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)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cyrus the Great who made Pasargadae the capital of Persia

It is well documented that Alexander had a great admiration and respect for Cyrus the Great, the king who united Media and Persia into the largest empire of the then known world. The story of his early life, written down in the fifth century BC by Herodotus in his Histories, is more legend than reality, but there is reason enough to attribute a good deal of truth to it.

We have to go back to Astyages who became king of the Medes in 585 BC. Astyages had a dream in which his daughter, Mandane, gave birth to a boy who would destroy his empire. To avoid this destiny, he married her off to Cambyses, a Persian man of good family thinking that their son would be no threat to his throne. But while his daughter was expecting her first child, Astyages had another dream, which the Magi explained as that the boy would rule over Asia. As soon as Cyrus was born, the king sent for a trusted kinsman, Harpagus, ordering him to take the baby with him and kill him. Harpagus took the boy home but feared for his own safety should he proceed with the murder, so he sent for one of the king’s herdsmen, Mithridates and put him in charge of executing the king’s orders. But when Mithridates brought the infant to his house he found his wife in tears as their own baby was still-born. Together they decided to present their own infant as the murdered king’s child and to adopt Cyrus as their own.

Cyrus’ life took a sharp turn when he was about ten years old. He was playing king with his friends and when one of his play-subordinates disobeyed him, he arrested him and all joined in to beat the boy. The disobedient boy who was the son of a distinguished Mede ran home to complain of his harsh punishment. The father took his cherished boy to the king to show his wounds upon which King Astyages summoned the herdsman and his son. After a serious confrontation, Astyages found out that this boy was Cyrus and that evidently his trusted man Harpagus had not obeyed his explicit orders. It was here that Cyrus’ true identity was revealed and he was reunited with his parents, Cambyses and Mandane, the king and queen of Persia. Astyages took vengeance over Harpagus, who by the time Cyrus had come of age persuaded the Medes to revolt against the harsh rule of their king. There was a serious court intrigue and a confrontation of both armies, but in the end Cyrus was victorious. This is how Media and Persia were united into one kingdom under the rule of Cyrus.

Cyrus thus became the founder of the Achaemenid Dynasty in 559 or 560 BC and his reign lasted about thirty years. Throughout those years he expanded his power and annexed the Lydian Empire as well as the Neo-Babylonian Empire before setting off to conquer Central Asia. His empire reached from the Mediterranean Sea with the Balkans and Thrace to the Indus River in the east.

During his reign, he found time to build a new capital which he named Pasargadae, actually on the very spot where he defeated the Median army of Astyages. Still today we find remains of his Palace not too far from his famous tomb (see: The Gem of Pasargadae, the Tomb of Cyrus the Great). As far as we can make out, it consists of a Gate House or entrance, an Apadana or Audience Hall, a Private Palace with a Garden and two smaller palaces.

Just as for the construction of Susa and Persepolis, the walls were made of mud-brick pierced by tall stone doorways. The Gate House still has its relief in the northeast corner representing a four-winged man (maybe Cyrus himself?) wearing Elamite dress and two rams’ horns in Egyptian style holding three sun-disks with bundles of reed flanked on each side by a cobra. The cuneiform inscription in the upper right corner is hard to make out but reads “I am Cyrus the King, an Achaemenid” in three different languages (I suppose Elamite, Old-Persian and Babylonian based on the current practice at Persepolis, for instance). Here as all over the site, the connecting walls have been reconstructed in mud-brick to a height of approximately half a meter, which helps to map the Palace Complex.

Pasargadae does not expose the grandeur of Persepolis but there is much more left to see than at Susa, for instance, but then this was the first Persian Palace ever to be built on such a scale.

The Apadana has served as an example for later palaces at Persepolis and Susa. Consequently, it has been designed with the same layout, measuring here 32x22m. Only the lower part of the doorjambs have been preserved and show reliefs with the feet and legs of two figures resembling human beings either with the tail of a fish, the legs of a bull or the claws of a bird; only one has normal feet. There is also a 13-meters tall pillar carrying a cuneiform inscription in Old Persian reading: I, Cyrus the king, an Achaemenid, i.e. basically the same text as written near the four-winged figure at the Gate House.

The Residential Palace is recognizable by its remaining columns set in five rows of six because unlike Persepolis, the floor plan here is rectangular and not square. Apparently, only the lower part of these columns was made of stone and the upper section was made of wood that was plastered and painted. The portico on the southwestern side overlooked the royal gardens where we still can see the paved water channels. This Palace contains the same cuneiform inscription we encountered in the previous buildings – a clear way for Cyrus to put a stamp on his achievements. The northwestern portico was supported by twelve columns and the preserved lower part of the doorjambs shows reliefs of the king accompanied by two of his servants. Two archaeologists are at work here when I visit the site, cleaning up the reliefs – a very tedious task! I just notice some holes in the reliefs confirming that real jewelry once enhanced these panels.

The Palace of Pasargadae is not well-known as visitors generally only stop at the Tomb of Cyrus the Great, but the setting of both buildings in this wide still wild valley overlooked by the nearby Tall-i Takht citadel and the frail remains of the Achaemenid tower create a homely feeling. It has grandeur but it is not one of pump and circumstance like at Persepolis. It is a place where one could live and live in a very pleasant way for that matter. It nearly makes one forget that Cyrus was the first king to instate a series of regal titles: Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World (just in case he had forgotten one of those corners!)

It is known that Cyrus the Great respected the customs and religions of those he conquered, an example that Alexander has widely accepted and followed. He established a successful centralized administration with a system that was beneficial for all his subjects thanks to the satraps or governors he put in place to supervise the local population. In this field, Alexander tried to follow in his footsteps – but his attitude was entirely misunderstood by his Macedonians who saw themselves only as victorious conquerors. How or whether Alexander could have brought this to a good end will always remain an open question since he died too soon after his return to Babylon to implement his Persian administration. The mass-wedding at Susa was a first step in that direction, but after his untimely death even this attempt quickly fell apart.

 Had he lived longer and had he been able to bring the message of Cyrus to his world, our world today would have been quite different. Cyrus had declared that his newly conquered peoples would enjoy religious freedom. It was written in cuneiform script on a clay cylinder and kept at the temple of Marduk in Babylon (now at the British Museum in London). It is widely accepted as being the oldest known declaration of human rights – and that almost 2,600 years before the United Nations came up with the idea! During Assyrians conquests, most of the non-Babylonians had been moved from their home countries by force, and this included the destruction of Jerusalem. Cyrus, in turn, allows the Jews to recover their statues and gods that had been confiscated and taken out of their own temples; they also were allowed to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild their temple. That gesture earned him the title “shepherd of God” and “Lord Anointed” (Messiah) in the Book of Isaiah. From ancient Greece to the Renaissance, to the Founding Fathers, generations of philosophers, kings and statesmen found their inspiration in Cyrus’ words giving shape to a very modern way of ruling, uniting people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions (see also: The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning).

[Click here to see all the pictures of Pasargadae]

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