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)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Zeugma’s newest mosaics

I have a weak spot for Zeugma, the city that has been nearly entirely flooded following the construction of a dam on the Euphrates River in Turkey – one dam too many if you ask me. I find it inadmissible to flood remains that have survived 2,500 years of history for the simple purpose of cultivating more land. I wrote about Zeugma some time ago under the title Zeugma,Border-town along the Euphrates River.


Zeugma was again in the news at the end of the 2014 excavation season, when it made headlines with three new mosaics that have been unearthed from the House of the Muses, which will join the other rescued floors at the Museum of Gaziantep after restoration and conservation.

The Greek Reporter has added photographs of these gorgeous mosaics: the first one representing the nine Muses framed in elegant medallions gathered around Muse Calliope (see above); the second mosaic is a well-known representation of Oceanus and Tethys (below); and the third mosaic is not shown but is described as the portrait of a young man.


According to the Hurriyet Daily News, it seems that among the 2-3,000 houses of Zeugma, “only” 25 remain under water. If we read the Greek Reporter, the story is however quite different as they state that 80% of old Zeugma is flooded (which corresponds much better to what I heard earlier). No wonder that the Mayor of Gaziantep is so optimistic when stating “I hope we will be able to unearth the whole civilization of Zeugma” – a matter of convincing your audience?

[Pictures from The Greek Reporter, except the one of Oceanus and Tethys which is from the Hurriyet Daily News. The photograph of Oceanus and Tethys in the Greek Reporter is that of an earlier excavated mosaic that is already on display at the Museum of Gaziantep].

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Diodorus Siculus – Books 11-12.37.1 on Xerxes and Sicily

Diodorus Siculus, Books 11-12.37.1 (ISBN 0-292-71277-4) is probably best known as published in the Loeb Classical Library version, but his time I have opted for the alternative version translated and introduced by nobody less than Peter Green.

Diodorus was a Greek historian from Agrigento in Sicily, who lived ca. 100-30 BC and who wrote a world history covering forty books. His history was divided into three parts: the mythical history of peoples, non-Greeks and Greek till the Trojan War; the history till Alexander’s death in 323 BC; and finally the history until 54 BC.  Not all books have survived, but we do have Books I to V where Diodorus writes about the Egyptians, Assyrians, Ethiopians and Greeks, and Books XI to XX handling Greek history from 480 till 302 BC. Of the other volumes, we only have fragments.

Book 11 covers the period from 480 BC to 451 BC, meaning from the year King Xerxes of Persia launched his expedition against Greece till Pericles citizenship law. Book 12.1.1 to 12.37.1 tells us about the prosperity in mainland Greece, the fight over Cyprus, the internal wars in Sicily and their peace treaty with Carthage.

It is known that Diodorus used good and reliable sources. He is the only ancient historian covering Greek history from the days of Xerxes’ invasion to the War of the Diadochi following the death of Alexander the Great.

This version, unlike the Loeb book that was translated back in 1946, is set in modern-day English and is enhanced with the most up-to-date historical information and footnotes. Besides the many useful maps, Peter Green has also added a precious Chronological Table of events shown in parallel as happening in Mainland Greece; in the Aegean, Asia and Africa; and in Sicily & the West. In fact, it relates a very comprehensive piece of history. I used this “alternative” translation for my recent trip to Sicily as a most precious travel companion. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

An update on the Terrace Houses of Ephesus

Truly something for puzzle-aficionados! Roll up your sleeves and dig in the bunch of 120,000 shards to recreate an ancient mosaic floor. So far, archeologists have successfully fitted together 50,000 pieces in four years, an ambitious and challenging project since they don’t know what the ultimate picture is supposed to look like! On average, the team can assemble 50 to 60 pieces a day but on a lucky day they may assemble as much as 200 pieces. If you don’t fancy investing your energy in this time-consuming guesswork, you still can look over the shoulder of these courageous people while visiting the so-called Terrace Houses when you are in Ephesus (see also my previous article: Ephesus and its terrace houses).


