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 Drangiana/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, 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 - 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)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fixing the Wings of the Sphinxes at Amphipolis

It seems that by now enough pieces of the missing wings of the Sphinxes at the entrance of the Amphipolis’ Tomb have been found to fully reconstruct them, including part of the neck belonging to the second sphinx. The Greek Ministry of Culture has now released a comprehensible drawing of what the sphinxes must look like based of these additional elements.

[Picture by the Greek Ministry of Culture]

The Ministry is also withdrawing its earlier statement about the 0,96 meters wide door that should lead to the fourth chamber. That chamber, however, is now determined as measuring 7.53 x 1.5 meters at least, i.e. much bigger than any of the previous ones.

We are still tributary of the press releases by the Greek Ministry of Culture and can only wait for the further developments.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Great news from Pergamon

The unique site of Pergamon has just been added to the World Heritage List of the UNESCO.


So many sites are still pending acceptance, others are being accepted and Pergamon certainly deserves its place. As told in my previous article Pergamon is simply huge, the city was the capital of the Hellenistic Attalids and the capital of the Roman province of Asia. It was a key city in the ancient world and the proud owner of an Asclepion where sick people were treated in what we can label as modern ways.

It is very unfortunate that cities on UNESCO’s World Heritage List cannot be better protected during conflicts or in war time. It saddens me deeply when scrolling down this list (click here) that so many sites are in danger (the red dots) in countries like Afghanistan (the Minaret of Djam and the Bamiyan Valley), Georgia, Iraq (Ashur on the Tigris and the Samarra site), Israel with the old city walls of Jerusalem, Serbia (medieval Kosovo), and maybe most of all Syria including old Damascus, old Bosra, the beautiful city of Palmyra, old Aleppo, the Crac des Chevaliers and the so-called Dead Cities.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Questions about the head of the sphinx found in Amphipolis

While at first there were no comments about this head being found all the way inside the third chamber (12 meters from the entrance) of the Amphipolis’ tomb, archaeologists now have to admit that it is a mystery.

[Picture from The Greek Reporter]

My initial thought was looting of the tomb in antiquity that would have displaced some of the elements; another thought was that the chambers were filled with soil at some time after their construction and that the broken head (or heads) of the sphinx was used together with other rubble to fill up the rooms.

Today’s article in The Greek Reporter mentions that while removing more earth in the third chamber, archaeologists found that the limestone floor was missing some stones and that the floor looked very much as if someone had been digging there. The head of the western sphinx has not been found yet but they hope to locate it when shovelling out more dirt from this room in order to reach the narrow door of the fourth wall. 

Already plans are being made to restore the sphinx with the newly found head and parts of the wings. Archaeologists believe that the Caryatids and the Sphinxes were carved by different artists because the details of the sphinxes are finer than those of the caryatids, which were crafted from a single slab of marble.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Missing head of the Amphipolis sphinx is now found!

If you ask me, it’s a strange place to find the missing head of one of the sphinxes guarding the entrance to the Amphipolis’ tomb: inside the third chamber!


No explanation is put forward to explain why this head is discovered 15 cm from the threshold of the third chamber, together with fragments of its wings. Your guess is as good as mine …

However, the head that closely resembles the head of the caryatids, is intact with a minimal scratch on the nose. It belongs to the sphinx on the eastern side of the entrance and is 60 cm high. The marble shows traces of red in the curly hair that is tied together with a white stripe. 

The third chamber measures 4.5 x 6 meters and the archeologists hope to clear the entire room very soon. We are still holding our breath!

Floor mosaic in the second chamber of Amphipolis’ tomb

By now the entire floor mosaic in the second chamber of the tomb at Amphipolis has been exposed, measuring 3 x 4.5 meters from wall to wall. All the parties involved agree that we are looking at The Abduction of Persephone, which seems to be related to the Macedonian royal family.

There is indeed a precedent at the Vergina Tumulus where this scene is very lively depicted on the wall of one of the tombs next to that of Philip II and conveniently named The Tomb of Persephone as there is no further indication to its occupant. Another similar scene was found on the backrest of the throne located at the Tomb of Eurydice, the grandmother of Alexander the Great and mother of King Philip II, also at Vergina/Aegae. The scene remains unchanged: Hermes leads the horse carriage with Hades abducting Persephone – in fact a way to represent how the soul was escorted to the underworld. This subject seems to pertain to the Orphic cult which was always led by the Macedonian kings.

I am particularly impressed by the figure of Hermes and the soft yellow pebbles assembled to compose his hat and cloak, a color used sparsely on frescos decorating other Macedonian tombs in the Lefkadia area, for instance. Something worth investigating. 

At this stage, two full chambers have been cleared and the doorway to a third chamber has been located. This 3D view of the Amphipolis Tomb gives a good overall idea of what has been uncovered so far.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Museum to preserve Mount Nemrud?

In August 2014, The Hurriyet Daily News came with the news that copies of the oversized statues on Mount Nemrud will be made to be exhibited in a panoramic museum to be built in Adiyaman. The underlying idea is to preserve these precious sculptures should they disappear due to the severe weather conditions on top of this mountain. To me, it would make more sense to transfer the originals and put copies out there, but then the material is terribly heavy and there is no access road to the top. In fact, they are impossible to move.

The new Adiyaman Panorama and Archaeology Museum will reflect the heritage site as if the visitor stands on top of the mountain. An ambitious project but in my eyes nothing will equal the absolute fascination and unique feeling any visitor will experience standing there on top of the world, i.e. on Mount Nemrud.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wonderful mosaic brought to light in Amphipolis

It is great to learn that excavation workers have cleared the largest part of the floor in the second chamber of the Tomb of Amphipolis, being the one located behind the entrance flanked by  the Caryatids.

[Picture by the Greek Ministry of Culture]

The clearing operation has exposed a spectacular pebble mosaic showing a chariot drawn by two white horses led by a bearded man wearing a laurel wreath on his head. In front of this span stands the god Hermes with his winged sandals who is guiding the soul to the afterlife. I simply love the yellow kausia Hermes is wearing! 

The colors of the pebbles are as to be expected generally white, black and grayish blue, with touches of yellow, blue and red. The scene is framed by a 60-cm wide Greek Meander border in different shades of grey-blue. Unfortunately the very center of the floor is damaged the size of a circle 80 cm in diameter, but since many lose pebbles are being recuperated from the removed soil, it may be possible to restore the missing part of the scene.

Although all the soil has not yet been removed, it is clear that the mosaic covers the entire width of the floor. At the same time the limestone plastered threshold between the Caryatids has been exposed, as well as the threshold to the third chamber.

The pictures released by the Greek Ministry of Culture tell a great deal about the exceptional technique and help to date this burial site to the period between 325 and 300 BC.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The King is dead, long live the King!

Most histories about Alexander the Great simply start with his kingship and immediately jump to his conquest of Asia. This is evidently where he spent the most important part of his life and where the great battles were fought, but he could not have even considered this campaign had he not settled the unrest in Greece and the Macedonian northern borders first – a fact that is often omitted, unfortunately.

In July 336 BC, just twenty years old, Alexander unexpectedly became the new King of Macedonia and his life was to take a new turn. The most pressing matter was evidently to consolidate his place on the throne and to eliminate all those who could have been involved in the murder of his father. Next he had to consider and evaluate all the pretenders to the throne that could be a threat - among them was Amyntas, the son of Philip’s brother Perdiccas now a grown man. Alexander however spared his simple-minded half-brother Arrhideus. And …. His final priority was his father’s funeral, the construction of a huge pyre that was set afire in the presence of the full Macedonian army and the transfer of his remain to his last resting place inside the Royal Tomb outside the walls of Aegae. – a tomb that was found intact in 1977 by Manolis Andronicos.

No doubt Alexander was itching to move on in his father’s footsteps and set out for Asia as soon as possible, but more urgent matters kept him in Pella for a while. Athens had been rejoicing at Philip’s death and many other cities still resented the fact that Philip’s Macedonia ruled the Greeks as Hegemon of the League of Corinth, a title that Alexander inherited much to their discomfort and sorrow.

With the support of the army Alexander marched south into Thessaly where his route was blocked at the Tempe Pass. Instead of attacking the Thessalians head on, he simply marched around the pass, settling the opponent’s resistance once and for all. As he won the support of northern and central Greece, Athens could only do the same and they sent their pledges of support to the new king. Leaving Athens for what it was, Alexander travelled to Corinth to make sure all the Greeks swore their oath of allegiance as they had done to his father before.

Now that Greece was secured, Alexander returned home for the winter, planning his spring campaign in Thrace to settle the unrest among the Triballi and the Illyrians living along Macedonia’s northern border. This would be his first test with the army and assert his authority as king before crossing over to Asia.

