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The mosaic of the third chamber of the Amphipolis tomb, representing the Abduction of Persephone by Pluto.

New Revelations Reignite Debate About Owner of the Lavish Amphipolis Tomb

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A huge ancient burial mound theorized to have contained the remains of a friend and military general of Alexander the Great of Macedon may actually belong to someone else, new revelations show.

At 1,600 feet (488 meters) in circumference, the lavishly decorated tomb is the largest of its type known from the world of the ancient Greeks and dates to between 325 BC and 300 BC. Alexander the Great died in 323 BC.

A researcher says an inscription on a stone block is missing a pi or Π that the lead archaeologist on the dig says would have linked it to Hephaestion. Instead, according to author Andrew Chugg , it likely was the tomb of Alexander’s mother, Olympias. The bones of five people were unearthed in the tomb.

A ketch of the inscribed block presented by the Greek archaeologists (top) and Andrew Chugg's reconstruction from the 1970s photo shows how the Π of ΠΑΡΕΛΑΒΟΝ was cut off the block when it was shortened.

A ketch of the inscribed block presented by the Greek archaeologists (top) and Andrew Chugg's reconstruction from the 1970s photo shows how the Π of ΠΑΡΕΛΑΒΟΝ was cut off the block when it was shortened. ( Andrew Chugg, American School of Classical Studies at Athens )

“Therefore the Amphipolis tomb must be that later project in which the stones were re-used. It is the tomb of somebody who died a few years after Alexander the Great and not the tomb or monument of Hephaestion, who pre-deceased him by seven months,” Chugg told Discovery . “The skeleton of a woman aged about 60, the correct age for Olympias, was found in a cist grave inside the tomb. It is likely that it will yield DNA, since it had not been cremated,” Chugg said.

The tomb is in Amphipolis, 100 km (62.14 miles) east of Thessaloniki in northern Greece. In 2014, archaeologists opened the tomb , which features decapitated sphinxes, large statues of women guarding the deceased, and beautiful floor mosaics.

The ancient city of Amphipolis was conquered by Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, in 357 BC, and dates back to the 4th century BC. The tomb contains sculptures of caryatids, an ornate mosaic, and coins featuring the face of Alexander the Great.

Archaeologist Katerina Peristeri, leader of the excavations, had 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. 

Imperial Roman gold medallion depicting Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great

Imperial Roman gold medallion depicting Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great. ( Public Domain )

In October 2015, 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. It was one of these inscriptions that had the missing Π sign.

“They left a blank space in their drawing. Everyone thought it meant the Π was simply not there on the stone of the block,” Chugg told Discovery News. These blocks had been stockpiled and were later rediscovered in the Strymon River.

Discovery says Chugg and Peristeri agree Alexander may have ordered the blocks cut for monuments to Hephaestion. But Chugg says after Alexander died, in 323 BC, his building projects were abandoned and the blocks and building material stockpiled.

While the Amphipolis monument may have been constructed in Hephaestion’s honor, Peristeri told Discovery News that there is no evidence that Hephaestion’s remains were ever buried there.

Painting titled “The Family of Darius III in front of Alexander the Great” by Justus Sustermans.

Painting titled “The Family of Darius III in front of Alexander the Great” by Justus Sustermans . ( Public Domain ) Hephaestion is seen pointing to Alexander.

When a sarcophagus was 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 4th century BC until Roman times and was looted in antiquity, so there is no way to know for sure who those five individuals were.

An annual conference on archaeological digs in Macedonia and Thrace is just days away, as of this writing. More details on the tomb and the burials will be revealed at the conference (link in Greek).

Featured Image:  The mosaic of the third chamber of the Amphipolis tomb, representing the Abduction of Persephone by Pluto . Source: Public Domain

By Mark Miller

Comments

It sounds to me, that the tomb was still planned for Hephaestion, though others may have actually used it. I think I would still call it Hephaestion's Tomb.

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