Sphinx Head from Amphipolis? Maybe … Maybe Not

The twittersphere was all agog yesterday as the Ministry of Culture released photos of a head found by the archaeologists which is being touted as the heads of one of the headless sphinges guarding the entrance to the tomb at Amphipolis. Here’s the offical photos released by the Ministry

Ministry of Culture Photo

Ministry of Culture Photo

l_15247

Ministry of Culture Photo

l_15248

Ministry of Culture Photo

m_15247

Ministry of Culture Photo

Kathimerini’s coverage provides the relevant info that the ministry released

Archaeologists digging at a tomb dating to the era of Alexander the Great in ancient Amphipolis in northern Greece have found the missing head of one of the two sphinxes guarding the entrance of the grave.

According to a statement yesterday by the Culture Ministry, the head, which was found inside the tomb’s third chamber, belongs to the statue on the eastern side of the entrance.

Barring some slight damage to the nose, the head is largely intact. The head measures 60 centimeters from top to bottom. Archaeologists also found fragments of that sphinx’s wings at the same chamber.

I genuinely want this to be as described, but I see a problem. When you put this head on the sphinx at the gate, it doesn’t quite work (I know others have done this as well, but this  is my own photoshopping). If one tries to fit the head according to the ‘break’, one gets this:

rehead

… which, as can be seen, won’t fit into the niche. If one sizes the head to fit.

rehead2… the head seems disproportionately small. Here are a couple of ‘closer’ views:

rehead3 rehead4 copy

 

What also doesn’t quite gibe with me is that this head was apparently found inside the tomb and again the tomb robbers suggestion is coming up. The thing is, even if a tomb robber did do this, I doubt they’d carry the head some 14 metres into the tomb … they’d get it on the way out.

I think we have a head from another statue happening here … given the polos, possibly another Persephone.

 

 

 

Implications of the Hades/Persephone Mosaic at Amphipolis

As most rogueclassicism readers know by now, a spectacular mosaic depicting the abduction of Persephone by Hades was revealed last week at Amphipolis and is causing quite a stir for a number of reasons, not least of which is that such things have not been depicted in Macedonian tomb before, much less a royal Macedonian tomb (as far as I’ve been able to find out; late clarification: I’m referring to floor mosaics). I’ll post some links to some of the news coverage at the conclusion of this, but my primary purpose here is to flesh out some thoughts (one serious, one nutty) that I expressed on Twitter this past week. First, though, we need to see some photos from the Ministry of Culture of this amazing mosaic:

 

 

Ministry of Culture Photo

Ministry of Culture Photo

ministry of culture photo

ministry of culture photo

ampmo

… and some photos released earlier in the week before they had revealed Persephone:

Ministry of Culture photo

Ministry of Culture photo

l_15181

Ministry of Culture photo

It was the latter photo — as folks who follow me on Twitter already know — which sparked my reaction that I had seen those two before.  The one horse in three-quarter view, the other in profile, both in a ‘flying gallop’. Compare them to the horses in this mosaic (all the following photos are by Carole Raddato, who has made them available at Wikipedia):

Carole Raddato photo via wikipedia

Carole Raddato photo via wikipedia

Admittedly, in this mosaic, depicting the abduction of Helen by Theseus, there are four horses to the chariot (the mosaicist at Amphipolis is dealing with a smaller area), but you can probably figure out which two I’m thinking of:

Carole Raddato photo via Wikipedia

Carole Raddato photo via Wikipedia

… and the theme, of course, is somewhat similar … a woman being snatched away from her family. Here’s the rest of this ‘other’ mosaic:

Carole Raddato photo via Wikipedia

Carole Raddato photo via Wikipedia

Carole Raddato Photo via Wikipedia

Carole Raddato Photo via Wikipedia

 

So where does this mosaic come from? Pella, of course. In a previous post (Catching Up With Developments at Amphipolis) we noted that the first mosaics revealed at Amphipolis had an affinity with those of the House of Dionysus at Pella. Outside of the horses, folks have probably also noticed the mosaic border of the Abduction of Helen mosaic (the meandering reverse swastika thing with the ‘rosette’) from Pella also surrounds the Abduction of Persephone mosaic from Amphipolis. Both the House of Dionysus and the House of the Abduction of Helen at Pella date to the last quarter of the fourth century B.C., and given their similar styles to the Amphipolis mosaic, it seems like we’re being presented with further reasonable suggestions that the Amphipolis ‘tomb’ dates to the same time period. Again, however, we do await announcements of things like possible inscriptions (rumours are rife; I’m still not sure about the Dinocrates inscription claim from a year ago), soil, potsherds, coins, etc..

So that’s the serious stuff. Now we get into my ADMITTEDLY nutty theory which actually started percolating in my head way back in August when they discovered that ‘hole’ inside one of the tomb chambers early on and there were plenty of folks claiming the ‘tomb’ had obviously been broken into. One of my knee-jerk (emphasis on the ‘jerk’) responses in my noggin was “Why do people always assume ‘breaking in’ to a tomb? Why does no one ever suggest ‘breaking out’?” So as the excavations continued, I continued to look for support for my SERIOUS theory that we were dealing with an empty tomb — probably intended for someone like Alexander (as others, including Dorothy King) have suggested — that was filled in when that occupant was unable to be placed there and the tomb was subsequently filled in because burying anyone there might have political implications. But then we saw the Karyatids and they were in a pair. The nutty side of my brain immediately thought these were depictions of Demeter and Persephone. So I revisited the images of the Karyatids to see if there were any accoutrements that might be associated with Demeter and Persephone:

ministry of culture

ministry of culture

kary7

Ministry of Culture

kary2

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

… I didn’t notice anything ‘wheat’ associated or ‘pomegranate’ associated as one might expect with a depiction of Persephone, but the ‘Karyatid’ did sport the same sort of archaic hairstyle we often see and the polos (crown). Maruizio Nicosia has a nice Kore page at Pinterest if you want to look at some depictions. So I went hmmmmmmm and moved on. Then, of course, the mosaic with the abduction turns up (which prompted a twitter comment, of course), and then I went full blown nutty when the Greek media began posting versions of 3d virtual reality reconstruction of the ‘tomb so far’. A nice representative one is by Nikolaos Alexandrou at Youtube:

What is interesting to note is that at every entrance, near the ceiling, there is a ‘hole’ which traditionally one would attribute to someone breaking in. So what if, instead, this is an architectural feature and people were meant to ‘escape’ from such holes? So here’s the full blown NUTTY THEORY in action: imagine that this structure wasn’t a tomb, but was a cult centre for some Eleusinian-type mystery. The actual ‘entrance’ for initiates was likely somewhere else (perhaps wherever the Lion originally stood) and the cultic activities would involve initiates going from inside the ‘tomb’, past the mosaic depicting the abduction of Persephone, past the Karaytids depicting Demeter and Persephone, and past the ‘sphinxes’ as a genuine ‘escape from the tomb’?

Yes, it is NUTTY … I don’t buy it myself. What I DO buy, however, are my prior suggestions that the mosaics have an affinity with Pella and support the late 4th century date promulgated hitherto by the excavatrices and excavators.

Here’s some of the important coverage this week:

This Day in Ancient History: nonas octobres

nonas octobres

  • rites in honour of Jupiter Fulgur — the deity who was responsible for daytime lightning was worshipped at a shrine in the Campus Martius
  • rites in honour of Juno Quiritis — a divinity possibly originally from Falerii and brought to Rome by evocatio in 241 B.C. was also worshipped at a shrine in the Campus Martius
  • ludi Augustales scaenici (day 3 — from 11-19 A.D. and post 23 A.D.)
  • ludi Augustales scaenici (day 5 — from 19-23 A.D.)
  • 15 B.C. — birth of Nero Claudius Drusus (Drusus “Minor”), son of the future emperor Tiberius and Vipsania Agrippina
  • 1st century A.D. (?) — martyrdom of Sergius and Bacchus … and Apuleius

This Day in Ancient History: pridie nonas octobres

  • ludi Augustales scaenici (day 2 — from 11-19 A.D. and post 23 A.D.) — — festival in honour of Augustus involving primarily mime and pantomime theatrical displays
  • ludi Augustales scaenici (day 4 — from 19-23 A.D.)
  • 105 B.C. — the Cimbri inflict a massive defeat on Roman legions at Arausio
  • 68 B.C. — Romans under Lucullus defeat the Armenians under Tigranes II at Artaxata (according to one reckoning) …
  • 175 A.D. — martyrdom of Sagar in Phrygia

Classical Query: Trees Are Alphabets??

