Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Drangiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Wartime looting in antiquity

Wartime looting is something we associate with today’s unstable political situations in North Africa and the Middle-East, but looking back into history this is certainly not new although the reasons and the drives were entirely different then from what we are facing now.

Looting can be triggered by warfare in which we have the urge to annihilate the enemy and that includes everything he treasures and cherishes. When it comes to religious wars, like for instance those fought by the Crusaders, looting is translated into the destruction of religious convictions and what they stand for. Looting may also be simple greed, the envy to possess what no one else has either because it is unique or because it is so valuable.

One of the first examples that comes to my mind are the statues of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, two Athenian heroes who stood for the origin of Athenian democracy in 514 BC and whose images were erected in the Agora. They were stolen by the Persians in 480 BC and moved to Susa, where they were recovered by Alexander the Great in 331 BC who sent them back to Athens.

Yet most wide-spread or best-documented lootings happened in Roman times when great Greek works of art were carried home as trophies or as simple spoils of war.

After the sack of Corinth by L. Mummius in 146 BC, many statues were brought to Rome while others were sold to the King of Pergamum who was building up a remarkable collection. Among the statues that arrived in Rome was one of Philip II that was mistakenly labeled as that of Zeus.

Better known for all kinds of not too glorious reasons was L. Cornelius Sulla, who launched a well-remembered attack on Athens and Piraeus. He used the trees from Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum to build his siege towers. When Athens fell in 86 BC, he removed choice pieces from the Temple of Zeus hardly built a century before and these fragments later surfaced in the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximum in Rome. At the same time, an unknown number of manuscripts, paintings, and other precious objects were shipped to Rome. Further, to pay for his expensive wars, he levied heavy contributions on the wealthiest cities to acquire the treasuries of Epidaurus, Olympia, and Delphi – a true sacrilege at the time!

Following Sulla’s example, L. Licinius Lucullus collected works taken from Sinope by L. Aemilius Paullus. Sinope was a great admirer of Greek art and took his time to tour the country to find the most appealing pieces like an Athena by Phidias that he dedicated at Rome, leaving, however, (luckily) the gigantic Zeus of Olympia untouched.

Julius Caesar was another great “collector” acquiring his objects by plunder and purchase.

The most notorious of all looters definitely was Gaius Verres, governor of Sicily, who in 73 BC seized statues, reliefs, dedications, paintings and jewelry from the Sicilians and from other parts of the Greek world. He started by requisitioning the most beautiful objects from private homes, followed by despoliation of the island’s sanctuaries. He stole a statue of Ceres from the temple of Catania; a set of gold and ivory doors from the temple of Athena in Syracuse together with paintings and other effigies of the goddess whose hands supposedly were made of gold; a magnificent bronze statue of Apollo by Myron from the temple of Asclepius at Akragas; and many more. On their way to steal the statue of Heracles from the temple at Akragas, his soldiers were overpowered by furious citizens. Enough is enough! Tensions rose so high that Cicero was called in to defend the Sicilians’ case. He won and Verres went into exile in Marseilles. Unfortunately, none of these works of art were ever recovered.

With the increase of its wealth, Rome developed a kind of refinement where Corinthian bronzes became especially prized (the bronze was of an exceptional quality!). Among those connoisseurs was Novius Vindex, who acquired a bronze statuette of Heracles made by nobody less than Lysippos, paintings by Apelles, and many other objects of marbles, ivory, and precious metal believed to be the work of Praxiteles, Phidias, and Polycleitus.

Even Emperor Nero is to be found among the admirers of Greece, making him one of the major looters of Greek art to adorn the eternal city. He did not shy away from directing his attention towards Delphi from where he took 500 bronze statues and Olympia where he monopolized an unspecified number of statues. Also, on his list is a particularly fine Eros by Lysippos taken from Thespiae that was, later on, destroyed by a fire in Rome. Strangely enough, he left Athens untouched but rampaged through the cities of Asia Minor instead. He concentrated on masterpieces created by artists like Phidias, Praxiteles, and Cephisodotus. Among his masterpieces, the most famous were the Apollo Belvedere, the Borghese Gladiator, and a Venus. With the end of Roman power, the import and looting of Greek art came to a halt.

