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)

YOU CAN ALSO FIND ME ON MUSEA-LEONIDAS (in Dutch) FOR MUSEUM NEWS.

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!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The gold myth surrounding King Midas

The legend of how Dionysus granted King Midas wish to turn everything he touched into gold is well known and almost proverbial, highlighting the immense wealth of this Phrygian king who lived in the late 8th century BC.

Strangely enough, archaeologists never were able to find much of that gold when excavating the site of Gordion and the surrounding area. So, was it all myth?


Recently, scholars may have found a plausible answer when they investigated the clothes of Gordion’s elite population. Some of the fabrics used were coated with goethite, an iron-bearing hydroxide mineral found in the soil. A definite proof was found in the royal tomb attributed to Gordias, the father of King Midas. His shroud had been dyed with goethite, giving the impression that it was woven from gold.

Goethite was known as a paint pigment long before King Midas days and was used as early as in the paintings of the Paleolithic Caves of Lascaux in France. Applied on the fabrics, it produces a golden shine.

Rather than referring to the production of gold artifacts, Midas’ golden touch may very well refer to this clothing fashion instead.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Will a Digital Library of the Middle East compensate for the war losses?

In order to secure museum collections in the Middle-East threatened by the IS, the idea arose to create a digital library of books, manuscripts, and other written material. This project was developed by the joint collaboration of the existing Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the Antiquities Coalition under the name DLME, the abbreviation for Digital Library of the Middle East.


The goal of DLME is to create an online collection of all sorts of materials relating to the civilizations of the Middle East. Its inventory will show a worldwide collection of artifacts with detailed descriptions and pictures to provide a better understanding for our cultural heritage. The featured objects would show ownership and legal status, which would help to determine whether artifacts were acquired legally or not. The project will extend to include undocumented or uncatalogued items, and as such help in fighting the illicit art trade.

As the crisis in the Middle East is not to end soon, the construction of this digital library is acute in order to inhibit looting and to keep track of the cultural objects in order to help to safeguard what is called the world’s greatest cultural repositories. The basic idea is that we must know what is there before we can even consider protecting this heritage.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The monument in honor of Opramoas of Rhodiapolis is taking shape

In an earlier post “Opramoas of Rhodiapolis” I mentioned the many benefactions this wealthy man made in his lifetime as recorded on the walls of the monument built in his honor at the heart of this city. All his good deeds have been well documented (see the abovementioned post for his main achievements) although we could not read the full text till the many loose blocks were put together in the correct sequence.


It is a painstaking job and it seems to be taking shape as can be seen on the recent pictures of the reconstruction. It is such a great pleasure to see how this building is rising from its ashes in all its glory!

To summarize the importance of this text, the longest ever found in Lycia or perhaps even in all of Anatolia, we should remember that 12 of these inscriptions contain letters which Opramoas exchanged with the Roman Emperors and with Antoninus Pius in particular, 19 letters to the Procurator and 33 various documents related to the Lycian League.


Opramoas was the richest man in Lycia and moved among other wealthy relatives like C. Julius Demosthenes of Oenoanda and Licinus Langus of Oenoanda. He came from a long lineage of important and influential people who wore such titles as Lyciarch (President of the Lycian League), Strategus (Military Commander) and Hipparch (Commander of the Cavalry). Besides, his brother Apollonios was scribe of the Lycian League and also occupied the post of Lyciarch.

For more information about the Lycian League, please refer to my post The world’s first Parliament Building in Patara.

[Pictures from Turkish Archaeological News]

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The power of Alexander, his generalship or his charisma or both?

Why did the mighty Persian Empire loose the battle against Alexander the Great? How did Alexander do it? He was not meant to win against the powerful army of King Darius, the King of Kings, a fight that can be compared to that of David against Goliath, but he was victorious - not once but twice!

How come Porus lost his battle against Alexander in spite of putting up such a fierce fight? Porus fought as a true soldier, proud, unafraid, and in total command of his troops. Darius was all the opposite, except maybe for his pride.


In Porus’ case, Alexander responded with great magnanimity. What would have happened had he caught Darius remains an open question, but he may have shown the same magnanimity as in the case of Porus, who knows? After all, he had treated the Persian royal family with great reverence and nobility, and this alone leads us to believe that he had no reason to treat Darius differently.

These thoughts surfaced while reading up on the Battle of Issus. Arrian, otherwise a rather practical man of few words fills almost two pages with the speech Alexander held after he received the news that Darius’ troops were close by ready to engage in a major confrontation. As Alexander addresses his troops, he enumerates the advantages of their upcoming battle and goes on to point out the rewards of victory. The flower of the Medes and Persians was waiting for them under the leadership of their Great King, and once the battle was over, all of Asia would be theirs for the take. 

