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 of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, 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 - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

YOU CAN ALSO FIND ME ON MUSEA-LEONIDAS (in Dutch) FOR MUSEUM NEWS.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What if … Alexander had died a few months earlier, before Craterus left with his veterans for Macedonia?


Another interesting point of view for after Hephaistion died one year earlier, Craterus became Alexander’s second-in-command. Craterus was now the most powerful man after Alexander, at least in the east for Antipater still ruled undisturbed over Macedonia and Greece.

Well, maybe Craterus could have kept his high position and could have shaped a new ruling system, although the empire still needed a king. Roxane’s pregnancy may not yet have been established, in which case the more or less obvious appointment of Arrhideus/Philip III would have materialized. But simple minded as he was, he too would need a regent to rule in his place. Would the generals present at Babylon have accepted Craterus’ superiority? Maybe in the immediate future but for the next 18 years till Alexander IV was old enough to be king?

It does not sound very probable for meanwhile Arrhideus/Philip III would have picked up momentum together with his wife, the ambitious Adea/Eurydice. The ambition of the generals and their faithful troops is likely to have demanded their share pending the coming of age of Alexander IV. The main difference with what really happened is that Craterus would have been in Babylon with his 10,000 veterans to reinforce the local troops. He had a strong case against Antipater since he had the majority of the troops on his side. This situation could have made the situation more manageable and appeased possible opposition – at least for a while.

On the other hand, however, Craterus could have gained the support of Olympias, but whether that was enough to stop Cassander working out his devilish plans after Antipater’s death in 319 BC depended entirely on the replacement Craterus had in mind. Polyperchon seems to be an excellent candidate since Alexander himself had sent him along with Craterus in the first place, should anything happen to him, Polyperchon, a highly skilled diplomat, was to take over. Craterus was obviously aware of these plans and could have acted accordingly.

We know that Polyperchon in the end, played a foul game as he was responsible for the murder of  Heracles and his mother, Barsine. Polyperchon’s dream to rule over Greece had clashed with Cassander’s ambitions time and again and in 310 BC Cassander promised him peace and the promotion as military governor of the Peloponnese. In exchange the 75-years-old Polyperchon had to kill Heracles and Barsine. He accepted the deal.

Monday, January 26, 2015

What if...

“What if”, is one of those questions that keeps popping up in everybody’s mind, and as I often wonder about Alexander’s life and death, I came up with number of  “what ifs”:
  • What if … he had married before leaving for Asia and had produced a son?
  • What if … Hephaistion had still been alive at the time of Alexander’s death in Babylon?
  • What if … he had died a few months earlier before Craterus left with his veterans for Macedonia? 
  • What if … he had died a few months later after his son with Roxane was born and Craterus had replaced Antipater in Macedonia?
  • What if … he had lived a few more years to conquer western Mediterranean?
  • What if … he had left his throne to his son from the Persian princess Barsine/Stateira, descended from and protected by Sisygambis?

Pure speculation, of course, but I think it could be interesting to spend some time reflecting on these theories.

To start with, all members of Alexander’s Bodyguard were in Babylon when he died in 323 BC: Aristonous, Leonnatus, Lysimachus, Peithon, Perdiccas, Peucestas, and Ptolemy. Other powerful men were also present like Seleucos, one of his principal commanders over the past seven years; Nearchus, the admiral of his fleet; and Eumenes, his secretary and archivist. They all had campaigned at Alexander’s side for more than a decade and I’m certain their world vision had changed considerably since they left Macedonia. As we know, however, main absentees were Craterus who was still in Cilicia on his way to replace Antipater as Regent in Macedonia upon Alexander’s instructions, and Antipater himself.

Alexander had not appointed a successor. His wife, Queen Roxane was expecting a child in a few months time but there was no guarantee this would be a boy. Alexander already had a son, Heracles, by his mistress Barsine but no attempt was ever made to recognize him and thus the boy had no right to the throne. The only “available” royal was Alexander’s half-brother, Arrhideus, an adult but simple minded and not fit to rule by himself.

In short, the empty throne had to be occupied and the huge empire had to be ruled. It was up this group of faithful men to make the right decisions, although none knew what they were. Alexander had been their king and leader, how could that position be filled or replaced?

The army, according to Macedonian law, had the possibility to nominate their new king but most importantly they were the ones who had to approve the possible candidate; without their blessing, no king could rule. Yet the army was split into three great contingents: approximately 10,000 to 15,000  troops were still in Babylon, 10,000 veterans led by Craterus were in Cilicia, and about the same number of troops were in Greece under the command of Antipater.

