Amphipolis: Walling Up …

Two key questions keep popping up about Amphipolis.

Why was clearly such an important monument not mentioned in any surviving ancient source? I suspect that with a lot of archive work it may be possible to find possible allusions to it, but that perhaps it was not referred to as “The Tomb of X” but by another name? Or more likely the texts that did mention it are now lost – and far more ancient texts have gone missing over the centuries than survive, a key plot point of Umberto Eco’s brilliant novel The Name of the Rose.

Secondly why was the tomb sealed up with a wall?

The wall post-dates the construction of the tomb, and post-dates its use. We have to bear in mind that tombs were not always used by those that built them, but could be used when someone died suddenly decades later (Belevi is the perfect example of this).

The brilliant Amphipolis archaeologists (I include the architect in this generic plural description, as well as all the technicians) presented their preliminary finds about the deliberate destruction of the superstructure at a conference. Because the destruction was so deliberate, with blocks of the lion and the base moved some distance down to the river, it was initially assumed that this was Christian Byzantine anti-pagan iconoclasm.

With further research, and based on small finds, they moved the date down into the Roman period. Which leads straight to the question: who could have been buried in the tomb that was so disliked by a powerful Roman that he went to so much trouble and expense to destroy the memorial? Nobody knows.

(Answers on a postcard …)

And then we get to the wall which was recently excavated in front of the gate of the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis.

As I have been clear before, I have gone out of my way this summer to only have knowledge of the excavations through Ministry of Culture press releases, not by asking about other finds. There are several possibilities for this wall, based on common sense which they will clarify through their dig:

a) it is contemporary to the burial, and a more elaborate version than other Macedonian tombs of closing a tomb by back-filling the dromos with earth. For example, at Vergina we know that Tomb II’s dromos was filled in with earth almost immediately as much of the stucco decorations and paintings were so fresh that they were damaged. Macedonian tombs may have had beautiful facades, but these were not designed to be seen by later generations and covered over soon after the burial.
I doubt this because the contemporary blocks are high quality masonry, whilst these are of poor quality. I also believe that the tomb may have been intended to be seen.

b) that it is a later ‘seal’ to protect the tomb.

A parallel can be drawn to Septimius Severus ‘sealing’ the tomb of Alexander the Great in Alexandria. Cassius Dio 76.13:
he took away from practically all the sanctuaries all the books that he could find containing any secret lore, and he locked up the tomb of Alexander; this was in order that no one in future should either view Alexander's body or read what was written in the above-mentioned books. So much, then, for what Severus was doing.
Before people start leaping to conclusions that Severus had the Sema walled up, and make links to the ancient walling up of the gateway of Amphipolis ... he only ordered the tomb sealed not walled up. We know that because his son Caracalla was able to visit the tomb according to Herodian IV.8.

c) that the ‘sealing’ wall was contemporary to the destruction of the superstructure and part of an attempt to ‘hide’ the tomb, but not destroy it for religious reasons. There is a good example of this in Vitruvius, and although as so often one can question his text, he tends to be correct (Vitruvius 2.8.14-15):
14. After the death of Mausolus, the Rhodians, indignant at his wife, who succeeded to the government, governing the whole of Caria, fitted out a fleet, for the purpose of seizing the kingdom. When the news reached Artemisia, she commanded her fleet to lie still in the secret harbour; and having concealed the sailors and mustered the marines, ordered the rest of the citizens to the walls. When the well appointed squadron of the Rhodians should enter the large harbour, she gave orders that those stationed on the walls should greet them, and promise to deliver up the town. The Rhodians, leaving their ships, penetrated into the town; at which period Artemisia, by the sudden opening of a canal, brought her fleet round, through the open sea, into the large harbour; whence the Rhodian fleet, abandoned by its sailors and marines, was easily carried out to sea. The Rhodians, having now no place of shelter, were surrounded in the forum and slain.
15. Artemisia then embarking her own sailors and marines on board of the Rhodian fleet, set sail for Rhodes. The inhabitants of that city seeing their vessels return decorated with laurels, thought their fellow citizens were returning victorious, and received their enemies. Artemisia having thus taken Rhodes, and slain the principal persons of the city, raised therein a trophy of her victory. It consisted of two brazen statues, one of which represented the state of Rhodes, the other was a statue of herself imposing a mark of infamy on the city. As it was contrary to the precepts of the religion of the Rhodians to remove a trophy, they encircled the latter with a building, and covered it after the custom of the Greeks, giving it the name ἄβατον.
Although some dispute the martial historical accuracy of this account – there is often confusion between Artemisia I of Halicarnassus and Artemisia II of Caria in ancient sources – the religious aspect of not destroying a sacred dedication is widely accepted.


d) something completely different no-one has thought of yet.

