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)

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Searching for the harbor of Pella

According to the latest news, archaeologists have started defining the old coastline of Pella to locate the position of its ancient harbor. 

Pella was built at the mouth of the Axios River to ensure direct access to the sea. Until now, the harbor has not been located because today, Pella lies 25 km inland (see: Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great). Over the past two thousand years, the harbor has silted up, transforming the once so busy lagoon into a lake, which eventually dried up. 

Mouth of the Axios River today

The archaeologists retraced the ancient coastline and the small walled island of Fakos that lay opposite the entrance, thanks to surface and geophysical surveys. They presently are investigating the role this port played in Macedonia’s history, even though Alexander started his campaign in Amphipolis. They believe that many ships of his fleet were built here. 

From the 5th century BC onwards, the harbor of Pella was a commercial hub where goods were loaded and unloaded and where visiting embassies anchored on their journey to the Royal Palace. 

Another research project is underway to learn more about the buildings and quays of this vital port city.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Hidden treasures of Central Asia

In a recent article, The Greek Reporter focused on the achievements of the prominent archaeologist Viktor Sarianidi (which they misspelled as Victor Sarigiannidis). 

His name is closely tied to the excavations at Tillya Tepe in Afghanistan, which had to be interrupted when the USSR invaded the country. The treasures from that tomb were safely transferred to the Museum of Kabul for safekeeping. When the Taliban rose to power in 2001, they decided to destroy the 2,500 statues and reliefs kept at the Museum. The Afghans managed to move and hide the precious artifacts from the tomb. In 2004, the government of Afghanistan decided the situation was safe enough to bring the gold treasures out in the open again. As the Museum in Kabul could no longer shelter this precious collection, they agreed with the Musée Guimet in Paris to send these rich finds on a traveling tour (see: BactrianGold, the Hidden Treasures from the Museum of Kabul). The Greek Reporter mentions that the artifacts have instead disappeared!

[Picture from The Telegraph, CREDIT: ©Thierry Ollivier / Musée Guimet]

Viktor Sarianidi lived an interesting life, to say the least. He was born in Tashkent, then USSR, and now Uzbekistan, to Greek parents. His archaeological career took off in 1949, and he excavated actively in Central Asia and Afghanistan. At this time, he exposed the necropolis of Tillya Tepe. It is noteworthy that Sarianidi proved the intercultural influences of the findings with links to Greece, Iran, India, Egypt, China, and even Siberia! The most striking example is the cute little Greek goddess Aphrodite, complemented with wings conforming to local winged deities and the dot on the forehead that shows influence from India

Sarianidi spent the last 30 years of his life excavating in the Desert of the Karakum in Turkmenistan, where he discovered the hitherto unknown Margian Kingdom (end of the 3rd millennium BC). This discovery earned him the Honorary citizenship of Turkmenistan in 2000. Three years earlier, he had received Greek citizenship. These rewards have led to widespread confusion about his nationality, and he is quoted alternatively as Russian, Greek, or Turkmen. 

[Kyzylkum Desert and Oxus River]

With such a background, he promoted the Greek presence in the greater Black Sea area and identified Greek roots in modern Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Sarianidi also developed a theory that Hellenism (I believe he means Greek) influences reached Central Asia some 1600 years before Alexander the Great arrived on the scene. This means that the culture of the Oxus River could be associated with the Minoan-Mycenaean culture. He was a prolific writer, and his books have been translated into English and Greek. 

The Greek Reporter further insists that Sarianidi discovered “the city” of Bactria! This is very confusing because Bactria was a region in Central Asia, and its capital was named Bactra, modern Balkh. Linking Bactra and the vast necropolis of Gonur Tepe apparently confirms Sarianidi’s theory that Greek influences (not Hellenism) were present many centuries before Alexander conquered Central Asia.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Behind the screen of the Alexander movie

We all tend to think that playing a role in a movie is about glamour and competition to be the best, the most appealing, the most successful, and the sexiest. Most actors will aim to reach that high status because it is very profitable. 

However, under certain circumstances, some performers will really embody their screen personage to bring them back to life. That realm is reserved for only a few of them. At this level and beyond their talent, they are exposed to fiercer critics and jealousy, which they must withstand. 

Well, the world of Hollywood and the like is a privileged one, which I don’t want to discuss. The reason for tackling the subject is the Alexander movie by Oliver Stone (yes, once again!). 

Like Alexander’s actual life and heritage, the movie has been criticized ad nauseam. Too many arguments, comments, and opinions have been formulated in endless theories developed in live discussions on TV, YouTube, and other digital media. 

It is precisely one such YouTube exposé that caught my eye: 

Colin Farrell, chosen to play the role of Alexander, received the brunt of the critics. Nothing less than what Alexander endured in his lifetime and after his death 2,300 years ago. May this be a noble consolation to Colin! 

Few know that Colin worked for six months to prepare for his role. He had to learn to fight in close combat using spears and kopis as a foot soldier and cavalryman. He had to know how to ride bareback and underwent rough physical training in martial arts. Colin had to be proficient in these fields before joining the boot camp Oliver Stone had planned for all the “generals” and other leaders. Colin had to somehow copy Alexander to project the same self-assurance, charisma, and authority as the king did (see: The power of Alexander, his generalship, charisma, or both?) Commanding the phalanx (played by Moroccan soldiers) was another major challenge. 

There are so many aspects of which the critical moviegoer is unaware. The above YouTube provides us a brilliant insight into the genius of Oliver Stone and Colin Farrell worth sharing. Nothing short of Alexander's.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Cohabitation of metro and museum

The story is not new. Metro lines have been constructed in many capital cities for the past decennia. Excavating the layers covering ancient settlements inevitably led to new discoveries. 

This was the case in Istanbul, Athens and Thessaloniki, Rome and Naples, Sofia (ancient Serdica), Plovdiv (ancient Philippopolis), and many others. In all cases, the finds yielded remains of temples, agoras, private houses and workshops, mosaics, coins, pottery, jewelry, etc. However, each city contributed in its own way to enrich our archaeological inheritance. 

In Istanbul, the construction of the Marmara Undersea Metro Line revealed a large section of ancient ports along the Bosporus, including ships of varied sizes from the 5th to the 11th century. The largest concentration of 37 shipwrecks dates from the 6th and 7th centuries AD. 

[Vaulted Eridanos River at metro station, Athens]

Athens exposed parts of its old city walls and the still flowing Eridanos River that runs through the Kerameikos, the ancient necropolis. The metro line between Athens and Piraeus yielded a great number of surprises of its own (see: Exposing the Hellenistic past of Piraeus). 

Thessaloniki surprised us with its ancient main street, the Decumanus Maximus, and the Via Egnatia, besides several necropolises (see: Archaeological finds at the Metro of Thessaloniki and Thessaloniki continues writing history). 

In Naples, archaeologists were able to retrace the ancient coastline thanks to a variety of shipwrecks. They excavated an important thermal bath complex, remains of the commercial area around the Greek agora, several houses with their atrium, and the Decumanus Maximus (see: The harbor of Roman Naples uncovered).

Sofiathe capital of Bulgaria, is no exception: Evidence of antiquity can be clearly seen at the Serdica Station, which exhibits a wealth of unearthed Thracian and Roman ruins and modern architecture.” (quoted from Wikipedia).

Plovdiv, ancient Philippopolis, is another of those capital cities turned upside down by recent archaeological excavations (see: Plans enough to dig out Philippopolis). 

Rome lately made headlines during metro works. Ancient Roman barracks from the 2nd century AD were discovered some nine meters below today’s street level. The ruins count 39 rooms, and many still display mosaics and frescoes. Following suit with similar situations in Greece and Turkey, authorities plan to incorporate the barracks into a large metro/museum structure. The station is located between the Coliseum and the Forum Romanum, along Line C, which is still under construction.

Nowadays, all major cities need more and more to revert to traveling by metro. As the majority of those towns have been built over and on top of ancient settlements, it is inevitable to hit remains from eons past. The municipalities share the most important artifacts with their local museums, but it is an excellent idea to create mini museums or exhibition showcases at the places where the pieces were found!

Paris may have been the first to display copies of telling artifacts from the Louvre. It is a true pleasure to spend time at the telling metro stops in the cities mentioned above and more. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Happy Birthday Alexander!

 Today we celebrate Alexander’s birthday, a date I could never forget. 

I still don’t know if the ancient Greeks and Macedonians celebrated their birthdays, although the people of Thasos remembered Alexander on this day. 

In antiquity, people did not live by a calendar with a recurring yearly date as we do. Celebrations occurred following some astrological events making time very elastic. 

The only way to be sure of Alexander’s date of birth is that the Temple of Artemis in Ephesos burnt that very night. Some lunatic by the name of Herostratus wanted his name to be remembered. Well, he obviously did more than that! 

Legend has a more elegant explanation for the fire. The story goes that Artemis was far too busy helping Alexander into the world and neglected her duties in the temple. 

Whatever the story, scholars so far all agree on the date of 20/21 July for Alexander’s birth. 

Happy birthday Alexander!

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Presence of the Greek gods in Asia after Alexander

Just imagine doing some excavations in the middle of the Ganges Valley to find hundreds of seals carrying the image of Greek gods and goddesses such as Athena, Apollo, Nike, and Herakles! 

[Agate intaglio from Phu Khao Thong (right), impression (left). H. 16 mm.
Photos: Brigitte Borell and Prachak Pongspanich] 

The discovery of the figure of Herakles, in particular, is very striking and recognizable as he is resting on a club and holding a lion skin. He appeared from excavations in the 1940s at Rajghat, close to the Varuna and Ganges Rivers confluence. The site was a well-established trade center in antiquity, with connections reaching westward till Taxila. Considering that the distance from the Indus Valley, where Alexander halted his march eastwards, to the Ganges is almost 1500 km, shows how far his Greek influence traveled after his death. 

The surprise discovery does not stop in India as pictures of the god Herakles were found as far away as southern Thailand, at the archaeological site of Phu Khao Thongis – meaning Golden Hill - on the Isthmus of Kra. The hill owes its name to the many gold finds resulting from legal and illegal diggings. 

This coastal trading post was linked to the maritime networks of the Indian Ocean and served as a hub for land crossings to the peninsula's east coast and the South China Sea The unearthed artifacts originate from China and South East Asia to the Mediterranean in the West. They can be dated to the last centuries BC and early AD. Typical among the finds are, on the one hand, a fragment of a Roman cameo and a Roman intaglio from the West, and on the other hand, fragments of bronze mirrors from China’s Han period (25-220 AD) from the East. 

The Herakles from Thailand is remarkable because his design does not originate in the Mediterranean. The young beardless Herakles has big eyes and a large nose – hardly the delicate true-to-nature rendition of the Greeks! It is, however, the work of an experienced local craftsman and appears to have been made for a finger-ring. This kind of beardless Herakles may be tied to the days of Alexander the Great, who used it on his coins. The Graeco-Bactrian King Demetrius I, who ruled from c. 200 until 190 BC, continued the tradition in his eastern empire. 

The main concern for scholars is to note the difference between local work and imports from the Mediterranean. This is far from clear-cut, as craftsmen may have settled deeper into Asia, or local craftsmen may have mastered the techniques from those same settlers. 

[TopGold ring with glass intaglio from Sirkap, Taxila. H. 22.1 mm
(from Marshall 1951: pl.197)
BottomBronze ring seal and impression (left) from Taxila H. 19 mm.
Taxila Museum, inv. 8797 (Photos: Courtesy of Aman ur Rahman)]

A good example is a ring found in a large hoard of jewelry at Sirkap near Taxila, buried there towards the end of the 1st century AD. Here, Herakles is presented as a slender and relatively thin figure – a far cry from the muscular male we would expect. However, it originated from a highly-skilled school of gem-engraving.

The Herakles seal from Thailand resembles a garnet seal from the Northwest of the Indian subcontinent, possibly created there as well. It is now exhibited at the British Museum. It is noteworthy that it is closely related in type to two rings from Taxila. 

A similar meager Herakles appears on three other seals found in the Gandhara area in Afghanistan. Their style also suggests local production. 

These are only a few examples of the spreading of Hellenism and Hellenistic art further East, beyond Alexander's conquered lands. I like to believe that he would have been delighted with this outcome!

[Pictures are part of the article Herakles on an Intaglio Seal Found at Phu Khao Thong in the Upper Thai-Malay Peninsula by Brigitte Borell, published at Academia.edu]

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Another qanat discovered in Iran

A hitherto unknown qanat has been discovered near the town of Chaqabol in western Iran, roughly one hundred kilometers south of Hamadan (ancient Ecbatana).

Incredibly, so many of these underground water canals have been dug out over the centuries, and so many are still in working order. The main problem is the maintenance they require. I dedicated an earlier blog to the qanats (see: The qanats, one of the greatest inventions of mankind). 

It appears that in 2018, the cultural heritage body of Iran had documented some 120,000 qanats. About 37,000 such canals are still being used, mainly for irrigation purposes, compared to the approximately 50,000 qanats in Iran last century. 

