The Thracian city of Amphipolls (literally: “Around the city”) is located on a small rise of land within the curve of the Strymon River, which flows around the city’s acropolis on both sides. The city was fortified because of its strategic location. In the 8th and 7th centuries the site was ruled by Illyrian tribes. In 480 BC King Xerxes of Persia passed by during his invasion of Greece. He sacrificed and buried nine young men and nine maidens to the river god near the place known as Ennea Hodoi (the Nine Ways crossing). Later his army was defeated by Alexander I of Macedon.
The area near Amphipolis, most notably Mt. Pangeon, was rich with silver and gold mines so during the 5th century BC Athens controlled the area which was also known for its dense forests essential for naval construction as well as its important sea route supplying grain from Scythia.
The first colony, situated at Ennea Hodoi, was annihilated by the Thracians. A second city was built in 437 BC and took the name of Amphipolis. The city became a major power base for Athens and a target of their Spartan adversaries but somehow managed to keep its independence until the reign of King Philip II who recognized the value of the gold and silver mines. He conquered the town but it wasn’t immediately incorporated into the kingdom of Macedonia and retained a certain degree of autonomy.
The city became one of the main stops on the Macedonian royal road and later, during Roman times, the road was known as Via Egnatia, which crossed the southern Balkans. During Alexander’s time it was an important naval base. It was also a sea-port where slaves for the mines were transported. Alexander’s friend and sea captain, Nearchus was born there as well as another general named Laomedon.
At the point where there was a bridge crossing the Strymon River that runs alongside the acropolis hill, there is a large stone lion. The area of the bridge was must be haunted, because that is where the Persian King Xerxes had nine girls and nine boys sacrificed to the river gods when the Persians were invading Greece. The lion statue is located on the lower road approximately near the site of Ennae Hodoi. There are various theories about it. According to one, it was dedicated to the 10,000 people who were killed by the Thracians. Another believes it was built in the honor of Alexander’s general Leosthenes from Mytilene, a third, most common belief is that it was erected in honour of Laomedon, who was a general and close friend of Alexander the Great.
A Macedonian friend of mine told me that when he was a child, growing up near Amphipolis, children were warned by their parents that if they misbehaved, the Lion would come in the night and take their tongues away. Perhaps this comes from a story about the sculptor of the Lion, who discovered the lion was missing its tongue and in frustration threw the statue into the river!
I have visited Amphipolis on two occasions when I was researching SHADOW OF THE LION. It is an interesting and even mysterious area. The first time I went there, as I walked up the road, past the stone lion, toward the city site the sky suddenly darkened and a bolt of forked lightening zapped down right over the acropolis hill where the fort had been.
On my second visit to Amphipolis I got right up to the top of the hill and found the fortress ruins. There were new digs there – to my surprise and delight they had discovered the original walls of the fortress beneath the ones built by the Romans. I asked the guard at the site about the excavations but he wouldn’t give me any information, however I knew that’s what they were. I decided to walk down the steep path from the fortress, imagining an escape route from the fortified army post. On the path ahead of me were the swirling marks left by a snake. I took this as an omen. There are vipers in those hills! To me, the spirits were very real around Amphipolis, beginning with that lightning bolt and ending with the marks of the serpent. A tragic event had happened there and I was very much aware of the spirits of the unfortunate victims of Kassandros’s vengeful acts.
At the time of Alexander, Amphipolis was mainly an army garrison with the seaport several miles downhill at the delta of the river. The city is featured at the end of SHADOW OF THE LION: Volume 1 “Blood on the Moon” and is a significant location in the last part of Volume 2 “The Fields of Hades.”
NOTE: Here’s the latest news about the site: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2014/08/11/the-mystery-of-ancient-amphipolis/