Dion stands in the northern foothills of Mount Olympus, and exercises complete control over the narrow defile leading from Macedonia to Thessaly. Formerly a distance of only 7 stades from the shores of the Thermaic Gulf, it was the most important sacred city of the Macedonians. Here it was that Archelaos I, at the end of the 5th century B.C., first held brilliant festivals at which sacrifices were offered to Olympian Zeus and the Pierian Muses, and introduced theatrical and gymnastic competitions - the 'Olympia ta en Dion' - which were still celebrated about 100 B.C. Here it was that Philip II celebrated the capture of Olynthos, the capital of the Chalkidian League, and here Alexander the Great sought the aid of the king of the gods before setting out for the East. And it was in the sanctuary of Zeus, finally, that the famous group was erected depicting twenty-five of Alexander's companions who fell at the Granikos' battle, the work of Lysippos.
Dion's walls, however, were, only 2.550 m. long, and its area was a mere 460.000 sq.m., and it never became more than a small township neither at the time of Thucydides, nor much later - in the early years of the Roman empire.
The first Roman colonists (colony) possibly settled here in 43 B.C., perhaps as a result of the activities of Brutus; the mass transportation of Italians to the city and the foundation of the colonia was the work of Augustus, however, immediately after his victory in the battle of Actium (31 B.C.). Despite the fact than Latin was the official language, the majority of the inscriptions are in Greek, attesting both to the predominance of the local element and to the swift hellenisation of the newcomers. The glory of Cristianity is proclaimed by two basilicas built in the ruins of the ancient city and a third constructed outside the city walls. The bishop of Dion took part in the Synod of Serdike in the 4th century A.D. (343) and in the Synod of Ephesos in the 5th century A.D. (431). Dion fell victim to the invasions of Ostrogoths and it wounds never healed. Flooding by the river Vaphyras, earthquakes and time would veil in oblivion the city that was admired and plundered by C. Caecilius Metellus after he had crushed the uprising of Andriskos (150 - 148 B.C.). A.D. Dion appears to have been abandoned during the 5th c. A.D. as a result of natural disasters (earthquakes, floods), its inhabitants moving to safer areas in the foothills of Mount Olympus.
The excavation of the area commenced in 1982 and is continued at present by the University of Thessaloniki, under the direction of Georgios Pantermalis. The excavations have brought to light a fortified city, surrounded by cult areas, that was inhabited continuously from the Classical period to Early Christian times. Buildings of various periods have been discovered in a series of different levels. Private residences, public buildings, shops, and a large number of workshops are erected in building blocks defined by the streets. On the south edge of the ancient city are the public baths (thermae), an imposing complex covering an area of over 4,000 square metres and dating from about A.D. 200.
The regular shape (square) of the city was no doubt dictated by the flat plain in which it stands, but it is quite likely that, as has been suggested, both the town-plan and the fortifications of Dion called upon the experience gained by the city-builders of the time from the new cities founded by Alexander and his successors in the lands of Asia.
In the east sector has been discovered the villa of Dionysus, which takes its name from the large mosaic depicting the god that covers the floor of the banqueting room. The sanctuaries of the gods, two theatres (one Greek and one Roman) and the stadium have been discovered outside the city walls. Amongst the gods worshipped at Dion, the most important was Olympian Zeus, after whom the city was named (the genitive of 'Zeus' being Dios). In the god's precinct have been found stone stelae bearing inscriptions relating to treaties of alliance, the settlement of border disputes, parts of official decrees, etc. The sanctuary of Demeter, just outside the walls and the gate at the end of the main street of the city, is the earliest Macedonian sanctuary known to date. It had an uninterrupted life from the late 6th c. B.C. to the early 4th c. A.D. To the east of the sanctuary of Demeter has been discovered a sanctuary devoted to the cult of the Egyptian gods Sarapis, Isis and Anubis. There is a small temple of Aphrodite Hypolympidia (Aphrodite worshipped below Mount Olympus) in this same sanctuary.
The Hellenistic theatre of Dion, which lies outside the walls, was built in the reign of Philip V (221-179 B.C.). The Roman theatre, dating from the 2nd c. A.D., has been identified south-east of the Hellenistic structure. The cemetery of Dion extents mainly to the south and east of the city. The funerary monuments date from the 5th c. B.C. to the 5th c. A.D. During Early Christian times the city contracted and the central area was occupied by an Early Christian Basilica dating from the late 4th c.
(Dr. Yannis Papadopoulos, with the support of the Laskaridis Foundation.)