Gold and silver were used to adorn the dead in ancient Macedonia

THESSALONIKI – Two centuries before the time of Philip and Alexander, the ancient Macedonians used to dress their dead in gold from top to toe. Their wealth followed them into the afterlife, as shown by the grave ornaments (weapons, jewelry and dozens of funeral gifts) of prominent officials in the Macedonian aristocracy that bear witness to the heroism, power and leading role of some sixth-century BC families. Forty graves, most unplundered, excavated in the western cemetery of the ancient settlement of Archontiko, Pella, shed light on burial rituals and life in ancient Macedonia. The mid-sixth century BC graves are in an age-old cemetery which was first used in the Iron Age (1000 BC), and continued to be used in antiquity (575-480 BC), the Classical period and the early Hellenistic Age (up to 280 BC). The Classical period was the richest, as evidenced by the treasure concealed within the simple rectangular pit graves. The ancient settlement, whose name is unknown, was the most important urban center in the northern part of the ancient province of Bottiaia during the prehistoric and historical periods until the end of the fifth century BC, when Pella became the new capital of the Macedonian Kingdom. Archaeologists Anastasia and Pavlos Chrysostomou have spent three years excavating the site. In this settlement, explains Pavlos Chrysostomou, the ancient Macedonians buried their dead in wooden sarcophagi in pit graves, the men with their heads facing west or north, the women facing east or south. Warriors were buried with their armor and weapons (bronze helmet with gold strips, iron sword with gold decoration, knives and spear tips). They wore gold and silver mouthpieces, gold, silver or ivory rings on the fingers and clasps on their bodies. Their shoes were decorated with gold ribbons and rosettes, while their leather or linen cuirasses and other garments were ornamented with gold foil decorated with rampant lions, plants and geometric designs. The women were also richly garbed from top to toe. In the only female cremation, the dead woman was wearing jewelry. Instead of a full-face mask, she wore a gold mouthpiece and her eyes were covered with gold foil in the shape of eyes. Their clothes were usually sewn with gold rosettes, ribbons, chains, buckles and clasps. On their heads were woven or leather ribbon diadems with gold rosettes. They had gold mouthpieces and wore silver or gold earrings, necklaces with beads of gold, amber or glass and a gold ring on the right hand. The bodies of both men and women were accompanied by clay figurines in the form of men, women and animals, bronze and clay pots, and metal models of farm carts and furniture, which indicate funeral rites, beliefs and the activities of the dead in the other world. «The wealth, the technology of their weapons and their funeral customs differ from those in southern Greece at the same period,» says Chrysostomou. «They are closer to the way in which nobles were buried in the southern Helladic area in the Geometric and Mycenean periods. This means that the political and social development of Macedonia was different, due to the monarchy, which was conservative.» The new archaeological site at Archontiko, Yiannitsa, an area of about 10 hectares, is under excavation by the 17th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities and the Philosophy School of Thessaloniki University. Already 300 graves have been found, «but not even a 1,000th of the area has been excavated,» says Chrysostomou. This year 80 graves came to light, 22 of which are from the Iron Age, 40 from the Classical period, and 18 from the Classical-early Hellenistic era (450-279 BC). In the Iron Age pit and cist graves, the dead had their arms crossed over the abdomen and their funeral gifts were simple clay pots. In the Classical-early Hellenistic pit graves, the men had funeral gifts of clay pots, bronze coins, iron clasps, spears and knives, while the women had clay pots, clay busts of women, bone anklets, coins and bronze jewelry (rings and brooches). The rich ancient tombs showed great similarities with finds in the cemeteries of Aiane, Aegai, Sindos and Aghia Paraskevi, Thessaloniki. The jewelry and the metal objects were crafted in Macedonian metal workshops, while the other objects came from Egypt, Ionia, the islands of the eastern Aegean, Corinth, Attica and Euboea – evidence of the high standard of living and the trade carried out by the inhabitants of Archontiko.

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