In the spring of 335 BC he left from Amphipolis and was soon met by the Thracians who held the pass over Mount Haemus. The enemy had hauled wagons up the pass in order to let them thunder down on the Macedonian army as soon as they were within reach. Alexander assessed the situation and gave orders to the phalanx to open up their ranks to let the wagons run through; where there was no space for the soldiers to step aside they were instructed to lie down on the ground and lock their shields over their head. As a result, the Thracian wagons hardly did any damage. It should be noted that the army followed Alexander’s orders, showing that they trusted their commander – a matter of detail, but a very important detail! It is said that 1,500 Thracians were killed and their women and children were sent to Macedonia to be sold as slaves.

Alexander’s next goal was the Triballi who lived along the southern banks of the Danube River. Their strength was their many well-concealed defensive positions and Alexander had first to dislocate them in order to attack them in open battle. He sent out a small contingent of slingers and archers to lure them out their hiding places. This stratagem worked as he intended for soon the Triballi rushed out in force only to be met by the full Macedonian army. About 3,000 Triballi were killed and those remaining sought refuge on an island in the middle of the Danube that had natural defenses because of its high banks, rocks and the fast flowing river. Since a front attack would be too costly, Alexander decided to wait and simple cut off the enemy’s supply routes.

Unexpectedly the Getae from the plains north of the Danube showed up with a force of 10,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, which because of its shear number could not be ignored. Alexander decided to cross the Danube overnight with 4,000 men and 1,500 cavalry using some small boats but mostly using floating devices made from the Macedonian leather tents filled with straw. When the Getae discovered them at daybreak, they fled. The fight was over before it began and Alexander simply destroyed their crops. This meant that the Triballi on their island were entirely isolated and all they could do was to surrender. And so they did, together with the stray Thracians and Celt from the Balkans.

Behind Alexander’s back the Illyrians now revolted. Cleitus the formidable king of the Dardani (from around Kosovo) had persuaded the Autariatae (from around Bosnia) to join forces and attack Alexander on his march to meet him, and even the Taulantii (from around Tirana) would march to join Cleitus. Alexander had to act fast would he not be enclosed on all sides. He foiled Cleitus’ plan and marched to Paeonia (Skopje), across the plains of Florina to the heart of Illyria at Pelion where Cleitus was holding a fortress. The Taulantians did not arrive in time to join forces with Cleitus, Alexander was there first. When he learned that the Taulantii had not posted sentries around their nearby camp, he immediately decided to attack them by night. Caught by surprise, they surrendered leaving Alexander with one enemy less to face. On his way to attack Cleitus, a more pressing matter demanded his attention: Thebes had revolted and called the other Greeks to put an end to Macedonian rule! This required a drastic change of plans. Luckily for Alexander, Cleitus escaped from the fortress but did not raise arms against him again, the Illyrians even sent troops to join Alexander’s forces in Asia.

The attitude of Thebes was of the utmost importance. Thebes was endangering Alexander’s hegemony of the League of Corinth and breaching the  basic constitution of the Treaty. Thebes had signed the Common Peace and could not legally revolt unless it faced the armies of all the other League members. Alexander must have felt that Thebes revolt was putting his authority in the balance and on a personal level that they were hampering his plans to attack Persia.

Alexander force-marched his army south from Illyria, covering 250 miles (400 km) in 13 days over mountainous terrain, crossing Mount Grammus, Mount Pindus and Mount Cambunia, allowing his men only one day’s rest in Thessaly. This was so fast (more than 30km/day) that even the Thebans didn’t believe that it was Alexander standing before their city-gates! Athens, who at first had taken side with Thebes, now withdrew (freaking out, no doubt), leaving Thebes to fight the battle on their own from the well-fortified Cadmea where the Macedonian garrison was still surrounded by the Thebans. In the battle that ensued and in spite of their fortified position, the Thebans had to give way to the Macedonians led by Alexander personally. At least 6,000 Thebans died in the last stand and 30,000 were taken prisoner to be enslaved. It is not surprising that Alexander wanted to set an example for the other members of the League of Corinth, but at the same time he diplomatically left the punishment of Thebes to the League which urged the total destruction of the city. At this stage, I believe Athens got scared and sent an embassy to congratulate Alexander for his victory over the Illyrians and probably against their will, with his punishment of Thebes. To cut the matter short, Alexander demanded several of their politicians to be handed over to him, men like Demosthenes, Lycurgus and Hyperides, but Demades, another Athenian orator, was able to convince Alexander to change his mind. Well, after all, now that Thebes was razed to the ground and that cities like Corinth and Chalcis were in his hands, he could be generous towards Athens that no longer had any support from other cities.

