Thanks to Boro who commented on "First peep inside the Tomb of Amphipolis" I received this article published in Mediterráneo Antiguo - arqueología e historia. It is written by Mario Agudo Villanueva who interviewed Nicholas J. Saunders, professor at the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol on the Tomb of Amphipolis that keeps us all busy over the past weeks.
He gives us a clear overview of the possible occupants of the tomb beyond all journalistic guesswork, while at the same time he clarifies why this cannot be the tomb of Alexander the Great.
|Access to the tomb, with two great sphynx. Photo: Hellenic Ministry of Culture|
Question - What do you think about the Amphipolis tomb? Could it be the burial of Laomedon or Nearchus?
Answer - I think the tomb is a wonderful discovery, and the best qualified people to interpret it are the professional Greek archaeologists now excavating it. Whoever is buried inside (as long as it’s not looted), it could be a very important discovery for tourism and the local community. So, in my opinion the tomb could belong to several possible individuals: it could be one of Alexander’s Companions and high-ranking successors, such as Nearchus or Laomedon, as neither of them would have been buried at Aegae. Also Nearchus at least came from Amphipolis so it would be natural to build a high status tomb nearby for one of Alexander’s great men. Also it could be perhaps be Roxanne as she (and her son Alexander IV) were murdered by Cassander at Amphipolis. Roxanne could be buried here as she was not Argead royal blood, but Alexander IV was, so it is likely he was buried at Aegae, which would perhaps agree with Andronikos’ identification – I agree with Andronikos (though I think some experts still argue about it). It could also perhaps be Alexander’s sister Cleopatra who was murdered at Sardis but probably on Cassander’s orders – though again one would think that because she was Argead royal blood she would be at Aegae. Macedonians and especially those of Amphipolis, hated Cassander for his murders of Alexander’s family, and when Cassander died they welcomed Demetrius his successor – so it would be no surprise that they built a massive tomb nearby – possibly for reburying Roxanne (and others?). It could of course be a ‘surprise’ multiple burial with several burial chambers as at Vergina - with some permutation of Nearchus, Laomedon, Roxanne, Cleopatra, or perhaps even Heracles – Alexander’s illegitimate son by his Persian mistress Barsine? Interesting question about Heracles being Alexander’s son and therefore Argead blood – but maybe not buried at Aegae because of his illegitimacy? Almost nothing is known of the deaths/burials of these individuals. It’s a real mystery – and more exciting because of it.
Question - What about the possibility of a massive burial of macedonian soldiers?
|Inside de tomb. Photo: Hellenic Ministry of Culture|
Answer - Interesting idea which recalls the mass burial of the Sacred Band inside the polyandrion at Chaeronea (338 BC) – and with a Lion on top as well. The Amphipolis tomb could be something similar – but it’s so huge – much bigger than the Chaeronea tomb so it is probably unlikely in my opinion. I think that with this new tomb – size relates to status not number of bodies. Also it’s intriguing because it is so huge that it rivals Aegae in this way, but is not actually in that sacred dynastic landscape so is ‘inferior’ in that way – so it’s an intriguing mix – perhaps a compromise paid for with silver from the famous Amphipolis mint.
Question - Manolis Andronikos identified the corpse of a young man of 13-14 years as the Alexander's son, Alexander IV, in Vergina (ancient Aegae). What do you think?
Answer - There is still some disagreement about the identification of Alexander IV at Vergina – though in my opinion Andronikos is correct in saying it is Tomb III at Vergina. As a legitimate heir, Alexander IV would have been buried at Aegae, the objects in the tomb are about right date – 308 BC, and analysis of cremated bones indicate a youth – and he was murdered at 13 years old. So I think that most experts would agree with Andronikos – so it may be that after their bodies had been discovered from the secret places that Cassander had hid them, the mother Roxanne was re-buried at Amphipolis and her royal son at Aegae.
|Detail of a polychrome capitel. Photo: Hellenic Ministry of Culture|
Answer - Yes, I agree, it is almost impossible to imagine that the new Amphipolis discovery is Alexander’s tomb for many archaeological and historical and literary reasons. It is an intriguing possibility that it was designed and built for Alexander (his body was destined for Macedonia when Ptolemy hijacked it to Egypt), but the problem with this is that he would have been buried in his ancestral royal burial ground at Aegae/Vergina – it would have been impossible to bury him anywhere else in Macedonia – and Amphipolis was very secondary to Aegae. So, all the sources are correct – he was buried (several times) in Alexandria, where his mummy was visited by Julius Caesar, and several Roman emperors. Those sources must be right. I think Alexander’s tomb (or at least the remaining foundations of it) are still there many metres down below the modern city streets in Alexandria at the location I pinpoint in my book. It’s difficult to believe that there would be much left of the building itself however. As for his mummified body, that’s a quite different matter. It could be destroyed (burnt) in the Christian riots; it could have been hidden somewhere else in Egypt – perhaps in the huge Ptolemaic period cemetery at Bahariya (Valley of the Golden Mummies); but my own favourite explanation is that his body was broken into pieces and sold as powerful talismans to Alexandrians (who still loved him even when many of them became Christians) – this was a very popular phenomenon, and in my opinion it was the beginning of the subsequently well-known Christian practice of Saint’s body-parts as sacred powerful objects. So, in a sense, Alexander’s body could have been returned in small pieces to the inhabitants of his own city!?
Mario Agudo Villanueva