With climate change affecting our daily use and need for water, the qanats regain their importance. Over the centuries, the local tribes and chiefs kept the system in working order. However, today's construction projects such as cities and barrages on existing rivers often disrupt and/or interrupt the water supply. Since those projects are overseen by a governmental institution, little attention goes to this centuries-old supply system on which many local populations still rely. In the process, small communities lose their only access to water. They cannot raise their crops and lack water for their own basic needs. 

It is noteworthy that eleven aqueducts across Iran were put as “Persian Qanat” on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2016. 

We still can learn a lot from our ancestors if we earnestly try to listen to them!

Monday, July 4, 2022

Let's play chess and relive the Battle of Issus

If I were a rich man, ... surely I would buy this chess game. It is a pure pleasure for the eye and handling each and every piece of the game would bring me closer to Alexander at his Battle of Issus!

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The Battle of Issus Chess Set

Photo by M.S. Rau

It's a unique piece and is wonderful, it would be a dream to have it... even less valuable workmanship and material to make it more affordable to many but is wonderful!

Lavishly decorated and large in size, this extraordinary chess set is the only one of its kind and is perhaps the best ever made. Crafted by the hand of a master jeweler, the exquisite quality of its manufacture is showcased in each and every detail. Every 14k gold game piece is different, encrusted with semiprecious stones and brightly hued enamel, and each is endowed with mechanical movement. This ancient game of war truly comes to life on the breathtaking board, which is itself a spectacular sight to behold.

The ancient Battle of Issus is the subject of the set and an apt reference to the military-like strategy of the game. What was one of the most important battles of the ancient world is beautifully retold here through pieces representing gods and goddesses, ancient structures, and creatures of both Greek and Persian origin. Alexander the Great and King Darius III take their places on the board as kings. At Alexander's side is Queen Athena, the Greek goddess of war and wisdom, while the winged Persian god of war stands as Darius' queen piece. Warships sailing over waves and massive elephants covered in elaborate trappings take the place of bishops, while the castles have been transformed into the columned temples of ancient Greece and the impressive Persepolis. Horsemen and footmen face off as well, each with their own sword, javelin or bow.

Photo by M.S. Rau
Photo by M.S. Rau
Photo by M.S. Rau

Not a single detail has been overlooked, from the laces of the soldiers' boots to the tiny feathered arrows in their quivers. Yet, even the spectacular aesthetic design of the pieces is surpassed by their mechanical complexity. Each figure stands on a solid pink rhodonite or green malachite base that, when twisted, triggers a different movement in each individual piece. Through this simple movement, the ships row their oars, Alexander lowers his sword, archers tense their bows and horses shake their manes — the extraordinary pieces, so rich in appearance, truly come alive.

Photo by M.S. Rau

The chess table is as remarkable as the chess pieces. The squares of the board are crafted of pink rhodonite and green malachite to match the bases of each piece and can be removed for storage when not in use. The sides of the board are formed from pure silver, sculpted in high relief to depict battle scenes that mimic the motifs in the game pieces. Archers, horsemen, chariots and elephants all engage in endless combat that heightens the drama of the game board.

Photo by M.S. Rau

A product of over 14,000 man-hours over the course of a decade, this sensational chess set is perhaps the most complex and extravagant ever created. In terms of both mechanics and aesthetics, it is one-of-a-kind in every aspect and a true masterpiece of design.

Photo by M.S. Rau

BUY WITH CONFIDENCE: At M.S. Rau, we are so confident that our antiques are some of the finest in the world, that we back each piece we sell with a 125% guarantee.               $1,985,000 – Item No. 31-1086

Monday, June 27, 2022

Lysimachos in the wake of Alexander – Part II

 [continued from Lysimachos in the wake of Alexander - Part I]

Skipping the many details and intertwined relationships, let us pick up the story when Seleucos added his forces to those of Lysimachos and his allies to fight the elderly Antigonus Monophthalmus and his son Demetrios Poliorketes. The battle took place in 301 BC at Ipsus and ended with Antigonus’ defeat and death. The victors subsequently divided his territory among them. Lysimachos acquired a significant share with Lydia, Ionia, and Phrygia, including the entire north coast of Asia Minor. Seleucos received Syria, and Cassander was now secure in Macedonia and Greece. 

Until then, Antigonus Monophthalmus had been the most successful among the generals in recreating Alexander’s empire. His son Demetrios attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he lacked a broader view. 

Around that time, Nicaea died, and Lysimachos honored her by naming a city in Asia Minor after her, modern Iznik in Turkey. 

As Seleucos was growing ever more powerful, Lysimachos thought it wise to seek the support of Ptolemy. Around 300 BC, he elected to marry Arsinoe, the daughter of Ptolemy, and his mistress Berenice. Amastris, as said above, stepped back and divorced herself from Lysimachos, moving back to Herakleia. 

Although this marriage of Lysimachos was not a happy one, Arsinoe stayed with her husband till his death. She bore him three sons: Ptolemy I Epigonos, Lysimachos, and Philip. Her jealousy, however, incited her to convince her husband to kill his oldest son and heir, Agathocles (from his marriage to Nicaea), based on treason. The murder happened in 284 BC despite the young man successfully leading his father’s army in combat. Although he was only in his early thirties, his men loved him much. 

Meanwhile, Cassander died in 297 BC. His sons were more interested in fighting each other for power than ruling the country. Macedonia eventually fell into the hands of Demetrios. So, in 287 BC, Lysimachos agreed to fight alongside Pyrrhus to drive Demetrios out of Macedonia. They successfully ruled the country jointly until Lysimachos broke up with Pyrrhus and seized Macedonia for himself. 

Lysimachosgreed and thirst for power equaled that of the other generals, now kings in their realms. The fighting was not over yet. 

Seleucos, in 282 BC, broke his alliance with Lysimachos as he attempted to take his territory in Asia Minor. The final clash happened in Lydia at Corupedium in 281 BC. It ended with the death of Lysimachos. By then, the King of Thrace must have been in his late 70s. He had lived a life of almost continuous and repeated battles, inspired by the greatest conqueror of all times, Alexander the Great. 

Like the other new self-proclaimed kings, Lysimachos had minted his own coins. However, he did not follow them by stamping his personal image on these coins but kept using the effigy of Alexander instead. Could that be seen as a late posthumous homage and tribute to his boyhood friend? 

Lysimachos is also being honored as a friend and benefactor of Samothrace. He received the title of Lysimachos Euergetes as inscribed on the altar erected in his honor and used during annual festivals. A stele found on the island reads a dedication of King Lysimachos from between 288 and 281 BC. Based on the surviving first fifteen lines, Lysimachos was honored for restoring sacred lands on the mainland initially granted to Samothrace by either Philip II or Alexander the Great or by Philip Arrhideus III and Alexander IV. There were boundary stones for said sacred land near Alexandroupolis in Greece. 

Money was never an issue throughout all those years of bickering, conniving, and fighting. Lysimachos, like all the other generals, had cashed his share of Alexander’s fortune. In his case, it was a mere 9,000 talents in silver and gold, roughly worth several billion in today’s value. The money was safely kept on the Acropolis of Pergamon. However, when Attalus III gave the city to Rome in 133 BC, the entire treasure (not limited to Lysimachos share) fell into Roman hands. This fortune contributed largely to the rise of the Roman Empire – but that is another story.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Alexander the Great: The making of a Myth

For those living in the U.K. or transiting through London this winter, it may be an excellent opportunity to stop at this exhibition about Alexander the Great organized by The British Library. 

[Picture: © Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge © Hamish Steele, © Richard Stoneman]

The British Library was once part of the British Museum but moved in 1973 to a separate building situated between the railway stations of St. Pancras and Euston in London. 

It is one of the largest libraries in the world and contains 14 million books among between 170 and 200 million other items. The Library also organizes exhibitions. This time, Alexander the Great is put in the limelight as it centers on the myths that surround him since before his death and are still very much alive after more than 2000 years. 

This unique event displays old astrological clay tablets, ancient papyri, medieval manuscripts, movies, and video games. European, Middle Eastern, and Asian cultures competed to make him the kind of hero they wanted him to be. This is true for the past but also in today’s world. 

Trying to separate myth from reality is a near-impossible task. As I so often stated, there is not one truth or one Alexander as we all create our own vision of this great man, who was king, emperor, and Pharaoh, but also a general, philosopher, and visionary. 

Who Alexander was as a man is something each of us has to define for ourselves. 

This unique exhibition will run from 21 October 2022 to 19 February 2023.


For the occasion, a special catalog will be released on 21 October 2022 by the British Library Publishing. The work is written by Richard Stoneman and will be published under the same title as the exhibition, Alexander the Great: the making of a myth (ISBN: 978-0712354769).