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, November 16, 2018

Achaemenid Palace found in Northern Turkey

It is still early days but it appears that remains of an Achaemenid Palace are surfacing from excavations at the Oluz Mound near Amasya which lies some 125 km south of Samsun.

The columns and the throne chamber, probably part of a reception chamber indicate a Persian origin and have been dated to 450 BC. The site measuring 280x260 meters lies on top of Oluz Mound rising fifteen meters above the plain level.

Interestingly, the site shows presence of earlier settlements belonging to the Anatolian Iron Age and the Hittite period based on a bull figurine recovered during the excavations. Archaeologists have established that there is a large Hittite city underneath the Persian remain and they suppose this could be Shanovhitta.

So far, six columns from the prospective palace have been unearthed but that is far too little to establish a clear plan of the building. We will have to wait the outcome of further digging on this site for more tangible details.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Importance of the Meander River (western Turkey)

The River Meander in Asia Minor played an important role in the history of Miletus and Priene because its large alluvial deposits completely changed the landscape. Miletus in particular had two harbors on the gulf of the Aegean Sea but with time they silted up and even the Island of Lade has been entirely integrated into the flat alluvial plain. (see: Miletus, Alexander’s first siege in Asia). Part of the water body still exists today but is cut off from the Aegean by the deposits and goes by the name of Lake Bafa.

[Picture from Hurriyet Daily News]
The Meander, modern Menderes River, is 550 km long and truly meanders through southwestern Turkey, irrigating farmlands and carrying industrial waste mainly from juice factories.

An alarming article has been published in the Hurryiet Daily News stating that the Meander is the country’s third most polluted river. For many years, experts have warned about this situation and are once again calling for an intervention in order to avoid environmental disasters since human health is in danger as well.

At its source near Dinar, the water is crystal clear and many species of birds and fish thrive but once it enters the province of Uşak where leather is treated on industrial scale the water changes color and the smell becomes unbearable the further you go downstream. There is a ban on fishing in these tainted waters and it has been established that some 1.5 million trout have been killed in the process. Entering the village of Balata, the water is as black as coal and smells of rotten animal corpses. At the mouth of the river, fish die by the thousands every week.

It is terribly sad that such a proud river from antiquity has been mistreated by successive civilizations making in unfit not only for agricultural irrigation but mainly for drinking. Fish and birds are dying but the rate of human death is much higher for those living along the river banks. A true disaster for mankind.

Over centuries, the Meander River has been the lifeline on which people could rely and that is no longer the case.

It appears that the Meander is not an isolated case. In another article, the Hurried Daily News reveals that 79% of Turkey’s freshwater bodies are polluted. That is particularly true for the western coast of Turkey (provinces of Muğla and Izmir) and also for Istanbul.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Tel-Gomel - in other words, Gaugamela

It is all in the name but it needs to be proved. Linguistically, Gaugamela has already been associated by scholars and archaeologists with Tel Gomel or Gammagara or Gir-e Gomel or Gogomel located some fifty kilometers northwest of Arbil or Erbil, the capital of modern Kurdistan, Iraq. Excavations at Erbil have been carried out since 2015 (see: Arbela, near the Battlefield of Gaugamela) and now it is the turn of Tel Gomel.

The Kurdish and Italian archaeologists are very eager to substantiate this name- link through new analysis on the spot now that more peaceful times in Iraq seem to allow them to work on the terrain. So far, they were able to confirm that the site was continuously inhabited from the Neolithic Period onward.

From what has transpired so far, Tel Gomel was a necropolis used by the people of Gaugamela that yielded vessels containing offerings for the dead. The cemetery was already used by the Assyrians but at a lower level monumental graves from 1700-1550 BC have been unearthed. Among these a brick grave with a vaulted burial chamber is of particular interest. Digging deeper, archaeologists uncovered an even older cemetery dating from 2600-2300 BC.

Beyond this, they also scrutinized the layers belonging to the period running from 2000 BC to the Parthian occupation in 300 AD, but no mention has been made of Alexander’s time.

At this stage, it is not clear in how far this research is centered on Tel Gomel itself or on the surrounding plain which is assumed to be the battlefield where Alexander defeated the Persian King Darius in 331 BC. What’s more, it is most improbable to find any Macedonian grave in the city’s cemeteries for they would have buried their dead according to their own practices and rites. 

Excavations will resume in 2019. Wait and see.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Alexandre le Grand by Gustave Droysen

This specific book, Alexandre le Grand by Gustave Droysen (ISBN 2-87027-077-1), is not much known among the admirers of Alexander the Great and certainly not to the English speaking public.

As a native of Treptow, now part of Poland, Gustave Droysen wrote his book in 1833 in German but we had to wait a full century to find it translated into French. The translator is Jacques-Méchin, who later wrote a history of Alexander of his own, no doubt inspired by Droysen.  My edition dates from 1981 and has respected the author’s original style as much as possible.

The German text is written in one piece, meaning that it has no chapters or points of reference. For the reader’s comfort, Jacques-Méchin has divided the book into Four Books in his translation.

It is clear that Droysen’s history does not include historical and archaeological discoveries made since 1833, especially in countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Mesopotamia in general. He rather faithfully follows ancient historians like Arrian, Diodorus, Plutarch and Curtius, without imposing his own views or opinions on us. His history is coherent and reads like a novel rather than a historical account.

In Droysen’s day, this book was taken in high esteem but with today’s reader it obviously will fall short because of the new developments that occurred over the past two hundred years. Besides, we have to consider his perception of the world against the events of his days when Napoleon had put archaeology on the map during his campaign in Egypt, which in turn triggered later explorations of Greece and Anatolia by men like H. Schliemann, C. Fellows, T.A.B. Spratt and J. Burckhardt to name just a few. In any case, the book certainly makes a good read.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The new Uşak Archaeology Museum

A few years ago when I visited the Archaeological Museum of Ankara, I was surprised to find a gold brooch of a winged seahorse set in the spotlights as there had been a lot of commotion about this piece looted from a tomb in 1965 and recovered in 2013 after it was stolen again in 2005 (see: As Rich as Croesus).

To my greatest surprise, the same brooch pops up in the collection at the new Archaeology Museum in Uşak together with 431 other artifacts from the Karun Treasures that once belonged to King Croesus of Lydia. This collection is what survives from the illegal digging at Toptepe, Ikiztepe and Aktepe, not far from Uşak in western Turkey.

The museum was planned to open in 2013, but as always those things are delayed. The new two-storey building houses 2,500 historical artifacts ranging from the Paleolithic Age up to the 20th century. Special reference is made to finds from the ancient cities of Acmonia and Sebaste of which nothing else is mentioned and this makes me wonder about their location and history. Maybe when the museum is fully functioning more information will become available?

In their article, The Hurriyet Daily News give a link to pictures of the museum but their labels are lacking information. Conclusion, this is all very interesting but at the same time very vague and in great need of more details!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Excavation results from Magnesia-on-the-Meander

Magnesia-on-the Meander is one of the lesser known archaeological sites in western Turkey. The Germans were the first to resurrect the site from its ashes so to speak at the end of the 19th century. During those years, they managed to expose Magnesia’s theater and agora, the Temple of Artemis and the Temple of Zeus, and several other buildings. Excavations were resumed only in 1984 and again this year.

This time, six statues were recovered from the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, four female and one male as the sixth one’s gender cannot be established. They were all found face-down in good condition. They will join ranks with fifty or so previously found statues that are now scattered over museums in Izmir and Aydin. The Archaeological Museum of Istanbul will get the best examples, as always joining the existing collection of statues from the Temple of Artemis. The museum’s collection already possesses magnificent friezes from said temple and boosts an excellent scale reconstruction. Also exhibited there is a marble letter written by Darius I to the satrap of Asia Minor between 492 and 485 BC.

