As I sit here rethinking my Ancient World on Television listings because there seem to be so few ‘new’ items worth watching coming out (more on this later) I wandered over to the History Channel’s website and they have a pile of preview videos from Zahi Hawass’ new series called Chasing Mummies. Early media reviews have commented primarily on how badly Dr Hawass seems to abuse folks working on sites (and that comes out in some of the previews) but of more importance to us are a couple of segments which are of interest to us and, of course, the History Channel’s embedding thing doesn’t want to work. So here’s the APA format citation:
Bonus Discoveries At Taposiris Magna. (2010). The History Channel website. Retrieved 10:51, July 16, 2010, from http://www.history.com/videos/bonus-discoveries-at-taposiris-magna.
I won’t comment on the silliness of certain folks asking for a brush so they can clean the femur a bit more. Nor will I comment on the apparent ‘amazement’ at rather common lamp decorations and the identification of certain winged horses coming from “Roman Mythology”.
Of more interest/importance is a segment where Dr Allan Morton and David Cheetham discuss what happened to Cleopatra’s body. Both of them seem to think she was cremated “according to Macedonian tradition”. Morton thinks the idea of a tomb at Taposiris Magna is ‘possible’, but not probable. Cheetham thinks the possibility of a tomb there is zero because he thinks she was cremated and buried:
Where is Cleopatra?. (2010). The History Channel website. Retrieved 10:47, July 16, 2010, from http://www.history.com/videos/where-is-cleopatra.
Ignoring the apparent lack of any suggestion that the tomb might be under water where Franck Goddio has been working, as regular readers of rogueclassicism will recall, we have previously pondered the fate of Antony’s and Cleopatra’s bodies ages ago and wondered what Macedonian practices would have been. I’m not sure that the suggested cremation scenario works for Cleopatra — Macedonian cremation traditions notwithstanding — because it seems clear from Augustus’ famous visit to the tomb of Alexander that the bodies/sarcophagi of other ptolemies were on view there as well. Here’s Suetonius, Augustus 18 (via Lacus Curtius):
About this time he had the sarcophagus and body of Alexander the Great brought forth from its shrine, and after gazing on it, showed his respect by placing upon it a golden crown and strewing it with flowers; and being then asked whether he wished to see the tomb of the Ptolemies as well, he replied, “My wish was to see a king, not corpses.”
A famous pronouncement, of course, but one I don’t would work in a cremation situation if the Ptolemies continued Macedonian practice. But maybe Cleo was treated differently?
… by the way, the Chasing Mummies website will probably be of interest to many of our readers …
UPDATE (an hour or so later): I think it’s salutary to note that the Latin Suetonius uses for ‘corpses’ is ‘mortuos’, which is possibly ambiguous in the context of ‘burial’ (it could generally refer to ‘bodies’, sarcophagi, urns with ashes, etc., I think. The Latin text/notes from the Detlev Carl Wilhelm Baumgarten-Crusius text at Google include the parallel passage from Dio and seem to suggest the passage in Suetonius has been restored from the Dio passage, so it’s problematical on many levels:
Folks who are still interested in Christoph Schaefer’s theories regarding the death of Cleopatra might want to watch the German science show Abenteuer Wissen for more details (not sure how long the video will be up; I can’t seem to embed it here). The takes-too-long-and-is-too-painful theory works if you take the accounts of our ancient sources’ claims that it was a “peaceful death” at face value. Of course, they weren’t eyewitnesses and as we’ve mentioned before, there are problems with the accounts of the ‘funerating’ of Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra … it seems likely there are similar problems here. Nonetheless, perhaps a combination of ‘drugs’ plus snakebite-for-show satisfies everyone …
Our previous coverage:
Some additional coverage outside of the Telegraph (which we mentioned in our first post):
- Cleopatra ‘was killed by a cocktail of drugs – not a snake bite’ | Daily Mail
- Poison, not snake, killed Cleopatra, scholar says | CNN
- Cleopatra did not die of snake bite: study | Al Arabiya
- Cleopatra Killed by Drug Cocktail | Discovery News
The incipit of a brief item in the Telegraph:
The Queen of the Nile ended her life in 30BC and it has always been held that it was the bite of an asp – now called the Egyptian cobra – which caused her demise.
Now Christoph Schaefer, German historian and professor at the University of Trier, is presenting evidence that aims to prove drugs and not the reptile were the cause of death.
