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 OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 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)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Bridge of Amphipolis used by Alexander

Amphipolis lies on the Strymon River, which Alexander crossed in 334 BC when he set out from Pella towards Asia. When history books mention a river crossing, I automatically picture the army wading through the water unless a bridge of some kind is specifically mentioned. This is not the case at Amphipolis as far as I know so it comes as a surprise to learn that the remains of an ancient bridge were found there in 1977.

Successive repairs and maintenance works of the bridge have been documented during the Roman and Byzantine occupation and the last of such a report dates from the Ottoman period around 1620. A Byzantine extension of the bridge and the construction of a dam survived amazingly till 1929-1932 when works were carried out to shift the bed of the Strymon River. This means that it existed in one form or another for nearly two thousand five hundred years!

[Picture from Ancient History]

The remains we can witness today are mainly petrified wooden piles that supported the bridge on the south bank but there are also some stone masonry and marble blocks around the south abutment of the bridge that led to one of the city gates. The piles are between 1.5 and 2 meter high with a diameter varying between 70 and 290 mm. A timber deck composed of horizontal beams -  the longest one measures 4.5 meters - covered the bridge that was 13-meters wide and 275 meters long.

History mentions this bridge for the first time during the Peloponnesian War in 422 BC when Amphipolis played a key role in controlling the access to the gold and silver mines in the hinterland, as well as to the oak forests used in shipbuilding. On the other hand, carbon dating has revealed that the first bridge was constructed at some time between 600 and 550 BC.

More details about the bridge and its historical background can be found in this article by Spyros Kamilalis that was published in Ancient History.

Friday, November 17, 2017

More traces leading to the origins of winemaking

After discussing the origins of Greek wines (see: Greek wine, not so Greek after all), connoisseurs are now concentrating on the origin of Italian wine. After all, the Mediterranean is a relatively small pond crossed by countless trade routes from early times onwards.

Until now, it was generally believed that the production of wine in Italy went back to the Bronze Age (1300-1100 BC) but the recent discovery of ancient pottery indicates that the process was known as early as 4000 BC, i.e. the Copper Age.

A team of archaeologists working at Monte Kronio in Agrigento on the southwest coast of Sicily found remains of wineries, seeds and ancient storage jars. After analyzing the residue inside the jars, they discovered traces of tartaric acid that occur naturally in the winemaking process. This led them to conclude that wine was produced here more than 6000 years ago.

The analysis of the residue is generally impossible because the ancient pottery has to be excavated intact which was the case here. The next step will be to determine whether the wine was red or white – while I automatically assumed (erroneously?) that ancient wine always was red.

An earlier find near Philippi in Greece (see: News about Greek (Macedonian) wine), dated the earliest winemaking to 4200 BC. This once again proves – if proof needed – that trading around the Mediterranean Sea was extremely dense and lively.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

About the Death of Alexander the Great

Alexander’s death is shrouded in mystery. From antiquity until today, scores of historians, admirers, archaeologists, authors and philosophers have written about it and each and every one has developed his own theory and his own point of view.

It is useless to retell the story – or the many versions of the story – as I certainly cannot add anything sensible to that. Like everybody else, I have, however, my own thoughts and own reflections on the matter.

Alexander’s death most certainly was first recorded in his Royal Diaries, but is the account that reached us truly reflecting what was written down at that time or has the original report been manipulated to suit his courtiers and successors? That is hard to tell, certainly 2,500 years onwards.

We have a very detailed, day-by-day account of  Alexander’s whereabouts and health during the last days of his life. I find this rather strange as it sounds more like a justification than an actual report of the events. Alexander’s life has been in the balance before but not so many details were reported or at least have not survived. The first time the troops feared for the king’s life was at Tarsus after he plunged into the cold waters of the Cydnus River and the remedy of his doctor Philip was being questioned by Parmenion, in those days his trusted general. We have no day-to-day account of Alexander’s condition at that time although it must have been quite critical none the less as it kept him pinned down for several weeks.

Another life-threatening experience was during his attack on the Malian town in India when Alexander was hit by a poisonous arrow while scaling the city wall. The soldiers had been slow to follow their king, exposing him to the full force of the enemy’s attack. Alexander had to be carried away and for three days he fought between life and death. At the cost of enormous superhuman efforts, he eventually showed himself to his troops and even hoisted his battered body on top of a horse to prove them he was still alive. No day-to-day account of his eating and drinking pattern has been recorded, and none of the worries and treatments by his doctor have been documented. All we know is that he floated down the Indus in full view of his men. He needed much rest to help the healing process but the march to the mouth of the Indus went on as planned.

