CITIES OF ALEXANDER: PELLA, The Royal City of Macedon


Macedonian Kingdom at the Time of Alexander

At the time of Alexander, Pella was a flourishing city, the royal city of Macedon. The city was founded in 399 BC by Kng Archelaus as the capital of his kingdom. It replaced the older palace city of Aigai (near Vergina) where today, the royal tombs are located.

Archelaus wanted a city that would outshine all others and rival Athens. He invited the greatest painter of all time, Zeuxes, to decorate his palace. Later other renowned artisans, poets, dramatists and philosophers were invited to Pella, including the Athenian playwright Euripides whose drama, The Bacchae, premiered there in 408 BC.


Pella was the birthplace of Philip II and Alexander, his son. The philosopher, Aristotle, also a Macedonian, tutored Alexander at the palace and later at a school Philip had built at Mieza (near Naoussa).  Aristotle’s father had been the palace physician and a trusted member of the royal court.


Philip II

In Alexander’s time, the city was a port connected to the Thermaic Gulf. It was built on a promontory by a lagoon that opened to the sea by a navigable inlet. Pella was a walled city and the palace (which is being excavated) was situated on a central hill.  It was an immense palace, approximately 60,000 sq. Meters, and consisted of many buildings with central courts and peristyles. The size of the complex indicates that it was not only a royal residence but served as a place of government as well.


Classical Pella

The city stretched out below the palace and was designed on a grid pattern. The streets had sewers and could convey water to individual residences. During my research for SHADOW OF THE LION, I visited the site of Pella on several occasions. It was quite a thrill to wander the wide paved streets and imagine what a grand city it must have been. There are still the remains of some of the magnificent villas with Doric and ionic columns standing. In some of the houses there are floors made of pebbled mosaics of exquisite workmanship, and also some fragments of painted walls.  A spacious agora dominates the centre of the city surrounded by porticos. A sanctuary of Aphrodite-Kybele was discovered north of the agora as well as workshops and storerooms that suggested the existence of organised worship in the centre of the city. Cist-graves and funerary monuments were also discovered.


After the assassination of Philip II, when Alexander took the throne and left Macedon on his conquest against Persia, the city was left under the rulership of the kind’s Regent, Antipater, who was the head of the largest clan in Macedon. This is the Pella of SHADOW OF THE LION.


Mosaic possible depicting Alexander and Hepaestion Lion Hunting

Many years after the story takes place, in 168 BC, Pella was sacked by the Romans. Its treasury was looted and taken to Rome. Later the city was destroyed by an earthquake, but eventually rebuilt by the Romans in 30 BC located to the west of the former city on a terrace near the so-called Baths of Alexander Great in the area of the modern village of Nea Pella.


A Youthful Alexander

Today you can tour the archaeological site which is located about 45 km west of Thessaloniki. There’s an excellent, small museum at the site with a model showing the old palace, many pieces of pottery and sculpture including a bust of young Alexander, and other artifacts from the Hellenistic to Roman Periods. Youtube video.  (some not Pella)  tourism website.  archeological site link.