The location of Alexander the Great’s remains continues to be one of the great mysteries of history. One that has passionately occupied the minds of generations of experts. According to some, Alexander was ultimately buried in Siwa. I couldn’t miss seeing this site, my hero’s resting place. Since visiting, my opinion had crystallized.
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Alexander the Great left behind no instructions for either his burial, tomb, or successor. This was intentional, by the way, as he knew that his wishes would not be respected and would ultimately serve no purpose. He left his lieutenants sort things out, knowing that it was not through them that his name would live.
Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s generals, had wanted to become king of Egypt. He asserted that Alexander had always desired to be buried there. So, upon his death, Ptolemy had his body brought to Alexandria, where he organized a magnificent burial.
For a long time his tomb was venerated. At a certain epoch, around the 4th century of our era, Christian influence began to increase in Egypt. Christians were becoming more and more powerful in Alexandria. This city witnessed not only the massacre of pagans, but also the destruction of their monuments, manuscripts, and artistic objects and treasures. The Christians laid waste to the human remains of those they deemed to be the great figures of paganism; Alexander was one of them.
However, his body was not in his original tomb when it was pillaged and destroyed. Someone had removed it and placed it elsewhere; someone had preserved it and knew well where it was. It was not a secret, but somehow the location was forgotten. Partially mummified, it was still intact when the Christians gained power.
Disciples of paganism had not completely disappeared. There were still people who respected the ancient religion, those who were alarmed and frightened by intolerance and the fanatical Christians, and who tried to preserve what they could. When these “pagans” caught wind of the Christians’ plans to desecrate the tomb of Alexander and destroy his remains, they removed the body and placed it in the tomb of a venerated Christian, in place of the body that was previously there.
Later, in this way, Alexander’s body was transported out of Egypt to another country, where he still remains today, where his corpse is regarded as a great Christian saint in a splendid tomb. Thus did this symbol of paganism become for the devout a great Christian treasure, and is still to this day regarded as such.
Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Les mystères d’Alexandre le Grand, Flammarion, September 2014.
All photographs by Justin Creedy-Smith