So, why this detailed list of activities in Babylon? If Alexander had been straightforwardly sick, there was no need to document his eating, drinking, or sleeping pattern during the days preceding his death.

The question that arises more often than not is, was Alexander poisoned? Attempts to take his life had occurred before. The first one mentioned in our sources is Philotas attempt to at least cover up the plot to kill Alexander in 330 BC. In Central Asia, the king survived the Pages’ conspiracy said to be planned by Callisthenes. There may have been more attempts to take his life that are not necessarily recorded and the next occasion may well have arisen here in Babylon.

If Alexander was indeed poisoned, which I doubt, then Hephaistion would have died of poisoning also. Had his dear friend still been alive, the murderer(s) would have had less chance and could expect the full wrath of Hephaistion. He not only was the most intimate and dearest friend of Alexander, but also the second-in-command, the only one ever to be promoted to the title Chiliarch and as such the obvious person to replace and take over from Alexander. Many people must have envied his privileged position.

With Hephaistion no longer in the way, the main question is, however, who would or could benefit from eliminating the king? It is not only about killing Alexander, it is also about providing a good and approved replacement. So, who would be eligible? Not Ptolemy since he withdrew soon enough to his beloved Egypt and didn’t interfere much in the matter of succession. Not Nearchus, who was happy to keep his admiralship of the navy. Not Peucestas who made the effort to learn the Persian language and must have been quite happy in his role as satrap. Not Seleucos, who had married the daughter of Spitamenes – the only marriage that survived the big Susa wedding. Not Eumenes who had faithfully served both King Philip and Alexander for years as secretary and archivist. Not Craterus who was halfway to Macedonia with strict orders to replace Antipater. Antipater has been named as possible beneficiary as he sent his son Cassander to Babylon in his place carrying a very potent poison according to some sources. If so, the poison was not very potent since it took Alexander almost ten days to die. Besides, Antipater did not hold Cassander in high esteem for he did not allow him to recline with his guests during the Symposia but had to sit like a little boy on a chair at the end of his father’s couch. When Antipater died, Polyperchon was appointed as his successor and not his own flesh and blood. That tells enough. Perdiccas may be a suspect as, after all, he helped Roxane to poison Alexander’s Persian wives after the king’s death, but that may be simply because he was still a Macedonian in heart and soul. Besides, in my honest opinion, I think he was far too loyal to Alexander to harm him in any way.

Cassander, however, may have acted on his own, ceasing the opportunity of being delegated to Babylon. Not impossible. Although he had shared the early years at Mieza with Alexander and his Companions, he stayed behind when Alexander went east probably as persona non grata. He must have resented this denial. Fueled by his father’s attitude, he developed a deep grudge against Alexander and his clique. Life at the Babylonian court was totally alien to Cassander and he cannot have operated without inside help, possibly that of his younger brother Iollas who was one of the king’s Pages. All this is based on speculations, although eight years later Olympias accuses Cassander of murdering her son – perhaps not entirely unfounded.

At the time of Alexander’s death, all Alexander’s Bodyguards and other powerful men like Aristonous, Leonnatus, Lysimachus, Meleager, Pytho, Stasanor, Asander, Olcias, Philip the physician and Peithon were present in Babylon, but none of them really stood out to replace Alexander. If we follow Pseudo-Callisthenes, only Ptolemy, Perdiccas, Peucestas, Lysimachus, Asander and Olcias are beyond suspicion. Whatever the plan, either it was ill-conceived or whoever was supposed to gain from it was facing unexpected opposition from the other contenders. After all, the Succession War lasted for almost forty years and even the rising star of Antigonus-the-One-Eyed only made waves many years later.

If Alexander had indeed been killed with poison without involving his Bodyguards and his other faithful generals (I cannot imagine they were not), then why don’t we hear anything about an investigation to find the culprit? This was certainly the case when Philotas’ plot was discovered and also after the conspiracy of the Pages. These were, of course, led or instigated by Alexander but in his absence, the army certainly expected that much from their commanders and there was no way anyone could avoid the Macedonian legal machine.

Another possible cause of Alexander’s death could be his excessive drinking which would immediately make any investigation superfluous. The heavy drinking is at least what the Royal Diaries in all their elaborate details want us to believe, although some twenty-five years after the facts Aristobulos casually remarks that Alexander sat for hours over his wine for the sake of conversation. The drinking theory, however, has been widely developed in the Alexander Romance. On one such occasion, Alexander is spending a drinking night with twenty other guests, toasting to their health in turn with unmixed wine creating the ideal circumstances for the poisoning theory. But as we know, the Alexander Romance is to be taken with a large pinch of salt, maybe a shovel full.

