Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Let's Talk About Amphipolis ...

... so a dig is a bit like Fight Club, and the first rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about it. I've been following the dig for a few years now, and the archaeologists have been kind enough to show me some of their finds, but obviously I have not discussed them, and will not until they themselves announce them. So whilst I appreciate the sentiments of those who were kind enough to send me enthusiastic emails ... Sorry, the first Rule of Archaeology Club is not to blab about others' finds.

Having said that, over the last few days there has been some wild speculation on the internet about finds from the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis. Again, I will limit myself to discussing the sphinx sculptures flanking the entrance, photos of which were released today because Greek PM Samaras visited the site.

 The sphinxes and the entrance can be seen quite clearly in this news video:

The seated sphinxes - as opposed to the lying sphinxes in Egyptian art - are unusual. The closest parallel I can think of are those from the Hecatomnid Androns at Labraunda (photo below), about a quarter of a century earlier. The Hecatomnid figures are bearded and Archaising, and very much a reflection of Persian royal iconography; fragments of similar figures have been found at Sidon, where the sarcophagi in the royal tomb in turn copy the elements from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.

The Amphipolis sphinxes seem not to have beards, and since we have not been shown the pieced heads it is difficult to tell if they were similarly archaising. The Macedonian sculptures are also of higher quality, and are more Classicising. The wings also appear to have been pieced. The Amphipolis seated 'sphinxes' also are in the same pose as the colossal lion that crowned the tomb.

Phillip II arranged an engagement between his son Phillip (later IV) and the daughter of Pixodarus, the heiress of Caria. Alexander (later the Great) tried to step in and pinch her - and her kingdom - for himself. There were strong artistic as well as political links between Macedonia and Caria from the time of Phillip II onwards, for example the sculptor Leochares working first on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus' sculptures, and then creating the portraits of Phillip and his family for the Philippeion at Olympia.

The mound is huge, as is clear from this photo, indicating that someone extremely powerful was buried there, and this is supported by a perfectly circular retaining wall of fine masonry.

By now I hope people are noting "round wall, mound of earth ... hmmm, that's a bit like the Mausoleum of Augustus"

Who was buried in it? There's a board in the local cafe where they are laying odd on everyone from Alexander the Great to Roxanne to Lysimachus and a dozen others.

What I can tell you 100 % for sure is that Alexander the Great was not buried in the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis as every single ancient source says that Ptolemy hijacked the body on it's way back to Macedonia and that Alexander lay well into the Byzantine period in Alexandria.

But - and I must stress that this is very much my personal opinion and should not be taken as the opinion of the archaeologists working hard on the site - if Alexander was on his way to being buried in Macedonia when Ptolemy pinched his body ... to me that suggests that there was a tomb that had been or was being prepared for him in Macedonia. It need not have been at Vergina, and for a number of reasons would more likely to have been at a 'new' city.

This would be almost impossible to prove without an inscription, but after a big chunk of my career spent looking at fourth century tombs ... if I were to imagine what kind of a tomb Alexander the Great might have planned for himself and his family, then it would pretty much look like the Lion Tomb of Amphipolis.

Colour photos are all of Amphipolis from here.


Update - the dromos frescoes have now made it into the press.

Greece says vast, significant ancient tomb unearthed in north | Reuters:
Archaeologists have found two sphinxes, thought to have guarded its entrance, a 4.5-metre-(yard)-wide road leading into it, with walls on both sides covered by frescoes. It is circled by a 497-metre-long marble outer wall.

And again it is worth repeating that this is by far the largest tomb ever excavated in Greece, in case I didn't make that point clear.


Nauplion said...

What are some of the number of reasons why Alex the G would have been buried at a new city?

Wynn Bexton said...

At the time of Alexander that was only an army fortress and a port where slaves were transported to the mines. I have my definite doubts that this would have been meant for Alexander. Remember the Persians went through there some hundreds of years before. Could thre hav been one of Xerxes' generals who died there?

John Lenz said...

Dee, Thanks a lot for this informative & spirited post! Philip and its (possessive).

Anthimos Zachariadis said...

