Aigai in northern Greece was once the capital of the Macedonian kingdom and it was here in 336BC that Alexander the Great was proclaimed King of Macedon after the assassination of his father, Philip II.
Though evidence of human occupation of the site stretches back to the 3rd millennium BC, it is thought that it was not until around 1000BC – 700BC that it became an important regional centre. Aigai probably reached its height around 500 BC as the Macedonian capital, before being replaced by Pella around 100 years later.
After the death of Alexander, Aigai suffered during the Wars of Alexander’s Successors and the city was again damaged during the Roman conquest of the region in 168BC. Aigai survived into the Roman era but gradually declined during the latter Imperial period.
Today, Aigai can be found near the modern town of Vergina and there are a number of interesting sites to explore. Probably the most famous of Aigai’s sites are the royal burial tombs, which are believed to house the tombs of Phillip II and Alexander the Great’s son, Alexander IV. This being said, debate still rages regarding who the remains belong to, particularly in Tomb II. Other possible candidates include Alexander the Great’s elder half-brother Philip Arrhidaeus III and the warrior princess Cynane.
An impressive museum – the Royal Tombs of Vergina Museum – was built to enclose these tombs and visitors can explore this underground experience.
Along with these main tombs are as many as 300 other grave mounds, some dating back to the 11th century BC.
Other important remains at Aigai include the royal palace – which includes impressive mosaics – and the 4th century BC theatre, believed to be the exact site of Philip’s murder. There are also a number of temples near the theatre, including the temple of Eukleia.
Aigai was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.
Getting to Aigai
Aigai is roughly a one hour drive from Thessaloniki (70km distance). There are not any direct bus links between Thessaloniki and Aigai, although both the bus and the train can take you from Thessaloniki to the nearby city of Veroia.
The Royal Tombs of Aigai, Vergina, Greece
COVID-19 NOTICE: Please be sure to reach out to the project contact to find out the status of their upcoming season. Many projects have cancelled fieldwork for 2020 and the information below may not reflect that.
This listing expired on January 1, 1970. Please contact [email protected] for any updated information.
Location: Vergina, GR
Season: January 1, 2021 to July 31, 2021
Session Dates: August 1-21
Application Deadline: June 30, 2020
Deadline Type: Rolling
17th Ephorate of Prehistoric & Classical Antiquities, Greece and Archaeospain
The ancient city of Aigai was the first city and core of the Macedonian kingdom, the most significant Greek state in the North. The place where Alexander the Great was proclaimed king after Philip II, his father, was assassinated in the city’s theatre. Alexander started his campaign in Aigai to change the history of Greece and the world. Far away from the typical tourists track around Athens and the islands, Aigai and the museum of the Royal Tombs is the most visited site in northern Greece, a monument of outstanding value world wide, it is in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1996.
The list of the most important archaeological remains at Aigai is endless the Palace of Phillip II is the biggest, most elaborated and sophisticated building of Classical Greece, the theatre, the sanctuaries of Eukleia and the Mother of the Gods, the city walls, the royal necropolis, containing more than 500 tumuli, the twelve monumental temple-shaped tombs, among them the tomb of Euridice, mother of Philip II and, over all, the unplundered tombs of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great and Alexander IV. They provide the high pick of the ancient Greek art of late classical period (architecture, wall paintings, weaponry, jewellery, metal work, ivory sculpture). Discovered in 1977-8 they made a worldwide sensation. The quality of the tombs themselves and their grave-goods places Aigai among the most important archaeological sites in Europe.
Necropolis: “The city of the many”. The city of kings and ancestors.
The Tumuli Cemetery of Aigai spreads between the modern-day villages of Vergina and Palatitsia. More than 500 burial tumuli constitute the core of the archaeological site of Aigai and one of the most extent, original and well preserved ancient Greek cemeteries. Its oldest burials date up to 11th cent. BC. The main use of the cemetery dates to the Early Iron Age (1000-700 BC), the time of the composition of the Homeric epics. The North of Greece preserved the archaic social structures of Homer’s epics until the Hellenistic age and the traditional burial customs continued the same among the aristocracy.
The excavation of a single tumulus will provide ArchaeoSpain participants a unique experience of studying the architecture, burial customs, material culture and art of ancient Greece.
