All  

Ancient Origins Tour IRAQ

Ancient Origins Tour IRAQ Mobile

Statue of Alexander the Great at Thessaloniki, Greece, Right: Facade of Philip II of Macedon tomb in Vergina, Greece.  Source: YK/Adobe Stock, Public Domain

Alexander the Great’s Family Identities Confirmed at Vergina Tumulus

Print

Where is Alexander the Great buried? This mystery, that has baffled historians and devotees of the legendary conqueror, might be closer to an answer, as a group of archaeologists found the occupants of three tombs, situated within the Great Tumulus of Vergina in northern Greece. A study has now conclusively identified those interred as members of the family of Alexander the Great including his father, stepmother, half-siblings, and son. Alongside skeletal remains, a wealth of artifacts and items associated with Alexander himself, including armor and other personal belongings, were also found!

Identity Crisis: Who’s Been Entombed?

Initially excavated in 1977, the 2,300-year-old tombs located within the Great Tumulus have garnered international recognition and are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the authors of a new study published in The Journal of Archaeological ScienceReports, these tombs “contained an astoundingly rich array of burial goods.”

Vergina, formerly known as Aegae, is situated in the southern Balkan Peninsula. A small inset map outlines the plans of the Royal Tombs in the region.  (Antonis Bartsiokas et al. / Journal of Archaeological Science)

Vergina, formerly known as Aegae, is situated in the southern Balkan Peninsula. A small inset map outlines the plans of the Royal Tombs in the region.  (Antonis Bartsiokas et al. / Journal of Archaeological Science)

For nearly half a century, scholars have engaged in heated discussions regarding the identities of the individuals interred within the tombs, though they were certain that the bones belonged to close relatives of Alexander the Great.

To resolve this longstanding mystery, the study authors from Greece, Spain, and the USA, employed a comprehensive approach that combined osteological analyses, macrophotography, X-rays, anatomical dissections of the ancient remains, and historical sources from antiquity. Then, corroboration with historical accounts helped with making significant strides.

The male in Tomb I exhibits a fused left knee with clear external rotation of the tibia, evident from the anticlockwise twist caused by a penetrating lance positioned obliquely from the right side of the photo. (Antonis Bartsiokas et al. / Journal of Archaeological Science)

The male in Tomb I exhibits a fused left knee with clear external rotation of the tibia, evident from the anticlockwise twist caused by a penetrating lance positioned obliquely from the right side of the photo. (Antonis Bartsiokas et al. / Journal of Archaeological Science)

Their findings revealed that Tomb I contained the remains of a man with a knee injury, alongside those of a woman and a newborn baby who was just days or weeks old at the time of death. Based on these observations, the study authors concluded that the male figure was none other than King Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great's father, who was known to have suffered from a limp, reports IFL Science.

A Bloody Assassination: Alexander’s Ascension

The presence of an infant aligns perfectly with the historical narrative surrounding Philip II's assassination in 336 BC. According to most historical sources, Philip II was assassinated by his bodyguard shortly after his wife Cleopatra gave birth. It is widely believed that the murder was orchestrated by Philip's former wife Olympias, who was also the mother of Alexander the Great.

According to some historical accounts, Olympias took swift and ruthless measures to consolidate power and secure the succession of her son, Alexander. Allegedly, she ordered the assassination of Cleopatra, Philip's latest wife, along with her newborn baby. The manner of their deaths is subject to debate among historians, with some sources suggesting that they were burned alive. In any case, this paved way for Alexander’s unchallenged ascension to the throne.

Previous scholarly theories posited that King Philip II of Macedon was buried in Tomb II of the Great Tumulus of Vergina, alongside a woman. The absence of a newborn baby within the tomb, coupled with the lack of evident physical trauma on the male skeleton, has led scholars to dismiss this hypothesis.

The golden larnax of Philip II of Macedon at Vergina. (Public Domain)

The golden larnax of Philip II of Macedon at Vergina. (Public Domain)

Upon closer examination of the skeletal remains and archaeological evidence, the study authors reached a different conclusion regarding the occupants of Tomb II. They determined that the burial belongs to a "warrior woman" identified as Adea Eurydice, the wife of King Arrhidaeus, Alexander the Great's half-brother. This conclusion is supported by skeletal evidence indicating excessive wear and tear consistent with extensive horseback riding, a characteristic associated with warriors in ancient Macedonian society.

The right orbital margin of the male found in Tomb II, showcasing the frontal and internal views. It's important to observe the absence of any injuries. (Public Domain)

The right orbital margin of the male found in Tomb II, showcasing the frontal and internal views. It's important to observe the absence of any injuries. (Public Domain)

“Due to ancient depictions and descriptions, some scholars have suggested that some of the objects in Tomb II, such as the armor, belonged to Alexander the Great, which is possible only if this is the Tomb of Arrhidaeus, not Philip II,” write the authors. Arrhidaeus has additionally been described by them as “Alexander's much less impressive brother” with an “impressive wife”.

“We have provided compelling evidence from multiple sources that shows conclusively that Philip II was buried in Tomb I in Vergina and that Tomb II contained Arrhidaeus and Eurydice. We evaluated the hypothesis of Philip II in Tomb II and demonstrated why it cannot be supported, based on a full review of the available evidence. Our hypothesis of Philip II in Tomb I remains unchallenged in peer-reviewed literature and we believe the available evidence is conclusive,” conclude the authors of the study.

Top image: Statue of Alexander the Great at Thessaloniki, Greece, Right: Facade of Philip II of Macedon tomb in Vergina, Greece.  Source: YK/Adobe Stock, Public Domain

By Sahir Pandey

References

Bartsiokas, A., Arsuaga, J.L., Brandmeir, N. 2024.  The identification of the Royal Tombs in the Great Tumulus at Vergina, Macedonia, Greece: A comprehensive review. Journal of Archaeological Science, 52. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2023.104279.

Georgiou, A. 2024.  Alexander the Great's Father and Son Identified in 2,300-Year-Old Tombs. Available at: https://www.newsweek.com/alexander-great-close-relatives-identified-2300-year-old-tombs-1864302.

Taub, B. 2024.  Alexander The Great’s Father, Brother, And Son Finally Identified In Greek Tomb. Available at: https://www.iflscience.com/alexander-the-greats-father-brother-and-son-finally-identified-in-greek-tomb-72585.

 

Comments

It is most probable the woman in the pre-chamber of Tomb II to be Cynane mother of Eurydice (and step sister of Arhhidaeus and Alexander). Indications are the older age (30-35yo), the fact that she was not buried in the same main chamber with Arhhidaeus and mostly that her greaves are of unequal length meaning a serious wound in one foot, something not compatible with Eurydice, whose body probably was not recovered after having committed suicide.

Sahir's picture

Sahir

I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

Next article