Pella, a small coastal town of the Thermaikos Gulf, replaced Aigai as the capital of the Macedonian state at the end of the fifth - beginning of the fourth century BC and quickly became one of the most important political, economical and cultural centres of Greece. The new capital, chosen by King Archelaos or Amyntas III for political and economic reasons, was ideally situated near fertile lands, while its coastal location facilitated communications and encouraged both commerce and the expansionist views of the Macedonian rulers.
The city is first mentioned by Herodotus in his description of Xerxes's campaign against Greece (7, 123) and later by Thucydides (2, 99, 4 and 100, 4). According to other authors, King Archelaos controlled the city's administrative and military organization, while several famous poets, including Euripides, Agathon and Choirilos, and artists, such as the painter Zeuxis, came from southern Greece and contributed to its cultural development. The city further developed under Philip I and Cassander, and it is here that Philip II's son, Alexander the great, was born. The appearance of the original, Classical town is little known, since only its cemetery and a few sparse remains of domestic buildings along the modern irrigation channel have been excavated so far. It is certain, however, that by the end of the Classical period, Pella was a bustling metropolis, with large main streets and perpendicular secondary streets planned according to the new Hippodamian system of urban design. Xenophon's reference to Pella as the largest city in Macedonia (Hellenica, 5, 2, 13) contrasts with Demosthenes's mention of the small and insignificant town in which Philip was born (18, 68), although modern scholars believe the latter to be rhetoric, a figure of speech.
Pella reached its peak in the Hellenistic period - that is the second half of the fourth, the third and second centuries BC, when it was not only the capital of the Macedonian state but also a bustling commercial centre. A wealth of excavation finds illustrates the development of the city and of its fortifications, urban planning, domestic, palatial, religious and funerary architecture, and production activities. The city's large forum with its workshops and boutiques selling pottery, statues, metal objects and food products, supplied the whole of Western Macedonia and the region to the north. The Macedonian rulers adorned their new capital with a monumental palatial complex, while the private houses with their Doric or Ionic peristyles, second floors and opulent decoration of mosaic pavements and wall paintings also betray the city's grandeur and the wealth of its inhabitants. These wall paintings - rare examples of Greek painting of the First Pompeian Style - indicate the existence in the Macedonian capital of organized workshops, which set the artistic trends of their time. Several important sanctuaries with their own workshops were created to serve the religious needs of the city's inhabitants.
In 168/167 BC, the Romans conquered Pella and the city became part of the third regio. After the creation of the Roman province of Macedonia in 148 BC with Thessaloniki as its capital, Pella lost its political importance but continued to prosper until it was destroyed by an earthquake probably in the early first century BC. The Roman city of New Pella was created in 30 BC west of the old city, on the plateau north of the so-called Baths of Alexander the Great, where modern Nea Pella stands.
With time, alluvial deposits from the Loudias, Aliakmon and Axios rivers, and the draining of the Giannitsa lake changed the geomorphology of the region, and Pella now stands 23 kilometres inland. Travellers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries described the ruins of ancient Pella and identified them with the city mentioned by ancient authors. The first excavations at Pella (1957-1964) revealed several houses with mosaic floors and parts of the palace, while recent excavations (1976 to present) unearthed the agora, parts of the palace, more houses, parts of the fortification walls, sanctuaries and cemeteries. Conservation of the walls and Ionic peristyle in the house of the Dionysus mosaic was carried out in 1957-1964, while a column in the house of the mosaic depicting the Rapture of Helen was restored in 1976. Conservation and restoration of the remains of the agora's southern portico began in 1998 and will continue in other sectors of the site. In recent years, archaeological work on the site focuses primarily on the restoration of architectural remains and the overall presentation of Pella and its surrounding region.