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 27, 2014

Amphipolis … here we go again!

A strange statement was made yesterday by Mrs. Katerina Peristeri “in about a month we finish”. Did she mean that excavations at Amphipolis would be stopped for the season or does she expect to round up the excavations in a month?

Once again speculations about the possible occupants are listed in this article by Why are they rubbing in all these theories time and again, I don’t understand. Anyway, just to be complete, here follows the list of the possible names:

  1. Megas Alexandros himself
  2. Roxane
  3. Alexander IV, the son of Alexander the Great
  4. Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great
  5. Cleopatra, the sister of Alexander the Great
  6. Cassander, son of Antipater, who murdered Olympias, Roxane and Alexander IV
  7. Nearchus or Laomedon or Androstenes, all generals of Alexander the Great
  8. Antigonus the One-Eyed, general of Alexander the Great and one of the Diadochi
  9. Hephaistion, childhood friend and general of Alexander the Great who died in Ecbatana
  10. Heracles, the illegitimate son of Alexander the Great and Barsine, his mistress
  11. Polyandrion
  12. Polyperchon, general of Alexander the Great
  13. Philip-Arrhidaeus, half-brother of Alexander the Great
  14. Philip II, Alexander’s father as many still doubt that he was buried in the tumulus of Aegae
I am not going to comment on any of these suggestions – that have been amply discussed in earlier articles. For those who still want to read more on this argumentation, please click on this link for

The least I can say is that they covered every possible candidate, except maybe Queen Eurydice who married Philip-Arrhidaeus. Why has she been left out?

[Picture from]

Friday, September 26, 2014

Additional scrutiny of the Caryatids of Amphipolis by Andrew Chugg

Yes, Andrew Chugg,  as can be expected, has written a second analysis just after the caryatids were discovered. He decided to explain the meaning of the presence of these ladies. (For his first comment, see: A wonderful analysis of Amphipolis by Andrew Chugg).

Although the best-known caryatids are those of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis of Athens, they are a very common feature in Greek and Roman architecture. The caryatids guarding the entrance door of the Amphipolis’ tomb are slightly out of common because of their posture, facing each other in a mirror effect with an upraised arm in the center and the outside arm holding up their dress.

Andrew Chugg shows us that the Amphipolis’ caryatids closely resemble the one found at Tralles (modern Aydin, Turkey) dating from the first century BC. He adds however that little has changed in the general representation of the caryatids, either for those from the Classical or from the Hellenistic periods.

More interesting, I think, is his comparison with the miniature caryatids found on the throne of Eurydice, Alexander’s grandmother (Philip’s mother) that stood in her tomb at Aegae. These caryatids, separated from each other by columns, also hold the ceiling with one arm while the other picks up their dresses but they show more dynamic in their movement. These caryatids, in combination with the now lost sphinxes, draw a clear parallel with Amphipolis and tend to point towards the burial site of a Macedonian queen of the fourth century BC. A detail, but a rather important one, is that women and adolescent girls only served Macedonian queens and not their kings, meaning that they only appear in female burial sites. Andrew Chugg here quotes Plutarch and goes as far as to link the baskets in which Queen Olympias kept her snakes (λίκνων) to the baskets carried on the heads of the Amphipolis’ caryatids. This makes Olympias a favourite occupant of the Amphipolis tomb.

He also mentions Diodorus who wrote that Cassander left Olympias behind where she fell after being murdered, but no source speaks of her burial. Yet it is unthinkable that Olympias’ relatives or supporters, or the Macedonians in general would not have provided a fitting burial to the mother of Alexander the Great.

So far, we generally have accepted the idea that Olympias was buried at Pydna but this assumption seems to be solely based on a fragmentary inscription found in the area. The reconstruction of the text, i.e. filling in the blanks, is purely speculative and is subject to lots of interpretations. According to Andrew Chugg it is improbable that Olympias died at Pydna as her death occurred weeks after she surrendered to Cassander who had his hands full with the revolt in Amphipolis. It makes no sense for Cassander to stay in Pydna pending Olympias execution while he was so badly needed to defend his position in Amphipolis.

