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 of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, 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, Afghanistan) - 329 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 - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Skopje and Alexander the Great - a two-faced story

As if it were not enough to put up that horrible 13 meter high statue of Alexander the Great in the very center of Skopje, which the Macedonians from the FYROM have allegedly tuned down to “Hero on Horseback” (this is at least what they said, see Alexander the Great in Skopje), they now show up with extra reinforcements.

Believe it or not, they just brought in more of Alexander’s army! Eight bronze phalanx soldiers and eight bronze lions are presently being put into place to liven up the scene! (See the article by the Sofia News Agency). Why eight and why eight lions (kingship?), I don’t know. In any case, it makes you wonder whether this is only a first addition or if there is more to come. I fail to see why they renamed the equestrian statue “Hero on Horseback” only a few weeks ago while these bronze soldiers and animals obviously were nearly ready to roll out of the workshops. This Macedonian phalanx clearly belongs to Alexander the Great. So much for the naivety (or stupidity) of the bystanders - and of the politicians!

[picture by actualno.com]

They just don’t seem to get it there in Skopje – or they just don’t want to. No wonder Greece is extremely unhappy with this situation and considers it as a provocation, nothing less, and they are right. The event has now even reached the EU where the Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fule, declared that if Macedonia (i.e. FYROM = Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) continues this kind of actions and fails to make progress in its reforms (the name Macedonia, even converted into FYROM, is not to Greece’s satisfaction), they will lose their EU candidate status. Will that threat be of any help? I have serious doubts.

Since their independency in 1991, the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has not only “stolen” the name Macedonia but they also repeatedly “hijacked” a number of historical figures from their neighbors, Alexander is not their first. I hear that the Bulgarians have a similar complaint about the five-meter high marble monument of Tsar Samuil recently erected in Skopje, for he was Bulgaria’s greatest hero fighting against Byzantium – nothing to do with Macedonia.

You just cannot “borrow” a hero from a neighboring country simply because you want or need one. That is a basic privilege for each country individually and one that should be respected.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Alexander the Great in Skopje

Today’s name for Tralles is Tralleis nearby the city of Aydin where signposts point me in the right direction. Tralles  seems to have reached the level of Ephesus or Pergamon, but so far only basic excavations have been undertaken. This makes the visit more challenging for I have no idea what to expect.

My road ends at a T-crossing, where mini signs point left towards the city walls and the Roman necropolis or right to the Gymnasium. I make a right turn and after some turns and twists, I’m driving along some ruins carrying a sign “Roman theatre” and another one “no photographs”. I don’t understand neither inscription and the many big stones don’t make sense since I cannot make out the contours of a theatre in the landscape, only a short vaulted passage way next to the road gives me a hint. The view from here over the rolling hills where olives, figs and cotton are grown is, however, superb; in a distance, I can see a quarry of red marble in the green landscape. Far below me lay an imposing ruin with vaults that reminds me of an aqueduct. Getting closer by driving in the opposite direction, I discover that this is the Gymnasium from the 4th century BC and I realize that Tralles must have been huge. There is some parking space and not a single soul in sight. Never mind, I love this!


A large billboard welcomes me showing the rough layout of mainly Roman Tralles, with the theatre and the adjacent Stadium and further on the Gymnasium. Then some houses and much further west, the Acropolis. This Acropolis may go back to Hellenistic times. Tralles  was founded by the Hittites in 2500 BC and obviously occupied a strategic position. In later centuries, the city was ruled by the Phrygians, the Lydians, Persians, Greeks and Romans till it was totally destroyed by the severe earthquake of 26 BC. Emperor Augustus rebuilt the city, blessing it with his imperial name Caesarea. When the Byzantines arrived, they re-baptized it again to Tralles. Then followed the Seljuks and the days of the Ottoman Empire, till in 1922 the city burnt down to the ground. A new city was built nearby, today’s Aydin, now famously reputed for its fine figs

There is no indication of any scale or size, probably to discourage illegal digging in this remote countryside.

The three vaulted arches with thick walls, which the locals call “the three eyes”, are clear evidence that this is where the Roman Baths once stood. It seems that excavations are in progress, exposing a literal maze of water conduits running more or less parallel to each other but on different levels. This must have been quite a construction! Between the olive-trees further down, I distinguish some low walls and more to right a wide straight passage that could refer to a road. What a place to let my imagination run freely!

I can only guess how far Tralles spreads out in this landscape, but I am certain that Alexander must have been very happy with its surrender! (see: Alexander’s presence in Ephesus).


