Archaeological Work in Macedonia and Thrace

by Polyxeni Adam Veleni

Every year since 1987, the archaeologists of Macedonia and Thrace have met in Thessaloniki. Greek and foreign archaeologists, architects, civil engineers, chemists, geologists, anthropologists, palaeobotanists, and conservators, from the Archaeological Service or the University, scientists specialising in the study of our historical past and committed to preserving, protecting, promoting, and exploring the area of Macedonia and Thrace -- all come together in February each year for three days, during which they exchange information and opinions through fruitful discussions about the finds made in the course of the previous twelve months. The meeting is jointly organised by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the 16th Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. The proceedings of the first seven meetings and the tenth have been published; the proceedings of the eighth and ninth will be ready by June.

This year, the eleventh meeting took place on 12-14 February. A total of sixty-seven papers were read, covering the period between the prehistoric and the modern era and a broad geographical range between the Evros in Thrace and Kastoria in Western Macedonia.

Although the Superintendent of the Komotini Ephoreia, D. Triandafyllos, reported that archaeological investigations in Thrace had been relatively limited in 1997, he nonetheless delivered an interesting paper on a tumulus used repeatedly in the course of many periods at Spilaio, Evros prefecture. He was followed by A. Gouridis, a civil engineer who reported on the restoration of the post-Byzantine Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos at Lefkimi, Evros prefecture. The group of architects and restorers and the archaeologist responsible for planning the development of the archaeological site on Samothraki presented their proposal for enhancing the site. The archaeologists K. Gallis and D. Matsas gave an account of the findings of the third excavational period at Paradimi[1] in Thrace. The archaeological investigations on Lake Vistonida in Thrace were discussed by N. Efstratiou, Albert J. Ammerman, and C. Macclennen. The presentation of the archaeological work in Thrace in 1997 concluded with an account of the finds produced by rescue excavations in the cemetery at Abdera..

There followed three papers on Thasos: D. Malamidou and S. Papadopoulos talked about the Early Bronze Age in the Limenaria settlement, M. Sgourou the Roman city of Thasos, and S. Dadaki the excavation of a sepulchral structure at Tsoukalario. An important chance find on the East Macedonian mainland was a desecrated Macedonian tomb near ancient Phagres.[2]

Investigations in the city of Philippi produced two papers, one, by E. Nikolaïdou, about the fan-shaped ambo from the basilica, the other, by C. Bakirtzis and N. Zikos, concerning the earlier and more recent finds from Byzantine Philippi. D. Malamidou reported on the excavation of a prehistoric settlement at Kryoneri, near Nea Kerdyllia, and a group of archaeologists (the Ephor of Antiquities C. Koukouli, with G. Aslani, F. Tomaï-Konstantopoulou, and M. Valla) who have been working with their Bulgarian counterparts reported on the findings of investigations in the settlement at Promahonas-Topolnica, which straddles the Greek-Bulgarian border.[3] The findings of the excavations at Argilos were presented by two archaeologists, Z. Bonias and J. Perreault, a collaboration between the Greek Archaeological Service and the Archaeological Institute of Canada.[4] Finally, the review of the work of the 18th Ephoreia of Classical Antiquities in Kavala, which is responsible for the whole of Eastern Macedonia, concluded with an account by M. Valla of the excavation at Gazoros in Serres prefecture.

The 16th Ephoreia of Antiquities in Thessaloniki has done some exceptionally interesting archaeological work both in the city and prefecture of Thessaloniki and in the other prefectures under its jurisdiction, Pieria and Halkidiki. In the city of Thessaloniki, very interesting new data have come to light relating to a balneary of the first century BC and first century AD, which is the oldest structure now visible in the city. The present writer reported that it belongs to an early phase of the ancient Agora and is in a very good state of preservation.[5] M. Karaberi and E. Christodoulidou spoke about how the Galerian complex reflects the city of Thessaloniki down the ages, and the group of architects who have undertaken to restore and develop it described how their work was progressing. T. Tasia reported on the problems presented by the new archaeological site in front of the Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace.

