Amphipolis: The Mosaic

This morning the Greek Ministry of Culture issued a press release.

The gradual removal of part of the soil filling the second room, behind the Caryatids, continued until the surface of the floor was revealed at a depth of 6 m. the dome. This revealed part of a mosaic floor, which covers the entire surface of floor,  ie 4.5 m wide by 3 m long.

The mosaic is made ​​of small pebbles, white, black, greyish, blue, red and yellow.

The main scene depicts a chariot in motion, drawn by two white horses, with a bearded man with a laurel wreath on his head. In front of the chariot is the god Hermes as psychopompos.  

Nice border frieze.

The figure to the left is clearly Hermes, and that is clear from his insignia which are standard iconography and seen in a number of Macedonian tombs.

The facade of the Great Tomb at Lefkadia for example had a depiction of Hermes in his role leading the dead to the Underworld.

But who is the bearded man in the chariot being led by Hermes?

The obvious parallel to be drawn is from the tomb of Persephone at Vergina, within the same mound as Tomb II. So the bearded man in the chariot would be Hades ...

A few minor issues: the Amphipolis bearded man wears a gold wreath, which Hades could but generally does not. Phillip II won a wreath at the Olympic games. Hades tends to drive a quadriga, here only one horse is depicted. Philip II won at the Olympics the same year Alexander was born, in a race that involved one horse. No woman attempting to writhe away is shown - although both Hades and Phillip II had that problem ... Oddly enough the bearded man is shown in profile, hiding the right hand side of his face. Phillip lost his right eye.

This is probably Phillip II and his horses, adding to the idea that this was a tomb or heroon glorifying Alexander. Phillip II died so that Alexander might become Great.

Update - someone kindly pointed out that the mosaic shows two horses not one ... must drink more coffee before blogging!

There could well be a figure to the right under the soil that would make this Hades ... but we are in the area of rulers shown as gods, and the profile depiction to me suggests that it is Philip II, and if it is Hades with the face of Phillip II then this is a nice little irony.


  1. Other representation of Hades and Persephone with Hermes. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=131845&objectId=1629163&partId=1 .

  2. "...Hades tends to drive a quadriga, here only one horse is depicted..."

    2 horses are visible.

  3. Hercules is Alexander. Hermes Psychopompos is indeed Philip II: remember the story of Erytheia, the Red Island in the Iliad, where Hercules gave à bath of blood to the dead souls - the third room is painted with tyrian red - killing the cows of Hades/ Ἅιδης....Ἅιδωνευς. Ad think about the invisible entrance of the Tomb which was dissimulated by the Deinocrates Surrounding wall.

  4. Hernes is Hermes, as Psychopompos, the Soul's Guide, the charioteer is the dear departed, Hades was in no need of a sat-nav to find Hell. So either Philip II has two tombs, greedy bugger (no slander there), or is there another one-eyed Macedonian King?

    I would suggest that you don't burn bridges with the Greek side, Dorothy, frustrating though it is and prejudicial to their findings being accepted it is better to have some links and practice patience, than betray a confidence. I agree with your sentiments 100% but leaking will just prejudice your position and we lose an informed and trusted source.

    Besides this way we get to talk rot with impunity! The truth will out in its own time and many will be eating word-pie with humble dressing; mmm yummy (I'm sure there is a kosher recipe too [would be a winking emotikon])

  5. If it's a tomb to the glory of Alexander, his father dying would not be out of place.

    As to burning bridges / leaking .... have not actually said what the evidence is, and guesses are only within a fraction - and half the people who've been to the site have been emailing me info I've refused to blog.

    At this point the situation is a joke. Michael Chugg is enthusiastic but not relevant. I'm actually beginning to wonder if it's an MC conspiracy to make Olga Palagia look bad by letting herself dig herself deeper into this nonsense.

    And to point out the obvious - I can't keep saying 'no comment' to people about things they can actually see in some photos ....

    Honestly one horse / one pair ... shows how irritated this is making me.

  6. Two-horse chariot = synoris [biga]. It had become very fashionable after Philip's horses won this Olympic event in 348 BC--if my memory serves me. Bigas led by flying white horses are depicted on the wall inside Tomb III [of the Prince] at Vergina; quadriga on Tomb I [of Persephone]'; and quadriga on the throne of the tomb of Eurydice. So what is new? Simply, there must be a ''connection'' between Aegae and Amphipolis. No more comments are needed re the postulate that the tomb at Amphipolis may be Roman, from the times of the battle at Philippoi...

  7. Yes, I must blog slower and with more coffee in me ...

    With chariots there is a difference between what was in art and fancy, and what was the norm - obviously, just as all ancient Greeks didn't look so chiseled ;-)

    Adrian Goldsworthy for example said there was a huge change in his perceptions of the army once he learnt to ride.

    Two horses are harder to match and control than one horse, and two pairs harder still. That's why the Romans only allowed those Triumphing certain combinations - and also to note that white horses were very prized and reserved for the elite.

    And yes as you point out there are horses everywhere in Greek art ...

  8. Wow. Is that Hermes as incredible as it looks to my (definitely non-artistic) eyes?

    Would the hole in the centre also answer questions over the timeline for when the tomb was filled? If that's natural damage then was the tomb filled some time after construction, or could this damage have been done whilst the tomb was filled?

    Slowly working my way through your other blog postings. Thank you. I do hope that the response from Greece is in keeping with your passionate defence of the skills of those working at Amphipolis.

  9. Not sure about the hole - they think they might find bits on the soil. Does not look like water damage to me, and round suggests possibly a hole for a post? or a dozen other things.


  10. One can guess and see clearly under the circular spot, the round shield with the Macedonian sun of Vergina held by the driver of the tank ! So hades+ Philip


  11. Some thoughts about the 2nd photo (l_15184.jpg):
    We see a cut of the filling soil (two soil «walls» left and right and 1 soil wall in front, but the MC has told that they use techniques to lower the level gradually and cantilever the dome. This is contrary to what the photo shows.
    Why did they decide to make this strange 3 m wide dig?
    Do they want to go inside the final chamber as fast as they can and therefore decided to remove only the appropriate amount of soil ?

  12. It is obvious that this depiction is about the classic known motive of Persefone's rapture by Ades. According to greek mythology, Persefone is Demetre's daughter, the personalification of seasons. In winter Demetre, the agriculture's godess, is sad about Persefone's death. The chariot driver is Pluton (Hades). A similar depiction in an Aiges tomb. The blue eye horse could symbolize Alexander's, whose, according to tradition, one eye was blue.


I do not moderate comments, but I remove spam, overt self-promotion ("read [link] my much better post on this") and what I consider hate speech (racism, homophobia etc).

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.