Let's Talk About Amphipolis ...

... so a dig is a bit like Fight Club, and the first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about it. I've been following the dig for a few years now, and the archaeologists have been kind enough to show me some of their finds, but obviously I have not discussed them, and will not until they themselves announce them. So whilst I appreciate the sentiments of those who were kind enough to send me enthusiastic emails ... Sorry, the first Rule of Archaeology Club is not to blab about others' finds.

Having said that, over the last few days there has been some wild speculation on the internet about finds from the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis. Again, I will limit myself to discussing the sphinx sculptures flanking the entrance, photos of which were released today because Greek PM Samaras visited the site.

 The sphinxes and the entrance can be seen quite clearly in this news video:

The seated sphinxes - as opposed to the lying sphinxes in Egyptian art - are unusual. The closest parallel I can think of are those from the Hecatomnid Androns at Labraunda (photo below), about a quarter of a century earlier. The Hecatomnid figures are bearded and Archaising, and very much a reflection of Persian royal iconography; fragments of similar figures have been found at Sidon, where the sarcophagi in the royal tomb in turn copy the elements from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.

The Amphipolis sphinxes seem not to have beards, and since we have not been shown the pieced heads it is difficult to tell if they were similarly archaising. The Macedonian sculptures are also of higher quality, and are more Classicising. The wings also appear to have been pieced. The Amphipolis seated 'sphinxes' also are in the same pose as the colossal lion that crowned the tomb.

Phillip II arranged an engagement between his son Phillip (later IV) and the daughter of Pixodarus, the heiress of Caria. Alexander (later the Great) tried to step in and pinch her - and her kingdom - for himself. There were strong artistic as well as political links between Macedonia and Caria from the time of Phillip II onwards, for example the sculptor Leochares working first on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus' sculptures, and then creating the portraits of Phillip and his family for the Philippeion at Olympia.

The mound is huge, as is clear from this photo, indicating that someone extremely powerful was buried there, and this is supported by a perfectly circular retaining wall of fine masonry.

By now I hope people are noting "round wall, mound of earth ... hmmm, that's a bit like the Mausoleum of Augustus"

Who was buried in it? There's a board in the local cafe where they are laying odd on everyone from Alexander the Great to Roxanne to Lysimachus and a dozen others.

What I can tell you 100 % for sure is that Alexander the Great was not buried in the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis as every single ancient source says that Ptolemy hijacked the body on it's way back to Macedonia and that Alexander lay well into the Byzantine period in Alexandria.

But - and I must stress that this is very much my personal opinion and should not be taken as the opinion of the archaeologists working hard on the site - 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. It need not have been at Vergina, and for a number of reasons would more likely to have been at a 'new' city.

This would be almost impossible to prove without an inscription, but after a big chunk of my career spent looking at fourth century tombs ... if I were to imagine what kind of a tomb Alexander the Great might have planned for himself and his family, then it would pretty much look like the Lion Tomb of Amphipolis.

Colour photos are all of Amphipolis from here.


Update - the dromos frescoes have now made it into the press.

Greece says vast, significant ancient tomb unearthed in north | Reuters:
Archaeologists have found two sphinxes, thought to have guarded its entrance, a 4.5-metre-(yard)-wide road leading into it, with walls on both sides covered by frescoes. It is circled by a 497-metre-long marble outer wall.

And again it is worth repeating that this is by far the largest tomb ever excavated in Greece, in case I didn't make that point clear.


  1. What are some of the number of reasons why Alex the G would have been buried at a new city?

  2. At the time of Alexander that was only an army fortress and a port where slaves were transported to the mines. I have my definite doubts that this would have been meant for Alexander. Remember the Persians went through there some hundreds of years before. Could thre hav been one of Xerxes' generals who died there?

  3. Dee, Thanks a lot for this informative & spirited post! Philip and its (possessive).

  4. Here in Greece, everybody believes (i think it's more hope than belief) that this is Alexander's the great grave. Many others hope to discover tons of gold in order to cut off our national debt (!). In any case this place is unique and we all wait the time that we can visit this perfection of ancient greek architecture. Many thanks for your excellent post!

