The lost mummy of Alexander the Great: theoretical considerations and hypothetical scenarios

Michael Habicht, Francesco M Galassi, Frank Rühli, Donald Pate, Maciej Henneberg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Alexander III the Great (Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Φιλίππου, born 20. July 356 BC in Pella, northern Greece and pronounced dead 10. June 323 BC in Babylon) is one of the most legendary rulers and military leaders of all times. As King of Macedonia and Hegemon of the League of Corinth he conquered the whole Persian Empire. After his death, a massive cult of Alexander – with its origins during his very life - was initiated by his successors who justified their rule based on personal closeness to Alexander. Among them, the Empire of Ptolemy I played a special role, as the city of Alexandria ad Aegyptum was founded by Alexander and (after a short time in Memphis) was the home of his mummified body. The imitatio Alexandri (imitation of Alexander) was popular among Greek and Roman leaders alike (Bohm 1989; Kühnen 2008; Michel 1967). They tried to imitate his life, his military conquests in the east, dressing and posing like him. Owning and wearing objects that had once belonged to Alexander was also part of this veneration. Visiting his tomb in Alexandria was common for ancient military leaders, while several philosophers (e.g. Cicero, Seneca) expressed critical views on his person, with few exceptions such as Plutarch, a late biographer of his. Later, Alexander appears in medieval and Islamic literature (as al-Iskandar) and is mentioned in the Quran (Sura 18 as Ḏū l-Qarnain ذو ال قرن ين ‚he of the two horns’). His tomb changed several times: First, it was in Memphis until the new tomb was finished in Alexandria. Later under Ptolemy IV, the mausoleum was changed to a burial place not only for him but also for the Ptolemies. The tomb and its exact location were lost in late antiquity. Many attempts had been made to find it again, so far all of them failed (Tzalas 1993; Spawforth 2007). His mummified body is probably the most famous mummy of all time on a par with that of Tutankhamen, albeit it is missing. While the tomb might never be found, the body in fact might have survived (Galassi and Ashrafian 2016, 2). The concept that tomb and mummy can have different destinies is exemplified by the Egyptian cachettes (Deir el-Bahari DB 320, KV 35, KV 55) holding the majority of Pharaohs from the New Kingdom, after their burials were plundered (Brugsch and Maspero 1881; Graefe and Belova 2010).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDisease and the Ancient World
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of an International Symposium held at Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, on 21-23 September 2017
EditorsRobert Arnott, Rupert Breitwieser
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxbow Books
Number of pages28
ISBN (Print)9781789255300
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020
EventDisease and the Ancient World - Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 21 Sep 201723 Sep 2017
Conference number: 5th


ConferenceDisease and the Ancient World
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Alexander the Great
  • Greek history
  • Classical Archaeology
  • Trauma
  • Historical source texts
  • Arrian of Nicomedia
  • Quintus Curtius Rufus
  • Plutarch
  • Anabasis
  • Battle
  • Injury
  • medicine


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