The ancient city is located on the summit of a 618m high hill with two hilltops, near the present day village of Kallithea. Its surface area as demarcated by its city walls is 34 hectares. The eastern top is occupied by an acropolis which dates to the Late Classical period (4th century BCE). This is earlier than the more extensive fortifications and the regular city plan which likely date to the early 3rd century BCE.
The site is locally known by its modern name: Kastro (Greek for Castle). We do not know the city’s ancient name. Written sources are rather silent regarding this region with the exception of two inscriptions found at Delphi which record a territorial conflict between four cities in this area. It may well be that our site is Peuma, one of the cities mentioned in these inscriptions. This city is also known to have minted coins. Only one of the ca. 40 coins found thus far at our site is from Peuma. No inscriptions are found at the site supporting this identification.
The city is wonderfully well preserved and its remains must have been visible to visitors throughout the centuries. In the early 20th century CE, the site was briefly examined by the German archaeologist Friedrich Stählin, who produced a first map of the city.
During the first years of the project, the Canadian-Greek team was able to make a new and far more detailed 3D plan of the city based on measurements taken of every wall section visible at the surface of the site. In addition, surface material was collected and studied and individual buildings were measured and drawn.
Thessaly, in central Greece, consists of four large fertile plains, named ‘tetrads’, which are surrounded by ranges of mountains and hills. From the Early Neolithic period onwards, these plains were used intensively for cultivation of cereals.
Kastro Kallithea is part of the region of Achaia Phthiotis, located in the utmost south western part of Thessaly and belongs to the so-called ‘perioikoi’, areas of overall higher elevation and rolling hills.
The hill on which the site is located is a dominant feature of the region’s topography and closes off the western side of the coastal plain of Almiros. It provides a commanding view of the surrounding landscape as well as an important ancient transport route from inland Thessaly to the coast. The modern village of Kallithea is situated at the foot of the hill and the river Enipeus flows on its eastern side.
Kallithea means ‘beautiful view’ in Greek and from the site various major geographical landmarks can be seen. The Othrys mountains can be found to the south, the Pindus Range to the west, and the Narthaki ridge to the north. Further afield is Mt. Pelion to the east and Mt. Olympus to the far north.
At present, the rolling hills are cultivated and used for growing wheat and cotton, but palynological research and other lines of evidence indicate that in antiquity the local economy was based on pastoralism; the surrounding land was mainly used as grazing grounds for cattle, sheep and goats. Water is present in abundance with at least six springs flowing on the slopes of the hill.
The site itself is almost fully covered with Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera) and a mix of wild clematis, wild pear, and grasses. The thick vegetation cover is an ideal biotope for a range of animals such as hares, turtles, mice, snakes, scorpions and centipedes. Cattle, sheep and goats graze here in winter and spring.
Kallithea, Thessaly, and Macedon
During the Archaic and Classical Periods (700-323 BCE) a number of city states developed in Achaia Phthiotis, of which Kastro Kallithea, Melitaia, Phthiotic Thebes and Halos are the largest urban centres. The latter two cities are bordering the territory of our site. All three adjoin the coastal plain of Almiros. Further inland, the powerful city state of Pharsalos can be found.
There is strong evidence suggesting a political connection between the Kastro at Kallithea, the coastal territory of Halos and the city of Pharsalos.
When Philip II of Macedon began to exert his influence in Thessaly, Halos allied itself with Athens against Philip while Pharsalos supported the growing Macedonian presence. In 346 BCE, Philip’s general, Parmenion, besieged Halos. The Athenians brokered a peace deal with Macedon, the so-called peace of Philocrates, but Halos was excluded from this deal and was subsequently destroyed. Its territory was given to Pharsalos. Up until then, Pharsalos was at a geographic disadvantage as it had no access to the coast. Various intervening hills and ranges prevented it from having any visual connection with the southern Pagasitic Gulf.
This is where our site may have fit in. Its location provided an ideal base from which Pharsalos could have kept watch over the plains to the east while also controlling a strategic pass that provided a direct link to the coast from the south-west of Thessaly. The earliest occupation stage at Kastro Kallithea probably dates to this period.
A change in the political landscape occurred when the polis of Halos was reestablished in the late fourth century, an initiative closely tied to the military campaigns of Demetrius `the Besieger`, one of the Macedonian warlords attempting to establish a hegemony in central Greece. A heavily fortified new urban centre with a regular lay-out was built around 300 BCE a few kilometers off the coast. Demetrius was known for his policy of ‘liberating’ Greek cities. A series of towers along the northern face of the Othrys mountains suggest that Halos and our site continued to be two significant features of a unified defensive system and we presume that the extensive fortifications at our site date from around this time.
New Halos’ period of inhabitation was quite short, ending in 265 BCE. Evidence to date suggests that Kastro Kallithea continued to be inhabited until the late second century BCE.