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)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Oldest map in the world?

It was so exciting to find this information on Judith Weingarten’s weblog. She always does an excellent job digging out the unthinkable and/or the unexpected. This time she got my undivided attention with her latest article about what is probably the world’s oldest topographical map found in Egypt.
Fragment of Turin map.  Photo credit: J. Harrell (via Wikipedia)

This map, which is drawn on a 2m80 long papyrus dates back to 1150 BC and seems to be made by a certain Amennakhte, a scribe who was preparing a quarrying expedition into Egypt’s Eastern Desert. It covers an area of 15 kilometers with the exact location of the quarry from which a grayish-green stone was extracted. In the same area, we can find a gold mine, a small settlement and a temple dedicated to Amon. What makes this map so special is the labeling of the roads and the indication of the distances from one site to the other.

If you want to investigate further on this captivating subject, please click on Judith Weingarten’s weblog for she gives you lots and lots of extra reading material about Egypt’s link with the Red Sea and the harbor of Punt that was only recently located thanks to the wall carvings found in Queen Hatshepsut’s tomb.
A thorough story, as she always manages to tell us. Thank you, Judith!

PS. I can’t help wondering what kind of maps Alexander the Great may have had and used during for campaigns …

Monday, August 26, 2013

About Greek theatre plays

Whoever travels to Greece or Turkey cannot miss the ever present remains of antique theaters, all of them more or less in good condition.  
The origin of theater tragedies goes back to the 6th century BC thanks to the feasts that were held in honor of Dionysos, the Dionysia. For the first time in 534 BC, they are being considered as a permanent element of the program. Theaters are no longer exclusively used for religious performances but become the place where the lives of heroes and half-gods are being related. The tragedian poet is the most important element. He not only writes the tragedy but expresses his songs as an actor, accompanied by 12-15 singers and dancers.

Aeschylus (525-456 BC) is the first author to break with traditions by introducing a second actor in order to create a dialogue between two people. Although the choir is still important, it is now pushed to the background. In those days, we discover a difference between the light comedy and the tragedy which treated the conflicts between men and the gods.

A third actor is introduced by Sophocles (405-406 BC), enabling to create intrigues between the other two persons. The choir at this stage serves only to support the action. When in 460 BC Sophocles stops performing, a true separation between writing theater plays and acting occurs.

The third play-writer was Euripides (ca. 480-405 BC) who spent several years at the Macedonian court in the days of King Archelaus, where he died. He must have written more than ninety plays of which at least 20% have come to us more or less complete. His fame is due to the fact that he actually wrote dialogues that sounded like spontaneous conversations instead of carrying the ritual contexts from older plays. In his lifetime, most of his public did not appreciate this “modern” style. It is only after his death that he became the favorite of Athenian theaters.

It is obvious that Alexander grew up with theater plays as his father before him, as well as his ancestors who all loved to watch a good play. From 449 BC onward, the Greek States chose for plays with three main actors: the principal role was performed by the Protagonist, who in turn hired the supporting actors, i.e. the second actor, the Deuteragonist, and the third actor, the Tritagonist. The choir was not composed of professional actors, but of civilians appointed by the city. The principal actors, however, were also allowed to compete for their own prizes in special competitions. The peak of acting was reached in the fourth century BC and actors even became more important than the play-writers. The most famous players went so far as to adapt parts of the play to match their own ego or ambitions. In the heydays, actors were exonerated from taxes and military service. Thanks to their popularity they enjoyed the admiration and the protection of kings and social elite. In return, the kings and the nobility entrusted them with important political and diplomatic missions – by which the actors could make history away from the theater.

We will remember the Pixodarus-affaire when Alexander asked the tragedy-actor Thettalus to plead in his favor with the Carian satrap for the hand of his daughter. By this maneuver, Alexander hoped to thwart his father’s plan who had offered his retarded son, Arrhideus, Alexander’s half-brother, in marriage to the infant daughter of Pixodarus of Caria. Because of their politic immunity, actors were often asked to act as mediator with rulers or politicians, and Alexander knew how to exploit that possibility. This time, however, Alexander had to pay a high price for interfering with his father’s plans as King Philip banished all Alexander’s friends from Macedonia - all, except Hephaistion.

