Today's Amphipolis Q&As

I'll start off by answering some of the various questions people have asked and discussing some of the theories about Amphipolis, then go back to regular blogging later today or tomorrow ...

I'm not sure where the question about huge tombs for soldiers came from, but yes there are some - eg the Chaeronea Lion might be either a tomb or more likely a cenotaph built by Philip II for those whose fell in that battle; ditto the later Macedonian Veria monument. War monuments are nothing new, and are well attested in Greek culture ... but I think it is very unlikely that the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis was a communal tomb for dead soldiers. As always, I may be wrong - the tomb has already re-written the text books about that type of Caryatid supporting the architrave with their hands, and who know what else we'll learn!

Again, I still don't know who was buried in the tomb at Amphipolis, and if the archaeologists do know, they're not saying yet. I am afraid that yes I've been to blame for over a year now for the theory that it could have been built for Alexander the Great - and yes, he still seems for a whole variety of reasons, some of which hopefully will become clear, to me to be the best candidate for whom the monument was constructed. He was not buried there as Ptolemy hijacked the body and took it to Egypt, but the tomb and an associated cult could well have continued under the Antigonids at Amphipolis, and various early Diadochs are likely to have wanted, hoped and perhaps even attempted to bring Alexander's body back to Macedonia to emphasise their claim to be his heir. Then someone may have been buried in it - an Antigonid or Lysimachus or a dozen others - or it could have been symbolically left empty as a cenotaph or a reminder ...

No, not 'probably' - the lion was almost certainly visible from the bridge, the town ... everywhere in Amphipolis. It was designed to be seen, hence the huge mound and large base that supported it. The key question to ask is was the tomb inside the boundaries of the town or outside it? Only founders of cities, such at Theseus at Athens - or refounders of cities such as Mausolus at Halicarnassus - could be buried within the city walls.

Although there are other tombs with lions, the lion hunt in an enclosed royal game park was associated with royal iconography under the Persians (eg see the sculptures from the tomb of the Hecatomind Satrap Mausolus) and from at least Phillip II onwards in Macedonian art (see the exterior painted frieze of Vergina Tomb II).

The seated Lion at Chaeronea is linked to the battle Phillip II fought there. The Cnidos lion is reclining and different, but not yet linked to anyone specific. 

The Ecbatana Lion is sometimes linked to the death of Hephaestion (left), and again he is a possible contended for the tomb, if Alexander's wishes were fulfilled. But the Ecbatana lion is very different, and we know from the later Arabic name of its site that it was the "Gate of the Lions" and one of a pair, oh, and Hephaestion died at Babylon not Ecbatana (see here).

Could there be more chambers, not just three? Very easily. Also the hole in the wall to the third chamber may well have been structural - Hellenistic architects sometimes put windows into the pediments of very large temples, which may have been partly for cult reasons, but also served to relieve the weight.

As the Greek Ministry of Culture has stated, there are severe structural issues with the third chamber. I pointed out that there were structural issues which led to a crack in the architrave above the caryatids (photo above), and that is one face cracked and fell off (it was found in the back-fill).

There was no tomb quite like this one at Amphipolis, and so the architect may have been more ambitious than ... I currently think that the back-filling of the tomb was to stop it collapsing and to 'preserve' it (ancient Macedonian tombs were not meant to be seen and visited inside anyway) ... and that the back-fill pre-dates the destruction of the super-structure. As always things change in archaeology, and there wouldn't be any point digging if new information didn't either refine our ideas or make us change our minds!

Speaking of changing our minds: the evidence suggests all previous reconstructions were wrong, and the Caryatids did not supported the architrave with one raised arm. They were architectural supports, as the cracks show, and but possibly hand their arms outstretched to each other - their touching hands could symbolise the joining of Europe and Asia by a certain Greek commander? I'll do a proper long post about the Caryatids - and another about the Ionic doorway and third chamber - soon, but yes they look vaguely like Archaic kore, but that's a long art historical explanation which is why the style is called archaising.

For now, see how the lowered arm holding out the drapery ...

better seem in the pair here:

This Hellenistic figure from Miletus now in Izmir copies the roll of fabric diagonally across the body:

[... well, first the drapery becomes an acanthus leaf in this ca. 280 BC Thracian tomb ...]

... is also to be seen in the statue of Tralles-Cherchel type from Cherchel:

... and the Tralles-Cherchel type from Tralles:

... but that in some more classicising variants, such as this one from a pair in Mantua, the hand is made to hold a mask - presumably one of the pair had Comedy, the other Tragedy?

