WASHINGTON, DC – Though Philip II of Macedon is perhaps best known as the father of Alexander the Great, archaeologists in Greece are proving that Philip truly paved the way for the achievements of his much more well-known and celebrated son, according to a recent article in Smithsonian Magazine.
The article highlighted the work of archaeologist Aggeliki Kottaridi, the director of operations at Aigai, the ancient royal capital of Macedonia, UNESCO-protected as one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe, where Philip, “having conquered nearly all of classical Greece, built his monumental palace in the fourth century BC,” Smithsonian reported.
“A colossus in his own right, a brilliant military leader and politician who transformed Macedonia and built its first empire,” Philip “looms largest among the ruins, even though the place was vitally important for Alexander, too,” Smithsonian reported, adding that “excavations have revealed that Philip transformed the ancient city, revolutionized its political culture, and turned it into a symbol of power and ambition.”
Before his “shocking public assassination” Philip “entertained dignitaries from across Greece and the Balkans,” Smithsonian reported, noting that the remains of the theater built near is palace are also visible.
Kottaridi “hopes to start excavating and restoring the theater soon, but this is an extremely busy year at Aigai,” Smithsonian reported, adding that “she and her team are preparing the exhibits for a massive new museum, scheduled to open to the public in January 2021. It will showcase artifacts found at the site- a selection of more than 6,000 items, spanning 13 centuries. Meanwhile, digging continues in the vast burial grounds and other parts of the city, and a staff of 75 is working to complete a $22 million partial restoration of Philip II’s palace- the largest building in classical Greece, three times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. For Kottaridi, decades of work are coming to fruition, and for anyone interested in Philip and Alexander, Aigai is now a must-see destination.”
Kottaridi told Smithsonian, “We have excavated only a tiny portion of the site, less than one percent, and this has taken decades. We are constantly making new discoveries, so many that it’s a problem, because we must also preserve what we have, restore the most important structures, write everything up and present our discoveries to the public. There is enough work for three or four lifetimes.”
Kottaridi grew up in Thessaloniki and studied at the Aristotle University there, Smithsonian reported, noting that “now she lives near Aigai in a house that she shares with a rescue dog and a retinue of 30 cats. Kottaridi doesn’t drive, won’t fly, refuses to use a smartphone, ignores most of her email and has planted more than 1,600 trees at Aigai, mainly for the birds. She has published six books and 150 academic papers, and in 2008 she was awarded the prestigious Golden Cross of the Order of the Phoenix by President Karolos Papoulias of Greece for her contributions to knowledge of the ancient world.”
She told Smithsonian, “People ask why I have no children, it’s really because I adopted Alexander the Great. I fell in love with him when I was young- not the mythical figure, but the man. He was so much more than a military genius. He opened up the Silk Road. He built these amazing Hellenistic cities in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, with freedom of religion, tolerance for different cultures, equal opportunity. And it all began right here in Aigai.”
Alexander launched his famous invasion of the Persian Empire from Aigai, but as Smithsonian noted, “without denying Alexander’s greatness, it’s important to remember that he was using his father’s army, and that the expedition was Philip’s idea.”
Among the finds excavated by Kottaridi and her colleagues are “graves and ornamental burial goods dating back perhaps 3,000 years, but Aigai didn’t become a city until the seventh century BC… when the Temenids, a Macedonian royal dynasty that claimed direct descent from Zeus and Hercules, established their capital [there],” Smithsonian reported.
“According to legend, the first Temenid king, Perdiccas, was told by the oracle at Delphi that a herd of white goats would lead him to the site of his kingdom’s capital,” Smithsonian reported, adding that “Perdiccas followed the goats to the foothills of the Pierian Mountains, overlooking the Haliacmon River as it crosses the wide green Macedonian plain.”
“The word ‘aigai’ means ‘goats’ in ancient Greek,” Kottaridi told Smithsonian.
The ancient Macedonian people, originally “herding and hunting tribes north of Mount Olympus… spoke a dialect of the Greek language and worshiped Greek gods,” Smithsonian reported.
“One of the important discoveries at Aigai was the tombstone carvings, they taught us that everyone here had Greek names. They thought of themselves as Macedonians and Greeks,” Kottaridi told Smithsonian.
The administrative capital of the Macedonian court was Pella while Aigai was “reserved for royal weddings, funerals and other ceremonial occasions,” Smithsonian reported, adding that Philip grew up in Pella, learning “to hunt, ride and fight in combat” and “he also studied Greek philosophy, drama, and poetry, and absorbed the necessity for ruthlessness in politics.”
“In 359 BC, Philip, 23, saw his older brother King Perdiccas III and 4,000 men get slaughtered by the Illyrians, a rebellious warlike people in Upper Macedonia,” Smithsonian reported, adding that “his other brother had been murdered in a palace conspiracy, and since Perdiccas III’s heir was a small child, the Macedonian Assembly appointed Philip as regent to the throne, and then as king.”
“He inherited a very old-fashioned tribal kingdom, with an economy based on livestock,” Kottaridi told Smithsonian, “Philip had lived in Thebes for a few years, and he brought new ideas from Greece. He introduced coinage. He turned this city into a politically functioning space, and he completely revolutionized the military.”
As Smithsonian noted, “although Alexander was a brilliant commander, and his campaign in Asia would far exceed anything that Philip had imagined, it was his inheritance that made it possible. Without Philip’s war machine, there would have been no Alexander the Great.”