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 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)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

How Roman roads led to the prosperity of Europe

The Romans were master builders and that included the roads, many of which have survived as such or simply by their itinerary.

The very first road the Romans built was the well-known Appian Way that connected Rome to Capua as early as 312 BC. Realizing the importance of moving troops quickly over all-weather roads through the Italic peninsula, the Via Appia was constructed that same year in order to link Rome to Brundisium, modern Brindisi. It was named after Appius Claudius, who was Consul of Rome at that time.

The success of the Via Appia was such that the road immediately became the model for all those built afterwards not only in Italy but all over the Roman Empire, i.e. from Hadrian’s Wall on the modern Scottish border all the way to Northern Africa and the Near East.

A team of Danish researchers took a very close look at the Roman network when it was at its greatest geographical extent in 117 AD and compared it with satellite images of modern Europe at night with astonishing results. As expected, the night view revealed that the most brightly illuminated spots corresponded to major cities, towns and motorways. Overlaying the Roman network, it appeared, however, that modern road density went hand in hand with the Roman road density, meaning greater economic activity. This similarity is particularly striking for today’s capitals like London, Paris and Rome, as well as for the densely populated Po Valley in Northern Italy.


Let us not forget that Roman cities and military outposts all over Europe needed to be reached quickly by the legions and only well maintained and paved roads could ensure such fast moves of troops. At the same time these roads were used for trade purposes which in turn led to a serious economic development that lasted even after the fall of the Roman Empire, and it is still strong two thousand years later.

It is not really surprising to notice that North Africa and the Middle East did not follow this trend because after the Romans left the area the roads were no longer maintained. The local tribes, abandoning horses and carts switched to camel caravans who moved outside the paved routes. As a consequence, no significant link between the old and modern infrastructure is left for us to see.

In Europe alone the Roman network extended over 80,000 kilometers. Speed and travel comfort were important for the Romans in order to reach their base or battlefield and to connect with their colonies at the edge of the empire.  It is worth mentioning that roads also implied the construction of bridges, tunnels and adequate drainage systems – logistics that have nothing to envy to our modern communication system. An amazing facet of Roman history.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The unique marble from Thasos

The site of Alyki is to be found at the southern end of the island of Thasos and obviously its marble quarries are better known as Thasos marble.

Originally, Thasos was settled by the Phoenicians who exploited the island’s rich gold mines. Yet by the 7th century BC the Greeks from Paros coveted the gold and also were interested in the white marble that was largely available. This soft snow white material was exported throughout antiquity and has been found in places like the nearby island of Samothrace, in Pergamon, Sardes and Ephesos in Asia Minor, in southern Greece, and in Ostia in Italy. The Romans of the 1st century BC developed a particular fondness for this pure white marble that lasted until the 3rd century AD. The precious material has been retrieved as far away as Germania as it was shipped over the Black Sea to the mouth of the Danube where it was transferred on flat-bottom vessels that sailed upstream all the way to the Rhine.

In Alyki, the marble was roughly quarried and the semi-finished columns, bases, capitals or block for statues and the like were loaded onto the ships anchored in the nearby harbor. It served for the construction of temples, early Christian churches and important official buildings.

Floor tiles of Alyki marble were held in high esteem from the fifth century onward and it still is highly appreciated today because they possess the unique quality to reflect the sun. Recently the Grand Mosque of Mecca has been repaved with these heat-resistant slabs of 100 x 40 x 5 cm. This floor maintains the same temperature by day and by night meaning that the pilgrims can move bare-footed without being bothered by the heat.

Even today, Thasos yields three types of marble: Extra White, Snow White and Pure White as it is remarkably pure in color with no dark veins or shades. It is famous for its translucent quality and praised worldwide, being exported to countries like Syria, Egypt and even Iran.