It is expected that future excavations will reveal more statues from this particular area.

Let’s not forget that Magnesia was one of the two dozen mints that were allowed to strike coins for Alexander the Great during his lifetime!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Exploring the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

It is not common knowledge that many relics of the powerful Macedonian Kingdom are being kept at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. The most precious grave goods from all over Macedonia and from the many tombs from the 4th century BC discovered in the suburbs of Thessaloniki are accumulated within its walls.

Treasures ranging from delicate gold-sheet ornaments found on funeral garments to numerous gold earrings, pendants, necklaces, rings, fibulae, bracelets and coins await the unprepared visitor. The most striking artifacts are probably the exquisite gold wreaths composed of olive, ivy, myrtle and oak leaves, at times centered around the tiny figure of Heracles or his typical knot. When a crowd of people walk around, these tiny flowers and leaves tend to tremble; imagine the effect they had when worn live!

The richest finds come from the so-called Derveni Tombs located some 10 km NW of Thessaloniki. One of these tombs yielded twenty silver vases, a great number of alabaster and bronze vases, terracotta vessels some of which were gilded, iron weapons including a pair of bronze greaves. But the piece de resistance is the richly decorated bronze crater generally referred to as the Derveni Crater, which is worth to be explored in detail.

The Derveni Crater stands 90 cm tall and weighs some 40 kg. It is not made of gold as one would assume at first glance but of a bronze alloy containing about 15% of tin which produces its unique golden sheen. The figures and other decoration elements are made from different metals or inlays of silver, copper, bronze, etc. The motives are a mere hymn to the god Dionysus who is depicted sitting naked next to Ariadne and familiarly resting his leg on his wife’s thigh. Behind the newlywed couple stands a panther, the animal sacred to the god. Around the crater and surrounding the couple we recognize satyrs and maenads in their orgiastic dance. Two more maenads, a resting Dionysus and a sleeping satyr are all sitting cozily on the shoulders of the vase.

The bands above and under the relief of the godly couple are filled with vine and ivy branches, palm leaves and acanthus in different metal colors among tame and wild animals. This crater is generally dated between 330 and 320 BC and may be the work of either a sculptor from the Chalcidice trained in Athens or a bronze smith from the Royal Court of Alexander the Great.

This is one of the pieces that truly stands for the wealth and beauty that existed at the Macedonian palaces and surrounded Alexander.

There are more vessels and jugs that were recovered from these graves and which are labeled as bronze although they shine like gold. Such a high standard of art! There also is a fine iron pectoral covered with a thin gold sheet from Pydna, not so unlike the Macedonian ones exhibited elsewhere.

Worth the visit altogether is this gold medallion said to represent Queen Olympias wearing a chiton and a light himation to cover her hair. The reverse of the medallion depicts a sea monster, half bull half fish with a nude woman sitting on its back who has been recognized as the Nereid Thetis, mother of Achilles – clearly inspired by Alexander’s admiration for Homer’s tales. It was issued during the games held in honor of Alexander at Beroea in 225-250 AD. This medallion is part of the hoard of twenty such pieces found in Abukir, near Alexandria in 1902. 

Three other medallions are part of the collection at the Bode Museum in Berlin. It is pure joy to admire these priceless portraits of Alexander the Great, one with Nike and another with a diadem. Eleven of the other medallions have been acquired by the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal; the one depicting Emperor Caracalla, great admirer of Alexander, is at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, USA. Up to now, this is the only picture we have of Olympias, although it probably is idealized.

Beyond this precious and unique collection of Macedonian gold, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki holds another rare treasure: Europe’s oldest surviving papyrus ever, also found at Derveni. Since the roll to which it belongs has been dated to around 340 BC, the papyrus is contemporary of Philip II and Alexander! The bits of papyrus belong to a philosophical treatise, a commentary on an Orphic poem concerning the birth of the gods which was most probably written by Euthyphron from Prospalta in Attica around 420-410 BC.

