The information that Alexander the Great allegedly asked at his deathbed to be buried at the Ammoneion of the Libyan Oasis in modern-day Siwa, is mentioned by the later historians Diodoros (18.3.5), Curtius Rufus (10.5.4), and Justin (12. 15.7). Bosworth, a modern historian, has suggested that Diodoros who did not name his source for his account of Alexander's death and burial, probably drew his information from the History of Hieronymos of Kardia (late 4th century B.C.; see above). Although there are no surviving reports from historians who were eye-witnesses of the last days of Alexander, it is not improbable that Alexander did in fact wish to be buried in Egypt. One should not forget, however, that modern historians have made an equally plausible and attractive case, according to which, Alexander wished to be buried at Aigai with his predecessors.

Alexander's Empire at its largest, in 323 B.C.

But let us take a look at the facts. On his deathbed, Alexander allegedly gave his ring to his general Perdikkas, thereby appointing him regent of his huge empire until queen Roxane gave birth to their child. Roxane eventually did indeed give birth to a son, Alexander IV, who stood to inherit his father's territories. Alexander the Great's generals had different plans, however, and aimed at promoting their own interests for succession. Very early on, they openly challenged the legitimation of Alexander IV's designation as heir of his father. Our readers will surely be familiar with the way the Greeks viewed all non-Greeks whom they called "Barbarians." And Alexander IV was, after all, half-Bactrian, half-Greek. The years from 323 to 301 B.C. saw endless conflicts among Alexander the Great's successors which ended with the parceling out of the Macedonian conqueror's empire and the creation of the first Hellenistic kingdoms. During these turbulent years, Alexander IV and his mother Roxane were assassinated by Cassander who then usurped the throne of Macedonia and married Thessaloniki, Alexander the Great's sister in order to legitimize his power.

In the struggle of Alexander's generals for succession, the body of the conqueror played the role of a symbol which would confirm the newly acquired power of some of them. Perdikkas, according to our sources, sent the mummified remains of Alexander the Great to Aigai, the old Macedonian capital, for burial. He had a magnificent funerary cart constructed for this purpose. The body itself was placed in a gold anthropoid sarcophagus which was in turn encased in a second gold casket and covered with a purple robe. Alexander's coffin was placed, together with his armor, in a gold carriage which had a vaulted roof supported by an Ionic peristyle. The decoration of the carriage was very rich and is described in great detail by Diodoros (18.26.3). A good tentative reconstruction of the funerary cart has been proposed by the modern archaeologist Stella Miller (see bibliography below). This scholar by no means claims that her reconstruction is accurate; she rather suggested it in order to help scholars visualize what is discussed by Diodoros.

The breakdown of Alexander's Empire following
the Battle of Ipsos in 301 B.C. (after Duby)

Very early on, Ptolemy had realized that the breakdown of Alexander's Empire was inevitable, and he wished to secure the wealthy territory of Egypt for himself. He therefore organized an attack against Alexander's funerary procession and intercepted the body of his former master which he then buried in Memphis, the old capital of Egypt. This event caused the final breach in the relations of Ptolemy with Perdikkas and is described by all ancient historians: Arrian (7.26.3); Diodorus (17.117.4; 18.1.4; 18.26.3); Curtius Rufus, 10.5.5; and Justin, 12.15.8). Diodoros mentions that Alexander's funerary procession was indeed destined for the Ammoneion of Libya in modern-day Siwa, but there is not a single ancient historian to claim that Alexander was in fact ever buried there. I will take this information a little further. By the time that Ptolemy stole Alexander's mummy from Perdikkas, thereby infuriating the latter, he had established his control over Egypt. It seems therefore unlikely that Perdikkas would be ever so naive as to not have guessed Ptolemy's ambitions and the role that Alexander's body would play in Ptolemy's dynastic propaganda. Perdikkas, at least in the beginning, seems to have sincerely tried to hold Alexander's Empire together and preserve it for Alexander IV. It is therefore highly unlikely that he would ever decide to bury Alexander in Egypt instead of Aigai, the traditional burial place for Macedonian kings and an area that he himself controlled. On the other hand, if Alexander's body was ever destined for Siwa for burial, Ptolemy would not go to any pains in order to steal it from Perdikkas, since the body was being transported to Egypt anyway and would therefore be easily accessible to him. If we add to this information the ancient reports about the increasing dissatisfaction of the Greeks with Alexander's adoption of foreign customs from the territories that he conquered, one can plausibly wonder whether the ancient reports of his alleged wish to be buried at the Ammoneion of Libya can be accurate.

Modern statue of Alexander the Great, Thessaloniki.

One may therefore plausibly conclude that Alexander wished to be buried in Aigai, next to his ancestors despite the "internationalist" ideas of the Macedonian conqueror for the creation of a multi-national empire where diversity and individuality would be respected. Alexander always remained a Greek and was on his way back home to Macedonia when he died suddenly. Perdikkas, who by allaccounts conformed to his former master's wishes and protected his widow and infant son, then intended to bring his body to Aigai. Ptolemy on the other hand, had other plans. He had established his control over Egypt and decided to use the body of Alexander as asymbol in order to legitimize his position. He intercepted the mummy by attacking the funerary procession which headed eastwards and buried it at Memphis. According to Diodorus who describes the tomb of Alexander in Memphis in some detail, the monument which was constructed by Ptolemy I there, was in the traditional Egyptian style.

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