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 Ariana (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in the Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (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 Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 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)

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Highlighting Freya Stark, her life and her oeuvre

Many Alexander-fans and interested travellers are familiar with Freya Stark's extensive literature about the world she discovered and disclosed to her readers all through the 20th century.

I greatly enjoyed and used her book Alexander’s Path, where she explores every single road, pass, river and trail of Lycia to find the best-fitted passage for Alexander to take his army across that mountain backbone. I commented on her book in detail in an earlier blog Alexander’s Path by Freya Stark.

Another chapter of her extensive travel is mentioned on my blog under The Minaret of Djam by Freya Stark.

These two books are only a small sample of her extensive writing. Yet the person of Freya Stark is worth being known more closely.

That is precisely the article's content written by Joshua J.  Mark on World History as he illustrates and underscores Freya Stark's remarkable life. I simply copied his post hereafter, but the original can also be read directly on World History.


 Freya Stark


Joshua J. Mark
published on 30 June 2021
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Will De Freitas (CC BY-NC-ND)

Freya Stark (l. 1893-1993) was an English explorer, writer, and political influencer who chronicled world events, especially in the Near East, throughout the 20th century. Stark both reported on and made the news as her travels, described in her books, made her a celebrity author.

One of Stark's biographers, Jane Fletcher Geniesse, writes, "Freya never lost a rapturous sense that the earth and everything on it were marvelous" (xvii). She was injured as a child and reading became an escape and comfort to her. Stories of faraway places and adventures thrilled her, and she vowed to one day visit the places she read about.

Throughout her life she pursued what she referred to as the "ecstasy of discovery", always looking forward to the next adventure in some new place with new people to meet. She was frequently the first westerner to visit a locale in the Near East and the first to accurately report on the people and their customs. She began traveling in 1912 and was still taking off on journeys in her 80s. Her influence on other travelers and writers, especially women, was profound and continues to be in the present.

Early Life

Freya Stark was born 31 January 1893 in Paris where her English bohemian parents, Robert and Flora, were living while they studied painting. She had a younger sister, Vera, and the two children spent their early years moving about according to their parents' whims. She lived in Devon, England, in a house her father (who may not have been her biological parent) built where she would go to sleep in a bed her mother had painted with images of tall sailing ships but spent much of her childhood between England and Italy.


Her parents had an unhappy marriage, which ended when Flora ran off in 1903 with the young Italian Count Mario di Roascio and took the girls with her. She grew up in Dronero, Italy, where her mother and her live-in boyfriend ran a carpet factory. There was little to do in the town, and the girls were given only the most rudimentary education by the nuns who lived nearby. Freya took to reading early, and when she was nine, she was given a translation of One Thousand and One Nights, which instantly entranced her and turned her thoughts to Arabia and all the magical places it seemed to offer.

Shortly before her 13th birthday, while visiting her mother's factory, her hair was caught in a machine, which tore open her scalp and ripped off her right ear. She had to endure painful skin grafts to repair her face and scalp and always thought of herself as disfigured afterwards. She took solace in books and the worlds they opened for her and dreamed of leaving Dronero behind, but she had no resources for travel.

Travels & Languages

Travel was in her blood, however, and she later wrote how "There is a certain madness comes over one at the mere sight of a good map”, but she did not have the means for even a short trip, much less the grand adventures she dreamed of. In 1912 she was allowed by her parents to leave Italy to attend college in London where she concentrated her studies on languages (she would eventually be fluent in English, Italian, French, Arabic, and Persian). When World War I broke out in 1914, she returned home and served with the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) as a nurse on the Italian front caring for the wounded.

After the war, she began making plans to travel to the east. She knew she had to learn Arabic, however, to experience the culture completely. The only man who could teach her the language lived many miles away, but this was no obstacle; twice a week Stark walked an hour to the train, which took her to San Remo, and then walked another two miles to her teacher's home. Before long, she was reading the Quran in Arabic.

The Arabian Nights
K.C. Tang (Public Domain)

She had been given a sum of money by her father which she had turned to a profit through careful investments which generated about 300 pounds a year. Against the advice of her banker, she invested almost all of what she had in an enterprise both her father and the banker considered too risky: the Canadian Grand Trunk Railway. Freya's instincts paid off, however, as the returns from her investment were significant enough to finally allow her to travel. The banker was so impressed by her confidence, he later told her, the whole staff invested following her example and made handsome returns.

In a strange turn of events, which friends and acquaintances found scandalous, her sister Vera wound up marrying Count di Roascio who had been their mother's lover. When Vera and the count were married, Flora refused to quit the residence and retained her position as head of the household, relegating Vera to the status of a kind of servant in her own home. Vera died of a miscarriage in 1926, and Freya, afraid her mother would somehow trap her in the same kind of prison her sister had died in, booked ship to Lebanon and left Italy behind a year later in 1927. She would return to Italy to look after her mother and her niece, but she was finally free to travel as she wished.

The Near East


She found the people of Beirut warm and welcoming, claiming this was most likely because she had come "neither to improve nor rob" them. All she was interested in was continuing her study of Arabic and travel for the sake of travel. Throughout her life, she was prone to illness and arrived in the city in poor health. She quickly improved in the warm climate, however, and began to explore the area as soon as she was able, traveling through Lebanon to Syria. Syria at this time was under the control of the French who brutally suppressed the native Druse and severely restricted travel. Stark refused to be controlled by what she saw as arbitrary laws enacted by an illegal occupying force and hired a Druse guide to lead her and her friend, Venetia Buddicom, from Damascus to explore the area.

They were quickly arrested by the French and detained for three days but, with her typical wit and charisma, Stark charmed the French soldiers so completely, in her fluent French, that the two women - and, to a lesser degree, their guide - were treated more as guests of the compound than prisoners. Having been detained by the French made her all the more welcome to the Druse she later met, and she was able to gain insights into the people and their culture, which would have been difficult or impossible otherwise. In this instance, as in many others, Stark was able to turn an unpleasant event to her advantage and make friends of potential adversaries.

Early Books

Her first article was published in 1928 (under the name Tharaya, Arabic for "She Who Illuminates the World"), and her first book, Baghdad Sketches, in 1933 which was an account of her explorations in Iraq. Her second, The Valleys of the Assassins and Other Persian Tales (1934), related her experiences in Iran in 1929 and, especially, in the remote Elburz Mountains where she visited the castle of the cult of the Assassins.

To reach the mountains she had only some sketchy maps supplied by her friend Captain Vyvyan Holt (the man who had replaced Gertrude Bell as Britain's Oriental Secretary) whom she had met earlier through mutual acquaintances. Along with these rough maps, she also had the help of two guides who had no idea where the Rock of Alamut, the assassins' castle, was located as no one ever had any cause to visit it.

The Assassins Alamut Castle, Iran
Alireza Javaheri (CC BY)

Stark was unconcerned; for her, reaching the castle was not as important as the adventure of getting there. She waded through rushing streams, passed through fields thick with wildflowers, slept in a thin tent under mosquito netting with her guides on either side, and climbed up to 10,250 feet (3,124 m) to see the whole sweep of the mountain range.

She instantly recognized that the official maps were wrong, to the extent that the mountain range on the map was on the wrong side of the valley, and promptly corrected them. When she returned from her travels with the revised maps, Captain Holt and his colleagues commended her on her "brave work", and she would eventually be awarded the Founder's Gold Medal by the Royal Geographical Society for her contributions.

Travel & Illness

Throughout the 1930s, Stark continued to travel, write, and publish. Her works were immensely popular and translated into a number of languages. She traveled through Luristan, photographing and talking with the Lurs, a culture virtually unknown to the outside world at that time. She heard from some of them of a great treasure of gold, statuary, and rare gems hidden in a cave outside of the city of Nihavend and set out to find it with a guide who, like her earlier guides, had no knowledge of the cave or how to find it.

She separated from her guide to search alone but was turned back by local police. Pursuing what she called "a lovely blank on the map" she traveled to Masanderan on the Caspian Sea to fill in that blank for herself. She was struck along the way with dysentery and malaria and would have died if not for the intervention of a local woman who was a healer.

