‘Exceptionally important’ Greek tomb from era of Alexander the Great discovered


A general view of a site where archaeologists are excavating an ancient mound in Amphipolis, northern Greece, on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. (Alexandros Michailidis/AP)

Tucked away amid arid hills 370 miles north of Athens lies the ancient city of Amphipolis. Overlooking the River Strymon, it was once the scene of pivotal battles in the Peloponnesian War. It was the stomping ground of titans from Persian kings to, perhaps, conqueror Alexander the Great himself. Even today, the mysteries of the terrain astonish those who stumble upon them.

Which is what happened again Tuesday when Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stopped by the northern Greek location to visit a newly discovered, mammoth ancient tomb that, he assured, would yield an “exceptionally important find.”

It was unclear Wednesday morning what that find would be. Built in the time of Alexander, the tomb may house members of his family. Or one of his top generals may be buried there. Either way, an archaeology crew led by Katerina Peristeri may have an answer by the end of the month.

​”The tomb is definitely dated to the period following the death of Alexander the Great, but we cannot say who it belonged to,” Peristeri said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Despite expectations, the tomb, believed to be the largest ancient tomb in Greece, most likely does not belong to Alexander himself, Reuters reported. Alexander died somewhere in Babylonia — what is today Iraq — in an unknown location.

Either way, the sheer size of the burial mound — 1,500 feet long and built with marble — has engendered awe. “It is certain that we stand before an especially significant finding,” the prime minister said Tuesday. “The land of Macedonia continues to move and surprise us, revealing its unique treasures.”


The “Lion of Amphipolis” statue in Amphipolis, about 370 miles north of Athens, on Aug. 24, 2013. (Sakis Mitrolidis/Agence France-Presse)

If nothing else, archaeologists expect it will shed light on the time of Alexander. Though an official with the Ministry of Culture cautioned Reuters against drawing a link between Alexander and the tomb, coincidences between the two are indeed striking.

The tomb was dated somewhere between 325 and 300 B.C. — within striking distance of Alexander’s death in 323 B.C. What’s more, it’s located in Macedonia. Alexander was born in its ancient capital, Pella, in 356 B.C. From those hills, he went on to launch a conquest that would redraw the maps of antiquity, eventually founding an empire that spanned three continents.

The undeniable grandeur of the tomb suggests some sort of big shot was buried there. The BBC reported it may have been designed by Alexander’s friend, the renowned architect Dinocrates. Nearly 10 times the size of the tomb where Alexander’s father, Phillip II of Macedon, was laid to rest, a pair of sphinxes guard its entrance. A wide road snakes up to the tomb’s mouth, and a 16-foot lion sculpture looms nearby. Its insides include decorations made of white marble.

“It would be wrong of us to be tempted to start speculating,” Samaras said after being shown around the tomb. “Everything we have been shown by Peristeri and her team underline the significance of the findings.”

So what’s the history say? The city of Amphipolis has been linked to several of Alexander’s generals. But perhaps more telling, the city was where Alexander’s wife and son were killed in 311 B.C., according to the Telegraph. Another Macedonian general is thought to have killed them amid the bloodletting that consumed the empire following Alexander’s death.

One official, who declined to be named, told Reuters it’s likely “the tomb of a prominent Macedonian of that era.”

Terrence McCoy covers poverty, inequality and social justice. He also writes about solutions to social problems.

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Lindsey Bever · August 13, 2014