Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Macedonian Warrior by Heckel and Jones

Macedonian Warrior, Alexander’s Elite Infantryman (ISBN 978-1841769509), is a highly informative account about this skilled entity of Alexander’s forces.

Heckel and Jones have made a praiseworthy effort to cover every aspect of infantrymen from the days of King Philip to training, campaigning, marching and fighting along with the rest of the army that accompanied Alexander the Great for more than ten years. They tell about the enlistment of the men, their appearance and equipment (sarissa, shield, body armor), and the overall conditions of service, i.e. their pay, rewards, promotions and punishments – not be taken lightly! Most interesting of all is to read about the phalanx, a formation that never failed Alexander. Very exciting to me anyway is the chapter about the splitting up of these infantrymen into pezhetairoi, asthetairoi, hypaspistai (regular hypaspists), argyraspids, hypaspistai basilikoi (royal hypaspists), taxeis and chiliarchia.

This is a rather small booklet but packed with interesting analysis of every single aspect of this force, with referrals to ancient writers, and plenty of pictures and drawings to clearly illustrate it all. In the back we find a nice glossary of the Greek words as well as museums and websites for those who want to dig in further.

In short, a must for everyone who is interested in the campaigns of Alexander the Great.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Iskander by Louis Couperus

I finally wrestled through Couperus’ book Iskander, the Persian name for Alexander the Great. It was pure stubbornness and determination that made me read it to the end. I actually read it on the recommendations of a friend who qualified it as delightful reading in a fluent narrative, having read it in a German translation. My book was in the original Dutch of the 1920’s, a very awkward and old fashioned language usage, to say the least.

I found Couperus’ description of the women especially as theatrical as the characters encountered on the set of silent movies. Besides, I missed the action that inevitably should surround Alexander for he was either fulminating in rage or speaking in over-delicate tone to Sisygambis and her grandchildren – his military conquests were put on the backburner.

Although I’m very much aware that this is a novel and that the author is, of course, entitled to his own liberties, I had a hard time accepting Couperus’ constant referrals to Alexander’s greed (oh yes?) and megalomania, his uncontrolled fits of rage and his rough humiliation of Bagoas, whom he literally crushes under his feet! The latest may simply fit the general conception of a eunuch in his days, so I can forgive him for that. I found it rather comical to read that Alexander grew a beard according to the Persian fashion that he adopted after conquering the country. Just imagine what he would have looked like! And then I failed to find anything about his close relationship with Hephaistion, who in the beginning is set at the same level as Philotas - of all people! I have not found him to be “his pillar and his sanity” as one would expect, certainly in a novel. There hardly seems to be any communication between them at all!

The German version may have been an improvement on the original Dutch text. This is rather exceptional for generally books loose their true character in translation. A comparison with Mary Renault to which my friend compared the author, is out of the question as far as I’m concerned. Whereas I can loose myself entirely in Renault’s novels and walk with her through antiquity, Couperus’ story could hardly make it to the local newspaper, to be shredded next day. Sorry. This book will sit on my shelves, a dead weight.

Those who are curious about this story telling will have a hard time finding the book at all since it is out of print since 1995 or so. I got mine second hand, but I’ll gladly pass it on to whoever is interested. Otherwise you can look it up under ISBN 90 254 1403 6.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Questioning The Tomb of King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great

Like me, you probably read Sarah Goudarzi’s article in National Geographic News, April 2008, “Alexander the Great’s "Crown", Shield Discovered?” about the new conclusions regarding the excavation site of Vergina, Greece. When these Macedonian tombs were discovered in the late 1970’s, Manolis Andronikos, archaeologist at the University of Thessaloniki, concluded that the largest and best-preserved tomb most probably belonged to King Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. At that time, this theory was largely developed and the frieze above this so-called Tomb of Philip should even represent a hunting scene including Alexander the Great in person.

[picture from National Geographic News]

Presently, Eugene Borza, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History, The Pennsylvania State University, comes forward with a different conclusion, because Tomb II (let’s say, Philip’s) is vaulted and apparently vaulted tombs were not found before 320 BC, i.e. a good generation after Philip’s reign. Why this tomb simply could not be an earlier example of this style, the article does not explain. Another of Borza’s arguments, shared by Olga Palagia from the University of Athens is that the frieze above the entrance of the tomb represents a “ritual” hunting scene “with Asian themes”. I’m not a professional, of course, but I would like to know what makes this scene so Asian, and why is it a “ritual” hunt? I fail to see this, but who am I?

The archaeologists now attribute the artifacts from the tomb, i.e. a silver headband, an iron helmet, a ceremonial shield, a six-foot long scepter and a panoply of weapons to no one less than Alexander the Great. I can't help being skeptic about such an assumption for it would be evident that this weaponry traveled with Alexander's corpse, which we all know went to Egypt.

Both Borza’s and Palagia’s opinion is that the First Tomb, a simple “stone box”, should be considered as being the tomb of King Philip II. No golden larnax was found in there, no armory, no luxurious vessels, in fact, nothing worthy of a king and, most importantly in my eyes, nothing referring to a king. Doesn’t that seem out of proportion? While Tomb III is being attributed to Alexander’s son, Alexander IV, we do find a gold wreath and silver urn in there – so this burial went into greater expense than the one for Philip, the creator of the Macedonian phalanx, the Hegemon of Greece, the very king who put Macedonia on the map?

OK, I do agree that if the silver markings on the vessels found in Tomb II (up till now Philip's Tomb) are of the type introduced by Alexander the Great, it does not make sense to find such gifts in a Tomb dedicated to his father. Borza thus assumes that this Tomb II might well belong to King Philip III Arrhidaeus, Alexander’s simple minded half-brother who was put on the throne after Alexander’s death. Once again, we find more luxury for this burial site than for Alexander’s father.

I must say that I am quite skeptical when it comes to Eugene Borza, with all respect for his impressive title. I read his comments earlier on Oliver Stone’s movie Alexander in the AIA, and these are really below any standards! It is loaded with critics only, even those that don’t really matter as they can be explained as simple adjustments for the sake of the movie and don’t distort or effectively misrepresent the course of history or the image of Alexander’s conquest. Besides, Oliver Stone made it quite clear that he was not making a documentary, why are so many viewers expecting one? Why do we accept all the oddities and untruthfulness in a movie like Troy and not in the one about Alexander? A little tolerance could do no harm. Alexander would have shown some, why can’t Mr. Borza?

I’m curious what will come out this new theory around Vergina, especially after the Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America that was planned for January last and the issuing publication by the German Archaeological Institute. Will National Geographic News publish the results of these meetings also? I’m looking forward to it!