BluesyPete (CC BY-SA)

Once back on her feet, she set out for Shabwa in Yemen, an ancient trade center and oasis famously associated with frankincense. Unlike her earlier expedition to Alamut, no European had ever visited Shabwa. She traveled this time with two female archaeologists and reached the city of Shibam, "the oldest skyscraper city in the world" before, one by one, they fell ill with fever. Stark had contracted the measles shortly before leaving and now became seriously ill. She had to be airlifted to the hospital facilities in Aden by the RAF, an event which quickly became the news of the day when the media learned that the famous explorer and author Freya Stark had only barely cheated death.

Influence as a Writer

Her books were so popular not just because of the exotic subject matter but because of her unique voice. The narrative of Stark's works is alive with experience and wonder as she recounts her travels to ancient sites and natural wonders but, like many of the best travel writers, her greatest gift is in describing the most common-place moments in her travels: an evening talking around the fire, the time a man came to her asking for medicine for his sick wife, the scent of the cool morning breeze before starting off into a day trekking across the desert, or a moment of silence alone gazing across a landscape of flowers, hills, and streams at the distant mountains.

In addition to these kinds of reflections and sketches of everyday life and the people she encountered, Stark routinely condemned western interference in the politics of the region. Her commentary on the western mandates were given through her eyewitness accounts of the French using Druse labor for their building projects, noting the injustice of enslaving an indigenous people for one's own ends.

The Brotherhood of Freedom

When World War II began, Stark volunteered for the British Middle East Propaganda Section of the Ministry of Information and slipped into Yemen with a projector and a few cans of film. Her intent was to keep Yemen from siding with the Nazi cause and since, as a woman, she had free access to the harems of the rulers, she thought that, by showing her propaganda films to the ladies of the court, she could influence the men in control.


Her plan worked, and Yemen remained neutral, denying the Nazis a strategic ground from which they'd hoped to launch attacks. She then formed the Brotherhood of Freedom, a network of united British and Arab nationals who spread the ideals of personal freedom and equality and whose numbers rose to 40,000 members.

The Brotherhood of Freedom is generally considered instrumental in solidifying Egyptian and Arab loyalty to the allied cause. Stark travelled extensively throughout the Middle East at this time as part of her job and more than once relied on her cleverness, and the male perception of women, to get to where she wanted to go or get out of trouble.

Stark in Iran

A famous example of this happened in April of 1941 when the government of Iraq allied itself with the Nazi cause. Stark had been in Tehran and was travelling back to the British Embassy in Baghdad when she was arrested at the border between Iran and Iraq. British citizens were no longer allowed free travel, she was told, and she would be detained. She was imprisoned in the railroad rest house while her guards decided how best to deal with her and, listening to their conversations, she learned others in her position had been sent to prison camps.

Stark instantly conjured all her charm and sweet-talked her guard into bringing her tea. When it was brought, he could not resist her invitation to share some with her and sit awhile in conversation. Stark asked his help with a serious problem which, as a refined man she said, she knew he would be able to appreciate: it was simply impossible for her, as a lady, to remain in their custody without a proper ladies' maid. Her guard did not immediately relent, but Stark kept at him, persistently, flattering him as a civilized man who surely understood how weak and incapable women were and what his obligation, as a gentleman of culture, called on him to do.

The guard set her free and arranged for her trip by train to Baghdad; where she then seems to have cajoled her way into a horse-drawn carriage, which brought her to the British Embassy. She was the last person admitted to the embassy before the Siege of Baghdad began. In reflecting on the many moments throughout her life she had managed to get her way by playing the role of the helpless damsel, Stark wrote, "The great and almost only comfort about being a woman is that one can always pretend to be more stupid than one is and no one will be surprised” (Geniesse, 136).

Marriage & Further Travels

After a speaking tour in the United States, she returned to Italy to a cottage in Asolo she had inherited from Henry Young, an old family friend, many years before. She used her Italian cottage as a home base from which to launch her travels after the war. She married a man named Stewart Perowne in 1947, but they quickly separated (never divorced) as they found themselves more suitable as friends than lovers.

Villa Freya, Asolo
F. Tronchin (CC BY-NC-ND)

In 1951, at the age of 58, she traveled through GreeceTurkey, and Syria. She was away from home most of the time for the next 14 years. In her seventies, she traveled to China, and when she was 76 made a tour of some the more remote areas of Afghanistan. In the 1970s she explored Nepal on the back of a pony and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1972.

