The location of the tomb of Alexander the Great is one of the greatest mysteries in history. Theories abound, with the most consistent being that the King of Macedonia is buried in Alexandria, the city in Egypt that he founded.
Now a Cambridge University history professor says that the tomb of Alexander the Great is definitely buried there, dismissing multiple theories that the remains of the great general had been transferred elsewhere.
In fact, he says there are four possible locations of the remains in the Egyptian city.
Professor Paul Cartledge claims that Alexandria is the only city in which Alexander the Great could possibly have been buried. Furthermore, his remains have never since been moved from there.
“He died in Babylon. That much is undisputed,” the professor says in a “History Extra” website podcast. “His corpse was mummified so that it could be transported back ultimately to the capital of Macedonia, a place called Pella in northern Greece.
“But as it was passing Damascus in Syria, one of his successor rulers, future King Ptolemy I of Egypt, interrupted the procession when he grabbed the coffin and hijacked the corpse. He took it to what was then his capital, which was Memphis,” Cartledge relates.
Memphis is the old capital of Egypt, the first city Alexander and his army conquered from the Persians in 332 BC. He was the one who designated Alexandria as the new capital of the country.
“So, when Alexandria was built, Alexander’s corpse was transferred from Memphis to Alexandria and given a fantastic burial in a great ceremony. His body was at some point put into a fancy surround – glass was put over the tomb so you could actually look at the mummified corpse, like Lenin’s body in the Kremlin (first placed there in the 1920s)” the professor says.
“It was still there when the first Roman emperor, Augustus, came to pay his respects after his own conquest of Egypt in 30 BC. And that’s the last we know for sure of where Alexander’s body was,” Cartledge notes.
The history professor expresses what he believes is the certainty that the mummified body of the king was buried somewhere in Alexandria. The area where the Ptolemies’ palace was — and a possible location for the tomb — is now under water, and therefore not easily accessible.
Theories about Alexander’s burial place
“There are devotees who think that they can identify the burial place of Alexander,” Cartledge says in the podcast. “One of them is a mosque, the Nabi Daniel mosque in Alexandria. It’s a suitable sort of place with a deep basement, because the original burial level of Alexander’s corpse would have been well below the current street level of the city. But no more can be said than that.”
Another theory places Alexander’s remains in Venice, at the city’s St. Mark’s Cathedral specifically. This, however, is a far-fetched theory according to which when the Arabs took over Alexandria, they wanted to remove anything pre-Islamic, so the tomb of Alexander — who had been worshipped as a god — would have to go.
Alexandria also was the last resting place of Mark, one of the four Christian Gospel writers, who happens to be Venice’s patron saint.
Cartledge said “So one enthusiast has – utterly implausibly, I would argue – suggested that, when the Venetians, looking for the relics of St. Mark, went to Alexandria and dug up what they took to be St. Mark’s relics (which they then reburied under St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice), what they also actually dug up were the remains of Alexander the Great. Hence this notion that he’s underneath St. Mark’s.”
Another theory focuses on a famous oasis called Siwa, located about 250 kilometers (155 miles) west of Alexandria on the border with Libya.
The professor strongly believes that Alexander liked that place a great deal. “Why would he have made a long and dangerous side-trip to a site with no military significance whatsoever, when he had yet to defeat the Persian emperor?” he asks.
According to a Greek scholar, Alexander’s remains, after being buried in Alexandria for some time, were then transported to Siwa, his favorite place.
There was a shrine there devoted to the chief Egyptian God Amun, whom the Greeks called Ammon and equated with their god Zeus.
This is just another reason why the Greek historian believes that Alexander is buried there, but Cartledge admits there is no real evidence to support this theory.
For centuries now, the discovery of the tomb of Alexander the Great has remained the Holy Grail for archaeologists worldwide.