The Incredible Tombs of Philip of Macedon and Family– Part Six

The Incredible Tombs of Philip of Macedon and Family– Part Six July 15, 2023

Grave steles, or monuments to the dead are interesting, not least because these were honor and shame cultures, and people didn’t want their ancestors to be forgotten, or lose honor. There are several such steles at Philip’s tomb complex and we will consider them here.

It’s one thing to stand in wonder at the display of Philip’s gold battle gear…..

But even the most heroic, most victorious of human beings eventually die, one way or another.  And neither they nor there descendents want that person to be forgotten altogether.   So there are grave memorials,  steles.  Take this one for example….carved out of stone

On the surface we see a man, his dog, and a boy, perhaps his child.  After the chaos of war, grave steles were gathered up from around Macedonia and buried in the royal tomb– some 76 of them!   This one is from 340 B.C. and is the stele of Antigonos.  Look closely. He is looking wistfully at the dove he holds in his hand.  The dog signifies this man was a hunter, the boy his attendant shows his grief. The dove is a symbol of the joy of youth.  Ars longa, vita brevis…. is the message.  Art is long, life brief.  Perhaps even more interesting is the one below….

This is the stele of Kleonymos from about 330 B.C.  He is seated, his son stands and shakes his hand, and Kleonymos’ wife who survives stands beside her husband. The gesture of Krino the wife may be signaling that the son is now to take over as the pater familias.  It is remarkable that this painting on Macedonian marble is so well preserved.  Sometimes the artisanship, particularly the writing of names is rather amateurish…


Very often these monuments are shaped like little temples, this one with a woman on it whose name seems to be Spenna….

Sometimes you can barely make out the person depicted, and sometimes the grave art itself is the most interesting thing.


There is so much more to take in in this underground museum but this hopefully this will suffice to whet your appetite for more. One of the lessons I take away from such visits is how much craftsmanship and artisanship we have lost through the ages.  And how badly we under estimate the skill and intelligence of so many of the ancients from whom we have much to learn.

Browse Our Archives