The British Museum expedition may have solved this mystery, after finding a silver drachma coin minted by Alexander’s men in the 330s BC, within the lifetime of Alexander the Great and immediately after he had defeated the Persians who ruled over the region.
Discovery of altar and figurines
They also found an altar and figurines which would typically have been left at Greek temples as offerings, including the coin, suggesting that this was a place of worship.
These offerings took the form of terracotta cavalrymen similar to those in the Companion Cavalry which formed Alexander’s bodyguard, suggesting that whoever left votive offerings there was extremely close to the commander, if not the general himself.
Alexander was obsessed with mythical strongmen, and in Egypt had himself declared the Son of Zeus, thereby becoming the brother of his hero Hercules. Hercules has similarities with the far more ancient figure of Ningirsu, including the completion of Twelve Labours.
Dr Rey believes that Alexander may have asked the people of Mesopotamia who their equivalent to Hercules was and been told that it was Ningirsu, making the general the brother of this fused Greek and Sumerian deity.
If he then sought a sacred site to honour him, those with the knowledge of Girsu as the home of the god would have directed him there.
The cryptic inscription “giver of the two brothers”, Dr Rey believes, refers to Alexander’s purported father Zeus, who had given the world both the commander and his brother Hercules and Ningirsu.
The fact that local people knew that Girsu, which had been abandoned more than 1,000 years before, was the home of the god Ninrusu suggests “deep cultural memory”, Dr Rey said.
The archaeologist has suggested that there is a chance that the later Hellenistic temple placed on top of the older sacred site was founded when Alexander passed through the region near Girsu on his return from campaign in India, a march which took place just before his death in 323 BC.
Dr Rey said: “This site honours Zeus and two divine sons. The sons are Heracles and Alexander. That is what these discoveries suggest.”