Dion

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Dion

Dion stands in the northern foothills of Mount Olympus, and exercises complete control over the narrow defile leading from Macedonia to Thessaly. Formerly a distance of only 7 stades from the shores of the Thermaic Gulf, it was the most important sacred city of the Macedonians. Here it was that Archelaos I, at the end of the 5th century B.C., first held brilliant festivals at which sacrifices were offered to Olympian Zeus and the Pierian Muses, and introduced theatrical and gymnastic competitions - the "Olympia ta en Dion", which were still celebrated about 100 B.C. Here it was that Philip II celebrated the capture of Olynthos, the capital of the Chalkidian League, and here Alexander the Great sought the aid of the king of the gods before setting out for the East. And it was in the sanctuary of Zeus, finally, that the famous group was erected depicting twenty-five of Alexander's companions who fell at the Granikos' battle, the work of Lysippos. 

Dion's walls, however, were, only 2.550 m. long, and its area was a mere 460.000 sq.m., and it never became more than a small township neither at the time of Thucydides, nor much later - in the early years of the Roman empire. 

The first Roman colonists (colony) possibly settled here in 43 B.C., perhaps as a result of the activities of Brutus; the mass transportation of Italians to the city and the foundation of the colonia was the work of Augustus, however, immediately after his victory in the battle of Actium (31 B.C.). Despite the fact than latin was the official language, the majority of the inscriptions are in Greek, attesting both to the predominance of the local element and to the swift hellenisation of the newcomers. The glory of Cristianity is proclaimed by two basilicas built in the ruins of the ancient city and a third constructed outside the city walls. The bishop of Dion took part in the Synod of Serdike in the 4th century A.D. (343) and in the Synod of Ephesos in the 5th century A.D. (431). Dion fell victim to the invasions of Ostrogoths and it wounds never healed. Flooding by the river Vaphyras, earthquakes and time would veil in oblivion the city that was admired and plundered by C. Caecilius Metellus after he had crushed the uprising of Andriskos (150 - 148 B.C.).

The excavation of the area commenced in 1982 and is continued at present by the University of Thessaloniki. It has brought to light a fortified city, surrounded by cult areas, that was inhabited continuously from the Classical period to Early Christian times. Buildings of various periods have been discovered in a series of different levels. Private residences, public buildings, shops, and a large number of workshops are erected in building blocks defined by the streets. On the south edge of the ancient city are the public baths (thermae), an imposing complex covering an area of over 4,000 square metres and dating from about A.D. 200.

The regular shape (square) of the city was no doubt dictated by the flat plain in which it stands, but it is quite likely that, as has been suggested, both the town-plan and the fortifications of Dion called upon the experience gained by the city-builders of the time from the new cities founded by Alexander and his successors in the lands of Asia.

In the east sector has been discovered the villa of Dionysus, which takes its name from the large mosaic depicting the god that covers the floor of the banqueting room. The sanctuaries of the gods, two theatres (one Greek and one Roman) and the stadium have been discovered outside the city walls. Amongst the gods worshipped at Dion, the most important was Olympian Zeus, after whom the city was named (the genitive of "Zeus" being Dios). In the god's precinct have been found stone stelae bearing inscriptions relating to treaties of alliance, the settlement of border disputes, parts of official decrees, etc. The sanctuary of Demeter, just outside the walls and the gate at the end of the main street of the city, is the earliest Macedonian sanctuary known to date. It had an uninterrupted life from the late 6th c. B.C. to the early 4th c. A.D. To the east of the sanctuary of Demeter has been discovered a sanctuary devoted to the cult of the Egyptian gods Sarapis, Isis and Anubis. There is a small temple of Aphrodite Hypolympidia (Aphrodite worshipped below Mount Olympus) in this same sanctuary.