It was time for Alexander to return home and nobody dared doubt his leadership. He spent nine days at Dion, the Macedonian sanctuary at the foothills of Mount Olympus to feast in honor of the Muses and Zeus. He held a number of banquets in his royal tent that could fit one hundred couches, a true feast Macedonian style. The wide plain at the foot of the old Greek theater is still there to kindle our imagination.

Back home, games were organized in honor of Olympian Zeus at Aegae. It was here that he issued the first coins bearing the image of Alexander, this was in 335 BC. He now was truly King of Macedonia, feared and/or respected by all of Greece. He could now concentrate on the invasion of Asia. That is how he spent the winter and in the early days of spring 334 BC he set his army in motion leaving Macedonia in the hands of his Regent, Antipater. Alexander would never see his homeland again.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Door to the third chamber of Amphipolis is Macedonian

A new piece of the puzzle has been added this week to the ongoing excavations at the Tomb of Amphipolis as archaeologists have found three fragments of a marble door at the entrance leading to the third chamber. This double door, imitating a wooden door decorated with nails reinforces the theory that we are dealing with a Macedonian tomb. Like for the other parts of the tomb, the marble comes from nearby Thasos. The door panels have been measured at 1.5 meters wide and 14 cm thick.



At first the possibility of looting was put forward, but since the remains of the door were found in the second chamber this indicates that the slabs were pushed from the inside out, either by the severe earthquake that occurred in the 6th century AD or by the heavy shelling in the area during the Bulgarian attacks of 1913. Under pressure the door must have been blasted forward.



[Reconstruction made by the Greek Ministry of Culture. 
Both pictures are released by the Greek Ministry of Culture]

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Macedonian coins allegedly found at Amphipolis for sale?

It is still unclear whether these fifteen Macedonians coins will really be put up for sale later this month by the German auctioneers Gorny & Mosch in Munich.

[Picture from The Greek Reporter]

The coins belonging to the reign of Alexander the Great and of his father, King Philip II of Macedonia, and seem to be linked to the monumental tomb at Amphipolis. The estimated asking price is 500 Euros, though the coins could be sold for a much higher price and certainly if the link with Amphipolis can be traced.

There must a law against such sales. In my naivety I expect that the seller should be able to prove the legal and rightful acquisition of such coins, but I have the feeling that the black markets are still thriving … unfortunately.

Highlights of the collection on sale include:
-        a tetradrachm from 356-355 BC carrying the name of PHILIP on the reverse and a picture of Zeus on the obverse
-        a tetradrachm from 355-349/8 BC depicting the head of Zeus with a laurel wreath on the obverse
-        a tetradrachm from 336-323 BC reading KING ALEXANDER on the reverse and showing the head of Heracles on the obverse.
-        a stater from 330-320 BC with the head of Athena wearing a Corinthian helmet on the obverse and the name ALEXANDER on the reverse.

I can’t help wondering whether these coins are authentic or good imitations. In any case, it would be lovely to put one of the Alexander coins on display in my house, wouldn’t it?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Is the Mother of Alexander the Great in the Tomb at Amphipolis?

Andrew Chugg just has published a third analysis about the Tomb at Amphipolis in an effort to tie it to Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great.

Here he elaborates his earlier theory about the snake-basket on the head of the caryatids and about their dress (see: Additional scrutiny of the Caryatids of Amphipolis by Andrew Chugg), referring to ancient writers and similar depictions from antiquity.

Andrew Chugg’s argumentation is that after Olympias was murdered, her relatives would have felt it their duty to give her a proper burial to which Cassander must have agreed. Cassander was married to Thessaloniki, Alexander’s half-sister and daughter of Philip II, and as such she might have exercised some pressure on her husband. And then there was Cleopatra by now Queen of Epirus, Alexander’s sister and daughter of Philip II and Olympias, who could have been involved in the burial. Olympias had many rich and influential relatives who might have been more than willing to build her tomb. Chugg goes even as far as involving Roxane and her son by Alexander as well since both were kept at Amphipolis for another seven years after Olympias’ murder. Funeral rites were sacred in ancient Macedonia, and Cassander knew that as well as all the generals previously fighting alongside Alexander, meaning that Cassander may not have had much of a choice.

The author does not accept the idea of this being an abandoned cenotaph built for Alexander since in such a case the painstaking job of sealing the access walls and filling the chambers with tons of sand would make no sense.

Those wanting to unravel Andrew Chugg's ideas can consult his full story in The Greek Reporter.