In the summer of 331 BC, when Alexander installed himself temporarily at Tyre after having left Egypt, he organized a grand celebration in honor of Melquart-Heracles. The kings of Salamis and Soli sponsoring the event hired the most celebrated actors of the day, and this included evidently Thettalus, who by now had become a personal friend of the king. Unfortunately for Alexander, Thettalus did not win the contest.

The same actor was again invited by Alexander in 324 BC when he organized the mass-wedding in Susa where he married the Persian princess Stateira (or Barsine) while her sister, Drypetis, was given to Hephaistion. Alexander’s close companions all married girls from high Persian nobility. Eighty other couples shared the feast in a wonderfully idealistic dream to bring east and west closer together.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Nonsense about Alexander’s grave in Amphipolis

Recently many daring theories are circulating about the grave site that is still being excavated in Amphipolis. A few months ago it was (tentatively) tied to Roxane, the wife of Alexander the Great and/or their son, Alexander IV (read more: Roxane’s tomb linked to the Lion of Amphipolis?). The theory is still at the stage of speculations as the tumulus itself has not yet been examined.

All parties, including the Ministry of Culture and Katerian Peristera responsible for the archaeological excavations near ancient Amphipolis, agree that because of the size of the tomb they expect it to belong to “a significant individual” but that is far as they can go for now.

Of course, the mound dates from the fourth century BC; of course, it is very impressive by its size as the marble-faced wall is 500 meters long and three meters high; and, of course, Amphipolis was an important city in ancient Macedonia to which Roxane and her infant son Alexander were exiled by Cassander. But it is far too early to speculate any further and certainly not in the direction of Alexander the Great in person. If, and I say IF his grave were to be found one day, it certainly would not be in a place like Amphipolis. The least the Macedonians could and would have done was to bury him in Aegae (Vergina) or in Pella.

These recent speculations are totally absurd and an absolute nonsense in my eyes!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Field Campaigns of Alexander the Great by Stephen English

The absolute merit of this book, The Field Campaigns of Alexander ( ISBN184884066-7) is the excellent set of plates that illustrate each of Alexander’s major campaigns.

This third book of Stephen English’s trilogy (The Army of Alexander the Great and The Sieges of Alexander the Great) handles Alexander’s great battlefields: at the Granicus River (334 BC), at Issus (333 BC), at Gaugamela (331 BC) and finally at the Hydaspes River (326 BC).

 Like in his The Sieges of Alexander the Great, English tries to analyze Alexander’s movements, tactics, and logistics based on the histories written in antiquity together with the studies, critics and opinions of modern authors. His most favourite sources are Arrian and Diodorus through which he filters out the final plans and battlefields. However, I once again miss clear maps to follow the steps of Alexander, a tool that would have been especially helpful to pinpoint his campaigns all along the route – more so, because English often spends much time discussing and questioning the exact locations. Most frustrating, in my eyes, were those pages where he questions the location of Issus, that of the Pinarus River and the passes over the Amanus Mountains used by Alexander and Darius respectively. English does include a map, but it only shows a general maneuver and a handful of names none of which are used in his argumentation (while the ones he discusses are not on the map). What’s the point, I wonder, to go through so many details when you don’t show your readers where to find them!

Yet the sets of plates drawn up for each battlefield are among the best one can find to help envision the successive phases of Alexanders attacks and to prove (if need may be) the genius of his attack. As far as I’m concerned, this is the first time I discover the masterly set-up of his army at the Hydaspes and I would even say that I found it far superior to that at the Battle of Gaugamela. We should not forget that by this time Alexander had to do without Parmenion leading his left flank, without Philotas at the head of the cavalry and without faithful Cleitos leading his centre – still the discipline of the Macedonia army is astonishing!
Truly worth reading.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wounded soldier from the army of Philip II

Modern technology can be very rewarding. This is certainly the case when the bones of this soldier from Philip’s army were examined by X-ray.

An American anthropologist specialized in surgical treatment in Macedonian times and with knowledge of different types of weapon wounds discovered that the shaft of an arrow and most of the arrowhead had been removed from this soldiers' arm by a field surgeon after the fight. Yet a small section, probably the barb, had been left in place after unsuccessful attempts to remove it. We simply have no idea how skilled doctors and surgeon were in antiquity!

