Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Sanctuary of the Gods Volume 49 Number 2, March/April 1996
by Spencer P.M. Harrington

Scholars unearth exquisite evidence of the cults that flourished at the sacred Macedonian city of Dion.

Mount Olympos soars nearly 10,000 feet into the Macedonian sky, casting a long afternoon shadow over the ruins of Dion, a ritual center where many gods and goddesses were once worshiped. These included Demeter, goddess of agriculture; Asklepios, the healer god; Athena, goddess of wisdom; Kybele, goddess of fertility; Hermes, the messenger god; Dionysos, god of revelry; the Muses; the Egyptian goddess Isis; and Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Dimitris Pandermalis, a professor of archaeology at the University of Thessaloniki, has excavated at Dion since 1970 and now presides over a team of 70 archaeologists, architects, students, workmen, technicians, and conservators. Pandermalis' most intriguing discovery was a first-century B.C. pipe organ called a hydraulis, the largest and oldest specimen yet found. In 1994 a grave stele with a relief depicting a stringed instrument was unearthed near Dion's west gate. The instrument, known as a navla, is described in Ovid's epic Ars Amatoria, but this is the first depiction of it ever found. Alaric's Visigothic army sacked the city in the fourth century A.D., and its buildings were destroyed by earthquakes and floods. By the seventh century the inhabitants had abandoned the town and moved to higher ground in the foothills of Mount Olympos, leaving behind a marshy graveyard of collapsed columns, broken statuary, and eroded walls.

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America