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)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Interview with Nicholas J. Saunders on the Tomb of Amphipolis

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.

Great reading!

Access to the tomb, with two great sphynx. Photo: Hellenic Ministry of Culture
Regarding the great Amphipolis tombGreece, have been already written many lines, although the research team led by Katerina Peristeri has not finished yet the excavation of the site, discovered in 2012. Mediterráneo Antiguo has sought to find an authoritative voice, Nicholas J. Saunders, professor at the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol, author of The tomb of Alexander in 2006, published in Spain by Editorial Planeta in 2007 and one of the most importants recent studies about the question of the tomb of Alexander the Great. Here is our conversation with him. 

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 AmphipolisRoxanne 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 NearchusLaomedonRoxanne, 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
Question - About Alexander's tomb, it is sure that he is not buried in Greece. All historical sources talk about his tomb in Alexandria. What do you think?
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

Friday, August 29, 2014

More temples in Sicily to be proud of

Because of its high concentration of temples, the Valley of Temples in Agrigento is a most striking and best known collection in Sicily. But obviously there are many more temples on other sites and this somehow leads to confusion and makes it often difficult to pinpoint which temple is standing where. They all belong to the sixth and fifth centuries BC, the heydays of Magna Graecia, yet each one is very unique.

Take for instance Segesta, located inland of northwestern Sicily, beautifully nestled amid the rolling hills covered with olive trees and vineyards. It is one of those places of which you could say it was chosen by the gods - that is, Greek gods of course!

This temple definitely fits my earlier description of The perfection of a Greek temple. Yet the strangest thing about this temple is that it was built only to show off; it was never finished and it was never used. It seems it was constructed in a hurry to impress the Athenian ambassadors on which the inhabitants were counting for support in their war against Selinunte and Syracuse. All they wanted was the Athenians’ support. Today the many tourists are still impressed!

The temple lies on a low hill on the loveliest spot you can imagine amidst the spring flowers set against the darker wooded hill in the background. Although we do not know to which god or goddess it was dedicated, it is generally assumed to be the work of a great Athenian master. Dating from the period 426-416 BC, it is one of the grandest monuments in Doric style, covering a surface of 58x23m. The 9 meter-high columns with a base of two meters in diameter were never fluted, but one hardly notices this detail when admiring the still standing 36 columns with the entire entablature and pediments. It could have been built just yesterday, more so since the bosses used to lift the blocks of stone have not been removed. It is sad though that the temple has been fenced off for security reasons for it adds so much to the general atmosphere to actually walk inside its walls.

The picture of Selinunte on the other hand, is entirely different as this city counts two separate groups of temples dating from the same period but still unidentified and for that reason simply referred to by a letter. Most of the sanctuaries have collapsed due to repeated earthquakes or have been handily plundered for reuse in other structures.

Temple E, probably dedicated to Hera, is the first one I see. It looks pretty much complete for at least all the columns of this Doric building of 490-480 BC are standing (re-erected in 1958). Parts of the entablature and the inner cella walls have also been preserved. Temple F, just behind Temple E, is the oldest one on this hill, dating from circa 560-540 BC and was probably dedicated to Aphrodite. Next is Temple G, perhaps dedicated to Zeus and with its 110x50m hardly smaller than its namesake in Agrigento (110x53m). This temple of Zeus counts however more columns, i.e. 8 by 17, which in turn is the same number of columns present at the Parthenon in Athens. It was left unfinished when Hannibal destroyed Selinunte in 409 BC. It was of colossal proportions for the columns were 16 meters high and the diameter at the base was 3.4 meters. And if that is not enough to convince you of the shear size, each drum weights about 100 tons! How the craftsmen in those days were able to move and hoist such blocks is baffling.

On top of the Acropolis there is another group of much smaller temples of which less is remaining. Temples A and O have very much the same size and count the same number of columns (6x15) although the lay-out is hard to figure out. The much larger Temple C with colossal monolithic columns is no more than a heap of rubble piled up on top of the crepidoma. This situation also applies to the other Temples B and D. All in all, the Temple of Hera (E) is the most representative and best preserved here at Selinunte.

