Skip to comments.Alexander the Great's "Crown," Shield Discovered?
Posted on 04/25/2008 7:11:55 PM PDT by blam
Alexander the Great's "Crown," Shield Discovered?
for National Geographic News
April 23, 2008
An ancient Greek tomb thought to have held the body of Alexander the Great's father is actually that of Alexander's half brother, researchers say.
This may mean that some of the artifacts found in the tombincluding a helmet, shield, and silver "crown"originally belonged to Alexander the Great himself. Alexander's half brother is thought to have claimed these royal trappings after Alexander's death.
The tomb was one of three royal Macedonian burials excavated in 1977 by archaeologists working in the northern Greek village of Vergina (see map of Greece).
Excavators at the time found richly appointed graves with artifacts including a unique silver headband, an iron helmet, and a ceremonial shield, along with a panoply of weapons and an object initially identified as a scepter.
"[Archaeologists] announced that the burial in the main chamber of the large rich [tomb] was that of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, who was assassinated in 336 B.C," said Eugene N. Borza, professor emeritus of ancient history at Pennsylvania State University.
But recent analyses of the tombs and the paintings, pottery, and other artifacts found there, suggest that the burials are in fact one generation more recent than had previously been thought, Borza said.
"Regarding the paraphernalia we attribute to Alexander, no single item constitutes proof, but the quality of the argument increases with the quantity of information," he said.
"We believe that it is likely that this material was Alexander's. As for the dating of the tombs themselves, this is virtually certain."
The original excavation at Vergina was led by Manolis Andronikos, an archaeologist at Greece's Aristotle University of Thessaloniki who died in 1992.
His team found the first tomb to be a simple stone box containing human remains identified as a mature male, a somewhat younger female, and a newborn.
Tomb II, a large vaulted tomb with two chambers, contained the remains of a young woman and a mature male. Tomb III, with two vaulted chambers, was the resting place of a young teenager, most likely a male.
Both of the larger tombs contained gold, silver, and ivory ornaments, as well as ceramic and metal vessels.
"[Andronikos] presented his theories [that the tombs were those of Alexander's father and his family] with great skill, and the Greek nation responded with fervent enthusiasm," Borza said.
"Indeed I was one of those who, in two early articles in the late 1970s, accepted Andronikos' view that the remains were those of Philip II."
Borza started to doubt Andronikos' conclusions, however, as he studied the evidence.
He contacted Olga Palagia, an art historian at the University of Athens, to evaluate the tombs' construction, pottery, and paintings.
Soon the duo realized the significance of the fact that Tomb II and Tomb III were built using a curved ceilings called barrel vaults.
"The earliest securely dated barrel vault in Greece dates to the late 320s [B.C.], nearly a generation after the death of Philip II," Borza told National Geographic News.
Palagia also found that paintings on the exterior frieze of the tomb reflected themes that were likely from the age of Alexander the Great, rather than that of his father.
The paintings depict a ritual hunt scene with Asian themes, suggesting influences resulting from Alexander's extensive campaigns to the east.
(Read related story: "Alexander the Great Conquered City via Sunken Sandbar" [May 15, 2007].)
The six-foot (two-meter) scepter found at the burial site is another clue, Borza added.
"We have several surviving coins issued in his own lifetime showing Alexander holding what appears to be a scepter of about that height," he said.
Additionally, a number of silver vessels discovered in Tomb II and Tomb III are inscribed with their ancient weights, which use a measurement system introduced by Alexander the Great a generation after Philip II's death.
"Once we have determined on archaeological grounds that Tomb II is a generation later than Philip II's death, we can then ask, Whose tomb is it?" Borza said.
"We have a double royal burial from this era attested in the ancient literature. Thus the tomb is that of [Alexander's half brother] Philip III Arrhidaeus and his queen, Adea Eurydice."
Borza and Palagia discussed their new analysis at the meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in January. Their findings will be published in a forthcoming study from the German Archaeological Institute.
Most of the ancient artifacts found at Vergina are on display today at a museum at the site of the tombs.
Death of Alexander
Alexander died of disease in ancient Babylon, near modern-day Baghdad, Iraq, in 323 B.C.
His generals appointed Philip III to take his place, and the half brother claimed Alexander's royal objects as public symbols to solidify his power, historians suggest.
Alexander's son, Alexander IV, who was appointed joint king along with Philip III, was assassinated around 310 B.C. He is likely buried in Vergina's Tomb III, which contains the remains of a young teenager, Borza said.
Historically, the only known Macedonian royal teenage burial is that of Alexander IV, he explained.
Alexander's father, Phillip II, is buried in Tomb I, along with his wife and their infant, according to Borza.
"Tomb I is from the age of Philip IIunlike the big chamber tombs, which are laterand the human remains of the three burials accord well with the assassinations of these individuals."
Winthrop Lindsay Adams, a professor of history at the University of Utah who was not involved with the study, said Borza's work builds on what other specialists have thought about the various aspects of the Vergina tombs.