“Queen Cleopatra was famous for her beauty and was unlikely to have subjected herself to a long and disfiguring death,” he said.
He journeyed with other experts to Alexandria, Egypt, where they consulted ancient medical texts and snake experts.
“Cleopatra wanted to remain beautiful in her death to maintain her myth,” he says on the Adventure Science show screened by the German television channel ZDF.
“She probably took a cocktail of opium, hemlock and aconitum. Back then this was a well-known mixture that led to a painless death within just a few hours whereas the snake death could have taken days and been agonising.” [...]
Hopefully we’ll hear more about this … back in 2004 there was an item in the Times in which a forensic expert suggested it would have likely taken two hours for Cleopatra to die by the bite of an asp:
… and a year later there was an item in Acta Theologica Supplementum 7 (not sure who the author is; the link is a pdf) on the subject which also suggested aconite as a possibility.
An excerpt from a feature on Zahi Hawass in Speigel … I don’t think comment is necessary ….
Hawass reserves the right to announce all discoveries himself. Not everyone likes this. Some people feel that he is about as interested in serious research as Rapunzel was in having her hair cut.
He boasted that there were “10,000 golden mummies” at the cemetery in Bahariya, but only 200 were found. And he mistakenly declared a shabby find in the Valley of Kings to be the gravesite of a female pharaoh.
His own excavation efforts also appear to be somewhat bizarre. For some time, the master has been searching for the body of Cleopatra in a temple near Alexandria — based on an idea suggested to him by a lawyer from the Dominican Republic.
“Are you sure about this?” a journalist wanted to know. Hawass replied: “Completely, otherwise I wouldn’t have even mentioned it. After all, I don’t want to embarrass myself.”
When nothing was found, despite feverish excavation efforts, Hawass took a granite bust of Cleopatra’s lover, Mark Antony, from a museum last year and pretended that he had just pulled it out of the ground.
The Oxford University Press blog seems to be running a series of podcasts about Cleopatra over the next few days (?). In this first installment, we have an interviewish thing with Duane Roller, who, of course, has recently written a biography of our favourite Alexandrian.
In my mailbox this a.m. is an interesting little piece from National Geographic which seems to be answering some of the questions I raised (again) a few days ago about the continuing claims about Taposiris Magna as the site for Tony and Cleo’s tomb (or mostly the latter, I suppose). The post is, ostensibly, about that headless statue find, but goes further. Here’s the first excerpt of interest:
The newfound black granite statue—which stands about 6 feet (1.8 meters) without its head—is thought to be of King Ptolemy IV, because a cartouche carved of the same stone and bearing his name was found near the figure’s base.
Ptolemy IV was one of several Greek royals who ruled Egypt during the Ptolemaic period, from 332 to 30 B.C.
In addition to the headless statue, the Egyptian-Dominican dig team found an inscription, written in Greek and hieroglyphics, in the foundation deposits of one of the temple’s corners. The writing says Ptolemy IV—who ruled from 221 to 205 B.C.—commissioned the temple.
Previously experts had thought that the temple was built during the reign of Ptolemy II, who ruled from 282 to 246 B.C.
“If you are arguing for it to be a burial place for Cleopatra, then the later it is built, the more chance we have to have connections with her—the greater the possibility it was still active during her lifetime,” said Salima Ikram of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, who is not associated with the Taposiris digs.
… not sure I’m being nitpicky, but the difference between Ptolemy IV and Ptolemy II in terms of ‘proximity’ to Cleopatra VII really isn’t significant … anyhoo, we then get some more interesting stuff at the end:
So far, the temple’s cemetery has been found to contain at least 12 mummies, 500 skeletons, and 20 tombs. The bodies were buried facing the temple, which could mean the building contains the tomb of an important figure, Martinez said.
Inside the temple, the team found a place for a sacred pool, rooms likely used for mummification, and chapels dedicated to the gods Osiris and Isis. The powerful pair were husband and wife in Egyptian mythology—a fact that could have inspired the couple to chose the temple as their burial site.
“Cleopatra could [represent] Isis and Marc Antony could be Osiris,” said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who is supervising the digs.
And in 2008 the team unearthed an alabaster bust of Cleopatra, coins bearing her image, and a bronze statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, among other artifacts.
“After excavations, we have uncovered what belongs to this temple, to this huge complex, proving it really was one of the most sacred temples in Alexandria” during the Ptolemaic period, said archaeologist and dig leader Kathleen Martinez.