As I said above, it is extremely difficult to imagine the procedure and process of temple building. So I am extremely happy to visit the quarries of Cave di Cusa, roughly 18 kilometres away from Selinunte

This is not just any quarry but one where work was unexpectedly interrupted the day that Selinunte was attacked by the Carthaginians in 409 BC. This is a unique opportunity to follow the entire cutting procedure, since nothing has been touched or moved since that date some 2,500 years ago! The entire process of quarrying can be followed here, from the initial vertical drills in the rock along the previously drawn circle that was a little larger than the final diameter of the drum, to the round column drums still attached to their base. There is a space of just half a meter for the stonemason to move around the cut the column. It is believed that the largest drums measuring 3x2m were intended for Temple G, the one that was probably dedicated to Zeus. In any case, I am dwarfed next to any of these drums. Some have rolled downhill and lie where they stranded so many centuries ago and never were taken to the construction site where they would have been adjusted and hoisted into position. What a way to visualize this backbreaking work!

[Click to see all the pictures of Selinunte; here for all the pictures of Segesta; and here for all the pictures of Cave di Cusa]

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First peep inside the tomb of Amphipolis

At last we are receiving a clear picture of the tomb entrance now that the blocks of the surrounding wall have been removed. We are rewarded with a good view of the portico above which the two sphinxes are keeping watch.

It turns out to be a quite unusual example of a Macedonian tomb from the last quarter of the fourth century BC as nothing suggests the presence of any door panels filling the 1.67 meter wide portico.

More soil has been removed from the corridor, revealing walls lined with imitation marble slabs of extraordinary quality. The architrave above is decorated with rosettes.

Archaeologists expect to hit a second doorway soon.

[Pictures released by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport]

Sunday, August 24, 2014

An aerial view of Amphipolis

To complete the picture, here is an aerial view of Amphipolis, which truly shows the sheer size of this tumulus/tomb.

The photograph has been recently published by Keep Talking Greece.

Friday, August 22, 2014

News as of today, 21 August 2014 from Amphipolis

Excavations at the huge tomb of Amphipolis are progressing at a very fast pace indeed. Today a new update has been published in The Kouti Pandoras releasing some beautiful pictures.

The upper portion of the marble doorway that is crowned by the two sphinxes mentioned earlier has now been exposed with wonderful plastered walls on the side of the passage.

More importantly, as the top of the doorway is beginning to appear the archaeologists have exposed brightly painted Ionic capitals. Traces of red, blue and black are clearly visible on these capitals as well as on the architrave above.

For the first time, I am reading about an estimated time to reach the inside of the tomb. It would take about two weeks. Let’s hope this timing is correct and that the mystery around the Tomb of Amphipolis will finally be solved.

Update about the excavations at Amphipolis

News from Amphipolis is percolating through very slowly and is served only piece-meal as archaeologists are in the process of clearing the access to the tomb. (See also my previous article: The Tomb of Amphipolis is making headlines again).

The latest news is about the two sphinxes framing the entrance to the tomb. These sphinxes, which have traces of red paint on their feet, will be left in place apparently because of their weight (around 1.5 tons). It has been established that they are 1.45 meters high, while their original height including their heads must have reached two meters. Interestingly, pieces of their wings have also been found, as well as a large section of the back of the nearby lion. Both the sphinxes and the lion of Amphipolis seem to be the work of the same artist.

New is the referral to a black and white mosaic in rhombus shape that will also remain in situ. Experts on the site are also examining a wall section that shows traces of red and blue paint.

Work seems now to be directed to prevent the tomb’s entrance from collapsing. There is yet no information about who is buried here or whether or not the tomb is still intact. Speculations are that the tomb has been raided in the past, but so far this cannot be confirmed.