This is the situation in June 323 BC when Alexander’s commanders meet in the afflicted Royal Palace of Babylon. The assembled generals were all powerful figures and capable leaders. What was going to complicate things was their sense of competition. For the Greeks, competition was part of their nature, it was in their blood and present in every level of daily life, exposing in soldier against soldier or more appropriately, in this case, general against general. Alexander grew up with the very notion of competition and he unceasingly instigated it to his army by organizing combats among his men or holding theater festivals in which contestants vied for attention. At the Babylon Conference, this meant that initially none of the generals present was ready to make any concession to the other. A tricky situation, to say the least.

What if Alexander had left the throne to his son from the Persian princess Stateira, descended from and protected by Sisygambis?

Actually this is a thought that was formulated by Robbert Bosschart in his book “All Alexander’s Women, the Facts” – the most dazzling theory of them all! What if Alexander would have died some twenty years later - after all, a king remaining alive until the age of 53 was quite normal then - and had left the empire to his son from the Persian princess Stateira, granddaughter of Queen Mother Sisygambis?

There would have been sufficient time for Alexander to consolidate his empire. Of course, no one could have filled the heartfelt void that Hephaistion left behind, but Peucestas would have become a highly efficient Chiliarch (Prime Minister) by then – after all, he managed to learn the Persian language. With general Craterus as Regent or even Vice-Roy in the West, general Seleucos as Vice-Roy in the East (we know that in the end he became the founder of the Seleucid dynasty that ruled the East for nearly three hundred years), general Ptolemy at the head of Central Command, and Cassander safely executed for yet another attempt on Alexander's life, the empire would be perfectly stable for a twenty-years-old Crown Prince (called Cyrus, probably) to rule.

Following the thoughts of Robbert Bosschart, this powerful dynasty born from Stateira that Alexander and Sisygambis wanted to leave behind, would have predated, pre-empted and outpaced the Roman state by three centuries. Their “Kingdom of all Lands”, and not the Roman Empire, would have become the basic model of our western society, including the feminine values. Alexander’s legacy would also have given us a different way of thinking about the role of men and women in public life (one of the most revealing facts in “All Alexander’s Women, the Facts” is that in Persia, men and women lived and worked on a level of equality). Thát, above all, would have changed world history.

But still, Alexander could not have ignored his son from Roxane, the later Alexander IV, who would have been of the same age as the presumed Cyrus. He would complicate the abovementioned theory. It is evident that Stateira was of higher royal rank than Roxane, the daughter of a leading Bactrian tribe. The same order of precedence would apply to their respective offsprings, and Alexander the Great would have arranged a satisfactory career for Alexander IV as well, depending on his character and his inclinations. He may have grown up at the Persian court where his father and the Queen Mother could have provided for a proper education; or he may have grown up at the Macedonian court under the guidance of Queen Olympias and/or Craterus; or maybe a mixture of both since Alexander’s vision was to unite east and west and melt his empire into one (simply think of the mass-wedding in Susa). Remains the open question of how well young Cyrus and young Alexander would get along together …

The Persian viewpoint is, in many ways, turning our perspectives topsy-turvy as Alexander’s succession always has been presented as a Macedonian affair. If the Queen Mother or any high Persian official ever had a voice in the crowd of Macedonian officers is not mentioned in ancient sources, but these were evidently written by Greeks and no effort has been made (even by modern authors) to investigate that side of history. There must have been Persian records of the events, but if they have survived is another matter, and even if they do exist they most probably have not been translated or are still lingering in some obscure museum storage.

Bringing Stateira and her son into play as Robbert Bosschart has done, would definitely influence my above speculations, especially in the case of Hephaistion surviving Alexander. True to Alexander’s thoughts and wishes, he would have raised young Cyrus as a crown-prince and would have treated Sisygambis and Olympias with the appropriate deference to put their stamp on the education of both Alexander’s son.

All theories are certainly worth pondering for they are all fascinating and frightening at the same time, especially since each theory automatically raises ever more questions Yes, what if …?  Only Zeus knows what would have happened and what our modern world would have looked like.

[Picture of Stateira in Babylon is from Oliver Stone's move "Alexander"]

What if … Alexander had lived a few more years to conquer western Mediterranean?

That is another ballgame altogether. Alexander definitely had drawn his plans as contained in his notebooks (hypomnemata). He had already started exploring the coastline of the Arabian peninsula, an expedition that was cut short because the peninsula turned out to be far larger than expected. His ships went as far as the Straight of Hormuz without knowing that they had reached the headland that Nearchus had seen when sailing up from India into the Persian Gulf in 324 BC.

