Alexander the Great’s Tomb

Mosque of the Nabi Daniel in Alexandria

The site of the tomb of Alexander the Great has been a great mystery for several centuries. Many historians have theorized its location, and many archeologists have claimed its discovery.

The Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus claims that before Alexander the Great died in Babylon, he gave instructions that he be buried at the temple of Zeus Ammon in Egypt. Alexander also asked to be recognized as the son of the god Zeus Ammon, who was a hybrid of the Greek god Zeus and the Egyptian God Amun. Interestingly, the great conqueror did not want to be buried next to his father, Philip II, in Macedonia. Diodorus, a Greek historian, said that the coffin was made of hammered gold.

Alexander’s instruction to be laid to rest at the temple of Zeus Ammon was not carried out. On its way back to Macedonia in 321 B.C., the funeral caravan was intercepted by Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander’s generals, who took the body and buried it a year later in Memphis, Egypt. . Alexander’s other generals, Eumenes and Perdiccas, took hold of his royal scepter, body armor, and diadem.

Based on the account of the Roman historian Plutarch, the general Seleucus and the poet Python of Catana consulted an oracle and asked for guidance on whether Alexander’s body should be buried in Alexandria. The oracle answered favorably. In 280 B.C., on the orders of Ptolemy Philadelphus, Alexander’s body was exhumed from Memphis and brought to Alexandria to be reburied there. However, the body was again transferred later by Ptolemy Philopator to a communal mausoleum called Soma, which means “body” when translated to Greek. It can be safely said that in 274 B.C., Alexander’s body was already laid to rest in Alexandria. His tomb soon became a cult object during the Ptolemaic dynasty.

Visitors to the Tomb

In 48 B.C., Julius Caesar paid his respects at Alexander’s tomb and wept when he was overcome by emotions. However, other visitors to the tomb were not as respectful as Caesar. Cleopatra was said to have taken gold from the tomb to use as financial fuel for her conflict against Octavian. After Cleopatra’s death, Octavian visited the tomb and laid down flowers on it, along with a diadem made of gold. The Roman historian Seutonius states that Caligula stole Alexander’s breastplate. In 199 A.D., Septimius Severus paid his respects to Alexander’s resting place and had it sealed up. Sixteen years later, his son, Caracalla, took off Alexander’s ring, tunic, and ring then repositioned them on the coffin.

Two centuries later, the Archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, went to Alexandria and requested to be brought to the tomb of Alexander. To his disappointment, he realized that nobody knew where the tomb was. Meanwhile, the author Leo Africanus narrated that when he went to see the remains of Alexandria, he saw a small structure that looked like a chapel. He said that, according to the Mahometans, inside this chapel was a highly-respected tomb that belonged to Alexander the Great. Africanus added that many people from across the world come to this tomb to honor it and to worship the body that lay there.

Modern-Day Attempts to Find the Tomb

Officially, there have been 140 attempts to locate the tomb of Alexander, according to the Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities. In 1866, an Egyptian engineer and astronomer named Mahmoud el-Falaki made a map of ancient Alexandria. He was very familiar with the area and believed that the tomb was somewhere in the city center, near the El Nabi Daniel Mosque and Horreya Avenue. Years later, El Falaki explored the tomb under the mosque. He recounted that he entered a big room with a vaulted roof that was level with the ground of ancient Alexandria. He narrated further that from this large room, four corridors led to various directions. El Falaki said that the corridors were long and degraded, so he could not examine them well. However, he stated that the structure was made of high-quality stones, and this convinced him that these underground corridors led to Alexander’s tomb. El Falaki planned to have a better-prepared exploration of the structure, but he was not an archeologist and his request was not granted.

In 1874, a Greek physician and scholar named Tasos Neroutsos, wrote about his discovery of huge marble and granite pillars while he was excavating the groundwork for two houses just across from the El Nabi Daniel Mosque.

During this time, Egyptian officials became hesitant about allowing excavations near the El Nabi Daniel Mosque. This area was not only where prominent people were buried, but it was also a sacred place. Fortunately for archeologists, the monarchy was abolished in 1953, and the government became more relaxed on issuing permits. Consequently, in 1960, Polish archeologists were authorized to carry out an organized excavation at Kom el Dikka, close to the El Nabi Daniel Mosque. They were not able to find any tomb, although they dug up a Roman amphitheater in the area, along with a Roman bath, some rainwater basins, and a housing community. Furthermore, they were also able to unearth a marble sculpture of Alexander’s head.

The Italian archeologist Achille Adriani did serious exploratory work in the first half of the twentieth century, but he died in 1982 before he was able to publish the results of his work. Adriani’s student, Professor Boncasa, organized his teacher’s notes over the next 20 years and eventually published a book wherein he implied that Alexander was indeed buried in Alexandria.

Apparently, Adriani proposed that the tomb was located at the northeastern portion of the ancient city, near the Royal Quarter. He started digging in a cemetery, and in 1964, he discovered a tomb made out of alabaster and believed that it belonged to Alexander the Great. However, in that same year, a professor at Alexandria University named el Fakharani contradicted Adriani’s opinion. Eventually, two currents of opinion developed about this tomb. Some think that the tomb was not Alexander’s but that of a person of royal status, based on the tomb’s excellent design and the quality of materials used. Other scholars believe that it was not a royal tomb because it was beyond the Royal Quarter. Instead, they suggested that it was merely the tomb of a very wealthy person who tried to copy Alexander’s tomb. Professor Fakharani continued his research for four decades and implied that the alabaster tomb was within the area of the Royal Quarters. As evidence, he pointed out that the roof was an Etruscan dome and resembled the design of Macedonian tombs. The professor added that private tombs in ancient Alexandria were cut in rock, while the alabaster tomb was not.

In 1996, the Egyptian government authorized Professor Fakharani to excavate in the cemetery complex in Shatbi, Alexandria. This time, the professor had the backing of Alexandria University and a group of German geophysicists. With this support, Fakharani was able to use ground-penetrating equipment, which led to his discovery of hollow spaces some ten meters deep in the bedrock. The group started digging for these hollow spaces, but an illness forced Fakharani to stop his work in 2000. The professor then asked the Center DEtudes Alexandrines, a French public research laboratory, if it would want to carry on his work, and it agreed. It took on Fakharani’s exploration and was able to dig three channels to lead them to the hollow spaces detected by the professor.

In a 2011 episode of Mystery Files aired on the National Geographic Channel, the British Egyptologist Andrew Chugg asserted that the body of Alexander the Great was stolen by Venetian merchants from Alexandria, thinking it was the body of St. Mark the Evangelist. They brought the body to St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where people thought it was St. Mark’s body, and worshipped it.

Another event that generated hopes of finding Alexander’s tomb happened in 2014 when the largest ever ancient burial mound was discovered at Amphipolis in Macedonia. Scholars thought it was intended for Alexander’s body but were never used because Ptolemy I Soter intercepted the funeral caravan. When archeologists examined the items exhumed at the site, they suggested that the tomb was a shrine for Alexander’s dear friend, Hephaestion.

Finally, in 2021, an Egyptian named Mohamed Omran stated that they had found evidence that could lead to the discovery of Alexander’s tomb in the Marai area. Omran is the director of Siwa’s Tourism Department, but his alleged evidence has not been confirmed.

Attempts to find the enigmatic tomb of the great conqueror continue. These explorations are now investigating the underwater floor along the coast of Alexandria and have turned up many artifacts connected with Cleopatra and Antony. This prompted the underwater archeologist, Honor Frost, to think that Alexander’s tomb may have been under the water for a long time now.