A series of detailed pictures has been published in the Archeology News Network.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The tomb of King Philip II of Macedonia in Vergina

The pride of Macedonia lies under the large tumulus of Vergina where the intact Tomb of King Philip II of Macedonia was found in 1977. Today’s visitor to the 13 meter high grave site will discover that it contains a splendid museum of nearly one hundred meters in diameter. To walk around under this artificial hill is an absolutely unique experience as you make one discovery after the other. Main attraction and my main purpose is to visit the tomb of Alexander’s father, King Philip. 

It is dark inside the tumulus as only the artifacts in the showcases and the tomb entrances are lit up. A wide wooden staircase leads down to the impressive entrance door to Philip’s tomb. The facade shines in the spotlights and I feel a magnetic attraction, like a moth towards the light. A huge Plexiglas wall separates me from the majestic entrance door with its delicate colors. For a moment I’m disappointed that I am not allowed inside but it makes sense to keep out the crowds that might influence the conservation and preservation of the structure and its decoration. I stare at the bright colors that have defied so many centuries. The closed door is flanked by two half Doric columns which in turn are flanked by a flat pillar trimmed with a red and blue band at the top. Above the doorway the triglyphs have been painted dark-blue with ditto guttae, resting on a bright-red regulae. As a crown above it all runs a 5.6 meter long fresco of a hunting party, in full action and set in a wooded area. This is high quality work executed in magnificent pastel colors. One of the boys on horseback is thought to be Alexander. This landscape is framed at the top and bottom by a line of egg motives alternatively colored in red and blue, and the cornice above looks as if it were painted just yesterday. I’m totally taken by this richness in color, having my vantage point all to myself for a moment – as if I am being received on a special audience. Climbing back the squeaking steps it all feels so unreal, more like a dream. No description or picture can prepare you for such a lavish decoration on such an impressive monument!

According to Macedonian customs, the King’s body had been cremated and the remaining bones washed in wine before being wrapped in a purple cloth which in turn was carefully placed inside a golden chest or larnax, together with his royal crown made of gold oak leaves. This larnax is on ostentatious display proudly showing its 7.820 kilograms of pure hammered gold. The Macedonian sun with 16 rays can be seen on the top lid and a band of rosettes filled with blue enamel run around the box between reliefs of palmettos and lotus buds. The vertical ends of the chest are also decorated with rosettes and end in legs of lion paws. What a beauty!

The oak-leaves of the crown catch the light of all the spots and is the heaviest and most impressive crown ever found in Greek antiquity. For those interested in fact and figures: the crown counts 313 leaves and 68 acorns, and weights exactly 714 grams. Together with the larnax, this crown is the eye catcher and the visitor cannot miss it. But there is more, like for instance Philip’s cuirass made of iron and inlaid with gold; his gold gorythos (bow and arrow case) depicting fights in full action reminding us of Scythian examples; his inlaid sword and his enormous shield (nearly one meter in diameter). He must have been a very strong man! Beside his personal armor there also is a great number of utensils on display like bronze bowls, plates and vases, silver wine jugs and even strainers, bronze lamps, etc. Most of the objects truly look as if they were made just yesterday.

Not much remains of the wooden kline (banquet bench), except for the well-preserved glass, gold and ivory decorations. Over the long side ran the story of a royal hunt in which Philip himself participated, but also his son Alexander and other Macedonian noblemen. As far as Alexander is concerned, this is the only picture we have for which we are certain that he posed. An attempt is made to reconstruct this kline and to put the remaining pieces in their rightful place. Much patience must have been involved in this reconstruction! 

Thanks to a scale-model, the construction and layout of the Tomb of King Philip II of Macedonia is further explained: a large double door gives access to a rectangular portal, behind which the actual burial chamber is located. Still, it is not easy to picture how the interior would have looked like with the larnax resting inside a marble sarcophagus and the many burial gifts displayed around it. Taking a last walk around all these treasures it is hard to realize that these artifacts are more than 2,500 years old. What a privilege to see this with my own eyes!

