Aigai through time
Aigai was a city formed by distinct villages, an “open” urban agglomeration having a central core and multiple settlements of various sizes developing around it. This multiplicity explains the plural suffix of its name (the diphthong “ai”), like in the names of other ancient cities, e.g., “Athinai”, “Thibai” or “Ferai”, and reflects the ancient model of a society founded on the aristocratic structure of clans having as its point of reference and cohesion pole, the royal authority.
In the mid-7th century BC, Perdiccas I, a Dorian from Argos, a descendant, according to tradition, of the family of Hercules, became king of Macedonians. Aigai became the cradle of the Temenids, the dynasty that will rule Macedonia for 3.5 centuries and will give to humanity Philip II and his son Alexander the Great, who set off from Aigai and changed the history of Greece and the World.
The royal burials unearthed in the rich necropolis of Aigai attest to the city’s prosperity. During the reign of Alexander I (498-454 BC), Aigai became the centre of the most significant Greek state in the north. During Archelaus reign (413-399 BC), the court of Aigai was turned into a hospitable heaven for great artists that would grace with their presence the city life. The famous painter Zeuxis will decorate the king’s new palace, and Euripides will write here his last tragedies.
Macedonia and Aigai will bloom, though, after the ascent to the throne of Philip II, who will gather around him the cream of the intelligentsia turning his court into the matrix of cultural development, as Athens of Pericles once used to be. Philip II is the driving force behind the vast building project aiming at revamping Aigai, which resulted in a complete transformation of the city.
In the first half of the 4th century BC, all kinds of political and military developments force the king of Macedon and his family to stay more in Pella, the port to the north of the Thermaic Gulf that is rapidly growing into a city. However, Aigai continue to be the traditional centre, the land where kings choose to build their palaces and bury their dead, the place that hosts all major sacred ceremonies and city feasts of the kingdom.
In the summer of 336 BC, Philip II, the elected leader and commander of all the Greeks, decided to celebrate in Aigai his omnipotence by organizing an unprecedented in glory feast. The moment he entered the theatre following the sacred procession the assassin’s dagger stuck him and killed him in front of the gathered crowd. Alexander was proclaimed king after burying his father in the royal necropolis of Aigai in an unparalleled glorious ceremony.
At the beginning of the spring of 334 BC, the young king will set forth from Aigai on his great campaign that will turn him into the ruler of the world. Alexander will bequeath to the Hellenistic world the new trends and currents that arose in the environment of Philip II and will set the foundations of a new world.
The history of the world was changed, but the old seat of royalty was left to the margin. Following the fate of the kingdom, the city of Aigai was destroyed after the defeat by the Romans in 168 BC and then fell into decline and was gradually forgotten. Until, in 1977, Manolis Andronikos excavated the site, gave it back its name and the history of Macedonia began to be rewritten.
The history of the Macedonian kingdom
The name “Makednoi” or “Macedonians” is derived from the root mak-, as in the Greek adjective μακρύς (long), and originally meant the “tall ones” or “highlanders” in Greek. According to Herodotus, the Macedonians were the same tribe as the Dorians, who originally resided in the Pindus Mountain range.
In the beginning of the last pre-Christian millennium, the Macedonians, whose main economic activity was animal husbandry, are found in the northern side of mount Olympos and around the ancient Macedonian mount (the mountains of Pieria).
Here, to the south of river Haliacmon, in Herodotus’ “land of Macedon”, on the foothills of the “Macedonian mount”, lays Aigai, the land with many goats, the first city of Macedon. Built at the beginning of the route that crossed the mountains and from the Macedonian basin led to the south, Aigai was an important centre playing a pivotal role in the region from as early as the 10th-8th century BC.
Isolated and safe in their self-sufficiency, which originated from their abundant livestock, their forested mountains and fertile valleys, the lack of ports and islands and thus their distance from any urge to turn to trade, to open up to the world and found colonies, the Macedonians, in the same way as the rest of the Greek tribes settled in the northernmost and north-westernmost regions, did not follow the economic, social and political developments that took place in the south and led to democracy; on the contrary, up until the 4th pre-Christian century, they preserved the traditional regime of monarchy. According to Herodotus, in the mid-7th century BC, when in southern Greece the old hierarchy fell into pieces, Perdiccas, a Dorian from Argos in Peloponnese, became king of Macedon and established the Temenid dynasty, which, according to legend, were true descendants of Hercules and, therefore, were no different from the kings in Iliad, who were similarly blood descendants of Zeus himself.