Thessalonike of Macedon
Thessalonike (Greek: Θεσσαλονίκη) (352 or 345 - 295 BC) was a Macedonian princess, the daughter of king Philip II of Macedon by his Thessalian wife or concubine, Nicesipolis, from Pherae. History links her to three of the most powerful men in Macedon—daughter of King Philip II, half sister of Alexander the Great and wife of Cassander.
Thessalonike was born around 352 or 345 BC. To commemorate the birth of his daughter, which fell on the same day as the armies of Macedon and Thessalian league won the significant battle of Crocus Field in Thessaly over the Phocians, King Philip is said to have proclaimed, "Let her be called victory in Thessaly". In the Greek language her name is made up of two words Thessaly and nike, that translates into 'Thessalian Victory'. Her mother did not live long after her birth and upon her death Thessalonike appears to have been brought up by her stepmother Olympias. In memory of her close friend, Nicesipolis, the queen took Thessalonike to be raised as her own daughter. Thessalonike was, by far, the youngest child in the care of Olympias. Her interaction with her older brother Alexander would have been minimal, as he was under the tutelage of Aristotle in "The Gardens Of Midas" when she was born, and at the age of six or seven when he left on his Persian expedition. She was only twenty-one when Alexander, king of the then most known world, died.
Thus favored, she spent her childhood in the queen’s quarters, to whose fortunes she attached herself when the latter returned to Macedon in 317 BC, and with whom she took refuge, along with the rest of the royal family, in the fortress of Pydna, on the advance of Cassander in 315 BC. The fall of Pydna and the execution of her stepmother threw her into the power of Cassander, who embraced the opportunity to connect himself with the Argead dynasty by marrying her; and he appears to have studiously treated her with the respect due to her illustrious birth. This may have been as much owing to policy as to affection: but the marriage appears to have been a prosperous one; Thessalonike became queen of Macedon and the mother of three sons, Philip, Antipater, and Alexander; and her husband paid her the honour of conferring her name upon the city of Thessaloniki, which he founded on the site of the ancient Therma, and which soon became, as it continues down to the present day, one of the most wealthy and populous cities of Macedonia. After the death of Cassander, Thessalonike appears to have at first retained much influence over her sons. Her son Philip succeeded his father, but while Antipater was the next in line for the throne, Thessalonike demanded that it be shared between Philip and Alexander. Antipater, becoming jealous of the superior favour which his mother showed to his younger brother Alexander, put his mother to death, in 295 BC.
The Legend of Thessalonike
There exists a popular Greek legend which talks about a mermaid who lived in the Aegean for hundreds of years who was thought to be Thessalonike. The legend states that Alexander, in his quest for the Fountain of Immortality, retrieved with great exertion a flask of immortal water with which he bathed his sister's hair. When Alexander died his grief-stricken sister attempted to end her life by jumping into the sea. Instead of drowning, however, she became a mermaid passing judgment on mariners throughout the centuries and across the seven seas. To the sailors who encountered her she would always pose the same question: "Is Alexander the king alive?" (Greek: Ζει ο βασιλιάς Αλέξανδρος;), to which the correct answer would be "He lives and reigns and conquers the world" (Greek: Ζει και βασιλεύει, και τον κόσμο κυριεύει!). Given this answer she would allow the ship and her crew to sail safely away in calm seas. Any other answer would transform her into the raging Gorgon, bent on sending the ship and every sailor on board to the bottom.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, viii 7.7
- Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, xiii
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, ix. 7.3
- Polygamy, Prostitutes and Death: The Hellenistic Dynasties - Page 36 by Daniel Ogden ISBN 0-7156-2930-1
- Women and monarchy in Macedonia - Page 155 by Elizabeth Donnelly Carney ISBN 0-8061-3212-4
- The pocket guide to Saint Paul By Peter E. Lewis, Ron Bolden - Page 118 ISBN 1-86254-562-6
- Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca, xix. 35
- Justin, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus, xiv. 6
- Diodorus, xix. 52
- Pausanias, ibid.
- Strabo, Geographica, vii
- Stephanus of Byzantium, Ethnica, "Thessalonike"
- Diodorus, xxi
- Mermaids and Ikons: A Greek Summer (1978) page 73 by Gwendolyn MacEwen ISBN 978-0-88784-062-3
- Folktales from Greece Page 96 ISBN 1-56308-908-4
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1870). "Thessalonice". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.