It is unfortunate that we don’t know much about Alexander’s role in his father’s funeral or how much time he spent on the construction of the actual tomb and/or the huge covering tumulus. In-depth research made mainly by the leading archaeologist, Manolis Andronicos, indicates that at least some aspects have been rushed, like for instance the plastering of the inside walls of Philip’s tomb. We know that Alexander’s priority number one was to eliminate all claim to the Macedonian throne and to avenge the murder of his father. Yet, on top of that, he had to cope with the Greek revolt and face his northern neighbors being on the warpath again, which may very well have reduced the time he would otherwise have spent to proper funeral rites. For now this question remains unanswered.

As an extra piece of information, I am including this Youtube view of the Tumulus of Vergina. Inside there was enough room for more tombs: the Tomb of a young Macedonian prince (perhaps that of Alexander IV, the son of Alexander the Great and Roxane) and the so-called Tomb of Persephone that owes its name to the vivid frescoes on the inside walls. In fact, this last grave which is not exactly a big hit is however of rare artistic quality: strong brush strokes, color combinations, and the depth of the image are absolutely sublime. You would nearly expect it to be modern the way the scene is depicted with a few simple lines yet at the same time with firm and decisive movements.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Tomb of Amphipolis is making headlines again

There is not much news to tell about the ongoing excavations of the Tomb of Amphipolis, although for reasons beyond my comprehension it is making headlines all around the world once again.

[The two sphinxes guarding the entrance of the ancient Macedonian tomb  [Credit: INTIME NEWS]]

Excavations at Amphipolis started in 2012 (see: Has the Tomb of Roxane and young Alexander been located?) and more information was divulged in the course of 2013 (see: Roxane’s Tomb linked to the Lion of Amphipolis? and Nonsense about Alexander’s grave in Amphipolis). There is evidently the link with Alexander the Great as speculations tie this tomb to his wife, Queen Roxane who was killed by Cassander in 311 BC and to her son by Alexander the Great, Alexander IV. Nothing has been proved yet though.

The only new elements I can distill from all these news articles is that apparently the entrance to the tomb has been opened since they state that two sphinxes were guarding it. Behind them there is 4-5 meter-wide corridor covered with frescoes although no pictures have been released. I read about columns and decorations of white marble from Thasos but their whereabouts is vague (see this article in: The Greek Reporter)

All indicates that this is the burial site of a prominent Macedonian, maybe a royalty, from 325-300 BC and also that the nearby Lion of Amphipolis may have stood on top of this tumulus now under excavation. It may well have been built by the famous architect Dinocrates, a close friend of Alexander the Great.

My first idea for all this recent commotion is because the Greek state desperately needs funds to continue their excavations, for so far there is no sensational find or any exceptional key element to trigger our attention. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Aegae, where Alexander’s world changed forever

The Theatre of Aegae was one of the largest of Greece in the fourth century BC but nowadays we need a good amount of imagination to picture its size and shape. Except for the front row reserved to the most prominent guests, the theatre was not built of stone. The hillside adjacent to the Royal Palace was probably lined with wooden seats, of which nothing remains. During my last visit in early spring 2011 the terrain was overgrown and the grass stood high, revealing dimly the rough shape of the cavea divided in wedges separated by corridors. Work is still in progress with new excavations and there is hope for a better understanding of the theater that is anchored in history. Enigmatic is still the place reserved for the king, which usually was a special seat in the front row, but no single hint has been found. Manolis Andronikos, the great archaeologist who discovered the Tomb of Philip II in modern Vergina, tentatively suggests that either a special throne-seat was carried into the theatre or that the Macedonian king would have sat in his own comfort on the northern porch of his palace which is only 60m away front the edge of the orchestra. 

