The Lion of Amphipolis (Greek: Λέων της Αμφίπολης) is a 4th-century B.C. tomb sculpture in Amphipolis, Macedonia, northern Greece. According to Oscar Broneer and archaeologist Dimitris Lazaridis, the first person excavating in the area in the 1960s, it was set up in honour of Laomedon of Mytilene, an important general of Alexander the Great, king of Macedon.
The finding of the monument is connected to Macedonia’s modern history in Greece, as the first parts of it were found initially by Greek soldiers during the First Balkan War that had camped in the area during 1912-13. They were followed by British soldiers a few years later in 1916, during World War I, who also discovered significantly large parts of the monument. The British tried to steal the pieces, but a Bulgarian attack prevented their plans.
In the early 1930s, during works for drying part of the Lake Kerkini nearby, there was a discovery of an ancient bridge and close to it within the river’s mud, very large pieces of the marble lion. In 1937, and thanks to Lincoln MacVeagh, the U.S. ambassador in Greece, there was a private initiative and support and funds from the Greek government to restore the Lion of Amphipolis eventually came to be in its current form. The whole process has been documented thoroughly by Oscar Broneer in his book The Lion of Amphipolis published in 1941.
Although the Lion is larger and bulkier in the seated position than the one erected at Chaeronea and has a height of more than 4 meters in its main body, taking into account the base, it is taller than 8 meters. The head has a width of 2 meters. Its craftsmanship shows a work of the 5th or first half of 4th century B.C.
There is no agreement between experts about the initial date of the construction, as there is no mention of it in ancient sources.
Speculations about the original place of the statue
There was recent speculation that the Lion used to be on top of the Kasta Tomb. But this theory has now been discounted.
Accoriding to the recent speculation, this magnificent Lion was initially located on the top of the Great Tomb at Amphipolis. It was moved to its current location at some time in the past, several kilometres away from the Tomb site. The carved stone Lion, alone is 5.3 meters high and is 15.84 meters in total height including the base [plinth] and is [assumed] the work of the same sculpture who carved the two Sphinx figures, found at the Tomb entrance. Historically, a Lion statue is usually found a battle site, such as Chaeronea or is associated with some great General. Archaeologists suggest, since there was no major battle at the time the tomb was built, that a Great General could be the person buried inside this vast Tumulus Tomb.
The discovery of the Lion by Greek soldiers and the attempt of antiquity by the British
The Lion was discovered in pieces on the banks of Strymonas river, in 1912 during the First Balkan War. The Lion, which today stands next to the old bridge of Strymon on the provincial road Amphipolis – Serrai( Serrai beach road), was not always a single sculpture but consisted of separate pieces. The existence of ancient ruins in the riverside area of Strymon was first reported to the Archaeological Service by Greek soldiers of the 7th Division, during the first Balkan war.
The soldiers had camped in the area and found some marbles, which according to the experts’ subsequent investigations, were parts of the Leo base. The Service sent archaeologists G. Economou and A. Orlando to evaluate the findings, who did not manage to do detailed research because the war caught them. Four years later, while World War I was in progress, British officers on an expeditionary body found parts of the Lion itself at the mouth of the Strymon River.
The British, worthy successors of the “Elgin spirit”, tried to transport the marble pieces to the coast to flee to their country, but failed because they were attacked by the Bulgarians and forced to leave the area immediately. Parts of the Lion remained scattered along the river until 1930 when two members of the French Archaeological School of Athens began to study them. P. Collart and P. Devampez had been called in by the Ulen company employees, which was then carrying out drainage works in the area. In 1936 the excavations in Amphipolis were already in progress. The then U.S. ambassador to Athens, Lincoln MacVeagh, showed particular interest in the monument and arranged for representatives of the American School of Archeology to be sent to work with their French colleagues already working in the area. Archaeologists have unearthed other pieces of the sculpture. The final reassembly of theLion was undertaken by the Greek sculptor Andreas Panagiotakis, who, to serve the works, initially made an exact plaster copy in real size.
The restoration and reconstruction mistakes
Panagiotakis’s team had only nine consecutive pieces of the sculpture at their disposal. So they had to use cement to fill in the gaps.
The connection of the Lion with the tomb
The Chief of the Tax Office of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities and Leader of the current excavations in Amphipolis, Katerina Peristeri said about the relationship between the Lion and the tomb:
“The Casta Tomb of Amphipolis and the monument of Leo are two monuments that converse with each other combining comparable architectural features and their dating belongs to the last quarter of the 4th B.C. century. The lapitas (fragments of marble processing) found around the burial mark at the top of the Kasta mound, indicate the existence of a large marble monument, which is none other than Leo and its base.”
Ms. Peristeri has conducted research in the past with her collaborator Michalis Lefantzis, according to which the Lion was in the precinct of the tomb, which during the Roman era had been destroyed resulting in many pieces of marble being moved from there. If indeed the two monuments are connected, then the occasion on which the sculpture was erected or in honour of whom it was constructed, could give answers for the tomb’s occupant. According to other scientists, the Lion of Amphipolis was built for different reasons and not as a burial symbol.
Professor Arvanitopoulos states that the Lion was set up by Agnonas at the suggestion of Pericles to honour the 10,000 dead who were killed in the battle of Draviskos (Serres region). According to another theory by Dimitris Lazaridis, the sculpture was erected in honour of Laomedon, one of Alexander the Great’s successors and came from Lesvos.
Other names of admirals and generals of Alexander the Great have been heard, for whom there is a case that the Lion was raised, such as Nearchus, Androsthenes and Nearchus. According to popular belief, the Lion of Amphipolis has no tongue, precisely so that he can not “speak” and betray to whom the tomb belongs.