8.28.2014

Looting Hecatomnus' Tomb

In August 2010 archaeologists in Caria, Turkey announced that a tomb had been found in Mylasa, probably that of Hecatomnus. Well actually the police found it when swooping down on looters who'd been 'excavating' it ... I blogged it initially here. I've discussed the looting of the tomb and the sort of material that could have been found in it at a conference, and blogged about the coins here.

Compare those photos to these ones I'm posting today.

I've passed them on to someone at the ministry, but I've decided for a change to also post them on this blog because ... If I've ended up with these photos that the looters supposedly took, then they were clearly shown to many others - dealers, collectors, and so forth. The photos seem to have been taken in January 2005 during the final stage of looting? With keys used to show scale, and were presumably intended to to show the sarcophagus off to potential buyers.

I've also posted one to show the damage they did trying to move the sarcophagus - that big white scar without patina. I have not posted other photos, but one has a newspaper which would seem to support the date stamp.

All the photos can be right clicked to enlarge them. If you were shown these photos, or think you can help identify the looters or middlemen they passed through, please get in touch - caria [at] lootbusters.com. People collect antiquities because they love history and archaeology, and I know that the vast majority of you try to keep the field kosher - this is your chance to help, so please do.

























Amphipolis Overview

For people who were puzzling over the location of the gate with the sphinxes in relation to the old Google Earth photos of the tomb mound, as seen on the left ...

.... and the previous photo I posted (and yes, that is a little white car in the top right hand corner) ...

Well you'll all be thrilled to hear that ENA sent a helicopter over the site and shoot this footage, where the gate is covered by the recently erected white scaffolding shelter (see screenshot above):




8.27.2014

Ancient Greek Sandals: Heels like Hermes?

I was going to tweet a quick PSA to point out that Matches is doing an extra 20% off sale items until tomorrow night with the code EXTRA20 ... and that included some Ancient Greek Sandals (here) including these white winged 'Fteroti' design ones down from £135 to £64.80 ...

And then I got a little overly pernickety and thought "hold on ... aren't the wings on the wrong way?"

Shitty News is Good News!


 (sorry - I couldn't resist the pun)




PRESS RELEASE - Earliest known wooden toilet seat discovered at Vindolanda:
Now archaeologists have another piece of this very personal human hoard at Vindolanda, a wooden latrine (toilet) seat, was discovered by the Director of Excavations, Dr Andrew Birley, in the deep pre-hadrianic trenches at Vindolanda. There are many examples of stone and marble seat benches from across the Roman Empire but this is believed to be the only surviving wooden seat, almost perfectly preserved in the anaerobic, oxygen free, conditions which exist at Vindolanda.

8.26.2014

Playing with Sculptures ...





New Flexible Paper Sculptures by Li Hongbo | Colossal:

Li Hongbo’s stunning, stretchable, paper sculptures, inspired by both traditional folk art and his time as a student learning to sculpt, challenge our perceptions. With a technique influenced by his fascination with traditional Chinese decorations known as paper gourds—made from glued layers of paper—Li Hongbo applies a honeycomb-like structure to form remarkably flexible sculptures.


Click through as these are fun!

Dear Journalists etc ... re Amphipolis

Look, I understand you're all special people, and I understand that you're all getting frustrated that the Greek Ministry of Culture is not giving you special access and secret information that your colleagues don't get about the tomb at Amphipolis.

I'm not sharing 'secret' information on Twitter, so you really don't have to ask to 'follow' me. Mostly I share photos of my Jack Russell, and sometimes I share silly photos of cats (see left). Usually my Tweets are so ridiculously mundane that only my closest family would be interested, because I go out of my way to lead a quiet life.

There is no conspiracy - I just am not a public figure, I have no desire to be in the press or be famous - and ... that's why I've been politely declining to make additional comments on the excavations of the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis, instead referring journalists to the Greek Ministry of Culture.

