The Exciting Adventures Of Alexander The Great's Corpse
Alexander III of Macedon was one of history's greatest adventurers. His life was dedicated to exploring lands and cultures to weep at and then call dibs on. So it's only fitting that, for a man whose entire life was filled with adventure, even in death, he saw more action than your average mortal.
In July of 323 BC, a 32-year-old Alexander the Great died in Babylon's halls after partying too hard.
But the young and beautiful corpse wasn't done having a good time. During the long mourning procession home, his body traveled back in style, placed in a solid gold coffin and submerged in honey, a preservation process that turned his remains into what is academically and deliciously referred to as "human mummy confection." But it wasn't long before this honey glazed corpse got itself into another sticky jam. During transit, it was kidnapped by the emperor's old boarding school buddy, Ptolemy. He took Alexander on a detour to Egypt, where he pulled the corpse from its coffin-like Excalibur out of the stone, using its ownership to gain fame and strengthen his claim to the throne.
For the next 700 years, the Ptolemy pharaohs remained owners of the honey-laminated collector's item, entombing the body in Alexandria's eponymous capital city. Alexander then enjoyed another postmortem popularity surge during the Roman Empire, whose emperors considered his tomb the premier holiday destination. Many, including Emperor Augustus, traveled to Alexandria specifically to pay respects to the late great conqueror. Though that respect often included some light grave robbing, as many left with a souvenir in the form of some of Alexander's jewels or armor.
But after centuries of being picked apart by vulturine Romans, Alexander's body was ready to pull its final trick: a vanishing act. By the 4th century AD, Alexander the Great's tomb appears to have been swallowed by the city with not a single document able to pinpoint its location. Today, still over 140 sites in Alexandria could be his final resting place. But a modern fringe theory claims to know precisely where Alexander is: under the altar of a chapel, pretending to be a Christian saint.
At almost the same time as the famous corpse's disappearance, another famous corpse reappeared in Alexandria, that of Saint Mark the Evangelist. Quite a surprise, since the mythical St. Mark was supposedly burned to cinders centuries before. Historian Andrew Chugg theorizes that, with bands of iconoclastic Christians roaming the streets, someone stole St. Mark's identity and gave it to Alexander. So, have the congregations of St. Mark's Basilica accidentally been worshiping a Grecian warlord for the past millennium and a half? Since its tomb guardians won't allow the earthly remains to be tested, we might never know. But it's nice to think that, whether or not there's a postmortem witness protection program, at least Alexander is finally enjoying his death in peace and quiet.
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Top Image: Wikimedia Commons