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 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)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Alexander amidst the pomp and circumstance of Persepolis.

From our history books, we often get the impression that Alexander rushed to Persepolis, set the place ablaze and left right away to his next destination. Nothing is less true. Alexander arrived at Persepolis about the first week of February 330 BC and Tiridates, its commander, must have received him with the appropriate protocol and deference. Alexander spent about four months in Persepolis which he left by late May or early June 330 BC, and it is obvious that he did not sit there idle.

Curtius seems to be the only one to write about Alexander’s expeditions into the interior of Persia some time in April where he was troubled by heavy rain and “almost intolerable weather” (hard to imagine since I was troubled by a serious heat wave that same time of the year). He even was stopped by heavy snow that had frozen solid; not for long though as he immediately started making his way breaking the ice with a mattock, an example that was promptly followed by his men. The frightened inhabitants he encountered in these pathless forests cannot have offered much booty which the soldiers had to find in the villages further down across the valley floor. Then Alexander reached the Mardi, a warlike people that lived off their flocks in the mountains. Curtius mentions that on the thirteenth day after setting out from Persepolis, the king returned to share his trophies with his friends and those who had merited it.

In Persepolis Alexander held games in honor of his victories and performed lavish sacrifices to the appropriate gods, but he must also have received couriers from home and delegations from far and abroad, although I find no such record in history. The appropriate place to receive his guests was evidently the Apadana, the Audience Palace, the most imposing building of Persepolis and one that defies our most daring imagination. With its approximately 100x100m it was by far the largest palace on the plateau and widely surpassed and outshone all others. It could hold as much as 10,000 guests!

It definitely was an extremely rich building but rather difficult to figure out today. The Apadana lays three meters above the rest of the plateau, hence the two stately staircases, one on the eastern side and one on the northern side. They are both identical in as far as the northern side is generally a mirror of the eastern side, meaning that the figures’ profiles on the reliefs are shown in reverse.

The main hall of the Apadana is a central square of 60x60m and counted six rows of six columns, totaling 36 splendidly fluted columns resting on a square base and crowned with the ever-present floral decorations just underneath the double-headed bulls that supported the ceiling. At the western, northern and eastern side of the main hall huge double-leaved doors in the 5.32 meters, thick wall led into a rectangular portico with twelve columns set in two rows of six. Together with the columns of the main hall, the Apadana totaled 72 columns, thirteen of which are still standing 19 meters high. The ceiling was made of wood, most probably cedar from Lebanon although cypress may also have been used. On the southern side of the main hall, lay several small chambers used for storage or connecting to the adjacent Palace of Darius.

The wall of the main hall was made of individual mud bricks of standard size of 33x33x13cm joined together with lime-and-clay mortar and covered with a greenish stucco made of gypsum and clay as used all over Persepolis. The guests and delegates would enter through the north-eastern door, ushered by a Persian or Median guard posted at the Gate of Nations from where they had an unobstructed view of the Apadana; the gift-bearers however would have entered separately through the north-western door.

Alexander, and the Persian Kings before him would enter the Audience Hall through a small corridor in the most southerly corner linked to the Palace of Darius. It is obvious that in this ostentatious setting he could not appear in his Macedonian clothes. Anyone with some sense of etiquette could see that it demanded a statelier outfit, but his victorious troops were convinced that only their laws and customs applied. Not so for Alexander who showed respect for the newly conquered land and lords. We ignore, however, what the Persians thought of Alexander’s “adjusted” Persian dress. It would be interesting to travel back in time.

At each corner of the Apadana a sturdy tower had been erected, a square construction with a three-meter thick outer wall while the inner walls measured 2.5 meters. The towers were four stories high, i.e. 22 meters. It was here that the gold and silver foundation inscriptions written in Babylonian, Old Persian, and Elamite were buried in an adequate box by Darius the Great. Two of these boxes have been retrieved intact (two others were looted in antiquity). One set is now safely exhibited at the National Museum of Tehran and the other pair was eventually transferred to the Azadi Museum in Tehran. Based on Darius’ details about the extend of his empire the construction of the Apadana can be dated to about 515 BC.  

Today’s visitor is immediately drawn to the lavishly decorated stairways leading into the inner Apadana. The eastern stairway is being sheltered under a protective roof to preserve its unique original reliefs. This is a true gem where I spent most of my time, figuring out the many scenes, and it is definitely worth it! As I said, the northern stairway is almost identical but not in such a good condition as this one.

To begin with, the main wall of this eastern stairway is 81 meters long and could be divided into three equal parts of 27 meters each. Access to the Audience Hall is possible over the central double reversed staircase (at the center of the wall) or over the staircases at either end of the wall on the right and on the left side. The projecting central outer staircase stands in front of the long back wall although attached to it by its wide steps. It shows symmetrical reliefs of four soldiers (apple-bearers), alternatively two Medes with round hats and two Persians, facing each other across a blank space in between them. Either side is flanked by the ever-recurring image of a lion-bull fight. The entire group is crowned by a winged circle in the very middle of the panel (Ahuramazda), flanked on either side by a seated sphinx with a human head and winged lion’s body raising his right hand in a gesture of adoration. A row of nine palm trees fills the remaining space towards the end.