Please help Matthew McGowan, who writes in with a query:

I received a note from a poet friend about the Roland Barthes quotation from his “Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes” book (1977, p. 41):

“According to the Greeks, trees are alphabets.”

I assumed it might be from Aristotle or Theophrastus, but have not been able to find anything. Have you come across the idea of “alphabets as trees” in Greek literature before? Is Barthes simply making it up? Can you share it with the RogueClassicism community to see what others have to say?

Replies as comments welcome!

Catching Up With Developments at Amphipolis

It’s been almost a month since our last major post on the excavations at Amphipolis (Amphipolis Tomb Possibly Looted in Antiquity? I am Officially Confused!) and nearly as long since we speculated on who (if anyone) might be eventually found in the tomb (Thinking Out Loud About the Amphipolis Tomb ~ The Rogueclassicist Speculates). School has finally settled down a bit (although the internet has been out for the past few days, or this might have come out earlier), so we finally get a chance to check on the progress of the dig (plenty!) and consider how our working hypothesis about the possible occupant of the tomb is working out. This post will be long and photo-heavy, so give it time to load!

We’ll begin with some photos from August 26, which show something I had long wondered about … the mosaic floors (photos via the Ministry of Culture):

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

For an awkwardly-worded English report on same: Amphipolis: Pebbled floor came to light (Protothema … tip o’ the pileus to ‘J’ for sending that) along.

Although they need a bit of cleaning, obviously, it is interesting that the second one appears to be in the same sort of style (although on a smaller scale?) as the House of Dionysus at Pella, which dates to the last quarter of the fourth century (via Wikipedia):

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

 

About the same time, we began getting our first speculations in English of people other than Alexander who might be in the tomb. From LiveScience, e.g.:

Michalis Tiverios, an archaeology professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, told AFP a more likely candidate could be Nearchus, one of Alexander’s admirals, who lived in Amphipolis.

At the end of August, archaeologists had cleared the first chamber behind the ‘sphinxes’ and were assessing construction techniques and what needed to be done. (Ministry of Culture Press Release). They had also found yet another style of mosaic floor (white stones set in a red matrix … source):

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

 

Meanwhile, the Greek Television Station ENA flew a helicopter over the site which nicely demostrates how HUGE this thing actually is:

We also began to hear about the ‘circus-like’ atmosphere the archaeologists had to contend with by this point … from  Greek Reporter comes an excerpt:

An official source, who has knowledge of the tomb’s excavation progress, claims that the archaeologists and crew cannot do their job as their mobile phones keep ringing and they have to fend off TV cameras and microphones shoved in their faces every day. They receive calls from politicians and journalists who are eager to know when they will go inside the tomb and what they expect to find there. Also, they have to answer speculations, wishes, and wild conspiracy theories. They even have to answer to technical details such as what kind of cameras they use to look inside the tomb without demolishing the protective wall. And all this while the initial excavation is still in progress!

At the same time, crowds of people gather all day long around the site that looks more and more like a community fair. Eager tourists and locals rush to see the media’s new archaeological Disneyland first, while the smoke from the souvlaki and hot dogs grills fills the air. Under the five-meter lion’s imposing gaze, a vendor from nearby village Strymoniko is selling peanuts, a way to survive in crisis-hit Greece.

We also had our first (in English) OpEd piece on how politicized the discovery was becoming … an excerpt from Kathimerini:

[...] It is not hard to imagine the impact of such a discovery if we take a look at the existing evidence. It is a known fact that Greece has long been at odds with Israel over who can claim the lead in nationalized and politicized archaeology, often in a way that is an affront to the scientific community. Let us take the findings of excavations in northern Greece, for example, constantly cited to suit political circumstances and often acting as ambassadors of national policy: The findings and their interpretation are used to prove the primal Greekness of the Macedonians and once and for all silence our unmentionable neighbors to the north who, surrendered to their own obsessive national policy, are seeking control over parts if not all of our Macedonian heritage.

