New mosaic revelations strongly suggest occupant of Amphipolis tomb is Macedonian Royal
Archaeologists working in the Amphipolis tomb in northern Greece have uncovered a new section of the stunning mosaic uncovered last week, which covers the entire floor space in the second chamber. They have now exposed a third character in the mosaic composition, which confirms that the scene depicts the Abduction of Persephone. The Greek Ministry of Culture has announced that this new information gives them great certainty that the occupant of the tomb is a member of the Macedonian royal family, ruling out theories that it may belong to an admiral or general that served in Alexander the Great’s army.
The enormous mosaic, which covers the entire floor of the second chamber and measures 14.7-foot wide (4.5m) by 9.8-foot long (3m), is made with white, black, grey, blue, red, and yellow pebbles. When the mural was first uncovered last week, archaeologists could see that it depicts a chariot with two horses led by the god Hermes, and with an unknown bearded man in the driver’s seat.
New interaction display of the Amphipolis tomb showing the mosaic on the floor of the second chamber. Credit: Greektoys.org
The newly-exposed section revealed that the bearded man is holding a young woman in a white tunic with her hand raised in fear. The Greek Ministry said that the well-known scene is the mythological representation of Pluto’s abduction of Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter and goddess of agriculture and fertility.
Homer describes Persephone as the formidable, venerable majestic queen of the underworld, who carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead. Persephone was abducted by Pluto, previously known as Hades, the god-king of the underworld. While Persephone is in the underworld, her mother mourns and refuses to allow crops to grow until she gets her daughter back again. Eventually, Zeus forces Pluto/Hades to return Persephone. He complies with the request, but first he tricked her, giving her some pomegranate seeds to eat. Persephone was released by the god Hermes, who had been sent to retrieve her, but because she had tasted food in the underworld, she was obliged to spend a third of each year (the winter months) there, and the remaining part of the year with the gods above. The myth of her abduction represents her function as the personification of vegetation, which shoots forth in spring and withdraws into the earth after harvest.
Oil painting of Hades abducting Persephone, 18 th century ( Wikipedia)
The depiction of the abduction of Persephone in the mosaic floor directly links the Amphipolis tomb to the Macedonian Royal family. A mural representing the same scene was discovered in the royal cemetery of these tombs, where King Philip II, Alexander the Great's father, is buried.
“We find the scene of the rapture of Persephone in the mural of the tomb of Persephone, in the royal cemetery at Vergina, Greece. We also have a second display of God Pluto with Persephone, in a scene of a holy marriage, on the backrest of the marble throne, in the tomb of Eurydice, mother of Philip in Aeges,” said lead archaeologist Katerina Peristeri in a recent press conference . “Both scenes are connected with the cults of the underworld, with the cult of Orpheus – descent into Hades – as well as with the cult of Dionysus. Each head of the house of Macedonia was a high priest of these cults… the scene presented in our case has a symbolic meaning, which could denote some kind of relationship of the person buried in the tomb to the Macedonian royal family. The political symbolism is very strong in all eras in Greece.”
Mural depiction the abduction of Persephone from the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, in Vergina, Greece. ( Wikimedia Commons )
Although there are many theories regarding the tomb’s occupant, the most well-supported theory to date is that it belongs to Alexander the Great’s mother, Olympias. The caryatids – sculpted female figures serving as architectural supports - represent Orphic priestesses (Klodones) of Dionysus who took part in sacred rites. Olympias was a passionate devotee of Dionysus and used to participate in Dionysiac rites 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. Now the newly discovered mosaic also connects the tomb’s owner with the cult of Dionysus. Whether this theory is correct or not, remains to be seen.
Featured image: Newly-exposed mural in the Amphipolis tomb depicting the abduction of Persephone. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture