Archaic period

The Archaic period is one of the most important periods of the Hellenic culture and succeeds the Geometric period in the period from 660 BC and lasts until the emergence of the Classical period around 460 BC. This period, also called pre-Classical period is characterized by the foundation of the polis city-states, the colonization and the growth of the trade and craftwork. The art displays influence from the Eastern civilizations, especially ancient Egypt, from architecture to monumental sculpture and vase painting. Athens becomes large manufacturing and cultural center. Vase painting evolves, from geometric shapes to the appearance of human figures, with epic, mythological themes and scenes from everyday life.

The influence on the art, coming from Athens, spreads towards the north, on the territory of ancient Macedonia too. During the second half of the 6th century BC the increased economic power of the population lead to the creation of cities where craftwork and trade flourished, and the establishment of a ruling class, that at the end of the Iron Age and the beginning of Early Antiquity, followed all fashion trends that arrived from the south. All of this resulted in the demand of luxury objects from the ancient Greek trade and crafts centers, as well as local production of the same.

On the territory of ancient Macedonia, during the 20th century, this kind of objects were discovered on the sites in the Ohrid-Struga region, Prilep-Bitola region, and the regions of Negotino, Kavadarci, Demir Kapija, Skopje etc. Representative example for this are the finds from Trebenishte, near Ohrid (the ancient city of Lychnidos) – the gold masks; hand-shaped plates; sandals; various gold, silver and bronze jewelry; fibulae; pins; various appliques; tripods; weapons-spears, swords, helmets, shields, greaves (knemis), as well as silver, bronze and ceramic vessels, which today are part of the exhibitions in the National Museum in Belgrade and the Archaeological Museum in Sofia. During the new archaeological investigations carried out between 2001 and 2011 on the site Gorna Porta near Samuel’s Fortress in Ohrid, large number of objects were discovered, that are displayed in the exhibitions in the Institute for protection of monuments of culture and museum – Ohrid and the Archaeological Museum of Republic of North Macedonia in Skopje. Among them, the gold mask, hand-shaped plate, gold and silver jewelry, various bronze and ceramic vessels, as well as other objects dating from the end of the 6st and the beginning of the 5th century BC can be singled out.

No less exclusive find is the bronze figure of a maenad discovered in a tomb in Tetovo, that represents an applique from a handle of a large bronze vessel – krater. Maenad is a dancer and female follower of the god Dionysus and participant in his celebrations. The figure is dated around 520-510 BC and is displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Republic of North Macedonia. It is characterized with high art and cultural values and represents a masterpiece by the artist craftsman of that time in the broader area.

Today, the artefacts from the Archaic period in the museums across the country are placed in the Iron Age and Classical period collections. If they are set apart from these collections, new museum collections will be created from the artefacts belonging to the Archaic period and that will contribute towards understanding the life, culture and customs of the people of that time, as well as the prevalence and influence of the center of this art, Athens, on this part of ancient Macedonia and wider.

Dr. Robert Petkovski, senior curator for Archaic period