Amphipolis: More Questions, More Answers

There are several questions I have been asked, which I cannot answer for the simple reason that the information has not yet been released by the Ministry of Culture. They will do so in due course, but for now this is a round-up of the Questions people have posed, and the Answers I can give.

I saw a video where the archaeologist said the tomb shows signs that it was built by Dinocrates, she mentioned something like trademark numbers used by Dinocrates have been seen on the tomb. Do you know anything about this?

A few years back I blogged about this, and whilst I initially thought there was a building inscription, this turned out to be miss-communication. The link to Dinocrates seems to be common sense and deductive reasoning - he developed the perfect circle, and the design of the tomb seems to fit what we know of his work, and other evidence which the excavators have chosen not to release yet.

Could the story about Alexander’s body being in Egypt be made up by Ptolemy? Could the funerary cart have made it to Macedonia? I also note that the Library of Alexandria probably housed all the surviving texts and could have edited them.

Anything is possible, but the overwhelming majority of the evidence suggests that both Alexander the Great and his funerary cart ended up in Egypt and stayed there until the Byzantine period. Had he been moved by a Diadoch, there would not have been solid Roman records of him in Alexandria. It is possible that the body was moved in the Byzantine period, but if so it is more likely to have been moved to Constantinople. Yes history is often re-written by people to suit themselves ... for example arguing that Alexander's bone were really in Amphipolis ... but the Library of Alexandria whilst famous was merely one of many similar Academies, the most famous and best renowned of which was in Athens ... so since I find it unlikely that the Athenians also promoted Egyptian lies, I consider this unlikely.

An interesting issue is how politicized the Tomb has become. Many Greeks (especially those supporting the opposition) saw the Prime Minister's visit and the subsequent publicity given to the Tomb as an attempt by the government to steer the public's attention away from pressing issues as unemployment, new taxes etc. In a way they feel that the Tomb has been "appropriated" by the government and seem to resent any "positive" news coming from the excavation (fearing it might be used as government propaganda). 

I have seen the Parthenon sculptures and the campaign to get them returned to Greece used in a similar way, to distract attention from 'bad news' various governments might have. Honestly, I think it is fabulous how invested people are in Greece with history, and wish more countries were so enthusiastic and easily distracted from more politicians' nonsense.

I just assumed the people claiming it is Roman are just not very good at their jobs, as that has been my previous experience of them.

a) They are taking longer now because the third chamber are having security problems?

Yes the structural issues must have severely slowed down progress - for example they are trying to remove soil above to alleviate the weight bearing down on it. Nobody wants it turn out to be a tomb for archaeologists (and I use that term as a generic to encompass everyone working on the site). This is a good thing, as is slowing down work so that the team have more time to work on it.

c) Do you think that this tomb has a structure that can approximate the others already found in the same area and date 

There are plenty of mounds and roundish structures from roughly this period, and comparanda for the sculptures, painted architectural elements and other details ... but the size and that they are all together at Amphipolis make it unique.

d) The latter chamber this painted red? Reasons for that, do you have any? 

Royal Purple was also called Tyrian Red as one can describe the shade either way. Or there could be a dozen other reasons for its use starting with the purely decorative.

The photos from the Amphipolis tomb clearly show the upper arm of the sculptures being parallel or almost parallel to the ground level, which makes it difficult for the figures to support the epistyle. Holding the epistyle could be possible only if the Caryatids had a longer lower arm; a longer arm as a visual correction is not impossible, but we still have to see the evidence to define the meaning of the gesture. Another suggestion is that they hold their poloi instead of the architrave.

Good points! And ... the evidence suggests that they do not hold their poloi, but the Amphipolis Caryatids are already re-writing what we know, so we'll have to wait and see the evidence for the hands when they present it.

The archaic Korai (not Caryaties according to you) of the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi look very much like the female figures of Amphipolis and do not belong to a funerary monument. 

The similarity is superficial in that these and other Delphi figures were Archaic, and the Amphipolis ones were deliberately designed to suggest archaic sculpture - in the same way that women can do their hair and make-up to love like Marilyn Monroe, but it's usually obvious by the little details that they are living today not in the '50s ... Obviously I disagree about what Virtuvius intended, but the fabulous thing is that for the first time in my life everyone is discussing what Caryatids could or could not have been. (Next time I do a talk on them, I'll try to put it up on YouTube).

And what about a connection of these figures to the Persians? The earlier cases, like the ones belonging to the Siphnian Treasury and the Erechtheion of the athenian acropolis, up to the tomb of Amphipolis, could somehow, even indirectly, be related to the Persians, and Vitruvius connects the motif to the Persian wars anyway.

Vitruvius made the connection to the Persians, and Michael Vickers wrote a very interesting article connecting Caryatids to Persians. I disagree with his dating and conclusion, but I highly recommend people interested read it. (His articles including a new version of the article are available here).

was any importance placed on where materials were taken from? I'm wondering about the sand coming from the Strymon and whether there'd be a symbolic reason to use that over soil from much closer to hand, or whether it would have been purely 'have some sand left over from building mound, might as well use it'.

What an interesting question, and I wish I have enough information about the finds to answer it. Honestly I had not heard that Strymon sand was used instead of soil but there are plenty of other examples of it. The most obvious one would be porphyry (hint - if you spot any, it's a god or a royal).

Would the sculptures been carved by local artists or where they created by teams of artists who moved around - say from Athens? Do we assume they were carved on the spot?

With big projects local workshops were created, for example Pheidias' had been excavated at Olympia. There is often a link between a sculptor and a marble he favoured, for example Scopas of Paros, but at other times the marble is local; it depended how much of good quality was available, and the budget. Thasos was nearby, and that seems to have been used here. Most of the big sculptors worked more in bronze than marble, although there are exceptions when it comes to important projects. The consensus with architectural sculpture is that it was roughed out at the quarry, worked more at the site and finished in situ - partly so that it was not damaged before it was in place, partly so that there was continuity and the frieze blocks joined.

When Alexander and his successors built their cities with Greek artists creating sculptures - where did they come from? Macedonia? Western Asia Minor? They must have ramped up fast to create so much. Maybe Alexander had artists in tow that went with him. What do we know?

A lot! Firstly, Alexander had 'court' artists. Secondly when he conquered the Persian Empire, he would have found a lot of good artists there. Praxiteles and Scopas are two famous sculptors who for example worked for the Hecatomnids in various Carian cities, such as Cnidos. The Persians had used Greek artists for generations, and there is a very good book by John Boardman about this (he also wrote one on the Greeks recreating the past through nostalgia - a great scholar).

Do you think we will see more figures in the excavation?

I keep being amazed by the sculpture so ... [Fight Club Rules]

Is there an estimate of when the wall and sand were placed in front of the Caryatids? It would seem as if the wall and sand were there to preserve the Caryatids from further decay, as if the Amphipolis tomb were previously excavated.

I think it seems pretty certain by now that the sand was used to stop the structure collapsing, and the wall to hold it in - see other posts for more ...

Could the damage to the right foot and toe be due to those falling pieces? In addition, it was reported the Caryatids fingers (not the arm?) were found in the sand? Would this suggest that the wall and sand were added at a later date, when the Caryatids were crumbling?

Yes, these all seem to be fissures due to structural damage

More answers soon ...


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  2. I think they may have used sand because it weould be easier to work with; I presume they would dry it and then have a free flowing substance that would be lighter than soil and more resistant to moisture; soil would take alot of drying and breaking up to get to a similar state as dry sand. Drying in the Greek summer would hardly be a problem. The Strymon would simply be the closest source and, with speed of the essence (if shoring up to prevent collapse) it would not mean anything deeper.

    I am still puzzled by the association of Deinokrates and the perfect circle; what is the source for this?

  3. I certainly appreciate the answer given by Dr.King. I would find it harder to explain away the tomb being filled as a result of flooding as some have done, but I suppose much interpretation would stem from the 'why' of the tomb being filled. A structural deficiency makes as much sense to me as anything else currently, and certainly a lot more sense than some theories being floated.

  4. I wonder... the chambers have had statues in pairs - could that continue and what kind of statues we could expect?


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