Ancient Akanthos stretched in three hills of the Stratoniko mountain, in an 560 acre area, approximately 600m southeast from the Ierissos settlement. The walled city of Akanthos was named after the many thorns of the region or after the thorn-formed shape of the fortification. A systematic excavation has yet to be done. Some of the travelers of the previous century report the existence of an ancient pier in the port of the city. Indeed, present evidence regarding the city start from the beach of Ierissos, where ruins of a platform of the ancient port are preserved.
The walls of the acropolis are the most important preserved ruins, since parts of 8m in height are some of them. The ruins, visible at present day, are mainly parts of the city’s fortification, ruins of walls, an impressive part of the acropolis, scattered architectural parts and structural ruins of the Hellenistic period, public buildings, houses and the foundations of a temple –probably of Goddess Athena- on top of the hill.
It is wonderful to take a walk on the three hills where Akanthos used to be. You will enjoy it especially in spring when the place is verdurous. Ascending straight from the entrance of the archaeological site, you will see the byzantine cobbled road with a house and an inside yard surrounded by rooms, on it. It was built in the later 4th century B.C. early 3rd century B.C. and was destroyed in the 2nd century B.C. As it seems from its structure, it is characterized by the total feeling of privacy.
Continuing your walk, you descend on the first hill where a byzantine church is located, probably of the 10th century, built from material of the ancient building that was destroyed by the 1932 earthquake. Potteries of the Early Iron Age have been discovered around it. Walking towards the second hill you will see on your left parts of the wall and next you descend to the third hill. There are foundations of a hekatompedon ancient temple (i.e. 100 foot or 30,48m long) on top of it, by the excavation of which few movable findings were discovered. The view is outstanding.
Akanthos is not excavated fully yet, but the research for the necropolis had started in 1973. It spreads to the coastal part of Ierissos and more than 600 tombs have been currently recorded. The cemetery was used from the archaic period until the roman period and probably with some interruptions until 17th century B.C. The tombs are in two or at least three superimposed layers, usually parallel to the coastline. According to the known ancient customs, children and adults were buried in the same place. There are several types of tombs, such as simple or clay-coated, rectangular pits with clay urns or embossed or painting decorated, box shaped, tile roofed tombs.
Some burials in jars or smaller vessels are also recorded, that consist the largest percentage of the childrens’ and babies’ tombs. The funeral gifts are of a great variety. Most of them are clay vessels. Many of the funeral gifts were private property of the dead or were relevant to the profession or their occupation: among them, jewels, pins, brooches, mirrors, strigils, needles, hooks, knives etc. The existence of weapons was probably rare. Clay figurines in the form of gods, cupids, actors, humans, animals are often found in women’s and mainly children’s tombs. Similar burial customs, tombs and findings are found in cemeteries of other cities of Macedonia and Thrace. The influences, the cultural contacts and the trading with the Greek-speaking countries of the East and the island centers of the Aegean Sea with Euboea, Athens, Corinth and Boeotia are obvious. The workshops of Akanthos, where amphorae for the transportation of the famous “akanthio wine” were constructed, were situated between the ancient cemetery and the city.
Ancient Akanthos was located near the so called Canal of Xerxes in the Strymonian Gulf, on the root of the Athonite peninsula, in the present gulf of Ierissos. It is stated as a colony of Andros by Stravonas (7,331) and Thucydides (4,84). According to Eusebius and to some other archaeological data, it was probably founded in 655 B.C. It is generally accepted that it was founded in the middle 7th century from Ionian colonists of Andros or of Andros and Halkida, at the same time of the founding of three other known colonies in the region: Sani (Nea Roda), Stagira and the oldest Greek colony in the area of Strymon, called Argilos, located a little more to the north. Its economy was based on its mineral and forest wealth, as well as the agricultural and stockbreeding products that were trafficked through its port.
Herodotus (6,44) states that in 490 B.C., the city surrendered to the Persians of Mardoni. In 480 B.C., during the next Persian campaign, Xerxes passed through there, and the city was forced to accommodate his huge army, a fact that probably implied the almost complete economic disaster of Akanthos. Residents were also forced to work in the opening of the Canal of Xerxes, for his fleets’ passage. After the Median wars, the city drove away the Persians and became subordinate to the winners, Athenians. Xenophon, states in his Greek (5,2,11) that in 424 B.C., Akanthos it was passed on to Spartan general Vrasidas and remained an ally to the Spartans until the end of the Peloponnesian war. In the early 4th century, it opposed Olynthos and thus of the establishment of the Olympian Confederacy.
In 348 B.C., Macedonians headed by Philip II, conquered every city of Halkidiki and retained them under their command until 200 B.C. Then, Akanthos was completely destroyed by Attalos I the Soter and his Roman allies during the war against Macedonian king Philip V. Roman. Historian Titos Livios states (31,45) that the united fleet and army of Attalos and Romans conquered and pillaged the city. In 168 B.C., after the battle of Pynda, it became a Roman ownership and the latest reports of the city are until the byzantine period. The city was famous for its wine and salt. In fact, they used to say that the crickets in ancient Akanthos were voiceless. Thus came the famous ancient Greek proverb “Akanthios tettix”, as reported by Mnason the Patrefs and Simonidis.
COINS OF THE CITY
The coins minted by the city are an important addition to its history. They are considered to be some of the oldest and most stylish Greek coins of the ancient era. Akanthos minted coins for the first time in 530 B.C. modeled on the monetary system of Euboean silver. Its four drachmas coin bears the presentation of the famous bull killer lion, a lion devouring an ox. There is an incuse square divided into four similar squares on the opposite side. In the same coin, the inscription “AKANTHION” was later added on the backside together with some symbols (acanthus flower, etc.). In other four drachmas coins, the lion devours a boar –these were probably minted in Stagira, the port of which was called Kapros.
The drachmas of Akanthos illustrate a kneeling boar, turning his head backwards. The four-obol coins also present a lion or a bull. The two-obol coins present the head of Athena. The obol coins present a head of a lion. All these coins were silver. After 424 B.C., when Akanthos joined the Spartans, it started minting silver coins modeled on the Phoenician monetary system. These too present a lion devouring a bull, whereas the opposite side has the inscription “AKANTHION” and the name of each governor. Four-drachmas, four-obol and three-obol coins have a bull in the fron side. The two-obol coins illustrate the helmet wearing Athena with the inscription “AKAN”. Those were minted until 400 B.C.