Quick Answers About Amphipolis

Firstly to answer Midas' various points, which he makes regularly: this discussion was about a tomb found at Amphipolis in Macedonia, and not about a temple on the Acropolis in Athens. The Parthenon is lovely, but in my opinion Amphipolis was more important, although both have been heavily politicized by various Greek politicians. I am slightly shocked at the state of education if Midas can't tell the difference, but to help him: Parthenon is on top of a mound, Amphipolis is under a mound.

Dimitris - I appreciate the support, but honestly I don't worry about people who can't tell the difference between the Parthenon and this tomb!

Dimitris - I asked in a previous blog entry about the inscriptions that were supposedly found and taken to the nearby museum. It seems nothing has been heard recently about that and I was wondering if you know anything.

Yes, there were many reports of inscriptions. I think my answer then was that the MC was, to the best of my knowledge. entirely correct in denying that inscriptions had been found that day inside the tomb. The MC was also correct, and no inscriptions were found in the tomb that day.

Were inscriptions found outside the tomb on other days? Yes. I believe that one is at the museum, but others are on the monument, and can be seen in photos released by the MC and taken by journalists when the Prime Minister visited.

I have answered all previous questions from people who thought they saw writing in photos as "no comment" or "can't comment" and I don't have the time right now to go through everything to find them. But to make the point, this was the very first photograph I looked at. It's on this web site, and I circled the part I would like to discuss. Ideally inscriptions are photographed with different light to make them clear, but this is a monogram which would have been covered in stucco.

This is a coin of Alexander the Great showing one of the monograms he used (source):

This is a coin of Philip III Arrhidaeus with the AT monogram that also appears on many coins with Alexander (source):

This is a coin of Antigonus I Monophthalmus with the AT monogram that also appears on many coins with Alexander (source):

Anyway, I do realise half of Greece is now going to be examining every block photograph under a microscope ... it may not be as exciting as an inscription saying "Alexander tied his horse up here and was buried at Amphipolis" ... but these sorts of monograms were important for dating the temple of Athena  at Ilion which Alexander promised in his will.
This evidence is in the photos that have been available since early August, and other better evidence will hopefully be released one day by the MC.

Any thoughts on the following blog post comment from May 2013 found on the blog makedonia-alexandros.blogspot.com?
AnonymousMay 16, 2013 at 3:55 AM
400 blocks from around the Lion, belong to the peribolos (perimeter 500m) of the tomb. The blocks were orthostates, stepsis blocks and geisons for a very long circular wall and exactly the same blocks were found in situ at the peribolos. More than 30 from the rest 100 blocks around the Lion, belong to the basement of the statue, containing blocks with semicolumns semicapitals and...shields. This is the biggest macedonian tumulus ever found and the Lion (not Lionaise) is surely on the top of the tumulus, because all the 430 blocks of the perivolos and the statue basement have the same type and marble elaboration, the same architectural aspects and an entire system of geometrical analogies and an exceptional modulus (the height of the Statue). This same modulus is used also for the construction of the peribolos architecture and the main geometrical form of the tumulus in full analogy with the Lion and its basement. There are no clues about Roxane, the Lion and the marble Shields indicate a Man, propably a heroic warrior(s) of great importance. We cant surely talk about Roxane and Alexander D, as everybody talks so easily at the media all this time. Michaelis Lefantzis,The architect of the excavation

Yes he's brilliant. He was spot on. But that was over a year ago and it's clear they are no longer considering Roxane as they had been a year or two before. Since it is unlikely they found a post-it note saying "Roxane was not buried here" ... they surely had other reasons for changing their minds, and it would be lovely if the MC released that information. Opinions and ideas change constantly during an excavation, almost always based on new evidence. Women could have shields though, particularly in Macedon ...

1)Why the one horse at the mosaic has one blue eye????
2)Have you seen an inscription or any evidence,that has not be announced and reveals the ''own'' of the tomb??
3)Whats your opinion about the ''own'' of the tomb??

1) some horses actually do have blue eyes. It's rare but so do some dogs.
2) heavily implies more than states - nothing that says "this is my tomb"
3) my feeling all along was that this size could only have been built for Alexander, possibly intended as a family mausoleum, but that it was not used for his burial.

