Archaeologists find two ancient caryatids guarding tomb at Amphipolis
The Ministry of Culture in Greece has announced another spectacular find at the enigmatic Amphipolis burial monument in Northern Greece – two caryatids of exquisite beauty, carved from marble with traces of blue and red paint. Discovery News reports that the caryatids were found when a team of archaeologists led by Katerina Peristeri removed sandy soil in front of a sealing wall and found the two female sculptures stood between two marble pillars supporting a beam. The Ministry said that the presence of the caryatids supports the view that this is an “outstanding monument of particular importance.”
A caryatid is a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head. The Greek term ‘karyatides’ translates to "maidens of Karyai", an ancient town of Peloponnese. Karyai had a famous temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis in her aspect of Artemis Karyatis.
The caryatids found at Amphipolis, which are carved from Thassos marble, are wearing a sleeved tunic and earrings, and feature long, curly hair covering their shoulders. The right arm of the western caryatid and the left arm of the eastern one are both outstretched, as if to symbolically stop anyone attempting to enter the grave. The face of one of the sculptures survives almost intact, while the other one is missing.
Wearing a sleeved tunic and earrings, the Caryatids feature long, thick hair covering their shoulders. Credit: Ministry of Culture
In front of the Caryatids, there is a second sealing stone wall, 4.5 meters wide, following the technique of the entrance wall of the grave. It shows that the constructors of the tomb went to great effort to prevent anyone entering the grave.
Archaeologists also uncovered a perfectly preserved rectangular marble block, which measures 14 feet long and 3 feet wide, at the bottom of the vault. On the underside of the large block, they found rosettes painted in blue, red, and yellow. Andrew Chugg, author of “The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great,” told Discovery New that the rosettes are similar to those found on the coffin from the tomb of Philip II, Alexander the Great’s father, suggesting that the tomb at Amphipolis may also belong to a relative of Alexander the Great.
A perfectly preserved rectangular marble block, measuring 14 feet long and 3 feet wide, was unearthed at the bottom of the barrel vault. Credit: Ministry of Culture
On the underside of the large marble block are traces of blue, red and yellow, representing panels with rosettes in the centre. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture
Chugg’s hypothesis is that the most likely candidate for the tomb’s occupant is Olympia, Alexander the Great’s mother, or his wife, Roxane. He has even suggested that “a combination of the two is not unlikely”. The two Macedonian queens both died at Amphipolis in the last quarter of the fourth century, which coincides with the dating of the tomb.
“The Caryatids are a truly spectacular find. The fact that we now have a second pair of sculpted female guardians is of course boosting the case for this being the tomb of an important queen,” Chugg said.
Featured image: One of the caryatides found in the Amphipolis tomb in Greece. Credit: Ministry of Culture.