It certainly pays off to venture downstairs where the Tomb of Agios Athanasios  occupies a privileged room of its own but that story has already been covered previously (see: The Macedonian Tomb of Agios Athanasios in Thessaloniki).

[Picture from Thessaloniki Travel]

There is, of course, far more to discover in the sections about the Kingdom of Macedonia and Thessaloniki, Metropolis of Macedonia that fit in the broader Alexander context. Most noticeable are for instance a lovely head of a youth inspired by Alexander the Great from the 2nd century AD, an inscription mentioning “Thessalonica daughter of Philip, Queen” dated 150-200 AD referring to Alexander’s half-sister, and a very interesting relief dedicated to Hephaistion from Pella and dated 320-300 BC (see: Another effigy of Hephaistion?). Besides, there is a great assortment of sarcophagi, funerary steles, inscriptions, statues, mosaics and architectural elements from all over Macedonia and from Thessaloniki in particular like the columns from the Temple of Aphrodite (see: Thessaloniki’s Temple of Aphrodite).

Please, do include a visit to this magnificent museum next time you are in the area – or hop a plane if you happen to be in Athens, for instance. It is worth the effort!

[Click here for more pictures from the Archaeological Museum in Thessaloniki]

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Thracian Tombs at Doxipara, Greece

Thrace is generally associated with Bulgaria but originally its borders extended from the Istros River (now the Danube forming the border between Bulgaria and Romania) to the Aegean Sea, and from the Hellespont, the Bosporus and the Black Sea in the east to Philip’s Macedonia in the west. Today, there still is a Greek province of Thrace which stretches from the Rhodope Mountains on its northern border with Bulgaria to the Aegean and is squeezed between the rivers Nestos in the west and Hebros in the east which forms the modern borderline with Turkey.

Because of its geographical position, Thrace clearly was a country on major crossroads and as such it functioned as a buffer zone in cultural and economical exchanges with its surrounding neighbors.

When Philip became king of Macedonia, his eastern border was at the Strymon River but he soon pushed further east, all the way to the Hellespont. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, the cards were reshuffled between his generals and eventually it was Lysimachos who became king of Thrace. The Romans added the country to their empire creating the Province of Thrace in 46 AD. Both Trajan and Hadrian (creating their own cities of Trajanopolis and Hadrianopolis) recognized the importance of Thrace but at the same time left ownership in the hands of the indigenous population.

One of the most characteristic heritages of Thracian civilization is their profusion of burial mounds – a tradition that goes back to the Bronze Age, the middle of the 4th-2nd millennium BC. In central Bulgaria alone over 1,500 such tumuli exist in what is called the Valley of Thracian Kings and so far only 300 of them have been properly excavated. Among the most popular monuments to date is the richly painted Tomb of Kazanlak (see: Valley of the Thracian Kings) from the 4th century BC as well as the temple-tomb of King Seuthes III who died in 300 BC.

Beyond Bulgaria, the typical Thracian tumuli are found also in the most eastern Province of Thrace in Greece. It is here that the burial mound of Mikri Doxipara – Zoni  is located. This one was constructed much later than the abovementioned ones, i.e. at the beginning of the 2nd century AD when the region was under Roman rule. Obviously, the style and decoration of the tombs have evolved from frescoed domed rooms to hold the cremated remains of the deceased to simple burials in the ground where the dead were put to rest together with their chariots and horses.

The tumulus of Doxipara is not very tall, hardly 7.5 meter high but with its diameter of 60 meters it is one of the largest in the region. It was situated close to the road that connected Hadrianopolis (modern Edirne in Turkey) to Philippopolis (modern Plovdiv in Bulgaria).

