Pella (Greek: Πέλλα, Pélla), is an ancient city located in
Central Macedonia, Greece, best known as the historical capital of the
ancient Greek kingdom of
Macedon and birthplace of Alexander the
Great. On the site of the ancient city is the Archaeological Museum of
3.1 Hippodamian plan
3.2 Urban area
7 External links
A common folk etymology is traditionally given for the name Pella,
deriving it from the Ancient Greek word pélla (πέλλα), "stone",
and it appears in some toponyms in Greece like Pallini
(Παλλήνη). With the prefix a- it forms the Doric
apella, meaning in this case fence, enclosure of stone. The word
apella originally meant fold, fence for animals, and then assembly of
people into the limits of the square. Τhe original meaning was
" wooden bowl", and later it meant "stone". R. S. P. Beekes has
Pre-Greek proto-form *πελσα
Dionysus (325–300 BC).
Map showing the geographic location of
Pella in a valley, west of
Lion hunt mosaic
Stag Hunt Mosaic from the House of the Abduction of Helen.
Pella was a strategic port connected to the Thermaic
Gulf by a navigable inlet, but the harbour and gulf have since silted
up, leaving the site landlocked.
Shops right along the eastern edge of the agora.
Pella is first mentioned by
Halicarnassus (VII, 123) in
relation to Xerxes' campaign and by
Thucydides (II, 99,4 and 100,4) in
relation to Macedonian expansion and the war against Sitalces, the
king of the Thracians.
It was probably built as the capital of the kingdom by Archelaus I,
replacing the older palace-city of Aigai although there appears to
be some possibility that it may have been created by Amyntas.
Archelaus invited the painter Zeuxis, the greatest painter of the
time, to decorate his palace. He also later hosted the poet Timotheus
Miletus and the Athenian playwright
Euripides who finished his days
there writing and producing Archelaus.
Bacchae was first
staged here, about 408 BC. According to Xenophon, in the beginning of
the 4th century BC
Pella was the largest Macedonian city. It was
the birthplace and seats of Philip II, in 382 BC and of Alexander the
Great, his son, in 356 BC.
It became the largest and richest city in Macedonia and flourished
particularly under Cassander's rule. The reign of Antigonus most
likely represented the height of the city's prosperity, as this is the
period which has left us most archaeological remains. The famous poet
Aratus died in
Pella c. 240 BC.
Pella is further mentioned by
Livy as the capital of
Philip V and of Perseus during the
Macedonian Wars fought against the
In 168 BC, it was sacked by the Romans, and its treasury transported
to Rome, and
Livy reported how the city looked in 167 BC to Lucius
Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus, the Roman who defeated Perseus at the
battle of Pydna:
…[Paulus] observed that it was not without good reason that it had
been chosen as the royal residence. It is situated on the south-west
slope of a hill and surrounded by a marsh too deep to be crossed on
foot either in summer or winter. The citadel the "Phacus," which is
close to the city, stands in the marsh itself, projecting like an
island, and is built on a huge substructure which is strong enough to
carry a wall and prevent any damage from the infiltration from the
water of the lagoon. At a distance it appears to be continuous with
the city wall, but it is really separated by a channel which flows
between the two walls and is connected with the city by a bridge. Thus
it cuts off all means of access from an external foe, and if the king
shut anyone up there, there could be no possibility of escape except
by the bridge, which could be very easily guarded.
Pella was declared capital of the 3rd administrative division of the
Roman province of Macedonia, and was possibly the seat of the Roman
governor. Activity continued to be vigorous until the early 1st
century BC and, crossed by the Via Egnatia,
Pella remained a
significant point on the route between
Dyrrachium and Thessalonika.
In about 90 BC the city was destroyed by an earthquake; shops and
workshops dating from the catastrophe have been found with remains of
their merchandise, though the city was eventually rebuilt over its
Cicero stayed there in 58 BC, though by then the provincial
seat had already transferred to Thessalonika.
Pella was promoted to a Roman Colony sometime between 45 and 30 BC and
its currency was marked Colonia Iulia Augusta Pella.
peasants there whose land he had usurped to give to his veterans (Dio
Cassius LI, 4). But, unlike other Macedonian colonies such as
Philippi, Dion, and Cassandreia, it never came under the jurisdiction
of ius Italicum or Roman law. Four pairs of colonial magistrates
(duumvirs quinquennales) are known for this period.
The decline of the city was rapid, in spite of being a Colonia: Dio
Chrysostom (Or. 33.27) and
Lucian both attest to the ruin of the
ancient capital of Philip II and Alexander, though their accounts may
be exaggerated. In fact, the Roman city was somewhat to the west of
and distinct from the original capital, which explains some
contradictions between coinage, epigraphs, and testimonial accounts.
Despite its decline, archaeology has shown that the southern part of
the city near the lagoon continued to be occupied until the 4th
(This is not to be confused with
Pella, Jordan to which ancient
sources report Christians fled from Jerusalem in 66 AD.).
In about 180 AD,
Samosata could describe it in passing as
"now insignificant, with very few inhabitants".
