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 in Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Possible Burial Site of the Attalids at Pergamon

The news sounds very promising! The burial site of the Attalid kings may have been located inside a huge mound next to the ancient city of Pergamon, modern Bergama. The hilltop is known as Yigma Tepe where the first excavations took place two centuries ago and were abandoned.


The mound is impressive enough with its height of 31 meters and diameter of 159 meters and indicates that it was meant to be a monument for a very important person or maybe even persons. This theory is based also on the location, right next to the famous Great Altar and on the western side of the Temple of Athena. So far, it has been dated to the 2nd century BC.

At the start of this excavation season, archaeologists will carry out geophysical surveys and seismic prospecting in order to obtain all possible information about the underlying structure before starting digging.

Pergamon has been for many centuries a grand and well-defended city known for its opulence and its vast number of temples, sanctuaries, and palaces. Its location was so well chosen that even Alexander the Great did not consider attacking it, but marched around it instead in order to isolate the city. After his death, his general Lysimachus and by then King of Thrace chose Philetairos of Pergamon to secure his share of Alexander’s treasury and, as can be expected, this Philetairos used it in 281 BC to found his own kingdom. Twenty years later he left his realm to his nephew Eumenes I who ruled from 263 till 241 BC. After Eumenes, this splendid city fell into the hands of his heir, Attalus I (241-197 BC). The Attalid rulers were allies of Rome, much to the discontent of Philip V and Perseus of Macedonia who both fought over this wealthy territory during the three Macedonian Wars. Thanks to their support for the Seleucids, the Attalids were rewarded with extended possessions in Asia Minor. By 188 BC, the Pergamon Empire had grown considerably and outshone all others, certainly as far as Hellenistic art was concerned. The last Attalid ruler, Attalus III, surrendered Pergamon to the Romans in 133 BC when it became the capital of their Provincia Asia.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Eye witnesses of an earthquake in Antioch-on-the-Orontes

Antioch-on-the-Orontes is known today as Antakya and the earthquake happened 1900 years ago. It made headlines because Hadrian who had been campaigning in Syria had set up his headquarters at Antioch and Emperor Trajan returning from his campaign in Armenia spent the winter in the city as well.

The devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 7.5 hit Antioch in the morning of 13 December 115 AD (although some scholars think it happened in January 115) and nearly erased the city from the map together with Apamea, Daphne and three other towns. The seismic effect was felt as far as Rhodes and triggered a tsunami along the Lebanese coastline.


Antioch-on-the-Orontes had been founded by Seleucos, one of Alexander’s generals and successors, to become one of the Seleucid’s capitals. It was erected at a very strategic location, on the eastern bank of the Orontes River at the end of the caravan route (to become the Silk Road) where merchants from India, Persia and parts of Asia Minor brought their goods in order to exchange them against products from the western Mediterranean. After being conquered by Rome in 64 BC, Antioch was soon converted to Roman standards with the construction of a great colonnaded street, the Via Triumphalis, and appropriate buildings like a theater, an amphitheater, a hippodrome, and a forum. A new aqueduct carried water to the bath complexes and the many fountains and villas. Antioch became a stronghold and truly deserved its title “Queen of the East”.  By 115 AD when the earthquake occurred, it had as many as 500,000 inhabitants, not counting the visitors.

The catastrophic event has been recorded by Cassius Dio who paints a picture of an over-crowded city because Emperor Trajan was overwintering there with his entire retinue. Beside his soldiers, many civilians had been attracted for business or tourism as well, and embassies from abroad took the opportunity to plead their cause with the emperor.

Cassius Dio tells about a sudden great bellowing roar announcing the tremendous quake itself. He speaks of buildings and people being projected into the air. Buildings were tossed around randomly; people were killed by the falling debris and the aftershocks that followed for several days making more victims, while others who were crushed by the falling buildings died with those that were trapped.

