Amphipolis caryatids may hint that Olympias lies within
A heated guessing game has been taking place around who is buried under the colossal mound currently being excavated at Amphipolis in Greece’s northeastern Macedonia region. Theories range from members of Alexander the Great’s family, including his wife, son, or mother, to admirals or generals that served in Alexander’s army, such as Androsthenes, Laomedon or Nearchus. However, a report in Discovery News reveals that the newly-exposed caryatids may hint at the tomb’s occupant.
According to Andrew Chugg, author of "The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great", the caryatids - sculpted female figures serving as architectural supports – represent Orphic priestesses of Dionysus who took part in sacred rites. If true, some scholars argue the tomb must belong to Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great.
The face of Olympias on an Imperial Roman medallion, part of a 3rd-century series representing Emperor Caracalla as the descendant of Alexander the Great. Image source: Wikipedia
"These female sculptures may specifically be Klodones, priestesses of Dionysus with whom Olympias, Alexander the Great's mother, consorted," Chugg told Discovery News. "This is because the baskets they wear on their heads are sacred to Dionysus."
According to Chugg, the seven feet tall marble statues represent female guardians because their alternated arms outstretched as if to symbolically stop intruders from entering the chamber, and this would rule out a male occupant.
Chugg explained that the Greek historian Plutarch, in his book ‘Life of Alexander’, wrote that Olympias was a passionate devotee of Dionysus and used to participate in Dionysiac rites and orgies with the Klodones, in which the mystical baskets, like those seen on the heads of the caryatids, were used to hold Olympias' pet snakes, which would terrify the male participants in the Dionysiac rites.
"I have discovered there are Roman copies of a 4th-Century B.C. statue of Dionysus in both the Hermitage and Metropolitan museums with an accompanying figure of a priestess, who is dressed very similarly to the Amphipolis caryatids, including the 'platform shoes,'" Chugg said.
According to Andrew Chugg, the clothing and footwear of the caryatids in the Amphipolis tomb are similar to those found on Roman copies of a 4th-Century B.C. statue of a priestess of Dionysus. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture
Whether Chugg is right or not remains to be seen. Archaeologists are now saying there may be a previously unknown fourth chamber to the tomb after discovering what looks like another door in the north wall of the 3 rd chamber. The new entry is smaller in width than the earlier ones and is shifted towards one side, not in the centre of the fourth wall.
Archaeologists have found a smaller doorway in the north wall of the third chamber. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture
Featured image: The two caryatids have been fully revealed in the Amphipolis tomb. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture