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 Dragiana/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)

Friday, July 13, 2018

Carthage Antique, des origines jusqu’à l’invasion Vandale (814 BC-439 AD) by Samir Aounallah

Clip and clear, one of the best historical overviews of Carthage is to be found in this booklet, Carthage Antique, des origines jusqu’à l’invasion Vandale (Antique Carthage from its origins to the invasion of the Vandals) (814 BC-439 AD) by Samir Aounallah (ISBN 978-9973-878526).

In a concise but very transparent way, the author walks us through Punic Carthage, telling us how it disappeared, followed by the birth of another Carthage as created by the Romans after having destroyed the city about a century before, until it became the mighty Colonia Concordia Iulia Carthago.

Carthage was founded in 814 BC as a colony of Phoenician Tyre and the principal information comes from its cemeteries, the so-called tophets. Soon Carthage outshone Tyre to become a powerful nation in its own right that inevitably grew to be the envy of Rome. This led to what went down into history as The Punic Wars.

The First Punic War was fought from 264 to 241 BC mainly in and around Sicily. The Second Punic War that raged from 218 until 201 BC is probably best known for Hannibals crossing of the Alps. The decisive blow happened during the Third Punic War that lasted only three years (149-146 BC) and ended with the victory of the Romans. After the loss of hundreds and maybe thousands of soldiers on both sides, the almighty Romans thoroughly destroyed the city of Carthage.

Since the city sat on a strategic location, Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus decided in 44 BC that it should be rebuilt. So whatever poor remains were left from the Punic city were now buried underneath the new Roman metropolis, hence the complication for modern archaeologists to redefine the outlines of either city.

This booklet is an excellent attempt to sort out the widespread ruins. It contains plenty of photographs of the ruins as visible today but also many artifacts that have been moved to the Bardo Museum in Tunis and the Museum of Carthage on the spot. Several drawings, maps, reconstructive maquettes, and visualisation pictures help to create a vivid image of what this grand city once looked like. Besides, many pages contain inserts in italics quoting texts from antique writers and other historical authors.

In short, it is an excellent tool for whoever wants to visit the remains of Carthage in modern Tunisia or for those interested in a solid historical overview.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Hello? Dr Galen?

The physician, Claudius Galenus, better known as Galen of Pergamon, was the most famous doctor in the Roman world of the 2nd century AD and probably the most famous of antiquity.

He was born in Pergamon, where he studied and he completed his education in Smyrna (modern Izmir), Corinth and Alexandria as well. He learnt his skills in his natal city while serving as an apprentice at the sanctuary of Asclepius. His main clientele were the gladiators and through this work he gained much experience in treating wounds of all kinds. This led to an unrivaled knowledge of the human anatomy, physiology and neurology. His fame was such that it reached even the imperial court of Rome. He moved to that city in 161 AD where he became the personal physician of the emperors Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus and Commodus. By that time, he had specialized in anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology and neurology but he was also well versed in philosophy and logic.

The influence of Dr Galen lasted for many centuries as his works were translated first into Arabic and later into Latin. His comprehension of the anatomy and physiology of the human body was not surpassed till the 17th century. He had borrowed his philosophy from works of Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus and he also wrote an analysis of dreams, seventeen centuries before Sigmund Freud. Renowned Islamic physicians, pharmacologists and botanists heavily leaned on Galen’s studies. Over the centuries, many scholars translated his books reviving his vast field of knowledge that was by the 11th-12th century taught at the newly founded European universities like Oxford, Paris and Bologna.

It is obvious that after almost two thousand years, Galen’s legacy has been disseminated among monasteries, medressas, museums, universities and private collectors worldwide. This makes it difficult to get a complete list of his works and almost impossible to know to what extend the books we have are really complete. Lady Fortune plays an important role in such matters and from time to time new works or unknown passages are discovered.

Papyri and parchment were expensive commodities in antiquity but also in the Middle Ages and thrifty monks in search of writing support for their prayers effectively reused old parchment. They simply scraped off the old manuscripts to overwrite them with their Christian psalms and hymns perpendicularly to the initial writing. This process is called Palimpsest.

[Picture from SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory by Farrin Abbott]

One such Palimpsest appeared in Germany at the beginning of the 1900s and its origin has been traced back to the Monastery of St Catherine on the Sinai Peninsula. Close examination with special X-ray imaging has revealed an underlying text in Syriac from the 6th century which constitutes the most complete surviving copy of an original book by Galen. This text was erased and written over in the 11th century.

Thanks to modern imaging and digital processing techniques, scientists and scholars are uncovering and studying the Roman physician’s original text over the past decade. Eventually this precious evidence will be added to the already existing high-resolution images which are made available online by the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. This institution is in the process of collecting leaves from the same Syriac manuscript that made their way to different locations such as the libraries at Harvard University, Paris, and the Vatican to name just a few.

The intention is to digitally reconstruct Galen’s book. This is a long-term project considering that it takes about ten hours to scan one single page. Only when these complex scans are completed the research team will be able to start analyzing the words and thoughts of this great physician in order to fit them in the context of the pages that are kept elsewhere.

Details on this time-consuming research can be found in this article “HiddenMedical Text Read for the First Time in a Thousand Years” by Amanda Solliday".

Friday, July 6, 2018

Puzzling Zeugma’s mosaics together

It is the flooding of Zeugma by the rising waters of the Euphrates River that drew the world’s attention to this once so proud city. Zeugma first reached headlines in 1990 when the Dam of Ataturk on this river, part of the huge GAP-project, was completed (see: Zeugma, Border-Town along the Euphrates River).

This time, the news comes from another side, the Bowling Green State University in Ohio, U.S.A., who possessed twelve mosaics from ancient Zeugma. The pieces are said to be looted from the site nearly fifty years ago during illegal excavations. It turns out that these sections belong to the well-known mosaic of the so-called Gipsy Girl.


With the customary flattering words and adequate apologies and reverence, the return agreement has been signed and the mosaics have been handed over to Turkey. They will, no doubt, join the magnificent collection at the Museum of Gaziantep.

It always is very satisfactory to witness how widespread bits and pieces of archaeological finds are being reunited, especially when they return to their place of origin.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Lydia and its abundance of gold

Lydia, now in modern Turkey, does not immediately ring a bell but the proverbial expression of “being as rich as Croesus” certainly will.

We have to go back to the 6th century BC when Croesus was King of Lydia, which covered all of Asia Minor west of the Halys River, except Lycia to the south. He was the last ruler to oppose Persia’s conquest of Asia Minor and their invasion of Greece. Croesus' opponent was nobody less than the powerful Cyrus the Great

While preparing for this mighty confrontation, Croesus consulted the oracle of Delphi to know what his chances were. As always, the oracle answered in an ambiguous way stating that should Croesus attack the Persians, he would destroy a great empire. He obviously believed what he wanted to believe (that he would be victorious) but the reality turned out to be just the opposite and he was defeated by Cyrus in 546 BC.

Lydia had a common border with Media which Cyrus had united with Persia, the Halys River and this is where Croesus and Cyrus met in a fierce but inconclusive fight. As winter approached, Croesus disbanded his army (a common practice in his days) but Cyrus did not and carried out another attack in Thymbria (near Troy) followed by the conclusive one in Sardes where he captured Croesus. The death of this great Lydian king is shrouded in mystery and legend. The most current theory is that Cyrus ordered him to be burned on a pyre but that Croesus somehow escaped death with a great deal of variations as to how that happened.

According to history, Croesus was the first to issue coins with a standard tenure in gold used for general circulation. However, the coins were made of electrum which was found in the alluvial deposits of the Pactolus River that ran through Sardes, the capital of Lydia. It did not take local metallurgists too long to discover how to separate gold from silver and in the process they were able to produce each metal with a high degree of purity.

After the Persian victory, gold was adopted by the Achaemenids to become the main currency for their coins, the Daric. The value of the Lydian gold and silver coins was trusted throughout the antique world, making Sardes inevitably one of the richest cities. It is no surprise that Alexander, even one century later, was most determined to conquer Sardes and its precious treasury.