Anyway, it was here that in the early morning hours of a summer day in July 336 BC, Alexander’s world was going to change forever. The day before, King Philip II of Macedonia had celebrated the marriage of his daughter, Cleopatra, with King Alexandros of Epirus. Beside the noblemen and the Macedonian people, representatives and envoys from all over Greece had been invited to attend the ceremony. For Philip, the wedding was also an opportunity to show his own success as he had brought prosperity and peace to Macedonia, and more importantly peace to all of Greece since he had been acclaimed as Hegemon of Greece by the League of Corinth. As an additional festive note, his new wife had given birth to a daughter, Europa, only a few days earlier.

Today would be filled with musical contests and lavish banquets for the king’s friends and all his guests. As ruler of the Greek world, he felt safe to walk alone to the center of the large orchestra (28m in diameter). It is here that Pausanias, one of his royal bodyguards suddenly rushed in and stabbed the king to death. It is almost as if we can hear the shouting, the cries of disgust and fear, the tumult, the general chaos of people witnessing this atrocity and running in every direction. No Greek tragedy had ever been so real! Alexander cannot have been far away when it happened, but all help came too late. Pausanias was caught soon enough and killed on the spot.

Alexander was now King of Macedonia, but his kingship started in blood, his father’s blood, and more blood was going to be shed over his succession to the throne (read more: Philip’s Apogee and his Assassination). Was it chance/fate or premeditation/conspiracy that led to the murder, we’ll never know.

Only the day before had Alexander been worrying about his role as heir to the Macedonian throne. His father had sent an advance party of 10,000 men to Abydos across the Hellespont, under command of his closest generals Parmenion, Attalus and Amyntas. After the wedding, Philip would join them. Alexander must have felt uncomfortable about his father’s inner circle in which Attalus now had become his son-in-law. Attalus in turn was married to a daughter of Parmenion, and so was general Coenus. These men occupied important posts within the army, of which Alexander was excluded. It is most probable that Philip destined his son to stay in Macedonia as Regent and deputy-hegemon of the League of Corinth. Although this role was of the utmost importance, it meant that Alexander would sit at the royal desk - a very far cry from his desire to fight and to conquer. In Philip’s eyes it would have been unwise to leave Macedonia together with his son, for he would have left his country exposed should they both be killed in Asia.

But in these early hours of what was supposed to be a festive day, Alexander’s life and evidently his destiny took a very sharp turn. He now had to think quickly and instantly assume his role of king. Luckily, the Macedonians were quick to accept him and swore allegiance to their new king. After that, everyone who could have been involved in the murder of his father and those who could be a threat to his place on the throne had to be eliminated. That evidently included Amyntas, the true heir to the throne entrusted to Philip when he was still a minor. Amyntas was now in his twenties and could have claimed his rightful title. Another threat was Attalus, who soon was executed. Queen Olympias took care of Philip’s last wife and her baby.

Alexander’s next priority was to organize his father’s funeral. The dead king’s body was placed on a pyre, together with his arms and outfit, and the entire Macedonian army in polished outfit marched by for a last salute. Afterwards, as was the custom, Philip’s bones were washed with wine and placed inside a gold larnax, which in turn was placed inside a stone sarcophagus. Meanwhile Alexander had constructed an appropriate tomb to receive the king’s remains along with funerary goods made of silver and gold. Then the tomb was covered with earth to form a 43 meter-high tumulus that was to be revealed only two thousand five hundred years later (see: The Great Tumulus of Vergina).

It seems that from now on, magnificent Aegae was stained with blood. It was the old capital of Macedonia, founded in the last years of the 4th century BC, showing off with all the pomp and circumstance we can expect of a kingdom at its apogee. It was the most magnificent building of Macedonia in its days, measuring roughly 105x88m, with all rooms arranged around a central open courtyard. It had a monumental entrance on the eastern side composed of three or four successive hallways. This facade is the only side of the palace that had an upper floor where traces of dark-blue and red paint have been found – a colorful statement visible from far away to any visitor.