The luxury of these villas has nothing to envy to the modern rich and famous. The brilliantly decorated walls and floors are only part of the amenities, for these Romans from the first centuries AD were familiar with floor heating and cooling through cold water channels; the ceilings were decorated with gold leaves and marbles from fifty different quarries were used.

While at first the archeologists were able to distinct two villas, they now know that one of them belonged to Flavius Furius Aptus, probably a priest at the Temple of Dionysus. His most splendid room was his dining room with a pool in the middle, famous for its floor mosaics and wall paintings where he received his guests. After repeated earthquakes the building collapsed leaving the 120,000 shards of marble for us to sweep up and put back into place.

Meanwhile the painted walls of the Terrace Houses are undergoing a thorough cleanup in the hope to give us a glimpse of their original glory. After the initial restoration, archeologists are now working with a new process using the latest technology. This year alone 120 m2 spread over eight rooms were strengthened and cleaned with these special chemicals. They aim at recreating the decoration with small touches without interfering with the paintings themselves.


I find it most unfortunate that many trips to Ephesus do not include a visit to these Terrace Houses. A separate entrance fee (well-worth the hidden beauty) is being charged and tour operators tend to rush their customers down through the Curetus Street without stopping at these remarkable rooms. What a shame!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

First DNA-results from Amphipolis tomb

We are all waiting for the results of the DNA test on the bones recovered from the Tomb of Amphipolis. There are rumors, and apparently rumors only, that the remains could belong to Queen Olympias, Alexander’s mother. From the reports it transpires that the skeleton could be that of a woman, aged approximately 54 years, but the Greek Ministry of Culture does not substantiate this statement.

[Aerial view of the Kasta Mound at Amphipolis. Credit: To Vima]

Good news however is that a geophysical survey of the mound has been carried out revealing additional man-made structures worth investigation. So far, this survey seems to confirm that there may be several other constructions that will require closer examination in a near future. 

Both the Greek Reporter and Archaeology News Network are rather vague, although they base their information on the most recent statement by the Greek Ministry of Culture.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Alexander’s presence in Ephesus

Picturing Alexander walking through the streets of Ephesus is not difficult. When he arrived, most cities of Asia Minor were occupied by armed forces and notables loyal to the Great King while the population generally was known to have amicable relations with Macedonia. Here in Ephesus, they had even erected a statue in honour of King Philip II, Alexander’s father.

Three days after leaving Sardes, Alexander arrived in Ephesus and he was received with open arms. He immediately expelled the pro-Persian oligarchy and installed a democratic government. Now that the people felt freed from their political masters, they didn’t waste time to put the collaborators to death. Some victims had sought refuge inside the temples and were now being dragged outside and stoned to death. Alexander reacted immediately realizing that if he didn’t stop this rage at once, the vengeance offensive would run out of control and innocent citizens would be killed. He halted this revolt with firm hand. The people of Ephesus listened and Alexander’s popularity never stood higher than after his intervention.

It is probable that the city became a member of the League of Corinth, which meant that it was subject to Macedonian rule and had to pay the tribute previously granted to Persia. In reality, this tribute went to the reconstruction of the famous Temple of Artemis which burnt down the night Alexander was born, set afire by a certain Herostratus who wanted his name to be remembered for eternity. A new temple was now under construction and Alexander initially suggested it should be dedicated to him but the Ephesians refused. The Artemis-cult was an old one, going back to the worship of Cybele that probably reached the first Greek settlers around 1000 BC. Artemis was the virgin goddess of nature who assisted women in delivering their babies and was represented with many breasts (linked to the fertility cult) and a miniature temple on her head as a crown. The three stories of the crown indicated that she protected the cities while the sickle on her forehead referred to the moon goddess. She also wore the symbol of the bee, i.e. the emblem of Ephesus indicating that she originated from Anatolia.

