemilius Paulus after the battle of Pydna, in which Perseus, the last king of Macedonia, was defeated. On the basis of his description, travelers and archaeologists from the end of the 18th through the 19th c. vaguely located Pella at a few visible remains of an ancient city near the town of Agioi Apostoloi, N of the Giannitsa swamp. In the first year after the liberation of Macedonia from the Turks (1912), excavations uncovered the remains of peristyle-type houses, an underground cistern, a hoard of silver coins of Kassander, bronze and iron household implements, bronze bed fittings, etc. A fuller and clearer picture of the topography of the ancient city has only been gained after continuous surface observations which began in 1954.

The most ancient finds from the area, which go back at least to the Bronze Age, came from: (a) fields N of the so-called Baths of Alexander; (b) from a hill W of the town of Palaia Pella; and especially from (c) the top of the Phakos within the former marsh. Test trenches in the latter revealed a prehistoric settlement, like others around the marsh, the best known being that of Nea Nikomedeia, dating to the Early Neolithic period (7th millennium B.C.). The prehistoric settlement on the Phakos may be Bounomos or Bounomeia (Steph. Byz.).

Over 40 test trenches brought Classical and Hellenistic remains to light over the whole area between the Phakos and the towns of Palaia Pella and Nea Pella. This area is about 2 km sq. It was ascertained that the acropolis encompassed a part of a double hill, that is, the hill occupied by the town of Palaia Pella (formerly Haghioi Apostoloi) and another, to the W of it. On the W hill, especially (Sections II and III), some rather scanty remains of important buildings were uncovered. Those which have come to light up to the present are: (a) walls ca. 2 m thick with huge poros orthostates (ca. one m high, under one m thick, up to 2 m long), (b) Ionic and Doric architectural members, the scale of which is shown by a Doric poros capital, dated to the first quarter of the 4th c. B.C. with the side of the abacus one m long, (c) parts of a triangular votive monument of bluish stone, (d) fragments of marble architectural members, statues, etc.

The position and scale of these constructions establish that here on this “W hill” was probably the palace of Archelaus, and the palace complex and temple, perhaps that known from Livy (42.51.2) as the Temple of Athena Alkidemos. It is probable that the fortified peribolos of the palace complex made a part of the acropolis wall and continued the city wall, which is now, however, invisible, since, in all probability, only its foundations and orthostates were of stone, while the upper parts were of mudbrick, which hid the stone parts under a layer of earth when they collapsed.

More striking are the discoveries around the center of the ancient city, N of the Thessalonika-Edessa road (Section I, from which Sections IV and v are separated by the road). Here, about six blocks of buildings were uncovered, constructed according to the Hippodamian system of town planning. One of the blocks had three peristyle courts with stoas and adjoining rooms on all sides, according to the Hellenistic type of house with peristyle. The others had approximately the same arrangement. They are surrounded by roads with a width of ca. 9 m along which are water pipes and drains. Parts of the buildings were at least two-storied, as apparent from the remains of stairs and from architectural fragments such as little columns and pillars. The floors of the ground floor rooms were covered with mosaic pavement, some completely plain, others with a geometric pattern, and others with figures, but all of them made of natural river pebbles. In 1957 the first four figured mosaics were uncovered. These show: (a) Dionysos, naked, on a panther, (b) a lion hunt, perhaps an episode known from the life of Alexander, when he was saved by Krateros, (c) a gryphon tearing a deer apart, and (d) a couple of centaurs, male and female. In 1961 in another block four more mosaic floors were uncovered, one of which is badly damaged. The others show: (a) the rape of Helen by Theseus, (b) a deer hunt with the inscription, “Gnosis made it,” and (c) an Amazonomachy.

In another section near the former marsh (Section VI) a circular floor in the same pebble technique was discovered, mainly decorated with floral motifs, like the mosaics of Verghina.

