“The city of the many”. The city of kings and ancestors
The necropolis spreads both under the ground as a space dedicated to the memory of all Macedonians and over the ground in the form of standing monuments encompassing the Past, the present and the future of the humans that lived and acted in Aigai. The ancient cemeteries of the Macedonian capital lie beyond the built area that is intended for the living, namely outside the city. The vast area that surrounds the city walls and is, in a way, demarcated by the streams flowing from Pieria is dominated by tombs of the Homeric type, i.e., accumulated earth that covers the actual tomb and a sign bearing the name and father’s name of the dead.
The Archaic necropolis of Aigai is located to the southwest of the Cemetery of the Tumuli. The tombs dated back to the beginning of the 6th and up to the beginning of the 5th century BC. All of them are rather spacious pits varying in size and orientation along the N-S axis. They form small, rather dense clusters each one of them probably representing a family burial. These clusters were probably covered by low earthen tumuli each one marked by plain stone periboloi (clusters stone circular enclosures). The grave markers on the tumuli were plain stones. The finds unearthed in the Archaic cemetery of Aigai, namely clay pots and figurines imported from the big traffic and commercial centers of antiquity (Korinthos, Athinai, Ionian coasts, etc.) attest to the relationship of the Macedonian kingdom with the Mediterranean Sea and the East.
Necropolis in the Classical period
In the 5th century BC, the cemetery of Aigai becomes denser and is expanded around the core of the Archaic necropolis. This expansion continues well through the 4th century BC, although now the necropolis spreads mainly to the north-west, where, in 336 BC, the tomb of Philip II will be built.
The royal burial cluster of Philip II. The eternal residence of King Philip II
The funeral of Philip II in 336 BC was performed, as imposed by tradition, in Aigai. It was the most lavish funeral ceremony of the historic times held in Greece. In a monumental death chamber, laid on an elaborate gold and ivory deathbed wearing his precious golden oak wreath, the king was surrendered, like a new Hercules, to the funeral pyre. Alexander is now the king of Macedon. A “high priest” and a mystis (the initiated one), a hunter and a “symposiast”, an army leader and a legislator, Philip, the hero, descends to his eternal residence, which is reached by a ramp and has the form of an underground barrel-vaulted building with two chambers and a monumental façade. The concept of the “Macedonian tomb”, similar to the platonic concept of the leaders’ burial in an ideal state, interweaves a palace and a temple. The portraits of the two kings, father and son, are depicted in the hunting scene of the tomb’s façade, as well as on the gold and ivory deathbed in the chamber.
In the tomb’s antechamber, Philip’s Thracian wife, Meda, is buried with him.
The cluster of the Queens (cluster Β)
At a privileged and prominent location next to the northwestern gate of the ancient walls, where the necropolis is separated from the city of Aigai by the torrent of Paliopanagia, a group of female tombs was excavated belonging to distinctive members of the Temenid dynasty.
The cluster consists of four large pits (ΛI 540-30 BC, ΛII 500-490 BC, ΛIII 480 BC and ΛIV 470-60 BC) and three monumental stone-built cist graves (Κ2 430-20 BC, Κ2 420-10 BC, Κ3 350-30 BC,). Intact was only one of the pit ones, which contained the richest female burial of the era in Macedonia known to us today: the one of the golden “Lady of Aigai”, who died at the beginning of the 5th century BC and probably was the wife of Amyntas I. Next to her one of the wives of Alexander I (498-454 BC) was buried in the time of Persian wars. In her burial, at least 26 small terracotta statues (xoana) were used with clay heads depicting the two deities, Demeter and Kore, but also two Demons, which are typical of the local artistic production on the threshold of a new era, as well as of the religious beliefs accompanying and leading the distinguished Macedonian wife-mother-priestess to the Underworld.
In the same cluster, in 344/43 BC, the mother of Philip II, Eurydice, was buried in a monumental burial construction that constitutes the earliest architectural expression of the “Macedonian tomb”. The impressive throne of the queen with its splendid painting depicting the quadriga ridden by the divine couple of the Underworld, Pluto and Persephone, is a symbol of her position in the court and in the Macedonian social structure, as is an indication of the queen’s after-death status in the Elysian Fields.
The most recent tomb of the group (beginning of the 3rd century BC) is an elegant Macedonian tomb with an Ionic façade and a marble throne inside, which most probably belonged to the daughter of Philip II, queen Thessaloniki.
The cluster of the Temenids (cluster C)
In the royal “cluster of the Temenids” 12 tombs came to light: 5 pits, 6 monumental cists and 1 Macedonian tomb, all dating from 570 to 300 BC.
Around and next to two of the earliest tombs (570-550 BC and 550-330 BC) the remains of the two earliest funeral pyre (pile of combustible material used for cremating a corpse) in Aigai known to us were found: shards of clay pots and fragments of bronze vessels, half-melted bronze helmets, silver-riveted swords, similar to the ones described in the Homeric epics, swords with ivory handles or purposefully bent, symbolically “killed” ones, spears and lance heads, even pieces of a horse bridle. Objects purified by the fire, surrendered to the flames of their holokautoma (total incineration), attesting to the continuation of a burial custom that inextricably links the Macedonians of the archaic times with the world of the Homeric epics.
Heuzey and Bella clusters
Two adjacent clusters of tombs initially covered by two different tumuli, containing in total five monumental Macedonian tombs and three cist tombs.
In the space lying between them, stone circular enclosures (periboloi) mark the position of late Hellenistic burials. The burial clusters are found on the eastern edge of the “Cemetery of the Tumuli”, very close to the present-day village of Palatitsia. This burial complex most probably belonged to a prominent family of Aigai that chose to bury there its members from the late 4th century up to the 2nd century BC.
The Cemetery of the Tumuli
More than five-hundred (500) burial tumuli constitute the core of the archaeological site of Aigai. They offer to the visitor a unique view of the original shape of a Macedonian cemetery in the ancient times. The earliest tumuli date to the 11th c. BC, while the main use of this part of the necropolis dates to the Early Iron Age (10th-7th c. BC), when the Homeric epics were composed.