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article imageDoes this mystery tomb contain Alexander the Great’s mother?

By Christopher Szabo     Jan 26, 2015 in Science
The discovery of five skeletons in a vast tomb near Thessaloniki, Greece, has scholars debating whether the 60-odd-year-old female skeleton is that of Alexander the Great’s mother, Olympias.
According to the Greek Reporter, archaeologists think it likely that the woman is in fact Alexander’s mother, Olympias, while the two adult males are near relatives. The website said:
“Historians speculate that the 60-year-old female is most likely Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great; the two adult male bodies are probably sons of King Cassander (305-297 B.C.), one of them was savagely murdered; the cremated body and the infant remain a mystery. It should be noted that Olympias died at the age of 59.”
The family histories of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander’s father, and the subsequent dynasties of his ruling generals after his death are exceedingly bloody, full of assassinations, poisonings and early death, so it is not surprising to find one of the two adult males was likely murdered by a knife.
The tomb is in the precincts of the ancient Greek city of Amphipolis, an ancient Greek city which played a role during the Peloponnesian war between Sparta and Athens (431-404 B.C.)
Olympia clearly played a role as ruler of Macedonia after the death of her husband, King Philip II. She is reported to have executed another of Philip’s widows and her children, to ensure her son, Alexander’s position as future king. As the ancient historian, Plutarch wrote in his Parallel Lives:
“(Alexander ) did seek out the participants in the plot and punished them, and was angry with Olympias for her savage treatment of Cleopatra during his absence. Thus it was that at the age of twenty years Alexander received the kingdom, which was exposed to great jealousies, dire hatreds, and dangers on every hand.”
It seems reasonable to think that the woman buried might have been Olympias. The two men buried in the tomb could be, as historians say, Philip III Arrhidaeus, Alexander’s half-brother, who assumed the throne after Alexander’s death with his wife Eurydice II, according to Discovery News.
Scholar Andrew Chugg strengthened the argument for Olympias, who was previously thought to have been buried in Pydna:
“There are no other historically prominent female members of the royal family who died in the time frame of the last quarter of the fourth century B.C. as far as we know”.
But there are problems with these theories. While members of Philip’s family were murdered, like one of the male skeletons, with a small sword or knife, Olympias is recorded as having been stoned. If she was stoned, this skeleton does not bear the marks of injuries consistent with such a death.
So the tomb remains a mystery. Still, it is a vast complex, surrounded by 5 kilometres (3 miles) of walls, guarded by sphinxes and caryatids (female figures) and generally more sumptuous than any tomb known to relate to Alexander the Great’s family.
As in so many archaeological mysteries, there remains the question: Who exactly is buried at Amphipolis? Family of Alexander? Likely. If not, then who?
You work it out!
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