The information about the dig at Amphipolis is coming out in the press releases and I'm not going to tell you any more. I also have no idea what's been excavated recently, nor have I asked the excavators, nor do I plan to as I figure they're under enough pressure as it is.

The fact that the tomb was destroyed in the later Roman period was presented by the excavators at the big Thessalonike conference in March 2013. So no, no-one in any way associated with the dig has ever thought or claimed that the chambers would be excavated intact. I am aware of who's behind the claims that there has been recent looting, and ... oh look there's a unicorn ... The site has been secure for several years now, the locals have gone out of their way to protect it and they think so highly of the excavator that they bring them chance finds - there is no evidence to support wild speculation of recent looting.

More finds were presented this March at the same annual conference.

Everyone has different hopes of whose burial will be found, but for now no-one knows for sure.

If you're looking for an accessible summary to the various royals and dynasties that came after Alexander, I recommend: Daniel Ogden, Polygamy, Prostitutes and Death: The Hellenistic Dynasties, Cardiff 2010: available in libraries, Amazon UK, Amazon US etc.

I will say that the team of archaeologists working at Amphipolis are very talented, and that Michaelis Lefantzis in particular is one of the hardest working and most talented people working in the field.

It is not my place to 'reveal' others' finds before they chose to do so, and even more than a breach of archaeological etiquette it would be a serious breach of friendship.

I really love archaeology, and people who know me also know I ended up chatting about it to everyone from cab drivers to the postman ... so I will eventually get around to talking people through the finds in some blog posts.

For example this photo shows the round peribolos wall. Blue arrow = how parts of the wall were taken apart by the Romans destroying and hiding the tomb. Red arrow = the cornice carved as a trompe l'oeil roof, and indicating that this is the full height of the outer wall here. Green arrow = anathyrosis, showing that there were blocks originally there, possibly another low wall or a balustrade. Yellow arrow = the blocks are finely carved of marble, but the rough surface indicates that they were probably covered in stucco ....


But this is the sort of thing any halfway competent archaeologist should be able to explain based on this photo everyone has access to.


8.25.2014

pssst... Seen these Macedonian Sphinxes?


☠ GcRap ☠ Tweeted this photo of the throne from the tomb of Eurydice at Vergina, and whilst yes they are a great parallel to the large sphinxes at Amphipolis ... I also wanted to remind everyone that they were stolen along with the little Caryatid figures (left arm raised; 17 cm, white marble) in the late summer of 2001.

If you see them, contact the Greek Ministry of Culture, or I can forward the email vergina [at] lootbusters.com





The AIA theft notice: Royal Tomb Robbery - Archaeology Magazine Archive:
A Greek archaeologist taking government officials through the royal Macedonian tombs at Vergina discovered that at least seven marble figurines had been taken from the "tomb of Eurydice." Found by Manolis Andronicos in 1987, the tomb was identified by him as that of Eurydice, one of the wives of the Macedonian king Amyntas III, mother of Philip II, and grandmother of Alexander the Great. Eurydice was born ca. 410-404 B.C., but the date of her death is unknown. An inscribed pot fragment in the tomb dates it to 344/3 B.C. at the earliest, but its precise date and the identity, even gender, of its occupant are debated.
During the summer, an evening guard shift was dropped because of staffing shortages. Environmental monitoring equipment in the tomb is checked on a monthly basis; this makes it possible to date the theft to between August 13 and September 9. Because the tomb is not open to the public and there was no sign of a break-in, security guards were questioned on the possibility it was an inside job. The objects are well-known and can't be sold openly but could fetch a high price on the black market; the thieves were either stupid or had a buyer lined up ahead of time.
This is not the first robbery of the tomb. It was partially plundered, probably soon after burial, but the ancient looters came to grief, as evidenced by two skeletons found there.


