Archaeologists conducting extensive excavations in the ancient Sumerian city of Girsu, now known as Tello in southeastern Iraq, have unearthed twin temples built on top of each other.
The newer temple, dating back to the fourth century BCE in the Hellenistic era, is believed to have connections to Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king who conquered vast territories during his reign from 336 BCE to 323 BCE.
Led by Sebastien Rey, an archaeologist and curator of Ancient Mesopotamia at the British Museum in London, the excavation is part of an ongoing project called The Girsu Project, aiming to unravel the storied history of the ancient city.
The newer temple, dedicated to the Greek god Hercules and his Sumerian counterpart Ningirsu (also known as Ninurta), revealed a fired brick with an inscription in both Aramaic and Greek. The inscription refers to “the giver of two brothers,” a possible allusion to Alexander the Great. Rey explains, “The legacy of the Sumerians was still very vibrant, showing that the inhabitants of Babylonia in the [fourth] century BCE had a vast knowledge of their history.”
Intriguingly, beneath an altar or shrine in the temple, archaeologists discovered a silver drachm, an ancient Greek coin, along with a brick bearing the inscription of the two brothers. The inscription is particularly noteworthy, featuring the Babylonian name “Adadnadinakhe,” meaning ‘Adad, the giver of brothers,’ chosen for its ceremonial and symbolic significance.
Rey points out the inscription’s connection to Zeus, the Greek sky god, symbolized by a lightning bolt and an eagle. This symbolism is mirrored on the coin, which would have been struck in Babylon “under Alexander the Great’s authority.” Rey suggests, “Zeus famously acknowledged Alexander as his son through the agency of the Ammon oracle, becoming quite literally the ‘giver of brothers’ by affirming a fraternal bond between Alexander and Heracles.”
The question of whether Alexander personally visited the site remains unanswered, but Rey speculates, “He might have had the opportunity to go there, either during his stay in Babylon or en route to Susa.” Alexander’s control over Babylon’s wealth, obtained after the city’s surrender, possibly influenced the minting of coins using Babylonian silver.
The archaeologists also uncovered offerings typically associated with post-battle rituals, including clay figurines of soldiers. Rey suggests that these figurines, originating from various Hellenistic regions, were likely brought to the temple by visitors. He speculates that the Macedonian riders depicted could be linked to Alexander, raising the possibility that the temple’s re-establishment was directly influenced by Alexander or included a memorial to him after his early death.