Today some archaeological news. A Hellenic archaeologist, Kostas Sismanidis, has claimed to have identified the tomb of Aristoteles in Stageira, Aristoteles’ birthplace. The announcement was made at the Aristotle 2400 Years World Congress. Let’s have a look at the facts.
The building in question was located near the agora of Stageira, standing on a large marble floor. A runway leads up to the door of the building. A raised altar, bomos, stood to the left of the door – when facing the building – under an angle so that it pointed at the door. The roof was made from tiles made at the royal pottery workshops. The materials were exquisite and extensive, clearly identifying the building as being of a public nature and a very important one at that. About 50 coins were found at the site, dating to the time of Alexandros the Great.
Aristoteles was born at Stageira, in northern Chalcidiki. Later he moved to Athens to study philosophy under Plato, and after that he worked at the court of King Philippos II of Macedon (Φίλιππος Β΄ ὁ Μακεδών), as the teacher of Philippos’ son and heir, Alexandros the Great (Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας). During the reign of Philippos, the razed Stageira in 349 BCE, but through the mediation of Aristoteles also funded the city’s rebuilding in 340 BCE. Aristoteles himself would then write new laws and set up its government system himself. Even during his lifetime, Aristoteles was honoured by Stageira with annual celebrations and festivals for this.
In 322 BCE Aristoteles died of natural causes in northern Euboea, where he was originally buried. At a later point, the Stageirans had his ashes put in a bronze urn and brought to Stageira, where he was then placed at a site called Aristoteleion. Kostas Sismanidis, based on the evidence above, believes the building he has found to be this Aristoteleion. If true it would seem that the people of Stageira honoured Aristoteles with a Hero cult after his death, and given the many things he did for the city it would have been almost criminal not to.
Some archaeologists, however, have doubts about the discovery. Among their criticisms are the following points:
- The building was excavated by Sismaniadis in 1996, 20 years ago, so why did he wait this long?
- Sismaniadis is a respected archaeologist, yet he decided to announce the discovery at a philosophical conference, rather than an archaeological one where other archaeologists could scrutinise his claims for their merit.
- The area of Stageira is near a controversial mine, the Skouries mine, which was to function as an open pit gold-copper porphyry mine for a few years in the nineties, but political scandals and such prevented it for now. There are many concerns among locals and environmentalists alike about its impact on the environment and the health of the locals. A major discovery, such as the tomb of Aristoteles, would further tip the scales against the mine.
Sismaniadis has revealed that the excavations were ended by politicians because they didn’t want a major archaeological discovery getting in the way of the lucrative mine. As for his decision to announce the news at a philosophical congress, in my opinion, that was simply because the event is named after Aristoteles and the discovery would be very pertinent on that account, even if in fact it was more of an archaeological discovery.
Based on the evidence so far, despite its circumstantial nature (not unusual in archaeology), I think the identification of this building as the Aristoteleion, a tomb and possibly Heroön for Aristoteles, is relatively solid. Only time will tell, if at all, if it isn’t, or to provide actual solid evidence.
- Greek Reporter, “How Archaeologists Found the Tomb of Greek Philosopher Aristotle “, by Philip Chrysopoulos, 26 May 2016.
- Greek Reporter, “Aristotle’s 2,400-Year-Old Tomb Found at Stagira [Photos]“, Mary Harris, 26 May 2016.
- Greek reporter, “Weighing the Evidence: Is It ‘Really’ Aristotle’s Tomb?“, Mary Harris, 27 May 2016.
- Greek Reporter, “Aristotle Tomb Finder Claims Political Intervention Almost ‘Buried’ the Monument [Video]“, A. Makris, 28 May 2016.