Three inscriptions might have revealed the identity of the individual originally buried in the mysterious mound complex that was opened in northern Greece last summer, Greek archaeologists announced on Wednesday.
During a conference in Thessaloniki, head archaeologist Katerina Peristeri said her team uncovered evidence that the Alexander the Great-era tomb in Amphipolis, east of Thessaloniki, was commissioned and financed by the Macedonian king in honor of his beloved friend and general Hephaestion.
Peristeri added that her team unearthed finds which were marked with the seal of Alexander's architect Deinokrates, suggesting the tomb was likely designed by that architect.
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Further evidence indicated the monument was constructed at the end of the 4th century B.C. by Antigonus I Monophthalmus (Antigonus the one-eyed), who became king of Macedonia in 306 B.C., 17 years after Alexander's death.
"Chances are that this is a funerary heroon (hero worship shrine) dedicated to Hephaestion," Peristeri said.
According to the Greek historian Plutarch (about 46 – 120 A.D.), when Hephaestion died suddenly in Ecbatana, Iran, a devastated Alexander asked his architect to erect shrines across the country to honor his friend.
"We do not know if Hephaestion is buried inside the tomb," Peristeri added.
The discovery of the mysterious tomb created a national frenzy when in August 2014 Peristeri and her team broke through the entrance of the burial mound.
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Dated to between 325 B.C. - two years before Alexander the Great's death - and 300 B.C., the tomb is billed as the largest of its kind in the Greek world, measuring more than 1,600 feet in circumference. Sadly, the monument was thoroughly and repeatedly looted.
Nevertheless, for months archaeologists engaged in an extraordinary exploration that winded through huge decapitated sphinxes, walls guarded by colossal female statues, and floors decorated with stunning mosaics.
In January this year Peristeri's team found bone fragments belonging to at least five individuals who were identified as being a woman, two men, a newborn baby and a cremated adult whose gender could not be verified. Forensic study and DNA analysis are still ongoing.
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The three inscriptions, which Peristeri and her head architect Michalis Lefantzis believe were contracts for the construction of the massive burial, lay more than one mile outside the tomb, in an area where the Lion of Amphipolis, which once topped the monument, was found.
Featuring the monogram of Hephaestion, the inscriptions were decoded to read: "I, Antigonus received construction material for the erection of a monument in honor of Hephaestion."
A Macedonian nobleman and a battlefield general in the army of Alexander, Hephaestion was Alexander's closest friend since childhood. The two were tutored under Aristotle.
Although more than one historian has suggested that the handsome Hephaestion had a physical relationship with his emperor, no contemporary source states that Alexander and Hephaestion were lovers.
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Yet, according to Guy MacLean Rogers, professor of history at Wellesley College and the author of "Alexander: The Ambiguity of Greatness," modern sexual categories like homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual did not exist at the time.
"In ancient Greece, acting upon a desire (sent by the god Eros) for another man or woman, simply did not lock any man or woman into a sexual camp," Rogers wrote.
Whatever the nature of their relationship, when Hephaestion died in Ecbatana (modern Hamadan) in western Iran in October 324 B.C., Alexander mourned his loss by shaving his own hair, not eating for days, executing Hephaestion's doctor, and commissioning an expensive funeral pyre.
Alexander himself would die eight months later, having built an empire that stretched from modern Greece to India.
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Archaeological work at the tomb provoked a heated debate in Greece. At time of the excavation, the now ruling Radical Left SYRIZA party criticized the conservative-led government for exploiting the dig for its own political exposure.
The Greek Ministry of Culture announced in March the Amphipolis site would not receive further funding for excavations, but only a budget for conservation projects.