The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has announced that an unusually large, untouched sarcophagus has been discovered in the Sidi Gaber district of the city of Alexandria. The tomb was uncovered during work on the foundations of a new building and is believed to belong to the Ptolemaic era, more than 2000 years ago.
Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, one of around twenty cities bearing his name. Alexander the Great succeeded his father on the throne of Macedonia at the age of twenty. He died in Babylon at the age of 33, having in this short time created an empire that stretched from Greece to northwestern India. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history’s most successful military commanders. His reign, while being undoubtedly bloody and violent, nevertheless resulted in the spread of Greek culture in the east. This led to a new Hellenistic civilization, aspects of which were still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire in the mid-15th century AD. It is amazing that people spoke Greek in central and far eastern Anatolia until the 1920s! Alexander became legendary as a classical hero in the mold of Achilles, and is often ranked amongst the most influential people in history.
Alexander’s tomb has never been found, but it is widely believed to be in Alexandria. The reasons for this are multiple:
Ancient sources often mention Alexander’s tomb, all placing it in Alexandria. Amongst the people who are thought to have visited are Julius Caesar, Octavian, Caligula and others, according to ancient texts. There is no definite proof, but there is however a strong probability, given that after his death Alexander’s body remained in Babylon for two years, before starting on the long journey home in order to be buried in Macedonia. It is said that Ptolemy, the governor of Egypt, waylaid the mission and kept the body in Alexandria until at least the 4th century AD. Possibly it was destroyed there during the persecution of Christians. The fact that the royal necropolis was never found could also be due to the ravages of natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and tsunamis, or the later destruction of pagan temples by Christians.
Finally, Alexandria has progressively grown into a thriving modern city of five million inhabitants, making it difficult for archaeologists to conduct digs there.
This new discovery is a rare specimen sculpted out of black granite. It is exceptionally large, measuring 2.65m in length, 1.65m in width, and 1.85m in height. The lid is sealed with mortar, which is an indication that it probably has never been opened, and that in itself is unusual, given that most ancient graves have been desecrated by robbers.
Given that it weighs around 30 tons, it will probably need to be opened on site.
Could this be the sepulchre of Alexander the Great? Doubtful, although it probably belonged to a prominent, wealthy man. However, it not luxurious enough for a king, especially one of Alexander’s radiance. An alabaster bust was found in the grave, believed to be that of its owner, but unfortunately its features are quite eroded.
Archaeologists are now all agog to open the sarcophagus, hoping to find clues to its owner inside.
Stay tuned for developments.