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)


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Another look at the exchange of knowledge and goods between East and West

Although China has come closer to us in recent decennia, the country remained isolated for most of its history. What few people realize is that in the wake of Alexander’s expansion beyond the heart of Central Asia an opening was created. After all, in 329 BC he founded the city of Alexandria Eschate (very appropriately being Alexandria the Furthest), the later Khojend in modern Tajikistan.

Yet, even Alexander and his successors were not the first to penetrate into China or Seres as Strabo calls the country. A few years ago, I learned about prehistoric mummies that were found in the Desert of Taklamakan. These were blond-reddish haired people and their clothing included tartans, a clear hint to western European origins. This discovery seems to have remained a fact on its own, as I found no hint to link this migration corridor to historians on which Alexander could have relied, but altogether might have known? As so often, it is not because this fact has not been documented that it did not exist. It sounds rather logic that if people were able to move as far east in prehistoric times, to even doubt about Alexander’s knowledge of this route and destination.

Anyway, putting my thoughts about these western European people on the side, the Greeks in Central Asia were there to stay for the next three centuries following Alexander’s conquest. Seleucos established his empire in that area, which later on was taken over by the Greco-Bactrian kings who steadily expanded further eastwards. The leader in this expansion certainly was Euthydemus I (230-200 BC), who even went beyond Alexandria Eschate. He may have gone as far as Kashgar in the region of Xinjiang, as reported by Strabo.

Around 130 BC, it is known that embassies of the Han Dynasty went to Central Asia as the Chinese emperor Wudi was interested in the sophisticated civilizations of Ferghana, Bactria and Parthia. Numerous embassies left every year to these countries and it has been documented that more than ten such missions were dispatched every year to Parthia, Seleucid Syria, Chaldea and north-western India.

Ensuing contacts followed when the wealthy Romans became interested in the precious silk that was supplied through the Parthians as early as the first century BC, causing a serious outflow of gold. The Roman historian Florus is one of the few to mention the numerous Chinese envoys who visited Augustus (reigned from 27 BC to 14 AD). The expensive land route, by now appropriately known as the Silk Road, was soon to be supplanted by a prosperous maritime route through China controlled ports in Vietnam, India and Sri Lanka on one end, and Roman controlled countries like Egypt and the Nabataean territories.

Much of this period of history was well documented in China, like, for instance, that of a Roman delegation arriving in China by this maritime route in 166 AD but fewer testimonies have survived in our part of the world, and consequently much of this Silk Road sank into oblivion till it was revived by the tales of Marco Polo.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The huge Temple of Hadrian at Cyzicus

Cyzicus was conquered by Alexander and he is said to be responsible for connecting the island to the mainland. One of the main buildings for which the city is known is the huge amphitheater with a diameter of 150 meters built by the Romans in the third century BC. It was intersected by a stream, making it particularly fit for naval battles – the only one of its kind in Turkey that has survived until 1444 when thirty-one of its immense columns were still in place.

Recent excavations are centered around the huge temple built by Hadrian, which is 161 meters long! It ranges among the largest temples in Anatolia, but repeated earthquakes have damaged the building considerably. At present, archaeologists try to determine the full measurements of the temple and the remains of its superstructure. Over the centuries, unfortunately, the marble of the temple has been fueling many lime kilns and during the Middle-Ages the area was used as a cemetery.

So far, however, many of the temple’s construction elements have been recovered, like marble roof tiles of 105x85 cm, marble gutters with lion heads, columns of 2.25 meters high, the head of an unspecified king, a large Roman capital measuring 1.9 meters in diameter, 2.5 meters high and weighing some 20 tons, and more. Nearby a tomb with inscriptions has been uncovered containing the remains of 10 people among their grave gifts, as well as two lime kilns.

This all sounds very promising and I am looking forward to the results of the latest excavations!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Transition between two great rulers, Chandragupta and Asoka

Chandragupta’s death did not mean the end of the Mauryan Empire, which was to flourish for another four centuries. The most famous ruler was to be his grandson, Asoka, but we cannot ignore the binding role played by his son Bindusara.