Whoever sets out to visit these quarries will automatically pass through a number of shrines dating back to 7th-5th century BC dedicated to the twins Castor and Pollux and to Apollo who were worshiped by sailors anchoring in the idyllic harbor. The stones from these buildings were largely reused by the early Christians who built two basilicas on top of the ancient temples. There also is a fragmented pillar with Greek inscription and a large Roman sarcophagus left in situ. Two more quarries from the Roman and Proto-Byzantine era can be spotted close to the water front.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Anamur, ancient Anemurium in Cilicia

Anemurium, modern Anamur is situated on a promontory along the ancient coastal road of Rough Cilicia (Cilicia Tracheia) in southern Turkey. The city was founded by the Phoenicians and successively occupied by the Assyrians, the Hittites and again by the Phoenicians till Alexander the Great conquered Cilicia in 333 BC. After his death, it was ruled by the Seleucids followed by the Romans as we know that Marc Anthony generously gave Cilicia to Cleopatra.

Anemurium was a thriving city in Roman times and its impressive remains date from circa 100 BC to 600 AD occupying a 1500 meters wide bay and the entire width of about 400 meters between the beach and the mountain slope. The city walls are pretty well preserved together with two theaters and several – obviously Roman – bathhouses and aqueducts. The steep mountain slope in turn is riddled with hundreds of tombs of which a few still contain their original funerary paintings and mosaics.

The largest of the theaters still counts 26 rows, totaling 2700 seats and faces the sea. Nearby is a small Odeon and a large three-aisled basilica. The most impressive bathhouse has two storys with a vaulted roof and stands close to the mountain and connecting aqueduct. It is easy to recognize the appropriate role of the each room with a caldarium (the hot bath), a tepidarium (the warm bath) and the frigidarium (cold bath), beside the changing room and an extra hall with a pool. The guests were welcomed to these Thermae with an inscription above the gate saying “Welcome to the baths. Have a good bath”.

Most striking are the remains of Mamure Castle situated some seven kilometers east of modern Anamur. This castle dates from medieval times but is resting on Roman foundations from the 3rd-4th century AD. It has been enlarged and modified by the Byzantines and the Crusaders and finally by the Seljuks in 1221 - this is what we can see today.

This Mamure Kale is a quite impressive construction surrounded by a moat. It is built around several courtyards, one of which holds a mosque with a minaret from the early 1300s and all courtyards together are enhanced with thirty-nine towers. The high ramparts offer a sweeping view over the Mediterranean as well as the hinterland – a strategic point, of course.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Alexander in the snow

When we think of Greece, we automatically have mental pictures of sun-drenched beaches and blue skies but winter can be harsh especially in the north.


The province of Macedonia, Alexander’s homeland, has started this New Year under serious snow storms, which offered unusual and eerie pictures.

Thessaloniki made headlines with houses, boulevards and monuments covered with snow and I found it very rewarding to find both Alexander and Philip contemplating nature as they must have done 2,500 years ago. They have seen worse, of course: Philip during his repeated Balkan campaigns and Alexander in the Hindu Kush Mountains.


This is something we should keep in mind when standing in front of the statues of these two great men.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The edge of the world was not reached

After the Battle of the Hydaspes, Alexander proceeded deeper into the Punjab, literally meaning The Land of Five Rivers. He had already made it across the Indus and the Hydaspes but there were still the Acesines River (modern Chenab), the Hydraotes River (modern Ravi) and the Hyphasis River (modern Beas) to tackle.

We know that he had excellent scouting parties and that he always relied on the knowledge of local people but here in India, I can’t help wondering if the messages were interpreted or understood correctly.

The idea first occurred to me when Alexander was confronted with the monsoon rains which he seems to have underestimated as transpires from historical sources. Rain was, of course, not going to stop him but these rains were  far more intense and disruptive than anything he knew or expected. The fact that the monsoons were seasonal recurrences escaped the attention of Alexander – or, to say the least, he did not take the matter as seriously as he should. We know that Nearchus was marooned in Pattala for several weeks before having the favorable winds to set sail and meet up with Alexander along the coast of the Gedrosian Desert is one such a surprising timing mistake. This is very much unlike Alexander, and the question should be asked whether he really knew or understood the phenomena.