The projects were all on a grand scale, far beyond the visions of any of Alexander’s successors and are best documented by Diodorus and Curtius. Instructions had been given already to build a thousand warships, triremes up to septiremes in Syria, Phoenician, Cilicia and Cyprus to be eventually sailed into Babylon’s harbor. They would serve for a campaign along the coast of North Africa in order to conquer the strong Carthaginian realm. Interestingly he planned to build a road along the coast of Libya as North Africa was named in his days, running all the way to the Pillars of Hercules, i.e. modern Gibraltar. Knowing that the first coastal road through today’s Libya was built by Mussolini in 1937, clearly shows how daring a project this was. The conquest of the coastal regions that would also include Hiberia (Spain) and Sicily, evidently implied the establishment of a series of ports and dockyards on the way where the ships could forage on provisions and get repairs done. Curtius even goes so far as to mention that Alexander’s plan was to reach the Alps, and return to Epirus via the seacoast of Italy.

Alexander’s visions were not limited to warfare only, they included the arts as well. Six expensive temples were to be built, each costing 1,500 talents, located at Delos, Delphi, and Dodona; one at Dion in his homeland and dedicated to Zeus; one at Amphipolis for Artemis Tauropolus; and finally a temple in honor of Athena at Cyrnus (modern Corsica). Second to none, a special temple dedicated to Athena should be constructed at Ilium (Troy) also. To remember his father, Philip II, he intended to erect a tomb as great as the largest pyramid in EgyptDinocrates of Rhodes, who had already worked for Alexander in planning the city of Alexandria in Egypt, reconstructing the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, and assembling the monumental funeral pyre for Hephaistion, had also drawn plans to carve an immense image of Alexander in the flank of Mount Athos in Greece’s Chalcidice – plan that may or may not have been taken into account by the king.

These plans clearly prove Alexander’s determination and do not leave room for failure. He was going to conquer the entire Mediterranean, something the Romans achieved only several centuries later but their empire was not the making of one man and did not take shape in one lifetime. The Greek language, for centuries the lingua franca all over the Middle-East including today’s Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and helping to spread Christianity, would also been spoken and used in our western countries; Latin may not have had a chance beyond a local nucleus. Our world definitely would have looked very different considering that the knowledge of Greek philosophers, mathematicians, artists and sailors would have flowed straight through our veins!

Unfortunately, when Perdiccas found these orders after Alexander’s death, he decided that the expenses were far too high and Diodorus mentions that even the Macedonians, when these plans were read out aloud, realized that the projects were excessive and impractical. Well, I would say this is only one way to present the case since there definitely was no shortage of money to sponsor the Successors’ wars for forty years! But, on the other hand, if things had evolved differently with Hephaistion or Craterus at the helm in Babylon instead of Perdiccas, who knows what could have happened to Alexander’s dreams.

What if … Alexander had died a few months later, after his son with Roxane was born and Craterus had replaced Antipater in Macedonia?


It is obvious that there would have been a successor and one recognized by Alexander himself, although it remains to be seen whether the boy would have lived long enough to succeed to his father. It would have been logical and more practical to rule Alexander’s empire from Babylon, but I doubt any of his generals saw it that way. For them Macedonia was still their homeland with Pella was its heart.


With Craterus as Regent of Macedonia instead of Antipater, there were two centers of power: one in Pella where the army of some 10,000 was reinforced by the 10,000 veterans Craterus had taken back home, and one in Babylon where the bulk of Alexander’s army was waiting for new orders. Yet again, all generals were present in Babylon, except Craterus who as second-in-command to Alexander could not be ignored. More than 2,000 km separated both camps and Craterus could hardly leave Greece for Babylon, unless Polyperchon would or could replace him properly. It all would depend on how stable the situation in Greece was when the news of Alexander’s death reached the Palace of Pella. But could or would the other generals wait for Craterus’ arrival?

At least Arrhideus was redundant. But how safe would Roxane and her young son have been? She is accused of having murdered Alexander’s latest wives, the two daughters of King Darius, poisoned apparently with the help of Perdiccas. Next question is, would Perdiccas have dared to assist Roxane if Craterus had been controlling Macedonia? Would or could Roxane have murdered the two princesses on her own? Nothing is certain, of course.

Another important factor is that with Craterus firmly installed in MacedoniaCassander had little or no chance to spread his wings. This means that the murders of Alexander IV, RoxaneHeracles, Barsine, and Olympias would not have taken place. Even Arrhideus may have come out alive of the Successors’ War and there would have been no need for him to marry Adea/Eurydice either.

In the end, and to cut my speculations short, the Successors would have been fighting all the same, although the odds were slightly different since Cassander had not come to power and Alexander IV might have lived long enough to become the next Great King of Asia – who knows…

What if … Hephaistion had still been alive at the time of Alexander’s death in Babylon?

