Brace Yourselves: News From Amphipolis is Coming …

There has been quite the buzz about ‘that tomb’ at Amphipolis over the past couple of days and what has made it to the press — both on the English side and the Greek — is somewhat confusing. To a very large extent, the coverage is much like that of last year’s (  Alexander the Great Tomb in Amphipolis? Yeah … about that), which I encourage everyone to read to get the full back story of this. The skinny, however, is that the tomb was found originally a year and a half ago and ongoing speculation (in the media, not from the archaeologists involved, it appeared) was tying the tomb possibly to Roxane and/or Alexander IV, and even Alexander the Great was mentioned. Yesterday, there were a flurry of reports, none of which added anything new (with one exception, which we will get to) but suggested ‘something’ was happening. Today, according to assorted news reports, Greek Prime Minister Samaras visited the site and was given a tour, but again, we don’t really hear much of use to us. Here are Samaras’ comments according to eKathimerini:

Archaeologists digging at Ancient Amphipolis in Central Macedonia, northern Greece, are poised to make an “exceptionally important find,” according to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who visited the site on Tuesday.

“It is certain that we are looking at an exceptionally important find,” he said after being guided around the Kasta Hill by archaeologist Katerina Peristeri.

“The land of Macedonia continues to move and surprise us, revealing from deep within its unique treasures, which combine to form the unique mosaic of Greek history of which all Greeks are very proud,” he added. […]

“The main question the excavation will answer is regarding the identity of who has been buried here,” said Samaras.[…]

Outside of that, nothing new. The AP coverage (via the Washington Post), however, includes this indirect statement:

Samaras said a broad road led to the tomb, while the entrance was flanked by two carved sphinxes — mythical creatures that blend human, bird and lion characteristics. It was unclear how far archaeologists have reached.

Not sure how the archaeologists feel about the Prime Minister announcing their find, if it was indeed found as stated. Whatever the case, it was this claim of an entrance with sphinxes which was giving me hesitations about the coverage and the indirect statement above doesn’t really help. That said, to its credit, Greek Reporter includes a Youtube video which is basically a slideshow that appears to show that an entrance has indeed been found:

If it is the entrance, it’s covered with tarps and we really can’t see any sphinxes (sphinges?).

Turning to the Greek (in Greek) coverage, the hints were there yesterday that there is a major find here. Newsbomb.gr was one of the outlets which said that police/the army had been brought in to guard the site: Σπουδαία αρχαιολογική ανακάλυψη στην Αρχαία Αμφίπολη Σερρών … I wonder if they stayed after Samaras left.

In any event, I found it somewhat unusual that the Greek press was really being silent on this one (none were mentioning the sphinxes) and was suspicious, of course. Here’s a smattering of the coverage, most of which just repeats the same stuff as is found in Kathimerini‘s Greek (and English) coverage.

Then, in a very timely manner, @Tzzz21 on twitter (who gets many tips o’ the pileus for feeding me much of the coverage) just sent a link to an item in News 247 which included this picture (as well as the slideshow mentioned above):

via News 247

To which I can only say: WOW! We now anxiously await to hear from the archaeologists.

 

UPDATE (literally seconds later): @Tzzz21 sent in a link with a pile more photos:

… to which we can several more wows … we’ll obviously be monitoring this one

 

UPDATE II (a few hours later): definitely read Dorothy King’s post on this for additional details (including answers to some questions I had about the sphinxes!): Let’s Talk About Amphipolis …(Dorothy King’s PhDiva)

Alexander and Caesar Ailurophobes?

The Daily Mail excerpts some questionable things from a Pointless Things compendium, inter alia:

[…] Some famous people apparently had ailurophobia – a fear of cats: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, William Shakespeare, Louis XIV, Napoleon Bonaparte, Isadora Duncan, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Oh, and Dwight D Eisenhower is said to have had his staff shoot any cats seen on the grounds of his home. […]

This seems to be a pretty standard list repeated all over the interwebs, but I’m really curious … does anyone recall a story/anecdote in an ancient source which might have given Alexander and/or Caesar the ailurophobe tag?

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Bust of Alexander from Cyprus

From ANSA:

Archaeologists in Cyprus found a marble bust of Alexander the Great – considered one of history’s most successful commanders – in a second three-aisled basilica that was brought to light on the site of Katalymmata ton Plakoton, of the Akrotiri peninsula, as Greek Reporter website writes. Excavations by the Cyprus Antiquities Department in the area have been in progress since 2007 when the first basilica was revealed. It is believed that the two basilicas are part of a monumental ecclesiastical complex which according to Eleni Procopiou, an area officer for the Antiquities Department, is related to St John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, the patron saint of Limassol. The first basilica is a burial monument 36 meters in width and 29 meters in length. Procopiou stated that the second basilica is also a burial monument 20 meters in width and 47 meters in length. It is estimated that the findings date back to the second decade of the 7th century, between 616-617 A.D.

via: Archaeology: bust of Alexander the Great found in Cyprus (ANSA)

I haven’t been able to find a photo of the bust and I don’t think we’ve mentioned this dig before …

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Tomb of Alexander the Great Found?

This appears to be a hoax … the site Greek Reporter got it from is a hoax site that I’ve warned others about. Oh tempora! Oh mores! Dang. (tip o’ the pileus to M Fletcher on Twitter for pointing out my folly)

 

From Greek Reporter, which is not known as a font of accuracy alas, but they mention all the right things, more or less:

A team of archaeologists and historians from the Polish Center of Archaeology have revealed a mausoleum made of marble and gold that might be the tomb of Alexander the Great. The site is situated in an area known as Kom el-Dikka in the heart of downtown Alexandria, only 60 meters away from the Mosque of Nebi Daniel.

