Why Alexander The Great’s Tomb Remains Elusive After 2,000 Years

Published July 15, 2023
Updated February 21, 2024

After Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 B.C.E., he was buried in Memphis before being moved to Alexandria — but the exact location of his tomb remains mysterious.

Tomb Of Alexander The Great

Wikimedia CommonsArchaeologist Liana Souvaltzi has been confident Alexander the Great’s tomb is in the Siwa Oasis in Egypt since the mid-1980s.

For centuries, the location of Alexander the Great’s tomb has remained one of the most baffling and captivating mysteries in the world of archaeology. Researchers have raised their hopes at the sign of promising clues — only to be severely disappointed time and time again.

In June of 323 B.C.E., the storied Macedonian king Alexander the Great died in Babylon at the age of 32. The cause of his mysterious demise remains unknown for certain to this day, with theories ranging from malaria to typhoid fever to poisoning.

But just as mysterious as the cause of his death is the location of his lost tomb. What experts do know is that he was initially buried in Memphis on the orders of one of his generals, Ptolemy I Soter. Then, circa 300 B.C.E., Alexander the Great’s tomb was moved, almost certainly to Alexandria — but to this day, experts don’t know exactly where.

Two contemporary experts, however, might have finally solved that age-old riddle of where Alexander the Great was buried. Author of The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great Dr. Andrew Michael Chugg and archaeologist Liana Souvaltzi each believe they have come closer than ever before — but not without some extreme hurdles impeding their way.

From antiquity to the latest theories, this is the mystery behind the lost tomb of Alexander the Great and where he might be buried.

The Bizarre Death Of Alexander The Great

While most would imagine the death of an ancient king as renowned as Alexander the Great to have been a solemn event, the truth is a little more macabre and bizarre. In 2019, Dr. Katherine Hall of New Zealand’s University of Otago presented a grisly theory on the matter.

Hall suggested that Alexander, who died in Babylon in 323 B.C.E. (date estimate range from June 10-13), suffered from Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). This auto-immune disorder caused the conquerer to exhibit symptoms such as abdominal pain and progressive paralysis that eventually left him unable to move. Despite these symptoms, he remained entirely mentally fit.

For years, experts wondered why the ruler’s body didn’t decompose after he had been dead for days. Hall posits that GBS merely made him appear to be deceased when he was really alive and unable to tell anyone before being entombed.

Death Of Alexander The Great

Wikimedia CommonsThough experts aren’t sure where Alexander the Great was buried, most agree that his lost tomb sits somewhere in Alexandria.

“I have worked for five years in critical care medicine and have seen probably about 10 cases [of GBS],” said Hall. “The combination of ascending paralysis with normal mental ability is very rare and I have only seen it with GBS.”

While other historians believe that Alexander the Great died of typhoid, malaria, alcohol poisoning, or was assassinated, Hall believes that his strange illness was induced by an infection of Campylobacter pylori — a common bacterium of Alexander’s era.

So, the ancient king’s passing may be the most famous case of pseudothanatos, or “false diagnosis of death…ever recorded” — which brings us to his burial.

Where Was Alexander The Great Buried?

There are far more questions regarding the lost tomb of Alexander the Great than there are clear-cut answers. According to National Geographic, modern historians largely agree that the ancient king was buried in Alexandria, Egypt.

When he died at the age of 32, his advisers initially buried him in Memphis, Egypt before deciding on Alexandria. His tomb became a place of worship, though a period of earthquakes and rising sea levels increasingly threatened the city. It survived, however, and was built over for centuries.

Where Is Alexander The Great Buried

Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty ImagesSouvaltiz believes Alexander’s tomb is contained in the ruins of this ancient fortification in Siwa, Egypt.

In 2019, Calliope Limneos-Papakosta, director of the Hellenic Research Institute of the Alexandrian Civilization, managed to dig beneath modern-day Alexandria and made tremendous headway in finding the ruler’s tomb.