Baghdad museum reopens Hellenistic galleries

Baghdad museum reopens Hellenistic galleries - The Art Newspaper:

While Islamic State continues its iconoclastic destruction of art and imagery across Iraq and Syria

Were Alexander's Wishes Fulfilled?

We can discuss whether Alexander planned to be buried at Siwa or in Macedonia, and what he might or might not have wanted his tomb to be like ad infinitum - certainly the Roman sources differed suggesting their authors did - but a key point to look at is whether or not his successors fulfilled the wishes he did express.

In terms of an heir, he seems to have been loose in his definition, and for a while at least his son Alexander IV was 'it' on paper - until the boy and his mother Roxanne were murdered on the orders of Cassander at Amphipolis, and secretly buried.

His plans for expansion and the invasion of the Punic west Mediterranean, as described in Diodorus Siculus (18.4.1-6) were quickly abandoned, as were the proposed population transfers.
It happened that Craterus, who was one of the most prominent men, had previously been sent away by Alexander to Cilicia with those men who had been discharged from the army, ten thousand in number. At the same time he had received written instructions which the king had given him for execution; nevertheless, after the death of Alexander, it seemed best to the successors not to carry out these plans.
But what about the architectural plans also described in Diodorus?
For when Perdiccas found in the memoranda of the king orders for the completion of the pyre of Hephaestion, which required a great deal of money, and also for the other designs of Alexander, which were many and great and called for an unprecedented outlay, he decided that it was inexpedient to carry them out.
Earlier Diodorus (17.114‑115) had already covered the pyre and funerary procession of Hephaestion, which took place whilst Alexander was still living, so presumably this is a confusion. I'd suggest that Perdiccas refused state funding to the final parts of the funerary obsequies decreed by Alexander for Hephaestion: a magnificent tomb and the setting up of cults to him as a hero (for which see Plutarch, Alexander, 72).


Andrew Stewart in Faces of Power: Alexander's Image and Hellenistic Politics (Berkeley 1993; p. 213 n. 69 and chapter 3) points out that this late 4th century BC relief from Pella (now Thessalonike Museum 1084; see most recently Olga Palagia in Brill's Companion to Ancient Macedon, 2011,
p.491, available as a PDF here) is the only certain evidence for a cult of the Hero Hephaestion in Greece. It is dated to soon after his death, and nothing else excavated so far has suggested that there was any cult that survived the death of Alexander the Great outside Egypt. There is a head in the Getty said to be of Hephaestion, said to be from a monument from Messene, said to be ... but alas it has no provenance other than the art market, and I doubt even its authenticity.

Continuing on the text in Diodorus Siculus (18.4.1-6), Perdiccas:
But that he might not appear to be arbitrarily detracting anything from the glory of Alexander, he laid these matters before the common assembly of the Macedonians for consideration. 
The following were the largest and most remarkable items of the memoranda. It was proposed to build a thousand warships, larger than triremes, in Phoenicia, Syria, Cilicia, and Cyprus for the campaign against the Carthaginians and the others who live along the coast of Libya and Iberia and the adjoining coastal region as far as Sicily; to make a road along the coast of Libya as far as the Pillars of Heracles and, as needed by so great an expedition, to construct ports and shipyards at suitable places;
They voted for none of the above. 
to erect six most costly temples, each at an expense of fifteen hundred talents; and, finally, to establish cities and to transplant populations from Asia to Europe and in the opposite direction from Europe to Asia, in order to bring the largest continents to common unity and to friendly kinship by means of intermarriages and family ties.
The temples mentioned above were to be built at Delos, Delphi, and Dodona, and in Macedonia a temple to Zeus at Dion, to Artemis Tauropolus at Amphipolis, and to Athena at Cyrnus. Likewise at Ilion in honour of this goddess there was to be built a temple that could never be surpassed by any other. A tomb for his father Philip was to be constructed to match the greatest of the pyramids of Egypt, buildings which some persons count among the seven greatest works of man.
When these memoranda had been read, the Macedonians, although they applauded the name of Alexander, nevertheless saw that the projects were extravagant and impracticable and decided to carry out none of those that have been mentioned.
 Again these projected were voted down.