The first Temple of Artemis goes back to the seventh century BC and after its destruction was rebuilt in the sixth century BC. The new temple rested on a plinth of 13 steps and the sanctuary itself measuring 115x55 meters was surrounded by a double row of 18 meter-high Ionic columns, 127 in total. The 36 columns on the front side are said to have been decorated with reliefs by Skopas while nobody less than Praxiteles built the altar. After its reconstruction, it became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

All that is left today are some flooded foundations and a single not too well reassembled column – very sad. The scattered remains go back to the time of Lysimachus, one of the generals and successors of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. In Alexander’s days, the city was centred on the Artemision. It was Lysimachus who chose the location for the new city which he surrounded with defensive walls. The place looks wild and overgrown, an eerie picture accentuated by the cackling chickens and screaming geese in the adjacent farm. At one time even the gods made sure I heard them. The sky had turned pitch dark and soon enough the thunder rumbled while lightning flashes tore the clouds apart. A sign from Zeus, no doubt, but not from Artemis. Strangely enough, I was not surprised by the god’s manifestation.

This year, in 2014 new excavations have started again after twenty years of rest because this year’s drought has made the ruins far more accessible. Archaeologists hope to find remains from the Roman era which may answer the question whether this famous temple was converted into a Christian church. In its present condition, it is not drawing much interest from the tourists but this may change when enough of the layout is exposed. After all, the sanctuary occupies the size of a football field, something worth considering, right?

Pausing at the edge of the poorly excavated parcel, I wonder about the traders, tourists, craftsmen and kings who visited this temple over the centuries when it was a market as well as a religious centre. They all came to honour Artemis and to share their profits with her. Excavations have shown that many people came to offer their gifts: gold and ivory statues of Artemis; but also earrings, bracelets and necklaces from far away countries like Persia and even India. A nice collection of these gifts can be seen at the local Museum of Selçuk.

The temple may not have been finished when in 268 AD the Goths raided the city, destroying or partly destroying it. In 614, Ephesus was hit by an earthquake which severely damaged the buildings. The city lost its importance as a commercial centre, aggravated by the silting up of the Cayster River that constituted its harbour.

While he was in Ephesus, Alexander received representatives from the towns of Magnesia and Tralles offering their submission. To ensure recognition by all Aeolian and Ionian towns in the area, Parmenion was dispatched with a force of 5,000-foot soldiers and 200 Companions cavalry, while Alcimachus, son of Agathocles, set out with a similar force. They established a popular government in replacement of the existing Persian rule, making sure that all would keep their own laws and customs, and pay their taxes to Alexander instead of to the Persians.

Alexander meanwhile stayed in Ephesus and offered sacrifices to Artemis. It is probably at this time that he frequently visited the studio of Apelles, who became the only painter allowed to make pictures of Alexander. We know of at least one painting made especially for the Temple of Artemis in which Alexander was represented holding a thunderbolt. Apelles has depicted the king using only four colors in order to make the work more wondrous. Alexander also organized a ceremonial parade of his troops in their best outfit and in battle order. He definitely knew how to put up a show!

Leaving the temple area, I drive up the nearby hill where it is said that the Virgin Mary spent her last days. From here I have an eagle’s view of what is Roman Ephesus. In 190 BC, the city was included in the Kingdom of Pergamon, which in turn was incorporated into the Roman Empire in 133 BC, the later Byzantine Empire. In the early days of Christianity Ephesus was still very important, were it only because apostle Paul lived here, as well as apostle John who is said to have taken care of Mary and who is buried here.

Of course, it were the Romans who turned Ephesus into the largest seaport of the Aegean, which prospered till the harbour silted up, leaving the grand city about 6 miles inland from the coast. The most remarkable monument from those times are the Temple of Hadrian with the Baths behind it, the Fountain of Trajan, the Library of Celsus, and the magnificent villa’s (see: Ephesus and its terrace houses and The Grandeur of Ephesus).

[Click here to see all pictures of Ephesus]

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The grandeur of Ephesus

It is quite unusual that after so many years and so many visits, I never put anything in writing about beautiful Ephesus, the number one excursion for any tourist to the west coast of Turkey.

