The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great

From the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas, Alexander the Great ruled one of the largest empires of the ancient world and all before the age of 33. His body was mummified, slathered with honey and buried in a golden coffin. Soon the boy king Alexander would become immortal while the legends of his conquering battles served to inspire future bloodthirsty warlords. After his death, great Roman leaders and generals like Julius Caesar, Octavian, Caligula and Hadrian would pay their respects to the military wunderkind by visiting the shrine of his tomb in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. For seven hundred years Alexander’s tomb rested peacefully until the Christian emperor Theodosius outlawed paganism at the end of the 4th Century. With the new emperor vowing to wreck all non-Christian iconography Alexander’s shrine was in great danger, but before government goons could destroy the tomb it disappeared without a trace. Leaving behind the greatest archaeological chase of the ancient world. The quest for Alexander’s body has become a tireless mission for thousands of years, but with new advancements made in both satellite and forensic technology there is no better time than now to solve this mystery. 

The backwards steps in reconstructing this whodunit go as far back to the writings of the 2nd century AD…

It was Ptolemy Philadelphus who [c. 280 BC] brought down from Memphis [to Alexandria] the corpse of Alexander. (Pausanias, 2nd century AD)

Ptolemy Philopator built [in 215 BC] in the middle of the city of Alexandria a memorial building, which is now called the Sema, and he laid there all his forefathers together with his mother, and also Alexander the Macedonian. (Zenobius, 2nd century AD)

About this time [30 BC] Octavian had the sarcophagus and body of Alexander the Great brought forth from its inner sanctum, and, after gazing on it, showed his respect by placing upon it a golden crown and strewing it with flowers; and being then asked whether he wished to see the tomb of the Ptolemies as well, he replied, 'My wish was to see a king, not corpses.'
(Suetonius, 2nd century AD)

[In Alexandria] Ptolemy prepared a sacred precinct worthy of the glory of Alexander in size and construction; entombing him in this and honouring him with sacrifices such as are paid to demigods and with magnificent games. (Diodorus, eyewitness c. 50 BC )

The Soma also, as it is called, is a part of the royal district. This was the walled enclosure, which contained the burial-places of the kings and that of Alexander. (Strabo, eyewitness c. 25 BC)
Caligula frequently [c. AD 40] wore the dress of a triumphing general, even before his campaign, and sometimes the breast-plate of Alexander the Great, which he had taken from his sarcophagus. (Suetonius, 2nd century AD)
Severus inquired into everything, including things that were very carefully hidden; for he was the kind of person to leave nothing, either human or divine, uninvestigated. Accordingly, he took away from practically all the sanctuaries all the books that he could find containing any secret lore, and he sealed up the tomb of Alexander; this was in order that no one in future should either view his body or read what was mentioned in the aforesaid books. (Dio Cassius, 3rd century AD)
As soon as Caracalla entered the city with his whole army he went up to the temple, where he made a large number of sacrifices and laid quantities of incense on the altars. Then he went to the tomb of Alexander where he took off and laid upon the grave the purple cloak he was wearing and the rings of precious stones and his belts and anything else of value he was carrying. (Herodian, 3rd century AD)
For, tell me, where is the tomb of Alexander? Show it me and tell me the day on which he died... his tomb even his own people know not. (John Chrysostom, c. AD 400)

According to ancient sources such as Strabo, Diodorus and Plutarch, in 323 BC Alexander the Great became ill and died in Babylon (modern Baghdad) while traveling on his homecoming mission back to Macedonia. On his deathbed he supposedly gave his ruling ring to his general Perdikkas, granting him the power to rule over his empire until Alexander's queen gave birth to their child. General Arrhidaeus was chosen to be in charge of Alexander's funeral arrangement of which its original destination seemed to be back in Alexander’s ancestral burial grounds in Macedonia. However the immediate years after Alexander’s death brought forth a plague of death and destruction on his family and those who sought to rule over his former empire. Literally all of Alexander’s family including his infant son were murdered shortly after his untimely death. Perdikkas, the general entrusted with Alexander’s ring had the body mummified and placed in a honey lined, double gold sarcophagus that was covered by a purple robe. The robe covered coffin was then placed along with Alexander's armor, in a magnificent golden caravan which lavishly left Babylon and headed for the Greek Islands. However, Ptolemy Lagos, another one of Alexander’s generals, wished to secure the wealth of Alexander for himself and with a small platoon ambushed Perdikkas and Alexander’s funerary precession near the Syrian border of Egypt. Ptolemy believed a prophecy foretold by Alexander's favorite soothsayer, Aristander, which claimed that the country where Alexander lay buried would be the most prosperous in the world. Ptolemy was already the reigning Greek godfather of Egypt and with Alexander out of his way he could continue to be so as long as Alexander’s body remained there. Ptolemy rerouted the funerary procession back to Egypt and stopped in Memphis where Alexander was initially buried. Diodorus later described Alexander’s Memphis tomb in great detail, revealing that it was built to mirror the ancient sepulchers of the pharaohs.

Alexander's body was taken to Memphis by Ptolemy, into whose power Egypt had fallen, and transferred from there a few years later to Alexandria, where every mark of respect continues to be paid to his memory and his name.

