Monday, November 28, 2016

Treasure Legends: The Tomb of Alexander the Great

By the time he was thirty two, Alexander the Great had conquered almost all of the then known world and given history a new direction.  In 334 B.C., at the age of twenty two, Alexander crossed from Greece into Asia Minor at the head of an army of 35,000.  He defeated the Persian king Darius at Isus and then turned south toward Egypt.  In 332 B.C. he conquered Egypt.        

The Pharaoh Amasis had built a temple in Siwa in the western desert to the god Amun.  The temple's oracle became renowned throughout the ancient world.  Alexander went to Siwa to see the oracle and was declared divine, the son of Amun.  The oracle told him that he would conquer the world.  Alexander went on to fulfill most of the prophecy, taking the Greek army all the way to India before turning back to regroup and recruit a new army.  At this point the conqueror died under mysterious conditions. 

Rivalries immediately broke out among Alexander's generals and his body became a prize and source of dispute.  Where should he be buried?  Macedonia, the land of his birth; the great Egyptian city of Alexandria which he founded; or Siwa, where he was declared divine and given his worldly mission?       

Preparations for the funeral were magnificent.  The coffin was of beaten gold, the body within was mummified and embedded in precious spices.  Over the coffin was spread a pall of gold-embroidered purple, and above this a golden temple was built.  Gold columns supported a shimmering roof of gold, set with jewels.  The great edifice was drawn by sixty four mules each wearing a gilded crown and a collar set with gems.

Most historians, citing ancient Greek and Roman writers, believe Alexander was buried in a great marble sarcophagus in the Mediterranean port city he founded--Alexandria.  The Roman Emperor Augustus supposedly gazed upon the body three hundred years after Alexander's death.  Recently, the archaeological world has been rocked by a new theory regarding the last resting place of the great conqueror.      

The body of Alexander the Great may rest at the lonely oasis of Siwa.  An hour's drive from the Libyan border, the supposed tomb sits atop a desolate hill, a crumbling heap seen only by village farmers.  In 1995, a Greek archaeological team claimed to have found three crumbling stone tablets.  One of the tablets bears an inscription believed to have been written by Alexander's general Ptolemy, describing how he secretly brought the dead king to Siwa, "For the sake of the honorable Alexander, I present these sacrifices according to the orders of the god, (and) carried the corpse here...."  The second tablet says the shrine was built for Alexander.  The third tablet mentions some 30,000 soldiers who were appointed to guard the Siwa tomb.     

Alexander's tomb in Alexandria is thought to have been looted and destroyed sometime during the third century A.D..  The finds in the western desert bring in an element of mystery.  It is known that Alexander himself wished to be buried at Siwa and that alternate sites were considered only because of the political rivalries of Alexander's generals.  Ptolemy, one of Alexander's most loyal and beloved generals, may have built two tombs for Alexander, one in Siwa and another in Alexandria.  Is it possible that the mummy on display in Alexandria was not the real Alexander?   

Etched on tablet one of the Siwa find, Ptolemy supposedly writes, (in a very rough translation) "It was me who was caring  about his secrets, and who was carrying out his wishes.  And I was honest to him and to all people, and as I am the last one still alive I hereby state that I have done all the above for his sake."     

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