Sphinxes Revealed in Newly-Discovered Ancient Greek Tomb
Last week we reported on the incredible discovery of a vast ancient tomb in Greece guarded by two sphinxes, adorned with frescoed walls, and surrounded by a nearly 500-metre long wall carved from marble. Now, after removing large stones from the outer seal, the two headless guardian sphinxes have been revealed in all their splendour, and bit by bit, the grand tomb is revealing the secrets that have lain hidden for 2,300 years.
The unique burial monument, which dates from 325 to 300 BC, is located on Kasta Hill, in the region of Macedonia about 100km northeast of Thessaloniki. It is the largest ancient tomb ever discovered in Greece, and while the identity of the tomb owner is not yet known, plans are to enter the tomb next month, when hopefully its owner will be revealed.
A partial view of the site where archaeologists are excavating an ancient mound in Amphipolis, northern Greece. Credit: Alexandros Michailidis/AP
According to a report in Discovery News, the sphinxes, which were carved from marble brought from the island of Thassos, would have reached a height of 6.5 feet with their heads, and both bear traces of red colouring on their feet, suggesting they were once painted. “Pieces of the sphinx’s wings were found at the site, allowing for a full restoration,” the Greek Ministry of Culture said.
Dorothy King, a classical archaeologist, has said that seated sphinxes, as opposed to lying sphinxes seen in Egyptian art, are quite unusual for the time period of the tomb.
“The closest parallel I can think of are those from the Hecatomnid Androns at Labraunda, about a quarter of a century earlier,” she said on her blog. The bearded Hecatomnid statues are common in Persian royal iconography – could this hint at the occupant of the tomb?
A Persian seated sphinx from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Image source.
Beyond the two sphinxes, archaeologists found a black and white mosaic floor with geometric shapes, but what lies within the tomb remains a mystery. It is known, however, that the interior consists of three rooms, which was revealed in a geophysical survey using high-tech equipment.
Kasta Hill lies in what was once the ancient city of Amphipolis, which was once conquered by Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, in 357 B.C. Prominent generals and admirals from the Macedonian period had links with Amphipolis – Nearchus, Androsthenes of Thasos, and Laomedon (a close friend of Alexander the Great), so one possibility is that the occupant of the tomb is a senior general from the army of Alexander the Great.
Local media were quick to speculate that the tomb could belong to Alexander the Great, who died in 323 BC under mysterious circumstances. The location of his tomb is one of the greatest mysteries of antiquity. However, a Culture Ministry official said there was no evidence to suggest a link to Alexander the Great.
However, Dorothy King raises the possibility that the tomb may have been built for Alexander, even if his body never actually made its way there.
“If Alexander was on his way to being buried in Macedonia when Ptolemy pinched his body … to me that suggests that there was a tomb that had been or was being prepared for him in Macedonia,” King wrote.
One thing is for sure, many will be waiting with bated breath for the final announcement regarding the real owner of this remarkable monument.
Featured image: The headless sphinxes carved from Thassos marble guard the tomb’s entrance. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport.