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 Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)


Saturday, May 30, 2015

A thought about Alexander’s Sacrifices

I recently came across this highly intriguing article written by Andrew Young about Alexander’s Sacrifices (through ASOR, the American Schools of Oriental Research). It is quite an interesting view point as ancient authors have mentioned these sacrifices in their history time and again. In my eyes this means that sacrifices were very important in those days.

I have read somewhere that it was the duty of a Macedonian king to perform a sacrifice to the gods every morning and this is exactly what Alexander has done, even when he was away from his homeland or sick in Babylon. It seems that for him the sacrifices were as much part of his daily life as were his baths, for instance. Yet it is very difficult to understand or to estimate their scope so many centuries later.

Andrew Young may be right when saying that Alexander was not particular about the choice of his gods and that he would sacrifice to anyone of them as long as the god would serve the purpose of the moment. Yet on the other hand this opinion may be questioned since he was very proud to have both Heracles and Dionysus as his ancestors, while he himself may or may not have been the son of Zeus. Besides, the entire concept of worship and religion has evolved so much since Alexander’s day that it is difficult or nearly impossible to judge what power the gods had over people’s daily lives.

Superstition was a word and a concept that didn’t exist in antiquity, nor did witchcraft as a matter of fact. Everything what happened (or didn’t happen) in life was in the hands of god or a god, meaning you’d better stay on good terms with them. Consequently, a daily sacrifice however big or small was never wasted. 

What I find remarkable with Alexander is that he made offerings not only to ask for a good omen but also to thank the gods. His reason might be for being victorious in battle or for having crossed a river safely, for any matter important or trivial, he simply made time to be thankful. I wonder whether this is part of Alexander’s key to success. He did not take things for granted and it does not matter how much he really believed in these sacrifices. It is a way to positive thinking and in his case, to positive action. Going to battle with the support of the gods is a totally different incentive than going to battle to simply win, although this is the ultimate goal. Positive thinking is the key to success - it was then as it is now. It does not matter if you find it by sacrificing to your gods or to foreign gods and by the psychological manipulation of your brain, the result is the same.

So, there may be much more to say about Alexander’s sacrifices after all.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A statue of Alexander the Great in Athens?

Alexander riding his beloved Bucephalus is endlessly reproduced in stone, marble or bronze, so it is not surprising to see another one surfacing.

[Picture from]

This time we are going to Athens with an equestrian statue created back in 1992 by Yiannis Pappas, who through the Greek Ministry of Culture donated his work to the Municipality of Athens. Since then the statue has not moved and is still standing in the artist’s yard.

Red tape or not, it finally occurred to the people in charge that this is a case of neglect and hopes run high that Alexander may make it to downtown Athens although it doesn’t seem too clear where this will be. Unfortunately Yiannis Pappas died a few years ago, aged 92, without seeing his beloved bronze on the spot it deserves.

Where is the ideal and an honorable place for Alexander in modern Athens, a city he loved so much?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Making Cnidos more appealing to the tourists

Cnidos is a magic place to visit for many different reasons, either because of its double harbour, its precious memories of the first nude Aphrodite or simply because of its location as it is spread over two opposite hills. Sailing into the harbour of Cnidos situated at the tip of the Dorian Peninsula, 18 miles due south of Halicarnassus, is a unique experience too (see: What did Alexander the Great know of Cnidos?)

Beyond the buildings now in ruins, Cnidos is said to be the hometown of the Greek astronomer and mathematician, Eudoxus (408-355 BC) who was a pupil of Plato. What seems to be first sun dial ever was discovered here at Cnidos, the gnomon, and has been attributed to Eudoxus as well. More great men have their roots in Cnidos: Euryphon (early 5th century BC), a Greek physician; Polygnotos (end 5th century BC), a Greek vase painter; Ctesias (5th century BC) who as a Greek historian wrote a history of Persia and as physician served Artaxerxes Mnemon of Persia; and finally Sostratos, a Greek engineer and architect who designed the incomparable lighthouse of Alexandria.

In 2013, new excavations went underway and were focused mainly on the largest Byzantine Church and the theatre, while attention was also given to possible underwater artifacts. Work has also started at the Temple of Dionysus of which the floor was swept clean. Yet during Byzantine times this temple was, as so often, converted into a church of which we only can see the rounded apse. Excavators are now defining the propylon of this temple and erecting the columns in the gallery. In the process many loose blocks ornamental or not will be prepared for restoring which also will include the Stoa that runs parallel to the length of the temple over a distance of one hundred meters.

It will be interesting to see what has been done here since my last visit in 2012. It always pays to go back, doesn’t it?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Revealing Byllis in ancient Illyria

Before my trip to Albania in search of Illyrian remains (see: A closer look at Illyria), I had never heard of Byllis for even on the internet the information is pretty scant and vague. Yet the site of Byllis is one of those where you feel at home and where every ruin is exactly as it should be – a very strange awareness!

The location of Byllis has nothing to envy to any antique city and certainly not to any Greek or Roman city situated at the border between Illyria and Epirus. Had I studied the life and conquests of Pyrrhus of Epirus more closely (which I’ll do pretty soon) I would inevitably have come to this remarkable city, but at this stage, it is a blank page. The origins of Byllis are still obscure but according to one theory, it may well have been founded by this very King Pyrrhus who is still held in high esteem today. Another theory, confirmed by numismatics, pretends however that the city was built by Myrmidons returning from the Trojan War.

Byllis is perched high on top of a hill some 520 meters above sea level, overlooking the Vjosa River and definitely occupying a strong strategic position. The city is surrounded by sturdy Hellenistic walls over a distance of more than two kilometres, 3.5 meters thick and reaching a height of eight to nine meters; it is interrupted by six fortified entrance gates. No less than four inscriptions testify of the reconstruction by the Byzantine engineer Victorinus, who worked upon instructions of Emperor Justinian (end 5th-early 6th century AD).  Enough of this wall has survived to underscore the sense of security the inhabitants must have felt. To me, it looks like an eagle’s nest overlooking and commanding the entire valley below.

It is however very difficult to label Byllis as Illyrian since the vehicular language was Greek (although most people were bilingual) and all the institutions, officials, fortifications and the city planning were clearly Greek also. The ancient road to Apollonia ran right through Byllis connecting the city with Macedonia at one end and with Antigonea in Epirus on the other side. Buildings like the stadium and theater, for instance, are pure Hellenistic.

I first walk through so-called storage rooms, but it is unclear why they were built here and who could profit of this storage area. Huge earthen jars and pots, now in shards, remind me of Minoan pottery and were definitely well-secured by the maze of thick-walled rooms.

Pretty soon I arrive at the recognizable Forum – no doubt built on top of the Hellenistic Agora - surrounded by an L-shaped Stoa, two stories high. The earliest agora has been dated to the second quarter of the 3rd century BC and the 11.4 meters wide Stoa ran over a total length of 144 meters: the eastern wing (partially cut out of the rock) was 37 meters long and the southern wing 73 meters. The supporting columns were of Doric order with hexagonal columns on the ground floor while Ionic columns on the upper floor supported the roof. The set-up of this Stoa is inspired by the one at Apollonia (see: Along the Via Egnatia: Apollonia). Later the Byzantines built their basilicas inside and in between these remains, meaning that one has to be alert when looking at stones and walls, but the typical Byzantine crosses on column capitals and altar slabs are very helpful.

Comfortably nestled against the hillside, most of the theater has survived although it has been used as a quarry by the Byzantines.  The original Greek theater was built in the middle of the 3rd century BC and counted 40 tiers, providing seating for as many as 7,500 spectators, which based on the size of Byllis means that visitors from neighbouring towns attended the performances. It is said to resemble the theater of Dodona in neighbouring Epirus, but I am not in a position to compare. Clearly this theater has been “updated” by the Romans who added the skena of which only the foundations remain. A corner of the seating area has been reconstructed to give a better feel of the building, and it is interesting to look around for the many details of decorations for the walls, seats and the trimmings of the skena. I find it striking that the VIP seats are still present around the orchestra in the Greek fashion, meaning that this theater was never adapted to be used for animal fights as the Romans generally loved to organize. The view from up here is, as always, breathtaking!

Turning away from the steep edge on which the theater stands, are the remains of the arsenal also from the 3rd century BC and reconstructed during the 1st century AD using the so-called opus reticulatum technique (square diamond-shaped tufa blocks positioned with their corners downwards). It lays about three meters below the adjacent prytaneion (sacred meeting place) and measures 18.2x6.2 meters. This prytaneion, dedicated to Artemis, in turn, is 20 meters long by 6 meters wide and may well be one of the earliest buildings in the Agora.

Byllis also had a stadium from the end of the third century BC, one of the strangest constructions I have ever seen. Only one side of this stadium has been preserved. From the original length of 190 meters, the bottom seating stairs have survived over 134 meters. Near the theater, we can find as many as 19 steps still in place, but overall there are no more than three or four. But what makes this track so unique is that it runs alongside a huge public water cistern of 51 meters and 4.2 meters wide. This means that this vaulted cistern with a capacity of about 1,200 m3 was constructed underneath the stadium itself. The water was collected from the roofs of the Stoa and from the stairs on the south side of the stadium. In Byzantine times, Emperor Justinian built his baths right next to this cistern and the facilities were used till around 550 AD.

Remarkably, some remains of private houses have been excavated as well, both Hellenistic and Roman, which I think is rather unusual. Hellenistic houses are rare and I’m glad to find a clear layout for one of them. It dates from the third century BC and measures 30x25 meters. It is built around a central courtyards of approximately 10x10m surrounded by colonnades behind which we find the various rooms; typically it had its own well (see also: Olynthus and its houses).

All in all, I find it strange that neither here at Byllis nor at any of the other ancient cities in the area (Apollonia, Brundisium, Buthrotum, Dyrrhachium) so little remains from the Macedonian occupation of Alexander and his father, Philip II, before him. Obviously, neither king was there to build a city as their only purpose was to submit the Illyrians as a whole, but since it were the Greeks who colonized this region in the first place it is awkward to find only sporadic remains of that period – unless the Romans have thoroughly destroyed the buildings that existed previously in those settlements.

[Click here to see all pictures of Byllis]

Monday, May 11, 2015

What became of Alexander’s closest commanders after the War of the Diadochi?

Alexander was surrounded and supported by his highly skilled and efficient Bodyguards or Companions, who after his death in 323 BC had to take charge and rule his vast empire. They definitely were not prepared for this task as Alexander obviously had not expected to die at such a young age.

The ensuing war that lasted for almost forty years and went into history as the War of the Diadochi was inevitable. Time and again the commanders took sides and changed sides, made peace treaties but coveted each other’s possessions soon after. Their lust for power and innate Greek competitiveness led them at the head of their seasoned armies to conquer ever more land. In the process, they eliminated each other systematically till around 280 BC only four dynasties remained: the Ptolemies in Egypt, the Seleucids in Asia, the Lysimachids in Thrace and the Antipatrids in Macedonia.

At the time of Alexander’s death, all his Bodyguards were in Babylon: 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. However, Craterus was still in Cilicia on his way to Macedonia and Antipater, as regent was in Pella. Sooner or later all these leaders got involved in the Succession War and died while defending their rights or in their increasing ambition to expand their territory.

"Diadochen1" byCaptain_Blood - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 
Here is what became of them:

The first to die was Leonnatus who relieved Antipater during the siege of Lamia in 322 BC and was killed by the Athenian enemy.

Next victim was Craterus in 321 BC, as his horse stumbled during a fierce confrontation with Eumenes on the borders of Cappadocia. He was trampled to death.

Perdiccas followed in 320 BC after failing to lead his troops safely across the Nile when he invaded Egypt held by Ptolemy. He was killed by his own officers.
Antipater died of old age in the late summer of 319 BC, nominating Polyperchon as his successor instead of his own son, Cassander.

Later that year (319 BC) the generals Arrhideus, Nicanor and Cleitus were eliminated.

Eumenes, after desperate and repeated attempts to win the confidence of his troops, was killed by Antigonus, the rising star in 317 BC. At the same time, Antigenes was burnt alive by Antigonus.

Under false pretexts, Peithon was summoned to Ecbatana by Antigonus some time later where he was accused of treachery and executed.

Aristonous became general of Olympias in her war against Cassander, but when the queen was taken prisoner in 316 BC he was put to death by Cassander.

Nearchus disappeared from history around 300 BC, after he had joined Antigonus and acted as adviser to his son, Demetrios-Poliorketes.

Lysimachus had the difficult task of ruling Thracia that served as a buffer zone between east and west. He was killed in 281 BC after crossing the Hellespont into Lydia.

Peucestas had a less glamorous end of his career. He surrendered to Antigonus after acting as an unwilling ally of Eumenes and was kept as Antigonus’ close advisor and afterwards for his son Demetrios-Poliorketes. The last time we hear from him is in 290 BC.

Ptolemy seems to have made a better choice with Egypt which he ruled successfully, starting a dynasty that lasted for three hundred years. Ptolemy I Soter died in his mid-eighties in 283 BC.

The same applies to Seleucos who, after many fights on different sides gained protection from Ptolemy and managed to establish himself as ruler of Alexander’s eastern provinces (311-302 BC). In his ambition to conquer Macedonia and Thrace as well, he was assassinated in 281 BC by Ptolemy Keraunos, son of Ptolemy I. He was the last of the great men that once rode by Alexander’s side to the end of the world.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A double highway in antiquity

We like to believe that the double highway is an invention from the 20th century. Well that is not so since remains of what is likely to be the first double highway ever have been discovered in Anavarza, near the village of Dilekkaya in the province of Adana, Turkey.

The origins of the city go back to the days of Assyrians and was successively occupied by the Sassanids, the Byzantines (Emperor Justinian I rebuilt the city after a destructive earthquake in 525 AD and renamed it Justinopolis), the Armenians and the Ottomans. It still holds traces from Hellenistic and Roman times who named it Caesarea. The fact that Anavarza was situated on the main road east after leaving the Cilician Gates made it one of the most important cities of Cilicia in the third and fifth centuries, after being overshadowed by nearby Tarsus during the first and second centuries AD.

Unfortunately Anavarza’s well preserved remains have been damaged by powerful earthquakes as recent as 1945, during which the three aqueducts that stood there for nearly two thousand years collapsed. Among the ruins are colonnades along two streets, a gymnasium, a triumphal arch, a theater, a stadium and a fort.

The most striking element, however, is this double columned highway, approximately 35 meters wide and 2.7 kilometers long. It has been established that columns were of the Corinthian order and were erected at 2.15 meters intervals. At present, work is underway to restore a 250-meter section of this highway in the hope to make it accessible for tourists in a few years’ time.

So far, 1,360 columns have been unearthed and plans are to restore them. The entrance gate also will be put back together as no less than 500 pieces have been found lying around the monument. Two more streets will be excavated and archaeologists hope to locate the sewage system as well as the stores on either side of the streets.

Once again, Anavarza may become one of the most magnificent cities from the ancient world after being cleared and restored. After all, this city is larger than Ephesos, for instance! 

It is not unthinkable that Alexander passed through this city, this very highway even, on his way from Tarsus to Issus. In any case, it is a place worth to be added to our next travel plans.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Underwater excavation at Heracleion still ongoing

It is nice to read about the progress of underwater excavations at the Egyptian site of Heracleion. It is in the news again as Oxford University is also diving at site (see my earlier post: Heracleion, ancient Greek port in Egypt) and presenting a few interesting pictures.

For the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology it is a unique opportunity to partake in this project and divers have recovered many important ancient landmarks at the mouth of the Nile. There are, for instance, more than five meters tall statues that were hauled to the surface, not counting the hundreds of smaller statues that were retrieved from the sea floor. So far a monumental statue of goddess Isis and a massive head of the god Serapis have been removed. Art treasures like jewelry, coins and ceramics have also be recovered and testify of the glorious past of Heracleion, named according to Diodorus after Heracles because he stopped the flood of the Nile.

Work in this murky water is pretty difficult but very promising. The article published in The Oxford Times adequately states that “it can appear that someone emptied the contents of the Museum of Cairo on the bottom of the Mediterranean, while the images of building foundations appear akin to an underwater Pompeii”.

As mentioned in my earlier post (Heracleion, ancient Greek port in Egypt), the remains of 64 ships have been found, but also over 700 anchors. At present the archaeological team is focussing on what they call Shipwreck 43, a 24-meter long vessel that has been dated between 785 and 480 BC and is one of eight belonging to the same size. This is a flat-bottomed vessel, ideal to operate in shallow waters. 