The first time I visited the site was during my very first tour of Turkey and it must be said, with an incompetent guide who claimed he knew it all and treated us as little children. So I gave up listening to his incorrect explanations and drifted off into my own world. He took us to Ephesus in the morning, when huge crowds of visitors were spilling out of the many buses on what seemed a large parking lot. I remembered my lack of breathing space, the loud talking of the many guides in different languages and how a solid mass of people pushed me and carried me through the streets of old Ephesus – my greatest apprehension when I visit an antique site. Useless to point out that these circumstances were far from ideal and that my perception of this old city did not match any of the many photographs I had seen over the years with near-empty streets to temp vast crowds of visitors.

Luckily this unfortunate experience was soon to be obliterated by my next visit with Peter Sommer during his tour In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great. To my greatest surprise the parking lot turned out to be much smaller than what I remembered, hardly filled by a handful of cars and maybe two or three buses. The streets of antique Ephesus seemed deserted this late in the afternoon and the different buildings now truly showed at their best – the true way to look at the city from Alexander’s point of view. Only now did I see how beautiful this site really was! What a relief!


Ephesus, the Turkish Efes, has a magical ring that may go back to antiquity. I always saw it as the ideal Greek city in Asia Minor where Alexander and so many other great men from times past had written history. So it was no surprise that my heart was skipping a beat! My first steps over the old pavement were insecure for my legs were shaking and my knees felt weak. How many sandals had stridden over these polished stones? How many people through the ages had walked here, all carrying their own burdens and having their own dreams? I ran my hands over the columns and walls, just to make sure they were real – and maybe, just maybe, they had something to tell me? I know this sounds crazy, but I can’t help it. At last, I was face to face with the past; it was so palpable, so very much alive!

Before heading to the main street, I follow the water supply system to a rather large round construction where the water was collected based on Archimedes’ laws. From here and thanks to an ingenious system of earthen pipes the water was distributed all over the lower city of Ephesus.

As I stroll down further, my imagination is taking wings! Past the Temple of Domitian lies the Odeon from 150 AD with beautifully preserved arches, originally used as Bouleuterion with enough seating for 1400 officials. Like so often, the Odeon could be entirely shaded from the sun or the rain, if needed. Behind me are the Baths of Varius, now richly decorated with bright red poppies and I marvel about the well-preserved and perfectly connecting terracotta water drains all over the city.

At the Gate of Hercules the passage suddenly narrows to open up again into the Curetus Street. It seems that originally this 4th century gate had an upper floor and was decorated with winged goddesses of victory. Curetus Street runs downhill, straight to the Library of Celsus and lined with columns on both sides from where wealthy and powerful citizens once looked down on me. Behind these columns runs a mosaic paved sidewalk giving access to the cool vaulted shops and some official buildings. These are mere marble skeletons with drafty doorways and gaping windows that once must have created a feeling of safety and a certain complacency. Wooden doors with copper and bronze fittings would have locked out the street-noise. The houses had no windows on the street side, only on the inside looking out onto the Atrium or the Peristyle. In summer these spaces were shaded to keep out the sun and the heat, while in the colder winter months the rooms were comfortably furbished and enhanced with floor heating. This luxurious main street, I am told, was lit at night with torches – how I envy those days!

Further down the street I pass the large Fountain of Trajan, once showing the emperor’s stately statue, and in its shade stands the marble Temple of Hadrian. The friezes from the entrance walls are copies of the originals now visible at the local museum of Selçuk. Yet it is great to have works of art, even copies, back in place to give an idea of what it must have looked like. With nobody walking in my feet I can step back for a better look and the low sun adds just enough to the atmosphere to drift back in time. Behind this Temple of Hadrian, the Romans built their Baths in the fourth century AD, without forgetting the basic need for latrines, the public toilets, in an adjacent room. They are simple cosy seats, next to one another, where you sit above your own hole to do what you have to do. The underlying ditch is at least one meter deep and runs downhill like the main street. I just hope the water was running fast enough to keep the air clean. I front of the seats there is a gutter through which water would be flowing and where you could dip the sponge on a stick to clean yourself.