[Maurya Empire at its maximum extent]

Bindusara came to the throne in 297 BC, and this was six years after the death of Seleucos but the friendly relations between the Seleucid empire and the Mauryan empire were not interrupted. In 280 BC, Seleucos had been replaced by his son Antiochus while Megasthenes, his ambassador at the Mauryan court was replaced by Deimachos. Unfortunately, very few of the new envoy’s records have survived.

There are some speculations that Bindusara’s mother might have been Greek or even Macedonian based on the fact that his father had made a marriage alliance with Seleucos. Yet there is no hard proof for this theory.

There is, however, an interesting anecdote worth to be mentioned about the relation between Bindusara and Antiochus, whether it is true or not. Nothing being sweeter than figs, Bindusara apparently begged Antiochus to send him some figs and while he was at it, some raisin wine as well; he added that he would like him to buy and send him a professor. The irony of the situation cannot have escaped Antiochus who sent him the figs and the wine, but told Bindusara that he could not oblige him with his last wish since it was unlawful for Greeks to sell a professor.

Otherwise, nothing much has been recorded about the reign of Bindusara but he seems to have walked in his father’s footsteps and worked on consolidating his empire rather than expanding India further. It also transpires that Chanakya, the famous and highly competent minister of Chandragupta continued to serve his son with the same dedication.

It is certain, however, that Bindusara maintained the peace during his 25 years of kingship and managed to keep the empire together for his son, Asoka. He died in 272 BC at the age of 48.

All these events, it should be said, evolved at a time when the wars of succession for Alexander’s Empire finally settled down.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Battle of Eurymedon

The Battle of Eurymedon is quite a revelation for I never heard of it before. I drove along this river on my way from Aspendos to Selge not knowing that an important fight had taken place here about one hundred years before Alexander marched through this area (see: Selge welcomed Alexander).

After all, my lack of knowledge or information may not be so surprising as this battle occurred near the end of the existence of the Delian League, an alliance of various Greek poleis that took shape shortly after the Persian invasion of 480-479 BC and ended at the same time the Peloponnesian War did in 404 BC and which was mainly fought between Athens and Sparta.

The Delian League obviously takes its name from the island of Delos, where the league’s treasury was kept and where the members met on regular set occasions. It is common knowledge that this league was created to take revenge for the Persian invasion of Greece, but it also aimed at liberating all the Greeks under Persian domination and at guaranteeing the freedom of the Greek cities.

Towards the end of the Delian League, the Athenian statesman Cimon, son of Miltiades who had been victorious at Marathon, was instrumental in creating Athens’ powerful maritime empire. He was the hero of his time after fighting at the Battle of Salamis. From there, it was a small step to be promoted admiral and to lead the fleet of the Delian League with 300 triremes of which 200 were Athenian. This was in 466 BC when he set out along the Carian and Lycian coasts to expel the Persian garrisons and to bring those liberated cities into the league. In this phase, he seems a precursor of Alexander

After having taken Phaselis, he set sail for the Eurymedon River, today’s Köprülü River, to annihilate the 200 ships strong Phoenician fleet that had occupied the river together with a number of reinforcements from Cyprus. This was Cimon’s most famous battle and his victory here proved to be definitive. 

It would have been nice to know where exactly this battle took place, although the mouth of the river near Aspendos sounds favorite.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Perge’s Western Street reveals more statues

Each time I visit the Archaeological Museum of Antalya, there is something new to be seen. The Museum is expanding continually and just recently an entirely new section centered around the Western Street of Perge has been added.

The wealth of Perge seems to be endless and the latest discovery of a more than life-size statue of Emperor Caracalla has made the headlines. Caracalla, whose full name was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, seems to have been very fond of Perge and his 2.2 meters high statue is the largest ever found. It stood at the junction of the Western Street and the Northern Bath to enhance the so-called Caracalla Fountain. The emperor only misses his right hand that is supposed to have held an unknown object above his head. He still wears the insignia of the eagle and the Medusa head; his head was crowned with a Corona Civica, a series of oak leaves woven into a crown.

Other finds include statues of Aphrodite, Tyche, Nemesis, Asclepius, Helios and Selene, beside those of a snake, a horse, a man and a woman.

