Amphipolis: Your Questions, My Answers ... Part Deux

Who's buried at Amphipolis?

Yes, this was the first question not surprisingly ...

I don't know, nor do the archaeologists working there. Based on the evidence they have excavated and research in libraries, they currently believe - and on this I fully agree with them - that it was possibly started immediately before the death of Alexander, that the majority of the construction was complete within roughly a decade after his death, but final touches could have been added up to the last years of the 4th century BC.

The obvious answer is that it was most likely to have been built for Alexander, and either left empty when he was buried in Alexandria, or re-used for another Macedonian monarch - eg it could have became the tomb of Antigonus I Monophthalmus and the mausoleum of the Antigonids, for example.

I am wary of ruling anybody out, but Olympias is unlikely as she was buried near Pydna according to inscriptions, which is where she died. The fact that she was not mooted as a suggestion by the excavators is significant! She was unpopular in Macedonia, so her burial was probably arranged by her Epiriot family. These later inscriptions are discussed in a Hesperia article by Charles Edson, The Tomb of Olympias, available as a PDF here:

I would be delighted if it turned out to be a heroon-tomb of Hephaestion as that would also re-write history.

Roxanne was a leading candidate a few years ago, but the excavators no longer consider her likely.

The various admirals and other figures suggested are less likely but not impossible.

Nearchus was a candidate when it was simply thought to be a Lion Tomb without the colossal mound, but the huge size of the tomb now makes that extremely unlikely. Also, despite claims on the internet, Neartchus was born on Crete not at Amphipolis; we also have no idea when let alone where he died, as he is last attested to my knowledge in 312 BC at Gaza fighting Ptolemy.

The brothers Laomedon and Erigyius were also not important enough for such a huge tomb, and they are describes in sources as from Mytilene, where their father certainly originated. Laomedon features little during the campaigns of Alexander, but after his death according to Appian [Syrian Wars, 52]:
The first satrap of Syria was Laomedon of Mitylene, who derived his authority from Perdiccas and from Antipater, who succeeded the latter as regent. To this Laomedon, Ptolemy, the satrap of Egypt, came with a fleet and offered him a large sum of money if he would hand over Syria to him, because it was well situated for defending Egypt and for attacking Cyprus. When Laomedon refused Ptolemy seized him. Laomedon bribed his guards and escaped to Alcetas in Caria. Thus Ptolemy ruled Syria for a while, left a garrison there, and returned to Egypt.
We don't know what became of his after the coup of  Antipater. Erigyius probably died in Sogdiana, now northern Afghanistan, in 328/327 BC.

Cassander married Thessaloniki, Alexander's half-sister, and is possible but so are many others.

Philip III Arridaeus and Adea Eurydice II died / were forced to commit suicide by Olympias in 317  (see here), and they were later buried by Cassander with her mother Cynane at Vergina. See Diodorus (xix. 52) and Athenaeus (iv. 41):
And Diyllus the Athenian says, in the ninth book of his Histories, that Cassander, when returning from Boeotia after he had buried the king and queen at Aegae, and with them Cynna the mother of Eurydice, and had paid them all the other honours to which they were entitled, celebrated also a show of single combats, and four of the soldiers entered the arena on that occasion.
Cleopatra the full-sister of Alexander was given a beautiful funeral by Antigonus - who had probably been behind her murder, but since that took place at Sardes, it is likely her tomb was there too.

Leonnatus, a relative of Alexander's who had planned to marry Cleopatra in order to reinforce his claim to the throne of Macedon is possible but unlikely - although the Lion would have made a nice pun on his name.

Several of the leading candidates can be excluded, but who the body was is not yet certain.

What we learn from the caryatids regarding dating of the tomb?

Nothing that goes against the date already suggested by the excavators. As I pointed out in the last post, they in no way indicate an Augustan date. Also since there are many copies and variants of the Tralles-Cherchel caryatid type from the Hellenistic period onwards, one can argue that they copied a famous lost original, and Amphipolis is the best candidate for having been that original.