(Again, answers on a postcard – those accompanied by chocolate get priority … )


  1. Thank You very much for this very detailed argumentation.

  2. "The missing face of one of the Caryatids is due to ageing or from blocks of stones that fell on the statue", stated the archaeologist and general secretary of the Ministry, Lena Mendoni, to major TV channel.

  3. The block above is badly cracked so it looks structural to me. Maybe caused by an earthquake?

    One caryatid on Erechtheion also had structural issues and was replaced in Roman period BTW

  4. great post dorothy,although there have been occasions when sacred dedications have been desocrated.the phocian general philomelus took the treasure from the bowl of the serpents column circ 345 bc which was an act of sacrilege in the eyes of most greeks.if the greeks were desperate nothing was sacred.as for the romans,they didnt respect anything,sulla showed how much respect they had for greek temples and greek people at athens,lucius mummius did the same at corinth.the romans make IS look like an old ladies tea party.

  5. Maybe a part of the broken sphinxes reused by Christians to strengthen the wall of their church?

    "M. Charles Picard a retrouvé cet été au musée de Budapest un document archéologique qu'on croyait perdu. Il s'agit d'un bas-relief d'Amphipolis (Macédoine), représentant une sphynge tricéphale - dite sphynge ponthée - qui était demeuré longtemps enclavé dans le mur d'une église. Ce document avait été signalé au début du XIXe siècle par un de nos consuls de Salonique. M. Cousinéry, qui en avait laissé un croquis fort inexact. Il avait disparu depuis et on ne gardait de ce monstre du IIe siècle de notre ère que ce mauvais dessin.

    Le Monde. 1957

  6. Picard's article is available in full here: http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/crai_0065-0536_1957_num_101_1_10702

    His Sphinx is a very odd relief, and not part of the tomb - Sphinxes appear on earlier coins of Amphipolis, and these probably reflected a now lost local legend.

    Again, the Strabo books that cover the region are only preserved in fragments so ... much is missing!

  7. I have posited earthquake damage elsewhere, pothos.org; in which case we need not look for some figure the Romans hated, they may have found the Lion in a tumble down situation and simply re-used the blocks, supplementing them with others from the structure, were they not found shoring up a bank of the Strymon?

    I also suggested that the sphinxes had suffered falling damage rather than deliberate defacement (other iconoclastic attacks seem to have concentrated on the face and spared the bosom), bit worried by the perfectly intact feet though...the wings and heads might have been removed to allow for a smaller replacement vault, for which there would be evidence. The damage to the inner wall (from the inside out) and to the Karyatids could be synchronous and would support an open structure with only the smaller parts of the damaged sculpture remaining, surely an indication of clearance before the final sealing, possibly for Health and safety reasons.

  8. Sorry, discussed earthquake damage on Twitter, and will add it to the next update. Yes, earthquake damage to the structure is possible, although the earth weight of the mound alone would cause issues - the Mausoleum of Augustus used concrete, Amphipolis did not.

    But the blocks of the lion and the base were moved such a distance, and the way they were thrown into the river, meant that earthquake damage was ruled out quite early.

    The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus WAS destroyed in an earthquake, and you can reconstruct where the sculpture once was by where it fell on the ground ... the situation at Amphipolis is very different.

    It's wonderful how involved everyone is getting, and how many suggestions people are making, but honestly the archaeologists there do know what they're doing!

  9. clever remark dr king[the purpose of building the surrounding wall].i ve been spending alot of time reading every single comment in various blogs,but noone has mentioned/argued/suggested that before![sorry,no chocolate though..maybe i can interest you in a pack of m n ms instead?]


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