“And because of the solemnity of this temple, and it was so sacred at that time, I believe it could have Cleopatra’s tomb.”
“Perfect Place” to Hide the Dead
Hawass added that Taposiris Magna is a good candidate site for the tombs of Antony and Cleopatra because the legendary couple would have wanted to be sure Roman conquerors couldn’t find and desecrate their graves.
Marc Antony likely suspected that Octavian would have paraded the dead bodies around Rome to show off his military might. The couple would have therefore wanted to be buried in a sacred but secret location outside Alexandria’s royal quarter.
About a year ago the SCA allowed Martinez to start using ground-penetrating radar inside Taposiris Magna. The results show a series of tunnels and as many as eight underground chambers that are still being explored.
“It’s the perfect place to hide their tombs,” said Hawass, who is also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.
Excavation leader Martinez added that the sheer size of Taposiris Magna would have made any tombs there hard to find.
“This temple complex is five square kilometers,” or roughly two square miles, Martinez said. “We have been searching with new technology—how would the Romans have found them?”
Okay, so it is clear now that we are dealing with a theory based on a genuine example of ‘begging the question’. We are to believe that the Romans — especially in Augustus’ time — had a history of ‘desecrating burial sites’, which, as far as I’m aware, is utterly foreign to the superstitious Roman mindset. Even if examples of same can be found, for this theory to have any legs, one has to totally ignore the testimony of our ancient sources in regards to the corpses of both Antony and Cleopatra, both of which Octavian clearly would have had access to if he was of a ‘desecration mindset.’ Most damning, of course, is the line in Suetonius Aug. 17 which we’ve mentioned before:
Ambobus communem sepulturae honorem tribuit ac tumulum ab ipsis incohatum perfici iussit.
Octavian ALLOWED them to be buried together and clearly knew the site of the tomb. Martinez and Hawass REALLY have to explain the MAJOR discrepancy between our ancient sources and their apparent ‘argument’ for continuing to claim this site as the “secret” burial place of Cleopatra. “Solemnity” and vague ‘conspiracy theories’ don’t cut it.
With a Cleopatra exhibition about to hit Philadelphia and plenty of hype to be associated with it (if it isn’t already), it seems like a good time to see what — if any — developments there have been in the search for Cleopatra’s tomb. To bring folks up to speed, after finds of statuary linked to Cleopatra and (purportedly) Marcus Antonius, the folks at Taposiris Magna were forced to shut down operations last July because the President was summering in the area vel simm. Digging resumed (apparently) in October. In November we had a semi-coherent piece about the woman in charge of this particular dig — Kathleen Martinez — and it seemed to be treading a fine line between a link to Ptolemy and ‘Cleopatra’s Tomb’. Our November update also had links to most of our previous coverage.
Now we can get to some ‘new’ stuff. Back in December, I never got around to posting about the discovery/raising of some monumental gateway associated with Cleopatra’s palace complex from the waters off Alexandria. Here’s a bit from the Guardian:
A team of Greek marine archaeologists who have spent years conducting underwater excavations off the coast of Alexandria in Egypt have unearthed a giant granite threshold to a door that they believe was once the entrance to a magnificent mausoleum that Cleopatra VII, queen of the Egyptians, had built for herself shortly before her death.
They believe the 15-tonne antiquity would have held a seven metre-high door so heavy that it would have prevented the queen from consoling her Roman lover before he died, reputedly in 30BC.
“As soon as I saw it, I thought we are in the presence of a very special piece of a very special door,” Harry Tzalas, the historian who heads the Greek mission, said. “There was no way that such a heavy piece, with fittings for double hinges and double doors, could have moved with the waves so there was no doubt in my mind that it belonged to the mausoleum. Like Macedonian tomb doors, when it closed, it closed for good.”
Tzalas believes the discovery of the threshold sheds new light on an element of the couple’s dying hours which has long eluded historians.
In the first century AD the Greek historian Plutarch wrote that Mark Antony, after being wrongly informed that Cleopatra had killed herself, had tried to take his own life. When the dying general expressed his wish to pass away alongside his mistress, who was hiding inside the mausoleum with her ladies-in-waiting, he was “hoisted with chains and ropes” to the building’s upper floor so that he could be brought in to the building through a window.