A brief history of Greece through archaeology
Homeric rituals of the death and the Macedonian tumulus
Stratigraphy and archaeological record
Guided visit to the Museum of the royal tombs of Aigai
The royal palace and the theatre of Aigai
Veria: Cathedral-Jewish quarter-Archaeological and Byzantine museums
The archaeological site of Mieza: theatre-tombs of Judgment-Aristotle’s School
Pela: archaeological site and Museum.
Thessaloniki: Byzantine and Archaeological museums
Period(s) of Occupation: Iron Age, Classical, Hellenistic
Project Size: 1-24 participants
Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 3 weeks
Minimum Age: 18
Experience Required: Not required but much appreciated
Room and Board Arrangements:
Vergina is a small town in northern Greece, part of Veroia municipality in Imathia and 95 km from Thessaloniki international airport. The hotel is opposite the royal tomb of Evridiki. The traditional Macedonian architecture of Hotel, knitted in harmony with the natural beauty of the area and the region, create the ideal environment for accomondation and relaxing getaways in history and nature. The hotel have fully equipped and spacious rooms, double, triple and four-bedded, with balcony overlooking the ancient palace of Aigai, The rooms have heating, air conditioning, a telephone, a refrigerator, satellite TV, hairdryers, irons, a bathroom and free wireless internet. The hotel has a lounge with satellite TV where you can relax and play board games, the dining room has a fireplace and you can enjoy the traditional local recipes and cuisine, local wines and a full breakfast of local pure products, which can be enjoyed on the balcony, terrace or in our large privately owned olive grove area or under the shade of the sycamores. Cost: Fees: US$ 2.750 Program Fees Include: Full room and board Fieldwork training Excursions and other activities Transportation to and from airport on first and last days of program Daily transport to the site Medical Insurance Application fee Administrative costs Certificate of 150h Part of your fee will go towards the research project.
Phillip II created a federation of Greek states called the League of Corinth or Hellenic League to strengthen his military forces. It was the first time in history that most of the Greek states had joined together as a single political entity.
Ancient Macedon was renowned for its military might. Phillip II introduced a new kind of infantry known as the Macedonian phalanx, in which each soldier carried a long spear (called a sarissa) that was approximately 13 to 20 feet long. The tight formation of the Macedonian phalanx formed a wall of spears, which was considered nearly impenetrable.
Phillip II dreamed of conquering the Persian Empire—the world’s largest at the time. He was assassinated in 336 B.C., in Aigai, the capital city of Macedon, before he could realize his vision. His son, Alexander the Great, one of history’s greatest military minds, came to power and finished the job his father had started.
Exploring the Ancient Capital of Alexander the Great: Royal Tombs of Aigai
Light shone in a display case protecting a dainty golden crown. Visitors, whose faces were obscured in the dimly lit underground chamber, murmured in hushed tones – awed by the magnificence of the museum’s precious metal treasures. I, too, stood in darkness, seeing the illuminated entrance to Royal Tomb II. Here at the Royal Tombs of Aigai, Alexander the Great’s father, King Philip II, and Philip’s wife were buried centuries ago.
An hour’s drive from Thessaloniki lands you in the small, tidy village of Vergina. Jars of olives aging in brine sit on rock walls built from the rubble of Aigai, Macedonia’s first capital. Sidewalk cafes serve fresh pomegranate juice. The tumulus, an earthen mound covering the Royal Tombs, is just across the street.
French archeologist, Leon Heuzey, spotted the tumulus in the 19 th century and commented, “Within these Macedonian monuments (…) there is more than just a few ancient remains for us to uncover. There is the life and history of an entire people awaiting discovery.” A century later, Manolis Andronikos uncovered the Royal Tombs of Aigai.
Unlike the iconic ruins of the Parthenon, Knossos, and Delphi, and the idyllic Greek islands dotting the Aegean and Ionian Seas, the Royal Tombs never make a top ten list of Greece’s attractions. But this underground UNESCO World Heritage Site, with only lit displays of grave goods and tombs punctuating the darkness, deserves a visit.
