Spread over 800,000 ha, the wall-surrounded ancient city (asty) was built in the centre of the Aigai land. The asty (ancient city) was built on the meeting point of the old-age axis that crossing the mountains connected the Macedonian basin with Thessaly, and the road that led from the western coast of the Thermaic Gulf to the interior of the kingdom. Here, on the hillside between the modern villages of Vergina and Palatitsia, laid not only the fortified acropolis and the sanctuaries, but also the palaces and the tombs of the kings. The different city districts (Gr. komes), the number of which explains the plural suffix of its name (the diphthong “ai” in “Aigai”), start from the city walls and expand to the wider area, scattered on the low hills and on the plain, their presence marking the route of ancient roads. The ones that were the furthest away from the centre had their own small cemeteries.
The name “Aigai” is derived from the same root as the ancient Greek word aiga (goat) and means “the land with many goats”. As its name attests, the city’s economy was based on animal husbandry. A forest full of game and plenty of wood, which the king used as his main argument when exercising his foreign policy, but also the close-by river that was used as a water route for the transportation of wood and as a rich source of fish, added to the city’s wealth, thus ensuring its well-being. The uncontrollable expansion of the necropolis to the plain shows that agriculture was not a dominant economic activity, although it ensured a self-sufficient production together with viticulture and arboriculture, an activity for which this hilly land offers ideal conditions even today.
And, although the old Macedonian capital with its age-old economic structures mainly based on the possession of land, never managed to become a significant industrial and exporting centre, it was, until the Hellenistic times, a blooming market for goods and distinctive services thanks to the overall prosperity of its inhabitants and, mainly, thanks to the presence of a large royal court.
City walls – Acropolis
It is certain that the city of Aigai had been wall-surrounded already from the Perdiccas II times (454-413 BC). A gate and traces of the 5th pre-Christian century wall were found northwest of the city, next to the tombs of the queens.
At the beginning of the reign of Philip II (359-336 BC) the city-walls were reconstructed with the new wall surrounding the slope where the city centre laid. City-walls also surrounded the two hills to the south of the palace, where the acropolis laid. The walls were 3m thick and were reinforced with towers. Up to a certain height the fortification was constructed by stone with façades of porous cornerstones, a material transported from the Vermion mount quarries (a distance >10km), while from this point upwards the material used was unbaked mud-bricks. A grand gate was constructed at the eastern part of the walls and a smaller one on the walls’ northwestern corner. Underneath this second gate the remains of another one were revealed that formed part of the older 5th century city-walls.
The Aigai theatre
The theatre where Philip II was murdered was founded in the mid-4th century BC, on the large terrace where the Palace was built, and in organic unit with it.
Moreover, the two buildings are the most ancient testimony of royal regime (basileia) that would prevail all over the ancient world during the Hellenistic and Roman times. The theatre has one earthen aisle (diazoma), while only the first-row seats and the stage (skene) were made of stone. The orchestra, in the centre of which the stone foundation of the thymele, the altar of Dionysus, remains intact, has a diameter of 28.40m.
The Eucleia sanctuary
Directly beneath the monumental complex of the Aigai palace and theatre, the sanctuary of Eucleia (eu + cleos, good fame, posthumous fame) was founded in the 4th century BC. The sanctuary complex comprises the foundations of two temples, one altar, one arcade (stoa) and one peripteral building. The archaeological excavations here unearthed royal dedications to the goddess, the most typical one being the dedication by the mother of Phillip II, Eurydice.
The sanctuary of Kybele
The sanctuary of Kybele or the Mother of Gods is a valuable source of information on worship in Aigai. The sanctuary was founded in the centre of the ancient city and had the form of a large building of the ancient house type with spacious rooms structured around a central court. The most common findings dating back to Hellenistic times, the main period during which the sanctuary was used, are the clay figurines depicting the enthroned Mother of Gods with the tympanum and the lions.