Trajan was lucky. He suffered only minor injuries and escaped through a window of the room in which he was staying. Together with other survivors, he lived outdoors in the hippodrome for several days while the city was still rocked by repeated aftershocks. No report has been found about the survival of Hadrian but he apparently made it through. In total 260,000 people seem to have perished and many sections of the city were abandoned.

Trajan soon started to restore Antioch. The aqueduct that had been seriously damaged took serious priority and the emperor either repaired the damaged one or started the construction of a totally new water supply. Eventually, the project was finished by his successor, Hadrian.

To commemorate the rebuilding of the city, Trajan erected a gilded copy of the Tyche in the theater since she was the patron goddess of Antioch, presiding over the city’s prosperity. This bronze statue had been made by Eutychides, a pupil of Lysippos especially for Antioch in the third century BC. One striking copy of this statue has survived and can be seen in the Museum of the Vatican.

After Trajan’s death, on 11 August 117 AD, Hadrian was proclaimed emperor by the army in Antioch. In the footsteps of his predecessor, he continued to repair and improve the city. In September of 117 AD, he finally left for Rome.

Most of the antique city, however, is still buried underneath modern Antakya and it will be interesting to discover more remains of this once so important site.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Alexander Medallion: Exploring the Origins of a Unique Artefact By O. Bopearachchi and F. Holt

Osmund Bopearachchi and Frank Holt have co-written this book “The Alexander Medallion, Exploring the Origins of a Unique Artefact” (ISBN 978-2-95166-796-9).

It treats in detail a golden coin showing us Alexander with the elephant headdress, the horns of Ammon, the Gorgon around his neck and the coiling snakes worn as an aegis, but with an unfamiliar face. With his wide-open eyes, crooked nose and wild curls he reminds us of the picture on the mosaic from Pompeii. For once, his image has not been idealized! It is a rare portrait created during the lifetime of Alexander the Great that survived into modernity. The reverse of the coin shows a cute dancing elephant; this image together with the elephant skin on Alexander’s head connect the coin immediately to his battle against Porus on the Hydaspes in India that took place in 326 BC. This is Alexander as he saw himself - invulnerable, verging on godhood, immortalized in the moment of his triumph.

The medallion was part of a hoard found at Mir Zakah in north-eastern Afghanistan where it had been hidden in a well for more than two thousand years. An estimated 550,000 coins together with hundreds of other objects of silver and gold have been retrieved from this well, the oldest pieces dating back to the 5th century BC and the most recent ones to the 2nd century AD.

The entire context of this hoard and the Alexander Medallion, in particular, is largely complicated by the fact that it was found in a war zone. Located on a vague border between Afghanistan and the northwest of Pakistan where warlords impose and apply laws of their own, nobody really knows what is going on. Any treasure quickly moves from hand to hand and is ushered out of the country to potential buyers in America and Europe. The hoard has been stuffed in sacks of about 50 kg each and found their way to the obscure bazaars of Peshawar where the coins were sold by the sack. A quick examination by Bopearachchi revealed that they were from different origins, Greek city states, Seleucid, Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, Indo-Parthian, and even Kushan.

In their book, both authors examine the authenticity of the medallion and also very effectively attack and eliminate the many critics contesting it. The medallion is, of course, being compared with other existing Alexander coins minted in the wake of his victory over Porus, with and without elephants, made of gold or silver. Bottom line is that both Osmund Bopearachchi and Frank Holt accept the medallion as being authentic and that it was minted during Alexander’s lifetime after his invasion of India in 326 BC. As Holt puts it: Since we cannot prove this is a forgery we can only assume it is genuine.

In the end, some three tons of these valuable coins are stashed in the vaults of a bank in Basle, Switzerland awaiting a multimillionaire buyer in spite of repeated calls (including UNESCO's) to at least allow numismatic scholars to study the content.