The Hellenistic theatre of Dion, which lies outside the walls, was built in the reign of Philip V (221-179 B.C.). The Roman theatre, dating from the 2nd c. A.D., has been identified south-east of the Hellenistic structure. The cemetery of Dion extents mainly to the south and east of the city. The funerary monuments date from the 5th c. B.C. to the 5th c. A.D. During Early Christian times the city contracted and the central area was occupied by an Early Christian Basilica dating from the late 4th c. A.D. Dion appears to have been abandoned during the 5th c. A.D. as a result of natural disasters (earthquakes, floods), its inhabitants moving to safer areas in the foothills of Mount Olympus.

Site Monuments:

1. Sanctuary of Zeus

The worship of Olympian Zeus was quite important for the Macedonians. According to all the evidence, the temple of Zeus in Dion is near the Roman theater. Two inscriptions found there lead to the shrinking of the sanctuary. The first one is a letter from Philip E, in which he settled the borders between Demetrius and Fereus in Thessaly. The second sign is a resolution of the city of Dion, which dates back to the end of the 4th century BC. In both these epigraphic testimonies it is explicitly stated that the temple of Olympian Zeus should be placed.

In this area, buildings related to worship have been revealed, a wall more than 100 m long. It is believed to be the enclosure of the mosque, fragments of sculptures, a relief depicting Zeus and two inscriptions proving that it is a sanctuary devoted to the worship of Zeus . The buildings that have come to light belong chronologically in various periods of the Hellenistic period. Segments of columns confirm the existence of a monumental, Doric-style building.

There are epigraphical testimonies that the Sanctuary of Zeus in Dion was an extremely important place for the Macedonian kingdom, as there were significant texts published on stone columns. Also in the sanctuary were the statues of the Macedonian kings. The site has not been excavated so far. Research has continued more systematically in recent years.

2. Sanctuary of Demeter

The sanctuary of Demeter was one of the most important sanctruaries that existed in Dio and the older one. Outside the walls and the gate of the main road were found two buildings with a facade in the east and dimensions of 11 x 7 m. During the investigations a marble head was found which typologically referred to the goddess Demeter and dates back to the end of the 4th century B.C. The fact that it was a sanctuary devoted to Demeter, confirmed the finding of a related votive inscription. The twin temples were built to replace two older temples of the late 6th century BC, the foundations of which are visible behind the newer temples. These archaic temples are in the form of a mansion and are made of warm stones and raw bricks. 

At the end of the 4th century BC the two megalithic buildings were replaced by two temples in Doric style. Inside, there were bases for devotional statues. On one of these bases was found the marble head of goddess Demeter. It is a sculpture dating to the end of the 4th century BC and confirms that the sanctuary was dedicated to it. For sacrifices, altars were constructed in the east of the sanctuary. These two buildings of the 4th century BC were the nucleus of the complex, which was framed by smaller monotheistic houses of worship of Classical and Hellenistic times. The temples had a cult statue and stone tables in front of it, where the first fruits of the harvest were probably deposited. 

The Sanctuary of Demeter in Dion is the oldest known Macedonian Sanctuary, whose life was continuous until the beginning of the 4th century AD.

3. Sanctuary of Isis

The mosque was dedicated to the worship of Isis of Lochia. The central temple, dedicated to Isis, had an antechamber and was built on a high level. The architecture of the temple its dating to the time of the Sevirians. The built altar of the temple was found intact, surrounded by offerings. 

North of the central temple was found a smaller temple, dedicated to the worship of Aphrodite of Hypolipidia, the goddess who was worshiped at the foot of Olympus. The building is a monolith and has a reservoir in the place of the floor, the water of which came from a duct beneath the niche of the cult statue. 

To the south of the central temple was revealed a corresponding building, but its cult can not be identified. It is a double room with an anteroom and a bunk. During the search there was found a statue of Eros, Hellenistic times. 