Decades later however, Alexander’s body was removed from its tomb in Memphis and transported over 150 miles away to Alexandria where it was reburied. About half a century later Ptolemy Philopator built a communal mausoleum in Alexandria that housed his dynastic predecessors as well as their greatest treasure – the body of Alexander. Robert S. Bianchi writes in Hunting Alexander’s Tomb: The literary tradition is clear that the third and last tomb was located at the crossroads of the major north-south and east-west arteries of Alexandria. Octavian, the future Roman emperor Augustus, visited Alexandria shortly after the suicide of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C. He is said to have viewed the body of Alexander, placing flowers on the tomb and a golden diadem upon Alexander's mummified head. The last recorded visit to the tomb was made by the Roman emperor Caracalla in A.D. 215. The tomb was probably damaged and perhaps even looted during the political disturbances that ravaged Alexandria during the reign of Aurelian shortly after A.D. 270. By the fourth century A.D., the tomb s location was no longer known, if one can trust the accounts of several of the early Church Fathers. Thereafter, creditable Arab commentators, including Ibn Abdel Hakam (A.D. 871), Al-Massoudi (A.D. 944), and Leo the African (sixteenth century A.D.) all report having seen the tomb of Alexander, but do not specify its exact location.

Before Alexander’s body disappeared forever, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus (early 3rd century AD) closed the tomb to the public as the site became an overcrowded and litter prone tourist attraction. Ancient historian Strabo, one of the tomb’s visitors claimed that Alexander’s golden coffin was replaced by a crystal one by the infamous Ptolemy IX. Strabo says that the greedy Ptolemy IX melted down the legendary conqueror's gold sarcophagus and turned it into a massive pile of coins. Finding Alexander the Great’s the body is considered the holy grail of archaeology. Recently a new theory emerged placing his body in a mixed up grave in Venice, Italy. According to author and historian Andrew Chugg, Alexander is mistakenly buried in the tomb of St. Mark. Chugg, has written several books about Alexander the Great and believes the confusion surrounding his disappearance happened when the conqueror’s body was disguised as St. Mark in order to protect it from the emperor Theodosius’s rampage. Chugg writes: Both bodies were said to be mummified in linen, and one seems to disappear at the same time that the other appears - in almost exactly the same place, near the central crossroads of Alexandria. It's a strong possibility that somebody in the Church hierarchy, perhaps even the Patriarch himself, decided it might be a good plan to pretend the remains of Alexander were those of St Mark. If this is true, then it was Alexander's remains - not those of St Mark - that were stolen by Venetian merchants and taken back to their native city some four centuries later. In fact, three early Christian sources state that St Mark's body was burnt after his death.

More books and more theories considering Alexander’s whereabouts spring forth almost yearly. Author of Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past, Paul Cartledge, professor of Greek history at Cambridge says, "We all want to explain why the trail goes cold at the end of the 4th century. At that point, Christianity triumphs and nobody has a voice to say where this pre-Christian hero is buried. He just fades away." Another Alexander biographer, Dr. Paul Doherty writes, "Alexander was regarded as almost a divine figure, and if we could get to the body, with DNA testing, we could find out a great deal about him - for instance, why he died so quickly. The corpse of Alexander's father, Philip, was discovered in Greek Macedonia in 1970, so there's no reason why we shouldn't find Alexander. The body is out there somewhere - but I suspect it is still under the streets of Alexandria."

In 2013, news emerged that Alexander's tomb might have been discovered in a mound complex north of Athens at a site near ancient Amphipolis. But the mystery deepened when they excavated the massive marble-lined tomb from the 4th century BC only to discover the human remains of five bodies from Alexander’s era. This mysterious tomb, the largest ever found in Greece was adorned with two marble statues of sphinxes and a stunning mosaic depicting the abduction of Zeus’s daughter Persephone by the king of the underworld Hades. The fractured skeletal remains left behind in the tomb include a woman aged over 60, a newborn baby, a cremated induvial and two military aged men with battle wounds to their bones. Experts now agree that this Alexander era complex discovered in northern Greece is the tomb of Alexander’s mother, although further DNA testing is required to know for sure. The tomb is in Amphipolis, a short distance from where his mother, along with the rest of his immediate family were all murdered by Alexander’s former general and future king of Macedonia Cassander. Mad with power Cassander and other would be successors fought each other to the fires of hell for control of Alexander’s empire in the wake of his death. A death shrouded in mystery to begin with. Was he poisoned? Or was he done in by an over the top night of binge drinking and partying? We’ll never know, unless we find his body. Which was buried in a golden sarcophagus filled with honey and taken from Memphis before landing in Alexandria where it remained until disappearing sometime in the fourth century AD.

In the 1980s Greek archaeologist Liana Soulvatzi said she discovered the ancient commander's tomb deep in the desert in Egypt but a government conspiracy prevented continued excavations. Soulvatzi used private funding to secure an archaeologic dig near the ancient Egyptian village of Siwa, a place where Ptolemy might have taken Alexander's body to fulfill Alexander's wish to be buried at the oasis nearby. Once there Soulvatzi claimed to have discovered the tomb almost immediately and even identified it as being Hellenic-Macedonian consisting of carved lions and ancient Greek inscriptions. 

The tomb was huge and as Soulvatzi and her team began to dig deeper underground in search of the body, they became more confident of finding Alexander’s mummified corpse. But an unexpected visit from the Egyptian army forcibly halted her dig, and a follow up visit from the Israeli ambassador further smothered the flames of her discovery. While most serious academics dismiss Soulvatzi’s discovery, the truth of the matter is that we’re no closer to finding Alexander’s body now then we were two thousand years ago. Alexander the Great was the most famous man of his time, he’s even mentioned in holy works such as the Book of Maccabees, the Hebrew Bible, and the Book of Daniel and was even referred to as “the Two- Horned one” in the Koran. All books written at least a thousand years after his death. Perhaps Alexander the Great’s ultimate feat is remaining the undisputed king of hide and seek.

Xaviant Haze

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