Plutarch wrote, “when closed the [mausoleum's] door mechanism could not open again”. The discovery in the Mediterranean Sea of such huge pieces of masonry at the entrance to what is believed to be the mausoleum would explain the historian’s line. Tzalas said: “For years, archaeologists have wondered what Plutarch, a very reliable historian, meant by that. And now, finally, I think we have the answer.
“Allowing a dying man to be hoisted on ropes was not a very nice, or comforting thing to do, but Cleopatra couldn’t do otherwise. She was there only with females and they simply couldn’t open such a heavy door.”
The threshold, part of the sunken palace complex in which Cleopatra is believed to have died, was discovered recently at a depth of eight metres but only revealed this week. It has yet to be brought to the surface.
The archaeologists have also recovered a nine-tonne granite block which they believe formed part of a portico belonging to the adjoining temple of Isis Lochias. “We believe it was part of the complex surrounding Cleopatra’s palace,” said Zahi Hawas, Egypt’s top archaeologist. “This is an important part of Alexandria’s history and brings us closer to knowing more about the ancient city.”
Here’s a bit more detail from al Ahram:
Ibrahim Darwish, head of museums in Alexandria and one of the archaeologist-divers, said the tower was part of an entrance to a temple dedicated to Isis Lochias and was located on Cape Lochias. According to ancient sources, Cleopatra’s mausoleum stood near this temple. A door lintel and a coin bearing the image of a similar tower were among objects discovered there in 1998.
Archaeologist Harry Tzalas, who headed the 1998 underwater archaeological mission, told the Weekly that the lifted pylon was the most important artefact found in the submerged Royal Quarter as it is a symbol of an amalgamation of Greek and Pharaonic architectural styles. Tzalas pointed out that since the pylon, which is cut in the ancient Egyptian architectural style, was found at the entrance of the Greek temple of Isis Lochias, and shows that some of the monuments of Alexandria were not only in the Graeco-Roman style but Pharaonic as well.
Although the Eastern Harbour is the place where Mark Anthony died after being defeated by Octavian, and where Cleopatra tragically ended her life, Tzalas said, the couple were not buried there. He explained that the Cleopatra mausoleum was being built near the Isis temple but was not ready when she died, and she was not buried there.
The AP coverage — which has largely disappeared from the interwebs, alas — included a nice little paragraph, inter alia:
Hawass has already launched another high-profile dig connected to Cleopatra. In April, he said he hopes to find the long-lost tomb of Antony and Cleopatra – and that he believes it may be inside a temple of Osiris located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Alexandria.
- Egypt lifts huge ‘Cleopatra temple’ block from sea | BBC
- Sunken artifact reveals Pharaonic influence | Reuters
- Pharaohs’ temple tower raised from the sea | Scotsman
- Monument Lifted from Cleopatra’s Underwater City in the Mediterranean Sea | Art Daily (nice photo)
Now here’s where I was confused — and was hoping for clarification (which is why I didn’t immediately post all that) which never came — because it appeared that we had one archaeologist saying they had found something known to be near the actual tomb of Cleopatra while the Supreme Council of Antiquities head was still saying things about Taposiris Magna. Further adding to the confusion was an excerpt from Dr. Hawass’ blog at the time:
The Greek expedition was able to recognize the artifacts, and they worked in cooperation with the Department of Underwater Antiquities of Alexandria at the coastal area of Chatby. The two most important of the 400 the Greek mission found are the 9-ton pylon tower, and the 15-ton threshold of a door. Both are made of granite and are of great historical importance in reconstructing the great city of ancient Alexandria. Ancient authors such as Plutarch and Strabo write about Cleopatra’s palace being located in this area, with her mausoleum and a temple of Isis right next to it. It seems likely that this pylon tower was for that temple of Isis, since it was the only temple in the area, and the threshold, which was found very near to it, could be for the door of Cleopatra’s tomb.
… and one from an associated press release:
According to Harry Tzalas who headed the 1998 mission, the tower was part of an entrance to a temple dedicated to Isis Lochias located on Cape Lochias. According to ancient sources, Cleopatra’s Mausoleum was near this temple – a door lintel and a coin bearing the image of a similar tower were among objects discovered in 1998.
At the eastern harbor is where Mark Antony died after being defeated by Octavian. It is also where Cleopatra tragically ended her life. However, we do not think the couple was buried here.
Why not? Why not? Why not? Much of the coverage mentioned below also claims ‘evidence’ that the couple wasn’t buried in Alexandria, but the details are lacking.
