The village owes its name to the important sanctuary dedicated to Zeus (Dios, “of Zeus”), leader of the gods who dwelt on Mount Olympus; as recorded by Hesiod’s Catalogue of Women, Thyia, daughter of Deucalion, bore Zeus two sons, Magnes and Makednos, who dwelt in Pieria at the foot of Mount Olympus. The ruins of the ancient city lie within the modern city’s boundaries.
Dion was the “sacred place” of the Ancient Macedonians. From very ancient times, a large altar had been set up for the worship of Olympian Zeus and his daughters, the Muses, in a unique environment characterized by rich vegetation, towering trees, countless springs and a navigable river. In the 5th century BC, when the Macedonian state acquired great power and emerged onto the stage of history, brilliant athletic and theatrical contests, the “Olympian Games of Dion”, were organized there. Their organization was overseen by the Macedonian kings themselves, who used the sanctuary of Zeus as a religious center for all Macedonians. A city was built adjacent to the sacred sites that acquired monumental form during the reigns of Alexander the Great’s successors, and which experienced its second heyday during the reigns of 2nd- and 3rd-century AD Roman emperors who were fond of Alexander the Great. Dion’s final important period was in the 4th and 5th centuries AD. It became extinct following major earthquake destructions.
The first mention of Dion in history comes from Thucydides, who reports that it was the first city reached by the Spartan general Brasidas after crossing from Thessaly into Macedon on his way through the realm of his ally Perdiccas II during his expedition against the Athenian colonies of Thrace in 424 BC. According to Diodorus Siculus, it was Archelaus I who, at the end of the 5th century BC, gave the city and its sanctuary their subsequent importance by instituting a nine-day festival that included athletic and dramatic competitions in honor of Zeus and the Muses.
The modern village at the site was called Malathria until 1961, when it was renamed to Dio.
Dion is the site of a large temple dedicated to Zeus, as well as a series of temples to Demeter and to Isis (the Egyptian goddess was a favorite of Alexander). Alexander assembled his armies in Dion before beginning his eastward wars of conquest.
In 2006, a statue of Hera was found built into the walls of the city. The statue, 2200 years old, had been used by the early Christians of Dion as filling for the city’s defensive wall.