She lived in her small cottage in Asolo, writing her books (she would publish over two dozen) and entertaining guests whenever she was not traveling. In 1984 the town awarded her the key to the city as their most illustrious citizen. She continued to write and receive visitors for the next nine years until her death on 9 May 1993, a few months past her 100th birthday.


In a letter to a friend in 1929, Stark wrote, "One life is an absurdly small allowance" but, as with everything handed to her, she took what she had been given and turned it to her advantage. She very much wanted to be loved, and to be married (she even called herself 'Mrs. Stark' after her separation from Perowne) but came to understand she could not have everything, and a conventional life would have meant settling for less than her ideal.

Critics have pointed out that Stark's actual achievements as an explorer were technically minimal: she was not the first European to visit or write about the Elburz mountains, she was prevented from reaching Shabwa by illness, was denied access to Luristan's treasures by authorities, and in several other instances, she failed in her immediate objectives.

She succeeded, however, in conveying the vitality of the region and the people and in leaving behind a chronicle of the Middle East in the first part of the 20th century in a voice which still holds all the charm and vigor which made her famous while she lived. In every respect, Freya Stark lived her life completely through the allowance she was given - the whole hundred years of it - and even won the love she desired through her work, which touched the lives of so many around the world and continues to do so today.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

A pinch of salt goes a long way

It is common knowledge that the Greeks drank their wine by mixing it with water. We are aware that this mix ratio is 1:3 = one part of wine and three parts of water, but we may never have thought that seawater was used instead of the regular sweet water.

The consumption of straight wine was only accepted as a medicine or as a tonic while traveling. In all other cases, it was considered barbaric. 

The news about the use of seawater made headlines in The Greek Reporter. It appears that the practice goes back to ancient Greece, was copied by the Romans, and, in the long run, has survived to this day, although wineries using this process have become rare. 

Nowadays, we abhor the idea of adding the slightest pinch of salt to our glass of wine, but in antiquity, the sweetness of the grape was compensated by seawater added to the mix. This did not only improve the taste but allowed to preserve the wine longer. In fact, the winemaker mixed the must with seawater, and the end product was called ανθόσμιος οίνος, in other words, wine that smells like flowers. Fania of Heresus, a philosopher and scientist who was a pupil of Aristotle, tells us that by mingling fifty parts of must with one part of seawater, the end product smells like flowers. 

The first records about this procedure come from Cato the Elder (234-149 BC), who mentions that the winemakers on the island of Kos knew that adding seawater to their wines would preserve them. He further tells us that the best seawater was collected when the sea was calm. 

A special place is occupied by Thalassitis wine, literally “wine of the sea,” a white wine made with the assyrtiko grapes on the island of Santorini. It has a typical taste of citrus fruit mixed with a subtle taste of minerals. Famous among wine connoisseurs is the Thalassitis Submerged, aged deep in the open sea for 25 years. Surprisingly, this wine shows no sign of oxidation, and its taste has softened. Worth trying next time we visit the island! 

To complement the history of Greek wine and wine in general, it may be interesting to read my earlier blog, “Greek wine, not so Greek after all.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Birthday wishes

Dear Alexander, 

Wouldn’t it be great if this year you received a gold medallion for your birthday like those made by Roman admirers some five hundred years after your death? The “Alexander cult” was still very much alive at that time when able craftsmen created such marvelous works of art. 

This gem was part of the Abukir Medallions made in Roman times between 215 and 243 AD. The obverse shows your familiar effigy with ram’s horns looking slightly upwards. The reverse displays this splendid Nike in full action as she holds the reins of the quadriga in one hand and a palm branch and a headband in the other. For the unbelievers, there is an inscription that reads ΒΑCΙΛ-ΕωC /ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ – in other words, Basileus Alexandrou. With a diameter of 5.4 cm, it weighs nearly 113 grams. Isn’t this medallion genuinely worthy of you and your accomplishments? 

How many more medallions and remembrance coins must have been issued by you to underscore the merit of your men! How many must have been distributed by your successors and by famous and less famous admirers! Sadly, so many have been lost in time. 