A group of archaeologists -- L. Toska, V. Allamani, P. Fotiadis, and C. Mihelakis -- from the city's Ephoreias of Byzantine Antiquities and Classical Antiquities reported on a group of store-rooms outside the east city wall, which were found when the Garden Theatre was being rebuilt. This new excavation is producing important data on the geomorphology of the period (4th-6th cc. AD) and on the organisation of the city's harbours and transit trade. Three important archaeological finds from intramural Thessaloniki were presented by A. Lioutas and M. Mandaki: an inscription naming many of the members of a Dionysian thiasos and thus enriching the prosopography of Roman Thessaloniki; new data relating to the floor of the chamber south of the Arch of Galerius; and a marble fragment from the portico of the Idols. On the basis of this new find, Assistant Professor A. Mentzos offered a new hypothesis about the building that incorporated this double row of piers decorated with relief figures, which is now in the Louvre.[6]

Regarding the settlements which are outside the city of Thessaloniki, though still within the wider modern urban area, for many years now there has been considerable interest in the excavation of the settlement of the Classical period at Toumba, which was discussed by the excavator K. Sueref.[7] Investigations are also being conducted in the, likewise Classical, settlement at Karabournaki, and Professor M. Tiverios and his associates E. Manakidou and D. Tsiafaki spoke about this important excavation. Professor Tiverios also reported on the findings of another University-run excavation on the double table at Anhialos, Sindos. A. Lioutas and E. Gioura had a number of new topographical observations to make arising out of the investigations in Thessaloniki's cemeteries. The rescue excavations in the Neolithic settlement in Stavroupoli are producing plenty of fresh data about the period: D. Grammenos and S. Kotsos reported on the excavation. A. Matthaiou and K. Sueref presented the findings of the excavation of a cemetery of the Classical period at Oraiokastro.

E. Marki and D. Komatas of the 9th Ephoreia of Byzantine Antiquities in Thessaloniki reported on their investigations of Christian graves in the city of Thessaloniki, together with their conclusions about the city's hydraulic systems following excavations on a number of building plots. N. Karydas, also an archaeologist in the 9th Ephoreia, talked about the excavations on the building plots south of the Church of St Panteleimon. C. Zarkada, finally, an architect in the 4th Ephoreia of Modern Monuments, reported on the restoration of the Casa Bianca in Thessaloniki.

Halkidiki was represented by two papers, one from the 16th Ephoreia and one from the 10th Ephoreia in Poliyiros. Specifically, the archaeologist K. Sismanidis spoke about the restoration work and excavations on the archaeological site at Stageira, an exceptional site of the sixth to third centuries BC that was located in 1990; and Associate Professor T. Pazaras reported on the Christian cemetery at Limori, near Epanomi.

The investigations conducted by both Ephoreias of Antiquities in Pieria prefecture because of the laying of the new railway line have produced some very important new data. E. Poulaki-Pandermali and her large work party presented the findings of the investigations in the Municipality of East Olympus; K. Loverdou-Tsigarida and several co-workers reported on the investigations in Platamonas Castle and its cemetery; and E. Marki spoke about the excavation of a large building complex at Louloudies, near Pydna.

In 1997, the finds made at Dion were extremely important, as Professor D. Pandermalis reported. Large circular deposits yielded fragments of inscriptions with texts which are attested by the sources and which confirm the site of the temple of Zeus; and a more than life-size portrait of the Emperor Trajan came to light in the Villa of Dionysos. According to the excavator M. Akamati, Superintendent of the 17th Ephoreia of Antiquities in Edessa, a new baths complex of the second century BC, the oldest building of its type found in Macedonia, has been uncovered at Pella. New finds -- chiefly pottery -- from the Agora in Pella were presented by the excavator, Associate Professor I. Akamatis.[8] P. Chrysostomou updated us on the Ephoreia's investigations in the Pella area; and Professors A. Papaefthymiou-Papanthimou and A. Pilali-Papasteriou reported on the excavations in the prehistoric settlement at Arhondiko.[9] The historical period in the Arhondiko settlement was accounted for by P. Chrysostomou and A. Chrysostomou, and the latter also spoke about the recent excavations in ancient Almopia. N. Merousis and M. Nikolaïdou announced the initial conclusions resulting from their examination of the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age pottery from the prehistoric settlement at Mandalo.

The progress of the University excavations at Vergina was reported by Associate Professors S. Drougou, who spoke about the Metroon of ancient Aigai, and P. Faklaris, who described, with his co-worker V. Stamatopoulou, the progress of the excavation in the city's citadel. On behalf of the Archaeological Service, A. Kottaridi and C. Brekoulaki reported on the rescue excavations at Vergina and the Emathian area of the Pieria Mountains. L. Stefani spoke about the investigations in the prehistoric settlement at Angelohori in Emathia, and, with her co-worker N. Merousis, about the first exploratory excavations in the Neolithic settlement at Polyplatanos, also in Emathia prefecture.