It appears that the veteran survived the surgery to the blessed age of 58-62 years, although he must have lived in constant pain. Amazingly, the bone shows no sign of immediate infection but Professor Argie Agelarakis established that the warrior must have been disabled in his arm movement or in getting a strong grip with his hand.

Picture from the article in Past Horizons]
As part of a larger interdisciplinary study, a reconstruction of the barbed arrowhead and a facial reconstruction of the skull were made. As a whole, the project is meant to shed more light on the warfare in eastern Macedonia during the fourth century BC – a baggage of knowledge that Alexander would have taken with him on his campaigns east.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Persian Expedition by Xenophon

Reading The Persian Expedition by Xenophon (ISBN 0-14-044007-0) I felt sure to come closer to Alexander  the Great. Xenophon was one of his favorite authors and since this book includes Prince Cyrus expedition of 401 BC to overthrow his brother from the Persian throne, it would make sense for Alexander to know this story and to draw his own conclusions. I have not been deceived: in a way I was following Alexander on his conquest east.

The book could be split in three parts. The first third does indeed cover Cyrus’ march at the head of a mercenary force of approximately ten thousand men, collected mainly from the Peloponnese, especially Arcadia and Achaea, who were driven by poverty. Cyrus leaves from Sardes (today’s northwestern Turkey), capital of Phrygia, a Persian satrapy. I find it quite exciting to follow his steps on a route that Alexander  was to use less than a century later. Knowing Alexander, he must have prepared for his march east with all possible means and this book definitely must have been part of his baggage.

During the battle of Cunaxa (not far from Babylon) in September 401 BC, a direct confrontation between the two Persian brothers ended with the death of Cyrus. This left this large group of Greek mercenaries without leader and without any guidance as to what to do next or where to go. They could either surrender to the Persian King or try to get back to Greece on their own. On the wide hostile plains between Euphrates and Tigris, they chose for the latest option knowing they were an easy prey to the Persians. Somehow the remaining generals got organized and after being victimized by Persian intrigues, the army accomplished the impossible under the joint leadership of Xenophon and Chirisophus eventually finding their way to the shores of Black Sea. This story is told in the other two-thirds of this book.

Of course, the story is not ending at the Black Sea and the army’s march west had not yet turned into an easy one. They were out of reach of the Persians but had to face other enemy tribes and the problem of provisions was a daily returning worry. The Greek cities along the coast were not too keen on helping them either for they saw no reason why they should feed such a large number of mercenaries, even if they were Greek. After ambiguous negotiations they finally arrived in Thracia in the summer of 400 BC where they offered their services to King Seuthes who failed to pay them, till a Spartan delegation showed up willing to hire the mercenaries, now reduced to a mere six thousands, for a newly planned attack of the Persian Empire. At this point Xenophon leaves the soldiers to return to his beloved Athens.

What strikes me in this book is the clear overall organization of the army and even more so the democratic leadership. Xenophon delivers twenty speeches during his march towards Greece (although it should be noted that the soldiers really did not want to go “home” for they had no house or wife to return to; they just were a band of roughs) and other speeches have been included in the story.

It is quite amazing to read that every single soldier had such a say, but maybe that was only the case for mercenaries and not for regular soldiers? Before every decision, either to move forward or to attack, Xenophon or other commanders made their offerings and asked the gods which decision was the right one. Religion must have played an important role in daily life, even among the soldiers.

An interesting detail is to read Xenophon's commanding the men to make bags filled with straw and hay in order to build a bridge across the river Tigris (Alexander used the same principal to cross the Danube and many other rivers on his way east). Another detail being that Artaxerxes is using 150 Scythian chariots to disarray the Greeks at Cunaxa – a tactic that was used again by Darius III against Alexander at Gaugamela. Finally there is the matter of “camp followers” that is clearly explained, equaling Alexander’s baggage train.

Enough facts and figures to keep anyone busy for a while, whether Alexander is in the picture or not.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A new season of excavations at Patara

It’s always exciting to imagine what new discoveries may be made during a new excavation season, especially on a site like Patara.

Last year a most exquisite bronze statue of Hermes dating from the Roman era has been unearthed, actually dating from the period of Emperor Constantine. It is considered to be a quite unique find as never anything similar has been discovered. The statue, that looks quite modern and stylish, is now on display at the Antalya Archeological Museum.

