Buried beneath a large mound located in the village of Vergina in northern Greece, an archaeological excavation carried out in 1977 by Greek archaeologists Manolis Andronikos uncovered a spectacular tomb holding the remains of ancient Macedonian royalty.
The historically important tomb has been the subject of intense debate ever since, dividing archaeologists over whose cremated remains were housed inside two golden caskets – Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, and one of his wives; or Philip III Arrhidaeus, Alexander’s half-brother, who assumed the throne after Alexander’s death, with his wife Eurydice. Discovery News reports that finally, the most detailed and extensive study ever conducted on the remains have settled the decades-old argument, confirming the bones indeed belong to the Macedonian King Philip II.
The ‘Great Tumulus’, as it came to be known, was found to contain three primary burial sites. Tomb I, which was looted, contained fragmentary human remains believed to belong to three individuals. Tomb II, around which the debate is centred, contained relatively complete cremated remains of a male, which had been placed within a golden chest/larnax bearing an embossed starburst, the emblem of the Macedonian royal family, and the remains of a female in the antechamber, wrapped in a golden-purple cloth with a golden diadem. Also within the burial were a gilded silver diadem, an iron helmet, an elaborate ceremonial shield, an iron and gold cuirass, and two small ivory portrait heads believed to represent Philip II and Alexander. Tomb III contained a number of silver vessels and a silver funerary urn with the bones of a young male, believed to be Alexander IV of Macedon, son of Alexander the Great.
Numerous studies have been published concerning the relatively intact human remains found in the 24-carat gold casket in Tomb II. A study published in the journal Science in 2000, for example, concluded that the remains could not be Philip II as they did not bear traces of injuries that Philip supposedly suffered during his lifetime. Then, a study released in 2010, conversely state that the remains must be Philip II as a notch in the eye socket is consistent with a battle wound received by Philip II years before he died.
To settle the score once and for all, an extensive anthropological investigation was launched to fully analyse more than 350 bones and fragments found in the two golden caskets. The research team, led by anthropologist Theodore Antikas, utilized X-ray computed tomography, scanning electron microscopy, and X-ray fluorescence, to uncover any pathologies, activity markers, or trauma that could lead to the identification of the remains.
The results revealed features in the bones not previously seen or recorded. Antikas explained that the skull showed signs of sinusitis, which may have been caused by an old facial trauma, such as the arrow that is known to have hit and blinded Philip II at the siege of Methone in 354 BC. Furthermore, there are signs of chronic pathology on the surface of several ribs, which are believed to be linked to Philip’s trauma when he was struck with a lance in around 345 BC. Finally, the bones reflect a fully-fleshed cremation, which disproves the theory that the remains belong to Philip III Arrhidaeus, who had been buried for some time before being exhumed and cremated.
The analysis also revealed that the remains of the female in the antechamber are consistent with a female warrior and horse-rider, aged 30 to 34. This rules out the wife of Philip III Arrhidaeus, who was under 25. Furthermore, a fracture in her left leg causing leg shortening explains the presence of a pair of Scythian greaves, in which the left side is shorter than the right. This indicates the Scythian weaponry and armour must have belonged to the female occupant of the tomb. Antikas told Discovery News that “No Macedonian King other than Philip II is known to have had relations with a Scythian.”
Philip II was the 18th king of Macedonia (359–336 BC). He restored internal peace to his country and gained domination over all Greece by military and diplomatic means, thus laying the foundations for its expansion under his son Alexander III the Great. Philip II is described as a powerful king with a complicated love life. He married between five and seven women, causing confusion over the line of succession. In 336 BC, Philip II was assassinated at a celebration of his daughter’s wedding, perhaps at the behest of a former wife, Olympias. Alexander the Great succeeded his father as king.