King Philip II of Macedonia is the burial complex’s most famous inhabitant. He was a successful warrior, personally leading his troops into battle and conquering most of Greece. He survived battle injuries to his right eye and left knee but was assassinated by one of his bodyguards in 336 BC.
His son, Alexander the Great, immediately assumed the throne and continued his father’s agenda of conquering Persia. Alexander planned an extravagant funeral for his father, which was attended by his loyal subjects. The funeral made history in ancient Greece.
Funeral practices for royals involved cremating the body and some belongings – traditionally two spears and a helmet for the wealthy. The cremation took place on a pyre for all to see and mourn. Servants collected the remaining bones, washed them in wine, and arranged them anatomically on precious cloth. They placed King Philip II’s bones on a chryselephantine couch – a couch inlaid with gold and ivory – most likely in Tomb II.
Servants put day-to-day necessities that weren’t heaped on the funeral pyre in the tomb. Unfortunately for the king’s wife, beloved horse, and faithful dog, these must-have afterlife necessities weren’t limited to armor, weapons, and banquet serving dishes. Records show the king’s wife either committed suicide or was sacrificed with his animals. Clearly, afterlife must-haves included loved ones.
Enemy soldiers looted two graves in 276 BC, the remaining tombs – II and III – were untouched even though Roman invaders destroyed the city of Aigai in 168 BC. Centuries later, Manolis Andronikos’ pickaxe hit the façade of Tomb II, uncovering enough weaponry, crowns, and household goods in the two intact tombs to fill the museum’s display cases. His excavation offers you a glimpse into ancient Macedonia’s royal life.
A tunnel guides you into the 2500-year-old tumulus. Once underground, the museum is subdued, respectful, and very dark. Lights focus on the artifacts, and in doing so, focus your attention on life and death of royals in Macedonia in the 4 th century BC.
Upon entering, you’ll find ancient tombstones dating back to 1000 BC. These set the stage for the tombs and artifacts you’ll see, especially those from Tombs II and III that steal the show.
Tomb II survived intact until Andronikos excavated it in 1977. A ramp leads down to the tomb’s entrance. Spotlights highlight doric columns and a faded mural with Philip II and son, Alexander, hunting a lion.
This tomb held King Philip II in the chamber and his wife or concubine, a Scythian princess and warrior herself, in the antechamber.
Tomb III, also found intact, probably held the cremated remains of Alexander IV, Alexander the Great’s teenage son.
A diadem of Philip’s wife’s.
Artifacts from these two tombs fill the display cases in the remainder of the museum. Curators grouped objects according to use with iron spear heads, greaves or metal shin guards, and metal parts of a shield in one display. Silver serving dishes for an afterlife banquet occupy another. Remains of a chryselephantine couch are pieced together in a large display.
Displays with glowing golden crowns and larnakes or ossuary boxes from Tombs II and III are most impressive. Originally, the crown rested on or was placed in the larnax that contained the cremated remains. The larnax, in turn, was placed in a marble sarcophagus. These priceless, ornate artifacts represented the best craftsmanship of the time.
Ruins of Tombs I and IV, several showcases of stone or clay artifacts from these two tombs, a heroon or temple honoring a dead warrior, and a fresco of the abduction of Persephone round out the museum’s collection.
Andronikos was certain King Philip II’s remains were found in Tomb II. Later research pointed to his body being in Tomb I because bone fragments showed damage consistent with Philip’s wartime injuries. The latest research has Philip II back in Tomb II after a cat scan and x-rays on remains found in the main chamber. We’ll never know for certain.
What is certain is the Museum of Royal Tombs of Aigai is worthy of your time. You’ll experience a museum like no other, coming away with an appreciation for royal life, and death, in ancient Macedonia.
This is a lovely quiet small town with a lot of history. We stayed here when we came to see King Phillip’s Tomb and we were very pleased with the energy of the town, there are a number of cafes and restaurants in the center as well as places to stay. We stayed at Olympia Guest house just about 100 meters away from the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Aigai (King Phillip’s Tombs)…see separate reviews for these two places.
Getting to Vergina is very easy if you come by Car, and in my opinion it does not make a lot of sense not to rent a car since from Vergina you can go to Pella, where is located the ancient site of Alexander about 1 hour drive away.
