Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Debates about the Tomb of Amphipolis still ongoing …

Poor Alexander! It seems that 2,500 years after his death we are still fighting over his body. He certainly does not deserve this!

It took me a while to sift through the different theories exposed by the author of the Empedotimos blog, which are evidently not entirely absurd but cannot be taken at face value either. History can be explained in many different ways and the author picked his own choice, making his own viewpoint quite clear, but that does not mean we have to agree with him. Comments left on both his posts of August and September clearly prove that I am not the only skeptic here and I thank “Redumbrella” for bringing this to my attention.

So I started digging again into those dark and complex days that followed Alexanders death in Babylon in 323 BC, a quarrel that went on for forty years. There are far more sources than Pausanius or Diodorus to be used like Empedotimos did, and I thought that I might as well explain my own point of view here.

To begin with, Curtius Rufus and Justin state that Alexander’s last wish was that his body would be taken to Ammon. Also Diodorus and possibly Trogus (Justin) wrote this, as well as the Alexander Romance. Whatever the “Macedonian” twist today’s Greeks want to give to the story Alexander’s request is entirely consistent with what we know of his personality and believes at the time of his death. As “son of Ammon” he definitely accepted Ammon’s authority and this is sustained by his request about Hephaistion’s worship. It is therefore absolutely possible that Alexander did ask to be buried in Egypt and that the Macedonians at his deathbed accepted his request while under the emotions of the moment.

Meanwhile, Alexander’s half-witted half-brother Arrhideus had been proclaimed king together with the newly born Alexander IV by Roxane. Upon Alexander’s death, Perdiccas was underway to Macedonia to relieve Antipater from his function and replace him as Regent.

Diodorus does indeed state that Arrhideus spent two years preparing the catafalque for Alexander (as referred to by Empedotimos), but since the funeral procession reached Syria in the winter of 322/321 BC after moving literally at a crawling pace, it must have left Babylon in the summer of 322 BC at the latest. That substantially reduces the available time to build a tomb for Alexander in Amphipolis.

It is clear that the entire trip from Babylon to Egypt is wrapped in contradictions. It is possible that Perdiccas changed his mind at some point and refrained from the initial acceptance of Alexander’s orders to bring his body to Egypt and wanted it to come to Macedonia. It was the new king Philip-Arrhideus who accompanied the body of Alexander and there are indications that he made some kind of agreement with Ptolemy to bring the carriage to Egypt (confirmed by Arrian). We should remember that at this point Perdiccas was officially Regent, meaning that under Macedonian constitution it was his prerogative to bury his king. This implies that he was also reluctant to cede this honour to Ptolemy. Besides, he must have considered Olympias wrath had he come back to Macedonia without the remains of her son!

And then there is the legend or prophecy that the Macedonian kingship would end when the king was not buried at Aegae. Aelian, in his Varia Historia” tells us about Aristander of Termissus who had been Alexander’s faithful soothsayer. Aristander, after seeing the king’s body unburied for thirty days, addressed the Assembly of Macedonians stating that both in life and in death Alexander had been most fortunate and that the gods told him that the land that would receive his body, “the former habitation of his soul”, would be blessed with the greatest good fortune. Aelian continues to tell us how Ptolemy “stole” the body and how Perdiccas chased him to recover it.

We must be aware that in the winter of 322-321 BC, Perdiccas and a major force of veterans were in Pisidia, about 1,100 km away. This meant that the news that the funeral cortege bifurcated to Egypt took at least one week if not two to reach him. The bulky carriage with Alexander’s remains made only slow progress and Perdiccas must have figured out that he could catch up before it would reach Egypt.

Aelian’s account at this point seems to make sense as Ptolemy had enough time to make a likeness of Alexander, clad in royal robes, to be laid in one of the Persian carriages, arranging the bier with sumptuous gold, silver and ivory. Alexander’s real body was then sent ahead in secret. When Perdiccas arrived, he obviously thought that he had found the real prize and stopped his march. When he realized the trick, it was too late to go in pursuit. In how much this story is true, remains debatable, but I find it strange that the author of Empedotimos did not mention it – unless I missed it (my Greek is only basic and the provided English translation not the best …). A least we know that a ‘fake’ Alexander was made, but we can only speculate as to what happened to it afterwards. Probably Perdiccas got so mad that he destroyed it, after recuperating the precious gold and silver, of course.

