The Great Tumulus of Vergina was one of the hundreds of earth tumuli concealing the tombs of the ancient cemetery that extends on the gentle northern slopes of the Pierian Mountains also occupied by the modern village of Vergina.
Systematic excavation conducted there (1976-1980) from the University of Thessaloniki under prof. Andronikos yielded magnificent fruit. Five monumental burial structures were discovered: tombs I-IV, built below ground level, and the so called Heroon an above ground building with scanty remains believed to have served for funerary rituals.
Tombs II, III and IV are of the Macedonian type with an architectural decoration embellishing their facades and barrel-vaulted roofs.
Tomb I a cist-grave of poros limestone was found robbed of its offerings. Though smaller than the others and humble externally it has an interior decorated with exquisite wall-paintings depicting the Rape of Persphone by Pluto, executed by a leading painter.
Tomb II, the most important monument of the Tumulus was found unlooted. Its façade with a wall-panting 5.56 m long and 1.16 m heigh depicting a hunt with ten hunters, dogs and various games. The action is focused on the lion hunt, but several hunting scenes are executed in a rocky landscape.
Scholarly efforts to ascribe this important work to one of the famous painters of antiquity have not yet resulted to agreement. The tomb contained the remains of two persons, kept in gold caskets, and an assortment of sumptuous offerings, mainly armour, weapons, silver banquetware and gold and ivory furniture.
The tomb was ascribed by its excavator to king Philip II and one of his wives; a considerable number of experts thought it was the tomb of Philip III and his wife Eurydike or the tomb of Kassander and Thessalonike, or even Alexander III and Roxane.
Recent scholarly work suggests that the tomb does not belong to a king, but to a prominent warrior of high military office, as the ancient city that lies in Vergina is not Aegae where the royal cemetery was located.
Tomb III concealed the remains of an adolescent male and a similar assortment of offerings. Its attribution to Alexander IV is also strongly questioned.
Tomb IV, imposing once, was found largely destroyed. Parts of the building and of its contents that survive indicate that it contained a burial of similar features.
The Great Tumulus, an enormous amassment of earth, stone and pebble 12 m. in height and 110 m. in diameter was dug away to reveal these monuments. After excavation and restoration had been completed a shelter was built (1993) for the monuments in the shape of a tumulus externally, with its interior divided into separate rooms for each monument, as each required special air-conditioning for its preservation.
The construction contains also a hall where the grave offerings ad other fins are exhibited. It is among the most important archaeological sites of Greece, declared a Unesco World Heritage Site and receives thousands of visitors yearly having contributed the most to the modern village´s prosperity.