If a Greek archaeologist is correct, the tomb belonging to Olympias, Alexander the Great’s mother, may have been found in Korinos Pieria, in central Macedonia.
The possible discovery of the long-sought tomb of the greatest of Greece’s historic generals and conquerors was brought to light this week by the television show “Hour of Greece” shown on OPEN TV.
Professor Athanasios Bidas presented his findings to interviewers from Greece’s Open Channel from Korinos Pieria, where he believes he has located the coveted spot where Alexander’s mother, who was the wife of Philip II, was entombed.
After her son’s death in the middle of his Asian campaign, Olympias fought on behalf of his son Alexander IV, successfully defeating Adea Eurydice. After Olympias was finally defeated by Cassander, his armies refused to execute her; he finally had to summon family members of those Olympias had previously had killed to end her life.
According to Bidas, he has uncovered the largest Macedonian tomb that has been discovered to date. It is 22 meters (72 feet) long, which undoubtedly denotes that an extremely important person was buried within it — either a king (or queen) or war hero.
Bidas told interviewers that he believes that the tomb belongs to a woman — and an extraordinary one at that. “Opposite is the tomb of General Neoptolemus, who was a relative of Olympias. Also, three tomb inscriptions were found which refer to Aiakides, the family that lived here. One inscription mentions the tomb of Olympiada,” the professor states.
Alexander the Great’s mother was fearsome woman in her own right
Olympias was the eldest daughter of Neoptolemus I, king of the Molossians, an ancient Greek tribe in Epirus, and sister of Alexander I. Her family belonged to the Aeacidae, a well-respected family of Epirus, which claimed descent from Neoptolemus, son of Achilles.
Apparently, she was originally named Polyxena, as Plutarch mentions in his work Moralia, and changed her name to Myrtale prior to her marriage to Philip II of Macedon as part of her initiation into an unknown mystery cult.
The name Olympias was the third of four names by which she was known. She probably took it as a recognition of Philip’s victory in the Olympic Games of 356 BC, the news of which coincided with Alexander’s birth (Plut. Alexander 3.8).
She was finally named Stratonice, which was probably an epithet attached to Olympias following her victory over Eurydice in 317 BC
An arranged, political marriage between Olympias and Philip of Macedon took place in 357 BC. This made Olympias the queen consort of Macedonia, and Philip the king. Philip had allegedly fallen in love with Olympias when both were initiated into the mysteries of Cabeiri at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, on the island of Samothrace, though their marriage was largely political in nature.
According to primary sources, their marriage was very stormy due to Philip’s volatility and Olympias’ ambition and alleged jealousy, which led to their growing estrangement. Things got much more tumultuous in 337 BC when Philip married a noble Macedonian woman, Cleopatra, the niece of Attalus, who was given the name Eurydice by Philip.
At a gathering after the marriage, Philip failed to defend Alexander’s claim to the Macedonian throne when Attalus threatened his legitimacy, causing great tensions between Philip, Olympias, and Alexander.
In 336 BC, Philip cemented his ties to Alexander I of Epirus by offering him the hand of his and Olympias’ daughter Cleopatra in marriage, a fact that led Olympias to further isolation as she could no longer count on her brother’s support. However, Philip was murdered by Pausanias, a member of Philip’s “somatophylakes,” or personal bodyguard, while attending the wedding, and Olympias, who returned to Macedonia, was suspected of having countenanced his assassination.
After Alexander the Great’s death in Babylon in 323 BC, his wife Roxana gave birth to their son, named Alexander IV. He and his uncle, Philip III Arrhidaeus, the half brother of Alexander the Great, who may have been disabled, were subject to the regency of Perdiccas, who tried to strengthen his position through a marriage with Antipater’s daughter Nicaea.
At the same time, Olympias offered Perdiccas the hand of her and Philip’s daughter, Cleopatra. Perdiccas chose Cleopatra, which angered Antipater, who allied himself with several other Diadochi, deposed Perdiccas, and was declared regent, only to die within the year.
Polyperchon succeeded Antipater in 319 BC as regent, but Antipater’s son Cassander established Philip II’s son Philip III (Arrhidaeus) as king and forced Polyperchon out of Macedonia. He fled to Epirus, taking Roxana and her son Alexander IV with him, who had previously been left in the care of Alexander the Great’s mother.
At the beginning, Olympias had not been involved in this conflict, but she soon realized that in the case of Cassander’s rule, her grandson would lose the crown, so she allied with Polyperchon in 317 BC. The Macedonian soldiers supported her return and the united armies of Polyperchon and Olympias, with the house of Aeacides, invaded Macedonia to drive Cassander out from power.
After winning in battle by convincing the army of Adea Eurydice, the wife of Philip III, to side with her own, Olympias captured and executed the two in October 317 BC. She also captured Cassander’s brother and one hundred of his partisans.
Cassander soon blockaded and besieged Olympias in Pydna and one of the terms of the capitulation had been that Olympias’s life would be saved, but Cassander had decided to execute her, sparing only temporarily the lives of Roxana and Alexander IV (they were executed a few years later in 309 BC).
When the fortress of Pydna fell, Cassander ordered Olympias killed, but the soldiers refused to harm the mother of Alexander the Great. In the end, the families of her many victims stoned her to death with the approval of Cassander, who is also said to have denied to her body the rites of burial.
No one knows for sure if this was the case, or if she was secretly buried with full honors due to her by her followers. According to the 1st century AD biographer, Plutarch, she had been a devout member of the orgiastic snake-worshiping cult of Dionysus, and he suggests that she had slept with snakes in her bed.
Intriguingly, Bidas discovered a relief sculpture of a snake inside the tomb.
Ancient sources state that the god Ammon Zeus, transformed into a serpent, was known to visit the bedroom of Olympias, who often proclaimed that Alexander the Great was the son of Ammon Zeus — and not the mortal Philip.
According to a report from ethnos.gr, the archaeologist states, however, that further studies on the part of the scientific community will have to take place before the tomb is officially designated as be that of Olympias.