Article of Archaeologist Efi Pandermali-Poulaki (Edited by
Michael D. Stratis)
Olympus is located between Macedonian Pieria and Thessaly Perrhaebia,
ancient regions divided by mountain range and indefinite borders. It
is composed of an Upper and Lower Olympus, although Titarus,
coexisting with Olympus marks the northwestern reach of the same
mountain range as Olympus. Nevertheless, Upper Olympus, the distinct
central base of the triple range, is Olympus proper, and it is due
to this that it is named polydeira and polyptychos in poetry.
From a historical point of view the Macedonian character of Olympus
is important because Olympus and its region are related to the early
phases of Macedonian historical development. This is indicated by
ancient references and has been noted by contemporary research. What
remains to be discovered is just how early this relationship begins.
This is the question that will mainly concern us here.
Macedonians are one of the tribes known as Proto-Doric. It is
established that at an early phase such racial groups were gathered
around the foothills of Olympus in northeastern Thessaly. According
to Herodotus, the Hellenic race (meaning the Doric) moved widely ...
at the time of Doros, the son of Helen, [and] they inhabited a
region between Ossa and Olympus. We shall return to this later.
I will not mention other numerous references to the above since they
are more or less well known and repeat much the same information. I
will limit myself to one which is less well known. It is a reference
by Diodorus of Sicily in his historical description in relation to
Crete: and it is said that the third race, the Dorians,
reached Crete under the leadership of Tektamos, the son of Doros.
And indeed it is said that the
greater part of these peoples were gathered in the region around
Mount Olympus. I will proceed from this interesting (to say the
least) information of Diodorus concerning Crete in order to remain
in the area of concentration, namely Olympus and the Macedonians. As
a Proto-Doric tribe therefore, they must have early inhabited the
vicinity of Olympus; indeed, we have a confirmation of this fact
from early antiquity: the precious witness of Hesiod.
And she of Zeus the lightning-bearer gave birth to two sons, one was
Magnes and the other Macedon who loved horses, these two who lived
in the region of Pieria and Olympus. I will not refer to the general
mesh of traditions which link the history of the Macedonians with
the region of Olympus. I will mention only two of these traditions
which are not particularly known but are also indicative of this
relationship arising from earlier times.
Strabo, referring to early tribal movements, informs us that when
the Lapiths brought pressure to bear on the Aeneans and the
Perrhaebi, a section of the latter retreated around the western
parts of Olympus where they became proschoroi Makedosi that is
neighbors of the Macedonians (3). The mythical first king of the
Macedonians, Karanos (according to Pausanias), after a battle set up
a triumphal trophy in accordance with the age old customs of his
Argive forebears. At night a lion descended from Olympus and
destroyed it. From then on, by order of Karanos, the Macedonians
never again set up victory trophies (4).
This early settlement of Macedonians near Olympus is indirectly
confirmed by Thucydides who places Pieria as first among the
conquests of the Temenidae (5). The original nucleus and center of
power of the Temenidae was the kingdom of Lower Macedonia. Lower
kato) was called the coastal Macedonia of the plains, while upper (ano)
was used in reference to mountainous western Macedonia.
The Macedonian tribes of Upper Macedonia were later and by stages
incorporated into the state of the Temenidae while, especially at
the beginning, retaining their national kings and names. But who
were these Temenidae? They were the first and exceptionally dynamic
dynasty of Lower Macedonia, mainly to which can be owed the
expansionism of the Macedonians. This expansionism started as early
perhaps as the 7th Century, with king Perdiccas who first organized
the tribes of Lower Macedonia into a state, continued with the
succeeding kings of the dynasty in all possible directions, and
completed an almost imperialistic cycle with the last representative
of the dynasty, the young Alexander the Great, the romantic lover of
the mythical images of the Mycenean heroes of ages past.
It is widely known - from antiquity to this day - that the royal
dynasty of Lower Macedonia owed its descent to Temenos, son of
Heracles. They were therefore descendants of Heracles or Heracleidae.
The Heracleidae felt proud in antiquity for having led the so-called
"Descent of the Dorians" to the Peloponnese, that is for leading the
migration of more northerly Greek tribes to the very centers of
power of the Mycenean world in the Peloponnese.
The descent of the Dorians and the return of the Heracleides was for
antiquity one of the most important, if not the most important,
events of the early history of the Greek world. Even today it still
remains a provocative mystery of antiquity, the interpretation of
which still creates disagreement among scholars. Thus follows the
old viewpoint which envisages the descent as a catastrophic horde of
Indo-European barbarians who destroyed Mycenean civilization,
another theory which questions the whole of ancient tradition and is
in general a condemnation of the descent. I will not expand further
on the subject. I will stop at the Myceneans of the diaspora, namely
the Heracleidae, since it is to them that is owed the descent of the
Temenidae which interests us.
The Heracleidae therefore led the so-called descent of the Dorians
in their own return to the Peloponnese, since they themselves were
not Dorians but descendants of the same nuclear core of Mycenean
power in the north Peloponnese as the newer Mycenean dynasty which
had exiled them from areas of Mycenean rule. Some of these finally
found refuge in areas ceded to them by Dorian tribes, a cession that
was granted - according to ancient tradition - because their
progenitor Heracles had helped the Dorians when they were fighting
the Lapiths (the Lapiths being a tribe somewhere between myth and
reality, first encountered in the region of Olympus).