Here in Greece, everybody believes (i think it's more hope than belief) that this is Alexander's the great grave. Many others hope to discover tons of gold in order to cut off our national debt (!). In any case this place is unique and we all wait the time that we can visit this perfection of ancient greek architecture. Many thanks for your excellent post!

Sandy J. said...

Great post Dorothy, really exciting, thank you. As a lay person in this field, but totally fascinated by it all, I've read that Amphipolis (the 'new' city) was the city that Alexander left from as he set out for Asia in 334 BCE and that all the gold and silver he gained through his countless victorious campaigns was funnelled back through Amphipolis. Also, I've read, that as the royal mint producing 13 million tetradrachm coins in 18 years, it made Amphipolis the center of the wealthiest state at the time. Dimitrios Lazaridis wrote in his book about Amphipolis that " The importance of the city in the ancient world at this period is indicated by Alexander's decision that Amphipolis should be one of the six cities at which large, luxurious temples costing 1500 talents were constructed. The other five cities were Delos, Delphi, Dodone, Dion and Kyrros". Sounds to me that this was an important city to Alexander.
I think it's totally conceivable that this could be a tomb prepared for the body of Alexander, although by all accounts it never got there and remains somewhere in Egypt. How long would it have taken to build? They are saying it was built after the death of Alexander. Great kings often planned their funerary monuments years before their death. I don't suppose the Pharaoh King expected to die so young. I tried to walk the remains of the ancient walls at Amphipolis at Easter but it was so overgrown it was really hard work and anything of interest was well locked up and inaccessible. But on that clear spring day the view to Athos was incredible. You can see the tumulus that they are excavating now very clearly on Google Earth north of the ancient city, it's huge! I am really looking forward to hearing more about what they uncover.

Andrew Chugg said...

I believe there may be a more cogent parallel than the Hecatomnid Androns in the pair of Greek-style sphinxes uncovered by Auguste Mariette in excavating the dromos of the Memphite Serapeum at Saqqara in Egypt. Lauer & Picard in their 1955 book on these sculptures believed them to date to Ptolemy 1. Dorothy Thompson in her 1988 book on Memphis Under The Ptolemies suggested that the semicircle of statues of Greek philosophers and poets, also uncovered by Mariette in the dromos of the Memphite Serapeum, had guarded the entrance of the first tomb of Alexander the Great at Memphis. I elaborated on this idea in my article on The Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great published in Greece & Rome in April 2002 and in my subsequent books on Alexander’s tomb. If so, then the sphinxes found at the Serapeum were probably also part of Ptolemy’s decoration for the first tomb of Alexander at Memphis. It is therefore quite striking that extremely similar sphinxes have been found guarding the entrance of the tomb at Amphipolis.

kyri said...

on the blog "past times and present tensions" john hooker makes the case for the tomb possibly having kassander buried there.i hope we are told soon, the speculation is killing me.

Potpis Data said...

Until 1913 Amphipolis was a Macedonian city. In 1945 the greeks bombed with napalm all the land inhabitet with macedonians. You can check history books on that. Also, amphipolis doesent means new city. It means round city.

Anthimos Zachariadis said...

As I can understand Poptis is from FYROM and is trying to change history. I am sorry Poptis but history is written 2500 ago by Greeks. And amphipolis is a Greek word not a Slavic one.

kyri said...

hi anthimos,dont waste your breath on potpis ,robin lane fox sums it up in 60 seconds.
sorry for going a bit off topic dorothy.

Anthimos Zachariadis said...

Sorry Dorothy for this dialog. Let's focus on your excellent post.

Tomi Vainionpaa said...

I recently visited the archaeological museum of Chios that also has a small Macedonian tomb of the period and a sitting sphinx that is missing head and wings, very similar to the ones now discovered. Museum also sports 2 letters by Alexander to Chiosians, which emphasizes the importance of the island to the great king.

Macedonian said...

Greek archeologist Olga Palagia seems to think that the structure is of a later date i.e. possibly the 2nd or 1st century BC:

"The sphinxes are 2.50 m tall and weigh 1.5 tons.
The stylistic date of the sphinxes is 2nd or 1st c. BC and we have to
remember that the Roman period in Macedonia begins in 168 BC. I am
amazed that nobody comments on the fact that the entrance of the
monument is so close to the wall of the precinct."


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