Across the street from Hadrian’s Temple I notice two spiralled columns, definitely marking a special entrance. It is here that for many years, archaeologist have been working hard to restore two of the seven villas of the rich and famous, generally called the Terrace Houses (see: Ephesus and its Terrace Houses). Two houses may not seem much but they do total 78 rooms, no small residences dating generally from the first to the third century. The elegant fresco’s and marble or mosaic floors have nothing to envy to Pompeii or Herculaneum, they are simply superb. Many tourists skip this corner of Ephesus simply because a separate entrance fee is requested, but I think this is entirely unjustified. The glass walkways and stairs lead the visitors through the premises without obstructing the panoramic view. The colours are as fresh as if they were applied just yesterday, unbelievable! If there is one place to get a true feeling of the Roman’s lifestyle, this is the place!

With or without the stop at the villas, the visitor now reaches the Library of Celsus that has been beckoning from the onset. It is indeed a very impressive building with a carefully reconstructed façade, yet it is consistent with the grandeur and wealth of Ephesus. The high Corinthian columns support richly decorated ceiling caissons and frame the statues of four goddesses on their high pedestal, i.e. Sofia, (wisdom), Arete (virtue), Ennoia (intelligence) and Episteme (knowledge). It was Consul Gaius Julius Aquila who built this Library around 105-107 AD for his father, a worthy present I would say. The inside walls were once covered with coloured marble and still vaguely show traces of the niches where the papyrus scrolls were kept. The space is quite grand, measuring 11 x 17 meters and inevitably I am reminded of Ptolemy’s library as shown in OliverStone’s movie Alexander. How I would have loved to roam here in those days!

Behind me is a strange round structure that seems unidentified at the time of my visit but I recently heard that this could be the tomb of Arsinoe, Queen Cleopatra’s sister.

Through the three arches of the adjacent Gate of Commerce (first century AD), I reach the Agora, the market place that was surrounded by an impressive Stoa with Corinthian columns. This huge Agora covers a surface of 110x110 meters – quite incredible. The road running from here to the connection with the road to the harbour shows deep ruts in the pavement, testifying of the heavy traffic that must have passed through. Excavations towards the harbour are still under way and the area is not accessible yet. At the landside end of that street lays the huge theatre, originally a Greek construction, masterly nestled against de slopes of Mount Pion that was renovated and enlarged by the Romans to offer seating to no less than 25,000 spectators. From one of the top rows, I have a sweeping view over the entire city, all the way to the green marshes now covering the ancient harbour. It is wonderful to sit here for a while to take in the scenery and imagine the hustle and bustle of antiquity.

Alexander saw, of course, a different city with different buildings, but the location and probably the lay-out of Ephesus were very much the same. For more about this, see Alexander’s presence in Ephesus.

[Click here to see all the pictures of Ephesus]

Monday, December 15, 2014

Heading for Dascylium and Sardes

After contemplating the Battle of the Granicus, I am taken further north on this trip with Peter Sommer In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great, heading for Dascylium. I am a little surprised for Alexander never went to Dascylium as he sent his seasoned general Parmenion instead. Well, I suppose it was just part of the campaign and I take in the same rather dull flat landscape I met on the road to the Granicus. Yet, so much history has been written in the furrows of this freshly plowed soil. Less than one hundred before Alexander, Xenophon and what remained of his Ten Thousand marched through this countryside, a detail that cannot have been lost on Alexander.

But the Macedonian king had to press south, well aware of the threat posed by the sizeable Persian navy patrolling the coast of Asia Minor. Parmenion took Dascylium, the capital of Hellespontine Phrygia, without trouble as the guards had abandoned the town. A new satrap, Calas, was quickly put in place. From now on the tribute Dascylium used to pay to Persia would come to Alexander.

It is hard to imagine the city on this low hill now overgrown with bright spring flowers, yellow rapeseed, and red poppies. Remains of low Greek city walls with neatly cut stones, bits of Byzantine walls in which spolia from earlier ages is used, and then the scarce ruins of habitation. It is beyond doubt that Parmenion did a thorough job! A lovely place for a city anyway, I think.

