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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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chimera's eternal flames

Driving east from Finike, I'm heading for Chimera and Olympos. I find the car park at the foot of the hillside, next to a small café selling refreshments as mentioned in the Sunflower Guide “Turkish Coast, from Antalya to Demre”, as well as the clean toilets and the booth to buy my entrance ticket.

Chimera, once ornated with a Temple of Hephaistos, the Roman Vulcan and god of fire, is now known by its Turkish name Yanartaş, meaning “burning mountain”. This is where the famous Bellerophon defeated the Chimera, a mythical fire-breathing being, partly lion, partly goat, partly snake, with the aid of his winged horse Pegasus. The Chimera may have been an important religious place of pilgrimage, dedicated to the blacksmith god – the legend going back to 1200 BC at least. The Chimera is the place where gases from the entrails of the earth escapes through cracks and holes in the rock and spontaneously start burning when in contact with the outside air. It is said that in antiquity the flames were higher and brighter, an ideal beacon for the seafarers. Alexander definitely must have seen this "fire mountain" in the shade of Mount Climax where the waves bowed to him.

Once again, I am the first visitor of the day. Originally, I planned to visit Olympos first and walk up to the Chimera from there, but I think it is wiser to do the climbing before the heat of the day picks up. According to my Sunflower Guide the trip should take me between 20 and 30 minutes, at first ascending over a track and then over a stepped, well-maintained footpath through pine forests, following the red and white flashes of the Lycian Way. This information is entirely correct. The Lycian Way runs over a distance of more than 500 kilometers all across Lycia. It is comforting to know that this is not an isolated trail and I am glad I took my walking stick to help me up the high steps.  
It is a rather strenuous climb and in between my huffing and puffing, I take time to admire the spectacular Lycian landscape while sipping my water. I try to catch the moment with my camera too but the outcome is poor. Everything is green, the grass and the weeds, the trees on the hillsides and the pine trees with shiny needles in the foreground. The sharp rock formations are dull grey and the overall view is hazy because of the moisture in the air left by the rain of these past days and which the sun is trying to burn off. Somehow I am reminded of the sugar rocks around Rio de Janeiro, just as steep but not as green as here, I would say. There are however plenty of flowers, white and yellow ones mainly but also big wild lilac anemones. When I catch my breath again I can even hear the many birds singing in chorus. How wonderful!

A big rock along the trail carries a red painted message “400 m” and I wonder what it means. Have I climbed to a height of 400 meters, have I walked 400 meters of the trail, or it is still 400 meters to the first flames? It surely has something to do with the Lycian Way running over this path, but that does not solve this enigma. Well, whatever. I scramble and groan my way further upwards and quite suddenly I reach an open rock space where I see the first flames. I don’t remember what I had in mind but the flames are definitively brighter and bigger than I expected. Strange things in the landscape, that’s for sure! 
Shooting my pictures, I am amazed to see how clearly the flames are burning with a soft hissing sound and I even notice a faint smell of gas. At times there are clusters of two or three holes next to each other with flames licking the blackened rock around them. Turning around and to my left now below the flames, I see the ruins of a Byzantine church that must be standing on top of the ancient temple dedicated to Hephaistos. In fact all I can see are the walls and cupolas still carrying clear traces of paint, but the building is mostly buried in the debris and I cannot find any indication of Roman or Greek architecture. Around the lowest fire there are some lose carved blocks lying around that may refer to the altar that once stood in front of the Temple of Hephaistos. Who knows?

By now more visitors are reaching the flames. Time for me to turn around! Going down is much easier although I have to move with care as the steps are higher than you would think. Back at the parking space I wonder if I could have some tea. This is Turkey after all, isn’t it? Yes, I can if I can wait that is for they just started the fire. I look at a kind of wood-burning stove with a high stovepipe and three (tea?) pots hanging from the hooks around it. A strange contraption that I don’t try to figure out. I settle for ice cream instead.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mount Nemrud, as close as you can come to the gods

The road to get there is by itself a unique experience as tension and expectations are building up all along the way!

