Two centuries of prosperity from mines, farms and trade

Greek and Canadian archaeologists found traces of ancient Argilos some 10 years ago. Since then the hundreds of objects they have unearthed – including vases, coins, clay idols, hooks, metal farm implements, hoes, nails and an inscription – bear witness to the existence, peak and decline of Greek colonization in northern Greece. Ancient Argilos, which lies four kilometers from Amphipolis, is named after a type of clay which is common in the area. It was one of four colonies founded by people from Andros in the northern Aegean – the other three (Sani, Stayeira and Akanthos) were in Halkidiki. The Greek colonists settled in the area in 654 BC, Bonias explained, in order to exploit its mineral and agricultural wealth. The Andriots lived with the local population for about 70 years. Their coexistence is confirmed by the houses that have been excavated and the remains of Thracian-Macedonian ceramics. The area was gradually Hellenized. The strategic site to the west of the Strymonas estuary enabled the Greek colonists to control the entrance to the Strymonas valley, while the rich Thracian hinterland and local minerals boosted commercial activity. The city flourished in the sixth and fifth centuries BC, which is apparent from the architectural finds and the city’s participation in the Athenian Alliance’s fund. It continued to flourish until Amphipolis was founded by the Athenians in 437 BC. The city’s importance and strength waned after it was sacked by Philip’s army in 357 BC. Control of the area passed to one of Philip II’s Macedonian partners, and, with the exception of the acropolis, the city was not resettled. At the foot of the hill the excavators uncovered a significant group of private and public buildings dating from the sixth century BC to the time of the city’s destruction by Philip. They form part of Argilos’s residential quarter, which spreads out on either side of a paved road leading from the port to the acropolis. The shape of the houses, the roads to either side and the organization of the city reflect island architecture and planning notions that the colonists brought with them from Andros. «It was a fortified city, with harbor installations and a cemetery, to which two Macedonian graves dug up earlier in the area probably belonged,» said Bonias. «Built in a strategic location, it was an intermediary point that put Greek cities in contact with the Thracians in the hinterland on a geographic road that has carried materials and culture from antiquity to the present day.» Among the hundreds of objects found, the local coins stand out. They confirm the belief that the city had its own mint from at least the fifth century BC. A wealth of ceramics furnishes evidence of trade among Greek cities. Pots from Thasos, the Cyclades and Corinth cast light on links between the south and the north. Ceramics from Attica dominate from the sixth century BC on, showing Athenian penetration of the area. The ephorate’s next step will be to refurbish the excavation site. The buildings, with surviving walls as high as 4 meters, can be restored «to make the site accessible, comprehensible and of didactic value to the general public,» said Bonias. Studies for the restoration of the two-story building on the acropolis and the houses at its foot have been funded by Egnatia SA and have already received approval from the Central Archaeological Council. All that remains to be done now is to secure construction funds for the restoration.