Excavations at Perge have been ongoing for the past 70 years now and it is quite amazing that the flow of discoveries is still so enticing. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Alexander in hot pursuit of Darius

Talking or writing about Alexander is generally centered on his major battles with a few rare exceptions for his generalship. What keeps fascinating me, however, are all in-between stories that link his major achievements. At times, it feels like reading between the lines while in fact, no moment of his life was ever dull or uneventful.

One of such less-known but extremely exciting period in Alexander’s life is his chase after Darius. Fleeing from the Battle of Gaugamela, the Persian King had elected residence at Ecbatana, the Achaemenid summer capital. When Alexander was at about three days march from that city he learned that Darius had left five days before heading for Bactria, taking with him the available treasure of 7,000 talents and a force of 6,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry. Before  starting his merciless pursuit, Alexander had to settle a few pressing matters like dismissing the Greek allied contingent and the Thessalian cavalry that had finished playing its role in the League War and instructing Parmenion to transfer the treasuries from Persepolis and Pasargadae to Ecbatana.

Once that was taken care of, Alexander elected his Companions and the mercenary Cavalry, as well as the advanced scouts, the Macedonian heavy infantry, the archers and the Agrianes to accompany him on this manhunt. Yet his advance was so rapid that many of them dropped out as they were unable to keep up the high pace; many horses were also worked to death which makes me wonder about the number of horses he took as spare. But everything and everybody had to yield to Alexander’s determination and he reached Rhagae in eleven days, a distance of some 390 km if he took the shortest route via Qazvin.

On the way, Alexander met many of Darius’ soldiers who had deserted and either returned to their homes or surrendered to him. Darius had passed Rhagae a while ago and since Alexander could not catch up with him at this stage, he gave his troops a five day’s rest. I don’t know much about horses but I am aware that they cannot gallop for an entire day and also that they need a rest after about four days of continuous riding. The break evidently was not a luxury stop but a mere requirement if he wanted to continue.

From Rhagae (modern Rey) it would have taken Alexander a full day to reach the (South) Caspian Gates according to Arrian, but Donald Engels (see: Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army) says that he stopped short of the gates proper. He is certain that Alexander chose for Airan Kief (modern Eyvanekey), some 13 km before the gates because the nearby village of Aradan provided the only source of fresh water for his men and horses. His light infantry must have marched all night long till noon next day, taking advantage of the long daylight hours of summer. At Aradan, Alexander met two important Persian leaders who had deserted their king. They reported that Darius had been seized and arrested by his own commander of cavalry Nabarzanes, supported by Bessus, satrap of Bactria, and Barsaentes, satrap of Arachosia and Drangiana. The news rekindled Alexander’s resolution and he was on the march again, this time only escorted by his Companions, the advanced scouts and a picked body of his toughest infantry. The remaining part of the army was put under Craterus’ command and was to follow on at their own pace. Alexander traveled extremely light; his men only carried their weapons and rations for two days.

They marched all through the night till noon the next day when they took a brief rest. Soon, they all mounted again for a second all-night march and at first daylight they reached the camp mentioned by one of the defectors Alexander had met a few days earlier. The place, probably southwest of Samnan was deserted, the enemy had moved on. The locals confirmed the defector’s story. They also mentioned that Darius had been put in a covered wagon and that Bessus, since he was related to Darius, had proclaimed himself to be the new king.

Without any further delay, Alexander threw himself again in this hot pursuit. His men and their horses were very much exhausted by the demanding marches, but Alexander drove them on none the less. I wonder how many times he and his men had to change horses to keep up this high pace. After yet another night and morning march, they reached a village where Darius and his capturers had stayed the previous day. His advanced intelligence informed Alexander that there was a shortcut which unlike the main road from Samnan to Ahuvan avoided the mountain pass; it ran however through uninhabited territory and was totally lacking water. This was not going to stop Alexander, of course, and he ordered the locals to guide him through the stretch of desert.

Being aware that his pace was beyond that of his infantry, Alexander decided to dismount some 500 cavalrymen and replaced them with the toughest and fittest officers of his infantry and other units. They were to keep their own arms and equipment. The remainder of his troops was to follow the road Bessus and his followers had taken.