The open inner courtyard was surrounded by a colonnade of 16 columns on each of the four sides, a square in which each side was 44.5 meters long. The best reconstruction of the palace, although partial, was shown at the exhibition at the Louvre “Alexandre le Macédonien” for on the terrain it is very difficult to mentally rebuild it. This may change when the ongoing restoration works come to conclusion, I hope at least.

To the left, just before entering the courtyard there is the Tholos, most probably used as a shrine or as a court of judgment, although it may also be seen as the Throne Room.

The rooms on the south side of the courtyard, i.e. on the left have a suite on either side of the entrance space and seem to indicate that they were used for public services. The asymmetric entrance door and the raised platform along the walls tend to indicate that these were androns where banquets would be held. Two of the three rooms have yielded fine pebble mosaics.

Opposite the main entrance to the Palace are located three larger nearly square rooms. They measure roughly 17x17m and the floors were covered with marble slabs still in situ. Here also there is a slight elevation running along the walls making believe they were used for couches for bigger banquet events, probably reserved to the palace guards. These rooms were roofed as plenty of tiles have been found on top of the marble floor, but it puzzles the archeologists how a roof could span such a wide space.

The northern rooms were bordered by a one-meter-wide veranda, accessible through a small corridor from the central yard, offering a wide view over the Macedonian plain below. This definitely was an innovation and no other example of a veranda has so far been found.

A short update of the excavations was published early 2012 in this article.

It is hard to imagine the kind of luxury and refinement that surrounded Alexander since boyhood, either here at the Palace of Aegae or at the Royal Palace of Pella of which even less is known. Yet all this beauty faded when with the death of his father and Greece saw a great opportunity to revolt in a serious effort to throw off the Macedonian yoke. The tribes along the northern borders of Macedonia also considered that this was the right time to regain their independence. These themes will be handled in the next episode “The King is dead, long live the King”.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Vergina, The Royal Tombs by Manolis Andronicos

Vergina, The Royal Tombs by Manolis Andronicos (ISBN 960-213-128-4) is the ultimate book about the excavations in and around Vergina and in particular for the tombs found in the Great Tumulus.

Manolis Andronicos largely dedicated his life to archeology and after much determination he is the one who has discovered the undisturbed resting place of King Philip II of Macedonia under the Great Tumulus in Vergina. His love for his work and his analytical approach to his excavations transpire all through this marvelous book.

The many large pictures alone make it worth browsing through this book, but Andronicos’ careful explanations, experiences and theories make fascinating reading.

He starts with a short but clear description of the theater of Aegae as Vergina was called in antiquity followed by a detailed walk through the remains of the Palace of Aegae. We will remember that King Philip was murdered at this very theater in 336 BC, and that this is the place where the reign of Alexander the Great commenced.

The major part of the book is obviously concentrating on the excavations of the Great Tumulus from his first attempts to the discovery of the many grave stele, the Tomb of Persephone, “Philip’s Tomb” and finally of the so-called Prince’s Tomb. Photographs taken during the many years of hard and intensive work give an excellent view of the problems, hopes, diagnosis and results of these diggings. Especially for “Philip’s Tomb” he describes the structure and paintings of the tomb, he itemizes and analyses all the grave goods from weapons to vessels, to finally the gold larnax and the royal gold diadem. Then in turn he focuses on the contents of the antechamber where a smaller larnax was located together with a magnificent gorytos, a set of greaves, a pectoral and a charming myrtle wreath.

Finally the ”Prince’s Tomb” is being examined, the outside and inside of the building, and the grave goods among which is the marvelous silver urn that contained the bones of the dead, crowned with a gold wreath.