Beside these precious gold/electrum mines, Lydia was also an important center for manufacturing and dying delicate woolens and carpets. It makes me wonder whether these were the ancestors of today’s carpet industry in Turkey, who knows?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Amphipolis and its guardian

Amphipolis, after so many speculations and still more hypes, is tentatively back in the news – although this is an old story altogether.

The Greek Reporter retells the story of Alexandros Kochliaridis born and raised in Amphipolis, who seems to be the first to have found the ruins of the Amphipolis tomb as early as 1964. All through his long career of archaeological discoveries he closely worked together with the renown Dimitrios Lazaridis. He tells the story in this interesting Youtube movie, from which he emerges as the Guardian of Amphipolis.


The Kasta Hill has been used since prehistoric times as a burial site and there are many more tombs than the one that made the headlines a few years ago. It still is everyone’s guess who actually is buried here with the pomp worthy of a very important person or persons.

Monday, June 25, 2018

First restorations of Termessos

When I wrote my blog about Termessos (see: Alexander avoided the siege of Termessos) a few years ago, I repeatedly mentioned how little of the city had been cleared and excavated – be it to my greatest pleasure.

Understandably, there comes a time when some restorations and/or reconstructions are in order and the first choice fell on Termessos' 2,300 year-old city walls. It is a rather clear-cut project since almost 3,000 stone blocks are readily available. They have all been scanned and numbered in order to reconstruct one third of the original one thousand meter-long wall. Modern cranes are now handling the blocks weighing as much as two and a half tons. It makes you wonder how the ancient Greeks managed to move and put these heavy stones into place. The restoration also includes four towers inside the wall. When this stretch of the wall is completed, it will stand to a height of six meters.

More excavation work has been initiated at Termessos and part of the ancient road leading from the ancient city to Attaleia (modern Antalya) has been exposed (partially still hidden, however, underneath the modern asphalt road). It is nothing more than a natural route connecting inland Pisidia to the sea that was used since prehistoric times. The most exciting part of this discovery is the fact that this may well be the road Alexander used when he besieged Termessos in 333 BC.

As mentioned in my earlier blog, there are many skeleton remains of Hellenistic and Roman buildings like the temples of Zeus and Artemis, and the so-called Corinthian temple, the Heroon for an unknown hero, the Agora with its underground cisterns, the Roman Bouleuterion, the initially Greek theater that was later remodeled to meet Roman needs, the Roman Baths and Gymnasium, several fountains or Nympheions, and most striking of all, the impressive Tomb of Alcetas.

It is clear that Termessos has a lot to tell since it was only abandoned in the 5th century AD after nearly one thousand years of existence.

[Pictures are from Hurriyet  Daily News, click here and here.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

“The countless aspects of Beauty” at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

The beauty of Greek art, especially from the Classical and Hellenistic periods is, in my eyes, unsurpassed.

In order to celebrate its 150th birthday, the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, put together a special exhibition to illustrate the beauty of Greek art from the Neolithic period to the late antiquity. To this purpose 340 works from the museum’s collection have been selected and are now exhibited under the common title “The countless aspects of Beauty” – a unique way to appreciate this facet of Greek art.

This special exhibition is set up in four separate sections.
Eternal aesthetics” is the first section presenting objects of everyday life in prehistoric times, followed by “The Beautiful and the Desirable” referring to the aesthetic preferences in clothing, hairstyles and beautification. The third section “Focusing on the Body” treats the human body as represented from the Neolithic period to historic times. The exhibition concludes with a final section titled “The endless Quest” which concentrates on the significance of the beautiful and its value for humans.



Among the masterpieces, please note the Bronze head from Delos (early 1st century BC),  the Birth of Aphrodite from Baiae (2nd century AD), the Boy from Marathon (4th century BC), the Diadoumenos from Delos (100 BC copy of an original from 450-425 BC) and many, many others.

This exhibition was started last month and will remain open to the public till the end of 2019 - time enough to plan your visit to Athens allowing you to include this highlight in your trip.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Alexander the Great, Son of the Gods by Alan Fildes and Joann Fletcher

A pleasure for the eye is what first comes to mind after reading Alexander the Great, Son of the Gods by Alan Fildes and Joann Fletcher (ISBN 0-89236-783-0).