Less often highlighted but very real are the prophecies made by the Chaldean diviners who advised Alexander not to enter Babylon. Their warning was recorded on cuneiform tablets and predicted Alexander’s death in these words “ When in the month Ajaru, during the evening watch, the moon eclipses, the king will die. The sons of the king will vie for the throne of their father, but will not sit on it” (see: Alexander the Great and the Magi). Alexander is not being mentioned by name, just as “king”. In our modern world we no longer believe in prophecies but maybe we should. After all, facts and figures do not explain everything.

Alexander simply dying of exhaustion and of the consequences of his near-fatal wound in India is not a heroic way to end his life that evolved between myths and reality from the beginning. But if he was indeed suffering from his chest wound, why did he not name his successors? Was he hoping and waiting for Roxane to give birth to a boy? His Persian wife Stateira is said to be pregnant as well, meaning that is was not beyond reason for Alexander wanting to live long enough to see his heir(s). Another possibility is that he was in denial and did not take his declining health seriously but that is very much unlike Alexander. His succession, I think, was a problem even for him. He was surrounded by very capable men and generals but none of them had the vision of his greater world. The only one who ever shared that insight with him was Hephaistion and he was dead.

When on his deathbed Alexander gave his signet ring to “the strongest” he may have meant just that: the man who would be strong enough to keep his empire together but they had to work it out for themselves. A poor legacy one may say but under the circumstances, this was the best he could do for even had he indeed named Perdiccas as some sources pretend, he probably lacked the capabilities and vision to pursue Alexander’s goals? Well, time has given us the answer and Alexander was right one last time.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Another “Alexander” to be added to the collection

I thought that by now I knew all the statues representing Alexander the Great, either those made in antiquity or those created at later dates by inspired artists. Well, not so.

When I recently visited the Louvre-Lens Museum in Northern France, I was in for a most exciting discovery: an Alexander I did not know! He was placed strategically in the center of the large exhibition hall appropriately called Galerie du Temps which is in fact a unique journey through the history of time. Only a select number of artifacts are on display here and they are rotated every five years. To use the words of the Louvre-Lens:

All civilizations and working techniques will be represented along the 120 m gallery, from the birth of writing around 3500 BC until the middle of the 19th century, taking in the entire chronological and geographical scope of the collections of the Louvre museum. The Galerie du Temps will be divided into 3 major periods: 70 artworks for Antiquity, 45 artworks for the Middle Ages and 90 artworks for the modern period.

There definitely is something here to everyone’s taste either in statues, or in reliefs, vases, statuettes, terracotta and faience, frescoes and paintings. But for me, Alexander is simply unbeatable!

According to the label, this bust dates from 130 AD and is presumably a copy from an original by nobody less than Lysippos, Alexander’s favorite sculptor. I gladly agree with this theory as Alexander’s face reminds me of the Azara Hermes (at the Louvre in Paris), also by Lysippos. Both works show Alexander at a mature age, his face worn by the many years of campaigning and weathered by his thousands of miles-long marches. Unfortunately, there is no information where this bust was found. It may be one of those pieces from early collections when antiquities were taken home as trophies.

Whatever the case may be, this Alexander was absolutely worth the whole trip!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The surprises of underwater archaeology

With the growing popularity of underwater archaeology, more and more is being known about the heavy traffic of ships crossing the Mediterranean. This is a unique way to accumulate details about the ships, their itineraries, their construction, their size and their cargo.

One of the hottest spots in recent years is the Fourni Archipelago, roughly situated between Samos and Patmos off the west coast of Turkey. The small islands and islets are scattered along the old maritime routes running from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean, to Cyprus and eventually to Egypt.

So far, The Fourni Underwater Survey has found as many as 53 shipwrecks ranging from antiquity to the Middle-Ages and even from post-Medieval times making it one of the largest concentrations of ancient shipwrecks in the world.

The first results were acquired in 2015 when 22 shipwrecks were identified, followed by another 23 in 2016 and eight more during this year’s diving season. It is great to hear that the Survey works closely together with local fishermen and sponge divers who know their fishing grounds and diving waters well. During the first two seasons, the archaeologists concentrated mainly on surveying the 17 square miles of wreckage but this year they are focusing on documenting the finds. So far, they found a great number of anchors made from stone, lead and iron which range from the Archaic Period to Byzantine times. This year, the most important find was a cargo of amphorae from the Classical Period on their way from Chios; another one is the shipwreck of a Roman ship that came from the Iberian Peninsula.

