The Journal of Hellenic Studies

Research Article

Chaironeia 338: topographies of commemoration*

John Maa1

a1 Corpus Christi College, Oxford


This article examines two funerary monuments associated with the battle of Chaironeia in 338: first, the mound, covering a mass cremation, by the Kephissos; second, near the town of Chaironeia, the mass burial surrounded by a stone enclosure and topped by a colossal stone lion. The accepted identifications are confirmed (the mound is that of the Macedonian dead, the lion monument that of Theban dead, in all probability the Sacred Band), and two propositions developed: the mound does not relate to the tactical dispositions of the battle, and hence the generally accepted reconstruction of the battle must be discarded; the lion monument must date to much later than 338. In developing these propositions, I examine material which has been long known, but never considered in depth; I notably present what I believe are the first photographs of some of the osteological material from the mass burial under the lion monument. More generally, the two monuments, located at different points of the battlefield, set up by different actors and at different moments, offer the opportunity for considerations on the different functions of ‘memory’ surrounding an historical event: the Macedonian mound reflected the needs and self-imagining of the victorious army, imposing a trace in the landscape; the lion monument embeds itself in preexisting topographies, for a more reflective, and more troubled, effect.


* I thank Polly Low, Graham Oliver and Peter Rhodes for the invitation to give an originally very different paper; I owe the expression ‘cultures of commemoration’ to them. Research for this paper was carried out thanks to a Philip Leverhulme Prize, for which I am glad to thank the Lever-hulme Trust. Work in Greece was enabled by James Whitley, Helen Clark, Vassilios Petrakos, Ioanna Ninou, Vassilios Aravantinos, Iannis Phappas, Giorgios Korres, Roza Proskynitopoulou, Mika Palaiokrassa. I also thank the following persons for assistance: Kostas Buraselis, Christophe Chandezon (with whom I tramped around Kápraina, and who helped me with his Plutarchan and Chaironeian expertise), Angelos Chaniotis, Jim Coulton, Sylvian Fachard, the late Peter Fraser, Tonio Hölscher, Alistar Jackson, Maria Liston, Paraskevi Martzavou, Josh Ober, Karen Schlott, Antony Spawforth. Mistakes and omissions remain my own.