If Tomb II at Vergina is the final burial place of Philip II - and the arguments are more convincing that those that it was the tomb of his son Philip III Arrhidaeus - and considering there are no literary records of it, we can safely assume that Alexander the Great's successors ignored the wish that "A tomb for his father Philip was to be constructed to match the greatest of the pyramids of Egypt"

But what about the temples? They may not have been authorised and funded under the regency of Perdiccas, but archaeological evidence suggests that at least some of them were built by the Diadochi.

Dion was sacked during the reign of Philip V, and the temple of Zeus destroyed (Polybius 4,62.2) so it is difficult to know whether the later temple replaced an early Hellenistic one or the one that had stood in Alexander's reign.

Alexander's heirs did not build the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and I cannot think of a suitably magnificent temple that could be ascribed to them. Ditto Delos and Dodona, as well as Cyrnus, but those might more reflect lacunae in my knowledge.

As to the temple "to Artemis Tauropolus at Amphipolis" ... the town is still being excavated - although some of you might have noticed the archaeologists are a little busy with a tomb outside Amphipolis - but there is good evidence of a Hellenistic cult of Artemis Tauropolus there. For example the 2nd century BC Roman period coins of the town, which continued the Antigonid practice of having a shielded head, but with the head of Artemis Tauropolus and sometimes a bull on the reverse (for more info see S. Kremydi in Brill's Companion to Ancient Macedon, 2011, p.175; on Google books here).




Sources of photos: the Tetradrachm; the bronze with Artemis Tauropolos riding bull is one several shown at Wildwinds here

There are also literary sources attesting the cult, and meetings held at it, as is clear in Wandering Images: From Taurian (and Chersonesean) Parthenos to (Artemis) Tauropolos and (Artemis) Persike, in xxx, Aarhus 2003, available as a PDF here, and from whom this map comes:


When it comes to Troy and "Likewise at Ilion in honour of this goddess there was to be built a temple that could never be surpassed by any other" we are on firmer ground as there are the remains of an early Hellenistic temple to Athena; it may not have surpassed all other temples, but it was lavishly decorated, and had sculpted metopes all around it. Most imitated the Parthenon in terms of its themes - including, ironically, one side showing the Iliupersis where the 'civilised' Greeks defeated the 'barbarian' Trojans ... - but one metope, now in Berlin, showed Helios with rather leonine locks:


The problem is that the temple was found in pieces, partly by Frank Calvert, the discoverer of Troy, and partly by Schliemann the showman who ripped through the site to try to find the Homeric city.

I wrote extensively about the sculptures and the temple of Athena at Ilion in my PhD, and way back in the last century we were convinced that it had been built by Lysimachus (died 281 BC), as recorded by Strabo (13.1.26):
It is said that the city of the present Ilians was for a time a mere village, having its temple of Athena, a small and cheap temple, but that when Alexander went up there after his victory at the Granicus River he adorned the temple with votive offerings, gave the village the title of city, and ordered those in charge to improve it with buildings, and that he adjudged free and exempt from tribute; and that later, after the overthrow of the Persians, he sent down a kindly letter to the place, promising to make a great city of it, and to build a magnificent sanctuary, and to proclaim sacred games. But after his death Lysimachus devoted special attention to the city, and built a temple there and surrounded the city with a wall about forty stadia in circuit, and also incorporated into it the surrounding cities, which were now old and in bad plight.
The German publishers had taken Augustus' claim in the inscription to have rebuilt the temple literally, and dated it to his period. Most scholars had argued that they were wrong, and that it was an early Hellenistic construction - so that the Roman claim of capture and destruction was a literary topos. There were also suggestions that Antigonus I Monophthalmus had initiated the work before he died in 301 BC, and that it was completed by Lysimachus. These two, rival and successor kings of Macedon were thus completing Alexander's wish in the territory they held, and by doing so staking their claim to succeed him.