Of course, this still doesn’t prove that Olympias is actually buried at Amphipolis even though she may be the main candidate. As stated earlier, second in line could be Roxane, for which I have my personal doubts since I cannot believe that the Macedonians treated her with enough reverence to build such a lavish burial site – even though she was the wife of their Alexander.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pictures say more than words – also in Amphipolis

The newly released section drawing of the tomb elements discovered so far in Amphipolis is putting the lay-out in a clearer perspective, I think.

From an article published in the Archeology News Network, it seems that the narrow door (96cm wide) in the third chamber is off-centered and shifts to the left, hence the assumption that this door is leading to a staircase on a lower level. My personal opinion is that it may open into a narrow corridor to the next chamber as I don’t see how such a narrow opening could open into the main chamber.

As to the hole in the upper right corner of the fourth wall, Mrs. Katerina Peristeri is convinced that those stones were not manually removed but were probably dislodged by an earthquake. This is the main reason why she believes that the tomb has not been looted. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Papyri, a precious source of information

As far back as the ancient Egyptians (that is as far back as 4,000 BC), papyrus was used as writing support for important documents. The manufacturing of papyrus is an art by itself and a very time consuming operation. The papyrus reed has to be picked upstream of the Nile where the stems were harvested. After being cleaned the triangular stems were cut in long strips. These thin strips were then laid out in two layers, one horizontal and one vertical, that were then pressed together and dried to form the ultimate papyrus sheet. Thanks to its natural gum, these sheets could also be laid side by side to produce a roll, which when inscribed would become the known scrolls from antiquity. It is mind-blowing when you think how much reed had to be turned into papyrus to produce all the literature from antiquity. We cannot even imagine how many people were involved in making papyrus, whose production must have been organized on an industrial scale.

In the dry desert climate of Egypt such scrolls could safely survive for centuries as was proven by the thousands of pieces that emerged from the garbage heap at Oxyrhynchus. Elsewhere documents were preserved mostly by chance. One of such finds happened for instance in Herculaneum, the Italian city that was buried under a thick layer of volcanic ash following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

In those days Herculaneum, just like Pompeii, was a plush resort town where rich people from Rome sought solace from the summer heat. One such Roman was Lucius Calpurnis Piso Caesoninus, the father-in-law of Julius Caesar, who built a grand seaside villa which he lavishly decorated with more than eighty bronze and marble statues of the finest quality. This is the villa which Paul Getty copied in Malibu, California, to house his collection of antiquities.

Beside the impressive collection of art-work Piso’s villa also yielded a library of some 2,000 scrolls, the only one that survived from the classical world. Unfortunately we cannot read any of these scrolls since they turned into lumps of charcoal, the result of the pyroclastic blast that carbonized the papyri before the city caught fire and sank into oblivion under the volcanic ashes. When first discovered, these black burnt logs were not recognized as scrolls and some were hacked into pieces. A later conservator of the Vatican tried in the 18th century to painstakingly unroll them, spending four years on one single scroll and many chips just broke off. Even in the 1980’s experts from Oxford University were not able to do much and the reading was extremely difficult even under changing light or under a microscope. Manipulating the papyri did more damage than good as fragments crumbled down to mere dust. Towards the end of the 1990’s infrared light helped to decipher some of the texts followed by multi-spectral imaging providing clearer images of the letters and texts. Unrolling the scrolls was the major problem. In 2009, the Institut de France in Paris used Computerized Tomography (CT) scans to read the internal surfaces of the scrolls. Even with this modern technology, the task was very difficult since the rolls were tightly wound and also creased. The easy sections could be converted into 2D images but another problem arose when it was discovered that the chemistry of the ink blended in with the chemistry of the paper; the main reason for this being that ancient ink does not contain any metal.

This all means that we may need new technology or new procedures to come to our rescue in order to decipher these scrolls that may contain lost works from known or even unknown antique authors.

The Hellenistic world which ruled the Mediterranean roughly from 323 to 31 BC counted several major libraries, the best known and probably the greatest being the Library of Alexandria founded in 300 BC. It was severely damaged by Julius Caesar’s fire in 48 BC and finally destroyed at some time between 270 and 275 AD during the attack of Emperor Aurelius. Next in order was the Library of Pergamon with some 200,000 volumes, which Marc Anthony “generously” gave to his wife Queen Cleopatra. The Roman Empire created its own libraries in Rome, often apparently located in separate buildings and containing both Greek and Latin works. We possess a catalogue listing all the buildings of Rome in circa 350 AD in which no less than 29 public libraries are being mentioned!

It is clear that since Hellenistic times many people were literate and could fluently read either or both Greek and Latin texts. What a shame that so much knowledge and such linguistic skills were lost since then!

In an article published in the BBC News Magazine,  Robert Fowler, Professor of Classic at University of Bristol was so kind to compose a list of the main lost works from antiquity: 
Aeschylus - only 7 of his 80 plays survive
Aristophanes - 11 out of 40 plays survive
Ennius - his epic poem Annales, is almost entirely lost
Euripides - 18 of his 90 plays survive
Livy - three-quarters of his History of Rome are lost
Sappho - most of her nine books of lyric poems are lost
Sophocles - only 7 entire plays survive of 120 he wrote

But returning to the Villa dei Papyri, we should be aware that the scrolls found so far laid in and around one room but there are more rooms on the same level that have never been excavated, neither have the lower levels of the house. Some of the scrolls that were discovered were packed in tubular boxes (capsae) used to carry them around, which could suppose that they came from another room or from another part of the Villa. There is a theory that this Villa was not only a holiday residence but a mouseion, a place where the owner could show off his collections of works of art and literature.

It is obvious that new and more in-depth excavations in Herculaneum may answer many of the above questions but the Italian authorities are not too keen to allow more excavations as the antique site is located just underneath the modern town of Ercolano. This is an understandable argument, of course, but let us not forget that Mount Vesuvius is an ever present menace, the last major eruption occurred in 1944 and the next one may bury the fragile remains of Herculaneum under an even deeper layer of ashes.

[Picture of the Getty Villa is from their site - click here]

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Update on the excavations of Amphipolis

Over the past week the Greek Ministry of Culture has published several press releases including more pictures of what has been brought to light so far.

Archeologists are now working to clear the soil from the space behind the second portal guarded by the caryatids (the first portal wall is the one with the sphinxes). At this stage, progress is slow as the vault and the lintel of the third doorway are damaged, probably because of the weight of the soil above the tomb and the newly exposed space has to be shored up for safety reasons. This marble doorway is in Ionic style, which is consistent with previously exposed passages.

The vaulted ceiling is made of limestone, just like in the two previous rooms. Yet unlike the earlier cleared room, this third one was not entirely filled with sand which is consistent with that of the natural terrain, and requires more protective measures. Because of the weak structure, it is estimate that this securing will take several days. Interestingly, the architect on the site has made a drawing of the successive rooms cleared so far, giving us a much better idea of the entire picture. 

Meanwhile a closer examination of the caryatids has determined that each statue is 2.27 meters high, resting on a marble pedestal. They are wearing a long and well-draped chiton, and it has been noted that their feet and fingertips are delicately detailed. 

So far, I have not seen any indication about the presence of stairs in this third room, as speculated, but of course I may have overlooked some pertaining information. So much guess work and so many theories have been developed since these excavations seriously went underway that it is difficult to sort out what is true, what is probable and what is fake. One theory uttered by Michael Lefantzis (thank you Bannister) is that the diameter of the tomb of Amphipolis corresponds exactly to 1/100th of the city walls of the city of Alexandria in Egypt. It also seems that Dr Katerina Peristeri appeared on TV on 19 September and stated that this tomb has not been looted – based on what, I don’t know.

For the more curious among us, there is some reading on analyzing these excavations including several interesting drawings.

The most bizarre theory has been developed by Panagiotis Trajan, wondering if the tomb of Amphipolis represents the gates to the underworld (just click on the link for the full story).

Last but not least, someone has found pictures of British soldiers in WW1 crawling through a hole in a wall that closely resembles the first wall of the tomb of Amphipolis. It is up to anyone to explain where the skulls come from as it seems improbable that they were just “laying around”.

To summarize the present status: we still have not found the tomb in the inner chamber; we still don’t know who is buried here; and we still do not know whether there is more than one tomb hidden in this mound. What has been found so far is very exciting, of course, but we still are not any closer to solving this enigmatic burial site.

[copyright for all images belongs to the Greek Ministry of Culture]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Caryatids at Amphipolis are full-size!

To be honest, I am not really surprised to learn that the two Caryatids guarding the threshold are full-body sculptures and not just heads as may have been assumed earlier.

The Crash Magazine Online has just published magnificent pictures of the Amphipolis tomb that were released by the Ministry of Culture. The Caryatids were totally buried in the protective soil in which the missing face of the Caryatid on the eastern side has been found meaning that it will be replaced in situ.

The pictures speak for themselves: this is definitely a work of high standards. The Caryatids, they say, are slightly lifting their robe with their outside hand and the dresses reveal their most beautiful bodies. As remarked before, the Caryatids do not support the architrave with their inner arm.

[Pictures come from Crash Magazine Online where there are more to see]

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A wonderful analysis of Amphipolis by Andrew Chugg

Andrew Chugg is well known for his two books The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great and The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great, besides several books in which he painstakingly tries to reconstruct the lost biography which Cleitarchus wrote about Alexander the Great, e.g. The Death of Alexander the Great. A Reconstruction of Cleitarchus.

It makes me happy to learn that he published his analysis about Amphipolis in yesterday’s Mediterraneo Antigua under the title: Is the mother of Alexander the Great in the Tomb of Amphipolis?

It is definitely worth reading the entire article through the above link. As always with Andrew Chugg, he takes a fresh look at the elements we have so far, consulting the antique writers, previously published articles and old photographs. He has a thorough knowledge of Alexander’s history and all what comes with it.

I would do him wrong by trying to summarize this article, it is too well written for that but I’ll give it a try anyway. He starts by analyzing what the sphinxes stand for and compares them to other examples  like those found in the tomb attributed to Euridice I, the mother of King Philip II, and in another royal tomb nearby that belongs to the royal cemetery of Vergina, known as the “Queen’s Cluster”. It therefore seems to indicate that sphinxes were used by Macedonian queens as a symbol in the late fourth century BC and consequently the sphinxes of Amphipolis may suggest that the occupant of the tomb was a prominent queen.

Because of the time-frame, i.e. the last quarter of the 4th century BC, two queens come to mind: Olympias, Alexander’s mother, and Roxane, Alexander’s wife. Roxane was killed in Amphipolis by Cassander in 310 BC (together with her 13-year old son Alexander IV who is buried in Aegae). Olympias surrendered to the same ambitious Cassander while in Pydna in 316 BC. Cassander needed her army and demanded the surrender of her faithful troops at Pella and at Amphipolis. Pella didn’t resist, it seems, but Amphipolis is a different story and Andrew Chugg thinks that it is not unreasonable to think that Cassander rode to Amphipolis and took Olympias with him rather than leaving her behind to be rescued by her supporters. If such were the case, Olympias died at Amphipolis as well.

This being said, Andrew Chugg makes comparisons and finds architectural parallels between the tombs of Amphipolis and Vergina, including pictures to support his theory. He even finds great similarities between the façade of Amphipolis as reconstructed in 1939 and that of the tomb of Philip and the tomb of Alexander IV in Aegae – with pictures. He has even scrutinized the marble floor that matches the threshold of the Palace at Aegae – see pictures too.

For Andrew Chugg, Olympias is the great favourite for this tomb at Amphipolis as her cause to defend and preserve the homeland of her son was generally seen as identical to that of Alexander himself, meaning that by giving Olympias such a spectacular tomb was equal to honouring Alexander. Cassander allowed the tomb for Alexander IV to be build at Aegae, so why would he have refused the burial of Olympias here at Amphipolis?

Last but not least, the author draws a line of similarity with another pair of monumental sphinxes from the same time-period which stood at the Serapeum in Memphis to guard the first tomb of Alexander the Great before he was transferred to Alexandria. The pictures say it all.

