Posts Tagged With: Greece

Behind Tomb Connected to Alexander the Great, Intrigue Worthy of “Game of Thrones”..

Detail of Alexander the Great from a mosaic.

A mysterious royal tomb in Greece may hold a relative or associate of Alexander the Great, portrayed here in a mosaic from Pompeii.


Heather Pringle

for National Geographic


Suspense is rising as archaeologists sift for clues to the identity of the person buried with pomp and circumstance in the mysterious Amphipolis tomb in what is now northern Greece. The research team thinks the tomb was built for someone very close to Alexander the Great—his mother, Olympias; one of his wives, Roxane; one of his favorite generals; or possibly his childhood friend and lover, Hephaestion.

Over the past three months, archaeologist Katerina Peristeri and her team have made a series of tantalizing discoveries in the tomb, from columns sculpted masterfully in the shapes of young womento a mosaic floor depicting the abduction of the Greek goddess Persephone. The tomb’s costly artwork all dates to the tumultuous time around the death of Alexander the Great, and points to the presence of an important person.

Alexander himself was almost certainly buried in Egypt. But the final resting places—and the rich historical and genetic data they may contain—of many of his family members are unknown. The excavation at Amphipolis is bound to add a new chapter to the history of Alexander the Great and his family, a dynasty as steeped in intrigue, conspiracy, and bloodshed as the fictional Lannisters in the popular television series Game of Thrones. Among Alexander’s family, “the king or ruler who ended up dying in his bed was rare,” says Philip Freeman, a biographer of Alexander the Great and a classical historian at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Palace Intrigues

To understand these palace intrigues, one must begin with Alexander’s father, Philip II, who ascended the throne of ancient Macedonia in 359 B.C. At the time, Macedonia was a modest mountain realm north of ancient Greece, but Philip had big dreams. He transformed Macedonia’s army from a band of ragtag fighters into a disciplined military machine, and he armed it with a deadly new weapon, thesarissa, a long lance designed to keep enemy troops from closing in on his phalanxes.

A natural-born conqueror, Philip led his army to the west, crushing and intimidating the major Greek city-states until all had surrendered to his rule. “Philip II was a traditional warrior king,” says Ian Worthington, author of By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire. “He was always in the thick of battle.”

By custom, Macedonia’s kings married multiple wives, often for the purposes of sealing political alliances with powerful neighbors. Alexander’s mother, Olympias, was a daughter of the king of Molossia, a realm that encompassed part of modern Albania, and she claimed descent from the legendary Greek hero, Achilles. She was one of Philip’s many wives, and according to ancient historians, she schemed relentlessly at court to put her son on the Macedonian throne. Some historians even suspect that she poisoned Alexander’s older half-brother, impairing his mental faculties.

For a time, her intrigues seemed to succeed. Philip groomed the young Alexander as his heir, providing the boy with a first-class education from a renowned tutor, Aristotle, and encouraging his prowess as a warrior.

But important Macedonian nobles at Philip’s court viewed Alexander as half foreign and possibly illegitimate. By the time Alexander reached his late teens, Philip seemed to share these doubts. He took a new Macedonian wife, and during a drinking party, Philip allowed Alexander’s legitimacy to be publicly questioned. Then Philip drew his own sword on Alexander, a mortal insult.

Photo of the two sphinxes found at the tomb.

Two guardian sphinxes sit on a marble lintel at the entrance to the tomb at Amphipolis.

Philip later tried to patch things up, but he had created a dangerous enemy. Exactly what happened next is the subject of debate, although the bare facts are well known. In 336 B.C., Philip threw a lavish public wedding for one of his daughters and invited members of neighboring royal houses to attend this state occasion.

As part of the festivities, Philip planned to stage public games at daybreak in the theater at Aigai, his capital city. He strode into the stadium, wearing a white cloak over his shoulders. On one side was Alexander; on the other was his new son-in-law. Philip waved away his bodyguards, and as he stood at the center of the theater, the large crowd began to roar with approval.

“That was the last thing he ever heard,” says Worthington. An assassin stepped out from the crowd and stabbed Philip to death as the guests watched in disbelief. In the ensuing bedlam, the murderer, a man named Pausanias, bolted from the theater toward a spot where horses were tethered and waiting for him. But just as Pausanias was about to escape, he tripped and fell, and three of Philip’s bodyguards speared him to death.

Conspiracy Theory

Did Pausanias act alone? Some ancient texts suggest that he did, assassinating Philip in a jealous rage. Many of the ancient Macedonian nobles were bisexual, and Philip was no exception. He had taken Pausanias as his lover, and when he tired of him, he discarded the young man and even allowed others to sexually abuse Pausanias. So Pausanias may have murdered Philip in an act of revenge.

But several clues point to a conspiracy, says Worthington. Pausanias, for example, fled to a spot where multiple horses were waiting, suggesting that several people had made plans for escaping the crime scene.

“I think Pausanias was manipulated to kill Philip,” says Worthington, who suspects that Olympias and Alexander played key parts in the assassination. Both mother and son had been deeply insulted by Philip. In addition, they may have feared that Philip’s young Macedonian wife would produce a Macedonian heir more acceptable to the local nobility. The only way to prevent this would be to eliminate Philip. So Worthington theorizes that Olympias and Alexander poisoned Pausanias’s mind and encouraged him to murder Philip.

Other classical historians aren’t so sure Alexander was guilty of patricide. Nevertheless, says Luther College’s Freeman, “if you put Alexander on a couch today and tried to analyze him, you could have a lot of fun.”

Hephaestion and the god Hymen.

Some speculate that Alexander’s closest friend and lover, Hephaestion (pictured above in a 16th-century fresco, with his hand on the god Hymen’s shoulder) may be buried in the royal tomb at Amphipolis.

The King Is Dead, Long Live the King

With Philip gone, Alexander had to convince the Macedonian court that he deserved to be king. He planned a costly funeral for his father, cremating the body on a massive funeral pyre and constructing anelaborate tomb for Philip on the outskirts of Aigai (the modern Greek town of Vergina), some 100 miles from Amphipolis. As Macedonia’s aristocracy looked on, Alexander buried his father “like a Homeric hero,” says Ioannes Graekos, an archaeologist and curator at the Royal Tombs Museum in Vergina.

Inside the tomb, Alexander interred a gold chest containing Philip’s skeletal remains, as well as a host of royal treasures, from a gilded crown to a golden scepter, a gold cuirass, and a gold- and ivory-adorned deathbed. Over the doorway, the young king had artists paint a hunting scene showing Alexander and his father closing in on a lion.

Photo of a female figurine in the tomb.

Archaeologists excavate a female figure on a wall leading to the second room of the ancient tomb.

“Only royalty can hunt lions, so Alexander was honoring his father, but he was also honoring himself,” says Terence Clark, an archaeologist at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec, who, along with National Geographic and others, is helping to organize a major new traveling exhibition on the heroes of ancient Greece, including Alexander the Great. “It’s a definitive statement that Alexander is now in charge.”

But despite his appearance of confidence, Alexander still feared rivals at court. He ordered the deaths of his cousin Amyntas and of one of Philip’s young wards. And his mother, Olympias, took care of enemies among the royal women. According to at least one ancient text, she forced Philip’s young Macedonian wife to commit suicide and arranged for the murder of her rival’s daughter. Olympias, says Elizabeth Carney, a classical historian at Clemson University in South Carolina and biographer of Alexander’s mother, was “a political woman.”

That left just the army. Alexander had to convince Macedonia’s generals and soldiers alike that he was a commander like his father. So he embarked on a series of military campaigns, quelling rebels in the Balkan region, crushing the city-state of Thebes, and leading his army to one victory after another. By the time he turned 21, Alexander was firmly in control of Macedonia and Greece, and ready to embark on the conquest of Persia.

Alexander extended his rule to lands as far south as Egypt and as far east as India, creating one of the greatest empires of the ancient world. His closest companion was his lover Hephaestion, a Macedonian general, and when Hephaestion finally succumbed to a mysterious ailment in 324 B.C. on an eastern campaign, Alexander was nearly undone by grief. According to the ancient writer Plutarch, he had Hephaestion’s doctor crucified and massacred an entire tribe in the region to provide offerings for Hephaestion’s spirit.

Photo of Casta Hill in Amphipolis, Greece.

The tomb at Amphipolis, shown here at the top of Kasta Hill, is the largest ancient tomb ever discovered in Greece.

Things Fall Apart

By the time of his own death at age 33, Alexander was still in the east, planning the conquest of Arabia. He clearly preferred the thrill of battle to the numbing minutiae of governing. He had taken at least two foreign wives, but had produced no legitimate heir to his massive empire and had given little apparent thought to the matter of succession. Soon after he died of a mysterious fever in Babylon, his generals, nobles, and family members began fighting bitterly over the succession. In the end, his vast empire was divided as spoils of a civil war, and his entire direct line was wiped out.

Alexander’s mother met her end at the hands of a ruthless Macedonian noble, Cassander. To clear the path to the Macedonian throne, Cassander took Olympias prisoner during a siege and executed her. Then, like Alexander himself, he set about eliminating other potential plotters. He imprisoned Alexander’s most important foreign wife, Roxane, and his posthumous son, Alexander IV, at Amphipolis—and had them both secretly murdered in 311 B.C. With the dirty work done, Cassander ruled the kingdom of Macedonia until his death in 297 B.C.

Most archaeologists today are convinced, based on historical accounts, that Alexander himself was buried somewhere in Egypt, quite possibly in the city that bears his name today, Alexandria. But researchers have yet to find the tombs of Olympias, Roxane, Hephaestion, and many of his generals. Perhaps the archaeological team clearing the mysterious tomb at Amphipolis will yet find the remains of one of them.

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Archaeologists discover skeleton hidden in famed Amphipolis tomb…..


Archaeologists have long speculated about who might be buried in the Amphipolis tomb.

The ancient burial site, found in Greece’s Serres region, dates to 325-300 B.C.E., and scientists believe it was built after the death of Alexander the Great. The tomb is the largest ever discovered in Greece, and archaeologists have been eager to determine who was buried inside it.

The tomb included three funeral chambers, but archaeologists recently discovered a secret fourth chamber that was apparently an “underground vault” beneath the third chamber. Now, the team is a lot closer to finding out just who the tomb belonged to — they just found a skeleton in the secret chamber, after months of excavations.

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Amphipolis Tomb in 3D….

This interactive 3D model of the Amphipolis Tomb has been created by Greektoys. Use you mouse to move around the model and zoom in with a mouse-wheel. Click on the various numbers to learn more.
View it here:

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Ancient Egypt City Aligned With Sun on King’s Birthday…..Alexander the Great..

The Egyptian city of Alexandria, home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, may have been built to align with the rising sun on the day of Alexander the Great’s birth, a new study finds.
The Macedonian king, who commanded an empire that stretched from Greece to Egypt to the Indus River in what is now India, founded the city of Alexandria in 331 B.C. The town would later become hugely prosperous, home to Cleopatra, the magnificent Royal Library of Alexandria and the 450-foot-tall (140 meters) Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Today, more than 4 million people live in modern Alexandria.
Ancient Alexandria was planned around a main east-west thoroughfare called Canopic Road, said Giulio Magli, an archaeoastronomer at the Politecnico of Milan. A study of the ancient route reveals it is not laid out according to topography; for example, it doesn’t run quite parallel to the coastline. But on the birthday of Alexander the Great, the rising sun of the fourth century rose “in almost perfect alignment with the road,” Magli said.
The results, he added, could help researchers in the hunt for the elusive tomb of Alexander. Ancient texts hold that the king’s body was placed in a gold casket in a gold sarcophagus, later replaced with glass. The tomb, located somewhere in Alexandria, has been lost for nearly 2,000 years.
Building by the stars
Magli and his colleague Luisa Ferro used computer software to simulate the sun’s position in the fourth century B.C. (Because Earth’s orbit isn’t perfect, there is some variation in the sun’s path through the sky over centuries.) Alexander the Great was born on July 20, 356 B.C. by the Julian calendar, which is slightly different than the modern, Gregorian calendar, because it does not have leap years to account for partial days in the Earth’s orbit around the sun. On that day in the fourth century B.C., the researchers found, the sun rose at a spot less than half a degree off of the road’s route.
“With a slight displacement of the day, the phenomenon is still enjoyable in our times,” Magli told LiveScience.
A second star would have added to the effect, Magli said. The “King’s Star” Regulus, which is found on the head of the lion in the constellation Leo, also rose in near-perfect alignment with Canopic Road and became visible after a period of conjunction with the sun near July 20. Earth’s orbit has changed enough that this Regulus phenomenon no longer happens, Magli said.
Sun as a symbol
Architecture-by-astronomy was common in the ancient world, Magli said. The Great Pyramid of Giza, for example, is aligned with amazing precision along the compass points, which would have required the use of the stars as reference points. The Egyptians, whom Alexander conquered, had long associated the sun god Ra with their pharaohs.
“Aligning the city [of Alexandria] to the sun in the day of birth of Alexander was a way to embody in the architectural project an explicit reference to his power,” Magli said. The King’s Star would have only added to the mystique, he said.
The researchers reported their work online Oct. 9 in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology. They are now examining other cities founded by Alexander and later rulers to see if the solar pattern holds. The hope, Magli said, is that an understanding of Alexandria’s astronomical layout will give researchers a better idea of where Alexander’s tomb might be.

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Magma Pooling Beneath Infamous Greek Volcano……

Molten rock is pooling beneath Greece’s Santorini volcano, the site of one of the largest eruptions in the past 10,000 years. That eruption, which took place about 3,600 years ago, wiped out the Minoan civilization of the Greek islands and may have spawned the legend of the lost city of Atlantis.

In the past 1.5 years, the magma chamber beneath the volcanic island has ballooned by as much as 350 million cubic feet (20 million cubic meters), or up to 15 times the size of London’s Olympic Stadium. This giant mass of magma has caused the island to rise by as much as 5.5 inches (14 centimeters), according to a new study published yesterday (Sept. 9) in the journal Nature Geoscience.

This research follows reports earlier in the year of renewed earthquake activity beneath the volcano after it had been silent for the past 25 years. The reports have spurred concerns the volcano could erupt in the near future, but when that might happen is still unclear, researchers said in a statement.

“Before this work, we didn’t really know how the volcano behaved during the periods of time between eruptions,” David Pyle, an Oxford University researcher and study co-author, told OurAmazingPlanet. “Now, it looks as though the magma chambers beneath volcanoes like Santorini grow in spurts.”

When the volcano erupted in approximately 1620 B.C., it created tsunamis 40 feet (12 meters) tall that destroyed much of the civilization flourishing in and around the Aegean Sea. Much of the previous island of Santorini was destroyed or submerged.From the air, the resulting caldera, or volcanic crater, appears as a small cluster within the bigger collection of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.

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