But ... Charles Brian Rose, who's in charge at Troy, has re-examined the old excavations and now feels that the temple was built on foundations who pottery comes a generation after them. He amends the Strabo passage to refer to Lysimachus building a now lost temple at Alexandria Troas, and prefers to see Antiochus III Hierax as the builder of the temple of Athena at Ilion, possibly completed by the Attalids. The abstract of his article, The Temple of Athena at Ilion, Studia Troica 13, 2003, pp. 27ff, can be found here; and in The Archaeology of Greek and Roman Troy, Cambridge 2013, pp. 168ff (on Google books here).

I've included this as Rose is the great authority on Troy. My view is that Hierax was too busy fighting against his brother for the Seleucid throne to worry about a promise to rebuild an obscure temple far outside his homeland. Because of the way the site was bulldozed by Schliemann, I am not entirely convinced by the old evidence, but ... I also admit I spent so much time arguing against the Roman and for the Lysimachus date in my thesis that I might not be objective, which makes me sceptical about the redating of very old digs.

Anyway, the point is that at least at one location - Troy, where Alexander's beloved Achilles was buried - Alexander's wishes were fulfilled by his successors. And the Strabo text suggests that this point was made by the builder, and remembered and repeated by the later inhabitants of the city.


So were Alexander's wishes fulfilled? The answer seems to be 'not really ... except perhaps sometimes by successors trying to stake a claim to being his heir'.


-------------------------------------------

This metope from the temple of Athena at Ilion is in Istanbul, and the photo is from Livius.org .

See also Arachne here for another fragment in Istanbul; a fragment in Cannakale; Athena slaying a Giant, and another piece in Berlin.

The Calvert fragments are lost, but I found photos of them in a box labelled "Calvert" at the DAI Athens photo library.

(I'll try to find more photos, but am still recovering from being flooded ... just be grateful I didn't cut and paste dozens of pages of my dissertation to try to back up my point ...)

The Crimean Gold ...

The Allard Pierson Museum have issued the following press release, which sums up the situation following the Russian annexation of the Crimea, where the items were found:


Recently, the Allard Pierson Museum has been faced with claims from the Crimea and from Kiev with regard to objects from the exhibition ‘The Crimea: Gold and Secrets from the Black Sea’ (De Krim – Goud en Geheimen van de Zwarte Zee).
On the basis of loan for use agreements, four museums in the Crimea are of the opinion that the objects that they lent out should be returned to them once the exhibition ends. The Ukrainian
Ministry of Culture, however, states that these objects are state property and should be returned to Kiev.
As mentioned in a previous statement, this matter is both unique and complex. The Allard Pierson Museum felt it was important to investigate the matter thoroughly and find a solution.
To this end, an extensive legal investigation has been conducted of late in which a detailed analysis has been made, inter alia, of the choice of law, applicable legislation, international treaties and the loan for use agreements themselves.
As yet, the outcome of this investigation has not lead to the Allard Pierson Museum being able to make a choice and agree to a claim by one of the parties. Such a decision – and the subsequent handover of the objects to the party concerned – would almost certainly result in a claim by the other party, a substantial risk for the Allard Pierson Museum.
For this reason, the Allard Pierson Museum has decided (for the time being) to not make a decision as to which of the parties the disputed objects should be handed over to. The Allard Pierson Museum will abide by a ruling by a qualified judge or arbitrator, or further agreement between parties.
The disputed objects will be safely stored until more becomes clear.
Because the matter might be adjudicated on, the Allard Pierson Museum will refrain from any further comment.


The objects were found in tombs in the Crimea, so I can understand why the Russians would like them to return there ... but many of the fabulous finds from the Crimea are not displayed in local museums, but in the Hermitage. A small selection of ancient objects from the "Northern Black Sea Coast" can be found here on the Hermitage web site; and when I was digging up comparanda for the Vergina objects excavated in the Crimea, those too were all in St Petersburg.


Ancient Crimean gold caught in legal limbo - The Art Newspaper:
The show features ancient jewellery and armour on loan from five Ukrainian museums, including four in the Crimean peninsula. ...
 “The objects from the Kerch museum, which is in Crimea, have been exhibited in Holland and are supposed to return,” Piotrovsky told local media in St Petersburg. “A difficult problem arises. On the one hand, legally, everything is against the [Kerch] museum. On the other hand, these objects belong to the museum. We will work out an agreement on how the museum will get them back,” Piotrovsky said.
...
Valentina Mordvintseva, an archaeologist from the Crimean branch of the Institute of Archaeology of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences, who helped organise the show, says it explores “the interaction and diversity of cultures on the Crimean peninsula in the period from the seventh century BC to the seventh century AD”. Highlights include a group of first century AD Chinese lacquer boxes found at a Crimean burial site along with bronze Roman vessels: “This is the westernmost find of Chinese lacquer in the world, which indicates the long-distance contact of various ancient peoples; for all practical purposes, it shows the ties between two great empires—China and Rome.”


Dutch museum holds on to disputed Crimean gold for time being - The Art Newspaper:
Russia's culture ministry released a statement on 21 August about the collection. It called the Dutch museum's decision "understandable" but stressed that the objects are "part of the inalienable cultural heritage of the Crimean peninsula" and that "museums must remain outside of politics".

This article in Al Jazeera has more details about the loans, and a lot more about the reasons Dutch-Russian diplomatic relations have deteriorated: 'Cold war' over Crimean gold - Features - Al Jazeera English

The photos used above are from the museum web site, and more objects loaned - including a vase with griffons that should please David Meadows - and be found in this PDF extract of the catalogue ....

8.24.2014

Alexander's Tomb(s) in Egypt

Some reputable Greek news sources - yes Kathimerini, I'm looking at you - are now speculating: "The Macedonian king’s final resting place is not known."

No. The Soma is very well documented.

We know that Alexander the Great died at Babylon in 323 BC. There is a bit of confusion in the sources about where he wanted to be buried, with various different wishes ascribed to him - one is Siwa in Egypt as the son of Zeus-Ammon (eg. Curtius); another is the implication that he did not want to be buried with Philip II at Aegae / Vergina ...

Either way, the funeral procession was making its way back to Macedonia (the modern Greek province, not the former Yugoslav republic sometimes called 'Macedonia') ... and then Ptolemy either hijacked the body or was given it, and Alexander the Great's body ended up in Egypt. Pausanias [1.6.3] says of Ptolemy:
He crossed over to Egypt in person, and killed Cleomenes, whom Alexander had appointed satrap of that country, considering him a friend of Perdiccas, and therefore not faithful to himself; and the Macedonians who had been entrusted with the task of carrying the corpse of Alexander to Aegae, he persuaded to hand it over to him. And he proceeded to bury it with Macedonian rites in Memphis, but, knowing that Perdiccas would make war, he kept Egypt garrisoned.
First Alexander was buried at Memphis, then, at the latest under Ptolemy II, it was moved to Alexandria. The new tomb known as the 'Sema' seems to have been built by Ptolemy IV, and become a family funerary complex for the Ptolemaic dynasty. The term Sema can mean a burial mound, amongst other meanings (for example the more general 'tomb'), but the only description of it suggests a pyramidal roof. Strabo used the term 'Soma' not the 'Sema' used in later sources - this tends to be amended to the latter in editions, but perhaps this earlier name "the body" may well have been the original name of the structure, as it seems to be an 'error' made by other ancient sources.