Is there to your knowledge any precedent with mosaics having circular marks on the centre similar to the the circular dirt patch in the Amphipolis mosaic? I don't think the mark is natural made(by water or anything else) and the mosaic picture has me thinking that there used to be some small structure there(diameter is about 0,80 meters), probably a small container/altar hosting a fire illuminating the room and the mosaic, just before the marble gates of the 3rd room.(?)

The altar is an interesting idea, but if it had been planned the design of the mosaic would probably have gone around it. If it was added later, marble would stand on it's own and not need to damage below.

Honestly, this is a bit of a puzzle. Water damage seems unlikely. My best guess is that a hole was used for a beam to support the crumbling ceiling? But if so, pieces of it would have been found in the soil.

What's  interesting is that the mosaic is in otherwise good condition with no 'buckling' that I can see. To me this suggests that the structural issues are from the weight of the mound above, and not from an earthquake below.

Bronze lamps are more likely to have been used for lighting.

many thanks again for taking the time and initiative to answer questions and many thanks for lots of intriguing hints. One question is about the marbles within the chambers and the circular wall. Some parts are preserved fantastically (e.g. bases of caryatids, part of the tumulus wall) like they were built recently. The marbles on the third chamber, however, appear to be heavily corroded (dark color - e.g: http://www.yppo.gr/images/l_14963.jpg). Also, any idea what are all these colourations in the separating wall here: http://www.yppo.gr/images/l_14749.jpg ? Are all these environmental effects, and if so, why do they seem to have been restricted in certain parts of chambers?

In http://www.yppo.gr/images/l_14963.jpg there seem to be more recent breaks which are bright white, and make the marble look darker. Yes, I would assume that this was due to environmental factors - the MC said there was a delay in working there due to the smell, and that might be linked.

if I follow this logic evolving (according to the "hints") well, why this Alexander's cenotaph (or intended resting place) was decided to be built in Amphipolis and not in Aiges? How such an important monument, by size, if was built to be seen and admired, managed to escape the written sources (e.g. Parian Chronicle - the closest written source to Alexander's death, if my very limited Historic knowledge does not deceive me!)?

I'm sorry but I've posted and answered questions on this so often ... please look at old posts.

And I think that answers all the questions so far.


  1. Does the outer perimeter wall was intended to be seen? or after the partial dismantling, was buried to erase the traces of the grave. In some photography, the base of the wall; appears many feet below the present surface. There is a river nearby, but do not know if the flooding along the years might have produced this situation.

  2. The river is some distance away, and the confusion is that blocks were dumped there after it was dismantled. No, water does not incise monograms as it erodes.

    Yes the outer was was intended to be seen. The modern ground level is usually higher than the ancient one - the Agora in Athens is a great example of this.

    The assumption has been that the blocks were covered in stucco but since they were not inside this might need to be revisited. The key is whether all the scratches were by masons etc and intended to be covered, or whether some were done later and so it could not have been covered.

  3. Thanks Dorothy for your answer and I will follow your advice not to continue with people like Midas. I started typing my response to him and then I thought why bother.

    If this tomb was actually built for Alexander I wouldn't be surprised. I grew up in the area of Amphipolis and used to often go to the other side of the gulf near ancient Stagira and Olympiada. You might have mentioned this before but do you believe there is significance in the fact that the tomb is facing that other side of the gulf?

  4. The irony is that when I was meant to be promoting that book, one journalist was only interested in asking about a musician ... people go off topic all the time!

    Yes the orientation of the tomb would have been important. The tomb is clearly a work of style over substance in the sense that the architect thought out all the symbolism and prioritized that over structural integrity.

    I could be wrong, but I think Alex (we're on first name terms now) chose Amphipolis as it was a fresh start from his hated earthly father, and where his fleet set out from.

    What's interesting is that I would have thought he'd copy Mausolus and build a tomb within the walls, claiming he had refounded the city and as a founder he had that right. But then again there might have been issues with space

  5. The nature of the monograms on coins is well established now, I believe, and they relate to the commisioning authorities who authorised the pattern for use and possibly the quality of the metal.

    Any monograms on the blocks would logically denote officials marking a consignment of blocks as passing muster, ie. free from flaws and suitable for finishing on site. They are not connected with Alexander. Kassandros' coinage is somewhat sparse but SNGCop1150 does bear an 'Alpha-Rho' monogram, but would a mint official be checking blocks? And Ar... is a very common start to Greek names.