The tradition concerning the exile of the Heracleidae, a beloved
subject of the ancients, is probably indicative of the well attested
endemic disease of the Hellenic race, namely internal discord, which
on this occasion led to instances of Mycenean resettlement amongst
the most northerly of Greek tribes.
Since Mycenean civilization was principally seafaring, one would
have expected to find the new Mycenean settlements next to the sea.
Therefore, if the region of northern Thessaly near Olympus is one of
the first places of concentration for the Proto-Doric tribes, then
the coastal area in the vicinity of Olympus in neighboring Pieria
could be one of the possible areas of settlement of the Mycenean
If this is proven to be true, then it could give us a possible
interpretation for the merging of the Macedonian dynasty with
Mycenean tradition and its northern Peloponnesian origins. Besides,
had the region been conquered by the Heracleidae then the absence of
its inhabitants from the two opposing camps in the Iliad makes
The symbiotic proximity, over a period of long duration, of a
Macedonian tribe to a neighboring Mycenean colony could explain the
Mycenean elements in the Macedonian dialect, which has been much
discussed in the past.
Such a Macedonian tribe could have been the Argeadae Macedonians of
Lower Macedonia who were ruled by kings, bearers of Mycenean
culture, namely the Temenidae. I wish to point out here that the
name Argeadae Macedonians completely correlates and is synonymous
with the name "kato" (Lower) Macedonians, since the word Argos (root
word for Argeadae) in both the Macedonian and Thessalian vernacular
means "plain." (6)
The Argeadae Macedonians therefore, whose kings were the Temenidae,
could be considered to be a Macedonian tribe which unlike the other
northern tribes did not move on but stayed and settled in the area
of Olympus, the Argos of the Pelasgians (in other words, Thessaly)
or Pieria, under the appropriately descriptive name of Argeadae
Macedonians, namely "kato" (lower) or "plains" Macedonians, who at
least by name were differentiated from their related racial kinsmen
of mountainous Western Macedonia, the "ano" (upper) or highland
The presence of Proto-Doric tribes in the Olympus region is
confirmed by many sources and is generally accepted by contemporary
historical research. The presence of bearers of Mycenean culture
from southern Greece in this region is based on a hypothesis which
arose from the deductions drawn above.
In searching for ancient sources to confirm the presence of such
cultural entities at Olympus, one cannot but be greatly impressed by
the well known passage from Herodotus, who speaks of Proto-Doric
tribes: At the time of Dorus ..., they inhabited the region below
Ossa and Olympus... and when the Cadmeians drove them from there,
they went to Pindus and became known as the Macedonian race. (7)
The Cadmeians are the children of Cadmus, inhabitants of Mycenean
Thebes before its terrible destruction. The destruction was total
and led to the abandonment and desertion of the city, was painful to
the defeated as well as the victors, and which was to become a
legend throughout antiquity. Here was a city most remembered for its
fall! was a line written in the Cambridge History. Let us continue
with a few more extracts from this history:
Further north the most important state is the city of Cadmus, the
later Thebes, so important indeed as to be a rival of Mycenae for
the supremacy of Greece. We may feel fairly confident that the
destruction of Thebes was the work of the new masters of Mycenae. The
sack of Thebes may then be regarded as one of the certain events of
Mycenean history; and the elimination of this rival had an obvious
bearing on the development of Mycenean power in the Peloponnese. Let
us note here the common enmity of the Cadmeians and the Heracleidae
against the new dynasty of Mycenae, which immediately brings to mind
Heracles Theban ancestry. If we bear in mind the place names which
are common to Boeotia and the region of Pieria in the Olympus
vicinity (e.g. Leibethra, Pimpleia, Helicon, etc.) as well as other
noteworthy common factors between the two regions (such as early
worship of the Muses, a significant characteristic of both areas)
then we begin to appreciate the full importance of Herodotus
reference to Cadmeians at Olympus which cannot therefore be
overlooked without due consideration. I have mentioned above some
ideas which I have put forward in the past, based on a variety of
information stemming from antiquity. These thoughts have led to a
hypothetical archaeological picture of the Olympus region (8), its
main characteristics being the early settlement of the region by
Greek tribes and the possibility of contacts with the Mycenean
world. The first archaeological finds at Olympus, which followed
later, have not refuted this theory. While on this quest, one can
discern many threads of the same mesh which consequently tie Lower
Macedonia, and especially Pieria, in a common cultural bond with
southern Greece. The Late Bronze Age which had recently made its
first appearance on Macedonian Olympus, has a Mycenean character;
also, the succeeding Early Iron Age is not irrelevant. The problems
and questions that arise are many and provocative.
1. Herodotus 1. 56.
2. Diodorus of Sicily 5. 80.
3. Hesiod 7.
4. Strabo 9. 5. 22.
5. Pausanias 9.40. 7-8.
6. Thucydides 2.99.
7. Strabo 8. 372.
8. Herodotus 1. 56; See also 1.
Back To Index