Amphipolis: The Measurements

The big excitement yesterday was Michaelis Lefantzis' measurements:

I've been aware of the ratios - I think they were presented at the conference - but clearly his new fans were not from the response ... and that's why I welcome questions, because sometimes I forget to tell people things, and ... Amphipolis, as Katerina Peristeri has emphasised, is universal and of interest to everyone.

So yes, the Lion's height was in proportion to the diameter of the round wall.

And if the walls of ancient Alexandria were 15,840 m then these would have been 100 times the circumferance of the walls of the tomb at Amphipolis ...

Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great, and his chief architect was Deinocrates; Deinocrates was responsible for the plan of Alexandria, presumably including the walls (Vitruvius II Praef), as well as the funeral pyre for Hephaestion.

Much of Alexandria was destroyed by an earthquake, and the city was continuously inhabited for centuries, so little of the city has been found. Alexandria became one of the largest cities in the world, so the assumption is that as the population increased, so did the walls - this need not be the case, as Rome's walls were not rebuilt between the reigns of Augustus and Aurelian.

In the mid 1st century BC Diodorus Siculus (17.52) wrote:
Alexander also laid out the walls so that they were at once exceedingly large and marvelously strong. Lying between a great marsh and the sea, it affords by land only two approaches, both narrow and very easily blocked. 
In shape, it is similar to a chlamys, and it is approximately bisected by an avenue remarkable for its size and beauty. From gate to gate it runs a distance of forty furlongs; it is a plethron in width, and is bordered throughout its length with rich fa├žades of houses and temples.
His contemporary Strabo (17.1.7‑10):
The shape of the area of the city is like a chlamys; the long sides of it are those that are washed by the two waters, having a diameter of about thirty stadia, and the short sides are the isthmuses, each being seven or eight stadia wide and pinched in on one side by the sea and on the other by the lake.
There are many later sources, but whilst they differ slightly I'm going to ask people to trust that Michaelis has done his research!

One modern furlong is 201.16800 metres, and this is probably a translation issue but I don't have time to pop to the library ...* A stadion was 600 feet according to Herodotus, but the length of a foot varied from state to state, and so did stadia as a result. The Attic stadion of 185 m was adopted by Alexandria and became the standard.


* = my books are still in storage, and those that are not are hiding post flood ... yes, H wouldn't let me move them in, and that's why I'm not going to be Mrs H ... ;-)


  1. The appearance of 1.584 and its multiples is definitely interesting, but I think connecting it to the length of Alexandria's walls is not convincing for me. Alexandria's walls may be close to 15 km, but it would be really extraordinary if these walls where really drawn with an accuracy of few 10 m and on a ground that is not really flat, over the so wide area of Alexandria.

    If the appearance of 1.584 is not a coincidence, I would believe more its connection with the Egyptian pi (3.16). 3.16/2 is 1.58 and I wouldn't mind dropping one significant digit: Claiming cm accuracy for the height of the lion or the diameter of the tumulus is maybe too much (for me).

    Pi/2 (or 90 deg) would even have relevance to Alexandria's architecture (roads at right angles etc.), but maybe I have gone too far here :-)

  2. Furlong (220yds) is a translation of stadion, plethron used to be a 'chain' -22 yds.

    Strabo's 30 + 30 +7 + 8 stadia = 75 or 45,000 podes (Greek Feet) in Attic this would be 184.9 m X 75 = 13867.5 m 2km too short.

    The original length of the walls of Alexandria is undiscoverable, so the association of a random number with Deinokrates is also fantasy. Nothing is remarkable about a monument having measurements that relate to each other as proportions, trying to suggest more is simply stretching things beyond breakingpoint.

    Nor does 15840 relate to any of the calculated lengths of the various feet the Greeks may have used. Looks to me like trusting Michaelis to have done his research would be a mistake...

  3. Michaelis Lefantzis is very good.

    The only issue is when working on a project like this and not being able to discuss it with people one can obsess over certain things.

    The close to 10:1 ratio to the Philippeion I've discussed in my most recent post may be relevant?

    With the walls of Alexandria I don't know what his source is and he has enough on his plate.

  4. I would not wish to cast aspersions on anyone's ability as an archaeologist, but enthusiasm can interfere with interpretation and the Greek media interviews demonstrate alot of (understandable) enthusiasm.

    The figure of 15840 m seems to come from the guess of Mahmoud Bey even A Chugg, an arch-thinker of the wishful variety doubts this correlation;

    He wrote , on Pothos
    the perimeter as calculated by Mahmoud Bey on the basis of excavations in 1865. Mahmoud gives the perimeter as 96 Alexandrian stades and he gives an Alexandrian stade as 165m, hence 15,840m. So that is where the lady got her measurement from. However, having read Mahmoud Bey's book, I can also tell you that he largely guessed the exact line of the walls in some areas, so it is quite dubious whether Katerina Peristeri's value is very accurate. Also it is doubtful whether that outer wall was part of Deinocrates' original plan. It is essentially the wall line of the city at its zenith around the time of Augustus. As I have mentioned the only fragment surviving now of early Ptolemaic wall is in the line of a much smaller circuit, near the middle of Mahmoud Bey's city and encompassing its central crossroads. As I have said, that is a better candidate for Deinocrates' handiwork (against this Curtius says that an 80 stades circumference was planned by Alexander: octaginta stadiorum muris ambitum destinat, but this probably came from Cleitarchus who lived in the city in the mid 3rd century BC, when the city probably did have an 80 stade circumference).

    His date for Kleitarchos I would dispute but not the origin of the measurement or the estimation of its worth, and it is unusual for us to agree on anything! Pliny's 15 miles work out to 22,185 m and Curtius' 80 stadia to14,792 m. The conjecture should just be let drop.

  5. It's possible! I genuinely don't know. Chugg's book is enthusiastic but I would check references, and can't always find them easily so don't cite him. Honestly, the Ephoria could do with more books - but with cuts expensive books from abroad are not a priority, and not all scholars give them copies.

  6. I would not cite him either, he is not a historian (currently he is claiming the caryatids are Klodones - priestesses of Dionysos) because they have baskets on their head...however since he is essentially arguing against his preferred position in this instance and I do know that Mahmoud Bey did survey Alexandria, somewhere I have a print of the map he produced; so whilst I totally agree about his indifferent referencing, in this instance I actually trust his identification of the source and his evaluation (this is not in a book but on a forum, I would not buy a book of his, but others may like his 'enthusiasm' - for my part I like Thukydides more than Herodotos - you definitely do not need copies of his books nor would I class him as a scholar, at least not an ancient historian, he is a 'natural scientist' and has written on radioactive stuff, so I suppose that's an Oxbridge nomer for Physics, upon which ground he will be safer.

    I have been an antagonist of his on Pothos for some time so I ought to declare a bias, but I am of course only swayed by the truth...pause for laughter...hey it would work for Woodey Allen, well maybe not now..hoho


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