Sunday, September 28, 2014

So what is the correct name for this monument? And, a Word About Amphipolis

Early press coverage of the Amphipolis dig mostly used the term "Amphipolis Tomb" for the monument. Our website clearly adopted that phrase early on! The word "tomb" has a good ring to it; tombs are mysterious and spooky, and there are a lot of amazing tombs from ancient Egypt that have fascinated the public for centuries. From a practical standpoint, tomb is a lot easier to type than "monument" or "burial complex" and more widely understood than "heroon".

The monument is located in a historically important city from the ancient Greek world: Amphipolis. The city's name is pronounced like this:

Amphipolis = am-FEE-pole-liss (with "am" sounding like in "ham"; "fee" should be held slightly long, while "pole-liss" is said quickly)

Some key facts about Amphipolis:
  • "The importance of Amphipolis in ancient times was due to the fact that it commanded the bridge over the Strymon, and consequently the route from northern Greece to the Hellespont."-- Encyclopedia Britannica
  • There's a large amount of gold and silver in the area; with gold flowing from the nearby hills, Amphipolis naturally became the treasury city of Macedonia, where the kingdom's coinage was minted; one article called Amphipolis the "El Dorado" of ancient Greece.
  • There's a large amount of timber in vicinity, crucial for ship building.
  • The city was fought over by Athenians, Spartans, and Macedonians; also Persians, Thracians, and Romans.
  • The famous historian (and Athenian general) Thucydides became exiled after he failed to save Amphipolis from a Spartan siege.
  • Alexander I. and Philip II. of Macedon both had notable military victories in the area. Philip II. captured the city for Macedonia.
Does any of this information provide a good reason as to why a massive tomb or temple for Alexander the Great might have been constructed at Amphipolis? Wouldn't it have been more logical for Alexander to be buried in the cemetery of his ancestors in Vergina; or in the new capital of his empire in Persia; or in Egypt, which had affected him so deeply and where his greatest city was?

Perhaps Amphipolis's role as a "treasury city" was enough reason to construct his tomb there. A more likely explanation is the strategic location of Amphipolis on the eastern border of Macedonia. If the monument was a heroon for Alexander, its purpose was to provide mystical protection of the city from foreign invasion. It would also provide psychological motivation for the defenders of the city to preserve the monument to their great warchief. If Amphipolis could be successfully defended from outsiders then the rest of Macedonia would also be defended.

Which returns us to the subject of this post: What should the monument be called? The hill that the monument resides in is called "Kasta Hill." Thus the term "Kasta Tomb" seems to be gaining official status; the Wikipedia entry on the topic is already labeled "Kasta Tomb." The phrases "Lion Tomb at Amphipolis" and "Kasta Hill archeological site" have also been seen in articles. As we have suggested, the monument may very well not be a "tomb" at all! How does "Kasta Heroon" sound? Until more information comes to light, on this website we will prefer the factually correct but neutral term "monument".

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