Here I was in Syria, visiting Apamea. The Cardo Maximus is no less than two kilometers long and flanked by rows and rows of columns. Originally, there were 1200 of them, now about 400 still standing – a highly impressive view.
I hear that it was Seleucus (later called Seleucus Nicator, i.e. the Victorious) who built this city and named it after his wife, Apame. During the mass wedding party which Alexander the Great organized in Susa in 324 B.C. as a symbolic fusion between east and west, between Macedonians and Persians, Apame, the daughter of Spitamenes the Bactrian, became Seleucus’ bride. It seems to have been one of the few successful marriages for she accompanied her husband on all his expeditions, even as far as India – and that in spite the fact that travelling cannot have been very comfortable in those days.
For those who don’t know, Seleucus was one of the generals in the army of Alexander the Great. Upon Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., he and his fellow generals got caught up in a series of succession wars that went down into history as the Wars of the Diadochi. Those were very confusing times where every general tried to get the best or most prosperous tracts of land, since Alexander had not appointed any successor (his son with Roxane, the later Alexander IV, was not born yet and Heracles, his son with Barsine, was in fact a bastard son). The initial division of Alexander’s Empire among his generals, in which Seleucus was appointed satrap of Babylon, did not last long and less than a year later, in spite of his best intentions, Perdiccas was murdered by his own generals, Seleucus, Peithon and Antigenes when he invaded Egypt. Ptolemy retaining Egypt for himself, came to terms with the murderers by granting them respectively the provinces of Babylon, Media and Susiana.
After that, Seleucus managed to stay more or less out of further conflicts and successive Diadochi Wars and finally was able to include Persia and Media in his conquests. He even made an alliance with King Chandragupta of India. The Diadochi Wars as such were over by now, but the fierce fighting and endless greed of Alexander’s generals was still cause for more wars. Seleucus defeated Antigonus in the Battle of Ipsus and killed Lysimachus on the battlefields of Lycia in 281 B.C. Soon afterwards Seleucus died too, assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus, son of Ptolemy I of Egypt, at one time one of Alexander’s generals. Brother in arms with Ptolemy for so many years, he ends up to be killed in later life by his very son. How glorious can one’s life be?
If Alexander could have foreseen his own untimely death, I’m sure he would have provided arrangements for his succession. Unfortunately, it was not the case. Yet, there certainly was no room in his mind for the constant wars and futile bloodshed that unfolded.
In between all this fighting and conniving, Seleucus still found time (and money) to expand and structure his Empire. After having used Babylon as the capital of his kingdom, he decided to move it to Antioch on the Orontes, today’s Antakya in Turkey. He was apparently so much at ease in this part of the country that he built another marvelous city further inland (initially started by his rival and enemy Antigonus) and called it Apamea in honor of his wife. It thus became one of his main cities. But he didn’t stop there, of course. He also built Laudetia, now Lattakia, the Syrian port on the Mediterranean, which he named after his mother (to keep things in the family), and later on he founded Seleucia on the Tigris (named after himself!) as his Empire by then reached from the Mediterranean all the way to the Indus! Alexander’s example definitely was not lost on him.
Well, this is what the books have to say. Now I am finding myself in Syria, driving up to Apamea. The first thing I see is a high flat topped hill crowned with many towers connected with city walls – 16 km long, they say. Well, well,… The bus drives uphill and stops at the northern end of the Cardo Maximus, at the Antioch Gate, so I can walk down the road to the other end of the city. I’m immediately drawn to the Cardo with all those impressive columns, of course, but I can’t help turning around to take a closer look at the rubble behind me where the very gate is supposed to be. Now that’s a surprise! A surprise I am the only one to notice though, for this gate is Hellenistic! Once you have seen the Hellenistic towers in Perge (inside the Roman walls), you can’t miss recognizing them even when in ruins – like in Side and in Sillyum, all in today’s Turkey. And now I find them here, of all places! If ever I expected this! Seleucus had quite a master to follow in his footsteps!
Alexander’s achievements did indeed leave an ever lasting imprint on his entourage and on his generals. This is what the birth of Hellenism truly means. Even in his boldest and most daring dreams Alexander the Great could not have envisaged this to happen, but it did – and this is the very proof of how Alexander has changed history, be it in geography, economy, army tactics or architecture! The Romans copied him, and so did the Persians, the Indians, the Italians of the Renaissance, the British with Christopher Wren – you just name it! Nothing was left unchanged, nothing was ever the same. As I so often say, there is the time before Alexander and there is the world after Alexander. We owe him so much, we owe so much to his Hellenization!
Alexander never ceases to amaze me, for here once again I saw what he accomplished and instigated others to do so many years after his death! Isn’t that amazing?