Excavations which were started in 2002 have revealed four large pits containing the cremated remains of three males and one female. A total of five chariots and their draft animals have been exposed and can be divided into two groups. The first group is made of two chariots labeled as B and C. The second group consists of three chariots labeled A, D and E. Although four-wheeled wagons have been found in many places both in Europe and in Asia, this is a first for Greece.

Close to each group are separate horse burial sites where the spare horses were laid to rest: two horses in site A and three horses in site B. In all cases, the chariots that had carried the dead to the burial site were interred together with their still harnessed horses. The wheels had been taken from the chariots and what remains today are the bronze rims, bolts and other bronze elements since the wood has disintegrated occasionally leaving their imprint in the clay bottom. At first sight, these remains closely resemble the picture of the Thracian chariot discovered lately in Bulgaria (see: The story of the Thracian chariot) but this site is much and much bigger.

Horses were a clear symbol of wealth and status for their owners and it is assumed that the burial site of Doxipara belonged to a rich family of landowners although no houses or nearby residences have been located as yet.

The entire tumulus has been dug out and removed but the wagons and horse skeletons are left exactly where they were uncovered. This makes it a very exciting place to visit!

As mentioned above, there are also human remains, those of three men and one woman who died in close succession. They were cremated in appropriate pits together with small animals like piglets or birds and fruit like walnuts, almonds and pine nuts. Once the fire was extinct, the usual offerings that accompanied them in the afterlife were placed around the remains together with vessels in bronze, glass and terracotta containing water, wine, milk or honey. Personal possessions such as bronze lamps and lanterns, weapons, small jewelry, etc. were added as well. Once this ritual was completed, the pits were filled with earth and slowly a mound covered those entered.

On the eastern flank of the tumulus, two platforms were exposed which served as funerary altars.

The site of Doxipara is a unique example of funerary procedures of the Thracians in Roman times, proving that their own customs still prevailed over whatever rites were current in the Roman Empire.

[Click here to see all the pictures of The Thracian Tombs of Doxipara]

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The preservation of Volubilis, a step in the right direction

When I visited Volubilis a few years ago (see: Volubilis in Morocco, hardly known), I expressed my disappointment about the overall poor condition and obvious neglect of the site.

Excavations here had started in 1915 but apparently they led to looting especially during Morocco’s colonial years when the country was ruled by the French. Yet, we cannot blame the French alone for this unhappy situation because since their departure in 1956 Volubilis is regularly victim to illegal “finds” of archaeological artfefacts, especially mosaics and ancient coins. In 1982, for example, a marble statue of Bacchus mysteriously disappeared and in spite of the personal intervention of King Hassan II, all efforts were in vain and the statue has never been recovered.

So it is great news to hear that after so many years of pillage and neglect, Volubilis is now properly fenced off and closely guarded by a newly appointed group of 14 custodians surveying the site day and night.

In order to draw more visitors and tourists to the site, a new museum has been built as well as a visitor center. This sounds very promising and we may hope that these measures will bring the expected results.

There are plans, it seems, to extend excavations as one third of the 17 ha wide city has never been touched.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

High stakes at Corinth

When Philip was proclaimed leader of all the Greeks at Corinth, he was clever enough to insert a clause in the treaty making his title hereditary. Each state individually had sworn not to harm any other member of the Common Peace and not to interfere in their internal affairs. They also had sworn not to become ally with any foreign power that could damage any member of the Treaty. No member could undertake any operation that might endanger the peace or overthrow its constitution. The then assembled council or synedrion at Corinth was the final authority to settle any dispute between individuals or between member states. They had to help each other if one of the members was attacked, but were not allowed to accept support from foreign powers.

This means that after the assassination of Philip in 336 BC it was one of Alexander’s priorities to be accepted and confirmed as Hegemon of this League of Corinth.

