Friday, September 10, 2010

Tomb II at Vergina.... the mystery rumbles on

Professor Jonathan Musgrave's recent article in the International Journal of Medical Sciences on the occupants of tomb II at Vergina is sure to ruffle a few feathers. A while ago I attended a lecture by Professor Musgrave on this very subject, and only last week I was standing outside tomb II with my group, discussing his findings, so I was pleased to see the article at last, complete with wonderful illustrations of the ancient remains.

Since Manolis Andronikos' amazing discoveries in the Great Tumulus of Vergina in 1977 there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the identity of the occupants. Andonikos firmly believed that one was none other than Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, and cited such evidence as a 'royal' diadem, a hunting scene depicting Philip and Alexander and other circumstantial evidence. The identity of the other occupant, a young woman, has been more problematic, not least because Philip had 7 or 8 wives (Macedonian kings practised polygamy).  If the tomb is a royal one, and if we accept that Vergina is actually ancient Aegeae, the resting ground of all Macedonian kings of the Argead line (except Alexander the Great - but that's another story) then the couple in the tomb must be either Philip II and one of his wives, or Philip III Arrhidaeus and his wife Eurydike. Andronikos was convinced it was Philip II, and Musgrave's evidence seemed to support his view.

Tomb II - the male was in the main chamber, the female in the antechamber
Musgrave and other members of a British team examined the bones at the time of their discovery and seemed to confirm Andronikos' view of the male. The skeleton was of a male in his mid to late 40s - but this could be either of the two Philips. However, they noted that the skull appears to have a healed fracture on the right cheekbone and a marked asymmetry in the wall of the right maxillary sinus. We know that Philip II lost his right eye at the siege of Methone in 355-4 BC and this injury which would be consistent with the damage to the skeleton. It has to be said that another team also examined the remains and thought that this damage was caused by the warping during cremation.

However, other archaeologists consider that several aspects of the tomb and its very rich contents point to a period some years later, after Alexander's conquests of Asia and this would preclude the possibility of the male being Philip II. For example, the appearance of some salt cellars dated only in other contexts to between 320-280. They propose therefore that the occupants of the tomb should be Philip II's son Philip III Arrhidaios, and his wife Eurydice.

Professor Musgrave has now had a chance to re-examine the bones, and his findings are extremely important. He points out that the colour and fracture lines of the bones suggest they were cremated 'green' (with flesh still around them) rather than 'dry' (after the flesh had been decomposed by burial). We know that Philip II was cremated very soon after he was assassinated, and the funeral pyre has been excavated at the site, whereas Arrhidaios was murdered on the borders of Epirus and Macedonia in 317 BC and sources suggest his remains were subsequently exhumed and reburied between four and 17 months later at Vergina. Given that the the funeral pyre indicates that the bodies were cremated at Vergina, Arrhidaios could not have been exhumed, moved and then cremated 'green'.

Furthermore, the literary sources indicate that Arrhidaios was buried along with his wife Eurydice and her mother Kynna and this tomb contains remains of only two individuals. The female remains belong to a woman aged between 20 and 30 and Eurydice is thought to have been no more than 19 years old when she died.

So, the mystery of the occupants of Tomb II continues...... in another post I shall move on to the question of the identity of the female!
A tiny ivory portrait, believed to be of Philip II, from the tomb at Vergina

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