With gratitude for the immense heritage you left us,

Argyraspid and the crowd of Philalexandros from all over the world.


This Abukir Medallion was part of a stash of 20 medallions, 600 gold coins, and about 20 stamped gold ingots discovered by chance in Egypt in 1902. Shortly after their discovery, they were presented to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris and the British Museum in London. It is hard to believe that both institutions refused to buy the medallions. Their excuse was that they doubted their provenance and authenticity. 

In the end, the medallions were offered to the Staatliche Museen (Berlin State Museum) in Berlin, who purchased five of them after being able to establish that they were genuine. The remainder was sold to private collectors around the world. In 1949, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon acquired three medallions from James Loeb and another eight from the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum in New York. Alexander is represented on seven of these gold pieces, and his mother Olympias on another two. One medallion depicted Emperor Caracalla, a great admirer of Alexander who tried to emulate him (as if he could!)

Friday, July 16, 2021

There is more to Aegae than the Royal Palace and the Great Tumulus

Driving from modern Vergina towards the Royal Palace of Aegae, we take little notice of the open fields to our left, where the necropolis of ancient Aegae is waiting to be fully excavated. The very area is uninspiring as it consists of a succession of more or less conic bumps in the landscape. These are, in fact, mounds covering the tombs dating as far back as 1000 BC. The cemetery remained in use until the 2nd century BC. 

On the way, we encounter the Rhomaios Tomb and, a few meters onwards, the Tomb of Eurydice, Alexander’s grandmother. Further north lies an undefined Public Building and the so-called Hellenistic House, and, to the west, the Sanctuary of the Mother of the Gods. 

With its 8.50 meters, the Rhomaios Tomb is one of the longest tombs. It consists of two rooms, an antechamber, and the chamber proper. The antechamber measures 4.50 x2.50 m and is 2.20 m high. A narrow band runs around the walls and is painted with flowers. The colors alternate on the deep blue background using combinations of red-blue, white-blue, yellow-blue successively, and again red-blue, etc. A marble door separates the antechamber from the main vaulted chamber, which is square (4.50x4.50 m) and 4.45 m high. Here too, a dark blue band decorates the walls, but this time without decorations. In the back of the tomb stands an impressive marble throne with a foot stand and a kind of bed. The throne is remarkable because of its large size. It is decorated with small painted friezes in the lower part, and its armrests display sculpted sphinxes.

This tomb has been totally robbed in antiquity, making dating very difficult. However, comparing its features and style to those of the nearby Palace, it has been possible to date it to the first half of the 3rd century BC. Last but not least, it is essential to note that this tomb was never covered by a tumulus and that its location so close to the village is puzzling. 

Hades and Persephone, Vergina
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Tomb of Eurydice is another large burial monument, which appears to be the earliest known Macedonian tomb. As expected, this gravesite has been plundered in antiquity. However, based on the shards left behind, it could be dated to around 340 BC. The dating, the wealth of the tomb, and the dedications found in the nearby Temple of Eukleia led us to believe that this grave belonged to Queen Eurydice, the mother of Alexander’s father. The monument is 10.60 m long and nearly 8 meters wide. It is divided into an antechamber and the chamber proper, which measures 5.50x4.40 m with a 5.80 meter-high vault. The chamber's back wall displays an elegant but straightforward Ionic façade of a Macedonian tomb whose stucco and architectural details have been well-preserved. The trompe-l’oeil painting reveals a central door flanked by two stucco windows separated by two pairs of Ionic half-columns. The frieze of flowers and the cornice of the entablature are painted in vivid blue, red and green. Like in the Rhomaios Tomb, we find a richly decorated throne two meters high. The back of the seat surprises with a superb painted panel showing the Underworld, with the gods Pluto and Persephone, standing in full majesty on a quadriga drawn by two white and two brown horses. The throne itself is decorated with reliefs, gilded flowers and animals, and even with statuettes of kouroi. 

Other remarkable tombs in the area are the Tomb of the Bella Farm (first half of the 3rd century BC) with its delicate facade paintings, the tomb on the Bloukas field (c. 200 BC), and the cist grave of Palatitsa (c. 350 BC) – none of which are open to the public. 