[picture from The Hurriyet Daily News]

Before that, in 2007, the entire theater had been cleared of sand dunes which covered most of the building, and in 1993, a precious Roman milestone had been unearthed. This monumental pillar, the Stadismus Provinciae Lyciae or Stadiasmus Patarensis, carried a dedication to Emperor Claudius in Greek and a list of roads built by the local governor, Quintus Veranius, in fact, the entire network that connected Caunos-Dalyan in Lycia to Attaleia (Antalya) in Pamphylia. The list includes the distances from one station to the next, 67 routes in all – enough to entice today’s traveler to explore the beautiful backcountry of Lycia.

This year, the team of archeologists, scientists and workers will be scrutinizing and digging at the Basilica, the Lima Hamam, the Palaestra, the city’s Acropolis and the Ancient Lycian waterway.

As mentioned earlier (see: Wonderful Patara!), Patara surrendered to Alexander the Great in 333 BC. After his death, the city was occupied in turn by Antigonus and Demetrios-Poliorketes, to finally fall in the hands of the Ptolemies. It was Ptolemy Philadelphus who, according to Strabo, embellished and enlarged Patara and renamed it Arsinoe after his wife and sister. But this change of name was not a success and Patara is the name that stuck.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sillyum escaped Alexander’s siege

Even in today’s landscape the trapezoidal hill of Sillyon is clearly visible in the overall flat plain of Pamphylia. I even could see it from the plane one day while taking off from Antalya airport, but of course you need to know what to look for. Driving toward Sillyon or Sillyum as it was called in antiquity, is not difficult – just take any road in the general direction, you can’t miss it.

It does not take a specialist to realize that because of its location alone, Sillyum is an impregnable fortress. The Persians had a mixed force of foreign mercenaries and native barbarians there and it was the first Pamphylian city to resists Alexander. As can be expected, the king didn’t hesitate to attack, but was not very successful. However, before he could conceive a second plan, the news reached him that the people of Aspendos had changed their mind and decided not to respect the freshly signed treaty. Catapults were immediately dismantled, the arsenal wrapped up and Alexander’s troops were summoned to march back to Aspendos. Since Sillyum had no access to the sea like Perge or Aspendos, Alexander decided that Sillyum was not worth the trouble of a siege and fell back on Perge.

The origins of Sillyum are shrouded in the mist of times, probably going back as far as the Trojan War. Very few excavations have been carried out and present conclusions are based solely on visual assessments. Sillyum’s heydays seem to have been lived during the 1st century BC when the road from Perge to Aspendos led through Sillyum as is obvious from the Peutinger roadmap (i.e. a medieval map copied from a Roman original of the fourth century). The tombs outside the city date mainly from between the 3rd and the 6th century, which makes sense when you consider that the most recent building on this hilltop is from the Byzantine era.

The remains we see today are mainly Roman but several Hellenistic features can still be found, like for instance the horseshoe-shaped court with a tower on each side built according to the same Hellenistic design as the one in Perge, and still pretty much recognizable. There are also two Hellenistic buildings, including the building in which an inscription in Pamphylian dialect still enhances the doorpost, and the meagre remains of a crumbling theatre.

I start my climb of a good 200 meters over a narrow path through the thickets on the west side, the only side that is not absolutely vertical. I’m happy to reach my first clue: a square tower that originally was part of the lower city fortification built when the people of Sillyum moved to lower grounds in order to be closer to their fields. Originally it was two stories high and curiously enough the door on the north side has a horizontal lintel while the inner door is arched.

When I reach the broad slope towards the old Roman city gate I can get my bearings. I find part of the ancient ramp – always an exciting element in any site. From here I literally have to dive into the shrubbery through a low doorway leading to a dark space. Once my eyes are accustomed to the dim light I see four cows that found refuge in this cool room to ruminate. I’m not too happy with this crowded reception and just hope I won’t step into any cow dung. All goes well and I’m glad to be back in broad daylight again. I’m now walking through the Roman Baths with rounded walls that held the vaulted ceilings and I even recognize the square windows of the solarium.

Slightly lower there is a small fountain still pouring out cool spring water for the thirsty traveller on a hot summery day. In the grass a fallen base proudly shows its Greek inscription – well, I suppose it is Greek for at least the letters are Greek. It may well be an inscription in Pamphylian for I have read in George Bean’s book “Turkey’s Southern Shore” that there must be some rare Pamphylian writing around here. I have no way to figure this out.

