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More on Heracles to Alexander the Great exhibition at Oxford
In the 1970s one of Greece’s foremost archaeologists discovered a series of tombs that had lain hidden for centuries beneath the great tumulus of Vergina in the ancient Macedonian city of Aegea.

This gold strip from the royal cemetery (5th century BC) shows a scene of combat between two warriors, both nude and equipped with helmets, shields and spears. It comes from the decoration of a shield and was found in the tomb of a member of the royal family [© The Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism - Archaeological Receipts Fund]
A once great and shimmering metropolis situated on the southern rim of the Macedonian Plain in northern Greece, Aegea was the seat of the Temenids, an almost mythical dynasty which claimed descendency from the Greek hero Heracles. They ruled for 350 years, from the mid-7th century to the 4th century BC.

What Professor Manolis Andronikos had unearthed was the undisturbed and unlooted tomb of King Philip II and other members of Alexander the Great’s immediate family.

These gold Medusa heads, found in the tomb of Philip II, would originally have adorned a linen cuirass of the king. As a popular evil-averting device, it was thought that whoever looked at the eyes of Medusa would turn to stone. These examples are of a particularly high quality [© The Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism - Archaeological Receipts Fund]
The discovery made Aegea into one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, and the magnificent tombs and surrounding ancient landscape went on to yield an astonishing collection of treasures which opened a window into the Kingdom of Macedon.

“The Macedonians lived under the same political system uninterruptedly for 500 years,” says Robin Lane Fox, Ancient Historian at the University of Oxford. “Nowadays we admire the ancient Greeks for their invention of democracy, but even among the Athenians it lasted much less long.

“Macedon’s system was monarchy, the most stable form of government in Greek history. It persisted from about 650 to 167 BC and only stopped because the Romans abolished it."



One of the burials in the "queens" cluster at Aegae, dating to around 480 BC, yielded 26 lifesized clay heads. Astonishing both in terms of their early date and their realistic and expressive facial features, these enigmatic faces would originally have been part of wooden statues (xoana) [© The Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism - Archaeological Receipts Fund
Now Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum is exploring this fascinating society with an exhibition of more than 500 stunning archaeological objects from The Museum of the Royal Tombs at Aegae, together with never before seen treasures unearthed during the past 20 years.

Following the mythological origins of the Temenids through to the rise and domination of Aegae as the seat of power of Macedon, the haul of perfectly preserved artefacts opens up a period that stretches from Alexander the Great through classical and Archaic times to the beginning of the first millennium BC.


This fine silver jug or oinochoe is one of two found among the banquet vessels in the tomb of Philip II (336 BC). It is a small masterpiece made by an artist of the time. Decorated on the rim and handle it is further embellished with the head of a satyr – a male follower of the company of Dionysus [© The Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism - Archaeological Receipts Fund]
Vivid reconstructions allow visitors to explore the role of men and women at the palace and the royal court, find out about the lavish banquets (symposia) and the architecture of the palace at Aegae.

Among the objects are priceless items including a golden head of Medusa, one of two found in the tomb of King Philip II, together with arms and armour, golden wreaths, marble sculpture and exquisite silver banqueting vessels.

This marble head of a youth, or perhaps a hero, was discovered in the Sanctuary of Eukleia, the goddess of fair repute. The sanctuary, located in the agora of the city of Aegae, has yielded evidence for the presence of the royal family in the form of sculptural dedications by Queen Eurydice, mother of three kings and grandmother of Alexander the Great [© The Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism - Archaeological Receipts Fund]
Andronikos’ original discovery led to further spectacular finds including the theatre where Philip II was assassinated on the day of his daughter’s wedding in the autumn of 336 BC, as well as further tombs of the royal women, including that of the famous Lady of Aegae.

A queen and high-priestess, wife of Amyntas I and most probably mother of Alexander I, she was found in an undisturbed tomb, bedecked head-to-toe in gold jewellery which had been sewn into her clothes.

A reconstruction of this and other burials showcases more treasures including marble heads, figurines, golden shield decorations and a strange collection of terracotta heads that once adorned full size funerary figures.

An international first for the Ashmolean, the exhibition is a rare chance to see a wealth of objects ranging from beautifully intricate gold jewellery, silverware and pottery to sculpture, mosaic floors and architectural remains.

The Exhibition runs until August 29 2011.

Author: Richard Moss | Source: Culture 24 [April 06, 2011]

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