The archaeological site of Ancient Aigai located a couple of hundred meters away from the Tombs is closed to the public (it seems to be open Mon-Wed for a few hours) and here is where Philip was killed in the theater.
If you are a history lover you need to come here and go to Pella…you will not be disappointed.
I visited all the main historical sites in Greece last summer – Athens and the Acropolis and Temple of Poseidon, Delphi, Corinth, Mycenae, Olympia, Thermopylae, but none, none compared to the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Aigai. None of them, all together. Instead of a collection of stones, requiring you to see these sites more in your mind than before you, here you could almost touch the past.
To be able to go down into the ground and stand before the tomb of Phillip of Macedon to see the painted decorations on its front, the colours still visible after 2,000 years to be able to get to within a few feet of the flagstones over which Alexander the Great walked, what wonders!
And the objects found in Phillip’s tomb to see, for the first time, objects I’ve only seen in photographs: the gold box within which Phillip’s bones were laid – how small it is the enormous bronze household objects, such as bowls and dishes, used to wash his body, now all turned green his armour – from the size of it, you would think it was for an adolescent boy, not a man the remains of his funeral pyre.
The museum is in the shape of a burial mound and the lighting inside is low but sufficient to see everything. It is not a large museum (there is another museum on the site but it was closed on the day I visited – how typically Greek!) and there are objects from other tombs, e.g. the silverware of a prince of the Macedon royal family – so beautiful and modern, you think you could buy it today.
And – in the middle of August – the museum was empty! No crowds to get in the way. I don’t know how you would get here without a car but try.
Thank the heavens they don’t allow photographs: use your eyes and, more importantly, your knowledge of history and your soul to wonder at how close the past is when you can stand so close to its buildings and the possessions of the immortals.
Aigai - History
The ancient city lying on the north slopes of the Pierian mountains is securely identified as Aigai, the capital of the kingdom of Lower Macedonia. Archaeological evidence prooves that the site was continuously inhabited from the Early Bronze Age (3rd millenium BC) while in the Early Iron Age (11th-8th centuries BC) it became an important centre, rich and densely inhabited.
The city reached its highest point of prosperity in the Archaic (7th-6th centuries BC) and Classical periods (5th-4th centuries), when it was the most important urban centre of the area, the seat of the Macedonian kings and the place where all the traditional sanctuaries were established. Moreover, it was already famous in antiquity for the wealth of the royal tombs which were gathered in its extensive necropolis. The finds from the excavations are exhibited in the protective shelter over the royal tombs of Vergina and in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki.
The first excavations on the site were carried out in the 19th century by the French archaeologist L. Heuzey and were resumed in the 1930's, after the liberation of Macedonia, by K. Rhomaios. After the Second World War, in the 1950's and 1960's, the excavations were directed by M. Andronicos, who investigated the cemetery of the tumuli.
At the same time, the Palace was excavated by the University of Thessalonike and part of the necropolis by the Archaeological Service of the Ministry of Culture.
Archaeological site of Aigai
In 1977, on the southern Macedonia plain, 80 km southeast of Thessaloniki, at the foot of Pierian Mountains, one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time was made. The ancient city of Aigai, the first capital of the kingdom of Macedonia was brought to light. The richness of the finds is rare and of incalculable archaeological and historical importance, so much so that the territory of the kings of Macedonia, the land of Philip and Alexander, Eurydice and Olympia, were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.
The centuries create Vergina
The archaeological findings indicate that the area of Vergina was inhabited by the first settlers as early as the third millennium BC. The fertile plains, the plentiful water supply and its natural fortifications were ideal conditions in which to create a thriving city. The name "Aigai" reflects the wealth of the region, since it means "land of many flocks". In the Iron Age, from the 11th to the 7th century BC, the wider area of Aigai was a large residential centre.
Excavations have brought important settlements and burial sites to light, the size of which indicates the presence of a large population. Artistically skilled handicrafts and rich jewellery are evidence of the prosperity and importance of the region.