Andronicos ends this book with a special chapter holding his conclusions where he explains how and why he made the statements as he did. Instead of a dry archaeological report, this book is very pleasant to read or just to have at hand for a relaxed browsing among these unique examples of Greek art at its best.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Loss of our Cultural Heritage in the Middle-Eastern conflicts

The loss of Cultural Heritage due to war is simply heartbreaking and I don’t really know how to formulate my sadness, anger, frustration and despair about the damage done all over the Middle-East and in Syria in particular. I have voiced my concerns in earlier articles “Organized looting in Syria” and “The War in Syria, what will happen to its heritage”. That was resp. in August 2012 and May 2013; the situation has only deteriorated since and is still deteriorating. Syria is exceptionally rich in antiquities and cities built on sites that existed thousands of years ago, where painstaking excavations have brought to light so much unique historical evidence and yet it all seems to be blown away in the dust of war and pillage.

I was lucky enough to visit Syria before these conflicts broke out and I was stunned by the sheer number of antique sites, some going back to the dawn of our civilization, their state of conservation and the care taken in the reconstruction of their past. To name just a few of the oldest cities, there is Qatna (fourth millennium BC), Mari on the Euphrates (third millennium BC), Ebla (3rd/2nd millennium BC),  Ugarit (second millennium BC), while we should not forget that the origins of Damascus, for instance, go back to the seventh millennium BC and that of Aleppo to the fifth century BC. Many of these sites have been included in the List of World Heritage Sites established by UNESCO, yet even UNESCO is helpless in this situation.

 [Pictures of Aleppo from Friends of Asor, The Ancient Near East Today]

A recent article published in the BBC World Magazine shows several pictures “before” and “after” the recent attacks. They say more than words, certainly to whoever has lived, worked or travelled through that area. Some of these shots are not new, like the satellite images of Apamea of 2011 set against those of 2012 in which the looting holes look like craters on the moon. A similar picture shows the damage done at Dura Europos in 2014 as compared to the site still untouched in 2012. Dura Europos is one of those Roman lime-cities that kept the peace along the Euphrates, a marvellous and most intriguing place (see: “Dura Europos, last stop on the Euphrates”). Two thousand years later we cannot achieve what the Romans did.

[Pictures of Dura Europos from Friends of Asor, The Ancient Near East Today]

All over the Middle-East, antiquities are stolen and most of them end up on the black market; excavations are no longer carried out systematically by qualified archaeologists but fall in hands of illegal diggers in search of a quick buck; museums are wrecked and looted. Nobody knows how to stop this pillage and nobody knows how this all will end. It is a nightmare since most archaeological sites are exposed to vandalism and trafficking of antiquities as no one is in charge of their protection. No museum or other institution has any list of the collections hidden in the country or abroad, and there is no way to draw a list of the antiquities that have been stolen.

The concerns are now that after three years of war, Syrian archaeological heritage has reached a catastrophic phase. Reports of organised plundering in Apamea, Dura Europos, and Palmyra cannot be verified but are beyond proportion. A picture has reached us of a Neo-Assyrian statue from the region of Deir Ezzor being chopped to pieces with a sledgehammer. War is not about people, war is not about our heritage, but war destroys both. To what purpose, I wonder.

The dramatic situation is not unique to Syria, but also applies to many places in Libya (see: Still hope, though scant, for Libya’s cultural heritage), Iraq and Afghanistan where archaeological sites are destroyed forever.

It is evident that the humanitarian situation in Syria is extremely distressing and beyond description but at the same time the people’s inherited identity is being threatened with total obliteration. There is no end in view for the deadly conflicts in Syria or in the rest of the Middle-East – it seems only to be spreading like oil on water. It will take nothing less than a miracle to protect Syria’s priceless archaeology and only a combined action between the land that is being looted and the lands that purchase the looted artifacts could stop this destructive process. As to the antique sites and monuments themselves, we can only hope for the best and wait for a possible restoration after the war ends – whenever that may be.

There is a very interesting article about Syria with plain pictures published on the blog of Friends of Asor, The Ancient Near East Today. As to Iraq, please click on the site of The Gates of Nineveh for the heartbreaking bulldozer destruction of historic monuments in and around Mosul by ISIS forces.

[Picture of the sledgehammer destruction is also from Friends of Asor, The Ancient Near East Today]