At some point a Ptolemy melted down the gold sarcophagus as he was short of funds, replacing it with a glass sarcophagus. A bit of building was done, but it is well attested as having been there throughout the Roman period.

This is a nice neat simplified summary from a reputable popular archaeology magazine:

The Elusive Tomb of Alexander - Archaeology Magazine Archive:
The literary tradition is clear that the third and last tomb was located at the crossroads of the major north-south and east-west arteries of Alexandria. Octavian, the future Roman emperor Augustus, visited Alexandria shortly after the suicide of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C. He is said to have viewed the body of Alexander, placing flowers on the tomb and a golden diadem upon Alexander's mummified head. The last recorded visit to the tomb was made by the Roman emperor Caracalla in A.D. 215. The tomb was probably damaged and perhaps even looted during the political disturbances that ravaged Alexandria during the reign of Aurelian shortly after A.D. 270. By the fourth century A.D., the tomb's location was no longer known, if one can trust the accounts of several of the early Church Fathers. Thereafter, creditable Arab commentators, including Ibn Abdel Hakam (A.D. 871), Al-Massoudi (A.D. 944), and Leo the African (sixteenth century A.D.) all report having seen the tomb of Alexander, but do not specify its exact location.
The key development in the Roman period is that the tomb was closed up by Septimius Severus. Cassius Dio 76.13:
He inquired into everything, including things that were very carefully hidden; for he was the kind of person to leave nothing, either human or divine, uninvestigated. Accordingly, he took away from practically all the sanctuaries all the books that he could find containing any secret lore, and he locked up the tomb of Alexander; this was in order that no one in future should either view Alexander's body or read what was written in the above-mentioned books. So much, then, for what Severus was doing.
Before people start leaping to conclusions that Severus had the Sema walled up, and make links to the ancient walling up of the gateway of Amphipolis ... he only ordered the tomb closed up. We know that because his son Caracalla was able to visit the tomb according to Herodian IV.8:
Leaving the temple for the tomb of Alexander, he removed there his purple robe, his finger rings set with precious gems, together with his belts and anything else of value on his person, and placed them upon the tomb.
This passage is reiterated by John of Antioch writing in the 7th century, where the implication is that the tomb was still around. Much can be written about Caracalla's nutty obsession with Alexander the Great and of himself as the new Alexander, but when he sacked Alexandria he spared the tomb.

Leo Africanus was in Egypt in 1517. Alexander the Great, known as Iskander in Arabic, was an important figure in Muslim universal histories, so claims that his tomb was destroyed by the Muslims are propaganda. His tomb also does not seem to have been destroyed by Christians during anti-pagan rampages, nor is there clear evidence it was in AD 270. The problem is that in the Ottoman period - and Leo was in Egypt during the Ottoman conquest - there at some point became two rival sites shown to visitors as the tomb of Alexander in Alexandria. This may well reflect the early and the later Ptolemaic tombs in the city, or could simply be an example of tall tales spun to tourists - the more 'popular' of these was the Byzantine church of St Athanasius which later became the mosque of Attarine.

Although we've become used to rulers and emperors becoming living gods, it was pretty revolutionary for Alexander to be considered a living god. The one way his tomb differed from his ancestors, contemporaries and immediate successors was that it was a heroon and had a cult. The Persian satrap Mausolus a generation earlier had had a tomb with a hero-cult, but that was a dodgy foreign practice. The only contemporary of Alexander to be given a heroon and cult after his death was Hephaestion, and that was at the orders of Alexander himself; there is only one votive relief from Pella to the Hero Hephaestion that I am aware of, and no real evidence that his 'cult' survived the death of Alexander himself.

There have been a variety of recent rumours that Alexander's body was later moved to Siwa (unsupported by any source or evidence), or that it was confused with St Mark's and taken to Venice (ditto).

The new obvious 'conclusion' a few people have leapt to is that Alexander's body was 'secretly' later moved to Amphipolis. To point out the obvious, if Alexander's body had been moved in the Roman period then he probably would have been in a Roman period structure not an early Hellenistic one.

