Hold Your [& Alexander's] Horses ....

I'm very impressed by the level of enthusiasm people have shown about the excavation of the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis. Thank you all for your comments and emails, but ... it's an ongoing excavation, being undertaken by some of the best archaeologists in the world, who've been working on the site for quite a few years now, and you all have to wait for the Katerina Peristeri and her team to choose to publicly announce their finds once they have had time to work on them.

The archaeologists have been presenting their research each March at the conference in Thessaloniki, and so for those who are unhappy with the lack of info in the press ... tough luck! The people working hard on the site were pretty pissed off someone who had no right to do so leaked their finds before Prime Minister Samaras visited.

So to try to answer the questions I can ...

The photo above shows the Lion as is - it's an old reconstruction, so conspiracy theories around 13 Steps don't really hold up (sorry). The Lion was pieced, as you can see in the photo below, and some of the pieces were missing when it was 'reconstructed' ....

The amazing Michaelis Lefanzis found some of the missing pieces of the Lion a few years back, and that led to the site being excavated.

The site is very secure, with the police and the locals working hard to ensure that there is no looting.

No, you can't visit the excavation, sorry - that's partly for it's security (so you don't loot), and partly for your own (imagine a really unstable building site). But if you're in the area, there is a fabulous little museum and the rest of the archaeological site at Amphipolis is pretty impressive.

There are comparanda for the Sphinxes and for the lions. The most obvious is the seated lion at Chaeronea - probably set up by Philip II to commemorate his victory there - but there's also the Piraeus Lion (now outside the Arsenal in Venice; photo to left), and the reclining Cnidus Lion now in the central courtyard of the British Museum. (Apologies for the appalling photos but I'm currently library-less).

Yes, it seems to be a male lion. We noticed a few years ago that the Greeks depicted both male and female lions with manes - cue a lot of looking at their genitals in museums ... There are various ancient sources that mention a Lioness marking the tomb of some women, and so one theory, when Roxanne was being considered as the occupant, was that the Amphipolis Lion was in fact a she ... but that has now been discarded as a theory.

Yes, Alexander the Great had leonine locks and sometimes wore a lion skin ... but lions are so popular on ancient grave monuments that unless he's buried in dozens of locations like the Buddha, one bone per site, just having a giant lion does not suggest anything either way to do with Alexander III.

Bits and bobs of the base that probably supported the lion were excavated a long time ago, and include engaged Doric half-columns (see above) and the fragment of an intercolumniar relief shield. Since these elements were moved away from the mound when its superstructure was destroyed in the Roman period ... a) the excavator at the time did not associate them with the mound, and b) there might need to be some reassessment of whether the half columns were immediately below the lion, as in the old reconstructions below, or elsewhere on the monument.

Yes, there is very good evidence for the date, but you'll have to wait for the publication.

Amphipolis does not mean 'new city' - there are various theories in ancient authors well into the Byzantine period discussing the meaning of the name. The city was about a century old when Philip II captured it, and it seems to increase in importance from the  time of Alexander onwards, and had an important Imperial cult under the Romans. I meant 'new' as opposed to the 'old' Vergina where his father was buried.

Alexander didn't like his father, might have been involved in his murder, and ... liked to emphasise his more divine descent, so a new tomb in a new city to mark his conquest of the known world, far from reminders of his father ... well, it doesn't take Freud to work that one out, does it?

I'd rather keep out of the modern politics, but Alexander the Great's homeland was the Greek province of Macedonia.

I don't know who was buried in the tomb at Amphipolis but it was not Alexander - every single source in Antiquity says so. And no the theory that his body was taken to Venice instead of St Mark's is unlikely. And even if tonnes of gold is ever found in the tomb, I very much doubt it would be sold off to pay off the national debt - the items found will be housed in a museum for all to see and appreciate.

Now to get to the bottom of the matter ... the round wall which surrounded the tomb and supported the mound above it. We tend to take round buildings for granted these days, but when I was studying as an undergrad there were only a dozen round Greek buildings known (to date myself a bit, the last discovered of that dozen was the Ptolemaion at Limyra, which someone is now arguing is not in fact round ...).

Round buildings are very rare, and perfect circles really only begin with Deinocrates, hence his association with Amphipolis.

The perimeter of the Amphipolis round wall is some 500m, whilst the Mausoleum of Augustus, and the Mausoleum of Hadrian are roughly the same size as each other and significantly smaller (which off the top of my head I think is about 280m? ...).

