More royal tombs discovered at Vergina?

More details of the new so-called royal tombs discovered at the necropolis of Aegae, modern Vergina, have been announced at the 27th Meeting of Archaeological Work in Macedonia and Thrace.

The extensive necropolis at Vergina continues to yield tombs labeled by Greek archaeologists as ‘royal’.  This is due, in part, to the tradition that states that all kings of the Temenid line, excepting Alexander III the Great, were buried at Aegae and partly to the remarkable discovery in 1977 by Manolis Andronikos of the cluster of tombs in the same tumulus at Aegae identified as the tombs of Philip II (or possibly Philip III Arrhidaeus) and Alexander IV that include spectacular finds and objects connected with kingship. Andronikos' discoveries seemed to give the truth to the legend, and this was corroborated by Plato's description of the tomb of a ruler in his 'Laws'. 

The description given by Plato of the tomb of a ruler corresponds closely to that of a Macedonian built tomb. He says ‘Their tomb will be constructed in the shape of a rectangular subterranean chamber, of limestone blocks as durable as possible, with couches on which to place the dead set side by side. The tomb will be earthed in by a circular mound planted with a grove of trees on all sides except one, so that it may be extended with additional tombs.’ Of course, there are many Macedonian built tombs in North Greece that were not for rulers, but the description and association with royalty has been persuasive for some.

During the recent meeting in Thessaloniki, Dr. Angeliki Kottaridi, Head of the 17th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, gave further details of the some of the tombs previously announced (see and also presented some new finds.

Dr. Kottaridi announced that excavation has continued on 'the grave group of the Temenids', that is a cluster of graves including three cist graves and two Macedonian tombs whose dates align with the Macedonian royal dynasty to which Alexander III (the Great) belonged. Around twenty burials, dating from the Archaic to the Early Hellenistic period (6th century to mid 3rd century BC) have been discovered in this cluster since 1996.

Although looted and partially destroyed, the recently discovered tombs are impressive examples of funerary architecture. Three of the tombs are cist graves: simple vaults with walls made of stone and covered with a stone roof, while two are of the Macedonian built type.
Damaged Macedonian built tomb
Dr. Kottaridi describes one of the tombs as particularly remarkable: it is a large underground room with white walls decorated with frescoes depicting garlands, fronds, flowers and ivy leaves.

She further hypothesizes that two of the graves excavated ‘might perhaps be linked’ with the Macedonian Kings Alexander I and his son, Perdiccas II, who reigned in the 5th century B.C.  The remains of funeral pyres associated with the tombs were excavated, and the tombs themselves produced an range of interesting finds, including pottery – in particular fragments of white ground lekythoi dating to 420-410 BC - and an iron sword. Dr. Kottaridi considers that this tomb - and indeed the sword  - is that of King Perdiccas II (454-413 BC) whose exploits are recalled in Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War.

Another Macedonian tomb with Doric columns was discovered next to the Ionic tomb excavated in 1987. Its facade is similar to that of the tomb of Alexander IV (also known as the Prince’s Tomb).  Dr. Kottaridi posits that this tomb may be that of Kassander, regent of Macedonia 317-306 BC, or one of his sons.

At this stage – since the excavations and the finds are not yet published in detail – it is not possible to know what, if any, evidence Dr. Kottaridi has for these royal identifications other than the legend that the Temenid kings were buried at Aegae and that the dates of the burials roughly fit. I shall be reserving judgement until further evidence appears!

Well preserved cist tomb