The monument was apparently sealed off and hidden in the 3rd or 4th century AD, to protect it from the christian repression and destruction of pagan monuments after the change of the official religion within the Roman Empire. It is a testimony to the multicultural nature of Alexander’s empire, as it combines artistic and architectural influences from Greek, Egyptian, Macedonian and Persian cultures. The inscriptions are mainly in Greek but there are also a few Egyptian hieroglyphs, mentioning that the mausoleum is dedicated to the “King of Kings, and Conqueror of the World, Alexander III.” The finding is extremely important as it can provide new information about Alexander the Great.

The mausoleum contains a broken sarcophagus made of crystal glass, 37 bones, mostly heavily damaged, presumably all from the same adult male and some broken pottery dating from the Ptolemaic and Roman ages. A carbon-dating analysis and a series of other tests will determine the age of the bones and if they belong to the Macedonian emperor.

Long time readers of rogueclassicism will know that we frequently get claims about the tomb of Alexander and it is one of the items which can set off the rogueclassicist’s skept-o-meter, but this seems to be the first one which actually puts it in the right place (i.e. Alexandria), has the right sort of sarcophagus,and it seems to be found by legit archaeologists (the Polish Mission has been digging there since at least (scroll down abit)). The only thing I’m not sure of is whether Alexander would have been referred to as Alexander III in an inscription — that, however, might be just a slip in an interview situation.

… our breath is bated for coverage from other news sources …

ADDENDUM (a few minutes later): adding to the intrigue is that this is the area where back in 2010 a temple of Queen Berenike was found amid speculation it was the actual location of Alexandria’s royal quarter. See Zahi Hawass’ undated press release:

… and an item in the Independent which helps us date the press release:

Latest Alexander Poisoning Suggestion

… comes from the journal Clinical Toxicology … here’s the abstract:

Objective. To investigate the death of Alexander the Great to determine if he died from natural causes or was poisoned and, if the latter, what was the most likely poison. Methods. OVID MEDLINE (January 1950–May 2013) and ISI Web of Science (1900–May 2013) databases were searched and bibliographies of identified articles were screened for additional relevant studies. These searches identified 53 relevant citations. Classical literature associated with Alexander’s death. There are two divergent accounts of Alexander’s death. The first has its origins in the Royal Diary, allegedly kept in Alexander’s court. The second account survives in various versions of the Alexander Romance. Nature of the terminal illness. The Royal Diary describes a gradual onset of fever, with a progressive inability to walk, leading to Alexander’s death, without offering a cause of his demise. In contrast, the Romance implies that members of Alexander’s inner circle conspired to poison him. The various medical hypotheses include cumulative debilitation from his previous wounds, the complications of alcohol imbibing (resulting in alcohol hepatitis, acute pancreatitis, or perforated peptic ulcer), grief, a congenital abnormality, and an unhealthy environment in Babylon possibly exacerbated by malaria, typhoid fever, or some other parasitic or viral illness. Was it poisoning? Of all the chemical and botanical poisons reviewed, we believe the alkaloids present in the various Veratrum species, notably Veratrum album, were capable of killing Alexander with comparable symptoms to those Alexander reportedly experienced over the 12 days of his illness. Veratrum poisoning is heralded by the sudden onset of epigastric and substernal pain, which may also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, followed by bradycardia and hypotension with severe muscular weakness. Alexander suffered similar features for the duration of his illness. Conclusion. If Alexander the Great was poisoned, Veratrum album offers a more plausible cause than arsenic, strychnine, and other botanical poisons.

… and here is how it was rather responsibly reported in the New Zealand Herald:

An Otago University scientist may have unravelled a 2,000-year-old mystery of what killed Alexander the Great.

National Poisons Centre toxicologist Dr Leo Schep thinks the culprit could be poisonous wine made from an innocuous-looking plant.

Classical scholars have been deeply divided about what killed the Macedonian leader, who built a massive empire before his death, aged 32, in June of 323BC. Some accounts say he died of natural causes but others suggested members of his inner circle conspired to poison him at a celebratory banquet.

Dr Schep, who has been researching the toxicological evidence for a decade, said some of the poisoning theories – including arsenic and strychnine – were laughable.

Death would have come far too fast, he said.

His research, co-authored by Otago University classics expert Dr Pat Wheatley and published in the medical journal Clinical Toxicology, found the most plausible culprit was Veratrum album, known as white hellebore.

The white-flowered plant, which can be fermented into a poisonous wine, was well-known to the Greeks as a herbal treatment for inducing vomiting. Crucially, it could have accounted for the 12 torturous days that Alexander took to die, speechless and unable to walk. Other suggested poisons – including hemlock, aconite, wormwood, henbane and autumn crocus – would likely have killed him far more quickly.

Dr Schep began looking into the mystery in 2003 when he was approached by a company working on a BBC documentary.

“They asked me to look into it for them and I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll give it a go, I like a challenge’ – thinking I wasn’t going to find anything. And to my utter surprise, and their surprise, we found something that could fit the bill.”

Dr Schep’s theory was that Veratrum album could have been fermented as a wine that was given to the leader. It would have tasted “very bitter” but it could have been sweetened with wine – and Alexander was likely to have been very drunk at the banquet.

But whether Alexander was poisoned is still a mystery. “We’ll never know really … “

… we really haven’t heard anything on this particular theory for three or four years now … here’s a link which will take you to previous suggestions: Puddle Question: What Killed Alexander the Great?. Also worth noting is an abstract of a paper by Adrienne Mayor on the subject (although the link to the paper itself doesn’t appear to work): Citanda: The Deadly Styx River and the Death of Alexander.

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