The work of Borza and his colleagues convincingly make the case that Tomb II is the final resting place of Alexander's half brother, Adams explained.
"Indeed for most scholars working in fourth-century Macedonia, the original attribution by Andronikos now seems doubtful," he said. "This case is convincing."
Heh-heh, they said "Vergina."
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Ahhh Greek culture.
Alexander the Great, what a leader.
Those Greeks sure knew how to separate the men from the boys, eh?
Wonder how they did that, eh?
_____________ <— insert way too obvious punchline here. ;)
Rosario Dawson was the only good reason to watch that “Alexander” movie. I’d post the pics, but I’d get banned. ;-D
I’m still trying to figure out why Angelina Jolie as Alexander’s twisted mother had a thick Hungarian accent in it. I thought she was playing a Gabor sister.
Evidently, research had revealed that Alexander's mom hailed from the Pest side of Budapest.
How much did one of those ancient battle swords weigh ?
Before he came on the scene carvings of the movers and shakers of the ancient western world were fashioned thus:
Neck, head, shoulders,etc., everything straight as a...well, straight as a statue.
But Alexander the Great was slightly deaf in one ear. He always tilted his head a bit so he could hear better. And he was sculpted that way:
As a result of this statues and busts began to show movement. At first it was out of respect to Alexander, but soon b/c people simply preferred them that way.
And that's fair dinkum.
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> I’m still trying to figure out why Angelina Jolie as Alexander’s twisted mother had a thick Hungarian accent in it. I thought she was playing a Gabor sister.
If I had to hazard a guess, the producers probably modeled Jolie’s accent after the modern Macedonian accent.
I spent an interesting ANZAC dinnertime yesterday at the RSA with a table that included a fireman originally from Macedonia. He had a “-ski” surname, which led me to guess he was from Poland (nope: Macedonia). Very striking facial features, olive skin, tall and athletic, curly brown hair. The girls at the table obviously thought him to be very handsome. If you spray-painted him white and told him to stand still, he could have been mistaken for an ancient Greek statue.
Apparently, tho’, modern Macedonia is somewhat to the north of antient Macedonia, so the eastern European accent probably wouldn’t have applied back then.
Melek Javan ping.
Modern self styled “Macedonia” has absolutely nothing to do with any aspect of the ancient Greek Macedonia.
Probably not as much as one might think. I'm not an expert, but I have been reading up on the development of the sword. For the medieval age, a viking sword would've been about two or two and a half pounds, and even a big two-handed norman longsword would've only tipped the scale at between three and four pounds. Maybe six for a really big one. The big German GrosseMesser (big knife) was only about four pounds and it was a fairly imposing chunk of steel.
I don't know for sure about all pre-BC era swords, and I haven't studied the Macedonians/Greeks/Romans yet, but I'd be suprised if they weren't similar. The Roman gladius was quite short and light and fast.
Movies like to show big, heavy (10-15lb) monster swords like Conan's but most weren't like that. In actual combat a sword like that would have been slow and cumbersome. A soldier needs something that he could swing repeatedly without exhaustion, and something that would be quick and nimble to handle.
I've done some exercises with a 2.5 lb viking sword... and it's quite a workout. It's the speed that makes the thing. It would challenge anyone to swing one through a series of cuts for more than 15 minutes before your arm feels like its gonna fall off.
really cool information about the dynamics of change in art. I love little bits of historical trivia like this.
Thanks for the post.
So where’s the sceptre pic?
I understand that Caesar Augustrus vitied the tomb and left an imperial standard as tribute.
The Ptolemaic dynast survived for many years, ending in Cleopatra who was the end of the lineage.
They can use that DNA to reproduce another Alexander.
Conan the Barbarian is one of my favorite movies. They are in the process of remaking the movie due for a May 2009 release.
Gerald Butler would be my choice for Conan but the producers say that he will be a relative unknown.
Oh-kay. :’) I’ve seen that Arnold one (James Earl Jones was also in it), and was gravely disappointed. Of course, now, the budget could be better, and there will doubtless be loads of CGI enhancement — all that’s needed is a better script.
Sword weight... I just saw this, and should have checked before replying, in case the question has been answered. Sword weight varied; bronze swords tended to be massive and short, because they were more of a chopping weapon than a thrusting weapon. One old story involves a Spartan warrior who complained that his sword was too short. His mother upbraided him with the reply, “take a step forward, then it will be long enough.” Iron (and later steel) swords were longer and narrower, and were more versatile and effective.
The spears used (for example) by hoplites were thrusting weapons, but on occasion were used in a more club-like fashion. Javelins were thrown weapons. Alex’s dad Philip innovated a number of things, most significantly with his infantry (spear length was increased, with rear rows keeping theirs raised to protect the formation from projectiles, and front five rows straight ahead) and with the introduction of “belly shooters” and integrated cavalry. Alexander grew up in all that, which is probably one of the reasons he was such a success.