Overall very little is known about Tralles, except maybe the renowned Anthemius of Tralles, an architect who worked together with Isidorus of Miletus to build the Haghia Sophia in Constantinople. Anthemius also worked there as professor of geometry and his brother, Dioscorus, took over his father’s career as physician in Constantinople while another brother, Alexander practised in Rome to become one of the most celebrated medical men. He wrote a major work on pathology and therapy entitled Twelve Books on Medicine which was used for many centuries in Latin, Greek and Arabic. As to works of art, the only testimony I came across so far is the head of Aphrodite of Tralles at the Louvre, a free copy of Praxiteles’ famous Aphrodite of Cnidos from the 5th-4th century BC (see: What did Alexander the Great know of Cnidos?). It was taken by Kaufmann in 1885, who also seemed to have found her upper thigh and pelvis, now at the Staatliche Museen in Berlin.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Discovering Pydna

Pydna is generally known for the decisive battle of 22 June 168 BC opposing the Roman general Aemelius-Paulus and King Perseus of Macedonia (179-168 BC). In one single battle, the Romans killed as many as 20,000 Macedonians, an absolute first in history. It meant the end of the Antigonid dynasty of Macedonia and consequently the Kingdom of Macedonia came to an end. Beside the men that fell on the battlefield, another 6,000 fled to Pydna to fall in enemy hands and another 5,000 were taken prisoner as they tried to escape. A bloody encounter to say the least. From then on, the Romans took charge dividing Macedonia into four republics. It seems that in 150 BC, a certain Andriscus claiming to be the son of late King Perseus ascended the throne as Philip VI. He just came and went, victim of another futile war, of course, and in 148 BC Macedonia was finally subdued and became a Roman province.

To me Pydna is the place where Queen Olympias took refuge after the death of her son, Alexander the Great, taking his wife Roxane and his son Alexander IV with her. Cassander, who, as the son of Alexander's regent Antipater, had taken over power in Macedonia, besieged and captured the city in 317 BC. Olympias was left no choice but to surrender to Cassander, who knew no mercy and immediately had her executed. Roxane and Alexander IV were to follow her fate soon.

Well, so much for history, beside the fact that Philip II, Alexander’s father had annexed the territory in the first place. In any case, enough reason for me to take a look around.

Today’s nearest town is Makrygialos, approximately 65 kilometers south of Thessaloniki, right next to the freeway. Pydna has not really been excavated. The only finds come from occasional discoveries made during construction activities or subsequent to illicit diggings. The fertile lands have been inhabited since the 7th century BC and many graves and tombs have been unearthed going back that far in time. The finds have been split between the Museum of Thessaloniki and the nearby Museum of Katerini.

It is not easy to read the landscape, especially on this rainy day when I’m driving through sleepy villages and settlements. On my way through Methoni, in the curve after the seaside fish restaurants, I am being waved at by King Philip in person! Of course, Methoni was one of the main cities which Philip conquered from Athens back in 355-354 BC, but I wasn’t expecting to meet up with his bronze statue is this bend of the road. What a pleasant surprise. It  shows the king in his prime, which he most probably was at the time of this battlefield. The Greek as well as the Macedonian flag proudly enfold above him. I look around for more signs but cannot find any.

I pick up the road again, heading further south till I reach Pydna or what is left of it. A fenced field on my left overlooking the sea is catching my eye. The entrance gate is ajar, an invitation to enter. This just might be the place of the old fort and it is!

Once again, I’m struck by the strategic location as I can look north all the way to Methoni and beyond, while to the south on a clear day we may even see Mount Olympus. This stronghold fits in the center of a wider bay, ideal to watch enemy ships approaching.

Within the perimeter of the fence, the remains are definitely Byzantine. Typical, of course, as they built their forts and churches right on top of older Roman or Greek construction, reusing the stones they found at hand. This site is no different and as I question the local archeologist and guardian he willingly shows me the scattered remains from Greek temples, Macedonian city-walls and Roman olive- or winepresses. Further in the landscape, he also points to the line in the trees, walls and houses that are supposedly part of this old fort. Excavations over here certainly are still in their infancy and I can imagine how many archeologists’ hands are itching to start digging for more treasures before they disappear through the illigal circuit, forever ripped out of their context .

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A moment of glory - Macedonia forged by Philip II - 4

A moment of glory in 356 BC
Three years into his kingship, in 356 BC Philip must have looked back at his achievements with some degree of satisfaction. He now had secured most of Macedonia’s borders and built up a nearly invincible army, money was flowing in from the recently acquired mines of Philippi (more than 1,000 talents a year), his race-horse had won at the Olympic games, and most important of all Olympias bore him a son, Alexander.
Towards the end of 355 BC, Philip decided to besiege Methone in order to complete his control of the entire coastline towards Thessaly. Besides, Methone was located on a strategic communication route to Dion, Macedonia’s major religious sanctuary. He generously gave the people a chance to surrender but when they refused, he besieged the city. Methone had huge walls and in spite of Philip’s equipment and repeated efforts it took him several months to succeed. But while he was inspecting his own siegecraft, an arrow from an enemy catapult hit him in the eye. It seems that an eye injury is a bloody affair and one can easily imagine the commotion among his men. The siege may have been brought to a halt for a while, waiting for the outcome of the king’s wounds. The city was eventually taken in the early summer of 354 BC. Methone’s walls and buildings were razed to the ground so that even today it is difficult to locate.

The result of these moves meant that Macedonia’s coastline was now free of Greek cities, that Chalcidice was bound to Macedonia by a thorough treaty and that the country reaped large revenues from the Crenides mines – more than enough to cover his military expenses and provide regular pay to his soldiers. Athens, by contrast, had exhausted its finances and was lucky enough to be saved by its archon Eubulus who created a special fund to stimulate the city’s economy.