The site of ancient Olynthos is located in Halkidiki between the Kassandra and Sithonia peninsulas, slightly inland from the Gulf of Toroni and east of the modern village of Nea Olinthos. It covers two flat-topped hills (known as the North and South Hills), but the ancient city also sprawled onto the neighboring open country (an area referred to by the Project as the ‘Lower City’). The inhabitants also made use of a coastal harbor nearby at Mekyberna.
The earliest evidence for settlement on the hills dates to the third millennium BCE. Traditionally it has been assumed that the city has its roots in the seventh century BCE when a community was established on the South Hill. The North Hill is thought to have been laid out on a grid plan in the late fifth century, corresponding with the heyday of the city when it became the leader of the Chalkidian League, a federation of multiple cities in the region. In the fourth century, the city sided at times with Athenians, at times with the Macedonian kings. Literary sources suggest it was finally razed by Philip II of Macedon in 348 BCE, although there is archaeological material demonstrating limited occupation on the South Hill during the Byzantine period.
Because of the sudden abandonment and limited resettlement after Philip II’s attack, Olynthos is a rare and rich source of information on a Classical Greek city. This was realized by David M. Robinson (Johns Hopkins University, American School of Classical Studies at Athens) when he undertook extensive excavations here in the 1920s and 1930s. Robinson’s work offered an extensive picture of the topography of the city and of the residential buildings on the North Hill. uncovering the remains of about one hundred houses, although he did not find any major civic or religious structures. Subsequent work by Ioulia Vokotopoulou (16th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities) contributed important information about the stratigraphy of houses on the North Hill. Robinson’s work has been both used and critiqued extensively. Olynthos remains the single best archaeological source for the study of Classical Greek households, partly because of the number of houses Robinson excavated, but also because his team catalogued some of the artifacts they found, noting which rooms these came from. This information forms the basis of our current understanding of the use of space in Classical Greek houses and for conclusions about domestic social relationships.
Many of the streets and buildings excavated by Robinson have been extensively conserved by the Greek Archaeological Service and are open to visitors. For visitors’ information, see the website for the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.