Much care is given to the presentation, print, paper and illustrations. The edge of the pages is color-coded to match each of the five chapters: The Prince of Macedon; Conqueror of the East; The Great King; To the Endless Ocean; and, Return to Babylon. The fact that this book is published by Getty Trust Publications, J. Paul Getty Museum stands for quality, of course.

Portions of Alexander’s eventful life are served in small comprehensive bites, often filling two pages for a subject which is always started with a summary insert to keep the story flowing. Comprehensive maps cover selected areas, yet each map is connecting chronologically to the next. On top of all that, there are inserts on pertinent subjects like, His Father’s Son; Alexander’s Men; Coins for a New Empire; Crowns and Caps, Hats and Headcloths; Military Engineering; Medical Care; and plenty of other details.

This book makes easy and interesting reading. It is ideal for those who are looking for a solid overview of Alexander’s personality and campaigns without getting lost in too many details.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

An update on Germenicia

Back in 2012, I posted my first blog about the city of Germenicia located some one hundred kilometers north of Gaziantep in eastern Turkey (see: Ever heard of Germenicia?).

Illegal digs carried out in 2007 had revealed the presence of the Roman city of Germenicia or Germenicia Caesarea named after Emperor Caligula (in full Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus) which covered an area of 140 hectares. The terrain has been divided in 50 parcels and after almost ten years the land of 30 of them has been expropriated. Works have been ongoing since in order to register, excavate and preserve the many large Roman villas and their exquisite floor mosaics.

[Mosaic from Germanicia, at the Kahramanmaraş Museum

It appeared that these villas belonged to the local elite and military leaders and it is estimated that there are approximately one hundred such residences built on the foothill of the mountain. The mostly intact mosaics that have been unearthed so far are of the highest quality and generally date from the 4th, 5th and 6th century AD. They feature sophisticated designs using a mix of colored glass, marble and limestone tesserae, deploying even three-dimensional effects. The quality of these mosaics is unusual because of their realism and their details ranging from architectural representations to scenes of daily life.

The Romans were not the first to occupy the region. Earlier settlers were the Urartians, Assyrians, Persians, Macedonians and the Seleucids because the city was built on the crossroads of several ancient trade routes, like the Silk Road. But the wear and tear of repeated wars, landslides and fire buried the city into oblivion for almost 1,500 years.

Kahramanmaraş, the modern version of Germenicia  has a worthwhile museum of its own. It displays more than 30,000 artifacts from local excavations dating from prehistoric times, Hittite occupation, Roman and Byzantine era. Most spectacular are, of course, the mosaics recovered from the Roman villas of Germenicia  but also from other nearby sites. An adjacent room is exhibiting a number of steles, sarcophagi and marble heads of the Roman elite; another room illustrates daily life through a rich collection of tools, jewelry, armory, pottery, bronze and glass artifacts as well as coins from Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman eras.

As elsewhere, Turkey hopes to draw tourists to Germenicia, who may already be visiting the treasures of Sanliurfa (founded by Seleucos in 304 BC as Edessa) and Gaziantep (where the mosaics from Zeugma are being exhibited).

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Improving the archaeological site of Philippi

Money is generally the main ingredient to get new excavations under way and it is great to hear that 2.3 million euros are being made available for Philippi, the city named in honor of Alexander’s father.

The site, as it is today, is a very welcoming place with ample parking and a large park where locals like to spend time with their children playing while enjoying a cool drink in the shade of old trees. It is an excellent spot to start a visit.

Until now, the ancient site of Philippi was divided in two parts by an old and recently disaffected asphalt road keeping the theater and Paul’s prison on one side and the Byzantine churches and the Roman Forum and private houses on the other. The new project includes the removal of this tarmac allowing the site to be fully unified. At the same time, the Via Egnatia running right next to that asphalt road will become more accessible.


The works will also include new fencing of the site with a new entrance to the west of Philippi as well as the restoration of the eastern fortifications. New archaeological finds resulting from these works will certainly make their way to the local Museum of Philippi which is sadly so often overlooked by tourists.