A team of archaeologists and historians from the Polish Center of Archaeology, that were conducting some research in the crypt of an ancient christian church, have revealed a mausoleum made of marble and gold that could well be the long lost tomb of Alexander III of Macedon, who went down in history as Alexander the Great. The site is situated in an area known as Kom el-Dikka in the heart of downtown Alexandria, only 60 meters away from Mosque of Nebi Daniel, where Arabic tradition maintained the tomb was to be found and where many excavations had already been conducted.
A famous site of pilgrimage in Antiquity, the tomb is notably known to have been visited by many Roman emperors, including Julius Caesar and Gaius Octavius, better known as Augustus, who is said to have placed 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, less than a century before it disappears from Roman records.
The large monument, apparently sealed off and hidden in the 3rd or 4th century AD, possibly to protect it from the christian repression and destruction of pagan sites after the change of official religion within the Roman Empire. The entire site is a testimony to the multicultural nature of Alexander’s empire, combining artistic and architectural influences from both Greek, Egyptian, Macedonian and Persian origins. The inscriptions, mostly in greek, but including also a few Egyptian hieroglyphs, mention that the Mausoleum is dedicated to the “King of Kings, and Conqueror of the World, Alexander III”.
It held a broken sarcophagus made of crystal glass, possibly damaged during the looting that took place during the political disturbances that ravaged Alexandria during the reign of Aurelian shortly after A.D. 270. It also held 37 bones, mostly broken or heavily damaged, presumably all from the same adult male. A carbon-dating analysis is already under way to determine the age of the bones, and a battery of other tests also await to determine if the bones could be those of the Macedonian king. Other than that, the site held only a small number of artefacts, mostly broken pottery, dating mostly from the Ptolemaic and Roman eras.
The Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities had already officially recognized more than 140 unsuccessful searches for the site of Alexander’s third and final resting place, built by Ptolemy Philadelphus around 280 BC. Many astounding theories had been elaborated by various historians to explain the fact that the archeological excavations had come up empty-handed. Some historians had even evoked the possibility that his body could have been unintentionally stolen from Alexandria by a pair of Venetian merchants, taken to Venice, mistakenly renamed and venerated as St. Mark the Evangelist in Basilica di San Marco (Venice, Italy).
The actual facts however, seem to have been a lot closer to what had been corroborated by many authors of Antiquity and the Middle Ages, such as Plutarch, Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Al-Massoudi and Leo the African. In 321 BC, on its way back to Macedonia, the funerary cart with Alexander’s body was hijacked in Syria by one of his generals, Ptolemy I Soter. Ptolemy then diverted the body to Egypt where it was interred in Memphis, the center of Alexander’s government in Egypt. Then, in the late 4th or early 3rd century BC, Alexander’s body was transferred from Memphis to Alexandria, where it was reburied.
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. However, creditable Arab commentators, including Ibn Abd al-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 none of them specified its exact location.
This new discovery by the Polish Center could certainly be one the most important ever made in the country, despite the already immense wealth of archeological treasures it has yielded. The site itself is a masterpiece of architechture and craftsmanship, and containing many possible new details about the great king. Should the bones turn out to be those of Alexander, the importance of this incredible find would certainly skyrocket, making it one of the greatest in history of archaeology, if not the greatest.