    If this is a Kassandrean cenotaph for Alexander the original of the Issos Mosaic maybe on one of the walls, we are told he commissioned it (forget the source) or something like it

  6. Dorothy, we also like to call him Alekos short for Alexander, makes him a bit more human and familiar to us.

    There was a geophysics report that was completed in 2003 for the area. According to that report there are other interesting sites so it will be fascinating to see the entire plan that was set out by the architects. In any case Peristeri and her team will have work for decades to come.

  7. Coins have both mint marks - which are not the ones I circled - and monograms (which I circled).

    I think there is a little confusion on some dealers' web sites ... Museums have SNGCop1150 as Lysimachus http://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/212308

    This one is Cassander but miss-labelled and not 1150 http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/greece/macedonia/kings/kassander/SNGCop_1150.jpg

    There are quite a few As scattered around in photos, which could mean a lot of things.

    There would also have been mason's marks, to show where blocks went, but I know of no monument where blocks are marked to show they passed muster.

    A Pi was found on a lion of the Mausoleum - some saw it as P for Praxiteles (unlikely), others to indicate where it went on the building. No-one has suggested the lion was hungry and wanted to eat pie ...

    Anyway, letters are not uncommon, monograms are more unusual

  8. (to be clear that's the lion on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus)

  9. Hi Dorothy
    Since your feeling is that this tomb was built for Alexander I assume that the inscriptions found (monograms or whatever) are strong evidence for that. Of course Alexander is not buried in Amphipolis becaure the "sources" do not agree. We keep our fingers crossed that somebody or anybody is found burried there. In that case Mrs Mendoni will be proven true. This tomb is going to be discussed for decades

  10. Yes it was the wildwinds one I was looking at, I was only talking about the monograms, so not sure about the mintmark bit, which was more frequently a symbol, like Miletos's bee or several ports with an anchor. The point is these monograms do not relate to the coining authority (sometimes the inscription naming the authority does not! Alexander's name continuing in this position long after his demise as did Lysimachos'). They relate to local officials of whom we only rarely have any epigraphic evidence to flesh out as names let alone characters.

    I bow to your greater architectural knowledge; I was only aware of the pre-fabricated pieces for Carthaginian warships being coded like model kits. Without knowing what the monograms are it would be difficult to pronounce on their purpose, it could be to mark positions if they had run out of letters they might use monograms; if it is officials, and it seems unusual (like so much else here) the date will not be recoverable from comparison with monograms on coins.

    For those unfamiliar with the official monograms on coins; we can be pretty surethey relate to some sort of quality assurance because where we have long die-linked sequences, the officials change overtime and where the issues are dated, as at Ake and Sidon they seem to change annually. I am familiar with the arguments via Newell but they not be his initially but he did much work on the coinages of Alexander and the early Diadochs and most of his howlers are due to the emergence of new evidence (the Diadoch Chronicle for instance) rather than any lack of method.

    Thinking about it, if the marks are officials it would be more likely they are 'signing off' that the finished product is good enough, the marks seem quite inconspicuous (I cannot even make it out!). What else could they be for?

  11. Hey Dorothy.... Great job on the blog.
    Questions follow...
    1) Whats your opinion on inscribing the tomb as a world heritage site?
    2) Why are importand Greek sites constantly absent from the UNESCO list. Compared to other countries with not such important archaological finds example the States have more inscriptions than Greece or Egypt. I can think like a hundrend of possible inscriptions, par excelance Santorini and Akrotiri, Pavlopetri submerged city, ancient Corinth and the canal, the stone briedges of Epirus among many.
    3) Is there to your knowledge and opinion a possibility that the cyrcular missing part of the mosaic being taken off because it depicted maybe a shield,with the insignia of the deseased Alex just because it was actually used by someone else?
    4)Since it is the first macedonian tomb with such a mosaic do you have examples of tombs of other surrounding cultures that bear mosqic depictions?
    5) Is it costumary to depict the deceased along Gods in Macedonian tombs?
    6) How would you react towards Dr. Palaggia if you where in Dr. Peristeris shoes?
    I need to get involved in a dig soon because i get ecstatic but unfortunately after getting a PhD in chemistry probably my chances are low ... Hehe keep well

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  13. Hi Dorothy,

    what sort of date would it be reasonable to infer from those monograms? It seems certain to rule out Romans (!) but is it safest to use this as proof that the archaeologists on site have been providing us with a very honest assessment of 'last quarter C4th', or can one narrow it down yet further?


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