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 in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Halicarnassus, capital of Caria

As part of the Persian Achaemenid’s Empire from 545 BC onwards, Caria was governed by a succession of uneventful satraps (governors). The first satrap to make Caria more independent was Hyssaldomus of Mylasa – the capital city at that time. He was succeeded by his son, Hecatomnos, followed in turn by his son, Mausolus in 377 BC. Mausolus was a man with ambition and quite a visionary. He really established Caria’s independency, rebuilt the cities of Myndus and Syangela, fortified the city walls of Latmos and Caunos, and as if it were the most evident step, moved everyone else to Halicarnassus which he proclaimed his new capital to replace Mylasa because its location was more favourable. Mausolus married his sister Artemisia as was customary, and when he died childless in 353 BC, she was the one to finish the construction of the grand Mausoleum. She continued ruling until she too died from grief, it is said, after which the power went to her younger brother, Idreus. Idreus had married his younger sister Ada, who ruled after her brother’s/husband’s death. But there was still another younger brother Pixodarus who hungered for the title of satrap. He expelled the widowed Ada from Halicarnassus and she sought and found refuge in her stronghold of Alinda, further inland. Pixodarus aimed to befriend the Persians and ruled unofficially for a short while next to the Persian satrap Orontobates, who took over after Pixodarus’ death. This is the situation in Caria when Alexander the Great arrives at Halicarnassus in 334 BC.

The city of Halicarnassus was built as a natural theatre around its well protected harbour and was, on the land side, defended by a seven kilometres-long wall dating from 365 BC, the reign of King Mausolus. This wall ran along the surrounding hillcrests meaning that the approaching enemy could be watched and attacked from higher grounds, giving the city an unmistakeable advantage. Only few parts of that city wall are still visible today as most of Halicarnassus is hidden under the modern houses and streets of Bodrum.

Arrian tells us that when Alexander arrived from Mylasa in the east, he set up camp about half a mile from this well-fortified city. The very next day, he faced the first attack without difficulty. A few days later, hoping to find an easier approach, Alexander moved to the other side of Halicarnassus near the road to Myndos (modern Gümüşlük). Luckily for us, this Myndos city gate has been preserved and partially restored, giving us an insight of what Alexander was up against. The imposing towers of andesitic blocks open up into a well-defended courtyard from where another gate led into the city. Next to the Myndos Gate, a short stretch of city wall is still visible surrounded by the remains of the moat which according to Arrian ran 45 feet wide and 23 feet deep. These measurements seem to fit with what I see here, including the restored trench that runs over a length of some fifty meters. The feel of it alone is a unique experience and it is very rewarding to stand between the towering walls of the gate itself, where I easily picture Alexander shouting orders amidst the battle-cries of the Macedonians.

The Persians had amassed a substantial force of troops and mercenaries at Halicarnassus, under the leadership of the Rhodian general Memnon whom the Persian King Darius had by now appointed to control all of Asia Minor and to command the Persian fleet anchored in the harbour below. We’ll remember how Memnon, although under command of the Persian satrap Arsites,  had lost the previous confrontation with Alexander at the Granicus a year earlier, and he we can be sure that he was not willing to face another defeat.

Here on the Myndos (western) side of the city, Alexander started to fill the moat without much difficulty and brought his siege-engines in position. The Halicarnassians didn’t waste any time either and as soon as darkness fell they set fire to the siege towers, but the Macedonians on guard acted promptly and extinguished the fire.

Meanwhile it was on the Mylasa (eastern) side that another situation developed, involving two Macedonian infantrymen who one evening were bragging about their bravery. Under influence of wine, their boosting reached such extremes that they decided to grab their weapons and set out to conquer Halicarnassus single handed. The guards on the city walls reacted, the two soldiers got support from their mates and friends, the defenders got their own reinforcements and in no time the brawl turned into a full-blooded battle. Halicarnassus was nearly taken and would have been if the attack had been organized and planned in full force. I’m not sure how Alexander took this incident, I don’t think all too kindly. The next morning, Alexander brought in his siege engines, which were again promptly torched by the town’s people. Yet as soon as the King appeared in person, the brave attackers hurriedly withdrew.