From here we pass but don’t stop at Cyzicus which Alexander conquered also. It is said that he was responsible for connecting the island to the mainland. I wonder what is left of the huge amphitheater with a diameter of 150 meters which the Romans built here in the third century BC. It was intersected by a stream, making it particularly fit for naval battles – the only one of its kind in Turkey! It must have been a magnificent sight and it is mentioned as being one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Apparently as late as 1444 the visitor could still admire thirty-one of the immense columns in place.

My trip continues through a landscape filled with tumuli, which I am told belong to the days of King Midas (late 8th century BC). It is a long drive to Sardes, the capital of Lydia, for Alexander a march of nearly 200 miles. Apparently the news of Alexander’s victory at the Granicus had travelled quicker than his army and before reaching the fortified city he was met by the leading men and their satrap, Mithrines, who not only surrendered Sardes but also its treasury. The money was most welcome, of course, since Alexander had left Pella with only sixty talents - a very poor financial situation knowing that he had inherited a debt of 500 talents from his father and had been borrowing another 800 talents to get this expedition under way. For now, he had a financial breather.

The army set up camp on the banks of Hermus River, about 2,5 miles from Sardes and Amyntas was sent to take possession of the fortress. Alexander kept Mithrines with his own suite and treated him according to his rank. After taking Babylon, Mithrines was appointed governor of Armenia.

As we will see so often afterward, Alexander treated well those who did not defy him. Sardes and Lydia were now declared free from Persian rule but had, of course, to pay the same tribute to their new ruler, yet in exchange, they were allowed to observe their old customs. It was also here that for the first time Alexander gave orders for Lydian youths to be trained in Macedonian tactics, a practice that would be repeated over the years in Lycia, Syria, Egypt and Persia. This shows once again that Alexander never doubted he would be victorious!

Sardes, as it has reappeared from archeology, is definitely worth a visit. On a previous visit I had walked around the beautifully restored Palaestra (gymnasium) and Baths with the Synagogue that was reserved for the Jews and incorporated in the Palaestra by Severus Alexander in the third century.


I was looking forward to seeing it from Alexander’s point of view. The two-story high (restored) buildings are visible from afar and it is a pleasure to stand in front of this mixture of high Ionian and Corinthian columns, some of them with spiral grooves turning alternatively to the right and to the left. In as much as possible the original inscriptions have been reintegrated. It seems this complex was inspired by the Library of Celsus in Ephesos. Behind the Palaestra are the Baths with two distinctive pools, just tempting my imagination. This complex built in Imperial Style was completed in the second century AD and remained in used till the Sassanid invasion of 616 AD.

In Alexander’s days, neither this sport complex, nor the integrated Synagogue, or the Roman villa’s and the public buildings across the street existed. Next to the modern road runs the monumental 18.5 meters wide avenue that was built on top the original Lydian road from the 7th-6th century BC two meters below. So maybe Alexander walked over that Lydian road? Luckily the modern asphalt road has been planned to run parallel to the south in order to expose the antique marble slabs of this Roman thoroughfare of the 4th-6th century that was wider than the modern road!

With my co-travelers threading in Alexander’s Footsteps, we move further to the impressive remains of the Temple of Artemis that was never finished. Some columns have been fluted, many were not. The construction began at the time of Alexander the Great in 334 BC, having a double row of columns surrounding an enclosed inner building.

The altar of Artemis, however, is much older than the temple itself and seems to go back to the sixth century BC. The stepped platform we see it today dates from the Hellenistic period. Construction of this temple went by fits and starts and was hit by the earthquake of 17 AD. At some time, Artemis shared her sanctuary with Zeus as indicated on an inscription honoring both. In about 150 AD Sardes gained the title of “neokoros”, meaning “temple-warden”, which implied that is was required to have a temple dedicated to the Roman imperial family. This time, the Temple of Artemis was split in two where Artemis and Empress Faustina were worshiped together in the front part while Zeus and Emperor Antoninus Pius shared the back of the sanctuary. With hindsight, the base of the columns look very much those of Didyma and this makes sense as this is the fourth largest Ionic temple in the world after Didyma (the largest being the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, followed by the Temple of Hera in Samos).