This book gives something to think about and only lifts a corner of the veil surrounding illegal artefacts that are bought and sold all over the planet. It sketches an excellent view of this secret world surrounding illegal art-business. It is extremely well written and illustrated with magnificent photographs.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

This season’s excavation project at Soli (near Mersin)

Somehow I have missed the results of last year’s excavations at Soli, which sounded very promising (see: A two-month project to excavate the city of Soli).


It seems that besides the visible columned street, main structures like the harbor, the theater, Roman Baths and aqueducts, as well as the city walls have been unearthed. The necropolis has exposed a large number of human remains among many gifts, including Byzantine seals, plates and bowls. Several statues of famous citizens and Roman Emperors that lined the main street have been uncovered, as well as statues of Asclepion, his daughter Hygeia, Zeus, Demeter, Nemesis and Dionysus.

So far, archaeologists have been able to reconstruct a number of fallen columns along the main street, meaning that there are at present 47 standing there in all their glory.

Part of the finds have been moved to the nearby Museum of Mersin, but I am certain that after this excavation season more artifacts will find their way to its exhibition rooms.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Dinner anyone?

We usually look in awe at the shiny dinner sets made of silver or other precious material, but it is as interesting to see the array of simple tableware that was used by the common people.


One such find came to light at Aigai, near ancient Sardes in Turkey. It was buried in a hollow bedrock, apparently after being used only once for a special ritual some 2,200 years ago.

Aigai belongs to the area of Aeolia on the western coast of Asia Minor, which according to the legend was founded by Agamemnon. The city has been mentioned by Herodotus but had no great power till it fell under the rule of the Attalids of Pergamon in the second century BC when it was entirely rebuilt. After being badly hit by the great earthquake of 17 AD, it luckily recovered and enjoyed more years of prosperity. It seems that Aigai’s layout closely resembles that of Pergamon, which is not surprising based on its historical background.

The dinner set, now exhibited at the Museum of Manisa, includes cooking pots, cups and pitchers, as well as a number of figurines representing gods and goddesses. The artifacts were found inside the Parliament of Aigai, which dates from around 150 BC and archaeologists think that they belonged to certain ceremonies.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

No money for the Greek brothel?

It is quite unbelievable that after discovering a Greek brothel among the ruins of Side, sponsors have pulled out and the excavation works have come to a standstill!


Don’t they want to know the whole truth about Side’s past? How can one possibly ignore the very existence of brothels, then and now, I wonder?

The team of archaeologists hopes to continue their excavations at Side as soon as new funds are made available. 

In the meantime, I wonder if their progress around the grand temples of Apollo, Tyche, Dionysus, and Athena Artemis are being hampered by this lack of funds? (see also: Restoration of the Temple of Apollo at Side)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Battle of Issus, where Alexander and Darius faced each other for the first time

Ever since his victory at the Granicus, Alexander knew that sooner or later he would have to face the bulk of the Persian army again and more importantly, King Darius in person. In Summer 333 BC, when he had successfully crossed the Taurus Mountains, news reached him that Darius had left Babylon with a huge force of combatants. His army was in slow motion, not only because of its size but also because Darius took his entire retinue with him and an elaborate baggage train. His mother, Queen Sisygambis, his wife and sister Stateira, and their three children accompanied him, together with their servants, ladies from the harem, advisers, physicians, soothsayers, eunuchs, cooks and all those that were part of Persian pomp and circumstance. Darius halted in the plain near Sochi, just east of the Amanus Mountains which run parallel to Turkey’s coastline at the point where it makes a right angle turn to the south. Here he put his army in position and waited for Alexander, but Alexander did not show up.

Unknown to Darius, Alexander was delayed at Tarsus, struck with fever and incapable of moving for several weeks. After he recovered, he set out to clean up the hill tribes of Cilicia and spent time celebrating his victory over Halicarnassus where he had left Ptolemy the year before to finish the siege. It was October by the time Alexander marched to Magarsus the most southerly point between the Seyhan and the Ceyhan Rivers, near modern Karataş, which served as the port for Mallus (possibly near today’s Kızıltahta). It was here that he heard the news that Darius had taken position on the other side of the Amanus Mountains.