The Temple of Eukleia is situated some 80 meters north of Aegae’s theater and close to the road leading to the Palace. Not much of this sanctuary survived, but it could be established that it had a small pronaos of 4x2.5 m and a square naos of 4x4 m. Archaeologists assume that the pronaos was an open space because the bases for statues were found in the two corners of the naos and possibly flanked a sacrificial table. It is striking that the temple faced north. Along the west side of the temple, three bases for statues were found at regular intervals. On the face of the southernmost base, a valuable inscription was found, reading ΕΥΡΙΔΙΚΑ ΣΙΡΡΑ ΕΥΚΛΕΙΑ. in other words ”Eurydice, daughter of Sirra (erected this statue) to Eukleia.” The finesse of the letter curving has helped to date the inscription to the second half of the 4th century BC. All these elements indicate that Queen Eurydice dedicated her statue to the goddess Eukleia, worshiped in this temple. It is assumed that the other bases carried similar offerings by members of the royal family. 

Roughly 400 meters east of the Temple of Eukleia are the remains of the Sanctuary of the Mother of the Gods. This archaic deity had a close relationship with the cult of Dionysus. By the early 6th century BC, the Mother of the Gods was linked with her Asian counterpart, Cybele. The goddess was worshiped with orgiastic dances and music. On votive reliefs and terracotta statuettes, she is depicted holding a large libation bowl in one hand and a large drum for the orgiastic dances in the other. Her head is crowned with a kind of fortress, referring to her role as goddess of cities and fortification walls.

Together with the information left by ancient writers, the remains of this Sanctuary reveal the importance of the cult. In recent years, a large square building of 32x32 m has been unearthed. It contained separate rooms playing an essential role at the time of initiation and worship. Various terracotta figures of the goddess, incense burners, vases, coins, loom weights, and all kinds of architectural relics from the earlier building from the 4th century BC have been found. The excavation showed that this Sanctuary, which was destroyed by a severe fire around 150 BC, dates from Hellenistic times. 

A recent article in the Archaeology News Network mentions new studies of a large building complex close to the northwest gate of Aegae and the “queen’s burial cluster.” However, it is not clear whether this is close to the tombs mentioned above or the sanctuaries, but I suppose it is the case. 

The building complex from the 4th century BC has been associated with the worship of the royal family. It was built with stone from the nearby Mount Vermion and set up in successive square and rectangular rooms reaching 100 square meters. These rooms are organized around a large courtyard. The space on the east side resembles a temple with a very large antechamber and two Doric columns on the courtyard side.  

More exciting are the stamps carrying the Macedonian shield also used on the coins by the Macedonian kings in Hellenistic times. Of significance are the roof panels bearing the inscriptions AMYNTOΥ. This may refer to King Amyntas III, the husband of Eurydice and grandfather of Alexander. In any case, it testifies of a close relationship with the Macedonian royal family. Other tiles are imprinted with ΠΕΛΛΗΣ, indicating that this particular sacred building must have belonged to Amyntas, who was given the status of hero. A similar cult is known to have existed in Pydna. Moreover, the presence of Eurydice in her nearby temple cannot be a coincidence. 

Despite the thorough looting by the Roman general Metellus in 148 BC, extensive renovations occurred under Philip V during the late 3rd/earlier 2nd century BC. For instance, the walls are covered with painted plaster. The favorite color was purple, with touches of green and ocher, and the scenes are divided with reliefs, not unlike those known from Pompeii. The floors are inlaid with marble, as seen in the Palace of Aegae. However, it could be established that the cracks and irregularities in the floor levels were due to catastrophic landslides in the 1st century AD. After a period of decline, the city of Aegae disappeared under the debris.

 It is clear that the cult of Alexander was kept alive and that the building complex was a way to confirm and legitimize his power and that of his successors.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Taposiris Magna in Egypt

Taposiris Magna has been in the news lately because of the extensive archaeological diggings leading to the theory that this could be the place to find the Tomb of Cleopatra VII. This last Queen of Egypt (see: Cleopatra VII and her children, the last of the Ptolemies) leaves as big a mystery around her ultimate resting place as her distant ancestor, Alexander the Great. Anyway, this riddle has not been solved as yet.