In any event the ‘latest’ discovery at Taposiris Magna is being touted as the latest ‘evidence’ of Cleo’s tomb being there. Indeed, just a quick overview of some of the headlines might give you the impression that it has definitely been found, e.g.:
- Queen Cleopatra’s tomb discovery | Monsters and Critics
- Cleopatra’s tomb discovered, says Egyptian archaeologists | People’s Daily
What has been discovered in the past week or so is a headless statue of one of the Ptolemies (Ptolemy IV is apparently the likeliest candidate). The Independent’s reportage is more representative of the more reasonable coverage of this find:
Archaeologists excavating at Taposiris Magna, a site west of Alexandria, have discovered a huge headless granite statue of a Ptolemaic king, and the original gate to a temple dedicated to the god Osiris.
In a statement issued by the SCA, Dr Zahi Hawass says that the monumental sculpture, which is a traditional figure of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh wearing collar and kilt, could represent Ptolemy IV, the pharaoh who constructed the Taposiris Magna temple. He added that the statue is very well preserved and might be one of the most beautiful statues carved in the ancient Egyptian style.
The joint Egyptian-Dominican team working at Taposiris Magna discovered the temple’s original gate on its western side. In pharaonic Egypt the temple was named Per-Usir, meaning ‘A place of Osiris’. Legend has it that when the god Seth killed Osiris he cut him into fourteen pieces and threw them all over Egypt. This is one of fourteen temples said to contain one piece of the god’s body.
The team also found limestone foundation stones, which would once have lined the entrance to the temple. One of these bears traces indicating that the entrance was lined with a series of Sphinx statues similar to those of the pharaonic era.
The team, led by Dr Kathleen Martinez, began excavations in Taposiris Magna five years ago in an attempt to locate the tomb of the well-known lovers, Queen Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony. There is some evidence that suggests that Egypt’s last Queen might not be buried inside the tomb built beside her royal palace, which is now under the eastern harbour of Alexandria.
Dr Hawass pointed out that in the past five years the mission has discovered a collection of headless royal statues, which may have been subjected to destruction during the Byzantine and Christian eras. A collection of heads featuring Queen Cleopatra was also uncovered along with 24 metal coins bearing Cleopatra’s face.
Behind the temple, a necropolis was discovered, containing many Greco-Roman style mummies. Early investigations, said Dr Hawass, show that the mummies were buried with their faces turned towards the temple, which means it is likely the temple contained the burial of a significant royal personality, possibly Cleopatra VII.
- 2,000-year-old Ptolemaic statue found in Egypt | Telegraph
- Egypt finds Ptolemaic statue in hunt for Cleopatra tomb | AFP via Yahoo
- Search for Cleopatra yields Ptolemy instead | IOL
- Looking for Cleopatra | Al Ahram
- Archaeologists Find Headless Statue of Ancient Egyptian King | Bloomberg
- Headless Statue Hints at Tomb of Cleopatra: Hawass | Discovery.com (video)
- Quest for Cleopatra’s tomb reveals statue(video)
A related report in VOA includes a paragraph which gives us a glimpse, I think, of why folks might be tenaciously clinging to this Taposiris theory:
The idea of Taposiris as the burial place of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, who killed themselves rather than submit to Antony’s rival Octavian, was proposed by a young Dominican archeologist, Kathleen Martinez. She tries to evoke the couple’s last days, the end of Egypt as an empire. “She has to choose a place that she must be safe after life,” she says, because “the Romans hated her so much, they will search for her body and they will destroy it.”
… which, of course, is interesting insofar as the Romans (at the official level) don’t seem to have ever had a problem with allowing burials. It was the mob who did the inter Tiberim sort of thing. But getting back to the ‘responsible coverage’ , much of it echoes what is found in a press release at Hawass’ blog. What’s more interesting, however, is the concluding paragraph in the aforementioned Independent piece, which includes something not in the press release:
Dr Hawass has already hailed the dig as a success, whatever the outcome: “If we discover the tomb… it will be the most important discovery of the 21st century. If we do not discover the tomb… we made major discoveries here, inside the temple and outside the temple.”
Seems like Dr. Hawass is leaving the door open to back away from the Taposiris-as-tomb-site theory, no? Whatever the case, it’s increasingly starting to look like the ‘evidence’ that is preventing them from choosing the more logical site for Cleo’s tomb (in Alexandria) is the ‘non evidence’ from Taposiris Magna. I seem to hear the sound of hammers being applied to evidence …