As I’m approaching Kâhta in south-eastern Turkey,  I have my first glance of the mountains topped by the perfect conically shaped Tomb of Mount Nemrud. I have no idea what to expect for I only know the pictures of the colossal heads from many a travel magazine. Kâhta isn’t much, a few hotels and car rental companies - that sums it up. Yet it’s the last town of any significance before reaching my destination, Mount Nemrud. From here onwards, it is impossible to travel by bus and I have to board one of the smaller vans. This is where the true climb starts, a winding dirt road with short stretches of asphalt. I pass through settlements of about a dozen houses amidst generally bleached land. Higher up from one of the hilltops I view the immense surrounding landscape stamped by the Euphrates River which, because of the many dams built for irrigation purposes, looks as wide as a succession of lakes. Occasionally I pass patches of cultivated land fed by a scarce mountain stream. I don’t see a single soul although the houses seem to be occupied.

When the van stops, it appears that I’m in a place called Karakuş, i.e. a kind of tumulus framed by two columns with an eagle on top keeping watch. This is the Tomb of King Mithridates II (124-87 BC). In the back of the tumulus I discover another set of two columns that once were topped by lions. Halfway in between stands a lonely column carrying a relief of King Mithridates holding the hand of his wife, Laodike. Mithridates ruled over the Commagene Empire, just like Antiochus I, the builder of Nemrud, and his tomb is a discreet promise of what lies ahead. Since this is the first time I’m confronted with the Commagene, I  need to dig back into history.

This region was included in the Persian Empire from the 6th century BC until Alexander the Great’s victory at Issus in 333 BC. After his death in 323 BC, this part of his empire fell to Seleucos I Nikator (see: In the wake of Seleucos Nicator I). When in turn the Seleucid Empire was conquered by the Romans in 189 BC, it didn’t take long for new kingdoms to emerge. Commagene as one of the successors of the Seleucids occupied the area between the Taurus Mountains and the Euphrates River. The kingdom of the Commagene was founded in 162 BC by Mithridates Kalinikos I, who ruled over the Persians and Macedonians (descendants of Alexander the Great) which he joined together in a mighty buffer zone between the Parthians in the east and the Romans in the west. The peak of this kingdom was reached under Antiochus I Epiphanes (69-36 BC), the successor of Mithridates and thus the builder of Nemrud. Eventually, in 72 AD, the territory was annexed by Emperor Vespasian to the Roman province of Syria.

A tributary of the Euphrates, the Cendere, is a wide but short watercourse that lies across my road and on its narrowest point is has been bridged. This is not just any bridge but one that dates back to the 2nd century AD, built by the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus. I am allowed to walk across the bridge on foot, a hugely gratifying experience! Imagine threading over a 2,000-years-old bridge. It makes you wonder about its role and purpose in this isolated and steaming hot place – it definitely commands high respect for the builders as far as I’m concerned.

The van drives on for another hour or so to stop at an idyllic mountain terrace with eating facilities sit amidst apple orchards. The view is superb and I have no idea how much further or how much higher I’ll have to climb for it already feels as if I have reached the top of the mountain range. The black ribbon of our road winds away in the landscape and disappears beyond the horizon into the unknown. Picking up the drive again, the van rattles over occasional brick-paved or totally unpaved roads. On a steep hill it suddenly comes to a final halt, this is the end. The last stretch has to be climbed on foot although I still fail to see the colossal heads that must be out there somewhere. After half an hour of huffing and puffing, scrambling over high steps up the rough slope, I finally reach the top at 7,700 feet.

I arrived at the very foot of a clean conical heap of loose gravel approximately 50 meters high and 150 meters in diameter, piled up on top the existing mountain presumably covering the Tomb of Antiochus. In fact this cone has been built with the material left over from carving the giant statues and many friezes that I’m about to see.


On the east and west side I discover the enormous statues and heads I recognize from the pictures. Here on the east side, a row of styled sitting figures that originally stood 8-10 meters high is facing me, their decapitated heads resting at their respective feet. From left to right, I’m identifying Apollo (equalling Mithra, Helios, Hermes); Tyche, Commagene's goddess of fertility; Zeus (equalling Ahora Mazda); Antiochus in person (why settle for less!) and Heracles (equalling Artagnes or Ares). These are in fact all the most important Persian and Greek gods of Antiochus’ empire and it is generally accepted that he attempted to unify his multiethnic kingdom in order to secure his authority. On either side of this group of statues stands an eagle, the symbol of freedom; and next to it a lion, as a symbol of courage. An identical group of figures is featured on the opposite western side, all decapitated as well, but catching the full sunlight because of the time of the day. While the statues on the eastern side are decorated with Asian attributes, those on the western side show European accessories – a true sign for Antiochus’ goal to joining east and west.