Could you please provide your timeline of events regarding: Construction of the tomb, it being used or re-used, its backfilling and the construction of the sealing walls. Not so much in terms of accurate dating, but more in terms of sequence of events: is the backfilling contemporary to the construction? Is the sealing wall contemporary to the back-filling etc. ?

This is my current working theory, but please not that both the ideas of the archaeologists at Amphipolis and mine have changed as new evidence is excavated:

It was started before or soon after the death of Alexander in 323 BC, probably as his tomb, possibly as his deified friend Hephaestion.

It was left empty when Ptolemy took his body to Egypt, possibly in the hope that they would bring him "home" to be buried there.

It was probably finished by the death of Antigonus I Monophthalmus in 301 BC.

It may have been left empty and served as a cult centre, or it may have been used by a successor once it became clear that Alexander's body was not coming back - for example once his new tomb the Sema or Soma was built in Alexandria, probably by Ptolemy II Philadelphus; see PhDiva: Alexander's Tomb(s) in Egypt

The soil back-fill and the walls that sealed each chamber were almost certainly contemporary; soil was probably used instead of concrete as it meant the tomb could be sealed and the roof supported, but not necessarily lost as would be the case with Roman concrete. The walls would have been necessary to hold in the soil, to stop it pouring out. I assume that there are small finds within the soil which will help date this - bits of pottery, dropped coins, etc - but I am not aware of them.

My guess is that the architecture was not strong enough to support the mound, and that after an earthquake it began to cave in, so the soil was used to support the structure.

The destruction of the superstructure was initially thought to be Byzantine iconoclasm, then coins were found in this destruction layer which were presented at the conference, and which I am pretty sure put this in the early 3rd century AD. So the possibility was discussed that the superstructure was used to dredge swamp land by the river to combat malaria, but this was also set aside.

I am asking because through informal statements made by Ms. Peristeri it has been implied that the back-filling and the sealing walls were protective measures against the looting of the tomb (and therefore contemporary to its construction?)

I do not think Prof Peristeri was trying to suggest that the sealing was contemporary to the construction. She is under a lot of pressure, and perhaps her words were misinterpreted?

It is possible that the tomb was filled to stop it collapsing further. And that soon after the superstructure was removed in order to lessen the weight bearing down on it, and that the plan had been to re-open it but if so this plan was abandoned.

I would like to draw a parallel to one early suggestion on how to construct a dome over the cathedral in Florence. The art of building domes had been forgotten, and someone suggested filling the whole building with soil, and building the dome over that. He thought that if one buried cheese in the soil, the mice would then moved all the earth out for them ... it didn't work out!

soil and diaphragm walls are later from the grave?, from the construction of the grave not seem to be place from the basic architect 

Yes, see above.

Please note that just as so many Richard Rogers buildings today seem to have the odd engineering issue, so did ancient ones ...

Vitruvius [II.2.8] discusses open air temples:
8. The HYPÆTHROS is decastylos, in the pronaos and posticum. In other respects it is similar to the dipteros, except that in the inside it has two stories of columns all round, at some distance from the walls, after the manner of the peristylia of porticos. The middle of the interior part of the temple is open to the sky, and it is entered by two doors, one in front and the other in the rear. Of this sort there is no example at Rome, there is, however, an octastyle specimen of it at Athens, the temple of Jupiter Olympius.
 ... fails to mention that the Olympieion in Athens was unroofed because it was never finished!

Also, there is a Roman engineer in Algeria who tried to build a tunnel through a mountain by starting at both ends and meeting in the middle. The plan didn't quite works out ... (see Roman builder ... whoops).

Hi, is it the case much more work went into the circular wall than the tomb itself? I mean, it's a wall of huge radius with tons of marble

That's a very interesting question, and I don't know the answer. We have enough ancient building accounts preserved to know that sometimes the long wooden beams needed for the roof could cost more than marble, as they needed to be imported from the Levant. At Delphi, we know that it cost more to bring the marble from the port to the sanctuary by road than it cost to bring the marble by ship to the port. For more on this I highly recommend looking up the work of Alison Burford, which are quite old but very good.

