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Alexander Sarcophagus

Сидонский саркофаг

Alexander Sarcophagus

The “Alexander Sarcophagus” is a Hellenistic stone sarcophagus adorned with bas-relief carvings of Alexander the Great. Classical Greek sculptors created the marvellous Hellenistic sculptures in the Athenian idiom during the late 4th century BC. The most significant sculptured scene is of Alexander the Great attempting to battle the Persian king, Darius III, as Darius flees the battle of Issus in 333 BC.

The Alexander Sarcophagus is one of four massive carved sarcophagi discovered during the excavations at the necropolis near Sidon, Lebanon in 1887. The Sarcophagus was probably created for a wealthy and powerful noble or governor of the region.

The sarcophagus is constructed of marble from a mountain range in Attica, Greece in the form of a Greek temple. The carvings on one side of the Sarcophagus depicts Alexander fighting the Persians at the Battle of Issus. Alexander is shown mounted, wearing a lion-skin on his head, and preparing to throw a spear at the Persian cavalry.

Alexander Sarcophagus Battle of Ussus

Alexander wearing a lion-skin on his head, throwing a spear at the Persian cavalry

The other side shows Alexander and the Macedonians hunting lions together with the Persians. The short ends, the pediment and the lid all continue the theme showing additional hunting scenes and battles.

Although this sarcophagus has no inscriptions, and the contents have been looted in antiquity, what remains is a magnificent sarcophagus with some of the most exquisite sculptures ever discovered from the classical Greek era. The artistry belongs to an unknown master sculptor.


A sarcophagus is a box-like funeral receptacle for a corpse and was usually created to be displayed above the ground. The word sarcophagus is derived from a combination of Greek words that mean “flesh-eating stone.”

Alexander the Great

Alexander III of Macedon (356 BC – 323 BC), better known as Alexander the Great, was a king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon, who succeeded to the throne at the age of twenty. He spent all of his adult life on military campaigns through Asia and northeast Africa, and he created one of the largest empires of the ancient world. By the age of thirty, Alexander the Great’s empire stretched from Greece to northwestern India. He was undefeated in battle and is considered one of history’s most successful military commanders.

Alexander’s legacy includes the diffusion of Greek culture, which was accelerated with the founded of some twenty cities that bore his name. The settlement of Greek warrior colonists and the resulting spread of Greek culture in the east resulted in a new Hellenistic civilisation. His campaigns significantly increased contacts and trade between East and West, and the Greek civilisation influenced vast areas to the east.

Alexander became legendary as a classical hero in the mould of Achilles, and he became prominent in the history and mythic traditions of Greek traditions. He became the model against which ambitious military commanders compared themselves, and military academies throughout the world still teach his tactics.

Did you know?

  • In Hindi and Urdu, the name “Sikandar”, derived from the Persian name of Alexander, denotes a rising young talent.
  • The reason Alexander spared Jerusalem from destruction, according to Josephus, was that Alexander was shown the Book of Daniel when he entered Jerusalem, which described a mighty Greek king who would conquer the Persian Empire.
  • In Egypt, Alexander was portrayed as the son of the last pharaoh before the Persian conquest. His defeat of Darius was declared as Egypt’s salvation, “proving” Egypt was still ruled by an Egyptian.
  • In pre-Islamic Persian literature, Alexander is accused of destroying temples and burning the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism.
  • “The Two-Horned One” mentioned in the Quran is believed by some scholars to represent Alexander.
  • According to legend, Alexander the Great wanted to meet the Greek philosopher Diogenes and to offer to fulfil a wish for Diogenes. When Alexander asked Diogenes what he desired, Diogenes replied: “Stand away from my sunlight”. He said this because Alexander and his followers were blocking the sun from Diogenes who was, prior to the royal interruption, in contemplation in the sunlight. Alexander was so struck by this, and admired Diogenes so much, that he said to his followers, “But truly if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.”
  • The Egyptian cult of Alexander the Great in ancient Egypt during the Hellenistic period (323–31 BC), was promoted by the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty. The cult included the worship of the deified conqueror-king Alexander the Great, which formed the basis for the ruler cult of the Ptolemies.



  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • How have you been influenced by Alexander’s legacy?
  • If you were in Diogenes position what wish would you have asked of Alexander the Great?

Alexander Sarcophagus

  • Title:                         Alexander Sarcophagus
  • Year:                         4th century BC
  • Material:                  Pentelic marble
  • Discovered:             1887
  • Find Site:                 Sidon, Lebanon
  • Museum:                 Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Istanbul, Turkey


“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”
– Alexander the Great


Photo Credits: 1) By Apasova (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Ronald Slabke (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons