Archaeologists unearthed a lavish burial site at the
seat of the ancient Macedonian kings in northern Greece on Friday, heightening a
2,300-year-old mystery of murder and political intrigue.
The find in the
ruins of Aigai came a few metres (yards) from last year’s remarkable discovery
of what could be the bones of Alexander the Great’s murdered teenage son,
according to one expert.
Archaeologists are puzzled because both sets of
remains were buried under very unusual circumstances: Although cemeteries
existed near the site, the bones were taken from an unknown first resting place
and re-interred, against all ancient convention, in the heart of the
Excavator Chrysoula Saatsoglou-Paliadeli said in an interview that the
bones found this week were inside one of two large silver vessels unearthed in
the ancient city’s marketplace, close to the theatre where Alexander’s father,
King Philip II, was murdered in 336 B.C.
She said they arguably belonged to a
Macedonian royal and were buried at the end of the 4th century B.C.
But it is
too early to speculate on the dead person’s identity, pending tests to determine
the bones’ sex and age, said Saatsoglou-Paliadeli, a professor of classical
archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
She said one of the
silver vessels is “very, very similar” to another found decades ago at a nearby
royal tumulus, where one grave has been identified as belonging to Philip
Alexander was one of the most successful generals of all times. In a
series of battles against the Persian Empire, he conquered much of the known
world, reaching as far as India.
After his death in 323 B.C., at the age of
32, Alexander’s empire broke up in a series of wars by his successors that saw
the murder of his mother, half brother, wife and both sons.
Stella Drougou said the new find is “very important, as it follows up on last
“It makes things very complex,” she said. “Even small details in the
ancient texts can help us solve this riddle. We (now) have more information, but
we lack a name.”
Drougou told The Associated Press that the fact the funerary
urns were not placed in a proper grave “either indicates some form of
punishment, or an illegal act.”
“Either way, it was an exceptional event, and
we know the history of the Macedonian kings is full of acts of revenge and
Drougou, who was not involved in the discovery, is also
a professor of classical archaeology at the Aristotle
Saatsoglou-Paliadeli believes the teenager’s bones found in 2008
may have belonged to Heracles, Alexander’s illegitimate son who was murdered
during the wars of succession around 309 B.C. and buried in secret. The remains
had been placed in a gold jar, with an elaborate golden wreath.
“This is just
a hypothesis, based on archaeological data, as there is no inscription to prove
it,” she said.
At a cemetery in nearby Vergina, Greek archaeologists
discovered a wealth of gold and silver treasure in 1977. One opulent grave,
which contained a large gold wreath of oak leaves, is generally accepted to have
belonged to Philip II. The location of Alexander’s tomb is one of the great
mysteries of archaeology.
The sprawling remains of a large building with
banquet halls and ornate mosaics at Aigai — some 190 miles (300 kilometers)
north of Athens — has been identified as Philip’s palace.
The city flourished
in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., attracting leading Greek artists such as the
poet Euripides. The Macedonian capital was moved to Pella in the 4th century
B.C., and Aigai was destroyed by the Romans in 168 B.C.