  5. Great post Dorothy, really exciting, thank you. As a lay person in this field, but totally fascinated by it all, I've read that Amphipolis (the 'new' city) was the city that Alexander left from as he set out for Asia in 334 BCE and that all the gold and silver he gained through his countless victorious campaigns was funnelled back through Amphipolis. Also, I've read, that as the royal mint producing 13 million tetradrachm coins in 18 years, it made Amphipolis the center of the wealthiest state at the time. Dimitrios Lazaridis wrote in his book about Amphipolis that " The importance of the city in the ancient world at this period is indicated by Alexander's decision that Amphipolis should be one of the six cities at which large, luxurious temples costing 1500 talents were constructed. The other five cities were Delos, Delphi, Dodone, Dion and Kyrros". Sounds to me that this was an important city to Alexander.
    I think it's totally conceivable that this could be a tomb prepared for the body of Alexander, although by all accounts it never got there and remains somewhere in Egypt. How long would it have taken to build? They are saying it was built after the death of Alexander. Great kings often planned their funerary monuments years before their death. I don't suppose the Pharaoh King expected to die so young. I tried to walk the remains of the ancient walls at Amphipolis at Easter but it was so overgrown it was really hard work and anything of interest was well locked up and inaccessible. But on that clear spring day the view to Athos was incredible. You can see the tumulus that they are excavating now very clearly on Google Earth north of the ancient city, it's huge! I am really looking forward to hearing more about what they uncover.

  6. I believe there may be a more cogent parallel than the Hecatomnid Androns in the pair of Greek-style sphinxes uncovered by Auguste Mariette in excavating the dromos of the Memphite Serapeum at Saqqara in Egypt. Lauer & Picard in their 1955 book on these sculptures believed them to date to Ptolemy 1. Dorothy Thompson in her 1988 book on Memphis Under The Ptolemies suggested that the semicircle of statues of Greek philosophers and poets, also uncovered by Mariette in the dromos of the Memphite Serapeum, had guarded the entrance of the first tomb of Alexander the Great at Memphis. I elaborated on this idea in my article on The Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great published in Greece & Rome in April 2002 and in my subsequent books on Alexander’s tomb. If so, then the sphinxes found at the Serapeum were probably also part of Ptolemy’s decoration for the first tomb of Alexander at Memphis. It is therefore quite striking that extremely similar sphinxes have been found guarding the entrance of the tomb at Amphipolis.

  7. on the blog "past times and present tensions" john hooker makes the case for the tomb possibly having kassander buried there.i hope we are told soon, the speculation is killing me.

  8. Until 1913 Amphipolis was a Macedonian city. In 1945 the greeks bombed with napalm all the land inhabitet with macedonians. You can check history books on that. Also, amphipolis doesent means new city. It means round city.

  9. As I can understand Poptis is from FYROM and is trying to change history. I am sorry Poptis but history is written 2500 ago by Greeks. And amphipolis is a Greek word not a Slavic one.

  10. hi anthimos,dont waste your breath on potpis ,robin lane fox sums it up in 60 seconds.
    sorry for going a bit off topic dorothy.

  11. Sorry Dorothy for this dialog. Let's focus on your excellent post.

  12. I recently visited the archaeological museum of Chios that also has a small Macedonian tomb of the period and a sitting sphinx that is missing head and wings, very similar to the ones now discovered. Museum also sports 2 letters by Alexander to Chiosians, which emphasizes the importance of the island to the great king.

  13. Greek archeologist Olga Palagia seems to think that the structure is of a later date i.e. possibly the 2nd or 1st century BC:

    "The sphinxes are 2.50 m tall and weigh 1.5 tons.
    The stylistic date of the sphinxes is 2nd or 1st c. BC and we have to
    remember that the Roman period in Macedonia begins in 168 BC. I am
    amazed that nobody comments on the fact that the entrance of the
    monument is so close to the wall of the precinct."


  14. To : Potpis Data

    Macedonians like Athenians like Spartans like Achaian like Thessalian like Kretan etc WERE AND ARE GREEKS (Hellenes) ! Same language, same religion, same ethicks , same race genetically.... you are a slav (propably Bulgarian origin) and so you cannot even understand what is the meaning of AMFIPOLIS which means a city located in both sides of a place (bi-) for example in both sides of a mountain or (like old Greeks saying..) between this world and the other ...(down world and upper one..) so instead of trying steal others history better you read and discover the real history ...
    Now for Amfipolis tomb... Mrs Palaggia says indeed nonsense abt roman tomb, this is at least ridiculous , having infront of us Caryatides and Rodakes (rosettes) which are royal Macedonian symbols and on top the clear declaration of Mrs Peristeri (who is in charge of excavation) who said that SHE FOUND SOUND EVIDENCE that tomb is Hellenic (abt 350-300 bc) whatever Palaggia says is without any meaning at least..
    For all of us who are following carefully daily step by step this amazing excavation one we can say for sure... that is unbelievably big ! and unconditionally promising..we have a tomb of 497 m perimeter, so far we have 'entered' in one side only 20 m and discovered 4 rooms..of abt 30 sq.m when only the radius is 90 m.. so we have lot presume to see and most of all the end expected indeed spectacular first because the tomb is undisturbed and secondly because this tomb cannot belong to any one but a King..
    Admiral, General, Rich person could not have such a monstrous tomb as this would have been a HYBRIS those days against his King and his Dynasty..
    Anyway we feel that we are close to have first sound declaration / announcements about what we are expecting to see (revealed) and the sure is that this ancient monument will be the top story not only between archaeologists and historians but also among all civilized people worldwide..
    Its a loud voice from the past and lets hope to be THE VOICE..
    With our sincerely love fm the ancient Macedonian province in Greece
    Nikiforos Ector Focas

  15. Special declaration of Mrs Peristeri (head of excavation team in Amfipolis) to Greeks of Australia who have shown enormous interest for this excavation : (have translated as better as i could..)

    '' I know the interest of Hellenism in Australia for the largest funerary complex that comes to the surface, which has caused awe and excitement around the Planet. This interest of the Greeks in Australia gives me hope and vision continue to work with the team of archaeologists in Amphipolis of Serres. Your love is overwhelming, you are our great strength abroad and give us a lot of courage to continue our work as archaeologists. Your love embrace this and I promise once the work completed to visit Australia and to give a lecture on the Greeks and foreigners throughout the period of excavation with all the details and particulars. This is an important funerary complex, which dates to the last quarter of the 4th century BC century, after the death of Alexander the Great until 325- 300 p. Ch. These are the elements which gives precisely the excavations. We do not know what else is in, but such a monument has not been found to date worldwide. Every day we discover new things which surprise and excite us. I cannot describe in words the feeling that we just saw the overalls Caryatids few days ago that are important works of art, carved marble of Thassos.
    Systematically continue the excavation, which requires surgical precision and consistency. We archaeologists believe the archaeological data and not speculation and parafilologia (nonsense). We now have data/facts as the lion, the Caryatids , Sphinxes and other excavation details which excluding categorically the tomb to be Roman. Such rumors/positions (Roman tomb) It is parafilologies (nonsense) and frustrations of some people, serving other interests. However, no matter who or what are "residents" of the burial complex, around the monument is important and gives us information about the time after the death of Alexander the Great. We do not know even what hides in the band, but such a monument has not been found before. However, I would like to emphasize that the area of Amphipolis is very interesting, here are items from ancient times to the archaic necropolis next to the funerary complex and many other discoveries of ancient Greece, located in the local archaeological museum. Amphipolis was in ancient times from the major Greek cities. Regarding the timeframe of the project, hopefully by Christmas, maybe even earlier, to have news. I want to stress the excellent cooperation and support of the Ministry of Culture and that I have not been patronized by anyone. Whatever written and heard to the opposite are pure nonsense.
    We have excellent cooperation with all people of the Ministry, which informing by Press releases and photographs all citizens in every detail for our work. I send greetings and love in Abroad Australia and hope to meet soon. I have respect and love for all Greeks living away from home, who have chosen near or distant places for a second home. I also have my family expatriates, while my daughter chose Paris for a second home, where he studied comparative literature at the Sorbonne and now follow an academic career there.''

    Nikifiros Ector Focas

  16. http://www.thetombofamphipolis.com
    The tomb of Amphipolis. Discover all the unique findings of the tomb of Amphipolis, photos and description of the Lion, the Caryatids, the Sphinxes, the mosaic floor.Learn all the updated information and all latest news.What is the connection between the tomb of Amphipolis and Alexander the Great?

  17. Thank you Dorothy King, great work helping people around the world keep up with the excavation in Amphipolis. Hope you will visit Greece, you are well-appreciated here! I am fascinated that as of late november a skeleton has been found with the remains of a wooden box. If I had gotten Alexander's embalmed body and wanted to ship it back to the beautiful mausoleum, I would have put it in a plain brown box. And if I seized power and wanted to erase the cult of Alexander the Great I would have desecrated the mausolem on no uncertain terms. So great to read well thought out comments - Geia sou Nikiforos Focas!


I do not moderate comments, but I remove spam, overt self-promotion ("read [link] my much better post on this") and what I consider hate speech (racism, homophobia etc).

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.