Pausanius version is entirely coherent with the overall situation where Ptolemy demanded the catafalque to be handed over to him. Ptolemy then went to bury Alexander’s mummified body according to Macedonian rites in Memphis. What these “Macedonian rites” mean is not clear.

Please note that Plutarch mentions the arrival of embalmers about one week after Alexander was declared dead and that the body laid uncorrupted for days; Curtius says that the body had a lifelike appearance. This clearly confirms that Alexander was not cremated but embalmed.

Perdiccas did not accept Ptolemy’s attitude and went to war against him, taking Philip-Arrhideus and the young infant Alexander IV with him to add more weight to his campaign. As we know, Perdiccas’ attack ended in a failure, his officers mutinied and stabbed him to death. The men then asked Ptolemy to take over the Regency of Macedonia, but Ptolemy for unspecified reasons declined. However, he appointed Peithon, one of the bodyguards of Alexander the Great and later satrap of Media, to be co-regent with Arrhideus and sent the party back north.

In turn, Strabo, the geographer, who lived in Alexandria for several years asserts that the body of Alexander was entombed in Alexandria “where it still now lies”. Strabo lived in the first century BC/first century AD, a good two hundred years after Alexander’s death and by this time Macedonia was Roman territory. Nobody then had any interest in bringing back Alexander to Amphipolis. This also means that the corpse of Alexander definitely was not cremated.

My way of thinking may not be convincing but neither are any of the previous theories I came across, even though they were expressed by academics…


  1. Very nice summary,

    one note is that the blog's author actually mentions the trick that Ptolemy did with exchanging Alexander's body, in order to slow down Perdicas. He actually refers to this in order to explain that Ptolemy was capable of doing the same later on, in his attempt to send the body to Macedonia.

    From that piece in Aelian, I still do not understand if the golden funeral cortege was taken by Ptolemy or it was left with the fake Alexander. Aelian says that the fake body was left on one of the "Persian carriages", but that would have been enough for Perdicas to examine the body immediately, identify the trick, and continue his march immediately. I also assume that Perdicas new that Ptolemy was interested in the body, not the gold of the funeral cortege. So, is it correct to assume that the actual funeral cortege was what was left behind (with a fake body inside), and if so, what happened to it? It sounds that it was anyway to heavy for Ptolemy to carry it all the way to Egypt, with Perdicas chasing him.

    1. Thank you for correcting me on Ptolemy's exchange of funeral carriage. I should not given up on learning Greek! :-)
      The way I read Aelian, the carriage found by Perdiccas is fake with the fake body of Alexander. Perdiccas had no idea what it looked like since he was not in Babylon when it was constructed and I can image that he did not immediately look inside for this must have felt like entering a sacred shrine. The very idea of creating an imitation carriage definitely did not cross his mind. Philip-Arrhideus, must have joined Ptolemy in the plot to make it work (his reward being nominated co-regent, although I wonder by what power Ptolemy could do this). Ptolemy took the real funeral carriage to Egypt along less traveled routes.
      A point that has not been raised so far is the Greek inscription found on the island of Paros showing a chronology of event up to 263 BC. In its entry for 321-320 BC the Parian Marble clearly reads "Alexander was laid to rest in Memphis"

  2. This is an interesting point of view:

    1. At last we are receiving news from people with more common sense!
      All this hush-hush business from the Greek authorities has fueled many wrong assumptions which could have been cleared from the onset.
      Thanks for sharing this link!

  3. Hi, pleasure to read your very interesting point of view.
    As for macedonian rites: the traditional macedonian burial, which insisted in crimating the body preserving the bones

    1. Macedonian burial rite is indeed to cremate the body. But what Pausanius means was done here in Egypt is obscure for IF the body was cremated none of the Roman emperors would have seen a mummified Alexander.