A Greek archaeologist potentially made one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in decades when he claimed in 2016 that he had found the tomb of one of the most important ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle, during excavations at the site of Stagira in central Macedonia.
Yet, some question the nature of the site and if it really is home to the tomb of the great philosopher despite strong circumstantial evidence.
Greek archaeologist Kostas Sismanidis first announced that the site, which he has been excavating since 1996, was the site of the tomb of Aristotle in 2016 at a conference celebrating 2,400 years since the philosopher’s death.
The location of the tomb, in Stagira, lends credence to the claim, as Aristotle was born there in 384 BC. Although the philosopher died in Chacis, Evia in 322 BC, ancient literary sources indicate that his ashes were brought to Stagira and placed in a tomb there.
Tomb was extravagant, worthy of Aristotle
An extravagant Hellenistic-style domed structure with shining marble floors, the tomb itself is certainly worthy of the great philosopher. Situated just near the town’s agora, the tomb would have had 360-degree views of Stagira.
There is also an altar located just outside of the tomb further indicating that the person laid to rest there was of great significance.
The top of the tomb’s dome reaches 10 meters (33 feet) in height, and there is a square floor surrounding a Byzantine tower that was later constructed at the site.
A semi-circular wall surrounding the tomb stands at two meters (six feet) in height. A pathway leads to the tomb’s entrance for those that wished to pay their respects.
Other findings at the site included ceramics from the royal pottery workshops and fifty coins dating back to the time of Alexander the Great, who was Aristotle’s pupil.
The tomb’s original structure was destroyed by the Byzantines, who built the square tower on top of it.
Considering the tomb’s location, probable date to the Hellenistic period, and sumptuous design, Sismanidis is convinced that he indeed found the tomb of Aristotle.
“I have no hard proof, but strong indications lead me to an almost certainty,” said the Greek archaeologist, who first made the claim of finding Aristotle’s tomb.
Tomb must have belonged to extremely important figure
Through his extensive research, Sismanidis first established that the tomb must have belonged to an important person, one who would deserve such a lavish final resting place.
The fact that multiple ancient sources attest to the fact that Aristotle’s remains were moved from Evia to his place of birth strengthens Sismanidis’ claim.
Additionally, these same sources indicate that an altar was built outside of the tomb of Aristotle. An altar is located just next to the tomb uncovered by the archaeologist.
The town of Stagira gained prominence in the period due to its status as the birthplace of the great philosopher.
Aristotle’s influence on King Philip of Macedon led the Greek leader to rebuild the town in 340 BC after he himself had sacked and destroyed it nearly a decade earlier. It is also likely that residents of Stagira would want to bring Aristotle’s remains back to his place of birth.
Questions about Aristotle’s tomb
Although the circumstantial evidence is strong, many have questioned whether or not the tomb actually belongs to Aristotle or was simply the resting place of a nobleman. They were suspicious of the fact that Sismanidis had been excavating at the site for twenty years before announcing the find.
For his part, the archaeologist claims that the nature of the site suddenly came to him one day after two decades of working on the site. After researching his suspicions, he announced that the site was likely the tomb of the great philosopher.
This was not the only controversy surrounding the site. Sismanidis himself claimed, shortly after announcing his discovery of Aristotle’s tomb, that Greek politicians hoped to create a gold mine in the area where the tomb was found and even tried to stop excavations at the site in the late 90s.
Sisimanidis alleges that the halt in excavations at the site in the 90s was due to political pressure, as those hoping to build gold mines nearby felt that if any significant archaeological discovery were made at the site, it would slow down construction of the mines.