11.12.2014

Amphipolis: The Bones ...

I have been wondering for a while whether Hephaestion could also have been buried at Amphipolis. The size to me makes people like Nearchos unlikely, and whilst the idea that it was built for Alexander the Great is still the most likely possibility now that most other suggestions have been discarded, the one other possibility has been Hephaestion. 

I discussed Alexander's wishes here. Hephaestion was his closest companion - their relationship need not have been sexual, since they were brought up together and their bond could have been forged first in Aristotle's classroom, then on campaign and in battle. Alexander the Great modeled himself on his hero Achilles, and visited his tomb at Achilleion. Achilles had Patroclus, and Alexander had Hephaestion.

Hephaestion died before Alexander, and Alexander ordered his body returned to Macedonia in an elaborate funerary cortege to be buried in a magnificent tomb there. We know that if the tomb had been started, Perdiccas cancelled work on it once Alexander died (here).

Also we know that Alexander ordered a cult to Hephaestion - not as an important god like Alexander, but still honours and so forth. The only evidence from Macedonia is this later 4th century BC relief to the Hero Hephaestion found at Pella:






In Egypt the cult of Alexander is very well attested, and Hephaestion was often honoured alongside him.

So that's why I think that if the bones are male, they are most likely to be those of someone like Hephaestion.

Once again I would like to make it very clear that no-one is leaking to me, and I had not even seen the press release, just some photos when I spoke to Alpha today. Dr Katerina Peristeri is very good, and she has an excellent team who are doing things 'by the book' - and that's why unlike some jealous Greek critics, I find their work easy to understand. (Plus I have the advantage of being Lara Croft, as I keep reading on the internet ;-) ....)



"At a depth of 1.60m. of the surviving stones of the floor revealed a large cist grave, made of limestone" - since some stones seem to have been missing, this could well be the first proof of looting. Before they removed the earth, the top two slabs were missing, and the bottom slab was broken:


Once the earth was removed, and items were found in situ:


"The external dimensions of the sarcophagus were 3.23 m long; width 1.56 m, with a preserved height of 1 m. However, found during excavations, upright elements from the tomb were found, which allow us to estimate that the height of the whole reached at least 1.80 m."

Another view showing the limestone sarcophagus fully excavated. The 'empty' space at the bottom seems odd, but would have been covered by the wooden sarcophagus:


"Within the tomb there was a deeper area 0.54 m by 2.35 m. This is the position in which was placed a wooden coffin. We found scattered iron and copper nails, and bone and glass decorative elements of the coffin."
 
This is probably the most exciting find. Although carved marble sarcophagi as at Sidon are beautiful, the more expensive versions would be wooden inset with glass and bone or ivory and gilded:


The bone egg and dart frieze was from a sarcophagus made of much richer materials than this marble one, but in a similar style ... except that is seems to have had some sort of an elaborate upper structure more in keeping with the various reconstructions of the funeral cart? (one of many suggestions below)


And this is the brilliantly clear drawing Architect Michaelis Lefantzis has made:


As I told Alpha, it might seem sexist, but it's probably a man's tomb as few women were this important and powerful at this time. Finding the sex of bones is not as easy as it sounds, particularly when bones are missing as here ... and since there is no jewellery to suggest a female, my guess is that he will turn out to be male rather than a wife (but again, that is possible in a multiple burial).

Again the importance of the person or people for whom the tomb was built is emphasised by the size "The burial complex on the hill castes was a public project, built using the largest amount used marble ever used in Macedonia." Continuing the idea that it could only have been a state project for a royal ruler: "Therefore, this monument is a unique and original synthesis of diverse characteristics. It is an extremely precise construction, the cost of which is obviously unlikely to have been taken by an individual."

I'm having a few issues accurately translating this:
"7. Πιθανότατα, πρόκειται για μνημείο αφηρωϊσμένου νεκρού, δηλαδή, θνητού στον οποίον αποδόθηκαν λατρευτικές τιμές από την κοινωνία της εποχής του. Ο νεκρός ήταν εξέχουσα προσωπικότητα, καθώς μόνον έτσι εξηγείται η κατασκευή αυτού του μοναδικού ταφικού συγκροτήματος." 
But I think the point they are making is that it was a religious complex that served as a cult to the deceased and not just a tomb, so was of someone who was either fully deified (for example Alexander) or who was given a cult as a hero or demi-god (eg Hephaestion).

As I speculated, Dr Katerina Peristeri is investigating the entire area. I wonder if there are carved sarcophagus parts found elsewhere that might fit the excavated remains? They are reviewing the 500 or so architectural elements found in the 30s (good luck! I remember doing that a long time ago ...).



Again, this is just the beginning of the adventure, not the end! As well as the survey, I would guess they are increasing the exclusion zone and looking for other cult buildings related to the tomb - maybe an altar for offerings? houses for the priests? 1001 other things.