By this time, the Byzantine Empire took over and Constantine the Great in 324 AD inverted the inflow of art by bringing all the treasures from Rome to Constantinople. Under one of his successors, the pagan Julian the Apostate, we know that the temple of Apollo at Didyma and the sanctuary of Demeter at Eleusis were restored.

The sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 395 was devastating, and many works of art found their way to Constantinople. The ruthless rampage of the barbarians spread as quick as a wildfire and it was at this period that the great chryselephantine statue of Zeus that Phidias made for the temple of Zeus in Olympia was saved at the last moment and transferred to the Palace of Lausus in Constantinople (to be ultimately destroyed by fire in the first half of the 5th century AD). Soon more selected gem pieces joined this collection to include the Athena of Lindos from the 4th century BC, the famous Aphrodite from Cnidos created by Praxiteles, and the Hera from Samos made by Lysippos. Constantine also brought a porphyry column from Delphi to ornate his Forum, while his Senate was enhanced by the statue of Zeus from Dodona and two statues of Pallas Athena. Bellerophon slaying the Chimera was brought in from either Great Antioch or Corinth; the Fortune of the City exchanged the Forum in Rome for Constantinople together with a statue of the Sun God from Phrygia.

Constantinople’s Hippodrome was outrageously populated by no less than sixty statues imported from Rome which, except for a statue of Augustus, came from all over the Greek world: Athens, Chios, Crete and Rhodes, Cyzicus, Caesarea, Sardes, Tralles, Tyana, Antioch, Iconium (modern Konya), Smyrna, Nicaea, Nicomedia and Nikopolis. Just imagine the widespread and cumbersome dragging and lugging of all these artifacts. No wonder we keep recuperating them from the bottom of the Mediterranean!

Today’s visitor to the Hippodrome in Istanbul can still admire the Serpent Column, which is part of a monument that once stood next to the temple of Apollo at Delphi and was dedicated by the cities that defied the Persians at the Battle of Platea in 479 BC. On the same square stands an Egyptian obelisk, originally commissioned by Thutmosis III in the 16th century BC to commemorate one of his campaigns in Syria. It was shipped to Constantinople towards the end of the 4th century AD and broke during its transport. What we see now is only the upper part mounted on a marble base showing reliefs of Theodosius I and his family attending races on this very Hippodrome.

This was also home for the life-size group of four horses we know from Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. They were made of gilded bronze and the horses are said to have been pulling a chariot. It may have been brought in from Chios or given as a present to Nero by the king of Armenia, and closely resembles the group created by Lysippos for the temple dedicated to Rhodes in Delphi during the 4th century BC. According to one theory, these horses are Hellenistic copies, but according to others, it may well be the original that traveled from Delphi to Chios to Constantinople and eventually to Venice.

Time-wise we now reach the construction of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, where today’s visitor can still find many columns, doors and other decoration elements that were taken from different cities all over Asia Minor.

For many centuries Constantinople was a safe-haven for many works of art from antiquity but during the ensuing invasions first by the Arabs in the 7th and 8th centuries, and by the Bulgarians in the 9th and 10th centuries, the city was thoroughly sacked in 1204 when the members of the Fourth Crusades rampaged through the streets of this once so glorious city. Most saddening is maybe the final destruction of so many documents that had survived from antiquity and that are since lost forever. 

In our 21st century, we praise ourselves lucky to have museums to shelter and protect our greatest and most magnificent works of art, although at times even the museums are no longer a safe haven for our culture. We all are aware of the dilapidated museums of Kabul and Bagdad, for instance, and we still don’t know what has happened to the museum of Damascus and so many others in the Middle-east. Looting was and still is omnipresent – most unfortunately.

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