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Artistic representation of the caryatids in the Amphipolis tomb.

Ancient Amphipolis Tomb was Commissioned by Alexander the Great for his Closest Friend and General, Hephaestion, New Evidence Shows

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New evidence has emerged that the massive underground tomb in Amphipolis, Greece, which was hailed last year as the archaeological discovery of the decade, was commissioned by Alexander the Great for his close companion and general in his army, Hephaestion.

The Amphipolis Tomb, which lies within the Kasta Hill burial mound, approximately 100 kilometres east of Thessaloniki in Greece, captured worldwide attention last year when two marble sphinxes were found guarding its entrance. It lies in what was once the ancient city of Amphipolis, conquered by Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, in 357 BC, and dates back to the fourth century B.C. The tomb, measuring 500 metres (1,640 feet) in circumference, was found to contain sculptures of caryatids, an ornate mosaic, and coins featuring the face of Alexander the Great.

Head archaeologist Katerina Peristeri long suggested that the tomb may have been commissioned for a general in Alexander the Great’s army. However, the discovery of rosettes painted in blue, red, and yellow, which are similar to those found on the coffin from the tomb believed to belong to Philip II, Alexander the Great’s father, suggested that the tomb at Amphipolis may have instead belonged to a Macedonian royal, with the most popular theory pointing to Olympias, Alexander’s mother. 

Amphipolis Tomb

Amphipolis Tomb by (update) on Sketchfab.

New inscriptions found

Greek news site Ekathimerini reports that new evidence has emerged that may finally solve the mystery of the tomb’s original owner.

During a conference in Thessaloniki, Peristeri and her head architect Michalis Lefantzis announced that they found three inscriptions within the Amphipolis tomb with the monogram of Hephaestion, a general, and the closest friend of Alexander the Great. The inscriptions are project contracts for the construction of the monument.

According to the Greek Reporter, the inscriptions suggest that the monument was commissioned by a powerful individual of that era, and Peristeri maintains that individual may have been Alexander himself.

The monogram of Hephaestion found in three separate inscriptions within the Amphipolis tomb. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

The monogram of Hephaestion found in three separate inscriptions within the Amphipolis tomb. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

Hephaestion, general in the army of Alexander the Great

Hephaestion was a Macedonian nobleman that grew up with Alexander, studying with him under the tutelage of Aristotle. They became close personal friends, as well as comrades. Hephaestion became a member of Alexander’s personal bodyguard and went on to command the Companion cavalry. He was entrusted with many important roles, including diplomatic missions, the bridging of major rivers, sieges and the foundation of new settlements.

When Hephaestion died suddenly in Ecbatana, Iran, in 324 BC, Alexander petitioned the oracle at Siwa to grant him divine status, and organized an elaborate funeral at Babylon, in which Hephaestion was said to have been cremated in the presence of the entire army. According to ancient historian Plutarch, Alexander then ordered a series of monuments to be built for Hephaestion across his empire. 

A painting by Charles Le Brun depicting Alexander and Hephaestion (in red cloak), facing Porus, during the Battle of the Hydaspes. 

While the Amphipolis monument may have been constructed in Hephaestions honor, Peristeri maintains that there is no evidence that Hephaestions remains were ever buried there. 

When a sarcophagus was finally uncovered within the Amphipolis tomb, archaeologists found a total of five skeletons – an elderly woman, two men, a newborn baby, and the cremated remains of an individual of unknown age and gender. 

The tomb is believed to have been in use from the fourth century BC until Roman times, and is known to have been looted in antiquity, so there is no way to know who those five individuals were. 

Featured Image: Artistic representation of the caryatids in the Amphipolis tomb

By April Holloway



Closest friend and general? What about lover? The latter would make more sense now given the size and cost of this and other memorials built in Hephaestion's honour...

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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