“This is the first time the original foundations of Alexandria have been found,” said archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert. “It gave me goosebumps to see it.”

Though a promising leap forward, Alexander’s tomb had yet to be found. According to Ancient Origins, his body vanished when Roman emperor Theodosius banned pagan worship in 392 C.E. Two competing theories by Chugg and Souvaltzi, however, may have come closer than ever before.

The Quest For The Lost Tomb Of Alexander The Great

According to Express, Souvaltzi believed Alexander’s wish to be buried in the temple of Egyptian god Amun Ran was granted — leading her to apply for permission to excavate the Oasis of Siwa in 1984. Egyptian authorities granted her as much in 1989.

Augustus Visits The Tomb Of Alexander The Great

Wikimedia CommonsA rendering of Augustus visiting the tomb of Alexander the Great in Alexandria.

What they found were lion statues, an entranceway, and a 5,651-square-foot Hellenistic royal tomb. Souvaltzi believed the carvings and inscriptions, which referred to the transportation of a body, were written by Alexander’s famous companion Ptolemy.

At the time, Souvaltzi said, “I have no reservations about whether this is Alexander’s tomb…I want every [fellow Greek] to feel proud, because Greek hands have found this very important monument.”

Though it was announced in 1995 that the ancient king’s tomb had finally been found, the Greek government called upon Egypt’s government to cease excavations — as tensions between the two ran high. Souvaltzi continues to fight to resume her dig, as Chugg’s latest findings have become promising.

New Theories About The Location Of Alexander The Great’s Tomb

Where Was Alexander The Great Buried

Andrew ChuggDr. Andrew Chugg believes the sarcophagus of Nectanbo II, in London’s British Museum, holds the real clues to the true location of Alexander’s remains.

Chugg has a different theory when it comes to the tomb of Alexander the Great. He explained in his book that Alexander’s original tomb-turned-temple near Memphis in Egypt at the Serapeum complex was built by pharaoh Nectanbo II. Guarded by sculptures of Greek poets and philosophers, it was the obvious choice for containing Alexander’s tomb.

Now, many years after publication of his book, new evidence seems to support that theory. A piece of masonry found in the foundations of St. Mark’s in Venice, Italy, entirely matches the dimensions of Nectanbo II’s sarcophagus in the British Museum — which might confirm the location of Alexander’s tomb.

Since his body disappeared in 392 C.E., and the tomb of Saint Mark appeared at the same time, dots are now being connected. Chugg posits Alexander’s body was stolen from Alexandria by Venetian merchants who mistook it for Saint Mark’s.

Sarcophagul Stone Block From Venice

Andrew ChuggDr. Andrew Chugg suggests continuing the spear here would make the stone block exactly the right size for a sarcophagus casing.

They then smuggled it to Venice and have venerated it as Saint Mark’s in the Basilica Cathedral Patriarcale di San Marco ever since.

For Chugg, who said the fragment found in Venice is “exactly the right height and length” to have formed the outer casing of the sarcophagus in Britain, this means the remains entombed in Venice are those of Alexander the Great’s.

Even the British Museum is now convinced, as it has changed part of its “Curator’s Comments” sections to reflect this new evidence:

“This object was incorrectly believed to be associated with Alexander the Great when it entered the collection in 1803” now reads the same way — but is missing the significant word “incorrectly.”

Perhaps experts are now getting closer than ever before to learning where Alexander the Great was buried. Nevertheless, the precise location of Alexander the Great’s tomb still remains a mystery, the holy grail of archaeological discoveries still out there, waiting to be found.

After learning about the age-old quest for the tomb of Alexander the Great, read about Queen Olympias — the bad-ass mother of Alexander the Great. Then, learn about the declassified satellite images showing the lost city of Alexander the Great.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Margaritoff, Marco. "Why Alexander The Great’s Tomb Remains Elusive After 2,000 Years." AllThatsInteresting.com, July 15, 2023, https://allthatsinteresting.com/alexander-the-great-tomb. Accessed May 27, 2024.