Perdiccas as regent had clearly planned to bring Alexander's body back to Macedonia, but he was unable to do so. If Perdiccas had chosen the burial site, he would almost certainly have chosen the Argead family cemetery of Vergina to strengthen the claim to the succession of the child Alexander IV for whom he was regent. The same argument would apply to Antipater. If Alexander III had planned his own tomb in Macedonia, he could have chosen another site.

It is possible that Alexander's 'original' Macedonian tomb was finished, and the hope was that his body could be recovered from Egypt at some point, in the same way that centuries earlier Athens under Cimon had regained the bones of Theseus. But again, this is pure conjecture.

Either way, the original location of Alexander the Great's planned tomb in Macedonia can for now only be pure speculation.

No-one who has seen the evidence excavated at Amphipolis has claimed he was buried there. I'm the only idiot who's said it could have been intended for Alexander but not used for his burial.


(Apologies for the hurried post, but ... the speculation was getting ridiculous).


For those who want to read up, I highly recommend:
Andrew Stewart, Faces of Power: Alexander's Image and Hellenistic Politics, Berkeley 1993, pp. 214ff (available on Google books here).

For those with JSTOR access, this article has a good summary of the arguments over the burial and some of the history of the tomb:
Andrew Erskine, Life after Death: Alexandria and the Body of Alexander, Greece & Rome Vol. 49, No. 2, Oct., 2002, pp. 163 ff.




Pompeii: Today in ... Or Not?

Earlier today, half of Twitter seemed to be tweeting about the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii, which apparently happened "Today in AD 79" ...

Then Gareth Harney tweeted a link to his blog post last summer, pointing out that a coin found in 1974 cannot really be dated before the middle of September of that year ...

The Inconvenient Coin: Dating the Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum | ROMA INVICTA

It reminded me of a series of posts - here - by Pedar W. Foss about Pliny's letters describing the erruption of Vesuvius and ... this post in particular goes into the problems both in the dating in the literary records and the archaeological evidence which makes an eruption not earlier than September likely:

Translating Pliny’s letters about Vesuvius, pt. 4. A Strange Cloud � [quem dixere chaos]

Harney summarises the discussion very well:
Firstly, you may ask from where the traditional eruption date of 24th August originates? In a letter [6.16] to Tacitus (written 25 years after the event), our old friend Pliny the Younger describes the eruption that took place on “Nonum Kal September” or “the ninth day before the Kalends of September” i.e. August 24th. Yet these modern interpretations stem from questionable 16th Century translations, from authors who would have struggled to understand the dating conventions used in the original manuscripts. Manuscripts which in turn, may have been corrupted themselves. Even though ancient historian Cassius Dio directly states that the disaster took place “towards the end of the harvesting season” (the harvest began in October), a 1508 translation of Pliny’s letters settled on an August date for the disaster and the rest is history.

Sophie Hay tweeted this photo of the 'notice' about the coin, which I think dates to 2006:


The article by Greta Stafani is available as a PDF here:


I should make it clear that although the drawing looks very clear ... there are quite a few different interpretations of it, and some scholars have no problem with it having been in circulation in August.

There's also a summary on Blogging Pompeii - Blogging Pompeii: Date of the eruption, yet more proof! - of Anna Maria Ciarallo's argument for an August date contra Greta Stefani's earlier argument for a November date for the eruption of Vesuvius ...

Most archaeologists agree that although there is no real proof of Christians at Pompeii, there is evidence of Jews there. Kosher garum has been found, and this scratched graffito in IX.1.26, aka The House of Sodom and Gomorrah, would seem to reflect a Jew's view of the eruption of Vesuvius as divine punishment but ... since we don't know on which date Pompeii was destroyed I don't really 'buy' that theory that it was God's retribution for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (on the Ninth of Av) in August AD 70.