Crossing the Punjab, a succession of five mighty rivers swollen by the melting snows from the Himalaya may have been tuned down by the interpreters or by the locals or both. Basically, Alexander did not give it the attention required and that cannot be ascribed to negligence. It could be explained that after having witnessed countless rivers among which the Nile, the Euphrates and Tigris, and the Oxus and the Jaxartes – all major fast flowing rivers in their own right – it was hard to imagine anything more threatening. Indeed, what could be worse? Well, for instance the fact that in the Punjab he had to deal with a succession of five such powerful and extremely wide rivers. As an example, it can be noted that at the points where the army crossed these wild waters, the Indus was about 500 meters wide and the Acesines nearly 3,000 meters!

The Macedonians by now were seasoned troops functioning according to a well-oiled discipline whether they were on the march, fighting off some enemy, setting up camp or crossing a river. They just did it, inspired and encouraged by their king. But eight years of constant warfare had scarred the souls of even the most faithful troops.

The Hyphasis River was one river too many and the Macedonians stopped in their tracks, bluntly refusing to continue. As usual, Alexander fell back on his excellent oratory skills and tried to rekindle his men’s enthusiasm by reminding them of the past glories since the day they had left Greece and all the riches they had accumulated since. They were now so close to the edge of the world and soon all of Asia would be theirs. To Alexander’s amazement, his words fell on barren ground and were blown away by the wind. A painful and deadly silence followed his fiery speech.

[Picture from Alexander movie by Oliver Stone]

Coenus, who lately had led the great cavalry charge at the Hydaspes was pushed forward by the troops to formulate their resentment. He appropriately reminded his king that many of the soldiers who had come across the Hellespont eight years ago had been sent home as invalids, others no longer fit for service had been left behind in newly founded cities, others still had died in combat or from disease, and the survivors were often in shattered health as they all were marked by years of battle wounds and scars.

In fact, I think that the Macedonian spirit died on the killing ground along the Hydaspes. It had been such an outrageous carnage for so little profit as there were no grand cities to be plundered like previously in Persia. Besides, Alexander had given Porus his empire back depriving his men of the incentive to face next challenge or to engage into yet another battle. The continuous downpour of the monsoon rains and the fanatical resistance of the Indians cannot have improved their mood. The army squarely refused to march on and demanded to return home. Coenus words were received with loud applause, a clear sign of their far-reaching power.

Deeply offended, Alexander withdrew to his tent – licking his wound, no doubt. The non-negotiable decision of his army seriously hurt his ego and pride. When he emerged from his quarters three days later, he gave the orders to retreat, much to his own dismay. This happened in the September 326 BC.

It makes me wonder in how much, in the end, the Battle of the Hydaspes was a victory for Alexander. His men had given their all, and after that they had nothing more to give except the love for their king.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Second life for the Nympheum of Amman

It always makes me happy when new life is brought to an ancient site or building as they often have been mistreated over the centuries and have suffered from war, plunder and erosion.

[Picture from Jordan Times]

This means that the news about the recently rehabilitated Nympheum in downtown Amman, Jordan, situated right next to the busy fruit and vegetable market deserves our attention. Basically a Nympheum was a gift to the nymphs, who were divine spirits associated with water.

This Roman fountain from the second century AD has now been turned into an outdoor museum and performance space, which should attract the tourists visiting the nearby Theatre and Odeon. It was not a small local fountain as archaeologists have established that the water in the 600 m2 pool was continuously flowing through a three meters deep basin. This is truly a building worthy of a major city, then and now.

Since the Nympheum is located so close to the modern market place, the municipality has agreed to do  their utmost to keep the area clean and to meet the necessary requirement for its perseveration.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Histories by Polybius, A new translation by Robin Waterfield

The Histories by Polybius (ISBN 978-0199534708) are far less known than for instance The Histories by Herodotus and cover an entirely different period. As a result, the author and his book merit to be put in a well-deserved spotlight.