The article in the Oxford Times mentions further that a major exhibition will be held in Germany next year and hopefully will come to the UK at a later date.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ptolemais, heritage of the Ptolemies in the Cyrenaica (eastern Libya)

The origin of Ptolemais (or Barca) of the Libyan Pentapolis (see: Apollonia in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) after Alexander) goes back to the middle of 6th century BC, but the name Ptolemais was probably given by Ptolemy III Euergetes, the grandson of Ptolemy I who in 322 BC added the city to his realm after becoming the ruler of Egypt as successor to Alexander the Great. When the Romans annexed Egypt in the first century BC, they granted Ptolemais the status of a separate province. Since the city had no local water supply, it were the Roman architects who managed to bring in water from the surrounding hills and store it in seventeen huge cisterns under the Forum. It was a flourishing city until it was hit by the destructive earthquake of 365 AD that caused the entire North African coast to drop about four meters. The invasion of the Vandals in 428 probably gave the final blow. The Byzantines moved their military governor to Apollonia and the Arabs made sure the city was entirely abandoned.

It still looks abandoned today, a mere flat site thrown with stones and rocks with a sporadic tree to bring in some color. The access road to ancient Ptolemais is not really inviting either as it runs through a solid row of abandoned houses which the Italians built last century – a true ghost town known as Tolmeitha. It is an eerie feeling to progress over this straight road flanked by colorful facades with cast iron decorations, which for some reason make me think of the Via Appia in Rome where the tombs are replaced by empty houses.

The city of Ptolemais is no more than a field on a gentle slope from the Mediterranean up to the mountains, in which even the Hippodamic plan is hard to figure out. I am happy to be pointed to the familiar Decumanus and Cardo once I’ve reached the crossroad where a piece of wall and a lonely column is all that remains of the Arch of Constantine from 312 AD. The Decumanus has been promoted to Monument Street or Via Porticata with on one side the Roman Baths and on the other the remains of a private house. It was on this road that the Edict of Diocletian from 301 was found setting the prices for the trade goods and now in the local museum.

At the next crossroad, marked with Four Columns, I make a right turn to visit the imposing remains of the so-called Palazzo delle Colonne, meaning the “Villa with the Columns”. Since this is about the only reconstructed building, it can hardly be missed. The Villa lies here in all its splendour and it is generally accepted that it was built according to the then prevailing fashion in Alexandria (Egypt). This theory is hard to verify since old Alexandria is still buried deep under the modern city and a good example of such a villa has never been found, but I like the idea. In any case, the owner was not a poor man.

We owe the qualification of Palazzo to the Italian archaeologists of last century who found that it covered an entire street-block (600m2) and counted two levels. The rear of the building, in fact the living quarters, is resting on a plateau from where the owner had a panoramic view over the city and I can see all the way to the sea front. This part had an upper level, probably the sleeping quarters. In front of these quarters below me there is space for eight shops opening into the street with in the back their own storage rooms. This storage lies next to a large patio and a complete bathing complex including a Caldarium, Tepidarium and Frigidarium, probably for the master of the house and his family. A separate staircase leads from the house directly to the patio below.

The re-erected columns are not too well restored with big blobs of cement in between, but they give an excellent idea of the past glory. Quite exceptionally are the leaves at the bottom of the columns, a subtle hint to Egypt – hence the name oecus aegyptius used to name this room. It takes some imagination to crown these columns with the capitals (now at the local museum) of Corinthian order with the heads of Jupiter and Mars staring down from in between the acanthus leaves.

Behind this room and in the very centre of this complex lies the Atrium including the series of earthen pipes that led the water to the bubbling fountain in the center of the pool. The Atrium was surrounded by a covered gallery resting on Ionic columns and paved with black and white mosaics, now carefully covered with plastic and soil, although the edges are still exposed here and there. Central in this Atrium is the summer dining room that offered a view over the inside garden and the water basin, once paved with magnificent mosaics. More protected from the elements lies, on the right hand side, the winter dining room and adjacent the so-called Medusa-room after the mosaic that was found here and that has also been moved to the museum.

I am quite impressed by this Palazzo delle Colonne, not only because of its location, which is striking by itself, but also by the entire combination of these unique columns with their decoration and paintings, the many mosaic floors in colour as well as black and white, and the many statues that enhanced these rooms because the Venus and Bacchus from the museum certainly were not the only ones found here. This villa, in my opinion, goes beyond what has been found in Pompeii or in Herculaneum, although they have other characteristics.

The next house-block is entirely occupied by the Forum, paved with small slabs of marble and surrounded by columns, a few of which have (not too well) been restored. Under this Forum from the second century AD (in Greek times this was a Gymnasium) the true treasure of Ptolemais lies buried: its water cisterns. There are eight of such huge galleries running north-south over a total length of 50 meters and nine running eat-west over 20 meters. I have seen such cisterns in cities like Termessos and Sillyum in Turkey, but not of this size. The oldest cisterns are from Hellenistic times and when I climb down the stairs in the centre of the Forum, I can clearly see the marks where supporting beams held the flat wooden roof of that period. The Romans later covered the entire system with vaulted ceilings, and in the process more than doubled the storage capacity to reach as much as six million litres! It is a quite unique experience to walk through these vaulted galleries, I can assure you!

Right behind the Forum, lays the Odeon – a rather controversial building it seems. Originally built as a Bouleuterion, this Odeon dates from the 4th-5th century but might as well be a small theatre since the half-circular orchestra could be filled with water. However, the water supply is too far away from the theatre to be used as such and even if this space could be filled with water, to what purpose was it used? Some archaeologists opt for miniature sea battles, while others think that the water would simply be used to improve the acoustics. For the time being, this remains a mystery.

At the far end to the left, that is on the west side, one can discern the contours of the Teucheira city gate from the 5th century AD, but the entire extend in between seems still in dear need of excavations. Ptolemais definitely was a most important city.

On my way back, walking over the westerly Cardo to the exit, I stop at the Roman villa where the mosaic of the Four Seasons was found (now at the local museum). Not much to see, except that this building deserves to be called a villa. Noteworthy is that the colonnade around the Atrium ends in a horseshoed shape – an exception to the standard square pattern. Simple smooth columns surround the central area, neatly restored without the blobs of cement the Italians used elsewhere.

The local museum is nothing more than a large storage room, but it is nice to have it so close to the place of excavation (Now, a few years after the fall of Kaddafi, I wonder what has become of this place). I marvel at the fine mosaics apparently imported from Alexandria that were framed by rougher mosaics laid by local craftsmen. The Medusa-mosaic from the Palazzo delle Colonne steals the show, next to two fragments with hens and fishes, and another large mosaic carpet showing the Four Seasons with two panthers underneath. True jewels!

Next to a beheaded Bacchus and an elegant Venus with the head of Demeter (a strange combination) both from the second century AD and found at the abovementioned villa, there are a number of painted and artistically carved Corinthian capitals revealing the heads of Jupiter and Mars. Interesting also are the aerial views of the villas I just visited. In a corner I find the remains of a sarcophagus with an image of Achilles, and standing behind him, his mother Thetis. An intriguing discovery although I fail to understand what they are doing here.

One of the masterpieces definitely is the slightly damaged panel found on the Via Porticata which shows a number of goods and their respective prices according to the Edict of Diocletian from 301 AD. That such legislation existed at all is quite amazing! Next to it, stands a particularly graceful relief with six dancing Maenads also found on the same avenue. The Maenads were a favourite subject in antiquity and this relief seems to have enhanced the base supporting a statue of the dramatist Euripides. The original statue was sculpted in Athens in 405 BC, but this is the best (Roman) copy. The ecstatic Maenads, followers of Dionysus, are particularly elegant in their floating robes, waving the thyrsus staff and shaking their tambourines. Such a pity that in later years the piece was used around a well, for otherwise it is rather well-preserved.

Once more, this is a city that owes its glory to Alexander the Great and his successors as it lived on for another 700 years. Ptolemais definitely deserves to be added to the list of Alexander’s achievements.

If we pay a little more attention than usual, we find much more than the sites and buildings we are pointed towards. It happened to me when we drove out of Ptolemais and I noticed the remains of a Hellenistic tomb, clearly inspired by the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. It is no more than a lonely square in the middle of an abandoned field used as garbage depot although fenced off with barbed wire, planks and corrugated roofing. The original tomb must have been much higher than the remaining 11 meters, but the floor-plan of 12x12 meters is still intact. This tomb belongs to the second century BC, Ptolemaic times, and still carries the alternating motives of triglyphs and metopes along the top edge although the friezes have since long disappeared just like the steps at the base. Here as elsewhere, it was common practice to dismantle old buildings in order to reuse the recuperated stone blocks in new constructions (spolia).