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Studies in Classical Archaeology

Alexander the Great
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The eyes of the Ptolemies

The lost mummy of Alexander the Great, theoretical considerations and hypothetical scenarios (2017) 


The study was presented at the Conference "Disease and the Ancient World" held at the Green Templeton College in Oxford (September 2017):

"The lost body of Alexander the Great: theoretical considerations and hypothetical scenarios" examines the medical aspects of the ancient source texts, which report on the numerous wounds of Alexander the Great


Short extracts:

The later history of the Alexandri sepulchrum Alexandriae

Most noteworthy is Octavian’s visit described by Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 51, 16, 5: “After this he viewed the body of Alexander and actually touched it, whereupon, it is said, a piece of the nose was broken off. But he declined to view the remains of the Ptolemies, though the Alexandrians were extremely eager to show them, remarking, "I wished to see a king, not corpses.".” (Cassius Dio and Cary 1917).

If the story that he damaged the nose of Alexander be true, it gives an important information on the display of Alexander in the Roman period (Fig. 1). It is reported that Emperor Otto III broke the nose of Charlemagne off, when he opened his tomb in May 1000 AD and found the mummified and well-preserved remains (Baedeker 1861, 237). Breaking the nose off from a highly important historical character had become some sort of canonical.

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Mystery Files: Alexander the Great

Description from Youtube:

After his death, his body became one of the most sacred objects in history. Pilgrims, from the common man to the most powerful emperors, visited and knelt before the remains of their god-King. And then in the space of a generation, all trace of his tomb simply disappeared. What happened to Alexander's body? Was it destroyed by a tsunami? Did Christians intent on stamping out all trace of other religions destroy it? Or, as one historian believes, does it still exist, renamed and venerated as a saint in one of the most glorious Christian basilicas in the world? With no archaeological evidence indicating the location of the lost tomb we are forced to examine ancient eyewitness accounts of people who visited the tomb and place it in Alexandria.

Is the mummy lost?


In the 3rd Century AD, the mentioning of Alexander’s tomb becomes scarce, especially after the Caracalla’s visit. The latest remarks are by Herodian (c. 178 – 250 AD) (History of the events after Marcus Aurelius, 4.8) and by Libanius of Antiochia (314- 393 AD) one of the last pagan writers who reported around 360 AD that the body was still on display: “And this evil, Sire [said to Theodosius I], is universal, whether you mention Paltus or Alexandria where the body of Alexander is to be seen, whether Balaneae or our own city.” (Libanius and Norman 1969). The latest report is by the Byzantine historian Ioannes Antiocheus (6th or 7th Cent. AD) mentioning the Depiction of Saint Sisois on icons in front of Alexander's corpse contemplating the tragedy of human mortality (Kosmetatou 1998).  In the 4th Century AD, Alexander – almost a God for the Pagans – made way to a new religion: Christianity.

The traumatic injuries of Alexander

Alexander the Great suffered numerous injuries throughout his life, some of which were life-threatening.

  • Illyrian campaign: Head wound by a stone: Plutarch Mor. On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander 327A:“First, among the Illyrians, my head was wounded by a stone my neck by a cudgel…”  (Plutarch and Rhys 1911a). Such a bruise by blunt force weapon could still be seen on the cranial bone and even more likely to identify in a mummy with well-preserved of soft-tissue.

  • Battle of Granicus: Sword wound: is reported by several ancient sources (Heckel and Yardley 2008). Arrianus, Anabasis of Alexander, Book I, Chapter 15.7-8:  “But hereupon, Rhoesaces rode up to Alexander and hit him on the head with his scimitar, breaking off a piece of his helmet. But the helmet broke the force of the blow. This man also Alexander struck to the ground, hitting him in the chest through the breastplate with his lance” (Arrianus and Chinnock 1884).

  • Battle of Issus: Dagger thrust. 

  • Siege of Gaza: Arrow wound. Plutarch, Mor. On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander 327A: “Next at Gaza my ankle was wounded by an arrow, my shoulder was dislocated, and I whirled heavily round and round.” (Plutarch and Rhys 1911a).

  • Samarkand: Leg bone split by an arrow. Arrianus, Anabasis of Alexander Book III, Chapter 30:  "Alexander himself, who was shot right through the leg with an arrow, and the fibula of his leg was broken." The splitting of the tibia leads to massive swelling of the lower leg. It can cause several complications (Sheth, Blomberg, and Szatkowski 2011). The leg may infect or heals in a malunion. Once again Alexander had luck neither losing his leg nor limping like his father. According to the sources, only the tibia was hurt. We suggest that Alexander had a Type III A – C open tibial fracture according to Gustilo-Anderson Classification (Sheth, Blomberg, and Szatkowski 2011).