We can state beyond doubt that Hephaistion was Alexander’s closest friend; he was his confidant, and probably his lover. He undoubtedly occupied a very special place in Alexander’s life. One example is when after the Battle of Issus, King Darius’ family falls in Macedonian hands. Together with Hephaistion Alexander visits Queen Sisygambis, the Queen Mother, and she did obeisance before Hephaistion since he was the tallest and most handsome of the two. Alexander comes to her rescue by saying “he too is Alexander” – a statement he would not have made about anyone else. Another example can be found during the famous Susa wedding when Alexander gives princess Drypetis, the sister of his new bride Stateira, to Hephaistion since he wanted their mutual children to grow up as they had. A last example is the fact that Alexander wanted his dead friend to be worshipped as a god so that they could meet again in heaven for which he asked permission from the oracle of Siwah, who granted him the status of hero instead.


Hephaistion was one of Alexander’s Seven Bodyguards from the early days onward, together with Aristonous, Leonnatus, Lysimachus, Peithon, Perdiccas, and Ptolemy, but appears as “Commander of the Bodyguards” at the actual Battle of Gaugamela. In the light of his more intimate relation with Alexander, he would protect Alexander more fiercely and convincingly than anyone else. This same attitude may percolate through the trial of Philotas who was accused of conspiracy several years later and where we see Hephaistion as a most determined defender of Alexander’s security and safety.

Beside his role as Bodyguard and commander of the troops entrusted to him, it is clear that Hephaistion had many other tasks and responsibilities which do not jump out immediately but transpire through the accounts of Arrian and Plutarch. The historian Hieronymos affirms that Alexander reinstated the Persian post of Chiliarch (Prime Minister) solely for Hephaistion. His unique position is further disclosed and discussed by Andrew Chugg in his book “Alexander’s Lovers”.

Basically, I think we should see Hephaistion as a great diplomat functioning as a buffer between all the personages whirling around the royal tent from the simple pages to the highest general, and Alexander himself. As early as Tyre, he was assigned to find a leader/king for the newly conquered city. Another crucial moment was the orchestration of the Proskynesis, a general practice at the Persian court but considered abhorrent by the Greeks and the Macedonians but where Hephaistion set the example. The attempt to put Persians and Greeks on the same line did not work out as Alexander wished because his vision was larger than that of his army – yet he certainly had Hephaistion’s support.

There is a theory that Alexander has been poisoned or maybe unknowingly poisoned himself by taking too high a doses of the hellebore plant, a common remedy in antiquity to many ailments. I am convinced that Hephaistion would have looked closely after his dearest friend and could have avoided the poisoning orchestrated by an outsider or could have talked sense into Alexander’s mind about a more prudent dosage of his remedy (provided Alexander died of poisoning, that is)


Had Hephaistion, in his function of Chiliarch still been alive in Babylon, he probably would have had precedence over all the other commanders and that in spite of his earlier quarrel with Craterus. This happened when Alexander invaded India - a conflict which the king settled true to Salomon by stating that Craterus loved the king (philobasileus) and that Hephaistion loved Alexander (philalexandros). This evidences that they both had a seniority position over the other commanders and we may safely assume that they would respected their mutual position as well as their unconditional devotion to Alexander.

Yet, in the present theory, Craterus was underway to bring the veterans back home and take over regency from Antipater (assuming however that he would agree to give up his important position even upon Alexander’s order, which he had ignored before when the king summoned him to Babylon), leaving Hephaistion in charge of the east. It is rather obvious that Hephaistion would have spoken in Craterus’  name and would have acted with his approval.

It may have been possible for Hephaistion to “rule” over the other commanders pending the birth of Roxane’s child, who came into this world as Alexander IV. This child needed a regent pending his coming of age. I seriously doubt that the other generals would have tolerated Hephaistion’s leadership till that time (at least 18 years), but he may have avoided the kingship of Arrhideus/Philip III.

Each of the commanders was a wealthy man by now, some keeping a court of their own, and they were powerful figures in the eyes of their troops who only wanted more fights and more booty. Alexander’s empire had to be divided one way or another. Maybe most of the violence and continuous Wars of the Successors could have been avoided but not all. As pointed out above, in 323 BC we have to reckon with twelve powerful men, i.e. the Bodyguards and SeleucosNearchus, and Eumenes – in the absence of Craterus and Antipater. In fact, they were simply too many to make a decent and peaceful split. Hephaistion most probably would have had the time and the opportunity to organize and streamline the management of the many satrapies, with some form of agreement with Craterus in Macedonia. The succession of Alexander would not have dragged on for forty years when each general could have been assigned a part of the empire to rule pending the take over by Alexander IV. In the end, the Romans may have had a harder time conquering Asia and those eastern provinces would have been annexed only many centuries later than what happened now.

On the other hand, it is certain that Hephaistion would have protected Roxane and young Alexander with his life, for in his eyes they were part of Alexander in many ways. There would have been no case for Roxane to poison the Persian princesses, were it only because Hephaistion would have watched over all of them as his family.