The situation now was serious and called for immediate action. Alexander set his army in motion to meet his Persian enemy for this was the battle he had waited for all his life.

Darius’ choice for the location was excellent, but whether he listened to ill-advice from his entourage or became impatient when Alexander did not show up, he decided to move his army in order to confront Alexander. He sent most of his treasury and luxurious paraphernalia of his baggage train to Damascus for safety together with the gear and womenfolk of his officers. Darius’ own mother, wife, and children stayed with him as he started moving north along the eastern flanks of the mountains, which he crossed at the Amanus Pass or Amanian Gate. Alexander meanwhile had moved south along the coast and occupied Issus. By a strange combination of circumstances both armies passed each other unknowingly in the opposite direction and on the opposite side of the mountain range. Alexander had already crossed the pass called the Pillars of Jonah south of Issus when he was informed that Darius was in his back, dangerously threatening his line of supply. Darius had indeed reached Alexander’s baggage train at Issus where the king had left the sick and those unfit for service. It were the mutilated survivors who brought the bad news to Alexander. Yet, he still could not believe the report and ordered some of his companions to ascertain the situation and sail back to Issus. Soon enough they returned to confirm that the Persian army had set up camp along the Pinarus River (modern Payas River), south of Issus.

It is hard to estimate the size of Darius’ army as figures cannot be trusted and differ widely from one source to the other. Some say that the Persians had twice as many soldiers as Alexander – could well be. Whatever the truth, we can be certain that the Persians outnumbered the Macedonians but on the narrow flat between the mountains and the sea this did not really play to their advantage. Darius had set up his forces along the opposite bank of the river, occupying the entire width between the Amanus Mountains and the sea. At his center Darius had posted his Greek mercenaries, to his right on the seaside he placed his cavalry since that flat terrain was most suitable for horses, and at his left, he positioned a smaller detachment of cavalry preceded by slingers and javelin-throwers.

As soon as the news reached Alexander, he immediately jumped into action. First, his men should take a rest and eat. At the same time, he sent a small party to hold the Pillars of Jonah over which he would have to retrace his steps. By nightfall, the signal was given to start the march and when the Macedonians reached the pass around midnight, they were allowed another rest. At first daylight, they resumed their march. At its narrowest part the pass only allowed four men or two horses to pass abreast, but Alexander had his plan all worked out. First to cross the defile were the infantry and as soon as they emerged from the pass and reached more open terrain he instructed them to gradually extend their front line but to keep it coherent at all times. As they reached more open ground, he put every detachment in place between the hills on his right and the sea on his left. The cavalry was last to come across and in a first stage, Alexander split them up between his far left and far right flank. All through the operation, he kept riding back and forth among his troops, speaking encouraging words, holding them back here and moving them closer together there. Both Arrian and Curtius spend many lines describing Alexander’s speeches and personal addresses to his commanders and even to individuals of lower ranks, making sure to touch every man’s pride and to get their mind ready for the battle to come.

The confrontation took place on either the 5th or the 6th of November when daylight is very short. So even with an early start, it would have taken Alexander most of the day to cross the pass. By late afternoon, his army arrived at the Pinarus, ready to fight. What a march this had been! Still, Alexander was in no hurry – the Persians were not going anywhere – and Arrian even says that at times his advance was slow and deliberate, “giving the impression that time was on his side”. He must have tantalized Darius’ nerves! What a masterly control of the situation!

