National Geographic : 1978 Jul
On our first day in the tomb my assistants and I had simply noted and marveled at all the visible splendors. The second day, try ing not to disturb anything, we measured, sketched, and photographed. Only on the third day did we open the marble sarcophagus. When we lifted the covering slab, we gasped-an urn was what we anticipated. There lay a larnax, or cas ket, of solid gold, measuring, without the legs, 40 centimeters long, 33.5 wide, and 17 high. The casket and its contents weighed 10,800 grams, almost 24 pounds. The lid was embossed with a sunburst, or star with rays, while the sides were richly chased with palmettes, rosettes, and vines. WITHIN, the burned bones of the deceased lay as clean as if they had been washed, covered with a golden wreath of leaves and acorns from Zeus's sacred tree, the oak (pages 68-9). Two teeth, a molar and a wisdom tooth, have been judged by an anthropologist as belong ing to a man of more than 32 years. (Philip was 46 at his death.) A deep-blue color suffused certain bones, and a purple tint stained the bottom of the casket. These hues, our experts said, came from disintegration of the purple cloth with which the bones had been wrapped. Surely our discoveries had reached their zenith! But a still more thrilling surprise awaited us. I have noted that the wooden bed or piece of furniture bore a decoration of gold-and-ivory figurines, deduced from the heads, arms, and legs that we found in the rubble. I had at first looked at these relics quickly. But when I examined one of the heads more closely, I could not believe my eyes: It was an excellent portrait of Philip. Here was a mature man with a somewhat fa tigued expression, an injured eye, but clear ly with great strength of character (page 56). Shaken by my discovery, I picked up a second head and searched it carefully. It seemed impossible that I could be mistaken; this was the most beautiful sculpture of Alexander the Great that I had ever seen (page 62). His neck stretched and turned, his vivid eyes looked upward. A third head resembled him, but belonged to a woman. This must have been Alexander's mother, Olympias. Of the other two heads, one was a man's and the other a woman's, strong faces but apparently unknown. My mind went back to the gold-and-ivory statues of his family that Philip had com missioned from the great sculptor Leochares after the decisive victory at Chaeronea in 338 B.C. They were taken to the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia and placed in the Philip peion, a round building designed to house statues of the Macedonian royal family. We know that those statues depicted Philip, Olympias, Alexander, and Philip's parents. The king was feeling proud of his son, who at 18 had brilliantly commanded the cavalry in the historic battle that assured Philip's control of the Greek mainland. I believe that in these ivory miniatures, possibly the work of Leochares himself, we have the best and most authentic portraits of Philip and Alexander. HE ANTECHAMBER still awaited us. Unable to open the door, we worked like thieves again, removing a stone from the dividing wall. A second mar ble sarcophagus, a little larger than the one in the main chamber, stood next to the wall. An elegant golden wreath patterned in leaves and flowers of myrtle lay on the floor next to the sarcophagus. Turning, we drew in our breaths to see standing in a corner near the connecting door a golden artifact magnificently deco rated with two bands of scenes in relief, seemingly depicting the sack of a town, per haps Troy. It was a quiver (pages 64-5). Not only had the bronze points of its arrows been preserved, but even the wooden shafts. Leaning against the door was the fourth pair of bronze greaves we had found. These, Lost and found: The exquisite style of fourth-century B.C. Greek wall painting had been known primarilyfrom descriptions in ancient Greek literatureand from Roman reproductions-untilthe Vergina tombs were unearthed. The delicately drawn figure may be a portraitof the woman who was buried in the looted chamber. This painting and the others from the tombs constitutefinds of major significance.