Alexander set off at dusk, riding through the desert at raging speed covering some 68 km overnight and finally caught up with the Persians near Damghan at dawn. Most were straggling along on unarmed and fled as soon as they saw that Alexander in person was on their tail, a few attempted to fight but soon gave up since any resistance was useless. Bessus and his friends were not inclined to abandon Darius so quickly, but when Alexander was nearly on top of them Nabarzanes and Barsaentes struck him down without any reverence and made their escape. Darius died shortly afterwards.

This is the pursuit based mainly on Arrian as Curtius spent more ink describing the corruption and conniving at Darius’ court. Curtius also provides more details about the murder of Darius and how the wagon with his body was found off the main road. A Macedonian, driven by thirst stopped at the nearby river where he found the wagon with the wounded horses still harnessed. Wondering why the animals had been stabbed he came closer and heard the groans of a dying man who turned out to be the King of Persia. It remains uncertain whether Alexander found him still alive or not. In any case, he is said to have shed many tears, taking off his own cloak to cover the body of Darius and ordering it to be taken to Persepolis for a proper burial. 

The Macedonians had covered almost 350 km in six days over difficult desert terrain, meaning that they rode at an average speed of 53 km a day in hot mid-summer temperatures through a country that was largely desert. Much of the riding was done at night and the horses could easily trip over loose rocks and step into unavoidable pits, for how much visibility was there if any? How alert were the riders still after a night and a morning on their unsaddled horses? And look at that last 68-km-run to Damghan which was covered between dusk and dawn! I wonder whether such achievements were ever repeated in history.

It is quite striking to discover that when following Alexander’s pursuit on the modern map of Iran his route coincides entirely with the modern road linking Tehran to Damghan which runs in the shadow of the Elbruz Mountains along the very edge of the Great Salt Desert or Dasht-i-Kavir. Yet this is also the layout of the ancient Persian Military road and would explain, at least in part, why Alexander was able to move at such a high speed. Unfortunately, the caravanserai that must have dotted this route every 40 km or so cannot have been of great help for him and his men as I doubt they would have the hundreds of spare horses that were needed. This route was later known as being part of the Silk Road.

Alexander definitely wrote history here, nothing short of any of his celebrated battles or other exploits. This is, however, one of the details often overlooked by historians or by the general Alexander public.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Setting a Symposium in motion

Modern technology enables to create a great many things we otherwise only could dream of. One of such a little marvel is bringing a Greek drinking party or symposium to life.

The idea was developed by the University of Oxford Faculty of Classics using a drinking cup from the Ashmolean Museum. The cup shows a Gorgon in its center, representing Medusa who could turn people into stone just by looking at them. This is where the animation starts and soon all the participants of the symposium depicted around her start moving but only when the Gorgon closes her eyes; they all stop as soon as she awakens.

In my earlier blog about Plato’s Symposium, I highlighted the main event of such a meeting based on Plato’s report, but evidently there is much more to it.

There is, for instance, the competitive aspect of Greek life which is also present in their symposia. It is about who tells the best jokes or the best stories, who was best at playing games or debating or even who was best at hitting the target by flinging the bottom content of his wine cup. Competition to draw the attention of a potential (male) lover was another favorite subject. This Greek competitiveness could easily turn into merciless rivalry. In the end, symposia were far more than a simple pastime.

The entire story of this drinking cup can further be “read” in the details given at the Panoply Vase Animation Project.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Alexander marching beyond the Hydaspes

After the Battle of the Hydaspes, Alexander made the customary offerings and sacrifices to thank the gods. The dead were given the usual burial ceremony with all the splendor and pomp that this occasion required. The king organized games and competitions and in order to crown his victory, he built two new cities. Nicaea (Alexandria Nicaea), named after Nike, the goddess of Victory emerged on the battlefield itself while Bucephala (Alexandria Bucephala) was erected at the point where he started the river crossing and was meant to honor his faithful charger that died at this time (most probably not on the battlefield but rather of old age).