There is clearly no doubt in Alexander's mind that he would be victorious! He reminds his Macedonians of their previous battles, how bravely they fought and how brilliant their victories had been. Alexander uses Xenophon as an example and goes on by singling out each and every battalion in his service, foreign and native, cavalry and infantry, archers and slingers. After that, he allows his men to eat and rest - no army can fight on an empty stomach. The timing for Alexander’s speech may have been chosen on purpose, for now, his soldiers could sit down and discuss the upcoming battle among themselves and draw courage from their king’s words.

And this is not all! After having crossed the Pillars of Jonah into open terrain, Alexander starts spreading out his troops, putting one formation after the other into place, keeping them all in an uninterrupted line facing Darius. And here I quote Arrian: "The two armies were now almost within striking distance. Alexander rode from one end of his line to the other with words of encouragement for all, addressing by name, with proper mention of rank and distinctions, not the officers of highest rank only but the captains of squadrons and companies; even the mercenaries were not forgotten, where any distinction or act of courage called for the mention of a name,...". This is the short version of Alexander’s encouragement for Curtius provides us with pages and pages of such pep talk!

I read somewhere that Alexander knew at least one thousand of his men by name and I thought this was exaggerated, but going by Arrian's text I am willing to believe it. He knew how to reach his men in their very soul, knew what made them tick, and knew how to make them feel invincible. Many modern commanders would envy Alexander for this talent! He had managed to gear up his entire army and turn their spirits into fighting mode. Imagine, having the king speaking to your company or to you personally, praising your previous exploits and accomplishments, what better incentive could there be?

Now Darius, although at the head of a much larger army merely used his men and pawns in a game of chess. They fought because they were ordered to but there was no personal reward, they were not talked into being unafraid and invincible as Alexander's troops. In the end, it was the Macedonians' determination, thirst for glory and recognition by their king, combined with the prospect of rich booty awaiting them that kept them going and led them to victory time and again!

As to Porus, it is not known whether or not he gave his men a pep talk like Alexander, but he was clearly in command from the height of the largest elephant. It is easy to imagine that the Indians seeing their Raja in such a towering position all during the fight, however fierce and bloody it may have been, inspired them and encouraged them to keep on fighting, following the example set by Porus himself! This is what struck Alexander and why he treated him as a king, simply because he did not give up or flee like Darius did, but faced his opponent. The Indian army, it seems, was at least trained to follow their Raja to the end, and they did just that.

After all, the scene of Alexander riding up and down his troops and addressing them directly as depicted by Oliver Stone is much closer to reality than one would expect at first sight, even if he placed the event in the context of Gaugamela. The key quotation may be the words spoken by old Ptolemy in this movie, “When Alexander looked you in the eyes you could do anything”. How true!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A magnificent Greek shield

The Kingdom of Pontus on the Black Sea in today’s Turkey is a little-known corner of the ancient world although the city of Sinope was founded by Greek colonists. It became part of the Persian Empire in the early 4th century BC but is not mentioned as being included in Alexander’s realm.


One of the main players in the history of Pontus is King Pharnaces I who is said to be of mixed Greek and Macedonian origin and who captured Sinope in 183 BC that became his capital. Much later, in 47 BC Julius Cesar established a Roman colony there and renamed it Colonia Julia Felix.

Pharnaces married Nysa, a Seleucid Princess either in 172 or 171 BC, through a diplomatic arrangement that involved Demetrius I Soter, who was King of Seleucia at the time. The couple established good relations with Athens and the island of Delos and several honorific statues and inscriptions have survived to testify of their dedication. Athens offered them a golden crown and bronze statues of Pharnaces and Nysa were set up in Delos. They had two children, a son who later ruled the country as Mithridates V of Pontus, and a daughter Nysa, who married King Ariarathes V of Cappadocia.

It is unclear when King Pharnaces I died and it could be any time between 160 and 154 BC, the date when his brother Mithridates IV of Pontus is first mentioned as king.

Well, this is a rather long introduction to the magnificent shield shown above which is part of the collection of the Getty Museum in Malibu. The bronze shield definitely has a Macedonian look because of the central star that symbolizes the sun and kingship. The inscription reveals that it was made in Pontus for King Pharnaces I, which explains the mixed Greek and Macedonian appearance.

This is obviously one of the great examples of ancient craftsmanship.