« Pre » and « Para » Colonial Activities
Excavations on the acropolis and along the seashore brought to light extremely rich and diversified material dating, at the earliest, to the second half of the 7th century B.C., that is to the period which corresponds to the arrival of the Greeks at the site. The Greeks apparently first established themselves in these two areas: along the coast, in order to profit from the sea resources and to have easy access to the boats, and on the acropolis, which offered a natural defense in case of hostile attacks. The early material from the acropolis comes from disturbed contexts, but along the coast, vases and metal objects were found in well-stratifed levels. Here, some deep trenches, down to 6m50, have yielded various types of pottery which show the intensity of the contacts between the Greek and local populations and the diversity of trade relations with the main production centers of Greece.
In the deepest levels, however, the excavators only found pottery of thracian origin or vases which come from the chalcidiki peninsula. This tends to show that the site of Argilos was already occupied before the arrival of the Greeks. Since there is no trace of a violent destruction of this local habitat, it seems that Greeks and Thracians cohabited on the site, probably for about one century. These findings give us the opportunity to question some passages of ancient greek literature, that tend to present Greek colonists as brutal and not hesitating to chase off local inhabitants by force.
Pottery Styles of the 7th century B.C. – Greek Pottery
The pottery pertaining to the period 650-600 B.C. can be divided in four distinct groups, of which two are from local or regional styles. The first group consists of vases of thraco-macedonian type. They are, for the greater part, cooking vases, all handmade and decorated with incised decoration or with a figner pinched cordon placed on the upper part of the vase. These vases are essentially kitchen ware and there is a great ressemblance between the clays used, tending to show that at least some of these thracian wares were made locally.
The second group consists of storage vases, essentially transport amphoras and storage bins, but also a few drinking-vessels. These vases are wheelmade and decorated with geometric designs, many of which are derived from greek designs of the protogeometric and geometric periods (concentric circles, groups of diagonals or zigzags, hatched motifs), all painted with a characteristic purple glaze. Beyond doubt, these wares were the products of regional centers but we still do not know where these were situated, although most must be sought in the chalcidiki peninsula and around the thermaic gulf.
Pottery Styles of the 7th Century B.C. – Local and Regional Pottery
As the regional and local pottery, the greek pottery found in 7th century B.C. levels in Argilos can be separated into two groups : vases originating from Eastern Greek cities and others produced in the Cycladic islands. In both cases, the shapes are mainly drinking vessels: cups, bowls, and skyphoi. East Greek production consists of « bird bowls », a type of cup characteristic of this period, on which the painters represented waterbirds placed between hatched lozenges and groups of vertical lines. These bowls were made in many East Greek cities, mainly in Northern Ionia, and widely distributed in the Mediterranean.
The cycladic vases consist of skyphoi, mugs, and lekanai. The skyphoi show a particular shape: they have a deep body with a peculiar concave/convex curve. On 7th century examples, the lip is small and flares out, whereas it is strait and, therefore, higher with those belonging to the 6th century B.C. Scholars thought that this type of skyphos was made on the island of Siphnos as many specimens were found amongst the offerings of a temple brought to light there. However, given the fact that Greek colonists used to import their everyday pottery from their mother-city, the great quantity of such skyphoi found at Argilos now suggests another area, the island of Andros, as production centre.
6th – 5th Centuries B.C. – Urbanism and Economy
The city of Argilos took great benefit from an important economic growth during the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. The citizens of Argilos exploited a region abundant in natural resources. It brought wealth to the city and its inhabitants and led to a conspicuous urbanistic development. The Argilians most surely profited from the exploitation of the Pangeion mines, of forest resources, of slave trading and of commerce with other greek colonies. The population grew and led the city to establish two new colonies, Tragilos, in the thracian heartland and Kerdilion, at the eastern margin of the city’s territory. The colony of Kerdilion held a key position. It was situated on a hill overlooking the Strymona and its inhabitants could thus follow the trading activities along this river.
