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Acanthus (Akanthos) (modern town of Ierissos, also Erisso) was a city founded by colonists from the island of Andros in the 7th c. BC in Chacidice (Chalkidiki)

Other cities founded by the colonists from Andros are Stageira, Argilus and Sane.

Thucydides, Book 4

The same summer, without loss of time, Brasidas marched with the Chalcidians against Acanthus, a colony of the Andrians, a little before vintage. ...

Acanthus or Akanthos (Greek: Ἄκανθος or Modern Greek: AχανθοςAcanthus was an ancient Greek city on the Athos peninsula. It was located on the north-east side of Akti, on the most eastern peninsula of Chalkidiki. Strabo and Ptolemy erroneously place Acanthus on the Singitic gulf, but there can be no doubt that the town was on the Strymonic gulf, as is stated by Herodotus and other authorities: the error may have perhaps arisen from the territory of Acanthus having stretched as far as the Singitic gulf. The name of the ancient city (derived from the acanthus bush) is due to the thorny nature of the area or to the thorny nature of the town's foundation.

History

Foundation

It was founded by 7th century BC (the archaeology suggests 655 BC) by colonists from Andros. Plutarch, on the other hand, refered to it as a mixed colony of Andrians and local Halkideans, which was founded on the "Coast of Drakontos", in place of a preexisting civilization. He tells the following story of the foundation, that settlers from Andros and Halkida arrived on the shore at the same time. The natives of Acanthus, seeing the crowed of settlers, became frightened and left the city. The settlers sent an explorer each to see what had happened and, as they approached the city and realized it was empty, ran to be the first to take over the land for their fellow countryman. The Chalkidian was the fastest but the Andrian, seeing he was losing, stopped and threw his spear on the walls gate, before his opponent arrived. A court case followed, which was won by the Andrians, because as they protested, they had just about taken over the city first.


Growth

Its growth during the Archaic period is reflected by the wide circulation of its currency, first minted around 530 BC with the distinctive emblem of a lion killing a bull – an allusion to Herodotus’s account (vii. 125) that on the march of Xerxes from Acanthus to Therme, lions seized the camels which carried the provisions - at least 92 different types of coins have been found. Its economic resources emanated from the mining and wood from the nearby forests, but also through agricultural and vegetable goods that were transported through the sizable harbour.

The first historical reference, in Thuycidides, from mid-6th century BC, connects the city with the Persian Wars, during which the townsfolk officially welcomed the Persians and willingly helped with the digging of the canal for Xerxes, 480 BC, for which Xerxes richly rewarded them. They declared one of his relatives who died in the area, named Artahei, a hero, and willingly took part in the expedition against Greece. After the Persian wars Acanthus became a member of the Athenian Alliance. In 424 BC, after a short siege by Brasidas and a threat to destroy their profitable vineyards, Acanthus joined the Spartans. The name of the ancient city (derived from the acanthus bush) is due to the thorny nature of the area or to the thorny nature of the town's foundation.


Situation

4th to 2nd centuries BC

During the establishment of the Chalkidiki Alliance, the townsfolk refused to join it, in part due to the old quarrel with the Chalkidians. Under threat from the Chalkidians, Acanthus called in Sparta's help, which came in 382 BC when the Spartans and Acanthians captured and destroyed Olynthos and the alliance, at least temporarily. Acanthus's staying-out of the alliance meant that in 348 BC, when it was conquered by the Macedonians, it was not destroyed. Later it was incorporated to the region of Ouranoupolis, a new city that was founded by Alexarhos (Cassander's brother), in the isthmus, between the Strimonic and the Siggitiko gulfs.

According to Livy, Acanthus was attacked by a Roman-Pergamene fleet in 199 BC during the Second Macedonian War and then besieged, captured and sacked by Rome in 168 BC. A little later, it was reestablished as a Roman colony of legionary veterans.


Description

The ancient city extended along a sheer hillside, about 0.6km south-east of modern Ierissos. Remains of walls, an impressive citadel, and Hellenistic buildings survive, along with a deserted Byzantine church and two post Byzantine churches.


Necropolis

The city itself has not been excavated, but the necropolis (graveyard) has, starting in 1973, since when more than 600 graves have been discovered. Particularly extensive is the sight of the cemetery along the seaside of Ierissos.

The graveyard seems to have been used for a long period, starting from the Archaic period (or perhaps even the 17th century BC) right up to Roman times and later, perhaps with certain intervals in between each period of time. The graves occur in at least two or three layers, either shallow in the earth, or deeper in the sand, usually parallel with the line of the seashore. The orientation of the dead (that is, skulls of the dead - and the tops of jugs) is, in most cases, southeast.

In Acanthus both adults and children were buried in the same area according to ancient burial customs.Various grave types have been discovered - some are simple dirt holes, others coated with clay or undecorated or painted clay urns, yet others are shaped like boxes, covered in clay or jug-shaped (jug-shaped most probabaly constituted the majority of infant or child burials). The grave goods, usually placed in the graves next to or above the dead, are varied and sometimes in earthen containers. Often they were personal or related to their occupation (such as jewels, pins, buckles, mirrors, weapons - though these are rare - , needles, hooks, bill-hooks, knives or - very often in female and child graves - clay figurines representing various animals, foodstuffs, or human forms, such as actors). Some of the goods are locally made whilst some are from other commercial centres and workshops of the ancient world. Burial customs, and similar types of graves which have been discovered, resemble many other cemeteries in other ancient cities of Macedonia and Thrace, revealing the connection through trade to so much of the Greek-speaking East as well as to other well-known centres of the Peloponnessus (especially Evia, Athens, Corinth and Viotia).


See also Ierissos

Sources

Local government website (English)

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