It transpires that Alexander’s approach was a cool-blooded one, taking his time to spread out and to position his troops to face the enemy. He kept on moving forward in line and at a deliberate pace. His Macedonian phalanx at the center was placed opposite the Greek mercenaries in Persian service. Parmenion was in overall command of the left flank at the head of the Greek Allied Cavalry and had to face the heavy Persian cavalry which vastly outnumbered his own forces. He had received clear instructions to keep as close as possible to the waterfront in order to oppose an enemy move that could outflank him. Craterus at the head of his infantry was to stay in touch with him, as were all the other battalions further down the line towards Alexander who occupied the right flank with his Cavalry Companions, as usual. On the bluffs above Alexander were two detachments of Persian light infantry. These Alexander attacked first sending two companies to clear that outcrop that endangered his right back. The enemy didn’t put up much resistance and fled, leaving Alexander with one worry less. Behind the central phalanx, Alexander kept his own mercenary troops on standby, just as Darius had a line of infantry reserves in the back of his attacking line.

Through all these maneuvers, Alexander kept a close eye on his opponent across the river. He noticed that Darius moved his cavalry away from the hills where, because of the broken terrain, they were not of much use. They were instead sent to reinforce his attack on the Macedonian left at the seaside. Till then, Alexander had kept his Thessalian Cavalry with him, but noticing the Persian move, he sent them with all speed to support Parmenion with clear instructions to conceal their move while passing behind the massed Macedonian infantry.

It is not easy to reconcile the accounts of this battle as told by the ancient historians, but it seems that Darius had a sound plan by making the most of his cavalry in the hope to encircle Alexander’s forces and pin him down against the mountains. It makes you wonder whether Alexander had considered this possibility or predicted this to happen, yet the fact remains that his Thessalian cavalry arrived in time to take the Persians by surprise and to charge their cavalry back across the river. It was a fierce fight, and a bloody one beside that, but in the end, it proved that Alexander outmaneuvered Darius.

While the action on his left flank was unfolding, Alexander facing the weak Persian left rushed forward to attack. Arrian tells us that he charged “on the double” across the river but, contrary to the general assumption, this does not mean that he was riding his horse but rather leading his hypaspists across (a matter of translation, I am told). Anyone who stood upriver as I did a few years ago will notice the broken terrain which does not allow a cavalry charge anyway. It is indeed more likely that Alexander sent a detachment of his light cavalry supported by light infantry to hold the enemy at bay while he and his Companions forded the river and were able to form up in their wedge formation. With these elite troops Alexander charged the small Persian forces that opposed him and eliminated them. 

Alexander now reached the crucial point of his plan: with the support of his Companions he turned left straight into the Persian center where Darius stood. This is the same maneuver he used at Granicus a year earlier and that he will repeat at Gaugamela and on the Hydaspes!.

The Macedonian center was slower to move across the river, which although rather narrow at their position was very steep, with banks reaching up to 2-4 meter, not the ideal terrain to attack while keeping in formation. The phalanx was pinned down for a while and a gap opened between them and Alexander’s cavalry, exposing their vulnerable side where the Persian attackers were out of reach of the sarissai. Yet by chance or thanks to his exceptional good timing Alexander’s flanking move to the left coincided perfectly with the arrival of his hypaspists under Nicanor and the heavy infantry under Perdiccas and Coenus. As soon as these formations were on the Persian side of the river, Alexander’s remaining elite infantry followed suit and the Greek mercenaries fighting for the Persian king and the rest of the Persian contingents were squeezed in the two-pronged penetration Alexander had thus created between him and Parmenion’s cavalry at the other end of this line. The bloodiest fights may have occurred right here where you had to kill or at least incapacitate the man in front of you to get to the next. Every soldier, it seems was aiming at the Persian King, who in turn was fiercely defended by his own generals.

It is estimated that the battle took no more than an hour, one hour and a half max. It is certain that the shock of the Macedonian joint attack from across the Pinarus was too much for the Persians, who quickly started to retreat. But the retreat was severely hampered by the second line of light-armed soldiers positioned behind the turning Persians, who unaware of what was happening up front, were pushing forward to the battle scene. One can only imagine the onslaught and chaos that occurred when these two forces collided with the Macedonians pushing the fleeing troops in front of them. This is where most of the Persians were killed.