The systematic excavations which took place on the southeastern slope of the hill of Argilos have uncovered many architectural structures, clarifying the urbanistic development of the city. Here, excavations brought to light a large street, 5 meters wide, which must have led from the port to the acropolis. Buildings, serving public or domestic needs, lined this street. Stone is used for the construction of the exterior walls, whereas the interior ones are built with successive layers of clay, placed on a stone foundation. Some of these buildings are extremely well preserved, with walls up to 4 meters high. This state of preservation helps us understand the way they were built and, thus, enables us to propose realistic reconstructions of the main buildings.
House « A » – Domestic Architecture at Argilos
The state of preservation of the architectural remains uncovered in the southeastern area of the excavation gives us the opportunity to study more closely the construction and transformation of the buildings. House « A », one of the first to be found, is a very good example of greek domestic architecture in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. Meticulous excavation enabled the archaeologists to conclude that this house had known three construction phases. For each of these, a clearly recognizable floor level was established, which can be seen on the stratigraphical drawings. These drawings show that the house consisted of a single room in its first phase, dating to about the middle of the 6th century B.C. It is only when the house was rebuilt after its destruction at the end of the 6th or the beginning of the 5th century B.C. that two other rooms and a upper floor were added.
Close examination of the architectural elements helps us to determine whether there had been an upper floor or not and, if so, what the principles of its construction were. The openings in the walls and overlapping stones indicate where the beams and planks were placed, and the flat stones on the floor show where the supports for the balcony and staircase leading to the upper rooms were built. The only problem left is the rooftop. Greek builders used to put a layer of clay between the upper part of the exterior walls and the roof. This clay layer has disappeared. Therefore, shape and inclination of the roof can only be determined in conjonction with the surrounding buildings.
6th Century B.C. Pottery Styles
During the 6th century B.C., Argilos knew a great variety of pottery styles. Thracian pottery dissapeared after 550, which may indicate that the Thracian inhabitants adopted the greek way of life or that they moved elsewhere, maybe to Tragilos, which was a mixed greek-thracian colony according to some ancient authors. The pottery from Chalcidiki is still present, albeit in another fashion. New shapes and decorations make their appearance, imitating vases and styles found in Eastern Greece. Vases from East Greece continue to arrive at Argilos but become less numerous during the second half of the century. The same can be said of the pottery from Andros.
Between 600 et 550, the most important quantity of imported vases found on the site comes from Corinth. Many different shapes are present, including drinking vessels, perfume vases, jugs and kraters. Imports from Athens started to arrive around 580 B.C. and gradually became more numerous. The earlier vases are mainly kraters and cups, but quite soon all the usual shapes of greek pottery are imported. The majority is simply covered with a black glaze, but many are decorated in the black and red-figured styles. They will constitute the main category of imports from the second half of the 6th century onwards. A few vases come from the region of Sparta in the Peloponnese. Regional pottery styles which developed in other greek colonies along the coast are also being traded during this period. They come, for the most part, from Thasos or its colonies. Local pottery, of course, also increased, imitating all the greek shapes necessary for everyday life.
5th – 4th Centuries B.C.- Urbanism and Economy
The city of Argilos enjoyed great prosperity until the foundation of Amphipolis in 437 B.C., but saw a net decline in the city’s architecture and various economical activities thereafter. The city suffered a second destruction towards the last quarter of the 5th century B.C. This destruction may have to do with the Peloponnesian war, during which Argilos sided with Sparta against Athens and participated to the attack on Amphipolis. Once Amphipolis regained its independance at end of the war, it may have decided to take revenge by attacking Argilos and destroying many of its buildings. Most were rebuilt, but the ashlar masonry and the quality of the walls are often much inferior to those used before and only part of the previous buildings were reoccupied. One can also sense a decline in the pottery imports, Athens remaining the only southern city represented. It is possible that many inhabitants decided to move to Amphipolis, which had already become one of the biggest greek colonies in the region. Anyway, it is clear that Amphipolis had the upper hand in the regional economy, forcing Argilos to turn to more traditional ways to support their economy, mainly farming and fishing activities.
The city’s life came to an end under the rule of the Macedonian King Philip II. In 357 B.C. he conquered the whole region, destroying for a last time the buildings of Argilos and forcing those who had stayed to move to Amphipolis, which became the macedonian empire’s main city in the region.