It makes a huge difference to visit this site under the guidance of a historian like Peter Sommer as he effortless points out the details of the buildings or the reasons for their inscriptions, something that a lone traveler will have a hard time figuring out.

We do not climb to the acropolis, however, since the visible remains are mainly byzantine and do not add to Alexander’s exploits. According to Arrian Alexander went up there and saw the Palace of the Lydian kings and the Persian garrison. He must have been aware of his luck for not having to besiege this impregnable fortress. He decided that this was the right location to build a temple in honor of Olympian Zeus. While he was considering the best spot, a thunderstorm broke loose, which he took as a sign sent by Zeus himself and he made his decision accordingly. Whether or not this temple was ever built, we simply don’t know.

Alexander then made all the practical arrangements, leaving Pausanias, one of his Companions, in charge of the fortress and assigning others to specific organizational functions. Then, the news reached him of unrest in Ephesos and it was time to resume his march south.

[Click here to see more pictures of Sardes]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Philippi seen from the Byzantine point of view

For a change, it may be interesting to watch this YouTube view of Philippi, the city founded by King Philip II of Macedonia, Alexander's father.

It is concentrating on the Byzantine period between the fourth and eight century AD and includes traces left by St Paul around the year 40 AD. 


A short video like this brings the remains to life in a different view than with still pictures.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Philippeon at Olympia

After his victory at Chaeronea in 338 BC, King Philip of Macedonia ordered the construction of the Philippeon at Olympia. This temple took the shape of a tholos with 18 slender Ionic columns on the outside and 9 half Corinthian ones on the inside. It was enhanced with five statues representing Philip himself, his parents (Eurydice and Amyntas), his wife Olympias and his son Alexander. The architect was Leochares of Athens, who had also been working at the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus – a detail that cannot be lost to the attentive observer. For Philip, only the best was good enough, it seems! This temple stood inside the sacred temenos, an indication that it was dedicated to Zeus in thanks for his recent victory over Athens and Thebe, the ultimate goal to consolidate his power and that of his successors over all Greek cities. Besides, this was the place where the Olympic Games were held every four years and this Philippeon would stand there for everyone to see!



What strikes me is the round shape of the temple, hence the name tholos, of course. You don’t find too many of those and I’m wondering in how far Philip’s idea is related to the Tholos of Delphi, dedicated to the goddess Athena and which he must have seen since it was built somewhere between 380 and 360 BC. From what I understand, Philip liked the pomp and splendor and didn’t mind spending his money lavishly to achieve such purposes. Building a Tholos in the very center of the sacred area of Olympia was something that couldn’t be overlooked, neither by his friends nor by his enemies. 

The Philippeon must have been quite something! There are rumors that the statues were made of ivory covered with gold leaf, but detailed research has revealed that this could not have been the case, so they must have been carved in heavy gilded stone. So far, Worthington’s remarks (Philip II of Macedonia).

Olympias’ presence here, however, has been a source for many discussions (women didn’t fit into the Greeks’ concept) in spite of her being the spouse of Philip and the mother of Alexander, the future heir to the throne. Ian Worthington reminds us here of the five small ivory heads that were found in the Vergina Tomb thought to belong to King Philip, representing Philip, Alexander, Olympias and two unknown portraits, that of a man and a woman, who might well be Eurydice and Amyntas. In this context, it is not so strange to see Olympias here after all. 