Once this was taken care of, he instructed Craterus to supervise the fortification of the newly founded settlements and to maintain his communication line. Alexander pursued his march further east and took 37 towns, the smallest of which had more than 5,000 inhabitants according to Arrian, some were even double that size. A multitude of well-populated villages surrendered as well and all these settlements were handed over to Porus.

Alexander then headed for the Acesines River, which was nearly 3,000 meters wide at the point where he chose to cross it. It has been speculated that he deliberately opted for the widest point to take advantage of the slower current. Once gain, he used boats and floats which had to maneuver around large jagged rocks in the fast-flowing water. The floats managed pretty well but a number of boats hit the rocks and fell apart, drowning many men in the process. Here he left Coenus to supervise the remainder of the troops that followed with the grain and other supplies taken from the just conquered territories. Porus was sent back to his realm with instructions to collect more men and elephants and join up with Alexander further down the road.

Then, there was the other Porus, generally known as the bad-Porus, a nephew of King Porus. He ruled over Gandaris, the lands between the Acesines River (modern Chenab) and the Hydraotes River (modern Ravi). He had sent Alexander repeated offers to surrender simply because he hated his uncle, but when his namesake was granted with many new territories by Alexander, he fled his country taking with him as many fighting men as he possibly could. It seems this bad Porus fled to the east beyond the Hydraotes River and Alexander followed on his tail. This meant that he had to cross this major river as well. It was swollen by the melting snows from the Himalayas and was as wide as the Acesines but not as swift. It is quite amazing how all these river crossings are treated as a matter of course by our historians while each and every one was a challenge in its own right.
Before engaging in the river crossing, Alexander as always made sure to safeguard his rear. This was especially important at this point since he was advancing in enemy territory. Arrian recognizes the significance of these measures and he particularly mentions how Alexander left troops at every strategic point throughout the territory west of the Hydraotes, allowing both Craterus and Coenus to move around with a minimum of risk during their foraging expeditions. At this point, Hephaistion was sent back with Demetrius to catch the renegade Porus and take any independent Indian tribe he might encounter on the way and hand them over to the “good” Porus.

As soon as Alexander landed on the other bank of the Hydraotes most of the Indian tribes surrendered without resistance and those who did not, were, of course, subdued by force. An exception was the stand made at Sangala, but that is another story that deserves to be treated separately. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

What about Orraon in Epirus?

It is always intriguing and encouraging to hear how buildings from the Classical and Hellenistic period have survived the centuries. This time, the news comes from Epirus where four well-preserved such buildings have been discovered in the city of Orraon and for once there is only one public structure as the three others are private houses. Instead of mere foundations, archaeologists have found good parts of these houses still standing – a unique revelation.

Orraon or Horraon, located near modern Ammotopas in north-western Greece, was apparently founded at the end of the 4th century BC during the reign of King Alcetas of Molossia. It was a fortified city occupying a strategic location, guarding the route between the Gulf of Amvrakikos and Ioannina ruled by the Molossians (family of Queen Olympias, Alexander’s mother).

Excavations revealed twelve narrow parallel alleys running north-south crossed by two wider streets forming a rectangular layout. The city counted about one hundred houses built with local limestone, the same as was used for the construction of Orraon’ double city walls that were punctuated with bastions and gates. Some of the houses are very well-preserved, at times up to the upper level where we can still admire the window and door jambs. Beside the houses, a large rectangular cistern was also found near the main gate. This cistern, much unlike usual practices in classical times, had no roof. Since the cistern lies on high ground the water cannot have been supplied by a local spring. As no traces of any kind of aqueduct were found either, the water was probably collected from the heavy rains falling profusely in that area, even in summer. A straight staircase on the northeastern side led down to the bottom of the tank enabling people to draw water from it no matter the height of the water level. It seems that a rather high enclosing wall ran around it to keep pollution out and enabling a controlled access to the precious water.

Orraon was destroyed by the Romans in 167 BC but later rebuilt. In 31 BC, however, the inhabitants were forcibly moved out and settled in Nicopolis, the newly founded city by Augustus after his victory at Actium that same year. This is a sad end for such a strategic and fortified city well-worth a visit!