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 Alexander’s death in
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. Babylon
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
and that the Macedonians at his deathbed accepted his request while under the
emotions of the moment. Egypt
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
to relieve Antipater from his
function and replace him as Regent. Macedonia
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 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 Egypt and wanted it to come to . 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 Macedonia
(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 Egypt
without the remains of her son! Macedonia
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
km away. This meant that the news that the funeral
cortege bifurcated to
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 . 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
. What these “Macedonian rites”
mean is not clear. Memphis
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
for several years asserts that the body of Alexander
was entombed in
“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 Alexandria
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. Macedonia
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…