This temple was not finished yet at the time of Philip’s murder and some skeptics claim that when Alexander completed this construction he added the statue of his mother Olympias. But then archeological investigations have clearly proven that the five pedestals were cut and placed at the same time. This means that Olympias was indeed included in Philip’s original plans. Olympias’ presence here at a time when Philip was planning his wedding with Eurydice, his seventh bride, does raise some questions though. Why would he show a preference for Olympias among all his wives, were it not to show her as the mother of the pretender to the throne, Alexander? We must make an effort to look at this through the eyes of Philip’s days, where any form of recognition for a woman was unheard of. Philip, as we know, had no sympathy left for Olympias, certainly not at this time of his career and he certainly couldn’t afford to push Olympias to the foreground when he just managed to unite Greece under his wings – he couldn’t risk losing his face, could he? My own assumption is that Olympias was represented here just like Mausolus on top of his famous Mausoleum in Halicarnassus with his wife beside him. Leochares previously working there may add credibility to this theory. It’s logical, isn’t it? 

Another remarkable fact is that here at the Philippeon of Olympia, the city of the Temple of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Alexander is beyond doubt being presented as Philip’s legitimate heir, while there were and still are so many theories against Alexander being the successor of his father when he was murdered. Why are there so many discussions contesting Alexander’s evident succession to the throne of Macedonia? Should we ignore this proof at Olympia and take it as a trivial detail of no importance? The shortsighted critics and writers keep surprising me time and again whenever they have the need to push their own vision and theory forward! There is no proof for any of this. We only can speculate – that’s all. 

Well, so much for Philip II and Alexander III of Macedonia

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Wall paintings in the tomb chamber of Amphipolis

I find it quite surprising that wall paintings were discovered inside the tomb chamber of Amphipolis and it seems that there also traces of paint on the ceiling. The Greek Ministry of Culture has released a few images of the walls where we discern an animal, probably a bull, flanked by two human figures in movement. Beyond each person there is a hydria and a winged humanoid figure that is approaching a tall tripod vessel – a motif often associated with sacred places. The paintings are rather worn and faded but they hope that further studies with ultraviolet rays will reveal more clues about the identity of the dead.

Other great news is the fact that coins depicting Alexander the Great were retrieved from this tomb. However, the are being dated to the 2nd century BC, being the time of the last Macedonian kings and not to the fourth century BC when this tomb presumably was built. Many shards of pottery have been collected as well, and they in turn do belong to the fourth century BC. This may have led the officials from the Ministry to conclude that the monument was originally open to the public before it was looted at some time during Roman occupation when it was sealed.

Studies by archaeologists, geologists, historians and other scientists will have to provide more information but it is estimated that their work may take up to five years.

While most of the media attention goes to what is hidden under the huge mound at Amphipolis, other works are being carried out at nearby Lake Kerkini. When in 1936 a dam was built here, workers used (re-used) loose stone blocks that laid around and which now have been identified as belonging to the Tomb of Amphipolis.


It seems that the level of Lake Kerkini has regressed, revealing the presence of these blocks that belonged to the wall of the tumulus. Some of the slabs carry inscriptions that may be helpful in identifying the owner of the tomb, but so far no scholar or archaeologist has made any comment on these finds. Who will be the first to come forward?

More about this intriguing story is analyzed in depth by Andrew Chugg is his most recent article Lingering Mysteries of the Amphipolis Tomb.

[Pictures from the Greek Ministry of Culture]

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Two interesting 3D reconstructions of the Tomb of Amphipolis

We keep seeing the same images over and over, but I feel that these two 3D reconstructions of the Tomb of Amphipolis may be helpful to get a clear picture of what has happened till now.



Monday, December 1, 2014

Precious stela with longest poem from Classical Greece

Nearly three years ago, the discovery of Tomb of Hecatomnos near Milas (ancient Mylasa) made headlines (see: Sensational Archeological find near Milas).


Ongoing excavations have recently revealed a written stela giving us the longest poem from the Classical Era ever found in Turkey. The poem counting 121 lines was written for King Hecatomnos, the father of Mausolos who was to be buried in the reputed Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Obviously, the stela has been dated to the end of the fourth century BC or beginning of the third century BC.

According to the academics, the poetical language used in the style is called “catalectic tyrochaic tetrameter”. More information about this peculiar style can be found on this link for Poetry Forms