Yes it is harder to cut a circular edge on a block than a straight one. More than that, I cannot say.

Obviously limits to sensible speculation until it's been fully excavated, but are there parallels from elsewhere, whether Macedonia itself or the wider Hellenistic world, for the steps down and then the two (?) antechambers which require backfilling to deny access?

The steep steps down I find very unusual and don't know of parallels, and the only thing that springs to mind - other than Egyptian tombs - is the similarity of descending to, for example Hades, in Mystery Cults, the two not being mutually exclusive.

Macedonian tombs, for example at Vergina Tomb II, were covered over soon after the burial. This one does not seem to have been, and was stone rather than stucco, making it very unusual. The back-filling as I discussed in the last post, is probably later.

I have read on the web that one commentator is convinced that the tomb is Alexander's. He says that it took two years to complete it and then the body was brought from the East. He says that the body in Alexandra was just a mummy that Ptolemy grabbed. Basically he says the ancient accounts aren't true and are full of 'tales'. How should we regard the ancient texts that we rely on that relate to Alexander's burial site? I suppose we shall soon find out if this tomb changes history. If it is Alexander's that would create a huge public sensation. That would be GREAT to get the public - and kids - talking about history and archaeology.

I think anything that interests people in archaeology and history is wonderful but ... the overwhelming majority of ancient sources agree that Alexander's body remained in Alexandria through into the Byzantine period.

There was still a great deal of interest in Alexander during the Byzantine period - for example this late 5th century AD head was excavated at Ostia (and stolen from the museum, so if you find it, let me know) - but if his body was moved from Alexandria before the Arab conquest, it is very unlikely to have been put into the tomb at Amphipolis, and would probably have been taken to Constantinople.

Also, thank you so much for your wonderful blog - it's a great resource and a wonderful gift to us amateurs and enthusiasts.

You're welcome! But don't forget that the archaeologists at Amphipolis are the ones doing all the hard work!

One last question - do you expect the caryatids to be fully painted?

The Tralles-Cherchel figure from Tralles and now in Istanbul still has traces of paint, so they probably were painted originally. The Greeks tended to paint sculpture and architecture, although it became less fashionable to do so in the Roman period.

The Svestari tomb caryatids also still have a lot of paint, as the tomb was sealed but not filled with soil.

My question is about the caryatid’s face. The nose and nostrils seem to be uncommonly broad compared to those in Hellenistic sculpture. I have looked at many hellenistic statues, noses are narrow at the base. Also the caryatid’s eyes have a stretch and the mouth looks fuller. Is there a foreign influence here?

That's a very interesting question. Only one caryatid preserves the face, but she is missing her nose, so that all that's left is the 'shadow' ... and where the noise joins the face is always wider than the tip.

But looking at other Caryatids of this type - and this is the head of the Tralles-Cherchel type from Hadrianic Athens - I don't find the nose unusually wide. Ancient Greek women did not have access to American plastic surgeons, so they didn't have those tiny little button noses!

If you're asking if she could be African, I am wary of making statements about race based on a damaged sculpture ...

But I discussed the portrait of Septimius Severus, an emperor who was born in Roman north Africa here - he may be shown darker than his wife because his skin was darker, or because it was the convention to depict men as darker than women.

I'll answer more questions tomorrow ...


  1. I know my interest has been sparked (reignited?) by this find, but I posted a thread on a football forum about the tomb and that's now some 1100 views after just a week. It's brilliant to see that interest embraced and encouraged by scholars like yourself.

    Thank you for the answer. It's actually funny seeing your post Which way to Hades? linked as a 'You may also like...' as that was on my mind when asking. Intriguing.

    Appreciate the links and context you've provided for further reading too. Not getting much housework done today...

  2. Hi.If Hephestion is buried there,and the tomb isn't looted,could they find any personal items of Alexander as a gift?
    And in an extra crazy scenario
    Alexander's bones could be put together with those of Hephestion.
    Achilles and Patroclos bones were put in the same golden hydria.