  • Siege of Cyropolis (329 BC): Head injury by a stone. This injury was studied from a medical point of view (Williams and Arnott 2004; Lascaratos, Lascaratos, and Kalantzis 2014). This may play a role six years later when Alexander lost his ability to speech on his death bed, perhaps a sequelae of this injury (Williams and Arnott 2004, 131).

  • Campaign against the Mallians: Arrow piercing the thorax . Plutarch, Mor. On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander 327A: “Among the Mallians, the shaft of an arrow sank deep into my breast and buried its steel; and I was struck in the neck by a cudgel, when..."

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The so-called Porus medallions of Alexander the Great – crucial historical numismatic objects or clever counterfeits? (2020)


The paper discusses the so-called Porus medallions associated with the military campaign of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) in northern India, and specifically with the battle of the Hydaspes in the early Summer of 326 BC. At the present time, three types of silver medallion (of coin weight) and a unique gold medallion are known.

The Alexander-Porus type (Decadrachm or 5-Shekel)

At least 10 coins are known, seven of them from the single 1973 Babylon hoard. Nine of the examples of this type have the same obverse die, but there are six different reverse dies. All preserved examples have pronounced signs of circulation and range from fine to very fine. None of the coins classified as genuine is extremely fine. There exist at least a further nine examples that have been condemned as forgeries on excellent grounds – traces of acid aging and suchlike indications (Holt 2003, p. 171-2). The patina ranges from grey-black to reddish black, reflecting the origin of most samples in the two separate 1973 Babylon deposits.  The production quality is relatively poor: for example, many of the specimens have poorly centred strikes. However, the die engraving can be seen to have been very fine and detailed in the best-preserved examples.

There are two other coins allegedly part of the issue:

The archer type (tetradrachm or 2-shekel)

All reported coins show signs of protracted circulation and are preserved at between a good fair and a very fine state. The execution of the elephants sometimes seems somewhat clumsy, as if the die-cutter was not familiar with the anatomy of this kind of beast. However, bows as tall as their archers with their foot rested on the ground are recorded by one of the Alexander historians as having been used by the Indians at the Battle of the Hydaspes.

The chariot type (Tetradrachm or 2-Shekel)

Very few coins of this type are recorded. We are aware of only three.



This discussion has additionally been stimulated by the discovery of a golden medallion, presented to the public as the ‘only authentic life-time portrait of Alexander the Great’ (Bopearachchi and Flandrin 2005; Bopearachchi and Holt 2011); Several reviews and articles by numismatists (Hurter 2006; Fischer-Bossert 2006) and Alexander the Great experts (Chugg 2007) questioned the authenticity of the gold medallion or even rejected it as a forgery.

The gold coin depicting Alexander and an elephantThe coin has a weight of 16.75 grams and a diameter of 19 mm (Pieper 2013, p. 625). Obverse to reverse position (die-axis) is 12:00 (Chugg 2007; Pieper 2013). This medallion or coin has a content of 97.7% gold, 1.8% silver and 0.4% copper plus the usual group of trace elements typical for ancient gold (Pieper 2013, p. 629). The ‘Alexander medallion’ has a higher concentration of palladium, suggesting that it was not made from Persian or Bactrian gold. The composition closely resembles the metal used in later Kushan empire gold dinars from the time of Vasudeva I (c. 192-220 AD). These later Kushan empire gold coins were made from Indian gold, after the Kushans had lost control over Bactria to the rising Sassanid Empire. It is quite likely that the ‘Alexander medallion’ was similarly made of gold from India.

The weight of 16.75g is quite ambiguous; it could be a 2-shekel coin or a tetradrachm, but it is in mint state, so it is definitely not a tetradrachm or distater on the 17.2g Attic standard used by Alexander.

The iconography has unusual features (Fischer-Bossert 2006). The elephant’s scalp looks as though it has been copied from the second Alexander elephant scalp tetradrachm series of Ptolemy I minted after 315BC, a common type in contrast to the rare first series minted from 321-316BC, of which a numismatically naïve forger might not have been aware.

The Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) revealed that the medallion is made of the same gold used by later Kushan Dinars.

In conclusion, numerous experts have assessed the ‘gold medallion of Alexander’ to be a fake (Fischer-Bossert 2006; Hurter 2006) or at least highly dubious (Chugg 2007; de Callataÿ 2013).

Habicht ME, Chugg AM, Varotto E, Galassi FM. The so-called Porus medallions of Alexander the Great -crucial historical numismatic objects or clever counterfeits (2020). Journal of the Numismatic Association of Australia, 2019 (printed 2020)

Paleopathology of the Ptolemaic Dynasty: an iconographical


Paleopathology of the Ptolemaic Dynasty

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