National Geographic : 1978 Jul
Doric facade. It had been looted in antiquity. Investigation at this important site, how ever, was not resumed for many years. In 1937 Professor Konstantine A. Rhomaios of the University of Thessaloniki (Salonica) be gan excavating at Vergina. It was my good fortune to be one of his student helpers. The next year we began digging at the pal ace, ascertaining its size at more than a hun dred meters long and almost as wide. World War II interrupted the work at Vergina. I went to the Middle East to serve in the army of the exiled Greek Govern ment. Upon returning to my liberated coun try four years later, I was appointed Curator of Antiquities in Veroia, which encom passed responsibility for Vergina also. In a rather emotional state I went back to the scene of my student experiences. We found mines planted in the palace. Prominent at the edge of the village, a large mound, 12.5 meters high and 110 me ters across, rose in a pine-studded whale back. Heuzey had noted a crater at the top of this "great tumulus," perhaps a cave-in over the collapsed dome of a buried building. WITH A FUND provided by the Archeological Society of Athens, I began excavating in 1952, high hopes fueled by youthful enthusiasm. From the crater we dug down seven meters with no significant results. But the materials ex cavated left no doubt that the mound was man-made. Greater funding was required for a long-term dig, and so for the time I turned my attention elsewhere in the area. A great many small mounds dot the plain northeast of Vergina. They form a vast cemetery, unique in all Greece. Excavating 32 mounds here between 1952 and 1961, I found a treasure trove of clay vases, iron weapons, and bronze jewelry from women's graves. I dated the objects between 1000 and 700 B.C. and published the results in Vergina I: The Cemetery of the Mounds. I knew that further volumes would follow. Professor Rhomaios had resumed his work at the palace, but he was getting on in years. So two younger professors at the Uni versity of Thessaloniki took over-George Bakalakis and I. We uncovered the ruins of the entire palace, in its day one of the finest buildings of the early Hellenistic period. Regal Treasures From a Macedonian Tomb Now I could return to my original desire, excavation of the great tumulus. In 1962 and 1963 I dug a large ditch (about 35 meters long, 15 meters wide, and 11.5 meters deep) from the eastern side toward the center. Once again I unearthed little of value, but found broken pieces of marble tombstones among the debris. I began to think that the city here must have been an important center of ancient Macedonian civilization. But which one was it? Heuzey presumed this place to have been Balla, a town known only through rare references in ancient writings. However, I was nagged by doubts. SEVERAL YEARS PASSED. Then, in the fall of 1976, I set out to open a large area near the center of the mound, reaching down to natural ground level. Us ing heavy earth-moving equipment, we dug a trench deeper than 12 meters. We found nothing. Then, east of the mound's center and about four meters below the surface of the slope, we suddenly began finding pieces of tombstones. Thirty-three pieces fitted to gether into one gravestone bearing an exqui site bas-relief athlete and an inscription. Other pieces bore only names of the dead. I dated all these fragments to the fourth or be ginning of the third century B.C. But who could have committed such a sacrilege as to smash the gravestones? Greeks, even during their fiercest encoun ters, respected the graves of their enemies. Puzzling over this question, I recalled the theory of Professor Nicholas Hammond, the British scholar. He maintained that the first capital of the Macedonian kingdom, Aegae, was not, as commonly believed, in modern Edessa but at Vergina. I consulted Hammond's ancient sources. Thus, in Plutarch, I read how Pyrrhus, third-century king of Epirus, had invaded Macedon, defeated Antigonus Gonatas, and conquered many towns-including the old capital, Aegae. There, according to an cient tradition, Macedonian kings were buried. Pyrrhus left there a garrison of mer cenaries from Gaul. Plutarch goes on to say that "being insatiably desirous of wealth," they dug up the tombs of the kings, sacked them for riches, and "insolently" scattered the royal bones to the winds.