    It would be great a tomb of Alexander and Hephestion as that of Patroclos and Achilles.
    The King is needed now more than ever here in Greece.
    Given the dangerous situation that has arise for our nation with the incompetent political leadership and the economical elite,a charismatic leader is needed more than ever.
    The Greek diaspora now thrives everywhere,but the metropolis is dying.
    Incompetence rules and the wolf awaits from the East.
    But Έχουσι γνώσιν οι φύλακες
    The near future is very promising for Hellenism.We have many αμύντορες παρά Δεσπότου.

    How do you think would the near future be for you?
    "Lootbusters" might be busy with the pillage of the Turkish and Russian museums.
    Places will be open for capable archeologists in Constantinople and the Ionia coast, not that Turkish archeologists are bad.
    Do you still believe that the stolen Parthenon marbles should stay in London?
    I was bittered by your book title "Elgin marbles".Elgin was nothing more than the English Abbot Fourmont.
    It's a strange feeling for a Hellene to walk in the British Museum or in Saint Mark in Venice, in any Frankish museum or roman catholic church.
    I couldn't blame you though Dorothy for the book title,your nation is young,with a very short historical memory.
    Next time you'll be in the flash ken pass by the sawed Κόρη in room 19, ask her what does she want, she'll whisper it " νόστιμον ήμαρ".

    London is great but spring never lasts Dorothy.When things'll get rough between Greece and Turkey travel south.

    I am not lying, as I passed once by the sawed Κόρη she whispered me νόστιμον ήμαρ.Her expression was a bit melancholic,it takes a Greek to see that expression ( though the right are Έλλην not Γραικός and Ρωμιός not Βυζαντινός).
    I replied her " Έσσεται ήμαρ".Her expression changed, to what the orthodox fathers call χαρμολύπη.

    Έρρωσο Δωροθέα.

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  4. Zeb Edee - I managed some chores today! But appreciate the thanks!

    ilias milnis - I don't think the bones were mixed, but at this point anything seems possible.

    re Lootbusters - honestly, we record anything ministries send us photos of, and I'd love to get photos of items stolen from Greece.

    I've spoken quite publicly for several years saying I'm support of a long term loan of the Parthenon sculptures to Greece, and reasonable people change their minds as situations evolve. Maybe I should blog about that soon, but the ownership issue is ... to me they belong to the world, and I've been extremely critical of the British Museum over too many issues to list here. Most scholars I know now refuse to support the BM publicly as they are too pissed off with the director.

    I don't know what Olga Palagia's views are, but I know the people at the British Museum love her as they admit she's the only Greek archaeologist that has supported keeping the Elgin Marbles in London.

  5. Really need to remember pronouns in my posts - my housework was what got neglected today in between reading your answers, a dissertation on Lycia, some of your old blog posts and the football! Apologies if that sense was not carried correctly.

  6. LOL - I keep saying I need to put another load of laundry on ... so it worked either way!

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  8. I suspect intelligent life is developing on my draining board; I should probably ask its help the next time I feel tempted to post...

    (Oops - sorry, glad you saw the funny side!)

  9. Hi again,

    I know I already made too many questions, but here are few more findings that may provide interesting context:

    a) there is a house in Amphipolis dated in the 2nd century BC, the painted walls of which remind a lot the structure of blocks forming the circular wall of the tomb. A photo is here:

    I assume the tomb was in good condition by that time.

    b) Strabo mentions nothing about the tomb in his passage for Amphipolis. Is that enough to assume that the tomb was in a bad condition or possibly unrecognisable by the time he visited ( sometime between 27 BC - AD 14)?

    c) the block sequence in the fortification wall of Amphipolis, which I assume is much older than the hellenistic house above, also reminds (a bit) the circular wall of the tomb. Photo here:


    Not sure if I am over-interpreting things here, I just wanted to point this out.

  10. this is the biggest monument found in the complete Hellenistic area ...it could only be for the greatest Greek ever existed...
    Nobody else's family could have so much RESOURCES to build this monster...
    I also have not read anywhere about how DEEP this tomb could actually be...i mean....is it possible that they only found the top of an iceberg ?


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