While the three temples belong to the same architectural design, the fourth one found in the south was later constructed, as the differences in masonry suggest, as well as its placement outside the building line of the other buildings. The fourth temple was dedicated to the worship of Isis of Tychi (luck), according to the statue and inscription on the altar. In the middle of the building there was a built basin, the water of which flowed from its bottom and was not fed by a pipeline. It was a sacred source, which was housed in the building. 

The sanctuary destroyed by natural causes (floods, earthquakes) is considered to be important, not only because most of the votive offerings and worship statues have been preserved, but also because the worship of the Oriental goddess was tolerated despite the transition to the new religion, as there are indications that functioned as early Christian times.

4. Great Thermae

The Great Thermae, that is to say the public baths of Dion, located in the south of the city where they were protected from the north winds and communicated directly with the main avenue, welcomed the stranger who entered the city, as today, through the south gate. With a spacious atrium in the centre, and public toilets, shops and workshops around the periphery, the public baths were a complex in which one could pleasurably pass one's leisure hours.

The main building was reached by crossing the open-air courtyard that connected it by means of a narrow flight of steps with the main road, passing the odeion on the right; it had swimming pools, dres-sing rooms, rooms with hot and cold water, relaxation rooms, sweating rooms and massage rooms. A complex water-supply and drainage network ran below the ground and a special system of hypocausts ensured of supply of warm air to the appropiate rooms.

The north wing of the complex, where marble statues from the cucle of Asklepios have been found (they are ondisplay in the local Museum), may have been intended for therapeutic purposes. The mosaic floors [marine {dionysiac) band], the marble inlays in the floors and the statues of the statues of deities and nymphs which once stood in decorative niches gave the rooms of the Great thermae a luxurious and monumental character.

5. Villa of Dionysos

The large "Villa of Dionysos", so called from the superb mosaic with the scene from the life of the god of wine adorning the floor of the main room, was built about A.D. 200 and is still one of the most impressive building complexes in ancient Dion. Behind a row of shops and workshops along one of the secondary streets in the east side of the side of the city, next to a bath complex, the floors of which are laid with large tesserae, was a courtyard with a ionic peristyle and a well that led to the east to the dining room of the large house, called tablinum by the Romans. This was followed by a number of smaller rooms, one of which, equipped with a semi-circular nice housing a statue of Dionysos with a horn in his left hand and a floor with tesserae laid in geometric shapes, was probably devoted to the cult of this god.

the most brilliant room in the entire building complex, however, was a banqueting hall almost square in plan with an area of about 100 sq.m., the floor of which was covered by a multicoloured mosaic with scenes from the Dionysiac cycle. The centre of the floor was occupied by a large panel flanked by three smaller ones above and below it. A band with a spiral-maeander design separates these "paintings" from a broad zone of chequer-board pattern around the walls, which formed the area in which the banquetting couches were placed. The main panel is given over to a stricking, epic subject, rendered with a certain affectation, despite the painterly intent by which it is informed: the triumph of Dionysos. The god is depicted frontally, naked in a chariot pulled by sea panthers, holding a rhyton in his raised right hand, and a thyrsos in his left. Next to him stands an aged Silenos wearing a hairy chiton, stupefied with fear. The panthers are led on reins by two sea Centaurs, each of whom carries a large vase on his soulders. The white colour of the tesserae of the background on which the scene unfolds contrasts with the violet/dark blue of the waves to give the figures a relief quality and monumental size. The panels that flank the main scene in groups of three depict theatrical masks. A number of bronze couch attachments probably formed part of the original furnishings of the room.

The general decoration of the house included statues of the imperial family, deities and also private individuals, which were found in the various rooms. Life in the villa came to a sudden end when a fire, possibly caused by an earthquake, swept through the building and reduced everything to ruins.

6. Ancient Theatre

The ancient theatre rests to the south of Dion, out of the city limits, having to the west the sanctuary dedicated to Demetra. Its construction dates to the Hellenistic era, probably in the reign of King Philipp V (221-179 BC).