Building « E » – An Example of Public Architecture
Along the main road leading to the acropolis, excavations brought to light a very large building, measuring about 10 square meters. It consists of a large rectangular space that gives access to large rooms at the back. This type of room division is typical of greek houses of the archaic period. But compared with the surrounding dwellings, building « E » is very well constructed, the architects using finely cut rectangular stones for the walls. The main room contained a large rectangular stone hearth in the center, on which excavators found a clay cooking support. In one of the corners, they also discovered a complete bathtub.
A very nice attic red-figured skyphos and a bead necklace were found on the floor. Along one of the side walls, an opening seems to have served to bring water; three hydriai, a type of vase used to transport water, were also unearthed. Moreover, archaeologists discovered six silver coins placed as an offering in the foundation of one the walls. Finally, on the street in front of the building, they found two clay ram heads, one of which still attached to its roof tile, which shows that they were placed at the extremity of the roof.
The excellent quality of the building material used in the construction and the particular nature of the findings indicate that this was not an ordinary house but must have been a public building. We still do not know what its exact founction was, but there is a clear relation with the use of water.
5th – 4th Century B.C. – Pottery, Figurines and Small Objects
The quality of pottery during the 5th and 4th centuries does not equal that of the preceding periods. There are some good attic red-figured vases but, apart from Athens, long distance imports, are generally rare. Decline can also be noticed in the quality of regional vases, mainly coming Chalcidiki, some from Thasos. Local production continues but is limited to cooking and kitchen ware.
Apart from the pottery, the excavations have revealed many other objects of everyday life. A large number of figurines, mostly dating to the 5th and 4th centuries and localy made, give us an idea of the religious practices of the inhabitants of Argilos.
Two types of ‘loomweights’ are also found. Some, with a triangular or circular shape, were used for wool weaving; others, which are more or less pear-shaped, probably functioned as balast for fishing nets.
The excavations also brought to light a great number of metal objects, ranging from fishing hooks, nails, fibulae to arrowpoints.
Unfortunately, only one stone inscription was found, dating to the hellenistic period. But many other inscriptions, incised on clay vases, were discovered. One of these was found on a large basin, probably a religious offering, on which the owner identifies himself as being a citizen of Argilos. Another Argilian wrote his name, « SIKAKOS » on a sherd of a broken vase.
The Hellenistic Settlement of the Acropolis and the End of the City
The army of Philip II destroyed Argilos in 357 B.C. and gave its land to the Macedonian king. The city was abandoned and its buildings destroyed as we can deduce from a destruction level found in all areas excavated. The city was unhabitated afterwards except for a limited area on the acropolis. The new buildings reused the earlier walls as foundations and, therefore, the dwellings followed the orientation of the previous city.
One of the most impressive constructions of this period is a rectangular building measuring 10 x 6 meters with an entrance on its eastern side. Interior crosswalls on its southern side divided the building into three rooms. The room closest to the entrance contained two circular hearths. These hearths where found full of ashes and the floor around contained many broken vases. The area in which the building was erected, its size and its architectural elements seem to indicate that it was probably a temple or a public building, maybe a prytaneion.
In the same area, excavators brought to light several small houses with exterior courtyards and one central well. But the most important building is a large rectangular mansion built in the middle of the area which we shall present further on.
Argilos slowly fell into oblivion and at the end of the 3rd century B.C., the site was definitely abandoned, not even to be occupied during the roman and Byzantine periods.
The olive pressing installation on the Acropolis
Having conquered the region around Argilos, the Macedonian king Philip II divided the land between his « hetairoi», a group of influential families and army generals. One of these received at least some of the land of Argilos and built his residence on the top of the acropolis.
It is a square mansion of 14 x 14 meters consisting of heavily built walls and a narrow door, giving the impression of a small fortress. It had two stories, of which the upper floor served as family residence, while the ground floor was used for the pressing of olive oil.
In the central room on the eastern side, excavations brought to light a mill (« trapetum ») used to crush the olives, still standing in its original position. Two semicircular stones found in the central courtyard were attached to it with wooden beams. One would put the olives in the mill and turn the semicircular stones in order to crush them. The resulting « magma» would be placed on flat circular stones with deep grooves at their extremities.