It is not clear whether the statues have suffered from the frequent earthquakes or if some odd archeologist tried to blow up the pile of gravel in order to find the still eluding tomb of Antiochus I. The path connecting the east and west side runs along the northern slope where a number of reliefs with unrecognizable artwork have been aligned. It appears that they were fitted in the ground with a kind of wedge, an intriguing feature. On the west side a few original reliefs are still in situ representing King Antiochus in person together with Apollo on one, with Zeus on the other and finally with Heracles on the next one.

What a place however for a sanctuary! It's hard to come any closer to the gods, I think. The view from up here beats everything I ever saw and surpasses any possible description. It is too grand, too wide, and too panoramic to comprehend. I take pictures, perfectly realizing that the eye sees far more than my camera, but temptation is far too big. I'm truly standing on top of the world! Who says that's in the Himalayas? I doubt you'll have such a view from there! What a beauty.
The big attraction is to visit these altars by sunrise or sunset. The very thought of witnessing the sun peeping above the horizon in the great silence and peace that comes with it must be extremely impressive and rewarding. Yet, you will not be able to enjoy the exceptional panorama I've been treated to. Besides, to get here before sunrise you’ll have to be on your way before the crack of dawn, and if you want to arrive by sunset you'll have to face a long scary and dangerous drive back in the dark. I'm not sure I would like that.

[Click here to see all the pictures of Mount Nemrud]

Saturday, February 16, 2013

More descendants of Alexander the Great in Pakistan?

After publishing my article about the Kalash People (see: The Kalash, a lost tribe of Alexander the Great?), I received a comment making me aware of the Burusho people, also living in northern Pakistan. This asked for some research, of course.



The Burusho or Brusho people live at the foot of the Karakorum Mountains in Northern Pakistan and their language, strangely enough, seems not to be related to any other. They are better known as the Hunza People after the main valley of Hunza where they live but they are also spread over the Nagar and Yasin valleys of Gilgit Baltistan.

Yet, they pretend to be descendants of the Macedonian soldiers that were part of Alexander the Great’s army that crossed the region in 326 BC. Stories like this one still circulate in much of today’s Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, but legend or not, the Burushos or Hunzas believe that it was a Macedonian soldier who founded the town of Baltit. Genetic evidence, however, reveals only a 2% component – very much like that of the Kalash people; they also have some East Asian genetics suggesting some ancestry from north of the Himalayas.  DNA research, on the other hand, shows that the Hunzas share ancestry with the speakers of Pamir languages (Afghans) and the Sinti (Gypsies). The strangest of all assumptions is that they may be related to the lost or imaginary kingdom of Shangri La! Time to tell tales. According to Dr. John Clark who lived among the Hunzas for nearly twenty years, the Burushos do not count their age only in calendar years but also in a personal estimation of wisdom, making them often reach ages of above one hundred!

It is obvious that during his thousands of miles-long marches, Alexander’s men have left many children behind. If you consider that this army counted an average of some forty thousand soldiers, I dare anyone to figure out how many children they generated. These offspring are not mentioned as such in our history books, but their presence obviously is non-negligible. Alexander arranged for 30,000 of such boys to be trained as “Macedonian” soldiers; on average, there must have been at least as many girls also. Basic math makes this total account for one and a half child per capita, but their numbers simply must have been much higher. We will remember that at his Susa wedding, Alexander officially granted a proper dowry to over the 10,000 soldiers in his army who had taken a Persian wife. No account exists for the many concubines or occasional affairs that must have occurred all along the road, producing, even more, future soldiers to swell the ranks of his army.

[picture from Wikipedia]

The valleys of Gilgit Baltistan are still too remote at present for serious scientific research, and I personally feel too insecure as well. We are already struggling with Alexander’s heritage in Central Asia and Pakistan is definitely no exception. Only time will shed more light on this possible heritage.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Still in the wake of Central Asia

As can be expected, my trip to Uzbekistan (read more under the Label Central Asia) in search of the footsteps of Alexander the Great in Central Asia is still an ongoing matter.

That is the reason why I went to Paris to see the collection of the Musée Guimet, something that was on my wish list for the past thirty years or so. Guimet is specialized in Asian art, a vast territory, but evidently, I limited my interest to Central Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and a small part of India and China as well. Being in France, all honors and merits go to the French, of course, with men like Joseph Hackin (1923-1937), Jules Barthoux (1926-1928), Dutreuil de Rhings (1890-1895) and Paul Pelliot (1906-1909). It must be said that in the early 20th century the ruling King of Afghanistan, an art-lover no doubt, approached the French to carry out serious excavations in his country since he didn’t want to lag behind the archaeological finds made in the neighbouring countries. It was only when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 that these rewarding projects were put to a halt (Ai-Khanoum was one of those projects, with the disastrous results we know).

One of the absolute highlights in this Museum are in my eyes the Buddha’s, Bodittsava’s and other statues and stupa decorations from Hadda in Afghanistan which we owe to Jules Barthoux. The faces, postures and clothing of these statues are unmistakably Hellenistic and the true jewel is in my eyes the “Génie aux Herbes”, a spirit holding flowers in his lap. Another precious place is taken by the glassware excavated by Joseph Hackin on the site of Begram in Afghanistan also with its blue, white and transparent fish-shaped vessels and the colourful painted glass beakers with scenes from Greek mythology and daily life. I had seen some of these items in the travelling exhibition Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum in Kabul a few years ago in Amsterdam, but that was only a selection of items – now here I find a lavish collection.

An entirely different chapter is occupied by the polychrome Chinese terracotta figures from the 7th and 8th century with dancing girls, musicians, girls playing polo on their horses and several terracotta Sogdian merchants with their horses or camels walking straight out of the desert dust. What I didn’t expect though is finding these exceptional Chinese terracotta statues from as early as the second century BC which look more Greek than Chinese - unbelievable!

Any description as detailed as I could make it will fall short of the beautiful artefacts exhibited at the Musée Guimet. A better impression can be obtained by flipping through my pictures on this link: Paris, Musée Guimet.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ulpia Serdica, the Roman name for Sofia

What to do when remains from antique cities are found right in the middle of a major modern city? The question is not new and the answer as always is a compromise between extra expenses and the urge to preserve ancient constructions. Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria is no exception.


For several years, archaeologists are excavating the Roman town of Ulpia Serdica, whose remains are located on top of the underground extension plans of Sofia. So far a Roman palace, baths and burial sites have been excavated at the intersection of what is believed two major streets. At least two more Roman palaces are waiting to be uncovered and parts of the Roman fortress and adjacent church from the 4th century have already been excavated and fully reconstructed. We should not forget that this Roman Ulpia Serdica was entirely built above the Thracian city from the first century BC.

The debate here as elsewhere has raged on for years. A major metro station was planned exactly underneath the historical site. At last the authorities have opted to preserve the remains where they are, be it at excessively high costs, of course. An underground museum covering 1.9 ha will be built and with the help of EU money they hope to create a centre for exhibitions and performances that will put Sofia on the map in competition with other major cities like Rome

In my humble opinion this may take quite a while to materialize, if ever they get that far …

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk

I have been fascinated by the cities along the Silk Road following a recent exhibition held in Brussels about the Chinese part and further to my trip through Uzbekistan where I inevitably winded up on its traces. Yet I didn’t have an overall picture, especially since we generally talk about “The” Silk Road while in reality there are many – although all are intertwined to reach east or west one way or another.
Foreign Devils on the Silk Road” is subtitled “The Search for the Lost Treasures of Central Asia (ISBN 978-0719564482) – how appropriate! In his book, Peter Hopkirk collects and summarizes the handful of expeditions made over less than thirty years. Basically, Central Asia was shared by Tsarist Russia and the British Empire because of their presence in India.

