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 New Findings at Royal Burials of Aegae Reveal Realities of the Past

New Findings at Royal Burials of Aegae Reveal Realities of the Past

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The royal tombs of Aegae, which lie silently amid the Pieria mountains and the wide Aliakmon River in Greece, have attracted the palpable excitement of the archaeologists, from time to time revealing something hidden within the dense layers of the past. Aegae, now known as Vergina, was once the capital of Macedonia, it’s heartland’s royal center so to speak. The area became an important subject of Greek archaeology after a cluster of tombs were unearthed, later identified to be Alexander the Great ’s father Philip II and his queen’s burial site.

Now recent findings have made interesting revelations about Aegae’s building complex, discovered close to the queen’s burial cluster. According to the Archaeology News Network , the Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities has been researching for the last three years as part of the building complex’s maintenance study and their recent findings have revealed that the building under excavation is in fact the place where the royal family was worshipped.

A poem inscribed on a vessel was discovered in destruction layer at ancient Aegae dating back to the middle of the second century BC. (Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities)

A poem inscribed on a vessel was discovered in destruction layer at ancient Aegae dating back to the middle of the second century BC. ( Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities )

“Very Special” Discoveries at Aegae

Professor Manolis Andronikos excavated a site near Vergina in 1977 which turned out to be the burial site of Alexander the Great ’s family. The 60,000 cubic meter (2,118,880 ft³) earthen hills, which is known as the “Great Tumulus”, was removed by November 1977, and the façade of the tomb was revealed to the world. Archaeologists concluded that the foundation stones adjacent to a cist grave, marked as Tomb I, were that of a shrine, which was deemed to be evidence that people were worshipping the tomb occupant.

Ionian moulding from the wall decoration of the temple shaped space. (Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities)

Ionian moulding from the wall decoration of the temple shaped space. (Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities )

The more recent findings seem to tell a similar story. “The inscriptions on the tiles allow us to associate the building we are excavating with the worship of members of the royal family,” explained Dr. Angeliki Kottaridi, Head of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Imathia in Archaeology News Network . “This is a building of the 4th century BC with major modifications in the era of Philip V, the late 3rd-early 2nd century BC. These floors come from this phase, as do the plasters, the roof and the figurines; elements that point us to a sanctuary,” concluded Kottaridi.

Another “very interesting and very special” discovery made during research was the inscription of a poem on the vase within a destruction layer dating back to the middle of the 2 nd century BC. These findings were presented by Dr. Kottaridi during the 33rd Archaeological Conference on Thrace and Macedonia’s excavations under the title “New Finds in the City of Aegae” in April 2021.

Tile fragments from Aegae were discovered that indicated the close relationship of the site to the royal family. (Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities)

Tile fragments from Aegae were discovered that indicated the close relationship of the site to the royal family. ( Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities )

Hidden Past of the Aegae Complex

The basic structure of the large complex of buildings from ancient Aegae was built by the end of 400 BC, but it was extensively renovated in the reign of Philip V. However, by the middle of 200 BC, after Metellus’ army had conquered Macedonia, the large complex at Aegae was destroyed along with walls, palace and sanctuaries. Day after the destruction, some spaces towards the east wing and few parts of the complex’ west wing were rebuilt. Meanwhile, a 1,000 square meter (10,764 sq ft) large colonnade and an auxiliary building were added to the complex in the southeast during the reign of Augustus.

“Its form, dimensions and elaborate construction, the rich materials and decorative elements, but also the obsession with the use of space, show that it is a public building,” noted Dr. Kottaridi when discussing their findings. “Monolithic altars, marble support for a table, parts of a marble frieze with impressive plant ornaments and figurines of deities found in situ despite the savage looting, form the impression that it was a sanctuary complex; an impression that seems to have been confirmed most strikingly just when we started investigating the layer of tiles from its fallen roof that covered the area.”

Section of a marble frieze with plant decoration (4th c. BC). (Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities)

Section of a marble frieze with plant decoration (4th c. BC). (Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities )

These recent excavations at Aegae also revealed the presence of the symbol of the Macedonian shield, which was used on the coins of Macedonian kings of the Hellenistic period, as well as roof tiles with the name AMYNTOY printed on them. These details indicated the close relationship of the site to the royal family . While studying the name inscribed on the tiles, ΠΕΛΛΗΣ, the researchers have concluded that it refers to Amyntas II, father of Philip II .

“The cult of Alexander and his generation in the years of the successors was a source for legitimizing their power and, likely, the large building complex unearthed at the ancestral royal seat and gravesite of the Temenides was one of its centers, which yielded another extremely valuable and unexpected finding in 2020,” Dr. Kottaridi highlighted. Thanks to the unearthing of these royal burials at ancient Aegae, and surprising new discoveries such as this one, there is now renewed hope of new revelations and heightened understanding of the ancestral family of Alexander the Great .

Top image: New maintenance excavations at Aegae have uncovered novel findings related to the worship of the royal family. Source: Imathia Ephorate of Antiquities

By Prisha Aug

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