Article of Archaeologist Efi Pandermali-Poulaki
(Edited by Michael D. Stratis)

Olympus is located between Macedonian Pieria and Thessalian 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 Hellen, [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:

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.


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 colonizers.

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 sense.

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 Macedonians.

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:

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.