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Who is buried in Philip II's tomb?

My collecting focus has been the Roman Republic and especially the time period around the career of Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix. I have only have a few Greek coins, and have not studied much beyond the names of the legendary kings they display. Generally we think of history as "defined" - it is something from the past that is documented and served up for memorization and regurgitation in history classes.

Anyone who has spent a bit of time studying any period of history sees a reality that is more complicated. There are certainly well documented facts that are anchors for history and unlikely to change. However, there are also less solid hypotheses that are deduced from the evidence and can be overturned with a closer look or new evidence. The story of "Who is buried in the tomb of Philip II of Macedon?" is one of changing interpretations, thousands of years after the events.

This AE coin of Philip II is a favorite for its hard to photograph, perfect, dark green patina, and sharp portrait and obverse. Philip II of Macedon reigned 359–336 BC.

Rev: ΦIΛIΠΠOY, Youth on horseback right; thunderbolt before.

Ref: SNG ANS 880

Size: 17.5 mm (7.41 gm)

A veteran of many battles, in 355-354 BC, while attacking the city of Methone, Philip’s right eye was injured by an arrow and had to be removed using a Spoon of Diocles.

This device was invented by Diocles, a Greek physician from Carystus a city on Euboea, and in the article below we can read: “Celsus says this instrument was developed to remove wide barbed missiles”. Having this "spoon" stuck in my eye doesn't sound like a promising way to fix the problem, but apparently in the case of Philip II it did the job. This survey of medical implements in ancient Greece & Rome – helps to illustrate the torment that medicine offered in Phillip’s time.

This eye injury and other battle wounds of Philip II weighed for both sides in a 30-year debate about remains found in Tomb II unearthed in 1977 at Aegae or Aigai (near modern Vergina) and whether or not the occupant was Philip II. There is a long (maybe appropriate to say "torturously long") article of the back and forth ( M. Hatzopoulos, 2008) and a 2015 write-up assessing the bones (Antikas & Wynn-Antikas, 2015).

Antikas (2015) conclude from the remains from Tomb II: the evidence indicates that “the man in the chamber is Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, and the woman in the antechamber his seventh wife or concubine, the daughter of Scythian king Atheas”. Hatzopoulos (2008) offers a systematic critique of the alternative hypothesis and evidence and concludes:

the attribution of Tomb II to Philip II, offers the proper setting for these two elements (the scene depicted on the frieze and the conditions of the burial itself)  and encounters no over-whelming impediment, since neither the vault, nor the diadem, nor the representation of the kausia, nor the lion hunt, nor the pottery, nor the cremated remains are incompatible with it. On the contrary, some additional details, such as the separate burials in the chamber and the antechamber and the difference in the quality of the plastering between these two rooms find a better explanation, if the occupants of Tomb II are Philip II and his last wife.

The remains of Philip II are housed in an 11kg gold larnax (coffin box) with a sun on the top - for a photo see:


This article may warrant some revision in light of this new review article:

Antonis Bartsiokas, Juan Luis Arsuaga, Nicholas Brandmeir, The identification of the Royal Tombs in the Great Tumulus at Vergina, Macedonia, Greece: A comprehensive review, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports,

Volume 52, 2023, 104279, ISSN 2352-409X.

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