[Pictures from Mediterraneo Antigua]

Monday, September 8, 2014

Caryatids inside the Tomb of Amphipolis!

While the seemingly endless discussions about this tomb being looted or not are still going on, I rather focus on what has been achieved recently.

The Greek Ministry of Culture has released a new press statement over the weekend about the Tomb of Amphipolis and it seems that the room behind the outer entrance wall with the guarding sphinxes has been entirely cleared. The entire floor of which we saw just a hint last week has been exposed and looks really grand with the shards of white marble from Thassos on a red background. A true red carpet! The ceiling held another surprise: a beautiful rosette with traces of red, yellow and blue paint.

The wall at the other end of this room, the top of which was already revealed last week, has surprised us with two large marble caryatids flanking the entrance to the second room still to be disclosed. The face of the caryatid on the west side is nearly intact, while the eastern one is missing her face. The features are quite delicate and very uncommon. Curls hang down over their shoulders and they are dressed in sleeved dresses – a rather exceptional detail. Somehow they remind of Kore statues with traces of blue and red paint, but their posture and sleeves seem to indicate that they might be of a date later than the fourth century BC as suggested so far.

A first peep into the passage behind the caryatids lead experts to believe there is a kind of “false ceiling” underneath the vault, made of limestone slabs decorated with painted blocks imitating a coffered ceiling.

It seems we are in for more surprises and definitely more questions.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mapping the Amphipolis Tomb

It may be handy to share the map which Empedotimos showed on his blog and which was taken over by  NewsBomb just yesterday. It think it puts the walls and rooms in a decent perspective. For further details, use the attached link.

By the sealing of the tomb, after having sealed the door of the main tomb (T2) and followed by sealing the chamber T2 by sealing the door (T1), there should be an opening to fill the space H2 with soil, along the lines of the backfill chamber (H1), by workmen who would evidently be in chamber H1, and having done this, to complete the sealing of H1 with the construction of the protective wall and filling the whole H1 space.

Read more:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Thinking out loud about the Amphipolis Tomb!

The most sensible words I have read so far come from David Meadows, Rogueclassicist and appeared on September 1, 2014. This is what he said:

Thinking Out Loud About the Amphipolis Tomb ~ The Rogueclassicist Speculates
School starts tomorrow so I don’t know whether I’ll have time to flesh this out today, but I want to put this suggestion out there. It actually builds on assorted things proposed by plenty of folks but adds something original, I think. Here’s my speculation on the tomb based on recent things:
1. It is  not implausible that it was intended for Alexander and would have been started while he was still alive
2. Of course, Alexander ended up getting buried in Alexandria
3. So Amphipolis ends up with this big tomb and no one to put in it; but putting ANYONE other than the intended occupant in that tomb would be making a political statement
4. The latest news from the site suggests there were great efforts made to seal the tomb in an unprecedented way (I’ll be posting on this later today or tomorrow) … so:
5. Rogueclassicist goes out on a limb to suggest the Amphipolis tomb will turn out to be EMPTY (wall decorations might be there); not looted but intentionally not used.
6. The tomb/mound was transformed into a memorial monument of sorts (everyone knew it was there), with the lion put on top as a sort of generic marker of sorts. The ‘sphinxes’ were beheaded when everything was sealed up because they weren’t guarding anything. Perhaps a symbolic ‘deterrent’ for folks who might have been thinking about using the tomb for themselves.
… I’m hoping I’ll be proven wrong in the next few weeks and we’ll have a magnificent, occupied, Macedonian tomb but this is going to be my working hypothesis for the next few days.

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…

Macedonian Treasures in the floodlights at Pella’s Museum

It’s definitely time to go or to return to Pella, if only to see these unique MacedonianTreasures, most of which will  be exhibited for the first time at their New Archeological Museum. Starting 5 September 2014, the pieces will be visible till the end of September 2015.

[picture from Proto Thema News]

The artifacts come from excavations carried out over the past 25 years at the royal necropolises in Aiges and Archontiko and include lots of gold in their wreaths, masks and weaponry, but also unique sculptures and vessels of alabaster, metal and terracotta. It seems that some objects have traveled in 2011 to the special exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Louvre in Paris (Alexandre le Macédonien), but were never shown to a Greek audience.

The underlying idea is to create a comprehensive overview of Macedonia in Archaic and Classical times, which laid the foundations for the later prosperity of the Macedonian Kingdom, leading up to Alexander the Great.

Click here to see a great collection of detailed pictures published by Proto Thema News. I just miss to see Aiges and Archontiko on a map (and I hope that Aiges has not been confused with Aegae as I have seen before!)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Alexander still triggers our imagination

Alexander keeps surfacing from the strangest of places, a proof – if needed – that the world has not forgotten him.

This thought came to me while reading an article about the latest excavations carried out in an ancient Jewish village of Galilee, i.e. in Israel and that in spite of the ongoing conflicts in the region. Archaeologists are in the process of uncovering a stunning mosaic floor that belonged to a synagogue at Huqoq dating from the fifth century.

After previously uncovered mosaics with biblical scenes, archaeologists have now come across images that do not fit that pattern. There is for instance a bull pierced by spears with next to him a dead soldier holding a shield, and another scene showing young men seated around an elderly man holding a scroll seen through an arcade topped with burning oil lamps. And then there is this mosaic depicting two bearded men. One wears a diadem and is clad in an elaborate battledress and a purple cloak while leading a large bull by the horns. He is accompanied by a phalanx of soldiers and a group of elephants with shields tied to their sides. This description alone triggers my imagination and I immediately think of Alexander, of course, for who else would be surrounded by a phalanx and elephants? In the mosaic he is met by a grey-haired elderly man in a white ceremonial tunic and mantle, followed by young men with sheathed swords wearing the same outfit.

It is evident that no elephants are involved in any of the bible stories. Archaeologists confirm that battle elephants are automatically associated with Greek armies ever since Alexander the Great. They now concluded that this might be a scene from a Jewish legend in which Alexander is meeting a Jewish high priest. It may be tied to Alexander’s speculative visit to Jerusalem that is mentioned by Flavius Josephus and apparently also in some rabbinic literature. Something worth investigating!

The article, unfortunately, does not show any picture of this stunning mosaic floor (luckily moved from the site for conservation) except for the head of what could be Alexander.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Amphipolis looted after all?

Well, the news just went out: the tomb of Amphipolis has been looted! At least that is what archaeologist Panagiotis Faklaris broadcasted today. He bases this statement on the fact that the tomb was filled with soil. The soil or sand filling is not new, so why did it take him so long to make this statement? Strange looters who cover up the site of a crime, unless someone took pity on the robbed resting place and poured in the sand to safeguard the remains?

In this statement Faklaris says the tomb “has been looted in the past”. Which past? How long ago? 

I can’t help but finding this announcement rather vague – with all the respect to the man in the field, that is. Am I the only skeptical listener?

Now the hunt is on to find out who is buried here. To be continued …

Pending more news, I feel like including a view of the beautiful location of Amphipolis, overlooking the Strymon River. Such a wonderful spot!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Revealing images from Amphipolis

Our patience has been rewarded with new updated pictures released over the weekend and kindly shared with me by my readers.

First of all I came across this interesting view of the tomb’s entrance which shows its location against the general mound of the excavation.

Among the new pictures is this one showing the very entrance again, framed by the sphinxes we so well know by now but which also includes the inclined ramp down to the floor of the tomb. 

This floor is covered with small bits of white marble on a red background – a red carpet avant la lettre. It seems that traces of blue paint have been found on the adjacent walls but these look very faint. 

Another great picture however is that of the vaulted area.

New is the suggestion that sand from the nearby riverbed was meant to be used as filling material to be shoveled inside through the gaping hole about which so much discussion is going on. Another wait and see.

Meanwhile, archaeologists have built a sheltering roof to protect the monument from rain and other weather elements. They also have worked on supporting the inside construction with steal beams now that the underlying soil has been removed. All this work is time-consuming but very necessary.

One thing is certain: the ancient builders went through a great deal of efforts to protect whoever is buried here. Inevitably this all leads to the resting place of a very important person. We and the rest of the world are holding our breath …