It is only when I find the inscription in the doorway that matches the photograph in George Bean’s book that I know that I am looking at something Pamphylian, a local dialect related to Greek and quite different from the language written and spoken in Side. Although this inscription uses Greek letters and runs over 37 lines it is not being understood, except for a few loose words, like the name Selyviios. By the year 100 BC the Pamphylian language has completely disappeared to be replaced by Greek that is by then generally spoken in the area. In any case, I feel privileged to have seen this inscription with my own eyes. Said doorway is part of a Hellenistic building with richly decorated frames around the windows and doors, probably dating from around 200 BC. The bushes are much too dense to make any sense of this construction or even to take a decent look at it from a distance.

Another yet larger Byzantine building stands next to it with its impressive 55 meters-long western wall, reaching a height of six meters. It counts ten windows, strangely enough all of different sizes.

There are plenty of trails and tracks crossing each other and I wonder if they are created by cows and goats or by the sporadic visitor like me. I tread with care through the high grasses and low shrubs for I have now reached the “Hall of Many Cisterns”, an area cramped with pits of ancient wells. One misstep could mean a broken leg – no thank you. The marble holes still show the deep grooves from the many ropes that ran through them over the years. There is even a huge underground cistern nearly thirty meters long, of which I see the entrance but dare not enter. 

Unexpectedly I arrive at the edge of the high plateau. It looks as if there are only a few blocks lined up there and it occurs to me that it might be a wall of some kind, but when I get closer I discover them to be the upper seats of the theatre. A landslide in the spring of 1969 took most of the theatre away including its stage and the Odeon next to it. All that remains are these four rows of seats. Such a pity when a theatre survives for so many centuries to disappear 2000 years later because of a landslide. The view however is breathtaking for I have an all embracing picture of the wide landscape all the way to the sea – roughly ten kilometres to the south.

I return along the Hellenistic Gate with its round towers as I have seen in Perge and Side, once part of the fortification built by the people of Sillyum when they moved their houses closer to their fields. For me this is one of the highlights of the day since it is bringing me closer to Alexander.

[Click here to see all the pictures of Sillyum]

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron

It does not matter which book I pick for reading, Alexander is always in the back of my mind. This is also the case when I hold The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (ISBN 978-0-141-44209-9), were it only because Alexander the Great spent nearly three years of his short life in Oxiana, corresponding more or less to today’s Afghanistan.

Robert Byron travels from Venice, via Jerusalem, Damascus and Bagdad (Iraq) to Persia in 1933 and finally reaches Afghanistan in 1934, keeping a detailed diary of his journey. In those days the King of England, George V, was still emperor of India; Afghanistan was ruled by King Nadir Shah who was assassinated in November 1933 to be succeeded by his 19 years-old son Zahir Shah; the Imperial State of Persia was governed by Reza Shah Pahlavi; meaning that the reader gets a good picture of the peculiar background against which the story evolves.

What captivates me especially is the fact that part of the roads correspond exactly to those followed by Alexander some 2,000 years earlier. The landscape is a commanding factor in antiquity as well as today and the obvious itineraries always follow the same rivers, oasis and towns, skirting the same deserts and mountains, using the same passes and goat-tracks.

Byron is mostly interested in Islamic art and evidently he finds lots of examples along his journey, giving very detailed and lively descriptions, especially in Persia and later in Afghanistan. He often is not allowed to take pictures, so he makes drawings. The way he writes, however, corresponds in a way to drawing with words, stopping at the many discussions with officials as he moves from one stop to the next, generally by lorry but also by car or on horseback. Old caravanserais are still used when there is no local governor or friendly Brit around to offer him a room to spend the night and he relates all the folkloric details of such encounters.

This book is extremely interesting from different points of view, either for its detailed Islamic architecture and art, or for daily life in that part of the Middle East in the early twentieth century. So in the end, I read it twice as after these most evident reasons I went in search of landscapes and cities which Alexander most probably encountered in places like Ecbatana, Persepolis, Pasargadae, Balkh, Kabul and Peshawar, crossing the Elbruz Mountains towards the Caspian Sea or his perilous march over the famous Khyber Pass of the Hindu Kush. Lots of pertinent information for whoever wants to take a closer look!