The very first westerner to set out in the inhospitable Desert of Taklamakan was the Swede Sven Hedin, a scientific explorer, fluent in seven languages who visited the area in 1895 and in1899. Although he was neither a historian nor an archaeologist, but a trained geographer and cartographer, his meticulous studies turned out to be very useful for the brave explorers who followed.

Next arrived Aurel Stein, a Hungarian-born orientalist who became a British citizen. He hit a soft spot in my heart because he was fascinated by the campaigns and travels of Alexander the Great, spending much of his early years retracing Alexander’s routes and battlefields, and eventually his legacy in Central Asia. Stein started his fruitful and daring explorations of the Taklamakan Desert in 1900. One his most exciting finds in my eyes is, for instance, the wooden tablets with clay seals with figures of Pallas Athena and other Greek deities, but this is only the tip of the iceberg of his fertile harvest, of course. By the time he returned to Britain, it became clear that an entirely new civilization had evolved in the very heart of Central Asia.

Soon it were the Germans who set out on an expedition in 1904 to be led by Albert Grünwelde. Unfortunately, he fell ill and was replaced by Albert von Le Coq, a most capable man, much to Grünwelde’s dismay as he wanted to reap all the honors. The French were late to show up in Central Asia (1906), simply because they had been busy in Indo-China’s jungle where they discovered the unique site of Angkor. Paul Pelliot was a linguistic genius, speaking thirteen languages including Chinese (which none of his predecessors mastered). This knowledge was highly appreciated by the locals and opened many doors otherwise locked. The Japanese were among the strangest diggers, sending two scholar-monks in 1908 financed by a certain Count Otani in Kyoto. They were generally seen as spies although nothing could be proved. The Russians, in spite of their priority location only made occasional incursions of no consequence. The very last visitors were the Americans in 1923, with the orientalist Langdon Warren who discovered a lost part of the Chinese Wall. By 1925 the free-for-all to take in this meanwhile well-mapped desert was all over, the first hostilities between China and Britain exploded. China closed all doors to foreign visitors.

To make this story complete, Peter Hopkirk has followed the road taken by the vast quantities of colorful wall paintings, gorgeous sculptures, precious manuscripts and other artifacts from the Silk Road. In fact, they are scattered among many different museums worldwide. Hedin’s collection has found a place in the Ethnographical Museum of Stockholm, while Pelliot’s artifacts are exhibited at the Guimet Museum in Paris. Stein’s treasures were generally split between the National Museum in Delhi and the British Museum in London. The German collection gathered by von Le Coq got its own museum in Berlin, unfortunately heavily bombed by the allied during WW2 destroying the biggest fresco’s that had been cemented in its walls. Smaller frescos, other artifacts and manuscripts could luckily be saved and are now part of the largest and most imaginative display at the Dahlem Museum in Berlin. On the third place comes the Japanese collection that originally was kept at Count Otani’s villa, but was later partially sold. A selection of the treasure ended up in Seoul, packed in the storerooms of the National Museum. Another part travelled to Manchuria from where it was probably removed by the Russians in 1955 when they handed this land back to China. Some pieces, however, are on display at the Tokyo National Museum. Finally and as a matter of course, The Hermitage in St Petersburg has its own display of the Silk Road treasures spread over eight rooms.  

It is amazing how much information has been gathered in this relatively small book, for the story is not complete yet. There is a special chapter dedicated to the early discoveries of manuscripts written in previously unknown languages and found accidentally by local treasure hunters. These documents among which fifty-one birch-bark leaves made their way to Calcutta and were found to be written in Sanskrit using the Brahmi alphabet in the 5th century. This made it one of the oldest written works to survive anywhere. A vivid interest from western scholars set a machinery in motion to find more of such manuscripts. There was money to be made and local forgers discovered that they could get away with their loads of faked manuscripts, even inventing unknown characters. To increase their production they didn’t refrain from using block printing. Some orientalists accepted these documents as originals, but Stein was one of the skeptics and he got to the bottom of the story, exposing the mastermind. A good deed that was not fully accepted by those who strongly believed they would be the first to decipher this new “unknown” language. Yet, all the news was not bad, for eventually the long-lost language of Khotanese was discovered.

Today the manuscripts from the Silk Road are divided between the British Library (Chinese, Sogdian, Uighur and Tangut works) and the India Office in London (Tibetan, Sanskrit and Khotanese). The thirteen thousand Chinese manuscripts and books are now neatly stored on the shelves of the British Library, an honorary place I would say.

After reading about this history of the Silk Road, the Taklamakan Desert and Central Asia, in general, it is hard not to be interested in digging any further. It certainly has sharpened my interest!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

From Thutmosis III to Alexander III

History, as it is generally taught in our schooling system, is a mere succession of names and dates, of kings and battlefields, of peace treaties and foreign invasions. It usually starts with rough sketches of prehistoric times, to be soon followed by the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, till after the separation of east and west we soon get to the Middle Ages. In these dull lessons, each civilization was compartmented, one making place for the next. This misconception, unfortunately, is one that we carry along for the rest of our life. How wrong this is!

It is not so long ago that I discovered that rather than a vertical list of events, history is an exciting world spreading horizontally, overlapping east and west where each kingdom ultimately "borrowed" and used knowledge from their enemies in newly conquered territories. Since then, I keep marveling at this ever expanding ancient world.

Oliver Stone in his Alexander movie puts a remarkable idea in the mouth of Aristotle: that of looking at the Middle (Mediterranean) Sea as a frog pond. I think this is a fairly truthful picture, as “frogs” from all the harbors and cities bordering the Mediterranean jumped back and forth over the centuries. We have no idea of the intense traffic of ships ferrying goods (and ideas) from one place to the next, or sailing up main rivers to reach further inland destinations. It was not all pillage and warfare, there definitely was commerce, the very keystone of a flourishing economy. This is something every king or citizen understood and worked for.


It so happened that I was confronted with Thutmosis III, pharaoh of Egypt from 1479 BC to 1425 BC reigning partially in the shadow of his co-regent and aunt, the exceptional Queen Hatshepsut. As strange as it may seem and although Thutmosis III lived more than a thousand years before Alexander the Great, he got my undivided attention when I learned about the new equipment he used in his army and the talent he developed in his conquests. Immediately, I made the link with Alexander who is never far away in my thoughts anyway.

There is the case of the Battle of Megiddo when Thutmosis fights against rebellious Canaanites led by the King of Kadesh. Here, Thutmosis used the composite bow for the first time and he was able to push the Canaanites back inside the city walls. As a consequence, Megiddo was kept under siege for seven months and when the city finally surrendered, Thutmosis had to solve another problem: how to govern a city so far away from his native Egypt. He decided to take with him all the children of the noblemen in order to give them a proper Egyptian education; they would eventually return to their hometowns as true Egyptians. By doing so, he obviously kept the elders and nobles under control. Inevitably this action reminded me of Alexander who created an army of 30,000 Persian boys, sons of prominent leaders and members of the local nobility, to be drilled and educated the Macedonian way. His goal was the same as that of Thutmosis: to control the influential class of natives and using the young men to his own benefit. Maybe that was a generally accepted procedure but even in antiquity historians presented Alexander’s action as an exceptional move and even as an innovation.

The other fact that made me link Thutmosis to Alexander was Thutmosis’ attack on Mitanni after having taken control of Syria. The pharaoh sailed from Egypt to Byblos where he disassembled his boats and took them with him knowing that he had to cross the Euphrates River later on. At the banks of the river, he had his ships reassembled to put his men and horses across. Amazingly enough, the pharaoh took the Mitannian King entirely by surprise for he was not expecting an invasion at all. Mitanni had no defense line or walls, they only could try to stop the Egyptians from crossing the Euphrates – a futile attempt as it turned out. This story reminded me of course of Alexander crossing the many rivers in India where he regularly dismantled and reassembled his ships. I thought this was a novelty but now I hear that the Egyptians used the same technique tens of centuries earlier! Of course, this doesn’t make Alexander less of a genius in my eyes for after all there is still a difference between knowing the technique and implementing it. Maybe the very idea had been forgotten meanwhile?

So much of the knowledge from the ancients has been lost over the centuries that we will never know how much they really knew and how much information was exchanged between the different civilizations.

[Picture of Thutmosis III at the Temple of Karnak]