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 …

9 thoughts on “Alexander the Great Tomb in Amphipolis? Yeah … about that

  1. This is for sure NOT Alexander’s tomb but it is a grave of great importance according to the size and the marble lion standing on the top of the tumulis. As you probably all know, Michaelis Lefantzis is working there and more will be publish later on. In the beginning they thought it could be Roxana’s or even Olympias’s grave but now they think it might be another person close to Alexander.

  2. The tomb most likely is not that of Alexanders as all relevant ancient sources which have been saved mention Egypt as his final resting place. But then again after 200AD all references to his tomb vanished, giving speculations that his remains may have been transfered to who knows where.
    Anyhow this dig is of immense significance even if its not big Alex’s. But whoever’s it may be one thing is for sure. it will be inscribed with ancient Greek, yet another punch in the face to FYROM who is trying desparetely to usurp the glory that was once ancient Greece.

  3. Archaeology will reveal the truth soon. We need to be careful about over politicising the find. It has nothing to do with the name dispute, it does not matter if the find was in Greece or FYROM. If this find was in Heraclea Lyncestis it does not make it less Greek. The evidence for ancient Macedonians being Greek can be seen from Vergina to Kandahar to Philae. Who is in this tomb? I think its Alexander IV and Roxana. The tomb could have been designed for Alexander the Great before the body was intercepted and taken by Ptolemy, having an empty tomb available the body of 12 year old Alexander IV and his mother could have been placed in the tomb in 311BC. All known sources say that Ptolemy took the body to Memphis and later Alexandria, where it was on display and visited by numerous Roman Emperors. However could Ptolemy have lied about taking the body? all surviving sources are written centuries after the life of Alexander, the best sources is Arrian, he heavily relied on the now lost eye-witness account of Ptolemy. If Ptolemy lied in his history, it is likely that it has believed and copied by future historians like Arrian. It is likely that almost all ancient sources that have survived today have passed through the Library of Alexandria, where they could have been edited. Why would Ptolemy I or Ptolemy II lie about taking the body? The Ptolemies ruled Egypt by right of conquest and linking their dynasty with Alexander III, who was proclaimed by the Oracle at Siwa as the son of Amun-Re would help justify their rule and acceptance by the indigenous Egyptians. The cult and body of Alexander was important in the establishment of the Ptolemaic dynastic cult – where they were worshiped as gods. If not Alexander who was buried in Alexandria and visited by Roman Emperors? The body of Alexander was first taken to Memphis, where it was mummified and placed in the Serapeum, it has been suggested by some that it was placed in the empty sarcophagus of Nectanebo II – the last Egyptian Pharaoh. Nectanebo was rumoured to have fled south during the Persian invasion but was most likely killed. When Ptolemy II Philadelphus moved the body from Memphis to Alexandria was it the mummified body of Alexander or Nectanebo? Alexander would have most likely been cremated in accordance with Macedonian customs not mummified. But there is no evidence for anything I have said. So we should wait till the excavation is completed.

    1. “I think its Alexander IV and Roxana. The tomb could have been designed for Alexander the Great before the body was intercepted and taken by Ptolemy, having an empty tomb available the body of 12 year old Alexander IV and his mother could have been placed in the tomb in 311BC.”

      Possibly. And also, maybe later one, Alexander himself (well his remains) could have been brought back and placed with his family. One can only hope.

  4. One thing I am noticing is archaeologists say this tomb could possibly be the work of Dinocrates, who also designed Hephaestions funeral pyre…

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