Built on the slope of a low natural hill, the theatre is facing north-east: this is the best orientation for maximum ventilation, according to posterior instructions by Vitruvius. The architect who designed this monument exploited the morphology of the ground; through partial removal of accumulated earth and creation of an artificial fill, he shaped a most successful accomplishment bearing his stamp. The orchestra, with a 26m diameter and beaten earth flooring, is being delimited by an open stone conduit. Along the theatre axis inside the orchestra, an underground corridor departing from one room and ending into another was undoubtedly identified as the "Charonian stairway", serving the appearance from below of the actors impersonating chthonic figures. The cavea was not supported by a retaining wall; it extended over gravel-strewn slopes smoothly flattening at the parodoi (passageways) and was composed of clay brick seats, a singularity among ancient theatres. Presumably during the Hellenistic period, the last layer of bricks was incrusted with marble. Contrary to the cavea, the construction of the scenic building (stage proper, proscenium and back of stage) was more elaborate: the upper parts of the scene walls, as well as the proscenium roofed by a Doric entablature, were made of marble. The roof tiles were of the Laconian type. Excavations lead to the conclusion that the theatre was probably abandoned after 168 BC, operating in a rudimentary way until the early Imperial period and falling into disuse after the construction of Roman theatres at the area.

The Hellenistic theatre was identified by W.M. Leake in 1806; systematic excavation started in 1970.

7. Roman Theatre

The Roman theatre of Dion is located near the Hellenistic theatre, to the south-east of the latter, outside the city limits. Dating from the second century BC, it probably replaced its predecessor, which seemed to degrade after 168 BC.

Smaller than the Hellenistic theatre, it was built on flat land with a view towards the east. Its form reminds the theatres of Korinthos and Patras: a cavea of 16.45m in diameter, an orchestra of 10.70m in diameter, the scene and the proscenium. The cavea, surrounded by a high stone-built semicircular wall, was divided into four sections by three narrow staircases. The tiers lied on the roofs of eleven radiating vaulted cuneiform spaces, overlooking the semicircular internal corridor lining the outer wall, at the exception of the extremes that communicated with the parodoi (passageways, public entrances). Only a few of the estimated 24 benches are currently preserved. The scenic building was independent from the cavea and richly adorned with precious marble revetment and sculptures; unfortunately, its larger part has been destroyed by artesian flows. At the evidence of coins found during the excavation, at least four spots of the cavea and the scene were modified during the last quarter of the fourth century AD, perhaps due to partial precipitation of the theatre because of earthquakes or partial change of use.

8. Necropolis

The finds from the cemeteries of Dion, which are located to the north and west of the city, covered the period from abot the middle of the 5th century B.C. to the beginning of the 5th century A.D. "Hut" tombs set in enclosures of dry-stone walls, relief stelai, and funeraru altars all attest to the concern of the inhabitants about their deceased. The most imposing of the funerary stuctures, however, are the "Macedonian" tombs, which have occasionally come to light - most frequently plundered - from 1929 onwards.

Macedonian Τomb I: (Εxcavated end of the 1920s) Τhis is a two-chamber tomb, with a doric facede, the doorway of which was sealed by five well-dressed blocks of poros placed one on top of the other, an ionic antechamber with a flat roof, and a vaulted burial chamber, in which there was a large marble funerary couch painted with geometric motifs, palmettes and a scene of a cavalry battle.

Macedonian Τomb II: Discovered in 1953 to the north of the city, this is a single-chamber subterranean building with a plastered facade and has the door-frame at the entrance and the pediment above it carved in relief.

Macedonian Τomb III: The doorway to this single-chamber funerary monument, discovered in 1955 not far from "Macedonian" tomb I, had an enormous lintel and was sealed by three stone blocks placed one above the other.

Macedonian Τomb IV: Τhe single-chamber tomb excavated in 1980 to the west of Karitsa, below an artificial earth tumulus, had a distinctive feature found mainly in similar monuments in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace: a built dromos. The monument was probably constructed about 200 B.C.