Vergina (Grèce): Remains of Alexander the Great's Father Confirmed Found

Rossella Lorenzi

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Philip woman warrior greaves as found

Unequal greaves and the Scynthian gorytus THEODORE ANTIKAS

A team of Greek researchers has confirmed that bones found in a two-chambered royal tomb at Vergina, a town some 100 miles away from Amphipolis's mysterious burial mound, indeed belong to the Macedonian King Philip II, Alexander the Great's father..

The anthropological investigation examined 350 bones and fragments found in two larnakes, or caskets, of the tomb. It uncovered pathologies, activity markers and trauma that helped identify the tomb's occupants.

Along with the cremated remains of Philip II, the burial, commonly known as Tomb II, also contained the bones of a woman warrior, possibly the daughter of the Skythian King Athea, Theodore Antikas, head of the Art-Anthropological research team of the Vergina excavation, told Discovery News.

The findings will be announced on Friday at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. Accompanied by 3,000 digital color photographs and supported by X-ray computed tomography, scanning electron microscopy, and X-ray fluorescence, the research aims to settle a decades-old debate over the cremated skeleton.

Scholars have argued over those bones ever since Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos discovered the tomb in 1977-78. He excavated a large mound -- the Great Tumulus -- at Vergina on the advice of the English classicist Nicholas Hammond.

Among the monuments found within the tumulus were three tombs. One, called Tomb I, had been looted, but contained a stunning wall painting of the Rape of Persephone, along with fragmentary human remains.

Tomb II remained undisturbed and contained the almost complete cremated remains of a male skeleton in the main chamber and the cremated remains of a female in the antechamber. Grave goods included silver and bronze vessels, gold wreaths, weapons, armor and two gold larnakes.

Tomb III was also found unlooted, with a silver funerary urn that contained the bones of a young male, and a number of silver vessels and ivory reliefs.

Most of the scholarly debate concentrated on the occupants of Tomb II, with experts arguing that the occupants were either Philip II and Cleopatra or Meda, both his wives, or Philip III Arrhidaeus, Alexander's half-brother, who assumed the throne after Alexander's death, with his wife Eurydice.

King Philip II was a powerful fourth-century B.C. military ruler from the Greek kingdom of Macedon who gained control of Greece and the Balkan peninsula through tactful use of warfare, diplomacy, and marriage alliances (the Macedonians practiced polygamy).

His efforts -- he reformed the Macedonian army and proposed the invasion of Persia -- later provided the basis for the achievements of his son and successor Alexander the Great, who went on to conquer most of the known world.

The overlord of an empire stretching from Greece and Egypt eastward across Asia to India, Alexander died in Babylon, now in central Iraq, in June of 323 B.C. — just before his 33rd birthday.

His elusive tomb is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the ancient world.

Analyzed by Antikas' team since 2009, the male and female bones in Philip II's tomb have revealed peculiarities not previously seen or recorded.

Philip larnax main chamber male bones

Male bone in the larnax from the main chamber. A big fragment of the composite material can be seen on top of the bones -- a square, purple-colored material to the right of the gold wreath. THEODORE ANTIKAS

"The individual suffered from frontal and maxillary sinusitis that might have been caused by an old facial trauma," Antikas said.

Such trauma could be related to an arrow that hit and blinded Philip II's right eye at the siege of Methone in 354 B.C. The Macedonian king survived and ruled for another 18 years before he was assassinated at the celebration of his daughter's wedding.

The anthropologists found further bone evidence to support the identification with Philip II, who being a warrior, suffered many wounds, as historical accounts testify.

"He had signs of chronic pathology on the visceral surface of several low thoracic ribs, indicating pleuritis," Antikas said.

He noted that the pathology may have been the effect of Philip's trauma when his right clavicle was shattered with a lance in 345 or 344 B.C.

The anthropologist also found an old incised wound on Philip's left hand caused by a sharp-edged object, possibly a weapon.

Degenerative lesions and markers pointed to a middle-aged man who rode a horse frequently.

