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Volume 20, Number 2March/April 1969

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Sarcophagi In The Attic

Who carved these magnificent tombs? For whom were they intended? Why were they hidden in the hills of Sidon?

Written by Mary Garvin Eddy
Photographed by Tor Eigeland

Mary Garvin Eddy is the widow of the late William Alfred Eddy, first United States Minister Plenipotentiary to Saudi Arabia (1944-46) and the sole interpreter at the famous meeting of President Roosevelt and King Ibn Sa'ud on board the U.S.S. Quincy in 1945.

Last summer, in preparing to return to the United States after 25 years in the Middle East, Mrs. Eddy came across photostats of some yellowed newspaper clippings that recalled for her a forgotten chapter of family history. Pleased by her discovery she wrote about it in a letter to her grandchildren—a letter on which this article is based.  —The Editors

My Dear Grandchildren:
I don't imagine you have even had the pleasure of exploring a family attic. American houses don't have attics any more do they? What a pity! I have just spent more than a week in my attic sifting through the memorablia of more than 100 years of our family's history in the Middle East and it was just fascinat­ing. As a matter of fact the chief reason I am writing is to tell you about some newspaper clippings that I found. They concern a little-known chapter in our family's long history, of involvement in the Middle East: how your great-grand­father discovered and saved a magni­ficent and mysterious Greek tomb.

As I hope you remember, your grandfather, William Alfred Eddy, was born and grew up in Sidon, a city in what is now southern Lebanon. In those days—he was born in 1896—Lebanon was governed as part of Syria and Syria was a part of the Ottoman Empire. His father, your great-grand­father, the Rev. William King Eddy, had also been born in Sidon. He became one of the founders (in 1881) of Gerard Institute for boys and his father, your great-great-grandfather, the Rev. William Woodbridge Eddy, was the founder of the Sidon Girl's School in 1862. He had come out to Syria in 1854 and later took part in the opening ceremony of the Syrian Protestant College—what is known today as the American University of Beirut.

At the end of the 19th century Sidon was a lovely old city. Centuries before it had been captured by the Crusaders and even to this day you can see the remains of castles and of the wall they built around the old city. Your grand­father and his brothers lived in a house near the sea and close to an old Phoeni­cian wall. Between their house and the castle called St. Louis was a great mound of murex shells where the ancient Sidonians extracted the famous royal purple dye from sea snails. (Remember the phrase, 'Born to the purple'?) Also near the house was a Crusader church which had been converted to a mosque and a large beautiful caravansary called the "Suq Frangi" where foreign mer­chants could stay and keep their wares. To hear him tell it, it was a wonderful place for a boy, with narrow, twisting streets sometimes covered with stone vaults and only wide enough for a mule to pass with a load.

One night, in 1887, a man came to your great-grandfather's house breath­less with excitement. While quarrying stone just outside the city he had found a room cut into the rock. He thought of Rev. Eddy at once because your great­grandfather had always shown an interest in archeology and had a fine collection of Roman glass, old coins and clay lamps found in Sidon. (I myself still have two jugs—complete with hardly a crack—which were found when someone was digging a basement for a house near Sidon. I asked a friend who is a professor of archeology about the age of these pieces and he replied, "Only about 4,000 years," and now I'm afraid to handle them.)

Rev. Eddy, of course, hurried off with the man. Can't you just imagine them .walking quickly through the narrow lanes of the darkened city and out through the orange groves to a field above the city? It was quite black by then and the two men had to light candles as they lowered themselves nervously into the deep shaft. The air was musty and heavy and as they reached the bottom the candles flickered uncertainly. Yet even in that dim light Rev. Eddy could see enough to realize that it was a discovery of great importance.

Four rooms led off of the bottom of the shaft, and they were full of huge, magnificently-carved stone coffins—sarcophagi. One, as Rev. Eddy later wrote, was "of black marble highly polished," another, "of purest white marble of dazzling brilliance and enormous size."

Dazed by this discovery Rev. Eddy left the tomb, immediately hired a guard to stand watch and—as the law re­quired—cabled the Turkish authorities in   Istanbul.

Years later your grandfather used to point out to me the approximate site of his father's discovery. Somewhere nearby, he told me, but now lost again, was the shaft where Rev. Eddy had first seen the sarcophagi. And your grand­father's sister Dora (Mrs. Harold Close), who was about 10 years older, told me once that the sarcophagi had been discovered just at the time of her birth. She remembered her mother saying years later what a hectic time it had been for her with a new baby on her hands and all the college and missionary people journeying down from Beirut to see the tombs. As the only American woman in Sidon at the time she had to offer hospitality to all the visitors since in those days the trip from Beirut (which today takes less than an hour) took all day by horseback and necessitated fording several rivers.

In the meantime, Rev. W. K. Eddy had sent a short account of his discover)' to his father, W. W. Eddy, your great-great-grandfather, who was living in Beirut and teaching there. The senior Rev. Eddy showed it to a colleague who sent it on to a friend in London and very shortly after the discovery there appeared in the Times of London the first of the clippings that I found in the attic last week. This is how it read:

THE TIMES, WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30, 1887. DISCOVERY OF A TOMB TEMPLE AT SIDON. TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES. Sir, — I have just received through Dr. Henry Jessup, of Beyrout, the following fetter regarding the discovery of a most interesting tomb temple at Sidon. Rev. Eddy's observations were made under great difficulties, and do not claim to be complete, but his hasty descriptions will awaken widespread interest. Dr. Jessup adds that no inscriptions have yet been discovered, but Phoenician letters might easily escape notice during a hurried examination in bad light. Professors Porter and Fisher, of the Protestant Syrian College, Beyrout, have left for Sidon, with photographic apparatus and mag­nesium wire, in the hope of obtaining pictures of the sculptures. A Turkish guard is standing over the shaft to prevent the removal of the statues ...

The discovery at Sidon may turn out to be of very great importance artistically and archaeological!}*. The treasure will probably be consigned to the archaeo­logical limbo at Constantinople. If they cannot be brought to London for the use of the world, could they not be preserved in situ?

I have the honour to be yours obe­diently,


British and  Foreign   Bible  Society.  146, Queen Victoria Street, London E.C, March 28.

The Times followed Mr. Wright's letter with the one written by your great ­grandfather:

LETTER OF THE REV. W.K. EDDY. AMERICAN MISSIONARY,  DATED SIDON, SYRIA MARCH 12, 1887 About a mile northeast of the city, in an open field above the line of the gardens, was found a shaft, open at the top, about 30 ft. sq. and 35 ft. or 40 ft. deep. When this was excavated, doors were found on the four sides of the perpendicular walls leading to as many chambers. Entering the south one first, we found it about 15 ft. sq. cut out of the solid rock, roof and sides all of rock, but a built wall between it and. court of shaft. Entering, two sarcophagi met the eye ...

One was 11 ft. long, 5 ft. wide, and 12 ft. high ... partly covered with stones, so that we could not sec it. The workmanship of this was good, but not remarkable. A hole had been broken in the front through which the contents had been rifled, but in general it was in a fine state of preservation. Three skeletons and five dogs" heads. From the long noses of the latter it is easy to infer they were hunting dogs.

The east chamber had also two sarco­phagi, one small, and plain, but on the left; while the larger one was on the right. This was the finest thing I remember to have seen in stone, A Greek temple, formed of finest marble, translucent as alabaster ... with a porch of-columns all about it; and in the porch between these stood 18 statues, about three feet in height, not discoloured not touched by dirt, as beautiful as if finished yesterday; of the finest art, muscles and form showed through the drapery. Each one of these 18 would be a gem of itself—not a scratch nor a flaw anywhere ...

While all this was being written and published, the Turkish authori­ties had sent back instructions to Rev. Eddy to spare no expense to guard the site. They also gave permission to local archeological authorities to begin excava­tions. Soon after it was also learned that Hamdi Bey, the able, Paris-educated archeologist who headed the Department of Antiquities for the whole Turkish empire, was on his way to take charge personally.

For Rev. Wright of the British and Foreign Bible Society, however, such measures were inadequate. Excited by the find and lacking your great-grand­father's confidence in the ability of the authorities to preserve the treasures, he was soon in print with another letter on April 7, announcing that the total of sarcophagi found was now 16 and suggesting that pressure be applied to persuade the Turks to leave the sarco­phagi where they were found, It is clear, he said,

"...that the discovery at Sidon will prove of   surpassing   interest.   The Sidonian treasures, however, are in a fair way to be lost. Legally the Turks have a right to do what they please with the sculptures, but I think they might be induced to let them remain where they are. The cost of guard­ing and preserving the   tombs in situ might be covered by a small fee for admission and Sidon would be come a new centre of attraction.

I have the honour to be yours faithfully,


Along with that suggestion Rev. Wright also sent the Times the latest letter from your great-grandfather, forwarded like the first by Dr. Jessup in Beirut.

"The large tomb ... exceeds al! other sarcophagi seen before. Professor Porter, of the American College in Beirut, says that he saw nothing to equal it in the collection at Athens, and very little in sculpture finer anywhere ... The main features are battles. Two classes of warriors are represented—soldiers with casque helmets, tunics, greaves, and short swords. Some wore flowing cloaks painted red, but their tunica were blue; eyes also painted blue. These were mostly mounted on horses. The other class of soldiers had a peculiar headdress, a peaked cap with tassels, and a cloth wrapped about the sides of the head and also across the face ...

"On the main body of the sarcophagus there was ... a fierce battle, the dead and dying, horses rearing and plunging, a very spirited and vigorous representation. On the other side a hunting scene; a hunter, barbarian, stands up with outstretched arms, having just discharged an arrow, a man on horseback, as if thrusting with spear; then, in front, another horseman, and a lion has fastened upon the neck of his horse ..."

Despite Rev. Wright and the Times, Hamdi Bey did come to Sidon. He arrived by ship on April 29, called at once on your great-grandfather and began to make arrangements for the removal and safekeeping of the treasures. This was a very difficult task because the sarcophagi were big, they were heavy and were located in deep, subterranean chambers. They were also covered with fragile carvings which had to be pre­served undamaged.

To get to them, Hamdi Bey super­intended the cutting of a horizontal tunnel through the hillside into the chambers. He then rolled the huge sarcophagi out through the tunnels. Outside, workmen encased them in wrappings and put them into wooden crates. To preserve the coloring the workmen wore gloves, and Hamdi Bey himself stuffed the cotton wool behind each of the carvings and had them covered by layer upon layer of soft material. Lastly he ordered construction of a temporary railway through the groves to the seashore where a special wharf was constructed on piles. When all was ready, a special ship was brought from Constantinople and a large hole cut in its side. Then the sarcophagi were rolled over the tracks to the wharf, loaded on barges, floated out to the steamer and placed in the hold for their journey to Constantinople, where your great-grandfather—who went along—was made an honorary member of the Turkish Archeological Society.

For Sidon, that was the end of the excitement, but in London interest continued for a while. On December 8, 1887, Professor T. Hayter Lewis, Chair­man of the Palestine Exploration Fund, turned in a detailed description of the carvings after a visit to Constantinople. In his description he discussed the most puzzling aspect of the discovery: for what great leader was this splendid tomb constructed and concealed?

"The seventh sarcophagus is the grandest of all. It is out of one block of white marble, about lift, long ... with sculpture of marvellously fine execution. On two of the sides the subject is the chase; on the other two are represented combats be­tween warriors both on horse and foot. One prominent figure reminded Hamdi Bey of that of Darius in the famous mosaic from Pompeii (and having seen this recently I quite agree with him), and certain characteristics on another of the principal figures induces him to assign it to Alexander.

In any case, there can scarcely be a doubt that the sculptures represent a battle between Greeks arid Persians, and most probably between Darius and Alexander ...

The architectural details of all these sarcophagi, so far as I can judge from the photographs, are of the Greek type of the best period, without a trace of Roman influence, and the sculpture appears to be of the highest class ...

But it is not only by the sculpture that this monument has been adorned. It has been so, in the most careful and artistic way, with colouring, which was (and I trust still is) in a perfect state of preserva­tion ...

The absence of any inscription is not surprising, in as much as very few of the sculptured sarcophagi (chiefly Greco-Rornan) left to us are inscribed, and have Hamdi Bey's authority for saying that there is not a line, not a word, which could give a clue to the date, nor anything definite as to the persons for whom these spiendidJy adorned tombs were made.

How was it that a great sepulchre should have been hewn 10ft. deep in the solid rock, chambers carved out from it, these immense blocks of the finest marble brought from Greece, carved by the best Greek sculptors, painted (it would seem) by the best Greek artists, and then lowered into their resting-places in times of no great antiquity, and yet not a single record of any kind be left to give a clue to the names of those for whom such great works were done? ...

It will be months before the sarcophagi can be seen by any one, as it would be highly dangerous to expose them, how­ever slightly, to the dust and damp of a Constantinople winter, as would be the case if they were uncovered before being placed in the building now being erected for their reception ...


As you see from the clippings, no one knew with any certainty then whose tomb it was. And to be honest, no one is certain to this day. But when you are in Istanbul someday be sure to go to the Archeological Museum, find the room with the Sidon treasures, and ask for the Sarcophagus of Alexander the Great. They'll be very cautious, of course, and tell you no one is certain it was really intended for Alexander. But look at it anyway—carefully guarded and pre­served in a huge glass case—and remember my letter. For that's the tomb your great-grandfather found.

Much love always,
your grandmother

This article appeared on pages 30-32 of the March/April 1969 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for March/April 1969 images.