I've been positing for a few years now that there are so many copies and variants of this type that it must copy a famous lost original pair ... but it seems the original may have been found!

Interestingly the raised forearms of this figure type do not survive anywhere except Amphipolis, so whilst we always assumed it went straight up ... clearly the new evidence shows that it did not!

I highly recommend this article to anyone interested in the earlier excavations of the Amphipolis Lion, which was found thrown into the river some way from the Kastra Hill - The Pride of Amphipolis | From the Archivist's Notebook:
Betsey Robinson Betsey A. Robinson, Professor of History of Art at Vanderbilt University, here contributes to The Archivist’s Notebook an essay about the history of the reconstruction of the Lion of Amphipolis in the 1930s and the people who spearheaded it; she also reminds us of recent work by the American School in the area in 1970.
Εἰπέ, λέον, φθιμένοιο τίνος τάφον ἀμφιβέβηκας, βουφάγε; τίς τᾶς σᾶς ἄξιος ἦν ἀρετᾶς;
Tell, lion, whose tomb do you guard, you slayer of cattle? And who was worthy of your valour?
Anthologia Palatina 7.426.1-2 (Trans. M. Fantuzzi & R. Hunter)
The lines above, by Hellenistic poet Antipater of Sidon, are as much of a tease today as they were when Oscar Broneer quoted them in The Lion Monument at Amphipolis in 1941.
And the date of the tomb ...

Yes, I am aware of this, and I am aware of her subsequent claim that the tomb must post-date 40 BC because there were no Greek Caryatids before then. I disagree about Caryatids, obviously, but it's good to have debate and if we all agreed we'd make less progress! Another Greek archaeologist who had not seen the excavations made claims about modern looting, and I disagree with him too. I'm afraid that the Greek archaeologist with whom I agree with re the early Hellenistic date are the ones that found the tomb and that have been digging it for years and actually seen the evidence.

And finally the Memphis sphinxes ...

Yes, I am aware of them, but chose to focus on other ones that I thought to be more relevant, but thank you all for sending them to me. Yes, they are linked to the Serapeion, which is in turn founded after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, but again please guys, hold your horses! or sphinxes! The Serapeion continued to be added to for centuries, and some of the philosophers found near these sphinxes were earlish Hellenistic, but others were 2nd century AD. Also they were excavated by Auguste Mariette who died in 1881, and archaeological techniques were very different in those days ... so the very simple answer is that these are dated largely on stylistic grounds, and this date is very debatable.


  1. Hephaistion DID die in Ekbatana, contra above, but was allegedly burned in Babylon; his corpse was taken there for his funeral but depite Diodoros' description and some wish-fulfillment archaeology from the thirties no site for the pyre has ever been found and the structure described seems distinctly unfeasible in a region so destitute of timber.

    I favour his mummfied remains being casually tossed on a midden at the bidding of Eumenes or one of the other Diadochoi who feared and hated him (from Arrian's account of Aristoboulos' report of Pythagoras' letter to his brother, about the soundtrack to the trailer to the film... got confused there, about his future and the reply to the question 'whom do you most fear?' Alexander and then Hephaistion - it would seem he was more Beria than Jarred Leto).

  2. You may be right about H - the sources are vaguely all over the place and there are so many theories ....!

    Honestly, I'd be thrilled if it turned out to be his tomb - probably more than anyone else I can think of other than Cynane and Adea Eurydice ...

    As to Jared Leto, he's right up there on my list of secret crushes, although still way behind Stephen Colbert ...

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Thanks again for an informative post. One question is whether a configuration for the raised caryatid arms like the one in sketch found in the link below is possible and has been considered by the archaeologists.


    I found this from here: http://ancientgreekinternship.blogspot.de/2010/03/curse-of-demeter.html

  5. Thank you for this post.

    Regarding Alexander's burial ground, this is vague in history as well. His body was allegedly buried in Alexandria, 40 years after his death. We do have contradicting recording of him having a Macedonian burial (burning his body, washed in wine, a burial described in Homer as well). Conspiracy theories? No idea. Originating from the area, this discovery fascinates me so much .

    Time will tell i guess.