One would then press the magma to extract the olive oil. In order to extract as much oil as possible, they would poor hot water over the magma. The water was kept in a small cistern built in the courtyard and it was heated in the first room, to the left of the main entrance. In the courtyard, the excavators also found a large pithos, which the owner had placed on its side and cut along its middle. This large receptacle served as storage bin for the olives.
The Necropolis of Argilos
The necropolis of Argilos is situated to the East of the city. There are various types of tombs. Most are cist-graves, that is, trenches, of which the sides are clad with marble slabs and the top is covered with terracotta tiles, but clay sarcophagoi or simple pits next to a cremation area also occur. The offerings reflect the needs of the inhabitants; in the tombs, vases were deposited coming from areas as far as East Greece, Corinth, Athens, and naturally Thasos, showing the intensity of relations with the rest of the greek world.
The necropolis of Argilos also contains two macedonian tombs, nowadays visible next to the Thessaloniki – Kavala national road. They were built by digging into the soft earth of the slope of a small hill. Of tomb A, only part of the corridor (dromos) and entrance to the chamber are preserved. Tomb B is in a much better state of preservation. The dromos which leads to the entrance is 5 meters wide, the entrance itself is built with two marble posts and the lintel has five dentils. Both anti-chamber and chamber are preserved. A marble door separated the anti-chamber from the chamber, but neither a kline nor thronos was found. The corpses were placed in three cist-graves dug under the floor of the chamber. Coins of Cassander and Antigonos Gonatas date tomb B to the 3rd century B.C.
The Coinage of Argilos
Argilos minted its first coins during the last quarter of the 6th century B.C. The date is important since the minting implies that Argilos was a politically and economically independent city at that time. Until about the middle of the 5th century B.C., the Argilians minted silver tetra-drachms and smaller denominations, all bearing the abbreviation of the city’s name ARKILION as a legend. The coins show Pegasus on the obverse and on the reverse a Quadratum Incusum, not particularly clear on earlier coins but well cut on later ones.
In the excavations of the ancient city, coins of smaller denominations turned up, apparently destined for local use. The larger denominations, mainly tetradrachms, found their way to many areas around the Mediterranean, to Egypt, Asia Minor, and the Midlle East. Curiously, the city stopped minting coins for about one century and then resumed production, mostly of the common bronze denominations. These coins show a head of Apollon on the obverse , a deity probably worshiped in the city, and a bow on the reverse. Again, all the coins show the legend APKI.
The excavations in the city brought to light not only silver coins of Argilos, but also from cities like Litis and Akanthos. Coins of Alexander A’ and from various other « uncertain » macedonian origins were also found. However, the majority of the coins unearthed were made of bronze. Most come from Amphipolis, but Tragilos, Neapolis, the Bottiaion League, and the cities of the Chalkidiki peninsula are also represented. Others figure Macedonian kings (Aeropos, Amyntas III, Pausanias, Philip II, Alexander III, Demetrios Poliorketes, Antigonos Gonatas and Philip V). Coins from various cities of central Greece also found their way to Argilos.
Argilos – Epigraphical Evidence
Very few inscriptions have been found in Argilos and they consist mainly of graffiti inscribed on vases or sherds, amphoras, roof tiles, coins. However, one inscription is recorded on a marble stele.
The identification of the site as Argilos was confirmed by a graffito scratched on a large lekane before it was fired. As always on sherds, the text was fragmentary. It reads as ]ΕΝΑΡΚΙΛΙΟ[ but can be completed as ANEΘEK]EN APKIΛIO[Σ which means that the vase was dedicated by someone from Argilos.
Graffiti found on roof tiles are an indication that the building was in public use, while the legends on coins give the name of the city which produced them. In the case of Argilos, its name was written with a « K » (ARKILIOS) in antiquity.
The only inscription on marble that has been found is in honor of ΔΙΟΣ KATAIΒATOΥ. It is the Zeus who reigns on top of mountains and is responsible for many natural phenomenons such as lightning and thunder. The inscription was engraved on a marble stele which was discovered along the eastern wall of the hellenistic mansion. The stele was placed in one of the window lintels which means that part of the building had previously been destroyed. One may assume that the destruction of the mansion was due to lightning.