Why were Alexander's Body and Tomb So Important (PART I)
The location of the tomb of Alexander the Great is an enduring mystery. Shortly after Alexander's death in Babylon, the possession of his body became a subject of negotiations between Perdiccas, Ptolemy I Soter, and Seleucus I Nicator. According to Nicholas J. Saunders, while Babylon was the "obvious site" for Alexander's resting place, some favored interring the ruler in the Argead burial at Aegae, modern Vergina. Aegae was one of the two originally proposed resting places, according to Saunders, the other being Siwa Oasis and in 321 BC Perdiccas presumably chose Aegae. The body, however, was hijacked en route by Ptolemy I Soter. According to Pausanias and the contemporary Parian Chronicle records for the years 321–320 BC, Ptolemy initially buried Alexander in Memphis. In the late 4th or early 3rd century BC, during the early Ptolemaic dynasty, Alexander's body was transferred from Memphis to Alexandria, where it was reburied.
The so-called Alexander Sarcophagus, unrelated to Alexander's body and once thought to be the sarcophagus of Abdalonymus, is now believed to be that of Mazaeus, a Persian governor of Babylon.
According to Quintus Curtius Rufus and Justin, Alexander asked shortly before his death to be interred in the temple of Zeus Ammon at Siwah Oasis. Alexander, who requested to be referred to and perceived as the son of Zeus Ammon, did not wish to be buried alongside his actual father at Aegae. Alexander's body was placed in a coffin of "hammered gold", according to Diodorus, which was "fitted to the body". The coffin is also mentioned by Strabo and Curtius Rufus (subsequently, in 89–90 BC the golden coffin was melted down and replaced with that of glass or crystal).
Alexander's wish to be interred in Siwa was not honored. In 321 BC, on its way back to Macedonia, the funerary cart with Alexander's body was hijacked in Syria by one of Alexander's generals, Ptolemy I Soter. In late 322 or early 321 BC Ptolemy diverted the body to Egypt where it was interred in Memphis, the center of Alexander's government in Egypt. While Ptolemy was in possession of Alexander's body, Perdiccas and Eumenes had Alexander's armor, diadem and royal scepter.
According to Plutarch, who visited Alexandria, Python of Catana and Seleucus were sent to a serapeum to ask the oracle whether Alexander's body should be sent to Alexandria and the oracle answered positively. In the late 4th or early 3rd century BC Alexander's body was transferred from the Memphis tomb to Alexandria for reburial (by Ptolemy Philadelphus in c. 280 BC, according to Pausanias). Later Ptolemy Philopator placed Alexander's body in Alexandria's communal mausoleum. The mausoleum was called the Soma or Sema, which means "body" in Greek. By 274 BC Alexander was already entombed in Alexandria. The Tomb of Alexander became the focal point for the Ptolemaic cult of Alexander the Great.
Augustus during his visit to Alexander's tomb, painted by Sébastien Bourdon in 1643
In 48 BC Alexander's tomb was visited by Caesar. To finance her war against Octavian, Cleopatra took gold from the tomb. Shortly after the death of Cleopatra, Alexander's resting place was visited by Octavian, who is said to have placed flowers on the tomb and a golden diadem upon Alexander's head. According to Suetonius, Alexander's tomb was then partially looted by Caligula, who reportedly removed his breastplate. In AD 199 Alexander's tomb was sealed up by Septimius Severus during his visit to Alexandria. Later, in 215 some items from Alexander's tomb were relocated by Caracalla. According to chronicler John of Antioch, Caracalla removed Alexander's tunic, his ring, his belt with some other precious items and deposited them on the coffin.
When John Chrysostom visited Alexandria in AD 400, he asked to see Alexander's tomb and remarked, "his tomb even his own people know not". Later authors, such as Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam (b. AD 803), Al-Masudi (b. AD 896) and Leo the African (b. 1494), report having seen Alexander's tomb. Leo the African, who visited Alexandria as a young man, wrote: "In the midst of the ruins of Alexandria, there still remains a small edifice, built like a chapel, worthy of notice on account of a remarkable tomb held in high honor by the Mahometans; in which sepulchre, they assert, is preserved the body of Alexander the Great... An immense crowd of strangers come thither, even from distant countries, for the sake of worshipping and doing homage to the tomb, on which they likewise frequently bestow considerable donations". George Sandys, who visited Alexandria in 1611, was reportedly shown a sepulchre there, venerated as the resting place of Alexander.