  6. re the Caryatids Planet posted links to - I can't access the blog link, but the image is a reconstruction of the gate at Eleusis and is very well dated by inscription to the Roman period, also known from copies at Monte Porzio. I doubt they considered them as they are of a very different type - I have a photo of an early 4th c BC Attic relief which seem to show similar figures ... but the way they support and are represented is completely different from the Amphipolis ones.

  7. Very interesting post with different schematic representations of the Tomb's geometry here:


  8. Every source, that mentions it (it comes within a lacuna in Curtius) has him die in Ekbatana and Arrian, Plutarch and Dodgeydoros, have his body moved to Babylon by Perdikkas in Arrian (I think) but Alexander himself in Aelian 'Varia Historia' or Polyainos, cannot quite remember, Doh! Look it up? I'm already blogging, ot whatever this is called.

    I have pinned my hopes on it being the Antigonid dynasty mausoleion, which would require the 'wonderful archaeologists' to have erred on the dating; but dating is difficult without a good bit of epigraphy so I will continue to hope.

    Lysimachos is my favourite diadoch and he did fight Demetrios in the area but he died and was buried at Korupedion his hound leaping onto his pyre, in one story, nor was he well liked. Hephaistion is even less likely IMHO.

    Despite the sketch no Argaead symbolism has been found, that we know of, like the sunburst which has found its way into the exploded diagram.

    I am interested in why you say the circle is redolent of Deinokrates, I have not found anything to that effect in Vitruvius, Plutarch or Pliny the Elder.

    Jared Leto? Surely not a patch on Lavrenty Beria, at least when it comes to singing sed de gustibus nil disputandem.

    Interesting stuff particularly for a non architect/art major

  9. Hello, Dr. King, thank you for hosting such interesting discussions!

    On the topic of the Amphipolis' tomb (which has made me lose my head and my sleep) and especially on the ideas about the monument being roman, expressed by the Professor Olga Palagià (g in 'Olga' pronounced as y in 'yes' and g in 'Palagià' pronounced as g in 'egg'):

    Her main arguments are that in the Caryatids of Amphipolis there is a stylistic mix that dates not in the times of Alexander and the Successors but in the roman times, and that the architecture of the monument is similar to the architecture of the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome. So she suggests a possible connection of the monument to the Battle of Philippi, between the forces of Mark Antony and Octavian and the forces of Julius Caesar's assassins Brutus and Cassius, in 42 BC, at Philippi in Macedonia.

    Here is her interview in a greek newspaper.

    Palagià's assumtions sound quite rational and worth considering to me, and I wonder what the answers to them could be. Is Peristèri, who conducts the dig, so sure that the tomb dates in the late 4th century BC and if yes why, and is it true that she connects the monument to the architect Denocrates (no mentioning of Denocrates in the Ministry of Culture's press releases, I think)? And what about the soil in the chambers--is there any clue about the date of the monument's filling?

  10. agesilaos3 - you're right about Ecbatana I was more focused on his funeral and tomb ... and I was wrong! I thought some late sources had him die at Babylon, but I might be wrong.

    Dating is refined as excavations progress - and they'd only be a decade out for Antigonus?

    cC - I am aware of Prof Palagia's views on many issues, and I was trying to be tactful. Clearly being direct is preferable. She likes to redate things, for example the Tower of the Winds in Athens, although I don't know of anyone else who agrees with her Cleopatra date (or why it had to be immediately restored unless it was older; source is Vitruvius). And I prefer to trust my own judgement partly as otherwise there would be no point, and partly as she clearly has not been shown the finds. I also have far more faith in the judgement of the archaeologists working on the site, who are very talented and who have experience of excavations. I have no faith in someone who has not seen the site and makes such sweeping statements; there is plenty of archaising sculpture throughout the Classical and Hellenistic periods. Prof Palagia has a bit of a history of writing angry letters to people who praises me, which I also don't understand, but she clearly thinks she's always right and everyone else in archaeology is always wrong? The dating of the tomb may continue to shift slightly, but not to the Roman period.

    I really am rather shocked what political nonsense people are claiming about the tomb - I don't follow Greek politics, but have been told by several people that those who oppose the government are saying it is not important.

    Plenty of Greek archaeologists have been claiming the dig at Amphipolis was not important for several years now - it's called envy. It may not be full of sparkling gold in the end, and it certainly was not Alexander's tomb - but it is the best find for a long time.

  11. Dear Dr. King,

    Thank you very much for answering my comment.

