Follow US:

Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Why were Alexander's Body and Tomb So Important? (PART I)

Difficulty: 0

On the 11th June 323 BC, Alexander the Great passed away. Following his death in Babylon,

his body became a continuing source of war, intrigue and mystery. His body and his tomb

were lost; yet the legend lives on and historians are still trying to uncover clues to their

whereabouts. But how did this all come about? Why did all records of Alexanders tomb

abruptly cease? In this two-part documentary, we shall unravel the history surrounding Alexanders

tomb and attempt to answer this question. This is the story behind Alexanders body

and his tomb. Almost immediately after Alexanders death,

chaos erupted, as the Macedonians quickly began arguing over the fate of the empire,

leaving his body unattended for many days in the Babylonian heat. Legend has it that

upon returning to the corpse, to everyones amazement, they found it in pristine condition

untouched by decay. Perdiccas, the highest-ranking commander in Babylon, then had Alexanders

body embalmed and placed in a golden coffin. For the next two years Alexanders body

remained in Babylon, as Perdiccas and his followers oversaw the construction of a funeral

carriage unlike any other the world had seen. The carriage was designed to resemble a great

temple: it had beautiful Ionic columns encircled by paintings depicting Alexander and his army

and was covered with gold. It was to be pulled by 64 mules, each bearing a golden crown and

bell. Upon its completion, Perdiccas ordered that

Alexanders body to be escorted home to Aegae in Macedoniathe traditional resting

place of the Macedonian Kings. Yet the plan went horribly wrong.

The governor of Egypt Ptolemy was aware of the great wealth and potential of his domain

and soon grew ambitious, eager to get rid of Perdiccascontrol. He believed he might

achieve this by taking possession of Alexanders body, as it was a superhuman talisman representing

authority and legitimacy in this new post-Alexander world. Whoever controlled the body held great

sway. Ptolemy was not deterred by Perdiccasprecautions to keep the body, but he needed

a daring plan. In 321 BC, Alexanders elaborate funeral

cart left Babylon for Macedonia. Yet as the procession was making its way through Syria,

Ptolemy made his move, bribing the escort, seizing the body and diverting it to Egypt,

where he had it housed in Memphisthe traditional Egyptian capital.

Perdiccas was furious, as his authority as regent had been severely tarnished. It was

the opposite for Ptolemy, as Alexanders soldiers came from far and wide to swell the

ranks of his army. Perdiccas immediately marched on Egypt with

his armyhis main aim to regain control of the body and restore his authority. In

the ensuing war, covered in our documentary which you can see here, Ptolemy emerged victorious

and Perdiccas was murdered. Alexanders body was now securely in Ptolemys possession.

He quickly began proclaiming the link between himself and Alexander, becoming the first

of the Diadochi to put Alexanders image on his coinage, and emphasising that he was

a favourite of Alexander in his account on the conquest of Asia.

Ptolemy also cultivated a local legend of Alexander. Rather than being the son of Philip

of Macedon, Egyptian tales soon became widespread that Alexander was the son of the last Egyptian

pharaoh Nectanebo II. In 343 BC, the Persians had deposed Nectanebo, who had then died in

exile. His pre-made sarcophagus in Memphis had therefore remained empty. It is likely

Ptolemy had first placed Alexander in this empty coffin and it was from here that this

fabulous story took root. A pharaoh of Egypt could only be legitimate if he was related

to his predecessor, so this tale helped portray Alexander as Nectanebos rightful heir.

It also established a connection between the Macedonian and Egyptian dynastiesa connection

that only helped Ptolemys cause. At the same time, Ptolemy began spreading

the rumour that he was in fact an illegitimate son of Philip II and thus the half-brother

of Alexander. Both stories spread rapidly and helped Ptolemy secure his rule in Egypt

thanks in good measure to his clever use of Alexanders body.

Following the climactic battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, Ptolemy had Alexanders body moved

to the centre of his new capital at Alexandria and placed in a new, elaborate tomb. The city

had been founded by Alexander back in 331 BC but had only recently been completed. Immediately,

Ptolemy set about promoting Alexander adulation. Not only did he have Alexander publicly honoured

as the founder of Alexandria, but he also introduced a state cult of Alexander throughout

Egypt. His statues were erected far and wide while processions and festivals centred around

the great conqueror also appeared. In 283 BC, Ptolemy I passed away. For the

next 150 years Ptolemys descendants would rule Egypt, and the memory of the great king

was crucial for their dynasty. Almost immediately after his fathers death,

Ptolemy II Philadelphus, had him deified and worshipped alongside Alexander. The message

was clear: in both life and death these two kings were inseparable. Philadelphus also

created a new religious festival in honour of his father: the Ptolemaia. Hosted every

four years this festival attracted many thousands of visitors not only from Egypt, but all around

the Greek World. Fortunately for us, a description of the Ptolemaia

staged in 275-274 BC survives. Dubbed, ‘the Grand Procession of Ptolemy Philadelphus’,

It was an EXTREMELY lavish parade through the centre of Alexandria. Soldiers, animals,

gems, gold and images of Godsespecially Dionysios - all featured, emphasising the

unbounded wealth, splendour and power of Ptolemaic Egypt.

Alexander was central to the procession. First, his statue appeared on top of a great float

accompanied by another statue of the now-deified Ptolemy I - both wearing gold diadems of ivy

leaves. Following this came a golden statue of Alexander in a chariot, towed by four elephants

and surrounded by statues of the Gods. This procession reminded the onlookers not only

that Alexandria was the home of Alexanders body but also of the inseparable link between

it and the Ptolemies. Desiring to further emphasise this link Ptolemy

IVPhilopator’, placed Alexanders body in a new royal burial complex in c. 215

BC. It soon became known as theSomaor the bodynamed after its main exhibit.

This new mausoleum was almost certainly visually majesticperhaps inspired by the famed

tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus. The complex may also have been circular, in its turn possibly

inspiring the great tombs of the Roman emperors Augustus and Hadrian. Inside the enclosure,

Alexanders body was placed in an underground chamber along with remains of the Ptolemies,

once again emphasising the closest possible link between the Ptolemies and Alexander.

The Soma soon became an iconic feature of Alexandria. From far and wide, visitors would

journey to Alexanders city and see his marvellous tomb. It was a place of pagan pilgrimage.

Still, no dynasty can last forever and by the beginning of the First Century BC, the

Ptolemaic dynasty had become a shadow of its former power. So great was its turmoil that

in 89 BC King Ptolemy X had done the unthinkable: in desperate need of money to pay his mercenaries,

he melted down Alexanders golden sarcophagus, replacing it with one made of glass. Regardless,

Ptolemaic power continued to dwindle and within 70 years, a new power would be ruling Alexandria.

A power that also had a keen interest in Alexanders tombbut for very different reasons: Rome.

The second video on the story behind Alexanders tomb and his body will we released soon, so

make sure you are subscribed to our channel and pressed the bell button. We would like

to express our gratitude to our Patreon supporters and channel members, who make the creation

of our videos possible. This is the Kings and Generals channel, and we will catch you

on the next one.

The Description of Why were Alexander's Body and Tomb So Important? (PART I)