Originally, instead of the four apple bearers and the open space, this place was occupied by a relief showing an audience scene of King Darius I with his heir Xerxes standing behind him (although recent research is indicating that this is King Xerxes with the later King Darius II behind him). This relief was moved to the Treasury, possibly by Xerxes when he became king and he didn’t like his place as crown-prince behind his father’s throne – a theory that is not applicable should the king on the throne indeed be Xerxes, in which case another historical background applies. Opposite the enthroned king, stands an official of the empire doing obeisance to his king by throwing him a kiss with his hand. Right in front of him stand two incense burners. This relief meanwhile has been moved to the National Museum of Tehran.

My attention then goes to the reliefs on both sides of the central panel. The northern wing (to the right when facing the stairways) is also 27 meters long and shows three rows of soldiers, i.e. three files of guards standing at attention with the butt of their spears resting on their foot. This butt has the shape of an apple or a pomegranate which gave the guards the name of “apple-bearers”. They closely resemble the guards from the glazed-brick walls in Susa (now at the Louvre Museum), clad in the same Persian dress. The top right row ends with royal grooms who also lead in horses (probably the famous Nicean horses) and two chariots. Just underneath we find two rows of royal dignitaries, alternatively a Mede representing the military officer and a Persian identified as the court official. The 32 pairs of officials stand for the 32 nations as mentioned in an inscription found at Persepolis. On each steps leading up to the Audience Hall itself, a single soldier is standing at attention, probably duplicating the live soldiers lining up on great occasions.

The southern wing (to the left when facing the Apadana’s stairways) covers the last 1/3 of the entire length, another 27 meters. This is where we find delegations from all nations, each being introduced by an usher either in Persian or in Median costume. Going into details is a great pass-time but would take far too long to explain although it is a terribly exciting occupation. I will, however, limit myself to merely list the different nations. 
They are:
Medes (from Azerbaijan and Kurdistan), 





Susians (from Khuzistan),
Armenians (from Armenia and eastern Turkey), 





Arians (from Herat in Afghanistan),
Babylonians (from around Babylonia),



Elamites (from around Susa)
Lydians (from modern western Anatolia), 





Arachosians (from central Afghanistan),
Assyrians (from northern Iraq and Syria),
Cappadocians (from eastern Armenia and north-eastern Turkey), 




Egyptians,
Scythians (from Iran northeast of the Caspian Sea), 


Ionians (modern western Anatolia),
Bactrians (from the Balkh region in Afghanistan),
Gandarans (from the Kabul area in Afghanistan), 

Parthians (from modern Khorasan), 

Assagartians (or Sagartians from southeast Media), Saka Haumavarga (Scythians living east of the Jaxartes),
Indians (from the Northwest Frontier), 


European Scythians (from modern Macedonia and Ukraine), 
Arabs (from Jordan and Palestine), 
Zarangians (ancient people of Seistan),
Libyans, 






and Ethiopians. 

In fact these nations cover the entire map of the Achaemenid Empire, which is not too unlike the territories that Alexander ultimately conquered. Here too, a soldier is standing at attention on each step leading to the entrance of the Audience Hall.

We should remember that all these walls were painted in brilliant colors. Above this colorful spectacle rose the 19 meters columns, also colored as mentioned above with their double headed bulls staring down on the visitor. Quite particular is the fact that the columns of the western portico (the one opposite this luxurious entrance) had capitals of double-headed lions. Once inside the main hall of the Apadana, the walls were tiled with colorful bricks with pictures of lions, bulls, and flowers.

One must admit that Greece had nothing comparable to offer, in spite of the splendour and the grandeur of the Acropolis in Athens. Persepolis is of a totally different proportion and majesty, making me wonder what impression it must have made on Alexander and his troops. Unfortunately the surviving ruins do no justice to this once enormous wealth.

The last building that deserves attention is the Tripylon, so named because of its three entrances, allowing access to the Apadana on the north side, the Hall of the One Hundred Columns and the Harem on the east, and the Palace of Xerxes on the south side. Although it was added after the completion of the Apadana and the Hall of the One Hundred Columns, its function is unclear. The Tripylon occupies the very center of the Persepolis plateau and may have served as a Council Hall or as a monumental corridor linking the abovementioned buildings. It occurs to me that it may have functioned as a separation between the huge official halls and the most private palaces of Xerxes and Darius, and the Harem.

The reliefs on the jambs of the doorways are generally parallel images from other buildings and that is also the case for the reliefs enhancing the different stairways, including the delegates from 28 subject nations. Of particular interest is the small staircase that has been moved to the Museum of Tehran with on the outer side reliefs of Persian lancers and archers; on the inner side, each step depicts a member of the Persian and Median clergy sharing the step as they carry food and animals for religious rites. Unique are also the capitals of the four columns of the Tripylon’s main hall which, unlike the usual double-bull, lion or griffin are double man's heads with a bulls’ body. This mythological figure originates in Babylonia and Assyria and is called Iamassu. It usually served to ward off evil and was placed at a gate entrance, hence the theory that this Tripylon might have served as an entrance (to what I wonder though). One such an Iamassu is on display at the Tehran Museum.


The Achaemenid Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great, King of Kings of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, King of the Four Corners of the World. The Achaemenids ruled for approximately 500 years and they must have felt that their power was eternal by the grace of Ahuramazda. Yet, their reign ended quite dramatically with the arrival of Alexander, King of Macedonia, who managed to defeat the Great King Darius III at the battle of Gaugamela three years after he had left his homeland. However, Darius was still alive, fleeing ever further east with Alexander at his tail. Was Persepolis going to pay the price?

Food for thoughts in “Fire over Persepolis”.
[Click here to read about Alexander's arrival at Persepolis. the previous post]

[Click here to see all the pictures of Persepolis]

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