[Divers raise a Roman North African amphora for further study and conservation. 

With the help of the latest technologies, the Survey team was able to select specific artifacts and recover them for conservation and scientific analysis. They aim to make their substantial data available to researchers and the public alike.

Another diving season is planned for 2018 and in the end, they may consider the excavation and recovery of a select choice of shipwrecks. Hopefully a local museum can be created on the main island to shelter all these new treasures.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Acoustics in ancient Greek theaters

This information is by now more than ten years old (see: April 4, 2007) but the subject of acoustics remains one of the main elements contributing to the success of any antique theater.

I always find ancient theaters very exciting whenever I walk through their remains or sit on one of their tiers – they have so much to tell!

According to the abovementioned study, the first “perfect” acoustics were reached most probably by accident in Epidaurus in the 4th century BC. Over the following centuries, the architects tried to reproduce this unique effect but never managed to do so. As it turns out, it is not so much the result of the slope of the theater or its orientation but the seats themselves that determine the right acoustics.

The theater of Epidaurus has an absolutely unprecedented and never equalled effect of blocking the low-frequency background noise of the public but does instead comfortably reflect the high-frequency voices of the performers against the seats back to the audience. In this way, the actor’s voices are clearly registered all the way to the last tiers of seats in the theater.

Acoustic experts experimented with ultrasonic waves and numerical simulations leading them to conclude that the great acoustics of Epidaurus are due to the limestone used for its seats. Since other theaters used other stones and even wood, this effect was never reproduced.

As all great discoveries happen by accident, this was certainly the case for the acoustical effects in the theater of Epidaurus. Isn’t it amazing that in times when amplifiers and loudspeakers did not exist, people were able to obtain the same result simply by using the right stone for the seats in their theater?

P.S. According to more "technical" studies, it seems that the above conclusions are not as black and white as they appear at first sight. Here are the conclusions drawn by researchers from the Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands):

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Another “laptop” in ancient Greek images?

An earlier blog, A laptop in ancient Greece? was a big joke as it was meant to be, but during a recent visit to the Louvre-Lens music exhibition I came across another “laptop” picture on an Attic red-figure oenochoe. This vase, dating from around 450-440 BC, shows the Muses Urania, Calliope and Melpomene, and is attributed to the painter Methyse. It was found in Etruria, Italy.

In order to recognize who is who, each Muse wears or holds her own attributes.

Urania was the Muse of Astronomy, usually holding a celestial globe and pointing to the stars with her little rod – maybe the seated figure in the center?

Calliope was the Muse of Music and poetry who normally holds a writing tablet in her hand. So she could be the figure on the left with what appears to be a laptop, right?

The third Muse Melpomene, the Muse of tragedy is usually portrayed with a tragic theater mask or a sword but the figure on the far right of this oenochoe looks more like playing an aulos (double flute).

Well, whatever the total picture, I have no problem identifying the left figure as Calliope who is not opening her writing tablet as we would open a book but she is holding it horizontally and opens it upwards.

Truly we should not take everything at face value!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

More illegal mosaics from Apamea

When I wrote my previous blog, The unique mosaic from Apamea, I was not aware that there was more of the kind to follow. There is a much larger mosaic estimated to cover at least 19 m2 that is also high on INTERPOL’s list of illegal digs at Apamea in Syria.

Beside the panel discussed previously showing the foundation of Apamea by Seleucos I with his son Antiochus I, there are three more panels coming from the same source. Because of their size and magnificence, this entire mosaic is assumed to belong to a large room from a wealthy Roman residence. The top one depicts the foundation of Pella (as Apamea was called previously) by the legendary Archippos and the bottom panels illustrate the construction of a fortification wall around the city that holds monumental public buildings.

Based on the clandestine photographs of this floor, it seems that the very lower part and half of the central zone are missing. What remains is, however, of the highest quality and has been compared to the paintings from the tomb of Agios Athanasios (see: The Macedonian Tomb of Agios Athanasios in Thessaloniki) – not without ground.

The top mosaic portraying the religious foundation of Pella, shows five Macedonians cavalry men with their horses, shields and spears on the right hand side and five figures making cult offerings in the left corner. Three of these men have been identified as their names are inscribed in Greek. We read Archippos as the legendary founder of the city sacrificing a bull, flanked by Antipater and his son Cassander – all richly dressed in their best tunic, cloak and wearing a diadem.