Walking around the impressive remains of Corinth crowned by the Temple of Apollo which Alexander saw in all its glory, make you wonder where these meetings took place. The most obvious location would be the theatre rebuilt early 4th century BC on the foundations of an older one from the 5th century BC. This theater could seat around 15,000 spectators but there is very little left of this building. There also is a Bouleuterion behind the Agora to consider but this turns out to be a Roman construction that didn’t exist in Philip’s days.

The Lechaion Street which connected the center of Corinth to the western harbor of the same name is one of the highlights of the city. In recent years, expert-divers have been exploring the very harbor of Lechaion to expose the infrastructure of this important port-city, locating two monumental piers built of ashlar blocks next to a smaller dock. They also have found a canal entrance leading into Lechaion’s three inner harbors, as well was a breakwater.

Lechaion was only one of Corinth’s harbor as the city is strategically straddling the isthmus between mainland Greece and the Peloponnesus (less than 4 miles wide), which means that they needed both an eastern and a western harbor. Lechaion, on the Gulf of Corinth, served the western sea routes to Italy, Sicily and beyond to Spain. The harbor of Kenchreai gave access to the Saronic Gulf from where the ships sailed to and from the Aegean, Asia Minor, Cyprus, Syria and Egypt. Goods could be transported overland from one port to the other as lightweight ships were hauled using a platform along the road connecting Lechaion to Kenchreai. This was before Nero planned to dig a canal meant to link both sides, a plan that eventually materialized two thousand years later. The remains of the Kenchreai Street are not as impressive as the Lechaion Street which is tucked away behind the shops of the Agora but both were familiar to Alexander.

The Temple of Apollo certainly is the main landmark. It is built in Doric order, counting 6x15 columns, seven of which are still standing and define the skyline of Corinth. Rather unique is the fact that the columns are monolithic and stand more than seven meters tall. It is here that the slight convex floor to support the temple’s columns has been implemented for the first time antedating the much praised concept for the Parthenon in Athens! There is no trace of the bronze statue of Apollo that once stood inside the temple as mentioned by Pausanias.

Another unmistakable feature in Corinth is the Fountain of Peirene built in the late 6th century BC and enhanced many times, especially by the Romans in the 2nd century AD. Much older, and probably built together with the Temple of Apollo is the adjacent Fountain of Glauke, an inelegant cube of about 7.5 meter. Inside is a succession of reservoirs with a total capacity of approximately 527 m3. Water management in antiquity was far more sophisticated than generally admitted.

Since its early beginning, Corinth was a booming trading hub in the eastern Mediterranean and has lots to tell. For more than one thousand years, roughly from the 6th century BC till the 6th century AD, the city was at the center of all trade carried out by its mixed population of Greeks, Romans and Jews, and later by early Christians as well. The importance of this city cannot be stressed enough and few people know about the many colonies Corinth founded all over the Mediterranean. As early as 733 BC, the first such colonies were established at Corcyra (Corfu) and Syracuse (Sicily). Less than a century later, many more settlements followed like Epidamnus (Dϋrres) and Apollonia (Fier) both in Illyria, modern Albania, as well as Potidaea in Chalcidice, Greece. Corinth was also one of the co-founders of Naucratis in ancient Egypt. These facts alone prove the overall importance of the city which rivaled with Athens and Thebes.

It is not difficult to imagine the hustle and bustle of people in Alexander’s days, merchants talking feverishly with buyers and sellers, while seafarers were seeking the distractions common to every port - temples, taverns and brothels are the same all over the world. Sacrifices to the local and foreign gods were being made to thank them for their safe arrival and to pray for a safe journey onward. Corinth certainly was no exception.

If the story is true, it was here that Alexander met Diogenes (see: Alexander meeting Diogenes in Corinth). This Cynic philosopher originated from the Black Sea and died in Corinth the same year as Alexander, in 323 BC. Diogenes’ own writings have not survived but were known by his disciple Onesicritus who accompanied Alexander on his Asian campaigns. It may be thanks to him and Ptolemy that his philosophy slipped into the later Alexander Romance.