We know that Augustus visited Alexander's tomb in 30 BC and the before him Julius Caesar did (Lucan, Pharsalia, X.1ff) ... and that a better translation of Lucan describes Alexander's Tomb as having a mound of earth ... but that was the tomb in Alexandria in which Alexander the Great was buried.

Strabo (Geography, V. 3) describes the tomb of Augustus in Rome, seen to the left in one of many possible reconstructions, in this way:

the Mausoleum, a great mound near the river on a lofty foundation of white marble, thickly covered with ever-green trees to the very summit. Now on top is a bronze image of Augustus Caesar; beneath the mound are the tombs of himself and his kinsmen and intimates; behind the mound is a large sacred precinct with wonderful promenades; and in the centre of the Campus is the wall (this too of white marble) round his crematorium; the wall is surrounded by a circular iron fence and the space within the wall is planted with black poplars.

We know that there were obelisks in front of it, moved in the Renaissance, and considering that the theme of so much of the Augustan building programme was the Pax Augusta, we can guess that there would have been figures of Nikai, winged victories, possibly offering him his laurels, which were depicted on his tomb as they were on his house. (The angels of the Mausoleum of Hadrian, which give it its modern name the Castel Sant'Angelo are modern).

So Augustus' Mausoleum may have been called 'mausoleum' after the heroon of Mausolus - but like so much Augustan art it was a mixture of styles, and in many ways seems to echo the tomb at Amphipolis in shape and form.

Who's buried at Amphipolis? Wait and see ;-)

Quick update.

Browsing through the coverage I thought no-one had any new details ... but of course the always on-the-ball Ta Nea did. (Incidentally, they and To Vima have by far the best archaeology coverage of any newspaper I know)).

Με μικροκάμερα �διείσδυσαν� οι αρχαιολόγοι στον τύμβο της Αμφίπολης - Πολιτισμός - Επικαιρότητα - Τα Νέα Οnline:

Αποκαλύφθηκαν 15 σκαλιά και δύο Σφίγγες, καθώς και μικρό ψηφιδωτό δάπεδο που οδηγεί στην είσοδο.
 Σύμφωνα με πληροφορίες, οι Σφίγγες, βάρους 1,5 τόνου η κάθε μία, εμποδίζουν την είσοδο στον τύμβο.
Εκεί υπάρχει μεγάλος όγκος χώματος και παρεμβάλλονται δύο τοίχοι με απόσταση 6-7 μέτρων μεταξύ τους.

 (my bold)

Last update.

I think this makes the point about art created by people who'd never seen lions ....

And just to make the point about how bloody huge the thing is ... that's a car in the top right of the photo, not a dinky toy:


  1. http://www.newsit.gr/default.php?pname=Article&art_id=322045&catid=6

  2. It is probably the tomb of Νέαρχος. Νέαρχος used to be compared by Menandros,Indo-Greek king to "a lion dominating the sea...". can't be the tomb of Ῥωξάνη:. the Macedonians had no respect for her. Her body has certainly been thrown in one anonymous pit after she had been murdered by Κάσσανδρος. Besides, it is obvious that the grave was plundered and that there is not much luck that it still contain something. The only question I ask myself is: why to have walled up an already looted building? Roman concret masonry?

  3. Is the entrance to the tomb under the lintel on which are the sphinxes? If so, the entry seems to be sealed by the stone wall, and would chance the chamber was intact. Or the door is between the sphinxes? Or could enter looters digging over tumulo?

  4. Assuming that all royals had to be buried in Aigai then we have to assume the Amfipolis tomb is not of Royal member. Who could have been so honored as to be given such a huge monument??? It would have to be someone, that during that period, “spare no cost” policy would have been applied. If we consider also that after Alexander’s death, the wars of diadoxoi consumed most of the cash flow ( so much so as to not have fully concluded not even of Alexander’s lavish plans); then it could potentially be the tomb that began to be build by Alexander’s himself for Ἡφαιστίων Hephaestion (best mate who died 7 months earlier to him) and of which Alexander wanted to honor as none before. He did receive Hero status afterall. Records indicate super lavish funeral plans for Hephaestion why not super lavish Tomb???
    Moreover, the lion of Ecbatana (Hamadan) erected to commemorate the death of his close companion Hephaestion is very similar to the lion of Amphipolis but almost identical to Chaeronea Lion if seen horizontally. This is ofcource my speculation before we have more and harder evidence showing up. Any thoughts on this concept????? What do you think Dorothy??

  5. He is a strong candidate. I think I covered him in the post on Alexander's Wishes? The planned tomb and cult are well attested but .... The Ecbatana Lion I forgot to add.


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