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Book Review - Unearthing the Family of Alexander the Great by David Grant
Author: Petros Koutoupis
Originally published by Ancient Origins (13 December, 2019), but revised.
A history steeped in both ancient and modern controversy...
As the book’s title implies, Unearthing the Family of Alexander the Great: The Remarkable Discovery of the Royal Tombs of Macedon provides readers with a complete guide to the history of not only Alexander the Great’s family but also the discovery of their tombs. With a Masters Degree in ancient history, researcher, David Grant sets out on a quest to dig deeper into the infamous Vergina tombs said to contain the remains of King Philip II and more. This publication serves as a proper sequel to his earlier work, In Search of the Lost Testament of Alexander the Great.
Four tombs and a shrine lay hidden under the Great Tumulus at Vergina (in Northern Greece) and even after their discovery, over 2300 years later, scholars are still perplexed by the evidence. To whom does each tomb belong? In 1977, Professor Manolis Andronikos made the discovery of a lifetime in what is now considered Tomb II and shortly thereafter, dubbed it the tomb of Philip II; that is, the assassinated father of Alexander the Great. But is this accurate?
I immensely enjoy reading the works of David Grant. His research is always extremely thorough and very well written. His presentation of the facts always seem to be very fluid and easy to follow, that is, the reader is able to follow along and consume the data given with ease. While this publication may be categorized as non-fiction history, I must admit that I do get the feeling that it should be considered part mystery and part drama as well.
In between narrating the discoveries of the tombs and its occupants, the author fills in the many historical gaps by illustrating a vivid and colorful picture of a time when kingdoms and empires were forged and extended across regions unknown to the “civilized” Greek world. We are told of the many influences, inspirations and links adopted from neighboring nations. The latter of which has helped to reduce the timeframe of the discovered tombs (more specifically Tomb II on the Vergina mound to the 4th century BCE and around the time of Philip II.
Although, what has been most baffling are the material evidence such as the bow-and-arrow quiver (the gorytoi) of Scythian design found in the antechamber of Tomb II, which has also been discovered in Russia and dates to the 4th century. It was originally speculated that the antechamber contained the remnants of the bones of a woman, likely to be that of Cleopatra, the last wife of Philip II. However, with such a find, that puts the identity of our mysterious woman back into question. The lack of jewelry and the presence of the gorytoi suggest that she had some sort of connection with the Scythian or Amazonians tribes of the East. This is one of many examples where the author begins to shine by bridging those gaps mentioned earlier and provides the reader with enough detail to understand such connections between the Greek world and the “barbaric” Scythian / Amazonian world.
We delve deeper into the mind of Philip II, his dealings with foreign nations and the important role he played to ensure the security and preservation of the then great nation of Macedon. We get a sense of the political climates before, during and after his reign. The author highlights the constant turmoil plaguing the house of the Argeads filled with violence, betrayal and of course, vengeance.
The turmoil is not limited to the past. The fight over the tomb’s occupants continue to rage to this very day. With constant claims, rebuttals and accusations. Limited funding for further and more modern analysis has continued to deprive us from obtaining our answers.
Was the antechamber part of the original construction? If not, what association did the female found in the antechamber have to the male found in the main chamber? If the bones found in Tomb II did not belong to Philip II, then whose bones are they? Are they part of the Argead bloodline? Was Philip II buried in Tomb I instead? With his up-to-date research, David Grant touches on these very questions and helps to bring more clarity into this mysterious, yet exciting subject.
You can purchase a copy of Unearthing the Family of Alexander the Great at Amazon.