Taposiris Magna lies on Egypt's north coast about halfway between Alexandria and El-Alamein, some 60 km from the center of Alexandria. Nowadays, it falls within the Alexandria Governorate of Egypt. It’s interesting to know that it was on the road to Paraetonium, which Alexander took when he visited Siwah. Callisthenes tells us that Alexander stopped in Taposiris Magna, so we should assume this was an earlier settlement.

[Picture from Heritage Daily. Image Credit : Koantao - CC BY-SA 3.0]

It has been recorded that the city was built by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the son and successor of Ptolemy I, between 280 and 270 BC. It stood on top of a limestone ridge that separates the Mediterranean from the now dry Lake Mareotis. In Roman times, a channel of 50 meters wide was dug out together with a closed harbor system. To eliminate the silt carried by the Nile, these skilled builders ingeniously added two de-silting openings to the harbor basin. Besides some shops, cisterns, and several private and public buildings, the most significant remains are those of the Temple of Osiris and a lighthouse.


The name Taposiris Magna means “the great tomb of Osiris,” which clearly refers to the temple. The theory about the last resting place of Cleopatra VII matured after discovering a large necropolis outside the walls. It contains Greco-Roman mummies, which all face the temple. Hence the link to the presence of royalty within the walls of the temple and hopefully of Cleopatra.


Further excavations have located the original gate to the Temple of Osiris, including several stones that once lined the entrance. This may be an indication that there was an avenue bordered with sphinxes as customary at the time the Pharaohs ruled Egypt, i.e., until the arrival of Alexander.


The town is surrounded by a long wall that ran further south to the shore of the lake to ensure that the caravans would pass through the city. Until the 7th century AD, Taposiris Magna played a significant role on the trading route for the goods arriving over Lake Mareotis and overland from the Cyrenaica (see: Cyrene, founded by the Greeks). This forced the merchants to pay taxes before traveling onward to Alexandria.

[Picture from Heritage Daily. Pharos of Abusir – 
Image Credit : Einsamer Schütze – CC BY-SA 3.0]

The lighthouse also called the Pharos of Abusir, is a 1:4 or 1:5 replica of the famous Pharos of Alexandria. More recent and in-depth studies have concluded that this tower was never a lighthouse but a funerary monument from Ptolemaic times inspired by the Pharos - meaning it was built after the famous lighthouse of Alexandria.


Pending more excavations, and perhaps luck, we might find the place where this remarkable Queen Cleopatra is buried.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The stunning mosaic museum of Zeugma

It appears that I have missed the construction of the new museum for the mosaics saved from Zeugma. Since 2011, the Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology houses the rich collection from the earlier Zeugma Mosaic Museum, and in 2017 the revamped museum finally reopened to the public. With its 1700 m2 of mosaics, it claims to display the biggest collection in the world. 

Zeugma reached headlines in 1990 when the Dam of Ataturk on the Euphrates River reached completion as part of the vast GAP-project covering both the Euphrates and the Tigris. This is the fourth largest dam in the world. As the remains of old Zeugma were to be flooded forever, thousands of people had been expelled from their homes and lands. Archaeologists from everywhere scrambled to save what they could before the river and sediments would obliterate the ruins forever. For me, such an act of destruction is unforgivable, and I wrote several blogs on the disasters of building dams (see: My heart is bleeding for Allianoi, Damned dams! and Damned dams, once again) 

Looking at the events from the positive side, I have to admit that parts of Zeugma have been saved and preserved. They include the Hellenistic Agora, the Roman Agora, two sanctuaries, a theater, a Stadium, two bathhouses, and several necropolises. The Romans left their marks with a Legion’s Military Base, the city walls, and a good number of residential quarters. Archaeologists recognize the historical significance of this once prosperous city that has preserved testimonies from the ancient Semitic culture, Hellenistic and Roman occupation, and beyond. 

Since its foundation as Seleucia by Seleucos I, the city was a vital hub on the trade routes and flourished, especially during the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC. It was the Romans who, after their conquest of 64 BC, gave the town the name of Zeugma, which means “bridge” or “crossing” in ancient Greek. In 253 AD, the Persian Sassanids expelled the Romans, and their reign initiated the decline of Zeugma (see:  Zeugma, Border-town along the Euphrates River) 

As can be expected, most of the mosaics exhibited at The Gaziantep Museum of Archaeology date from the 2nd century BC and are very much Hellenistic in style and imagery. However, there are exceptions where the scenes are purely Roman or display Greek and Roman gods side by side. Less often mentioned are the rare mural frescos that survived the earthquakes and mudslides that led to abandoning Zeugma. 

