Pella, an ancient Greek city located in the current Pella regional unit of Central Macedonia in Greece, was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia. On the site of the ancient city of Pella is the Archaeological Museum of Pella.
The city was founded in 399 BC by King Archelaus (413–399 BC) as the capital of his kingdom, replacing the older palace-city of Aigai. After this, it was the seat of the king Philip II and of Alexander, his son. In 168 BC, it was sacked by the Romans, and its treasury transported to Rome. Later, the city was destroyed by an earthquake and eventually was rebuilt over its ruins. By 180 AD, Lucian could describe it in passing as "now insignificant, with very few inhabitants".
Pella is first mentioned by Herodotus of Halicarnassus (VII, 123) in relation to Xerxes' campaign and by Thucydides (II, 99,4 and 100,4) in relation to Macedonian expansion and the war against Sitalces, the king of the Thracians. According to Xenophon, in the beginning of the 4th century BC, it was the largest Macedonian city. It was probably built as the capital of the kingdom by Archelaus, although there appears to be some possibility that it may have been Amyntas. It attracted Greek artists such the painter Zeuxis, the poet Timotheus of Miletus and the tragic author Euripides who finished his days there writing and producing Archelaus.
Archelaus invited the painter Zeuxis, the greatest painter of the time, to decorate it. He was later the host of the Athenian playwright Euripides in his retirement. Euripides Bacchae premiered here, about 408 BC. Pella was the birthplace of Philip II and of Alexander, his son. The hilltop palace of Philip, where Aristotle tutored young Alexander, is being excavated.
In antiquity, Pella was a port connected to the Thermaic Gulf by a navigable inlet, but the harbor has silted, leaving the site landlocked. The reign of Antigonus likely represented the height of the city, as this is the period which has left us the most archaeological remains.
Pella is further mentioned by Polybius and Livy as the capital of Philip V and of Perseus during the Macedonian Wars, fought against the Roman Republic. In the writings of Livy, we find the only description of how the city looked in 167 BC to Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus, the Roman who defeated Perseus at the battle of Pydna:
The famous poet Aratus died in Pella ca. 240 BC. Pella was sacked by the Romans in 168 BC, when its treasury was transported to Rome.
In the Roman province of Macedonia, Pella was the capital of the third district, and was possibly the seat of the Roman governor. Crossed by the Via Egnatia, Pella remained a significant point on the route between Dyrrachium and Thessalonika. Cicero stayed there in 58 BC, but by then the provincial seat had already transferred to Thessalonika. It was then destroyed by earthquake in the 1st century BC; shops and workshops dating from the catastrophe have been found with remains of their merchandise. The city was eventually rebuilt over its ruins, which preserved them, but, c. 180 AD, Lucian of Samosata could describe it in passing as "now insignificant, with very few inhabitants"
The city went into decline for reasons unknown (possibly an earthquake) by the end of the 1st century BC. It was the object of a colonial deduction sometime between 45 and 30 BC; in any case currency was marked Colonia Iulia Augusta Pella. Augustus settled peasants there whose land he had usurped to give to his veterans (Dio Cassius LI, 4). But unlike other Macedonian colonies such as Philippi, Dion, and Cassandreia it never came under the jurisdiction of ius Italicum or Roman law. Four pairs of colonial magistrates (IIvirs quinquennales) are known for this period.
The decline of the city was rapid, in spite of colonization: Dio Chrysostom (Or. 33.27) and Lucian both attest to the ruin of the ancient capital of Philip II and Alexander; though their accounts may be exaggerated. In fact, the Roman city was somewhat to the west of and distinct from the original capital; which explains some contradictions between coinage, epigraphs, and testimonial accounts. In the Byzantine period, the Roman site was occupied by a fortified village.
In modern times it now finds itself as the start point of the Alexander The Great Marathon, in honour of the city's ancient heritage.