Pydna is generally known for the decisive battle of 22 June 168 BC opposing the Roman general Aemelius-Paulus and King Perseus of Macedonia (179-168 BC). In one single battle, the Romans killed as many as 20,000 Macedonians, an absolute first in history. It meant the end of the Antigonid dynasty of Macedonia and consequently the Kingdom of Macedonia came to an end. Beside the men that fell on the battlefield, another 6,000 fled to Pydna to fall in enemy hands and another 5,000 were taken prisoner as they tried to escape. A bloody encounter to say the least. From then on, the Romans took charge dividing Macedonia into four republics. It seems that in 150 BC, a certain Andriscus claiming to be the son of late King Perseus ascended the throne as Philip VI. He just came and went, victim of another futile war, of course, and in 148 BC Macedonia was finally subdued and became a Roman province.
To me Pydna is the place where Queen Olympias took refuge after the death of her son, Alexander the Great, taking his wife Roxane and his son Alexander IV with her. Cassander, who, as the son of Alexander's regent Antipater, had taken over power in Macedonia, besieged and captured the city in 317 BC. Olympias was left no choice but to surrender to Cassander, who knew no mercy and immediately had her executed. Roxane and Alexander IV were to follow her fate soon.
Well, so much for history, beside the fact that Philip II, Alexander’s father had annexed the territory in the first place. In any case, enough reason for me to take a look around.
Today’s nearest town is Makrygialos, approximately 65 kilometers south of Thessaloniki, right next to the freeway. Pydna has not really been excavated. The only finds come from occasional discoveries made during construction activities or subsequent to illicit diggings. The fertile lands have been inhabited since the 7th century BC and many graves and tombs have been unearthed going back that far in time. The finds have been split between the Museum of Thessaloniki and the nearby Museum of Katerini.
It is not easy to read the landscape, especially on this rainy day when I’m driving through sleepy villages and settlements. On my way through Methoni, in the curve after the seaside fish restaurants, I am being waved at by King Philip in person! Of course, Methoni was one of the main cities which Philip conquered from Athens back in 355-354 BC, but I wasn’t expecting to meet up with his bronze statue is this bend of the road. What a pleasant surprise. It shows the king in his prime, which he most probably was at the time of this battlefield. The Greek as well as the Macedonian flag proudly enfold above him. I look around for more signs but cannot find any.
I pick up the road again, heading further south till I reach Pydna or what is left of it. A fenced field on my left overlooking the sea is catching my eye. The entrance gate is ajar, an invitation to enter. This just might be the place of the old fort and it is!
Once again, I’m struck by the strategic location as I can look north all the way to Methoni and beyond, while to the south on a clear day we may even see Mount Olympus. This stronghold fits in the center of a wider bay, ideal to watch enemy ships approaching.
Within the perimeter of the fence, the remains are definitely Byzantine. Typical, of course, as they built their forts and churches right on top of older Roman or Greek construction, reusing the stones they found at hand. This site is no different and as I question the local archeologist and guardian he willingly shows me the scattered remains from Greek temples, Macedonian city-walls and Roman olive- or winepresses. Further in the landscape, he also points to the line in the trees, walls and houses that are supposedly part of this old fort. Excavations over here certainly are still in their infancy and I can imagine how many archeologists’ hands are itching to start digging for more treasures before they disappear through the illigal circuit, forever ripped out of their context .