Alexander's posthumous adventures were far from over. Ptolemy II Philadelphos (293-246 B.C.), the son and successor of Ptolemy I Soter, transported the body of Alexander from Memphis to Alexandria, the capital of his kingdom. The ancient authors are very clear on this last point: Alexander was buried for the last time in Alexandria. A cult of Alexander-Ktistes (= founder of the city) developed in the area of his tomb which was henceforth referred to as "Sema" or "Soma," which in ancient Greek meant "the Body." The term "Sema" was not restricted to the actual location of the tomb of the Macedonian conqueror, but gave its name to the entire district around it. Several ancient authors mention a district of Sema in Alexandria, among whom are Achilles Tatius (3rd century A.D.); Zenobius (2nd century A.D.) who places the district and the tomb in the middle of the city of Alexandria; Strabo (1st century B.C./1st century A.D.); Lucian (2nd century A.D.); Suetonius (2nd century A.D.); and Pseudo-Kallisthenes (3.34).

The cult of Alexander in his capacity as Ktistes (= founder) of the city of Alexandria is mentioned by many sources. The Ptolemies of Egypt not only encouraged the public fascination with the Macedonian conqueror; they also tried to incorporate their own ruler cult to Alexander's. Already in the early third century B.C. Ptolemy I Soter spread rumours, according to which he himself was not the son of Lagos, but the illegitimate son of Philip II and therefore Alexander's half-brother and legal successor. Our interested reader can track down all ancient reports on this aspect of the Ptolemaic propaganda in P. M. Fraser, Ptolemaic Alexandria, Vol. I, p. 215 ff. Ptolemy I was deified after his death and worshipped together with Alexander the Great, according to ancient reports. Their statues were prominently displayed, among other places, in the Great Parade which opened the Ptolemaia Festival, a celebration that was founded by Ptolemy II in honor of his deceased father Ptolemy I in 283 B.C. (cf. Kallixeinos [3rd century B.C.] in Athenaios, Deipnosophists, 201 D; Ellen Rice, The Grand Procession of Ptolemy Philadelphus, [Oxford, 1981)].

The tomb of Alexander the Great in Alexandria, where his body probably lay in public display, was visited in antiquity by important personalities, scholars, and common tourists alike. We hear that Alexander's mummy was originally laid to rest in a gold sarcophagus. It was king Ptolemy IX (116-107, 87-81 B.C.), one of the worst successors of Ptolemy I, who replaced Alexander's sarcophagus with a glass one, and who melted the original down in order to strike emergency gold issues of his coinage. This report is related by Strabo (17. C 794), who visited Alexander's tomb himself in the first century A.D. The subsequent mismanagement of Egyptian affairs by Ptolemy IX's successors, as well as the economic collapse of the kingdom, caused by an incompetent administration, made it impossible for the Ptolemies to restore Alexander's gold sarcophagus. Diodoros from Sicily visited Alexandria and Alexander in ca. 60 B.C. and has preserved an exciting description of the tomb for posterity (18.26.3; 28.2-4).

Alexander's illustrious visitors included Julius Caesar who visited Alexandria in 45 B.C. and went to pay his respects to the legend that he idolized. Caesar's visit is described by Suetonius (Caesar, VII) and Lucian (X.19), both of whom lived in the second century A.D. When Augustus defeated Marc Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 B.C. and subsequently conquered Alexandria in 30 B.C., he was taken to see Alexander on whose body he dedicated a wreath. Augustus's guides offered to take him next to the tombs of the Ptolemaic dynasty which were located nearby. To that Augustus answered that he came to see a king and not dead people (Dio Cassius, Roman History, 51; 2nd-3rd centuries A.D.). Dio includes an apocryphal anecdote in his report of Augustus's visit to Alexander: As he bent over to kiss the great conqueror, Augustus accidentally broke Alexander's nose.

Several other Roman emperors reportedly visited the tomb of Alexander in Alexandria: Caligula, according to Dio, went to Alexandria, paid a visit to the Sema and left with Alexander's cuirass (Xiphilinus, Epitome of Dio's Roman History). Septimus Severus (early third century A.D.) eventually closed the tomb to the public because he was nervous about its safety under the hoards of tourists who rushed to visit. The last reported imperial visit that we know of was made by Caracalla (3rd century A.D.), who believed that he was Alexander's reincarnation. This emperor reportedly dedicated a treasure of offerings to the body of Alexander, among which was a mantle, rings, and other jewelry. This last visit was reported by the historians Herodian (Tes Meta Markou Basileias Historion Biblia 4, 8) and Ioannes Antiocheus (ca. 108-238 A.D.). In the Early Christian period, people appear to have had knowledge of Alexander's burial in Alexandria, as is evident from the depiction of Saint Sisois on icons in front of Alexander's corpse contemplating the tragedy of human mortality.

In conclusion then, there is ample reliable evidence to suggest thatAlexander was in fact laid to rest in Alexandria. There are reports on the location of the tomb and on its visitors from the Hellenistic to the Late Roman period. Some of these authors, like Diodoros and Strabo, visited the tomb themselves. No ancient source suggests that Alexander was ever buried at the Ammoneion of the Libyan desert in modern-day Siwa. To argue otherwise and initiate endlessspeculation based on no evidence whatsoever, is only counter-productive. It is our fond hope that we have been able to present our readers with a solid and unbiased account of all the information that is furnished by the primary sources.

Copyright © Hellenic Electronic Center and
Elizabeth Kosmetatou (author), 1998. All rights reserved.

Alexander lifetime silver tetradrachm.

Obverse: Head
of young Heracles
with lion skin.

Reverse: Seated Zeus holding eagle
and legend: ALEXANDROU.

American Private Collection

Heads of deified Ptolemy I Soter and his wife Berenice with the legend: THEON.

Reverse of silver tetradrachm struck by Ptolemy II Philadelphos (281 ­ 246 B.C.)

American Private Collection.

Tentative
three-dimensional reconstruction
of Alexander the Great's funerary cart by Stella Miller based on the descriptions of ancient authors.

Courtesy of Stella Miller.