Like me, you probably read Sarah Goudarzi’s article in National Geographic News, April 2008, “Alexander the Great’s "Crown", Shield Discovered?” about the new conclusions regarding the excavation site of Vergina, Greece. When these Macedonian tombs were discovered in the late 1970’s, Manolis Andronikos, archaeologist at the University of Thessaloniki, concluded that the largest and best-preserved tomb most probably belonged to King Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. At that time, this theory was largely developed and the frieze above this so-called Tomb of Philip should even represent a hunting scene including Alexander the Great in person.
[picture from National Geographic News]
Presently, Eugene Borza, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History, The Pennsylvania State University, comes forward with a different conclusion, because Tomb II (let’s say, Philip’s) is vaulted and apparently vaulted tombs were not found before 320 BC, i.e. a good generation after Philip’s reign. Why this tomb simply could not be an earlier example of this style, the article does not explain. Another of Borza’s arguments, shared by Olga Palagia from the University of Athens is that the frieze above the entrance of the tomb represents a “ritual” hunting scene “with Asian themes”. I’m not a professional, of course, but I would like to know what makes this scene so Asian, and why is it a “ritual” hunt? I fail to see this, but who am I?
The archaeologists now attribute the artifacts from the tomb, i.e. a silver headband, an iron helmet, a ceremonial shield, a six-foot long scepter and a panoply of weapons to no one less than Alexander the Great. I can't help being skeptic about such an assumption for it would be evident that this weaponry traveled with Alexander's corpse, which we all know went to Egypt.
Both Borza’s and Palagia’s opinion is that the First Tomb, a simple “stone box”, should be considered as being the tomb of King Philip II. No golden larnax was found in there, no armory, no luxurious vessels, in fact, nothing worthy of a king and, most importantly in my eyes, nothing referring to a king. Doesn’t that seem out of proportion? While Tomb III is being attributed to Alexander’s son, Alexander IV, we do find a gold wreath and silver urn in there – so this burial went into greater expense than the one for Philip, the creator of the Macedonian phalanx, the Hegemon of Greece, the very king who put Macedonia on the map?
OK, I do agree that if the silver markings on the vessels found in Tomb II (up till now Philip's Tomb) are of the type introduced by Alexander the Great, it does not make sense to find such gifts in a Tomb dedicated to his father. Borza thus assumes that this Tomb II might well belong to King Philip III Arrhidaeus, Alexander’s simple minded half-brother who was put on the throne after Alexander’s death. Once again, we find more luxury for this burial site than for Alexander’s father.
I must say that I am quite skeptical when it comes to Eugene Borza, with all respect for his impressive title. I read his comments earlier on Oliver Stone’s movie Alexander in the AIA, and these are really below any standards! It is loaded with critics only, even those that don’t really matter as they can be explained as simple adjustments for the sake of the movie and don’t distort or effectively misrepresent the course of history or the image of Alexander’s conquest. Besides, Oliver Stone made it quite clear that he was not making a documentary, why are so many viewers expecting one? Why do we accept all the oddities and untruthfulness in a movie like Troy and not in the one about Alexander? A little tolerance could do no harm. Alexander would have shown some, why can’t Mr. Borza?
I’m curious what will come out this new theory around Vergina, especially after the Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America that was planned for January last and the issuing publication by the German Archaeological Institute. Will National Geographic News publish the results of these meetings also? I’m looking forward to it!