Several exceptional mosaics have been recovered in extremis from one of the residential villas, of which there must be many more. Imagine how much of old Seleucia is being lost because of a dam that will no longer exist and justify its construction in the next century. How can we condemn IS for blowing up Palmyra and accept the willful destruction of our heritage here in Zeugma? 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Cute statue of Silenus unearthed in Pella

Silenus is much less-known than his pupil Dionysus, but he is an equally fanciful figure. It seems that initially, Silenus was depicted with the ears and legs of a horse and sometimes even had a tail. However, the later statues usually depicted him as bald and fat and with human legs. 

Finding a small marble statue of Silenus in the North Portico of the Agora in Pella is quite unusual. He is shown with a beard and wearing animal skin and boot-like shoes. His traits lead archaeologists to recognize the features of Silenus, who moved together with Dionysus, and Satyrs and Maenads. Nearby, they also unearthed a semicircular structure and small lead pipes that probably connected to a little fountain. Fragments from a large bronze statue were also discovered. 

It is pretty exciting to hear that the excavations around the Agora are still ongoing. Over the years, this massive square has been carefully restored to give the visitor an excellent impression of what it looked like in the late 4th century BC during the reign of Cassander. 

The Agora remained the commercial and administrative center throughout the Hellenistic period until it was destroyed some 200 years later – possibly by an earthquake.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

All you need to know about music in antiquity

The subject of music has been discussed previously in several blogs such as
ARTE TV has recently shown a documentary about music in antiquity, providing an excellent chronology and overview of how it was written and how it was deciphered.
Their “Echos de l’antiquité”, of which I insert the summary hereafter, can also be watched on their own site of ARTE, in different languages including English. It is available free of charge until 28 August 2021. After that date, it can be purchased as  a video or DVD.

A very informative summary is given by O2B Film, which I copied hereafter.



Réalisateur : Bernard George

Auteur : Bernard George

Producteur délégué : O2B Films

Diffuseurs : ARTE France • RTE

Année de diffusion : 2021 (en production)

Durée : 52 minutes

Récemment, un papyrus est découvert dans une réserve du musée du Louvre. Il s’agit d’un texte grec à peine lisible, surmonté de petits signes étranges.

L’enquête entreprise par l’archéo-musicologue Annie Bélis, révèle qu’il s’agit d’une très ancienne partition grecque et plus particulièrement d’une tragédie, une Médée. Une particularité grammaticale du texte permet d’en identifier le compositeur, Carcinos Le Jeune, un auteur cité par Aristote dans sa Rhétorique, où le philosophe et précepteur d’Alexandre le Grand cite quelques vers de cette tragédie.

En découvrant peu à peu la vie de Carcinos, dont le nom est gravé sur un mur du Parthénon, c’est tout un monde qui s’ouvre à nous : celui de musiciens grecs honorés comme des dieux et qui parcouraient la Méditerranée pour participer à des concours sur le modèle des Jeux Olympiques. 

Mais comment décrypter la musique de la Médée ? Un manuscrit médiéval, décrivant le système de notation musical antique grec, les Tables d’Alypius, va se révéler être une véritable « pierre de Rosette ». 

Mais pour entendre la Médée telle qu’elle a été entendue par les Grecs il y a 2400 ans, encore faut-il la jouer avec les instruments d’époque. Des cités grecques d’Anatolie à l’Égypte des Ptolémée, du site mythique de Delphes aux découvertes faites à Pompéi, nous irons sur tout le pourtour de la Méditerranée, là où les fouilles archéologiques nous ont livré quelques partitions antiques et quantité de vestiges d’instruments.

C’est lors d’un concert, donné dans le prestigieux théâtre antique d’Arles, que nous donnerons à entendre au public, avec la Médée de Carcinos rendue à la vie, un monde sonore que l’on croyait disparu à tout jamais : la musique de l’Antiquité grecque.

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