[Picture of Alexander and Hephaistion is from Oliver Stone's move "Alexander"]

What if … Alexander had married before leaving for Asia and had produced a son?

It is often said that Alexander should have married before leaving for Asia in order to secure his posterity, but this seems a rather simplistic way to look at the succession problem his generals encountered at their king’s untimely death.


Let’s assume he had married and produced a son in Macedonia. The boy would have been eleven or twelve years old, still a minor and too young to rule his father’s empire. We may also wonder what kind of boy he would have been, being raised by a Macedonian mother, we expect and probably with a lot of interference by Queen Olympias, Alexander’s mother. Would he have grown up as a mammy’s boy? Would he have been interested in his father’s campaigns and in the army? We know that in his youth Alexander was in part formed by his father’s constant battles, and well trained for that matter since he was allowed to lead Philip’s cavalry at Thebes as a 16-years-old boy. Where and how would this son of Alexander have acquired his military experience? Sure, Antipater as Regent of Macedonia could have taken charge, but based on his relationship with Olympias this sounds very improbable. Maybe the boy’s mother was a fierce and proud Macedonian in the style of Adea/Eurydice who later married Arrhideus/Philip III. In that case the boy would have had a chance to grow up among Antipater’s soldiers, and hence been prepared to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Remains the matter of succession upon Alexander’s death. The boy would have been made king alright and the Successors had one worry less, but who would rule in his name pending his coming of age? Since he presumably lived in Pella, it seems obvious that his mother or Antipater would rule in his name. Can we eliminate the interference of powerful Olympias? I’m afraid not.

So how could east meet west in this case? Even in the event that the army truly accepted the regency by the boy’s mother, I fail to see how she could have commanded that group of weathered generals in Asia. Even highly skilled and seasoned Antipater, who had not participated in any of his kings’ campaigns in Asia and who had never been there either, had only a slim chance. Each of Alexander’s generals in Babylon would stake his claim, meaning that the Succession War could not have been avoided after all. It only might be shortened since young Alexander IV would have come of age in six years time or so.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mystery about the precious orichalcum solved?

Orichalcum is a very unusual metal, which the ancient Greeks claim to be found only in Atlantis, the sunken legendary city. It is basically composed of copper and zinc that result in brass with a very shiny finish that looks very much like gold.

A full load of 39 ingots of orichalcum has been recovered off the south coast of Sicily from a ship that sunk in the sixth century BC just before entering the harbor of Gela. It probably came from Greece or Asia Minor and it is likely that it was caught in a storm – the main danger for ships sailing the Mediterranean.

The precious orichalcum was long considered to be a mysterious metal and is known from ancient texts but only few objects have survived. Plato mentioned orichalcum as a legendary metal, second only to gold in value, that was mined in Atlantis and used there to cover not only the inside walls of the Temple of Poseidon, but also its floors and columns. According to another theory, it would be invented by Cadmus, a Greek mythological founder of Thebes.

Recent analysis have revealed that orichalcum is an alloy that closely resembles brass and was obtained through the reaction of zinc ore, charcoal and copper in a crucible. Examining the 39 ingots, they turned out to contain 75-80 percent of copper, 15-20 percent of zinc and small percentages of nickel, lead and iron. This theory is, however, being refuted by a professor from Rio de Janeiro stating that they are an alloy of copper, zinc and lead, believing that orichalcum has its roots in the Peruvian Andes from a civilization that lived there from 1200 to 200 BC – maybe a little too far away from home to be true?

Well, there is still so much we do not know, from Atlantis to (in this case) the Peruvian Andes. These ingots may simply be added to that list, but the find by itself is quite exciting in any case!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A clear statement about Amphipolis, at last!

In today’s world people speak up often enough, yet when it comes to archeology we are generally left floating in a grey area between wishful dreaming, wild theories and the bare reality. The media are ever present and ready to blow up or tune down events in order to accommodate and appeal to their readers. The hype around Amphipolis is no exception and speculations have ran high – just look at all the ups and downs reported earlier on my blog (simply go the link Amphipolis).

This being said, I’m extremely happy with the latest comments made by Angeliki Kottaridou, archaeologist and head of the Imathia Antiquities Ephorate. Here is, at last, somebody who separates facts from figures in a professional way!

Quoting her from an article that was published in Archaeology News Network, this is what she has to say:

"The case of Amphipolis showed us some sociological boundaries and what happens when you consider a hypothesis a given case; the hypothesis that Alexander’s family is there may be impressive to many people, but saying such a thing requires strong evidence. When you do so and you cannot support it, then you have a problem,” she said. "If I say that this tomb is the biggest one that exists and it is not even a tomb but a natural hill, then I probably have a problem. This means I cannot tell what I wish for from reality. When I find a big hole in the grave, I know it's been tampered with or there is at least 95 percent probability it has been tampered with. If for four months I tell reporters it has not been tampered with and it has been so, then I have a problem. I do not care what the political leadership says; I, as a scientist, have a problem.

