The Elusive Tomb of Alexander
Bianchi, Robert S.
Archaeology, November 11, (2004)
Alexander the Great, dying at Babylon on the banks of the Euphrates River in June of 323 B.C., was explicit in his last wish. He wanted his body thrown into the river so that his corpse would disappear. In that way, Alexander reasoned, his survivors might perpetuate the myth that he was whisked off to heaven in order to spend eternity at the side of the god Ammon, who had allegedly fathered him. His generals, not respecting the wish, concocted elaborate plans for his burial. According to one ancient account, it took two years from the time of Alexander’s death to design and construct a suitable funerary cart in which his mummified body could be conveyed to its tomb. En route to its destination, whether Macedonia or elsewhere is moot, the funerary cart and its entourage were met in Syria by Ptolemy, a Macedonian general in Alexander’s army. Ptolemy, who in 305 B.C. would proclaim himself king of Egypt as Ptolemy I Soter and inaugurate the Ptolemaic Dynasty, diverted the body to Egypt where it was buried in a tomb at Memphis.
Subsequently, in the late fourth or early third century B.C. (whether during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter or that of his son and successor, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, is debated) the body of Alexander was removed from its tomb in Memphis and transported to Alexandria where it was reburied. At a still later date, Ptolemy Philopator (222/21-205 B.C.) placed the bodies of his dynastic predecessors as well as that of Alexander, all of which had apparently been buried separately, in a communal mausoleum in Alexandria. By now, Alexander had had at least three tombs in two Egyptian cities. Whenever someone asks where the tomb of Alexander the Great is located, I assume the query refers to the third and last tomb, although admittedly the question might apply equally to his tomb at Memphis or to his first Alexandrian tomb, neither of which has ever been found.