Some sources claim that Darius fled right from the onset of the fight, but it is more probable that he started fleeing only after his wounded and frightened horses began to panic with the piles of corpses piling up around them. The description of a fleeing Darius, leaving behind his chariot as well as his mantle and his weapons is the picture on the well-known mosaic found at the House of the Faun in Pompeii. As soon as the entire Persian army was routed, Alexander set in his pursuit but was cut short when darkness fell.

Had he captured Darius, Alexander would have conquered Persia there and then and the war would have been over. History would have taken a completely different turn, but as the situation was now, another battle was inevitable. Unknown to either king, this was going to be fought on the plains of Gaugamela two years later.

[Click here for more pictures of Issus and the battlefield along the Pinarus River]

Friday, July 29, 2016

Hidden treasures in northern Pakistan

It is beyond doubt that Alexander marched through northern Pakistan after crossing the Hindu Kush to India. His exact route has not been established mainly because little or no excavations have been undertaken in that part of the country. From time to time, however, some spectacular and less spectacular finds trickle to the outside world, like the enormous hoard of coins retrieved from a well at Mir Zakah (see: Alexander’s real face).

At Barikot in Pakistan, ancient Bazira, archaeologists recently discovered a large amount of weapons and coins from the Indo-Greek period (2nd century BC to 1st century AD), as well as earthenware that had been imported from Greek Bactria and even from as far away as the Mediterranean at some time during the 2nd century BC.


It is evidently not a direct legacy of Alexander’s passage, but the successive layers of occupation of Bazira could clearly be identified. Beneath the Indo-Greek remains that included a defensive wall from the 2nd century BC, archaeologists exposed the Mauryan settlement from the 3rd century BC. Outside the defense wall, they found remains from the Gandhara culture going back to the 8th and 7th century BC. These excavations confirmed that all the pre-Greek layers have been purposely destroyed in order to build the defensive wall and a fortress that could be Greek. Only one tenth of the fort has been excavated so far and the work will take at least another thirty years or so to be completed.

During these operations, a large late Kushan temple from the 3rd century AD has also been located at the northern end of the site. It is a little surprising to hear about this Buddhist temple considering that today’s inhabitants are either Muslim or share the Kalash belief of multiple gods.

The Swat Valley is still shrouded in mystery and the most recent excavations reveal that several towns were built one on top of previous settlements. Archaeologists are hoping to gather more information about the origin of the mysterious Kalash people. The most recent studies seem to indicate that their forefathers came from Europe and it remains to been proven whether these people arrived in the wake of Alexander the Great or were traders passing through the Swat Valley.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Royal Palace of Vergina to reopen soon

This is great news! After many years of (re)excavation the Royal Palace of Aegae will soon be open to the public again.


This complex will finally occupy the place it truly deserves since after the Parthenon in Athens this is the biggest building in classical Greece. It was built by nobody less than Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, meaning that as a young prince Alexander must have walked through these many rooms and corridors.

In its days, it was a unique construction and quite innovatory. It was probably built by Pytheos who also contributed to the construction of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and to the development of urban planning, all leading to the full blossoming in Hellenistic times. The architectural conception of this palace is quite ingenious and unique. The large central square peristyle that was accessed through an impressive propylon was surrounded by porticos shading the underlying rooms. All these elements were totally unconventional at that time.

The palace floors were covered with marble inlays and elegant mosaics now exhibited at the nearby Museum of Vergina. Many luxurious materials like bronze and rare pigments were used all over the premises. Philip clearly wanted to make a statement and did so lavishly. 

More news comes from the Museum of Vergina that has now expanded its premises with the construction of a separate auditorium. This building will be used for different purposes ranging from the services and activities related to the museum itself to educational programs and all kinds of events.