Few people ever heard of Polybius and it may be useful to introduce him with a short biography. Polybius was born ca. 200 BC, probably in Megalopolis, which was the capital of the Achaean League (a federal organization of the Peloponnesus). His father played a leading political role and Polybius at the age of thirty was elected deputy-leader of the League. But his life changed dramatically when Macedonia lost its independency at the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC. This had far-reaching consequences for the rest of Greece. The Achaen leaders were deported to Rome, including Polybius, who spent seventeen years in the capital.

However, as a highly educated Greek, he soon befriended Scipio Aemilianus, one of the most powerful men in Rome at that time. He also became friends with prince Demetrius held hostage in Rome and managed to arrange his escape from the city in 162 BC in order to reclaim his place on the Seleucid throne.

Polybius accompanied Scipio during his campaign in Spain and went to Numidia, modern Tunisia. He tells us how he walked in the footsteps of Hannibal from Spain to Italy. In 149 BC, he was summoned to Carthage where, using his diplomatic skills brought the Carthaginians to comply with the demands of Rome. Not for long though as two years later Polybius joined Scipio again in his siege of Carthage. When that city fell, he traveled beyond Gibraltar to explore the coast of western Africa. For reasons that could not be determined, Achaea revolted against Rome in 146 BC and lost the battle; as a result, the League was dismantled and proud Corinth was destroyed. Polybius apparently played an important role in the reconstruction of Greece, a gesture that was widely appreciated as Pausanias tells us that many cities of the Peloponnesus erected statues in honor of their fellow countryman.

It is clear that Polybius led a very active life as politician, general, and even as explorer and it makes one wonder when and how he found the time to write. Beside his Histories, he left us a study on tactics, a treatise on the habitability of the equatorial region, about the war of Rome against Numantia in Spain, and a biography of Philopoemen, a famous and skilled strategos of Achaea. Unfortunately, the largest part of his works have not survived.

Polybius’ Histories treat the rise of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean in the period from 220 to 146 BC – a colossal job filling forty books of which only five have survived. Books 1 and 2 are basically an introduction to his work leading to the battle for power between Rome and Carthage, which spills over into Book 3 with the victory of Hannibal in 216 BC. In Books 4 and 5, Polybius turns to the situation in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean before that same date in order to match the chronology in which he likes to report events. Of the following books, which are not necessarily straight history and treat for instance of geography in Book 34, substantial excerpts also exist. From what transpires, he took the trouble to make a summary of his work in Book 40. So much precious information has, unfortunately, been lost over the centuries!

In his effort to explain what kind of constitutional structure Rome applied to conquer the world, it appears that in Book 6 Polybius developed a highly interesting theory about the recurrent cycle of government in which monarchy, aristocracy and democracy alternate. In the same book, he described the constitution of Rome at length giving us a unique insight in the great organizational skills of the Romans.

What makes Polybius stand out is his overall chronology reporting the events as they develop simultaneously in the eastern and western end of the Mediterranean. It truly is a rare horizontal history and, what’s more, he is the only historian from the Hellenistic period whose work survived to such an extend.

Since the Punic Wars are treated in detail, I found this the best history I ever read without getting lost or confused one way or another in those repeated conflicts that lasted on and off for 118 years. To keep track of time, the year in which the events took place are handily quoted in the margin.

The translation made by Robin Waterfield is superb and reads with the clarity that is characteristic for him (see: Dividing the Spoils).

The book has a great Introduction without which the Histories would be very hard to understand. It also includes a handy chronology of the events covered in the book and a set of three maps, one of the Mediterranean and a detailed one for both Greece and Italy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Oldest Greek shipwreck found in the Black Sea

The diving season of 2018 has come to a close and it seems we are being flooded with ever more news about shipwrecks discovered all over the Mediterranean.

This time, a Greek shipwreck from 400 BC found intact at the bottom of the Black Sea is making headlines. It was located some 80 km off the Bulgarian city of Burgas.

  [Picture from Archaeology New Network, Credit: BLACK SEA MAP/EEF EXPEDITIONS]

Using the latest technology, an international team of scientists is mapping the floor of the Black Sea. So far over sixty shipwrecks have been discovered, ranging in date from the Roman era all the way to the 17th century.

