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Royal treasures

Some schoolboys used to know about Alexander the Great (356–323BC), how he extended the Macedonian Empire from Greece to India, cut the Gordian knot, and wept when there were no more worlds to conquer. Fewer schoolboys — or grown-ups — will know how skilled, and moving, the art of the Macedonian court was. Now they can, thanks to an exhibition at the Ashmolean, Heracles to Alexander the Great (until 29 August).

16 April 2011

6:00 AM

16 April 2011

6:00 AM

Some schoolboys used to know about Alexander the Great (356–323BC), how he extended the Macedonian Empire from Greece to India, cut the Gordian knot, and wept when there were no more worlds to conquer. Fewer schoolboys — or grown-ups — will know how skilled, and moving, the art of the Macedonian court was. Now they can, thanks to an exhibition at the Ashmolean, Heracles to Alexander the Great (until 29 August).

Some schoolboys used to know about Alexander the Great (356–323BC), how he extended the Macedonian Empire from Greece to India, cut the Gordian knot, and wept when there were no more worlds to conquer. Fewer schoolboys — or grown-ups — will know how skilled, and moving, the art of the Macedonian court was. Now they can, thanks to an exhibition at the Ashmolean, Heracles to Alexander the Great (until 29 August).

The exhibition shows for the first time outside Greece the exceptional treasures found, from 1977 onwards, in the Macedonian royal tombs, particularly that of Philip II, Alexander’s father.


Among these are a tiny gold head of Medusa from Philip II’s linen cuirass. Snakes curl under her chin, and through her hair, as her wide eyes still strain to turn you to stone.

Philip II, murdered at a royal wedding in 336BC, was buried by Alexander at the royal city, Aegae, with a full banqueting set, straight out of Georgian England. It includes a silver jug, with the head of a hungover satyr, and a silver wine-strainer, decorated with guilloche, flower patterns, and twirly handles ending in cartoonish-looking goose heads.

Among the jewellery of several centuries of Macedonian women, there’s a gold myrtle wreath, worn by Philip II’s wife, Queen Meda. The 80 leaves, of paper-thin gold, and 112 flowers are astonishingly intact, and lifelike (see above).

We all know about the treasures of Tutankhamun; time to know more about the riches of the other great ancient boy-king.


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