Herodotus mentions the noble family of Temenus, natives of Argos, as prominent founding settlers of the city, whose lineage supposedly descended from Hercules himself (they were also known as Heracleidae). Under Perdiccas 1st, a descendant of Temenus, Aigai became the seat of the Macedonian dynasty and one of the strongest centres of the ancient world. The gold ‘kterismata’ (grave offerings) of the necropolis, of unimaginable beauty, are irrefutable evidence of its prosperity, its importance and the historical span of Aigai. For three whole centuries, until the 4th century BC it was the spiritual, artistic and administrative centre of Macedonia, before handing over the reins to Pella.
The traveller who is lucky enough to visit the archaeological site of Aigai will be thrilled by the splendour of the Macedonians dynasty. The royal tombs, the cemetery of burial mounds with the abundant offerings from the Iron Age, the Palace, the Theatre, the Temple of Eucleia, the Acropolis and the city wall, are the living history of the Macedonian kingdom.
Gold and ivory beds, delicate frescoes, gold reliquaries (‘larnakes’) of indescribable beauty, royal weaponry, ivory reliefs carved with great artistry, all of these archaeological findings which have been brought to light reveal the glory, power and importance of the dynasty which, under the leadership of Alexander, spread to the farthest corners of the then known world.
A journey to Vergina is a journey into the light. This light, which shines so brightly from the golden sun of Vergina, symbolizes the shining Macedonian civilisation.
Archaeological Museum of Pella
I met my guide Eleni and the rest of the group at 8:15am on Egniata St., just at the end of Aristotelous Square in the city centre of Thessaloniki. Check out here my 2-day visit to Thessaloniki!
The guide welcomed all of us onboard our van, as our group wasn’t too big that day. We were approximately 15 people in total.
My visit would start in Pella, located 45m west from Thessaloniki. The site is divided into two different sections, first, you have a museum with objects found in the city and extensive explanations about the history and life in Pella, and you can then continue with the archaeological site, where the ruins of the city can be found.
The entrance fee, including both sites, has a cost of €8. There are multiple reductions, including free entrance for European students with a valid card, so I didn’t have to pay for my visit. Even though my Pella & Vergina tour generally didn’t include a guided visit inside the museum, that day our guide Eleni would come inside with us to guide us with wonderful explanations through all the different exhibitions.
Archaeological Museum of Pella
As you enter the museum, you are welcomed by a marble bust of Alexander the Great, who was born in Pella in 336 BC.
An enlightened ruler according to the Platonic standard, he continued on his father’s policy and, in the role of the elected leader of the Greeks, undertook the campaign against the Persians, giving a new aspect to the old confrontation between East and West, preparing the path that would lead to the most creative coexistence and cultural fusion the world would ever know.
Thanks to Alexander, Greek culture spreads to the Far East and transforms into Hellenistic. The shared language (Hellenistic Koine) becomes a common reference point for the peoples from Europe to Egypt and to India. Acceptance of diversity, peaceful cultural coexistence and fruitful synthesis of the opposites mark the world perception of the enlightened Hellenistic hegemony.
The exhibition continues with the history of Pella. The city, which became the capital of Macedonian kingdom at the end of the 5th century BC, flourished in the Hellenistic period. The grid of Pella with rectangular blocks separated by streets 6-9m wide, already present in the early 4th century BC, enabled the systematic expansion of the city in the following three centuries.
Monumental streets, wider than the rest, paved and flanked by footways connected the port with the central avenue crossing the Agora and encouraging trade. A well-organised system of water supply and drainage provided satisfactory conditions and this is also implied by the urban architecture.
Pella and the Macedonian Empire
The museum of Pella is famous for its exhibition of mosaics, most of them found in an excellent state of preservation. One of the masterpieces of Pella is the Dionysos mosaic, which was found in the Dionysos house, the largest house in Pella.
In the mosaic you can appreciate the god Dionysos seated on the back of a panther, his upraised arm brandishing the thyrsus, the long staff twined with ivy that has his usual emblem. His body and that of the panther are executed with white tiles, making them stand out against the black background, while the sculptural volumes are highlighted with chiaroscuro shading effected with grey pebbles.
The lion hunt mosaic depicts the moment when the two huntsmen, one on either side of the lion, are preparing to kill the beast. The scene is set in a mountain landscape, as shown by the colourful relief of the ground. The bodies of the figures are white, their sculptural volumes suggested by grey stones. The contours and details of the bodies are outlined with thin strips of fired clay. The composition is remarkable for the intense mobility of the figures and the delicate shades of colour.