At the close of the 2017 season, however, another trading vessel from the Greek Classical period was spotted and it is now confirmed that this is the oldest intact shipwreck in history. Scientists are very excited about this find, particularly since it shows such a close resemblance to the design used on Greek pottery and more precisely to the “Siren Vase” exhibited at the British Museum. It could be established that the ship is 23 meters long and elements like the rudder, the rowing benches and the cargo are still intact.

                   [Picture from Archaeology News Network, Credit: Werner Forman/UIG via Getty Images]

Originally the “Black Sea MAP” project got underway to study the changes in the environment off the Bulgarian coast, including the impact of sea-level change after the last glacial period. In the process said ship was located at a depth of 2,000 meters where the waters of the Black Sea are free of oxygen and where organic material is easily preserved for thousands of years.

At this depth, the shipwreck is rather safe since it is beyond reach of modern divers and treasure hunters. Next step will be to examine the cargo in detail as amphorae can tell us more about the traded goods and the ports that were called at but this will require extra funding, of course.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Laodicea, an update on the works in progress

As announced last year (see: Laodicea, great works in progress!), excavations of the area around the city's sacred agora and the adjacent temple have exposed a row of colossal columns from under seven meters of rubble. The back wall covered with paintings is now painstakingly and meticulously reassembled and reinforced. That sounds very promising indeed for it is a rare example of frescoes covering such a large surface. Plans to restore the Hellenistic theater from the 2nd century BC and seating as many as 15,000 seem to be materializing as well.
Further excavations have established that Laodicea existed already before Antiochus II (see also: When pillars with unknown writing were discovered in India) dedicated the city to his wife Laodike. Archaeologists have found proof that the settlement was established already in 5500 BC and that the first settlers were people from Anatolia. The location was ideal for trade as there was an access to the sea through the Meander River to ship their local productions of cereals and textiles, as well as the locally quarried marble.

But there is still a huge amount of work to be done to expose the remains of Laodicea which cover some five square kilometers. The list of monuments waiting to be unearthed and restored appears to be endless: a large Stadium measuring 285 x 70 meters, two theaters (Western and Northern), four Roman Baths, no less than five Agoras, five Nympheums, two monumental city gates (Ephesus and Syria), a Bouleuterion, several temples, churches, public latrines, houses with a Peristyle design, and several colonnaded streets (Syria, Ephesus, Stadium Streets). Importantly, let’s not forget the two large water distribution terminals where the city’s water laws were found (see: Water laws, still unchanged after nearly two thousand years). Outside Laodicea all the necropolises used over the centuries are awaiting investigation.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Damned dams, once again

On several occasions, I brought up the matter of the disastrous consequences of flooding our history through the construction of dams on major rivers. I have developed the pros and cons in earlier blogs (see: Zeugma, border town along the Euphrates River; My heart is bleeding for Allianoi; and Damned Dams). This is, however, only the very tip of the iceberg and it is very sad that so little is done to bring this matter of utmost importance for the preservation of our cultural heritage to the attention of the general public.



Per chance I found an incredibly interesting presentation on YouTube which clearly illustrates the catastrophic consequences of these dam-building projects using Turkey’s three main dams on the Euphrates River. The problem, however, is not limited to Turkey alone but known all over the Near East.

Although we often believe that much of the city of Zeugma has been rescued and moved to the Museum in Gaziantep, the truth is that only an infinite part of this ancient city has been excavated - most of it is drowned forever. More dramatic is the city of Samsat on the Euphrates founded in the 7th millennium BC and flooded without merci in 1989 when the Ataturk Dam was completed.

This documentary, unfortunately, has not been seen by the number of visitors one would and should expect for such a sensitive and important subject. It is quite amazing – and certainly an eye opener – to see all the dots on the maps where archaeological sites have simply disappeared forever. The crimes of IS received far more attention and indignation around the world than the flooding of our ancestral roots on such a large scale.

The documentary was created by the UNIBO team led by Nicolò Marchetti in the frame of the 2015-2018 EU funded JPI project "Heritage and Threat".

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