The investigations conducted by the 17th Ephoreia of Antiquities in Western Macedonia were presented by a number of archaeologists, who are working at full throttle on rescue excavations, owing to the construction of the modern via Egnatia. G. Karamitrou-Medesidi, I. Giourtzioumi, and K. Papayannaki reported on the rescue excavations at prehistoric Aiane. The findings of the two-year excavation at Polymylos, Kozani prefecture, were presented by G. Karamitrou-Medesidi and M. Vatali.[10] A. Chondrogianni reported on the new data produced by the surface exploration and excavation of a Late Bronze Age cemetery on the Aliakmon. Together with E. Mangouretsiou, she also described the excavation of the Hellenistic remains at Kato Brava, near Velvendo.[11] A group of archaeologists -- C. Ziota, K. Moschakis, M. Papanikolaou, and D. Theodorou -- spoke about the rescue excavation at Filotas, Florina prefecture, and C. Tsoungaris reported on the excavations in Kastoria prefecture.

Professor K. Wardle and his co-workers announced the results of the final study of an old excavation carried out in the 1970s at Servia, Kozani prefecture. Finally, Professor N. Chourmouziadis and his co-workers G. Anagnostou, A. Chourmouziadou, T. Yangoulis, A. Smagmas, N. Almatzi, L. Voulgari, M. Sofronidou, and K. Touloumis discussed the problems arising out of the investigation of the prehistoric settlement at Dispilio, Kastoria prefecture, described their efforts to reconstruct this unique settlement, and reported on the issues arising out of the study of the excavation finds.


  1. Paradini: A major Neolithic settlement rich in data relating to the transition from the Late Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age. The excavation of this settlement is particularly important because our knowledge of these periods and of this particular part of Thrace is very limited.[return]
  2. The investigation of yet another Macedonian tomb offers important information about the spread of the type when it is in an area of Eastern Macedonia where such tombs are much less commonly found than in Central Macedonia.[return]
  3. This particular settlement, which has been cut in two by the political border between two countries, nicely illustrates the different geopolitical landscape of the prehistoric period, and shows how the same cultural characteristics are found not only in Macedonia but in the wider area of the central Balkan peninsula.[return]
  4. This is a very important excavation, which is uncovering the archaic city of Argilos, a colony of Andros in the sixth to fourth centuries BC. The excellent condition of the houses provides abundant information about the inhabitants' private life, as also about colonisation in general.[return]
  5. It is a balneary of the Greek type. A circular chamber inside it, with twenty-five bathtubs, has been identified as a pyriaterion, or sweating room, in accordance with Vitruvius' descriptions; and a rectangular chamber, which also had an upper floor, was used as a symposium chamber and brothel. The discovery of this building has revived the debate about the actual status of the complex that lies between modern Filippou Street and Egnatia Street. The balneary may well have been connected with the Hellenistic gymnasium or the palaestra. [return]
  6. According to both Lioutas and Mentzos, the splendid portico of the Idols, which was more commonly known as Las Incantadas, `the Enchanted Ones', must have adorned the city's palaestra, as was also suggested by the present writer after the discovery of the balneary.[return]
  7. We have here three of the twenty-six settlements which, according to Strabo, Cassander amalgamated to create the city of Thessaloniki in 316 BC. Their investigation also provides plentiful data about the settlements' development around the innermost recess of the Thermaic Gulf in the pre-Cassandrian period.[return]
  8. As well as providing firm chronological data for the various categories of wares, the study of the pottery, which was found in large well-like deposits in the Agora, also produces a vivid picture of the daily life and the customs of the inhabitants of the Macedonian capital.[return]
  9. The investigations that have been conducted in recent years in settlements that were under the jurisdiction of the ancient Macedonian capital are highly significant, because they provide important data on the administration, economy, and functioning of the large cities and their surrounding rural district.[return]
  10. This is a hitherto unknown lowland settlement of the Hellenistic and Roman periods which is yielding fresh data about the life of the local people.[return]
  11. As in the case of Polymylos, the excavation of small towns of the Hellenistic period in Western Macedonia is particularly important for reconstructing the life of the local people.[return]

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