Is it a burial monument or something else?


Is it a burial monument or something else?

All this period in Greece, there has been a great interest about Amphipolis and its mysteries and that’ s no wonder considering the importance of the findings and the expectations that arose. Many professors, archaeologists and others express their opinions concerning the questions that arise as the archaeological team continue their work. From all those questions, the most fundamental is whether it is actually a burial monument. So, part of the discussion in Greece over the last month was this.

Mrs Peristeri, the leader of the excavation team, has said that she has always believed that the precinct wall of the Kasta hill, the first 40 meters of which were found by Dimitrios Lazarides in 1964, was part of a burial monument. Lazarides himself believed that the construction of the tumulus (the artificial hill) was an important technical work and could only conceal something very important. He had written that it could be a funerary monument of extreme importance, of the Macedonian tomb type, or a heroic funerary monument. Note that Mrs Peristeri had also worked with Lazarides for two years in Amphipolis (1979 - 1980), which is possibly a fact that could explain her strong belief.

Besides, this region is believed to have many burial monuments and cemeteries, while some of them have already been found by archaeologists. The greatest example is a cemetery, dated back to the archaic years, that had been found by Lazarides in Kasta hill, next to the new findings, but he had also revealed hundreds of ancient graves in the region. Mr Panos Valavanis, professor of classical archaeology at the University of Athens, says that this is explained by the location of Amphipolis, which stands at a crossroads and is a “visible place from far away, something that helps the alive to remember their dead”.

There are though people who supported the view that it could not be a Macedonian burial monument. They have argued that the large dimensions of the structure and of the findings inside it (the Caryatids stand 3.5 m. tall, together with their bases) resemble a temple and that if we compare this monument with Philip II’ s tomb, the latter would rather seem a small and simple construction. The first question that comes to mind after this observation is “who would deserve a burial monument greater than king Philip II?”. The second argument was that there hadn’ t been found any doors, and that could mean that the “chambers” could in fact be an arcade, but this argument was refuted as the research team found pieces of a marble door in front of the doorway that leads to the third chamber on September 2. In general, this marble door has been interpreted as a strong sign that it is a burial monument. The reason why it is important for the monument to at least resemble a Macedonian tomb, is because Mrs Peristeri has dated the monument to be “of the last quarter of the 4th century BC” and most pundits in general agree with this statement. So if it was not a “Macedonian tomb” there would be a great possibility that it is not a tomb at all.

Professor Panos Valavanis, in an interview he gave (, has given some interesting facts concerning the differences between this monument and the other Macedonian tombs that have been found, without implying that this monument is not a Macedonian tomb. The first difference is that, while the different chambers in the other tombs are in the same level, in this case we expect two levels (we already know that the third chamber’ s floor is deeper and stairs are expected inside). It is also discussed the last days that the main burial chamber (the final chamber) could be under a cave or sculpted in a rock (Kasta hill is only partly artificial), instead of being built. This is another thing that we haven’ t seen before in a Macedonian tomb. Moreover, very little sculptures have been found in other Macedonian tombs. Finally, the number of the chambers we have found is bigger than in a typical Macedonian tomb. This could be a matter of symbolism. In general, some of the differencies could be explained by the fact that the architect was Dinocrates, as Mrs Peristeri strongly believes. Dinocrates was not a Macedonian and is believed that he had been influenced by the Egyptian style.

Some newer theories talk about a memorial.  A memorial is a sanctuary dedicated to a hero. This scenario says that the monument was dedicated to the soldiers that died in a battle. This sanctuary was sometimes built on the top of his tomb or empty tomb. This could explain many things, such as the dimensions of the structure and its two levels.


What can the recent finding of the mosaic tell us?

To many people, it appears to be an imitation of a similar mosaic found in “the tomb of Persefone” in Aegae:


The abduction of Persefone is a recurring mosaic theme in royal tombs. Hermes is shown in front of a chariot with two horses that is being driven by a bearded, partialy revealed, manThe rest of the mosaic is not yet revelead, though it is heavily speculated that on the right part there is a depiction of Persefone. In conclusion, this interpretation could be another sign that the monument is a burial one.

However, Sarantos Kargakos, professor of history, mentioned that the mosaic might depict a wedding ceremony and not a funeral cortege.

"It may in fact not be a tomb, but a ceremonial place for religious event", he noted. Of course, this is something that we will learn very soon, as the excavating team is shortly expected to finish with the removal of soil from above the uncovered parts of the mosaic.

He concluded that "We must remain calm and reserved for this excavation has a lot to offer in the future and maybe there will be a few decades until the hill is thoroughly explored".

by Panagiotis Panagiotou

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