In the Byzantine period, the Roman site was occupied by a fortified
Excavations there by the
Greek Archaeological Service begun in 1957
revealed large, well-built houses with colonnaded courts and rooms
with mosaic floors portraying such scenes as a lion hunt and Dionysus
riding a panther. In modern times it finds itself as the starting
point of the Alexander The Great Marathon, in honour of the city's
The site was explored by 19th-century voyagers including Holand,
Pouqueville, Beaujour, Cousinéry, Delacoulonche, Hahn, Glotz and
Struck, based on the descriptions provided by Titus Livius,. The first
excavation was begun by G. Oikonomos in 1914–15. The modern
systematic exploration of the site began in 1953 and work has
continued since then uncovering significant parts of the extensive
In February 2006, a farmer accidentally uncovered the largest tomb
ever found in Greece. The names of the noble ancient Macedonian family
are still on inscriptions and painted sculptures and walls have
survived. The tomb dates to the 2nd or 3rd century BC. Overall,
archaeologists have uncovered 1,000 tombs since the year 2000, but
these only represent an estimated 5% of the site. In 2009 43 graves
containing rich and elaborate grave goods were found and in 2010 37
tombs dating from 650 to 280 BC were discovered containing rich
ancient Macedonian artifacts ranging from ceramics to precious metals.
One of the tombs was the final resting place of a warrior from the 6th
century BC with a bronze helmet with a gold mouthplate, weapons and
Many artefacts are displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Pella.
Schematic plan of Pella
The city proper was located south of and below the palace. Designed on
a grid plan as envisaged by Hippodamus, it consists of parallel
streets which intersect at right angles and form a grid of eight rows
of rectangular blocks. The blocks are of a consistent width — each
approximately 45 m — and of a length which varies from 111 m to 152
m, 125 metres being the most common. The streets are from 9 to 10
metres wide, except for the middle East–West arterial, which is up
to 15 metres wide. This street is the primary access to the central
public agora, which occupied a space of ten blocks. Two North-South
streets are also a bit wider than the rest, and serve to connect the
city to the port further South. This type of plan dates to the first
half of the 4th century BC, and is very close to the ideal in design,
though it distinguishes itself by large block size;
Chalcidice for example had blocks of 86.3×35 metres. On the other
hand, later Hellenistic urban foundations have blocks comparable to
those of Pella: 112×58 m in Laodicea ad Mare, or 120×46 m in Aleppo.
The city is built on the former island of Phacos, a promontory which
dominated the sea to the south in the Hellenistic period. The city
wall mentioned by
Livy is only partly known. It consists of a rampart
of crude bricks (about 50 cm square) raised on a stone
foundation; some of which has been located North of the palace, and
some in the South next to the lake. Inside the ramparts, three hills
occupy the North.
In pride of place in the centre of the city is the Agora, built in the
last quarter of the 4th century BC and an architectural gem, unique in
conception and size; it covered approx. 7 hectares or 10 city blocks.
Pella is one of the first known cities to have had an extensive piped
water supply to individual house and waste water disposal from most of
The agora was surrounded by the shaded colonnades of stoae, and
streets of enclosed houses with frescoed walls round inner courtyards.
The first trompe-l'oeil wall murals imitating perspective views ever
seen were on walls at Pella. There were temples to Aphrodite, Demeter
and Cybele. Pella's pebble-mosaic floors are famous: some reproduce
Greek paintings; one shows a lion-griffin attacking a stag, a familiar
motif also of
Scythian art, another depicts
Dionysus riding a leopard.
These mosaics adorned the floors of rich houses, often named after
their representations, particularly the Houses of Helen and
Aerial photograph and plan of the House of Dionysos
Bathtubs in the public baths
The palace is situated on a place of honour on the central hill.
Partly excavated, it occupied a considerable area of perhaps 60,000
square metres. The plan is still not well known, but has been related
to that of the city plan (see diagram). The
Pella palace consisted of
several — possibly seven — large architectural groupings
juxtaposed in two rows, each including a series of rooms arranged
around a central square courtyard, generally with porticos.
Archaeologists have thus far identified a palaestra and baths. The
south facade of the palace, towards the city, consisted of one large
(at least 153 metres long) portico, constructed on a two metres high
foundation. The relationship between the four principal complexes is
defined by an interruption in the portico occupied by a triple
propylaeum, 15 m high, which gave the palace an imposing monumental
air when seen from the city below.
Dating of the palace has posed some problems: the large buildings
could date the reign of Philip II, but other buildings appear to be
earlier. The baths date from the reign of Cassander.
The size of the complex indicates that, unlike the palace at Vergina,
this was not only a royal residence or a grandiose monument but also a
place of government which was required to accommodate a significant
portion of the administrative apparatus of the kingdom.
