Golden larnax and wreath of Philip II of Macedon
Golden larnax and wreath of Philip II of Macedon, 336 BC (Credit: Sarah Murray, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

King Philip II of Macedon spectacular Golden Larnax

A priceless treasure


The Golden Larnax (with the “Sun of Vergina” – symbol of the royal clan of Macedon- design on the lid) contains the remains (bones) from the burial of King Philip II of Macedon (r. 359-336 BCE), father of Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BCE). This piece of ancient art is made up of 11 kg of gold. A splendid gold wreath of oak leaves adorned the cremated bones. It consists of 313 leaves and 68 acorns, weighing 717 grams.

King Philip II of Macedon ruled the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC in the town of Aegae, by a member of his security. It was a world-shaking event that heralded in Alexander’s kingship. After the death of King Philip II, the 20-year-old Alexander took Philip’s place and launched his famous conquest of the Persian Empire.

The discovery of King Philip II tomb by professor Manolis Andronikos (1919-1992), the famed Greek archaeologist, in 1977, is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the Greek history. This tomb, known as Tomb II, had been intact, and it contained silver and bronze vessels, gold wreaths, weapons, armor, and two gold larnakes.

Gold Larnaca of Philipp II of Macedon (Credit: Harrygouvas at Greek Wikipedia, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons)

Andronikos himself recounted his findings: “I held the small shovel I carried with me since 1952 and dug into the hole, impatiently, under the keystone of the arch. My colleagues were all around me. (…) I kept digging, and I was sure. The stone in the west wall was in situ, undisturbed, solid. (…) It is intact, sealed! I was delighted. I had discovered the first unplundered Macedonian tomb. At the moment, I was not interested in anything else. That night -like all the following nights- I could not sleep for more than two or three hours. Around midnight, I got into the car and went to make sure the guards were there. I did the same at 2 am and at 5 am. I was sure that inside the sarcophagus, there would be a nice surprise.”

Entrance to the Royal Tombs, Vergina, Greece (Credit: Colin W, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The journalists at that point named the discovery as “The finding of the century”. Among the findings was also Philip’s armor which stayed almost untouched, as well as his ivory-gold shield. Andronikos’ finds supported his claim that Vergina was the site of the ancient capital of the Macedonian Greeks.

Facade of Philip II of Macedon tomb in Vergina, Greece. The door is made of marble and the order is doric. (Credit: Panegyrics of Granovetter (Sarah Murray), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Nestled in the shadow of the Pierian Mountains of Northern Greece, the ancient city of Aegae (known today as Vergina) provides important information about the culture, history and society of the ancient Macedonians. The most important archaeological remains of the site are: the monumental palace (ca 340 BC), which was the biggest and one of the most impressive buildings of classical Greece, the theatre, the sanctuaries of Eukleia and the Mother of the Gods, the city walls, the royal necropolis, containing more than 500 tumuli, dating from the 11th to 2nd century BC.

In 1996 the palace archaeological site and royal tombs were inscibed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with this description:

The city of Aegae, the ancient first capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia, was discovered in the 19th century near Vergina, in northern Greece. The most important remains are the monumental palace, lavishly decorated with mosaics and painted stuccoes, and the burial ground with more than 300 tumuli, some of which date from the 11th century B.C. One of the royal tombs in the Great Tumulus is identified as that of Philip II, who conquered all the Greek cities, paving the way for his son Alexander and the expansion of the Hellenistic world.

The Royal Tombs with a subterranean museum in the tumulus (ancient burial mound) containing four royal graves, including Philip’s, were open to the public since 1997.

The new Polycentric Museum of Aegae, opened in late 2022, is a multi-purpose space that incorporates and unites the new central building with the entire archaeological site, including Palace of Philip, the royal tombs cluster and the Museum of the Royal Tombs.