All in all however, the defenders of Halicarnassus had the advantage of a commanding view over their enemy from the height of the city walls. Alexander personally led a new attack, his catapults hurling heavy stones towards the walls and soon a breach was made. The defenders counterattacked on two fronts, one group pouring out of the gap in the wall and another near the Tripylum Gate (north side). Disaster struck at this gate when the Macedonians had to retreat in force over a bridge across the moat. The narrow bridge collapsed and the soldiers were either trampled or shot by their comrades in the commotion. One such a bridge has been reinstalled over the moat at the Myndus Gate, a shivering thought when you know this story. Worst of all was the slaughter which occurred near the city gates where the over-anxious Persians and mercenary soldiers, in order to keep the Macedonians out, were shutting their own men out. Lots of them were stranded before closed doors and turned out to be easy prey for the Macedonians who simply cut them down there and then. Once again, Alexander nearly took the city. This is what Arrian tells us.

If however we follow Diodorus, we read a rather different story. He tells us that Memnon collected two thousand picked men equipped with lighted torches. At daybreak he threw the city gates wide open, and while one group of his soldiers set fire to the Macedonian siege engines he led the other to attack Alexander’s men who were moving forward to extinguish the fire. At this stage, Alexander himself sounded the attack. Under dense showers of missiles, the Macedonians killed the fires, sustaining heavy losses. That was however too much for the Macedonian veterans who were witnessing these events from a distance as they themselves were exempted from duty. After all, they had served under King Philip, Alexander’s father, and were far more experienced. Besides, they felt that the honour of Macedonia was at stake as well. They joined the fight and with great effort, the Macedonians pushed the enemy back within the city walls and Alexander sounded the recall.

At this point, according to Arrian again, Orontobates and Memnon set up a meeting to discuss further action since part of the city wall was gone and other parts were seriously damaged. It was clear they couldn’t hold out much longer. Besides, they had suffered heavy losses. They still had the harbour with the fleet in their hands, but the ships were of no use in the present situation. It was decided to set the city’s magazine on fire as well as the houses close to the walls, but strong winds spread the flames all over the city. When reports of these fires reached Alexander, he immediately took action and ordered his Macedonians to kill every man they saw setting buildings afire. The inhabitants however should be spared and rescued. Meanwhile, the surviving enemy army withdrawn to the Arconese, an island stronghold in the harbour of Halicarnassus (where today’s fort is located, probably on top of the Carian Royal Palace - now attached to the land), and on the high grounds of the acropolis.

Diodorus simply mentions that Memnon decided to abandon the city, moving his best men to the acropolis with sufficient provisions, sending the rest of the army to the nearby island of Cos. When Alexander discovered this move the next morning, he razed the city (although we may wonder how much of the city was actually razed) and surrounded the citadel with a formidable wall and trench. Arrian, on the other hand simply tells us that Alexander decided not to besiege the Persians in their strongholds which were difficult to take. Besides, such a siege would not bring him much advantage as the city of Halicarnassus was his already.

Alexander generously handed Caria over to Queen Ada who ruled over her country once again. She probably died in 323 BC, the same year as Alexander the Great. As to Memnon, he organized fierce opposition in the Aegean which could have been a serious threat in Alexander’s back had he not died of illness on Lesbos in 333 BC.

Since I first was here with Peter Sommer on his tour "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great" I was mesmerized by the locations that spoke to me as if the battle had happened just yesterday. Since then, I returned several times and each time I am rewarded with new vivid memories of what happened here 2,500 years ago.

Click on the Label Caria 2012 to read the full story
[Click here to see all the pictures of Halicarnassos]

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