    I agree 100% that the only one to date the monument is the archaeologist who conducts the excavation. (I want to be fair to Palagià, so I have to add that she clearly stated her suggestions are based only on what she can see in the pictures and read in the press releases). I just wish Peristèri would share some of her information on the dating on the tomb, so we would't speculate based on (valid or false) stylistic criteria. She could give us some hard evidence, coins, pottery fragments... something. If she is so sure, why can't she tell?

    People say nonsense because that's people... And I can understand (not excuse) envy inside a professional group. But I can assure you that experts who oppose the government never said that the monument is not important--everyone here in Greece agrees it is a huge find, either it dates from the late 4th century BC or not. The only thing many make fun of is the ardent wish and often even conviction of the extreme right nationalist circles --to whom our PM is unfortunately connected-- to prove that this is the tomb of Alexander.

    I guess we all have to wait, but it's so torturing...

  12. First off, everyone calls me Dorothy ... whilst I appreciate the use of the title, honestly I'm happier with the informality!

    I'm glad to hear people are on board about it being an important tomb, which ... they were not a few months ago.

    re. the dating, the thing people have to bear in find is that; a) the late 4th century date was not controversial at the proper presentations at the annual archaeological conferences, and b) the current press releases are just press releases not formal publications with all the evidence so obviously they won't be in depth ... and had there not been a leak last month, they would probably be just digging normally and preparing to present the evidence.

    I don't know Katerina Peristeri well enough, but have no issues with her, and some of the other archaeologists I have worked on material with and would be thrilled to work with again. They really do know what they're doing.

    Several armchair archaeologists have been redating the tomb, but ... it would go against archaeological ethics for me to discuss unreleased finds, and I have no issues with a late fourth century date.

    The key argument against a Roman date is that: they would have probably used concrete, particularly for the vault, and so there would not be the structural issues now present ... The Romans also tended to inscribe buildings, usually on architraves, which the Greeks did not.

    Again, I'm not expecting gold and treasure, as I assume it was cleared out when it was sealed - although, again, we'll have to wait and see.

    Whilst the tomb could have been built for Alexander, and possibly kept empty for him in the hope he would one day be returned by the Ptolemies ... It seems it was started towards his death, and finished by the successive rulers. Possibly the Antigonids finished it and used it, or - because the sealing is so strange - possibly it was left symbolically empty.

  13. Apostolos P, which source details this Macedonian burial? Roman sources, Dio Cassius and Suetonius certainly have a complete body visited by Augustus and damaged by Caracalla (he broke the nose off), nor would Augustus have declared 'I came to see the king not a bunch of corpses!' when asked if he cared to move on to the Ptolemaic Mausoleion.

  14. Good morning Dr. King (or Dorothy), I would like him to answer me if you do not mind if the Macedonian tombs under tumulus, the size of the underground chambers is related to the size of the mound. There is much speculation about that and about the distance still remains between the third chamber and the center of the circle as if there were to be a camera after another until you reach the center. I've seen a plane of what I think is the tumulus of Vergina (i´m not sure) and the cameras occupy only a small part of the mound and seem unwilling without any symmetry relative to the center. http://n.nathalie.martin.free.fr/imgs/imgsTD08/plan-fouille-1979.png

  15. The Vergina mound covers what seems to be a little naiskos or shrine probably for Phillip II, as well as several tombs ... so there is no immediate relationship to any burial, but was probably put in place after Pyrhhus sacked the royal burial ground to protect it in the future. There was a smaller mound before in which parts of the pyre were found.

    The chambers / relationship / how many there were etc at Amphipolis I'll cover later today.

  16. Thank you very much for your reply, I understand it is difficult to make direct relationship between different situations, especially when the tumulus of Amphipolis is still in the beginning of his exhaustive research and the future may hold surprises yet. Thank you too for her blog, one of the best in the outreach of archeology at all levels and for his work against looting of antiquities and the reporting of cases that appear even in respectable auction houses.

  17. Hello,

    I have one question: 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.

    Full images of the faceless Caryatid has her right foot (smooth and worn down?) and left toe damaged (and missing right arm). Directly above the feet are missing pieces from a pillar and face. 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?

    Thank you!

  18. Dear dorothy are you aware of a crater depicting the abduction of persephone, to bear the very same damage in the centre, as in amphipolis mosaic?

  19. This one? coincidence http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=131845&objectid=1629163

  20. http://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN00131/AN00131845_001_l.jpg

  21. it's a coincidence nothing more

  22. You have to agree its very interesting, though. Thank you for your immediate response.


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