Jumbo's Hide

[Jumbo's Hide, Elvis' Ride and the Tooth of Buddha]

[Garrett County Press]

Excerpt from
Jumbo's Hide, Elvis' Ride and the Tooth of Buddha
by Harvey Rachlin

The Gold Larnax of King Philip II

DATE: 336 B.C.E.

WHAT IT IS: A funerary chest containing the burnt bones of King Philip II of Macedonia that was placed in a tomb more than two thousand years ago and not discovered until the twentieth century.

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE: The larnax is made of pure gold sheets folded and hammered into the shape of a box with four legs sculpted in the shape of a lion's paws. It is ornately decorated with reliefs of intertwining plants, rosettes, and lotuses in two horizontal rows on its outer sides and, on its hinged lid, a Macedonian star with sixteen rays radiating from a circular center, which encloses a large gold rosette with a smaller blue enamel rosette inside it. The larnax measures approximately 16 inches by 13.5 inches and weighs 17 pounds, 3.6 ounces.

Aigai (ancient Vergina), 336 B.C.E.

A special celebration is to take place in the city, the capital of the kingdom of Macedonia, an eastern Mediterranean state of southern Europe settled about seventeen hundred years earlier by the Thracians. Macedonia, the most powerful political entity in the region, is ruled by Philip II, who ascended the throne in 359 B.C.E. and judiciously continued his predecessors' strategy of conquering independent city-states and uniting them under his leadership. Philip, a son of King Amyntas III, is at the peak of his power now, and has his eyes set on expanding his empire by conquering the formidable Asian kingdom of Persia.

Before daylight a large crowd gathers at the city's amphitheater to watch the athletic games that are part of the wedding celebration of the daughter of King Philip II. Fanfare and revelry, not to mention, in these precarious times, an element of unease, fill the large outdoor arena where the Macedonian king will soon be joining the festivities in a royal procession. The wedding is a conciliatory gesture arranged by Philip after an altercation erupted at his own wedding the previous year to a high-born woman named Cleopatra. His new bride's uncle had the indiscretion to deride another of Philip's wives, Olympias, and in a drunken rage the king turned on his and Olympias's son, Alexander. Olympias, shrewd, quicktempered, and impetuous, fled with Alexander to her native Epirus, and to keep peace in his subjugated northern kingdom, Philip offered his and Olympias's daughter to Olympias's brother, the king of Epirus.

This was a turbulent time in Greece to be sure, but it was also a period of great enlightenment, during which some of the greatest thinkers of history were examining life, nature, and the universe. Aristotle was expounding erudite philosophy, Plato had died just a dozen years before, Hippocrates forty-one years before, and Socrates just sixty-three years earlier, in 399 B.C.E.

When his brother Perdiccas was mortally wounded in battle and he became the Macedonian king in 359, Philip determined to create a mighty military machine. He built an efficient, well-disciplined army with a cavalry and infantry that were armed with long pikes. Philip soon put his army into battle, and he conquered one city after another-Pydna, Potidaea, Amphipolis, Abdera, Maroneia, and Methone among them. Some peoples, like the Pheraens, beseeched mercenaries for military assistance, but Philip eventually subjugated most of the peoples he wanted for his empire. The battles were violent; cities were sometimes destroyed, people were mutilated. In combat at Methone, Philip himself was blinded in one eye.

Over the years, Philip continued to march his army across Greece on a mission of conquest. Making an alliance with the Thebans, he defeated the Phocians at Delphi. He invaded the land later known as Bulgaria. He employed envoys to gain the support of city-states, paid mercenaries to refrain from supporting his enemies, and generally did whatever he had to do to enlarge his kingdom. But he wasn't always successful. Some cities revolted, some military actions failed. Some city-states united against him in 338 B.C.E., but Philip engaged them in battle at Chaeroneia and dealt them a severe defeat. Philip organized a convention for the city-states of Greece the next year in which he installed himself as its head and formed a League of Corinth with a voting council; the league pledged support to Philip and strove to keep peace among its constituent states. With southern Greece now under his rule, Philip was indeed at his highest moment of glory, and he covetously eyed Persia to seal his destiny as an invincible emperor.

Over the years Philip took many wives, and after the quarrel in 337 at his wedding to Cleopatra, he endeavored to maintain the kingdom of Epirus as his ally. Ever the savvy statesman, Philip had the sense to keep peace in his realm, even if it meant offering his own daughter's hand in marriage. Keeping the support of his allies would be vital to Philip if he were to realize his dream of enlarging his empire. The conquest of Persia was no doubt a preoccupation on the day of his daughter's wedding, but for now he would revel in the festivities.

A royal Greek wedding was a joyous celebration that could last several days and included a feast, games, and other events. Now an excited crowd that included leaders of the various Greek city-states was enjoying the games at the amphitheater of Aigai. Accompanied by his son Alexander and his daughter's new husband, also named Alexander, King Philip II entered the theater in a procession that had commenced at his palace. But then, amid the throngs of people and soldiers, a man approached Philip and stabbed him to death.

The assassin, who tried to flee but was caught and killed by Philip's soldiers, is supposed to have murdered the king over a complaint or an alleged injustice. But some people believed that Philip's wife Olympias had played a role in the murder of her husband. Philip's newest wife, Cleopatra, was a potential obstacle to their son Alexander succeeding to the throne, but the king's death would clear the way for Alexander to become the new king of Macedonia.

Indeed, the twenty-year-old immediately replaced his father as sovereign and soon took up his father's dream of marching the invincible Macedonian-Greek army into Persia and conquering all its dominions, as well as Thebes, Asia Minor, Egypt, Babylonia, Jerusalem, Tyre, Syria, and northern India. Alexander's life and adventures were astounding: he was tutored by Aristotle and later financed the philosopher's scholarly research; he fought monumental battles against huge armies; he founded the Egyptian city of Alexandria; he disseminated knowledge and progressive ideas-indeed, he changed the course of civilizations by opening them to new ways of thinking. History would remember this conqueror of much of the known world, whose Hellenistic culture and political triumphs would reach into the future, as Alexander the Great.

But before he would march his soldiers into combat across the civilized world, before he would rule over a great empire, Alexander had a task to complete: to build a tomb for his father and give him a royal burial. In accordance with royal protocol, Philip was cremated. From a pyre that contained weapons, jewels, and other objects-possibly even horses and chariots-Philip's burnt bones were extricated, bathed in spirits, wrapped in rich purple fabric, and placed in a decorative gold chest, or larnax, along with a meticulously crafted heavy gold wreath adorned with an array of sculpted oak leaves and acorns. The larnax was placed in a marble sarcophagus and set in a chamber of the elaborate tomb. Exquisite and expertly crafted objects of gold, silver, bronze, iron, ivory, and wood were also deposited in the tomb. Then the tomb was sealed, and over it workmen piled mounds of soil.

As the years passed, the tomb sank ever more deeply into the earth. Buried three centuries before the birth of Christ and the start of the common era, the Macedonian king lay undisturbed in death through the ages. [back]

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