The buildings with the mosaic floors are dated to around the last quarter of the 4th c. or the beginning of the 3d c. B.C. Some of the peristyle columns and walls have been reconstructed in place. The mosaic floors have been taken up and consolidated, and are in the local museum, except for the mosaic of Gnosis, which remains in situ.

Of the architectural fragments, besides the stone columns, pillars, and parts of a cornice, worth mention are Corinthian pan and cover tiles decorated with palmettes, painted simas from the pediments, etc. Among the tiles, some are stamped with the name of the city in the genitive case (ΠΕΛΛΗΣ. This was the first indisputable evidence, found in 1957, for the site of the Macedonian capital.).

Of the sculpture from the site, the older finds are the most notable: (a) a marble funeral stele taken to the museum at Constantinople and (b) a statue of a horseman, possibly from a pediment, in the Thessalonika Museum. Of the more recent finds the most interesting are: (a) a severe style marble dog, (b) a bronze statuette of Poseidon of the Lateran type. Other small finds are Votive inscriptions (to Asklepios, the Great Gods, Zeus Meilichios, Herakles, the Muses, etc.), funeral inscriptions with bas-relief portraits, some bilingual in Greek and Latin, two unpublished milestones from the Via Egnatia, etc.

Of the pottery, most notable are some red-figure fragments and a class of local pottery which follows on old tradition (the technique is gray Minyan; the decoration early Mycenaean; the handles show its Hellenistic date). A large number of coins, chiefly of bronze, and many small worked pieces of bronze were found. The small finds are mainly kept in the local museum.


G. P. Oikonomos, Πέλλα (1914) 127-48PI; (1915) 237-44PI; id., Νομίσματα τοῦ βασιλέως Κασσάνδρου, Deltion 4 (1918) 1-29I; id., “Bronzen von Pella,” AthMitt 51 (1926) 75-97I; E. Oberhummer, “Pella,” RE XIX (1937) 341-48M; Ph. M. Petsas, “Alexander the Great's Capital,” ILN 2 (Aug. 1958) 197-99; id., “New Discoveries at Pella, Birthplace and Capital of Alexander,” Archaeology 11 (1958) 246-54I; id., “Pella, Literary Tradition and Archaeological Research,” Balkan Studies 1 (1960) 113-28I; id., Πέλλα Μεγ. Ἑλλην.' Ε᾿γκυκλοπαιδεία, Συμπλήρωμα Δ᾽, pp. 149-52I; id., “A few Examples of Epigraphy from Pella,” Balkan Studies 4 (1963) 155-70I; id., Pella (1964)MI; id., “Ten Years at Pella,” Archaeology 17 (1964); id., “Pella,” EAA 6 (1965) 16-20I; id., Mosaics from Pella, La Mosaïque Gréco-romain (1965) 41-56PI; id., Χρονικά Ἀρχαιολογικά, Μακεδονικά 7 (1967) 306-7I; id., Ἀρχαιότητες καί Μνημεῖα Κεντρικῆς Μακεδονίας, Deltion 23 (1968) 334-36I; id., Χρονικά Ἀρχαιολογικά 1966-67, Μακεδονικά 9 (1969) 170-75I; id., Αἰγαί-πέλλα Θεσσαλονίκη, “Ἀρχαία Μακεδονία,” Α᾽Διεθνές Συμπόσιον (1970) 220-23PI; X. I. Makaronas, Ἀνασκαφαί Πέλλης 1957-1960, Deltion 16 (1960) 72-83PI; Ἀνασκαφή Πέλλης, Deltion 19 (1964) 334-44PI; id., Χρονολογικά Ζητήματα τῆς Πέλλης, “Αρχαία Μακεδονία,” Α᾽Διεθνές Συμπόσιον (1970) 162-67I; G. Daux, “Chronique des Fouilles 1961,” BCH 86 (1962) 805-131; D. Papaconstantinou-Diamantourou, Pella (1971).


hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.123
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.99.4
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 42, 51
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 44, 46
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