The central part of the mosaic depicts the key moment of the foundation of Apamea where Seleucos holds the ktistes, an architectural measuring instrument symbolizing him as being the founder. Around a large table filled with silver and gold coins we find once again Archippos and Antiochus I, together with Antipater and Cassander, and most importantly Seleucos wife Apame  who contributed lavishly to the construction of the city. All these figures are dressed in the same sumptuous outfits as mentioned above.

I fail, however, to understand the presence of old Antipater in the company of his not so beloved son Cassander. We will remember that Antipater named Polyperchon as his successor and not Cassander, so why would he have dragged his son along to Pella/Apamea? And for what reason would they both be present in Pella/Apamea in the first place? The article published in Popular Archaeology, seems to place the entire scene around 321-319 BC when Antipater was regent and Cassander was the commander of the Macedonian cavalry in Pella/Apamea but I wonder what their contribution was to the foundation of Apamea. The Roman vision of history in the 4th century AD, some seven centuries after the facts appears to be shrouded in mystery.

The background of this mosaic is, however, as exciting as the figures in the foreground, to say the least. We see huge defence walls encircling the city. Inside those walls, there is a large roofed temple with a high pediment supported by five columns. This temple is flanked by several other smaller and roofed buildings. Also recognizable is the large hippodrome or Roman circus not unlike the one that has been unearthed in nearby Gerasa (which was founded about the same time) with a central spina delimited by little turrets. The figures on the left bottom part of that section are less obvious. They seem to be men working on the fortification wall and a large ox is pulling something heavy.

The very bottom of the mosaic depicts a more idyllic suburban scene with on the right hand side a lovely Roman Bath. Two distinct entrances can be seen, one probably leading to the cloakroom used by two women with small children, and the other opening up above a ramp from which children are sliding down into the pool below. Very important is, however, the large noria (waterwheel) depicted on the left of this section. Until now, it was generally accepted that the oldest norias dated from the 5th century AD but this picture confirms that they were used already one full century earlier! Norias are still standing along the Orontes River in Hama (see: Hama and its norias) where in the 5th century some one hundred of them were still functioning. This makes you wonder how many of them were aligned along that same river here in Apamea!

All in all, these mosaic scenes are very revealing while at the same time they rise many new questions. It is not surprising to find them among the most valuable objects wanted by INTERPOL. It would be great if these masterpieces could be recovered some day enabling professionals to examine them more closely.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Damned dams!

After Allianoi (see: My Heart in bleeding for Allianoi), after Zeugma (see: Zeugma, border town along the Euphrates) and after many unchartered dams destroying our historical heritage, it is the turn to the town of Hasankeyf on the Tigris to be flooded and blasted to pieces because of the construction of yet another dam.

[Picture from Archaeology News Network]

The location of the dam on the Tigris River is a very unhappy one for Hasankeyf is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world. From Neolithic caves to the Roman fortress and later Ottoman landmarks, all are soon to disappear forever as crews have already started blasting the surrounding cliffs in preparation for the construction of this dam.

As before in Allianoi and in Zeugma, the Turkish government does not listen to the pleas formulated by local and international communities to preserve the site. Internationally, it does not ring loud bells like when the giant Buddha’s were blown to pieces in Bamyan, Afghanistan, or the more recent dynamiting of the Temple of Bell in Palmyra, Syria, but this heritage is nonetheless very important from the historical point of view.

Of course, officials have their own arguments and as usual they underscore the fact that this dam will enable the irrigation of the surrounding land and generate a substantial amount of energy. They even expect tourists to come for scuba diving in the new reservoir in search of the submerged monuments (as if the average tourists walk around with his diving gear in their backpack!). The price tag for this operation is, however, that nearly 200 settlements will be submerged and some 15,000 people will be resettled in the newly built city of New Hasankeyf on higher grounds.

It is comforting to hear that Ridvan Ayhan, who is a member of the Save Hansakeyf Initiative, confirms my earlier worries about the lifespan of a dam which is only 80 years on average. Nobody is asking the obvious question: and then, what? As I explained earlier when talking about Allianoi, water is of vital importance to our life but dams are not the one and only solution and they are not eternal as governments all over the world want us to believe. What will happen in 80 or 100 years from now when this barrage and so many others give way? No water then, no crops, no dams, nobody to take responsibility and sadly no historical city to be revived from underneath the sediments. How can we explain this to our children and our children’s children?

In December 2016, the HuffPost published a cry for help with large sized photos of the area but as usual, officials turned a blind eye to this kind of plea.