Pella curse tablet
Pella curse tablet at the Archaeological Museum of Pella
The question of what language was spoken in ancient Macedonia has been
debated by Greek, Macedonian, and other scholars. The discovery of the
Pella curse tablet
Pella curse tablet in 1986, found in Pella, the ancient capital of
Macedon, has given us a text written in a distinct Doric Greek
idiom. Ιt contains a curse or magic spell (Greek:
κατάδεσμος, katadesmos) inscribed on a lead scroll, dated to
the first half of the 4th century BC (c. 375–350 BC). It was
published in the Hellenic Dialectology Journal in 1993. It is one of
four texts found until today that might represent a local
dialectal form of ancient Greek in Macedonia, all of them identifiable
as Doric. These confirm that a
Doric Greek dialect was spoken in
Macedonia, as was previously expected from the West Greek forms of
names found in Macedonia. As a result, the
Pella curse tablet
Pella curse tablet has been
forwarded as a strong argument that the Ancient Macedonian language
was a dialect of North-Western Greek, part of the Doric dialects.
^ Πέλλα / Pella, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A
^ Hesych.: Schol.U.Demosth.: Martin Nilsson, Die Geschichte der
Griechische Religion, vol. I (C. H. Beck), 1955, p. 558
^ Nilsson, Vol. I, p. 558
^ Heshych. ἀπέλλαι (apellai), σηκοί "folds",
εκκλησίαι "assemblies", ἀρχαιρεσίαι "elections":
Nilsson Vol. I, p. 556
^ R. S. P. Beekes (Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p.
^ J. Roisman, I. Worthington. A Companion to Ancient Macedonia. John
Wiley and Sons, 2010. p. 92
^ Xenophon: Hellenica, 5.2.13
History of Rome
History of Rome Vol. VI
Strabo VII, 323
Archaeological Museum of Pella
Archaeological Museum of Pella Multimedia". Latsis
Foundation. Retrieved 30 April 2017.
^ "The Story of the Church, Second and enlarged edition", A.M. Renwick
and A.M. Harman, 1985, p18
Lucian of Samosata: Alexander the false prophet, The Tertullian
^ Presentation Archived 2015-07-02 at the Wayback Machine.. Alexander
the Great Marathon. Retrieved on 2010-04-28.
^ "Greek tomb find excites experts". BBC News Online. 2006-02-12.
^ "The History Blog » Blog Archive » 37 more ancient
Macedonian tombs found in Pella". www.thehistoryblog.com. Retrieved 30
April 2017. (see picture)
^ Sideris A., "La représentation en réalité virtuelle de la Maison
de Dionysos à Pella, créée par la Fondation du Monde Hellénique",
in Descamps-Lequime S., Charatzopoulou K. (éds.), Au royaume
d’Alexandre le Grand. La Macédoine antique. Catalogue of the
exhibition in the Louvre museum, Paris 2011, pp. 682–683.
^ Fantuzzi & Hunter 2004, p. 376; Voutiras 1998, p. 25;
Fortson 2010, p. 464; Bloomer 2005, p. 195.
^ O’Neil, James. 26th Conference of the Australasian Society for
Classical Studies, 2005.
^ Masson & Dubois 2000, p. 292: "...<<Macedonian
Language>> de l'Oxford Classical Dictionary, 1996, p. 906:
<<Macedonian may be seen as a Greek dialect, characterized by
its marginal position and by local pronunciation (like
Βερενίκα for Φερενίκα etc)>>."
Ch. J. Makaronas, Pella: Capital of Ancient Macedonia, pp59–65, in
Special Issue, "Ancient Cities", c 1994.
Ph. Petsas, Pella. Alexander the Great's Capital, Thessaloniki, 1977.
D. Papakonstandinou-Diamandourou, Πέλλα, ιστορική
επισκόπησις και μαρτυρίαι (Pella, istoriki
episkopisis kai martyriai), Thessaloniki, 1971. (in Greek)
(in French) R. Ginouvès, et al., La Macédoine, CNRS Éditions,
Paris, 1993, pp90–98.
(in French) F. Papazoglou, Les villes de Macédoine romaine, BCH
Suppl. 16, 1988, pp135–139.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pella.
Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites (via Perseus)
Greek Ministry of Culture
House of Dionysos in Pella, 3D Architectural Reconstruction
List of ancient Macedonians
Jews of Thessaloniki
Macedonian Bulgarians, Ethnic Macedonians
Wars of Alexander the Great
Wars of the Diadochi
Theme of Thessalonica
Theme of Strymon
Sack of Thessalonica (904)
Sack of Thessalonica (1185)
Kingdom of Thessalonica
Empire of Thessalonica
Byzantine civil war of 1321–1328
Byzantine civil war of 1341–1347
Zealots of Thessalonica
Siege of Thessalonica (1422–1430)
Greek War of Independence
Sanjak of Monastir
Sanjak of Serfiğe
Sanjak of Drama
Sanjak of Salonica
Sanjak of Siroz
Greek Struggle for Macedonia
Provisional Government of National Defence
Greek Civil War
Macedonia naming dispute
Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace
Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
Agios Dimitrios Power Plant
Amyntaio Power Plant
Drama coal mine
Port of Kavala
Port of Thessaloniki
Prinos oil field
Florina coal mine
Pindus National Park)
Lion of Amphipolis
Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki