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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Alexander the Great Tomb in Amphipolis? Yeah … about that

This is another one of those mind bogglers which I don’t really understand … Back on August 21, a typically vague and brief item appeared in Greek Reporter:

A group of archaeologists in Amphipolis, a municipality in Serres, claim to have made one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever, as they believe they have uncovered the tomb of Alexander the Great.

They said the tomb has a circumference of 498 meters, an artwork of perfection would only be built for a king.

Th masterpiece is externally covered with high quality exquisitely-carved marble, a remarkable feat given the tools available at the time.

The tomb once was covered with soil and topped with a lion, the one that has been reassembled further uphill and known as the Lion of Amphipolis which was found by Greek soldiers in 1912.

… which struck me as odd, especially given that none of the archaeologists involved were named, or even quoted. It struck me as odd especially because back in October, when this find was actually initially announced, there were plenty of names and quotes (see, e.g., Roxane’s Tomb?). In March, there were more developments and video coverage (Roxane’s Tomb Redux … click on the links therein as well for Dorothy King’s comments). In any event, because of this it wasn’t surprising to read an AP/Washington Post piece within a few hours suggesting it was ‘too early to tell’ … an excerpt:

[...] A Culture Ministry statement Thursday said the partly-excavated mound has yielded a “very remarkable” marble-faced wall from the late 4th century B.C. It is an impressive 500 meters (yards) long and three meters high.

But the ministry warned it would be “overbold” to link the site near ancient Amphipolis, 370 miles (600 kilometers) north of Athens, with “historic personages” before the excavation is completed. [...]

It’s worth noting that the info in the Washington Post piece is essentially the same (in that it really adds nothing) to the info we read back in October (including the name of the archaeologist who seems to be heading the dig (Aikaterini Peristeri). Again, though, it’s probably not surprising that we had the Greek Reporter (via  a different author), trying to do some face saving:

On Aug. 22, the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports published an announcement on its official website about the way the media handled the recent excavation of a big built precinct of the 4th century B.C. in Kasta near Amphipolis, in the Serres regional unit of Greece.

As many Greek websites rushed to link the monument that was discovered to the long-sought tomb of warrior-king Alexander the Great, the Culture Ministry and in particular the General Directorate of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage felt it had to calm things down.

“The finding of Amphipolis is certainly very important, but before the excavation proceeds, any interpretation and mainly any identification with historical figures lacks scientific justification and is too risky,” the Ministry announced.

However, the Ministry admitted that the discovery of the marble-faced wall from the late 4th century B.C., 500 meters long and three meters high, is indeed very remarkable and of high archaeological importance.

I really can’t tell, but one suspects Enet (another English-language Greek newspaper) took great joy in posting only: Mound fuels heady speculation about Alexander the Great. Ditto for Kathimerini: Ministry warns against speculation that Alexander the Great’s grave has been found. Turkish Weekly is probably in the same boat: Greece: too early to say whether grave of Alexander the Great found.

So you’d think that would be the end of it and most people who read this blog are shaking their collective heads muttering things about Ptolemy and Alexandria. But nooooo … we read the International Business Times, which includes this bit, inter alia:

Lead archaeologist Aikaterini Peristeri said the grave could contain a “significant individual” or individuals, hinting at the possibility that the remains of Alexander and his wife Roxanne, as well as his young successor, are inside the tomb. [...]

“Hinting”? Really? Didn’t know ‘hinting’ was the equivalent of a journalistic source. The ‘significant individual’ thing was made back in October. Speculation about others (including Roxane) was being made by municipal politician types.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mailhas been even more creative in its cutting and pasting of things written elsewhere, again, inter alia:

Site archaeologist Aikaterini Peristeri has voiced hopes of finding ‘a significant individual or individuals’ within.

A Culture Ministry statement has enthused that the archaeologists have partly excavated a mound that has yielded a ‘very remarkable’ marble-faced wall from the late 4th century BC.

Experts believe the ancient artificial mound could contain the remains of the king, or is at least an important royal Macedonian grave. [...]

MSN then takes things to their illogical conclusion and cites the Daily Mail as the source for its brief item:

If found, the tomb of Alexander the Great would be one of the world’s greatest treasures. Now, archaeologists think they may have found it — not in Egypt, as long believed, but in Greece, around 400 miles north of Athens in the ancient city of Amphipolis. There researchers discovered “an impressive wall,” lined with marble, that might shield a “royal grave” for the 4th-century BC warrior king, whose distinctions include creating one of the biggest empires the world has ever seen. Alexander died young, perhaps at 32, after becoming ill or being poisoned

In short (or TL:DR), no archaeologist has actually made any suggestion that Alexander the Great might be buried in this mound. The only coverage where archaeologists have actually said anything comes back in October and then in March. All this speculation seems to have been made by some reporter at Greek Reporter with too much time on his hands who probably was chatting with some business folks in Serres who are trying to get some tourist bucks while the Culture Ministry was quick to try to bring some sanity back. Sadly, however, other news outlets ran-with-scissors-like to make this into the silliness we’ve witnessed these past few days and, no doubt, will see more in the next few.

By the way, if you’re new to this Alexander Tomb business, you might want to check out some of our previous posts:

… I could give more, but you get the idea. I’ll just sit here and let my mind boggle a bit more …