Examination of the bones revealed a fully-fleshed cremation, further disproving the theory that the remains belong to Philip III Arrhidaeus, who was buried, exhumed, cremated and finally reburied.

"Features such as cracking, color, warping, twisting seen on the bones indicate pyre-induced morphological alterations," Antikas said.

"A typical example is the 90-degree twisting of the left parietal bone of the man's cranium. This would never happen, if the skull were 'dry', coming from an ossuary," he added.

Additional composite material was also found on the bones. Antikas's team found traces of royal purple, huntite, textile, beeswax and clay belonging to an elaborately made object.

"It was placed on top of the bones after they were cleaned, wrapped and placed in the gold larnax. If they had been burned in the pyre, they would have dissappeared, as its temperature exceeded 800 degrees Celsius at times," Antikas said.

According to the researchers, further evidence for the dead being Philip II is the identity of the female buried in the antechamber, who died at 30-34.

"Her age was determined by examining a pelvis bone fragment not seen or identified by previous researchers," Antikas said.

The finding proved extremely important in the complex identification process.

"Basically her age excludes every other wife-concubine of Philip II and indirectly Arrhidaeus, whose wife was under 25," he said.

Morphological alterations in the bones indicate she was cremated just after her death, just like the deceased in the chamber, while equestrian activity indicators suggest she also rode for a long time.

A fracture in the upper end of her left leg caused shortening, atrophy, "and most probably disfiguration," according to Antikas.

"This leads to the conclusion that the pair of mismatched greaves -- the left is shorter -- the Scynthian gorytus and weaponry found in the antechamber belonged to her," he said.

The finding reinforces the assumption made by Hammond as early as 1978 that the spears, arrows, quiver and greaves belonged to a warrior queen in Philip's royal household. Among the candidates proposed by Hammond were Meda, Cynna (the offspring of Philip and Audata, an Illyrian warrior princess) and an unknown daughter of the Scythian king Ateas, defeated by Philip in 339 B.C.

The Scythian theory also strengthens Philip II's identification.

"No Macedonian King other than Philip is known to have had 'relations' with a Scythian," Antikas said.

According to Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar at Stanford University's Departments of Classics and History of Science, the new bioarchaeological analysis of the bones in Tomb II "is a truly exciting discovery, confirming without a doubt that the weapons and mismatched greaves belonged to a horsewoman-archer close to Philip II."

The author of "The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World," Mayor, however, cautions about the Scynthian princess hypothesis.

"Hammond speculated that Ateas might have sent a daughter to Philip during their negotiations. But their dealings were hostile, not friendly, ending in war and the defeat of Ateas in 339 B.C.," Mayor told Discovery News.

"Moreover, as Hammond acknowledged, there is no mention of a daughter of Ateas in any ancient sources that describe Philip's interactions with Ateas or list the names of his wives," she added.

Mayor proposes another possibility -- that the mystery woman could have been a wife selected by Philip from the 20,000 Scythian women he took as prisoners after the defeat of Ateas. The sources report that these women and their horses all escaped when another Scythian tribe attacked Philip's army on its way back to Macedonia.

"Perhaps one of these women, traveling with Philip's entourage, did not escape and remained in the royal house for three years until his death in 336 B.C. When the king was assassinated, a captive Scythian bride from Ateas' coalition may well have felt compelled to commit suicide," Mayor said.

On another finding, Antikas' team shed new light on the remains in Tomb I. His team found in an old storage place with wood cases containing plastics bags filled with never-studied bones from the tomb, which was thought to contain the remains of a male, a female and an infant. This led some scholars to believe Tomb I contained the remains of Philip, his wife Cleopatra, and their few-week-old child.

"From three recently found plastic bags containing over one hundred bone fragments of inhumed individuals, our team analyzed and identified 70 bones," Antikas told Discovery News.

Surprisingly, it emerged that Tomb I contained the remains of at least seven individuals: an adult male, a female, a child, four babies aged 8-10 lunar months and one fetus of 6.5 lunar months.

"This find automatically disproves every previous hypothesis of historians and archaeologista alike that Tomb I was intended for Philip II and his last wife," Antikas said.