Now, the ancient relics of Amphipolis are once more being linked to the name dispute and being used for petty political interests. They are being presented by the state and by many representatives of the media as the final confirmation of Macedonia’s Greekness, even though as a country we have staunchly supported this fact for the past 20 years. We have also heard it said that the findings at the tomb have steeled the morale of disheartened Greeks. First of all, with so many surpluses about, surely the Greeks are no longer disheartened. And second, if our morale has sunk to such a low (despite the Parthenon, Olympia, Delphi, Knossos and Vergina) that it needs a tomb to be revived, then there is much more we need to be worried about.

We have also heard that the discoveries at Amphipolis are contributing to the improvement of Greece’s international image – ergo, they may boost tourism. If the government really had such a high regard of archaeology, then why is it cutting back funding to the extent of causing major operational problems at excavations, sites and museums?

After much shoring up/stability work, on September 7 we got our first set of photos showing the Karyatids which ‘womanned’ the entrance to the next  chamber (source):

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

kary2

Ministry of Culture

kary3

Ministry of Culture

kary4

Ministry of Culture

kary5

Ministry of Culture

 

Incredibly nice pieces and enough to spark a major interest (finally) on the part of the English world press. What I found particularly interesting was that the Karyatids were missing their arms (I’ll be returning to that below, although see Dorothy King’s post on the Karyatids). According to the Telegraph’s brief coverage:

[...] “The structure of the second entrance with the Caryatids is an important finding, which supports the view that it is a prominent monument of great importance,” the ministry said.

The face of one of the Caryatids is missing, while both figures have one hand outstretched in a symbolic move to push away anyone who would try to violate the tomb. [...]

A better bit of coverage came from Dorothy King, whose post puts the Karyatids in context very nicely: The Amphipolis Caryatids

Edith Hall has also provided some useful background to Karyatids: CARYATIDS IN A (WAL)NUT SHELL

 

A couple days later, the Ministry release a really nice little reconstruction sort of thing showing where the finds to this point came from:

 

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

Then, on September 11, we were given the ‘full reveal’ of the Karyatids (source):

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

kary7

Ministry of Culture

kary8

Ministry of Culture

 

The wall behind the Karyatids revealed a very nice (it seems) Ionic doorway:

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

I’ve never seen three ‘nested’ blocks before, but I’m sure it’s not uncommon. In any event, after that came another domed chamber, which wasn’t filled with as much sandy soil as the previous two; the photos aren’t overly exciting, but can be viewed here. More shoring up was in order. Today’s press release added more details on work to be done, but also included some more photos of the Karyatids, which stand 2.27 m. tall and still bear traces of paint (source).

Ministry of Culture

Ministry of Culture

karyb

Ministry of Culture

karyc

Ministry of Culture

karyd

Ministry of Culture

We should note that Dr Olga Palagia has been long suggesting that the tomb actually dates to Roman times and contains the bodies of those who fell at the battle of Phillipi, a few centuries later than the current date. Her views haven’t been much presented in the English press, but she did give a full interview to a Greek newspaper: Όλγα Παλαγγιά: Το μνημείο της Αμφίπολης χρονολογείται στη Ρωμαϊκή εποχή (September 16). For what it’s worth, the English media seem to be unwilling to name Dr Palagia, e.g., from Kathimerini:

The archaeologist leading the dig at Ancient Amphipolis insists that the tomb at Kasta Hill she and her colleagues are searching was built in the late 4th century BC.

“I firmly believe that this monument is from the last quarter of the 4th century BC and we have all the proof for this,” said Katerina Peristeri on Thursday.

“It is futile for other archaeologists to come out and talk about it being from the Roman era or anything else.”

Archaeologists entered the third chamber of the tomb, which has been linked to Alexander the Great, last Friday.