The fact that she immediately rules out the presence of Alexander the Great in this tomb is indeed quite evident.

Thank you, Angeliki Kottaridou!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ancient Turkey. A Travellers’ History by Seton Lloyd

Seton Lloyd is one of those rare authors able to tell a lot in a few words while not giving the impression of bombarding his readers with facts and figures.

Ancient Turkey. A Travellers’ History (ISBN 9780520220423) gives a lively overview of Turkey’s rich history from prehistoric times up to Christianity, covering the country's occupation by the Hitittes, Phrygians, Persians, Greeks and Romans.

This book is handily divided in concise chapters sharing just enough details about each ruling power to keep you on reading. You’ll find good basic information about the enigmatic Hittites in Central Anatolia; the mysterious Trojans; the power of King Midas and the wealth of King Croesus; the occupation by the Persians including Xenophon's journey of the Ten Thousand; the rise of Macedonia leading to the conquests of Alexander the Great and the spreading of Hellenism; the Roman Power and the legacy of Augustus; concluding with early Christianity in the footsteps of St Paul. Quite a chunk of history presented in a very comprehensible way.

Seton Lloyd has added several unique pictures, many of them from the days of early excavations which make them interesting to those who are more familiar with these major archaeological sites.

This is an excellent reference book that can be consulted for any time period of the rich history of Turkey.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Alexander’s psychological warfare in Pelion, Illyria

The name Selca e Poshtme in Albania did not ring any bell and I was quite surprised to learn that this was an Illyrian necropolis and a royal one on top of that. I had no idea what an Illyrian tomb would or could look like as I had never seen one before. But as soon as I stood in front of these tombs cut out of the face of the rocky wall I felt at home right away for they looked so familiar. I would have sworn they were Macedonian! 



In  my earlier travel story through Albania (see: Looking for Illyrian remains in Albania), I mentioned this site but it deserves far more attention since it is quite unique, more so since Selca e Poshtme is thought to be ancient Pelion.

For a start, there actually are five tombs all belonging to the third and fourth century BC.  

The oldest of these tombs is rather plain with a rectangular burial chamber behind the usual antechamber and is clearly related to the monumental Macedonian graves from the second half of the fourth century BC.

The next tomb was built around 270 BC and proudly shows a monumental façade of 6.4 meters wide and 3 meters high with an Ionic portico. This type of grave, otherwise unknown, has an open chamber in its center that was only used as a cenotaph (no body inside) but underneath the mosaic floor in front of the façade was the true burial chamber where bones and urns were found together with some grave goods. The narrow alcove contained two sarcophagi decorated with reliefs in the shape of a mortuary bed. Unfortunately, this tomb was looted towards the end of the third century BC making it impossible to connect the tomb to any specific person that must have been, however, of high importance. On either side of the half-circular top entrance a relief has been added between the two Ionic columns; on the left we see a helmet, typically referring to Hellenistic rulers and on the right there is an Illyrian shield (looking very Macedonian!). This shield seems to connect the tomb with a local king. The helmet, on the other hand, is nearly identical to the one found during WW1 near Lake Ohrid (now at the Antike Sammlung Museum in Berlin) that carries the inscription Basileos Monouniou, i.e. “of King Monounios”. Sadly there is no way to make sure that both elements belong together but it certainly is an indication that Monounios’ rule reached as far as the Lyncestian lakes.

There are two other rather simple tombs, one of which is characterized by a vaulted chamber in Macedonian style from the late third century BC and the other from the second half of the fourth century BC showing a fine decorated “death bed”.

Another spectacular tomb is the last one in the row that is shaped like a miniature theater and belongs to the third century BC. The actual tomb is dug under the center-stage so to speak, making believe that relatives could gather around the deceased seated on the surrounding tiers. At present, the tomb is filled with groundwater that mirrors the theater effect in an eerie way.

Yet, why are these tombs here and where does this King Monounios fit in? The site of the necropolis is that of an old quarry that was used by the citizens to build their city and walls. This is supposedly the ancient city of Pelion, perched high on an acropolis that overlooks the River Shkumbin. In the middle of the 4th century BC, the Illyrian city was protected by a wall and must have been buzzing with life. The fact that these tombs are so close to the city is an indication by itself that they must be royal ones.

Pelion or Pelium is indeed mentioned by Arrian as a border fortress when Alexander the Great crossed the area on his way back from the Danube campaign in 335 BC and faced the Illyrians' revolt. Cleitus the formidable king of the Dardani (from around Kosovo) had persuaded the Autariatae (from around Bosnia) to join forces in order to attack Alexander on his march, and even the Taulantians (from around Tirana) were willing to join Cleitus. Alexander had to act fast would he not be enclosed on all sides and quickly reached Paeonia (Skopje), crossed the plains of Florina to the heart of Illyria at Pelion where Cleitus was holding this fortress. The Macedonian king arrived before Glaucias, king of the Taulantians could join forces with Cleitus. According to Arrian, the town was surrounded by thickly wooded heights of which nothing much remains. Cleitus’ troops were posted in these woods from where they hoped to attack the Macedonians, but as soon as Alexander charged the enemy abandoned their protected position and fled inside the walls of Pelion, where Alexander kept them under close watch. As he was getting ready to attack the city, Glaucias and his sizable force of Taulantians appeared on the nearby wooded hilltops putting Alexander between two fires. He was in a precarious position for his only way out was a steep narrow path above the river. So Alexander played one of his masterly psychological cards. He drew the main body of his infantry in a massive formation 120 men deep, with on either wing 200 cavalrymen with the orders to obey his orders smartly. The heavy infantry then was commanded in a succession of maneuvers pointing their spears forward and upward, making right turns and left turns. The whole phalanx then moved forward, wheeled around at each command and executed a series of intricate movements. The enemy was shaken by this display of discipline and left their position on the lower slopes. At this stage, Alexander called his men to raise the battle-cry and to clash their spears against their shields. It must have been a most frightening sight and sound for the Taulantians hastily sought shelter under the city walls.

A reduced party, however, was still holding a hilltop that was in Alexander’s way. He sent out a small detachment of Companions and personal guards in their direction but upon their approach, the enemy withdrew. Alexander then occupied the hill and ordered about 2,000 men to cross the river and form a solid front on the other bank facing the enemy. Meanwhile, Alexander stayed put on his hilltop keeping a watchful eye on the wooded area where Glaucias and his troops had retreated to. Surely enough, as soon as the natives saw the Macedonians crossing the river, they seized the moment to attack Alexander and his party before they would follow. Alexander reacted immediately with a counter-attack while the infantry raised their battle-cry from the river below. The enemy’s ranks broke and Alexander quickly instructed his party to advance at the double to the river. He was first to cross in order to set up his artillery on the river-bank. He instructed to fire with every possible missile as far as they could to stop the enemy while at the same time he had his archers, who by now were mid-stream, shooting their volleys in the same direction. Glaucias was no fool and held his army out of range. The Macedonians reached safety, without any casualty.

Three days later, Alexander upon learning that Cleitus and Glaucias had not posted sentries around their nearby camp that was not even protected by a palisade or a trench, immediately decided to attack them by night. Caught by surprise, the enemy had no time to organize a defense and many were killed on the spot while others fled in panic. Alexander pressed his enemies far into the Taulantian Mountains. Cleitus moved to Pelion and set it afire before seeking refuge with Glaucias. For now, Alexander had, at least, one enemy less to face.

At this time, a more pressing matter demanded his attention: Thebes had revolted and called the other Greeks to put an end to Macedonian rule. To motivate their cause, the Thebans went even so far as to spread the rumor that Alexander had died in Illyria! This required a drastic change of plans and luckily for Alexander, the Illyrians did not raise arms against him again. Within two weeks, Alexander appeared before the walls of Thebes, but that is another story.

The early years of Alexander’s kingship are widely ignored and Arrian seems to be about the only source to mention the young king’s northern campaigns – no wonder that the name of Pelion (even less Selca e Poshtme) didn't ring a bell with me right away. But isn’t it exciting when names and places can be tied together in such an unexpected way? Archeology in Albania is still in infancy it seems and excavations are merely carried out by French or Italians. It looks like there is still a lot of work to be done here in Pelion. So far, our knowledge is based on Arrian and on coins found in cities like Apollonia (Albania) and Epidamnos/Dyrrhachion(modern Dürres, Albania) but I feel rather confident that one day the history of Hellenistic or even Classical Greece in this country will be revealed. That will be my day, of course!



Standing here in this desolate and isolated landscape, it is hard to believe that a grand capital like Pelion once crowned this very hill above the Illyrian necropolis or that it was linked by important roads to other cities of the ancient world. In Roman times, it became one of the many stops along the famous Via Egnatia whose trail is still easy to follow.

[photos 1 and 2 are courtesy of Wim]
[More pictures can be found by clicking on this link]

Monday, January 12, 2015

Arbela, near the Battlefield of Gaugamela

Erbil or Arbil is the capital of modern Kurdistan, an independent province in northern Iraq. In antiquity the city was named Arbela, situated north of the Mesopotamian plain where the Battle of Gaugamela took place in 331 BC between the armies of Alexander the Great and Great King Darius III of Persia. Erbil claims to be the world’s oldest continuously occupied settlement (older than Damascus, I wonder?) going back at least 6,000 years.

To the naked eye, Erbil has very little to offer to the curious archaeologist as many houses from the 19th and 20th century are cramped inside the old city walls, right on top of previous constructions. Most everything that is known about this city comes from ancient texts and sporadic artifacts found at other sites in Mesopotamia.

Since last year, the first traces of the ancient city have been revealed thanks to ground-penetrating radar. Two large structures in the center of the citadel may be the remains of the well-known temple dedicated to the goddess of love and war, Ishtar, who was consulted by the Assyrian kings for divine guidance. The Temple of Ishtar is mentioned as early as the 13th century BC, although it may rest on a much older sanctuary. It is said that her temple was made to “shine like the day”, a possible indication that it was coated with electrum (a mixture of silver and gold) that reflected the Mesopotamian sun.

Slowly these new finds give us an insight into the history of Arbela and of its growth since the rise of the mighty Assyrian Empire. This old city was located on a fertile plain and was the local breadbasket for thousands of years. It occupied a key position on the road connecting the Persian Gulf to the Anatolian inland. It is obvious that this prime location was coveted by many of its neighbors, of which the Sumerians may have been the first invaders around 2,000 BC. It is here that Alexander the Great became King of Asia in 331 BC after defeating the Persian King Darius in nearby Gaugamela. Later invaders were the Romans, Genghis Khan in the 13th century, the Afghan warlords in the 18th century and the very recent occupation by Saddam Hussein. Yet, Arbela survived, unlike other great Mesopotamian cities like Babylon or Nineveh.

Unfortunately during the twentieth century much of ancient Arbela fell in disrepair as refugees from the region’s conflicts replaced the town’s people who moved to more spacious housing outside the citadel. Now that these refugees also move to more comfortable accommodation, efforts are starting to renovate the largely mud-brick dwellings. Conservation work enables archaeologists to dig deeper into the mound, meanwhile listed as a World Heritage Site. With the help of aerial photos taken by the British Royal Air Force in the 1950’s, American spy satellite images from the 1960’s, and Cold War satellite imagery, combined with the ancient cuneiform tablets help to pinpoint the best locations for future digging.

It is still difficult to have a good comprehensive overview of such a long history. As far as we know now, Arbela was first mentioned on clay tablets unearthed at Ebla (in modern Syria) dating to circa 2300 BC. A few hundred years later, rulers of Ur in southern Mesopotamia claim to have destroyed the city during repeated and bloody campaigns. By 1200 BC, it is known that it prospered as an important Assyrian trading post where copper, cattle, pomegranates, pistachios, grain and grapes were common goods. At the height of its power in the 7th century BC, Assyria was ruled by kings like Sennacherib, Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal. A court poem found in Nineveh praised the city as “heaven without equal, Arbela!”, and its power is supported by a stone relief from the 7th century BC found at Nineveh showing the formidable city walls and arched gate.

By 612 BC the Assyrian Empire was destroyed and the Medes (maybe the ancestors of today’s Kurds), spared and occupied Arbela, which was still intact when the Persian King Darius I came to power about a century later. Soon the Achaemenid Empire stretched all the way from Egypt to India till Alexander the Great defeated King Darius III in the fall in of 331 BC on the plains of Gaugamela. The Persian king fled across the Greater Zab River to Arbela’s citadel to seek refuge in the Zagros Mountains where he was eventually killed by his own men.

Arbela’s oldest fortification had a 20 meters thick wall with a defensive slope, not unlike the one found at Nineveh, for instance. While most fortifications were rectangular, the wall around Arbela was a round one, enclosing both the citadel and the lower town – something we do find more to the south, in cities like Ur or Uruk. As houses in modern Erbil are being abandoned, the archaeologists have a good opportunity to start their investigations. It is very rewarding to discover a tomb with vaulted chamber of baked bricks that can be dated to the 7th century BC and definitely is Assyrian.


Using modern technology, some 77 square miles have been mapped containing some 214 archeological sites going back as far as 8,000 years! It is not easy to account for a city’s history over such a long period of time, especially when that city is still being inhabited. After the Assyrians were gone came the Persians followed by the Greeks, and eventually Arbela became an essential outpost on the Roman frontier and the capital of the Province of Assyria. With the spreading of Christianity new communities flourished and the Sassanids ruled till the arrival of Islam in the 7th century AD.

Even today, Erbil makes the headlines with the conflicts in northern Iraq. Inevitably a great deal of the city’s heritage is doomed to disappear in modern warfare, but let’s hope for the best. Maybe, just maybe one day we may discover the treasures still buried underneath the old citadel and maybe even a small proof that Alexander and his army were here some 2,400 years ago.

[Pictures from Archaeology]