The Alexander Sarcophagus
Late 4th century BC, Hellenistic
The Alexander Sarcophagus was found in the Royal Necropolis in Sidon in 1887. Though it is called the Alexander Sarcophagus, in fact, it does not belong to Alexander the Great. It is thought to be the sarcophagus of Abdalonymus, the king of Sidon. .
On the front side of the sarcophagus, Alexander is shown on his horse. Since Alexander claimed descent from Heracles, he is depicted with the skin of the Nemean Lion on his head. Additionally, next to his ear, a ram horn, the symbol of the Egyptian god Amun is seen. Because of this depiction on the sarcophagus, it was named after Alexander.
On one of the long sides of the sarcophagus, there is a scene of battle between Persians and Greeks. Greek and Persian soldiers can easily be distinguished thanks to their outfits. Greeks have short tunics or cloaks, whereas Persian soldiers, who had to cover all parts of their bodies excluding their faces and fingers, wear trousers, more than one long-sleeved shirts and tiaras covering their heads. The scene of battle is thought to represent the Battle of Issus, won by Alexander the Great in 333 BC and opened the doors of Phoenicia and Syria. As a result of this battle, the fate of Abdalonymus, who is thought to be the owner of the sarcophagus, changed and he became the king of Sidon after a while.The horseman in the centre of the sarcophagus is thought to represent Hephaistion, Alexander’s dearest friend and probable lover, who crowned Abdalonymus as king of Syria.
Two hunting scenes are depicted on the second long side of the sarcophagus. It is known that hunting with horses and carriages was usual for Near Eastern civilizations and that Alexander the Great participated in such events in Phoenicia.
[Text adapted from the Istanbul Archaeology Museum]