Pella is first mentioned by Herodotus of Halicarnassus (VII, 123) in relation to Xerxes’ campaign and by Thucydides (II, 99,4 and 100,4) in relation to Macedonian expansion and the war against Sitalces, the king of the Thracians. According to Xenophon, in the beginning of the 4th century BC it was the largest Macedonian city. It was probably built as the capital of the kingdom by Archelaus I, replacing the older palace-city of Aigai although there appears to be some possibility that it may have been created by Amyntas. In antiquity, Pella was a strategic port connected to the Thermaic Gulf by a navigable inlet, but the harbour and gulf have since silted up, leaving the site landlocked. Archelaus invited the painter Zeuxis, the greatest painter of the time, to decorate his palace. He also later hosted the poet Timotheus of Miletus and the Athenian playwright Euripides who finished his days there writing and producing Archelaus. Euripides Bacchae was first staged here, about 408 BC. Pella was the birthplace and seats of Philip II and of Alexander the Great, his son.
It became the largest and richest city in Macedonia and flourished particularly under Cassander’s rule. The reign of Antigonus most likely represented the height of the city’s prosperity, as this is the period which has left us most archaeological remains. The famous poet Aratus died in Pella ca. 240 BC.
Pella is further mentioned by Polybius and Livy as the capital of Philip V and of Perseus during the Macedonian Wars fought against the Roman Republic.
In 168 BC, it was sacked by the Romans, and its treasury transported to Rome, and Livy reported how the city looked in 167 BC to Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus, the Roman who defeated Perseus at the battle of Pydna. In about 90 BC the city was destroyed by an earthquake; shops and workshops dating from the catastrophe have been found with remains of their merchandise, though the city was eventually rebuilt over its ruins. Cicero stayed there in 58 BC, though by then the provincial seat had already transferred to Thessalonika.