The tumulus Kasta is a well known monument located north of Amphipolis in eastern Macedon.
It had been endowed with 4 rooms – the first three leading to the fourth room which was the proper burial chamber – characterized by a lavish sculptural decoration, which included monumental Sphinxes and two female figural supports of the entablature.
In the third room there is a floor pebble mosaic representing the kidnapping of Persephone. The upper internal cornice of this room had a painted frieze.
This complex is dated by archaeological material in the late 4th c. BC, probably around 320 BC.
Its primary function was to serve as a funerary monument for a very prominent leader of the time. Epigraphic evidence would lend support to the identification of this leader as Hephaestion, the hetairos beloved by Alexander, who died in 324 BC. The tumulus may have been – or became – also a center for divination.
The painted frieze of room 3 has been restituted at least for large section by Dr. Michalis Lefantzis, whom I thank for our frequent dialogues on the matter.
After a possible Sphinx on a column, the frieze portrayed two Centaurs in heralding positions toward a large bull in the middle, then two boats carrying Nikai and tripods. These scenes might be followed by an ekphora of a kline of a dead hero, then a tower appears, after which a standing man with a kausia is represented, followed by a pyramid. Knights are represented afterwards, and perhaps pezetairoi, another scene probably represents the apotheosis of the deceased hero, finally gods may be represented as well as a frieze of weapons.
The most logical explanation is that this frieze represents the expedition of Alexander: this is the only plausible explanation which justifies the presence of a pyramid.
The tripods on boats would suggest that this victorious enterprise (see the Nikai) was carried on with the blessing of Apollo Delphicus.
The pattern of the tripods on boats derives from the myth of the Argonauts: as we know from Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 4. 529-533 and 1547-1550, Jason got from Apollo at Delphi two large tripods which he carried on the boat Argo, as guarantee of the protection of Apollo on his enterprise.
However the same shape of the boats of the painted frieze at Kasta is very similar to that of the Argo boat, as it was visualized in the late 4th c. BC.
As an example, I forward the cist (θηκη) of the excellent Roman engraver Novios Plautios found at Praeneste near Rome, dated around 330-320 BC and kept in Rome, in the Museum of Villa Giulia.
As it has been widely recognized, Novios Plautios took inspiration for his incised drawing of the victory of the Argonauts upon king Amykos from a well known Greek picture with the same subject. However there is disagreement about which Greek original is followed by Novios Plautios and I believe this problem is destined to remain open at the moment.
The relation of the theme of the Argonauts to the function of this cist is also unclear: the cist was a θηκη for jewelries, a gift of a noble lady of Praeneste to her daughter, probably in the occasion of the wedding of the latter. Perhaps the romantic love story of Medea and Jason was regarded a good omen for this marriage.
In any case, the boat Argo represented on this θηκη is very similar to the boats of the painted frieze at Kasta.
Why? The most logical interpretation looks to me the following: The cultural circle around Alexander imposed the interpretation of the new expedition not only as a new Trojan war but also as a new enterprise toward the gold fleece. In both cases, the expeditions were blessed by Apollo Delphicus, in both cases Greek semigods (the Dioscuri, Herakles, Orpheus, etc. were Argonauts) defeated eastern barbarians, in both cases the leader of the army not only prevailed upon the world of Asia, but also married the daughter of an Asiatic ruler, finally in both cases Greek heroes took possess of the fabulous gold of the east.
This assimilation of the new victory to the old one may have been adopted at Amphipolis also because Orpheus – the symbol of the spiritual and religious life of this region – was one of the Argonauts.