Antonio Corso: Review of M. Traugott Huber, Pharaoh Alexander the Great. His Tomb, his Sarcophagus, and his Mummy, Nordestedt (2019)

This book is composed of the following sections: a first chapter devoted to the Kasta tumulus near Amphipolis (pp. 9-131); a second one concerning the sarcophagus of Abalonymus now at Constantinople (pp. 133-176) and a third one focusing Alexander’s burials in Egypt, first at Memphis, then at Alexandria (pp. 177-238). The book is provided with conclusions (pp. 239-242) and appendixes about the tombs at Vergina (on line), the sarcophagus of Abdalonymus (pp. 244-252), the ancient topography of Alexandria (on line) and the Egyptian identity of the Ptolemaic world (pp. 254-262).

Concerning Kasta, the author claims there are two main phases: of the late 4th c. BC, when the external analemma of the tumulus, the lion on top of it, the walls of the sequence of rooms and the Sphinxes have been made. In his opinion this construction had been prepared for the burial of Alexander but was left unfinished. He believes that the pebble mosaic with the kidnapping of Kore is pertinent to a second phase to be dated in the advanced 3rd c. BC and promoted by Antigonus II as tomb of his wife Phila III. The supposed date of the mosaic is due to his thought that the blue pebbles of this mosaic have been coloured with Egyptian blue and that the Egyptian blue was not imported to Macedonia before the 270s.

He also believes that the Korai of Kasta, called by him ‘Caryatids’, should pertain to this second phase because they wear indented sandals and he still believes Morrow’s claim that indented soles became fashionable only after 300 BC.
It has to be specified that the author appears to have never seen Kasta with his own eyes. His assessment of the evidence is thus prone to mistakes, because no photo can substitute the direct study of a monument.

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In particular, there are 4 serious mistales which make this study not scientific:

1. He claims that the tumulus had no façade. Thus he clearly ignores that there was a propylon in front of the tumulus. Dr. Lefantzis found several blocks of this propylon and presented this discovery in lectures and newspapers from 2016 onwards. This propylon was endowed with sculptures and a preliminary article by myself has been published about this propylon (Sculptures from the Propylon of the Kasta Tumulus near Amphipolis. Македония – Рим – Византия: искусство Северной Греции от античности до средних веков. Материалы научной конференции = Macedonian – Roman – Byzantine: The Art of Northern Greece from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Proceedings of the conference. (Series: Труды исторического факултьета МГУ = Works of the Faculty of History, MSU, 109). Ed. by Nalimova N., Kisbali T., Zakharova A. Moscow: KDU; Universitetskaya kniga (2017) pp. 54-66, also in Academia.edu).

2. I saw the pebble mosaic with my own eyes and I can guarantee that the colour of the blue pebbles is not the Egyptian blue but a darker one, probably to be identified with the dark colour which was one of the four colours of the tetrachromatism, which was trendy in late classical times. This blue is a concern in the De coloribus attributed to Aristotle. Thus this mosaic is also late 4th c. BC.

3. The very low chronology of indented sandals given by Morrow is no longer tenable, because there are several examples of indented sandals in the 4th c. BC: the Hermes of Praxiteles wore indented sandals as well as a statuette of Artemis from Paros dated around 360 BC by its inscription, the sculpture no. 228 in Waywell’s catalogue from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, around 350 BC, another example from Elis (whose date is argued from its archaeological stratigraphy) etc. This conclusion has been evidenced by Froning, Heide, Die Sandale des Hermes des Praxiteles in Olympia, Πότνια Θηρών : Festschrift für Gerda Schwarz zum 65. Geburtstag / herausgegeben von Eva Christof, Wien : Phoibos (2007) pp. 95-101. Finally the Macedonian dignitaries painted on the tomb of Agios Athanasios (late 4th c. BC) also wear indented sandals.

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Thus there is no reason to downdate the Korai of Kasta. Their stylistic features are consistent with a date in the late 4th c. BC, as I demonstrated in my article The Sculptures of the tumulus Kasta near Amphipolis, Journal of Intercultural and Interdisciplinar Archaeology 2 (2015) 193-222.

4. Finally, the author claims that a relief fragment with the representation of a warrior with large round shield and horse in front of a tree with a snake coiling around, found on Kasta, may be pertinent to a near tomb, not to our tumulus. He clearly ignores that this fragment attaches with another fragment of the same frieze from Amphipolis now at Kavalla and that even this acquisition has been published (see A. Corso, ‘Aetion, artist of the age of Alexander’, Actual Problems of Theory and History of Art 7 (2017) 103-109 and 742, also in Academia.edu).

In conclusion, the competence of the author about Kasta is far from desirable and his conclusions are not reliable.

Regarding the sarcophagus of Abdalonymus, he supposes that the sarcophagus had been prepared for Alexander the Great and that the king of Sidon appropriated it. I find unbelievable that a very minor ruler dared to do such a thing and I do not buy this conclusion.

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Regarding the corpse of Alexander in Egypt, he reconstructs the details of the permanence of Alexander’s body at Memphis and then at Alexandria. He suggests that the sarcophagus of Nectanebo II was reused for the body of Alexander and that the Starshield block now in Venice may have been pertinent to the definitive burial in the Soma of Alexandria. This part of the book is persuasive, the author has a noteworthy competence on Egyptian matters.

In the on line appendix about the tombs at Vergina, he claims that tomb II – ‘Philip II tomb’ – was the tomb of Arrhidaeus but he is not convincing. Cynane who, according to ancient authors was buried with her daughter and son-in-law has not been found in this tomb and the female skeleton retrieved does not fit the age of Euridyce, wife of Arrhidaeus.

The second appendix is an interpretation of the imagery of the sarcophagus of Abdalonymus.

In the third and fourth appendixes the author reveals a good command of the considered, Egyptian matters.

In conclusion, the book is convincing regarding the corpse of Alexander in Egypt, but is really bad in the sections concerning Kasta, Sidon and Vergina and his conclusions asserted in the latter sections are just not scientific. It should be used with great care.

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