Vergina is a small town in northern Greece, located in the peripheral unit of Imathia, Central Macedonia. The town became internationally famous in 1977, when the Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos unearthed what he claimed was the burial site of the kings of Macedon, including the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. The finds established the site as the ancient Aigai.
Coordinates: 40°29′N 22°19′E
Archaeologists were interested in the hills around Vergina as early as the 1850s, supposing that the site of Aigai was in the vicinity and knowing that the hills were burial mounds. Excavations began in 1861 under the French archaeologist Leon Heuzey, sponsored by the Emperor Napoleon III. However, the excavations had to be abandoned because of the risk of malaria.
In 1937, the University of Thessaloniki resumed the excavations. More ruins of the ancient palace were found, but the excavations were abandoned on the outbreak of war with Italy in 1940. After the war the excavations were resumed, and during the 1950s and 1960s the rest of the royal capital was uncovered. The Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos became convinced that a hill called the “Great Tumulus” concealed the tombs of the Macedonian kings. In 1977, Andronikos undertook a six-week dig at the Great Tumulus and found four buried chambers, which he identified as hitherto undisturbed tombs. Three more were found in 1980. Excavations continued through the 1980s and 1990s. Andronikos claimed that these were the burial sites of the kings of Macedon, including the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. Andronikos maintained that another (Tomb III) was of Alexander IV of Macedon, son of Alexander the Great and Roxana, a view challenged by other archaeologists.
Recent papers (by Eugene N. Borza and his research partner Olga Palagia) utilizing the construction of Tomb II’s ceilings, the incorporation of a weight measurement system introduced by Alexander the Great on golden objects in the tomb, Asian themes on the Tomb’s friezes, and the discovery of a scepter similar to that found on coins minted under Alexander’s reign suggest Tomb II likely belongs to Alexander’s half-brother Philip III Arrhidaeus and his wife, Adea Eurydice. Instead, according to Borza and Palagia, the simpler Tomb I may contain the remains of Phillip II and his family. If this theory is true, then the golden weaponry and royal objects found may have belonged to Alexander the Great.
However, a subsequent (2010) research publication supports that tomb II cannot belong to Philip III Arrhidaus and his wife. This research, based on detailed study of the skeletons, sustains the facial asymmetry caused by a possible trauma of the cranium of the male, an evidence that is consistent with the history of Philip II.
The museum, which was inaugurated in 1993, was built in a way to protect the tombs, exhibit the artifacts and show the tumulus as it was before the excavations. Inside the museum there are four tombs and one small temple, the heroon built as the temple of the great tomb of Philip II of Macedon. The two most important graves were not sacked and contained the main treasures of the museum. The tomb of Philip II, the father of Alexander was discovered in 1977 and was separated in two rooms. The main room included a marble sarcophagus, and in it was the larnax made of 24 carat gold and weighing 11 kilograms. Inside the golden larnax the bones of the dead were found and a golden wreath of 313 oak leaves and 68 acorns, weighing 717 grams. In the room were also found the golden and ivory panoply of the dead, the richly-carved burial bed on which he was laid and later burned and silver utensils for the funeral feast. In the antechamber, there was another sarcophagus with another smaller golden larnax containing the bones of a woman wrapped in a golden-purple cloth with a golden diadem decorated with flowers and enamel. There was one more partially destroyed by the fire burial bed and on it a golden wreath representing leaves and flowers of myrtle. Above the Doric order entrance of the tomb there is a wall painting measuring 5.60 metres which represents a hunting scene.
In 1978 another burial site was also discovered near the tomb of Philip, which belongs to Alexander IV of Macedon son of Alexander the Great. It was slightly smaller than the previous and was also not sacked. It was also arranged in two parts, but only the main room contained a cremated body this time. On a stone pedestal was found a silver hydria which contained the bones and on it a golden oak wreath. There were also utensils and weaponry. A narrow frieze with a chariot race decorated the walls of the tomb.
The other two tombs were found to have been sacked. The “tomb of Persephone” was discovered in 1977 and although it contained no valuable things found, on its walls was found a marvellous wall painting showing the abduction of Persephone by Pluto. The other tomb, discovered in 1980, is heavily damaged and may have contained valuable treasures while it had an impressive entrance with four Doric columns. It was built in the 4th century BC and the archaeologists believe that the tomb belonged to Antigonus II Gonatas.