I’m sure we’ll be getting some major news next week. Until then, you can peruse a piece from Greek Reporter which nicely sums up all the speculation about who might be in the tomb:

While evidence shows that archaeologists are one step away from uncovering the “big secret” of Amphipolis, Greece, people are speculating on who is buried under Casta hill. Archaeologists and other world experts have supported different theories on who is the important ‘tenant’ of the Casta Hill. See the most popular ones below:

Olympias

Mother of Alexander the Great, wife of Philip II, king of Macedon, and daughter of King Neoptolemus of Epirus. Cassander had her murdered by stoning in 316 BC. (Read full story)

Androsthenes, Laomedon and Nearchus

Alexander the Great’s three admirals are closely connected to Amphipolis. Androsthenes and Laomedon were born there while Nearchus was either born or exiled in Amphipolis.

Cassander

Son of Antipater, did not follow Alexander’s army in Asia. He stayed with his father in Macedonia and used to fight with Polyperchon but eventually allied with him, when he killed Alexander’s son, Heracles. In 311 BC, he killed Alexander’s second son and successor, Alexander IV, along with his mother Roxana. He died of edema in 279 BC.

Polyperchon

He served under Philip and Alexander. He returned to Greece from Asia in 324 BC -after the death of Alexander- and was appointed regent of Macedon by Antipater in place of the latter’s son, Cassander.

Philip II of Macedon

Some do not believe that the tomb of king Philip was located in Vergina. Meanwhile, others claim that ancient Greeks might have built a second monument in Amphipolis to commemorate the king.

Heracles

Son of Alexander who was murdered with his mother, Barsine.

Alexander IV

The twelve-year-old son of Alexander and Roxana who was murdered along with his mother by Cassander. If his grave is located in Vergina, then it is possible that someone buried him and disposed of his mother’s corpse.

Alexander the Great

Alexander sailed from Amphipolis to Asia. However, it is almost certain that his tomb is located in Alexandria, since people such as Julius Caesar have visited his burial site. Some, however, insist that his bones were moved to Amphipolis by Olympias, while others argue that it is a cenotaph “waiting” to receive him, or a second monument in his honor.

Cenotaph or Memorial

This view is supported by the various influences on the monument’s construction as well as its size.

Hephaestion

General of Alexander’s army. Professor Theodoros Mavrogiannis believes that the Casta hill tomb belongs to Hephaestion and claims that the tomb was built in 325 BC by order of Alexander himself.

Roxana

The wife of Alexander became the mother of his son in 323 BC after Alexander had died. Roxana fled to Epirus in order to be saved by his descendants, and later went to Amphipolis, where she was murdered by Cassander in 310 BC.

Antigonus Monophthalmus

General of Alexander’s army, was proclaimed king in 306 BC and demanded that Cassander gives him Macedon. He died eighty-one years old and was buried with royal honors.

Philip Arrhidaeus

Son of king Philip. After Alexander’s death, he was proclaimed king by the Macedonian army as Philip III of Macedon. He was killed by soldiers who defected against Olympias. His bones were transported by Cassander to Aegae.

For my part, I continue to cling to my hypothesis that the tomb was intended for Alexander, but when his body was hijacked and sent to Alexandria by Ptolemy, the tomb itself was sealed up within a few years as it really could not have been used by someone else without political implications. The more I see missing parts of sculpture, e.g., heads of ‘sphinxes’, arms of Karyatids, that don’t seem to be broken off (the arms of the Karyatids don’t look like they were actually attached) — with the caveat that their existence/finding may not be reported in the press — the more I think this tomb was unfinished. Perhaps as well, parts were removed to ensure that it was considered unfinished and, therefore, empty.

That said, I find Olga Palagia’s theory interesting, but would really like to hear more details from both sides on what is being used to establish the date of the tomb. That the mosaic floor in one part of the tomb stylistically matches something from Pella is probably important in this regard. There must also be ceramics in the soil being removed; there might also possibly be organic matter which can be given the C14 treatment.

Finally, by way of ‘conclusion’ we should also note that Dorothy King has penned a number of blogposts answering ongoing questions about the tomb along the way: