Amphipolis ... Tomb or Heroon?

There are countless references in ancient sources to the Heroon of Mausolus, which was also a tomb and from which the term Mausoleum derives (first used for Augustus' tomb, although a recent find suggests it might have been used earlier).

The Lion at Chaeronea was a cenotaph not a tomb.

We keep using the word 'tomb' for Amphipolis - first the Lion Tomb, now the Kastra Tomb ... - but one interesting feature is the lack of a door. It may have been removed when the structure was sealed, but the lack of a door so far suggests the lack of a burial, and in conjunction with the steep steps this to me suggests increasingly that it was not a tomb but possibly a cenotaph or more likely a heroon.

Obviously it is too early to know for certain, but I am putting the suggestion out there.

As Shakespeare said:
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet ....
I've maintained for quite some time that the colossal size of the structure suggests it was very unlikely to have been built for anyone other than Alexander the Great. Although the Mausoleum of Augustus was round, and seems to have copied it, there is a dearth of round Greek tombs; the shape was previously restricted for very important structures, many of which had cult purposes ... and the prime example was the tholos built by Philip II at Olympia and filled with family portraits.

The Philippeion had a diameter of 15.24 m or was roughly one tenth that of Amphipolis' 158.4 m diameter.

It was filled with portraits by Leochares, who had previously worked on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and created portraits for his successors Idrieus and Ada of Caria.

The round shape of the Amphipolis structure, the lack of a door and the sources which all say Alexander was buried in Egypt, to me all suggest that it was more likely to have been a heroon or cult of Alexander the Great with or without his ancestors and relatives, whatever it started life as.


  1. Hi, thank you for your coverage on this incredible topic. I have read that some UK soldiers may have plundered the "tomb" during WWI. If true, could this explain the lack of door? Cheers.

  2. I thought I'd covered that in another post ... those photos are clearly of another tomb, of which there were many around an important city such as Amphipolis!

    Also, whilst there is a long tradition of looting in war zones, with the Romans having been the worst plunderers of Greece ... it's easy for a soldier to take a small item, far harder for them to cart off a whole door in their kit bag!

  3. Sorry I missed the post you talked about that! I will find it. Thanks again.

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  5. How long is a piece of string?!?!? They've been moving very fast since August, perhaps too fast for the comfort of most archaeologists, and the structural issues will be delaying them - nobody wants it to become a tomb for those working there.

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  7. The dating of the various elements of the tumulus will be fascinating, especially if it's possible to get a dating on the river sand.

    Not specifically an Amphipolis question so posting it here. Is your work on "Kings, Tombs, and Ruler Cult Before Alexander the Great: Evidence from Vergina and Karia" available anywhere to read? I did try Jstor but was unable to find anything. I'm certainly willing to chase down any references to suitable reading, if that's something you'd be willing to offer, in its absence.

  8. The major problem is that on the give dating, we would have Kassandros building a massive Heroon for someone the tradition tells us he hated, and in the wrong place for an Argaead, not to mention having Alexander's cultists trapse around the last sighting place of Roxane and Aegus.

    I am with you on the steps and the lack of doors suggesting a cult, but the fourth chamber has a door, I have read. There maybe parallels with an Egyptian tomb in Alexandria which Sawi Hawass thought a candidate for the Soma; it is reached by a descending staircase and was once covered in earth; I think it is the Alabaster Tomb? Were this actually part of the Ptolemaion it would provide a comparandum for Hellenistic ruler cult sites, perhaps.

    Don't think the 10:1 ratio with the Philippeion is significant, it was not built in an open field so its dimensions were constrained by the existing buildings within the sanctuary. The Greeks may have loved a Golden ratio, but were not numerologists of note, I think. LOL

  9. Forgot, the Lion at Chaironeia was not a cenotaph (empty tomb) but a marker for the 250 odd dead buried in its quadrangular enclosure. chaire

  10. Hi to all,
    The beauty of Amphipolis buzz is that like a virus it is spreading and its effects are to awake the historian-archaeologist in all of us. I personally, the last month, have gone back to books and sources with a renewed love and grown-up perspective jumping from Hellenistic era to all over the place. Dorothy your blog has been giving me sleepless nights  .
    I just finished reading the “Investigation of a monumental Macedonian tumulus by three dimensional seismic tomography” http://www.researchgate.net/publication/229914087_Investigation_of_a_monumental_Macedonian_tumulus_by_threedimensional_seismic_tomography
    This was published in 2004. If the findings and my readings are correct we could possibly be talking about two possible “tombs” L2 and L1. The one, were by the archeological team is currently in its path L1, has a low velocity (open space 25m from the center of the Tumuli) and of size around 12m. That could potentially mean that since the algologist have penetrated 25 m thus far from the perimeter of the Tumuli that the main “tomb” is in 20m from current position of 3rd chamber. (158/2=79m radius if 25 from center is tomb then 79-25= 54m therefore we have 20m more to go of which 12 is final chamber)
    Dont know if this could mean is a tomb or heroon buti f this interpretation and assumptions are correct boy oh boy lots of stuff to come up. Let wait and see

  11. Your ideas are so interesting, but I think that a cult place doesn't needs a tumulous aspect, have to be seen from far. Doesn't needs little chambers or smaller gates every chamber. I think the structure of Anfípolis discard places to be crowded, or easily accessible to bee seen by many people: I think it's a tomb.

    You're right, however, in the idea of a lack of door. I think, and I'm not sure because there are not pictures on detail of the sphinx's entrance, that there weren't gates, and possibly they weren't neither for the first rooms. Possibly later, because I expect that archaeologists will find many chambers before opening the last one, but not for the firsts. Are there evidences of other tombs with accessible parts?


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