The curious case of the Amphipolis Tomb, and its five ‘occupants’

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Recently, it was revealed that the renowned Amphipolis Tomb in northern Greece doesn’t only contain a single skeleton, but rather exhibits remains of five corpses. These include the probability of two men, a newborn baby, and another adult with unidentified gender, along with the earlier discovered woman. This tumble down the rabbit hole has baffled many a historian – with previous speculations being only related to the remains of a single woman, who was thought (by many) to be Olympias, Alexander’s mother.

In terms of find, the Ancient Greece’s largest tomb revealed around 550 bones – of which 157 are of these five human remains. According to Andrew Chugg (as told to Discovery News), author of The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great, and among the first proponents of the ‘Olympias’ theory –

It is stated that the skull and mandible and the majority of the larger bones are hers, that her skeleton is the most complete and that her bones were found mainly in the bottom of the cist burial. A lady in her 60s is consistent with Olympias. We do not know the year of her birth, but she died in 316 B.C., and she married Philip in about 357 B.C. She would have been 20 when she gave birth to Alexander in 356 BC, if she died at 60.

Other motifs that relate to a female-oriented burial are also found in the Amphipolis Tomb, including – the mosaic work pertaining to Persephone, special structural supports known as ‘caryatids’ (shaped like female figures), and even the depiction of female sphinxes.

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Discordantly, the emergence of a grand tomb, and that too for a woman is very antithetical to the customs of the ancient Macedonians. As reiterated by a Greek reporter, the dedication of tomb solely to a woman elevates her to a status of a hero or even a demi-god – and this notion seems contrary to the patriarchal norms of the Macedonian society during Alexander’s time. Moreover, ancient sources (including inscriptions) clearly mention Olympias being buried at Pydna, which is situated far west of coastal Amphipolis.

As for the other occupants of the tombs, both of the men show signs of degenerative joint disease and spondylitis. This certainly brings up the possibility of them being related. Furthermore, the men also show injury marks, with the older man seemingly healed of them, and the younger man probably dying from them (in accordance with the persistent cut marks on his left chest area). Now, in terms of history – Alexander’s half-brother Philip III Arrhidaeus did take up the Macedonian throne after Alexander’s death. But the subsequent years didn’t bode well for him, when both he and his wife Eurydice II were imprisoned in the proximate settlement of Amphipolis. Olympias then had Philip killed by stabbing him with a knife, while Eurydice was forced to commit suicide.

In other words, according to an alternate scenario, the Amphipolis Tomb may been belonged to this Philip III Arrhidaeus, with the younger corpse’s age matching up with the historical records of his death. But, at the end of the day, all of these ideas remain mere speculations. To that end, the Culture Ministry of Greece has alluded to a more collective research effort which would not only include carbon dating and DNA testing the tomb remains, but would also encompass the further study of 300 skeletons – all from the proximate area of Amphipolis.

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Via: Discovery News / Telegraph

Image Credits: Greek Culture Ministry

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