Ian Worthington Sheds Light on Tomb Discovery

Ian Worthington, Curators’ Professor of History
Kristi Galloway
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science

Ancient history scholars and archaeologists are placing bets on who was buried in a massive marble-walled tomb that was recently discovered in northern Greece at Amphipolis. The tomb is the largest ever found in the area and dates between 325 and 300 B.C., not long after Alexander the Great died in 323. Archaeologists are working swiftly to uncover any and all clues in the tomb that may help scholars find out who was buried there.

Ian Worthington, Curators’ Professor of History, is content to wait until more is uncovered, but that didn’t stop National Geographic and a Greek TV news station called Alpha News from contacting him recently to get his expert opinion. So far, archaeologists have found two large marble columns sculpted in the shape of women at the entrance of the tomb’s main room, a pair of carved stone sphinxes, and the faded remnants of an elaborate mosaic floor.

"The finely crafted floor is a clear sign of wealth,” says Worthington.Mosaics were like bling, no ordinary person could afford one and they were meant to show off wealth and taste, so the fact that one was discovered at this tomb shows that the person is either a member of the nobility, or possibly, a member of the royal family.”

Worthington, an expert on Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire, has published many books and articles on the subject. His most recent book, By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire, explains that though Alexander the Great was a phenomenal and victorious general, he was a poor king. After he died, the Macedonian Empire was in shambles and everything his father, Philip II, worked for was ruined.

With history in mind, Worthington doesn’t believe that Alexander the Great was buried in the recently discovered tomb—he was buried in Egypt. But Worthington is entertaining a variety of other theories. He says, “It could be Alexander the Great’s son, Alexander IV, who was murdered. Or, it could be Alexander the Great’s mother, Olympias, or his wife, Roxanne.” Ancient history fans are eager to find out. The uncovered mosaic depicts the figure of a woman, identified by scholars as the goddess Persphone, queen of the underworld. Worthington wonders if this clue indicates that the tomb belonged to a woman or women, in which case Olympias is a good bet.

“This could be a very important find,” says Worthington. “Who knows, it may even rewrite a period of Greek history.” It can be difficult to conduct research on the Macedonian Empire because the evidence is very old and controversial, but the detective research is what makes the process enjoyable for Worthington. “It’s a little bit like being Sherlock Homes,” he says. “And that is great fun.”

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