Some scholars are of the opinion that the mosaic depicts a hunting scene at the Granicus River in Asia Minor, where Alexander the Great was saved from a lion by his friend, the general Craterus. The hunt lion was both a favourite pastime of the Macedonian kings and novels of that age and a favourite subject of paintings.
In the most luxurious houses of Pella, the splendid mosaic decoration of the floors was in most cases matched by the painted mural decoration. One example is the decoration in the so-called “First Pompeiian style” on the north wall of the dining room in a house, known as the house of plasterwork. The decoration on this wall, which has been restored up to a height of 5 meters, imitates the two-story facade of a building, with its typical structural elements moulded from plaster and painted.
This work, which was dated in the 3rd century BC, confirms that this form of decoration was not invented by the Romans, as was previously thought from the decoration of the houses at Pompeii, but was a Greek invention adopted by the Romans, like various other forms of ancient art.
Decorated wall of a house
The exhibit continues with a display of objects from the daily life in Pella, including utensils in a variety of forms used for many purposes: jars and amphora for transporting and storing food, kettles and basins for preparing food, dishes and beakers for serving food and wine, jugs and ladles for serving wine and boxes for cosmetics and jewellery.
The’s also a big collection of statuettes of patron deities of the city that protected the household. These include a bronze statuette of Poseidon, clay busts of female divinities, busts of Dionysos or figures of Aphrodite, Eros, Heracles and Athena.
Objects from the daily life in Pella
Moulds and casts from the Agora
Statuettes of patron deities
The last part of the exhibit corresponds to the sanctuary of Darron. Located in the southwest sector of the city, the sanctuary is part of a group of public building complexes situated in 4 blocks of the urban plan, between two of the broad main streets that ran from the port to the palace.
A large circular building (tholos) with three lesser tholos around the circumference and a mosaic floor with floral motifs has been identified as the hall for the heroic cult of the local god of healing, Darron.
Next to it, a complex appears to have been a reflector serving the adjacent complex of religious buildings, with dining rooms with decorative floor mosaics one of these displays floral motifs and, at the doorway, a female centaur with phials and rhythm pouring a libation in front of a grotto.
Mosaic from the sanctuary of Darron
1. History of Japanese Fans
Historically, Japanese hand fans were tools of aristocrats and the samurai class. They were a way to signify social standing, and even communicate messages. The earliest recorded sighting of the Japanese fan was in the 6th century CE, where burial tombs were adorned with pictures of fans.
In the Chinese official historical record of the Song Dynasty (960–1279) it is written that the Japanese monk Chonen gifted folding fans to the emperor of China in 988, which makes the Japanese folding fan an original invention, at a time where most technological learning was going the other way. The popularity of the Japanese fan also reached into Korea: in the 11th century, Korean envoys to the Chinese court brought with them folding fans that were made in the Japanese style.
19th Century Japanese Fan, made for export, V&A Museum
Back home in Japan, during the Heian period, these fans became such a hit that laws were created to restrict their use to particular social classes. Typically crafted from Japanese cypress (known as hinoki) and thread, the number of strips of wood on each fan was meant to reflect the rank and status of its owner.
By the 15th century, Japanese hand fans were so widely revered that Japan began exporting them abroad, including to China, from where they made their way onto the silk road trade route. By the 18th and 19th century, these fans had even become a desirable fashion accessory for well-to-do European women. The late 19th-century piece above, from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, is one such fan which was designed specifically for export to Europe.
We thank Prof. P. Faklaris, who excavated the bone material from Tomb I presented here, for allowing us to study it two reviewers, for providing valuable comments that helped to improve a previous version of the manuscript Prof. Elisabeth Carney and Olga Palagia, for providing valuable information on historical and archaeological matters during the preparation of this manuscript Dr. Sherry Fox for providing us the references for the height of ancient Greeks and Dr. X. Dimitriadis and Dr. S. Kyriazidis for the radiographs and the CT scans. Thanks to J. Trueba for the photos. This research received support from the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (Project CGL2012-38434-C03-01) and from the Gobierno Vasco/Eusko Jaurlaritza (Research Group IT834-13).