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)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Spotlight on the Evros River

Among the rivers that have a magic name, the Evros or Hebrus River certainly is one of them.


For a start, it is the second longest river in Europe after the Danube. Its source is to be found in the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria where it is called Maritsa. I remember how the Maritsa River runs through Plovdiv, ancient Philippopolis but never realized that this is the same river as the Hebrus.

The Hebrus River has repeatedly made headlines because today it largely constitutes the border between Greece and Turkey, except at Edirne (Turkey) that sits on both river banks. Also in its lower course the river – named Maritsa – forms the border between Bulgaria and Greece.

The total length of the combined rivers is 480 kilometers, of which 320 run through Bulgaria and 160 kilometers are shared between Greece and Turkey.

When the Thracians ruled over that part of Europe in the 7th and 6th century BC, they spoke of the Euros or Ebros River. Eventually the Romans changed the name into Hebros or Hebrus. In modern Greek it is still called Evros.

Friday, September 14, 2018

In the Footsteps of a World-Changer

Another enticing title for the tour which Peter Sommer Travel's offers to rub shoulders with Alexander the Great!


Most of us who are interested in the ancient world eventually come to look in detail at its cultures, religion, politics and art. But for a lot of us, what first grabbed us were the stories. Stories of individuals who lived extraordinary lives and had an impact out of all proportion to their lifespan. In this tour, you travel with such an individual, and experience the world they changed forever.

Alexander’s reign was epic in so many ways – the height of his ambition in taking on the mightiest empire in the world, his personal heroism in some of the most vividly-described, fiercest battles of the epoch, his deliberate emulation of the heroes and in the scale of the transformation his reign brought to the whole Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds. It’s at the beginning of that reign that some of the most powerful tales come: the spear thrown to claim the land of Asia, the visit to the temple at Troy to obtain Achilles’ shield, the brutal charge at the Granicus which saw Alexander’s nearly-lost life saved by brave Cleitus – a debt tragically betrayed in a tent in central Asia years later. This is the glittering, dynamic curtain-raiser to a journey that would darken later on, beset by demons and difficulties.

Here you get to visit the stupendous sites of the early days of this almost unbelievable turning point in history, to feel a connection with the young hero-king. Contemporaries often set this up as the latest in a clash of civilisations, East versus West. Here you’ll see the deeper story – how the Greeks and their neighbours met and fought - or embraced: unsurpassed Istanbul-Constantinople, queen of Greek Christian civilisation bridging east and west, lofty, breath-taking Sardis from whose wealthy kings the early Greeks took so many ideas, and proud Bodrum, the ancient Halicarnassus that gave the world the insatiable explorer of other worlds, Herodotus, and the great Mausoleum, the perfect blending of Greek and eastern ideas. And behind and before all, there’s Troy – the centre and origin of so much of what it means to be Greek, or western, but whose story also fittingly is about what it means to be human, whatever side you’re on. With a fine new museum housing the treasures of its long and fabled, there’s never been a better time to go – and no better experts to go with. Alexander and Troy began our journey, too.

In this inspiring tour, you’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with Alexander and, like him, discover and fall in love with a rich mix of Greek and eastern civilisations. Alexander followed his yearning to find a wider world. Not a bad idea.

Paul’s written about the most modern phase of this encounter here, Agamemnon returns to Troy


29th Apr - 10th May 2019
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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Making a fortune as a fisherman in antiquity

Even in antiquity it was possible to make a fortune being a “simple” fisherman.

The recent discovery of a villa in Halicarnassus dating to the 2nd century AD is there to prove it and we even have the name of its owner, Phainos, whose reputation was famous in his days.

 1,800-year-old villa and mosaics of Greek fisherman Phainos discovered in Turkey

The villa is richly floored with mosaics depicting huge fishes and a fisherman – modesty was not a virtue in antiquity! At a depth of only three meters, archaeologists have also unearthed many marble slabs, some pottery, perfume bottles and, of course, fishing equipment. Moreover, a Roman bath and a group of ten tombs with human remains have also been discovered.

 1,800-year-old villa and mosaics of Greek fisherman Phainos discovered in Turkey

It is, however, strange to read that other villas and mosaics referring to Phainos were found as early as the 1890s. How did modern Bodrum handle these finds and where are they now, I wonder.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Oldest Olive Oil recorded in Sicily

Until very recently and based on storage jars from Cosenza and Lecce in southern Italy, it was believed that olive oil made its appearance in the 12th and 11th century BC (Copper Age).



But a strange egg-shaped jar retrieved from excavations at Castelluccio in southeastern Sicily has proven that this golden liquid was used some 700 years earlier (actually the Bronze Age).

The jar was found during the 1990s and it took conservators a while to restore and reassemble the 400 ceramic fragments – speaking of patience! The result is a curious egg-shaped container of approximately one meter high decorated with rope bands; it could be lifted using the three vertical handles on the sides. The design as such had all the characteristics of Sicilian tableware from the end of the 3rd/beginning of the 2nd millennium BC (Early Bronze Age).

This called for more in-depth research on the site of Castelluccio where the experts found two fragmented basins with an internal septum (i.e. a dividing partition) indicating that several substances could be kept in one place but separated from each other. On the other hand, a chemical analysis of the organic residues found inside the jar and the basins was carried out. Traditional techniques as used on archaeological pottery were implemented: Gas Chromatography, Mass Spectrometry and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. As a result, the researchers found oleic and linoleic acids, specific to olive oil.

In short, we now have the first evidence of the oldest olive oil in Italy.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The damaged site of Hatra

The World Heritage Site of Hatra in modern Iraq definitely deserves our undivided attention!

We will remember the bone-chilling pictures of ISIS smashing and destroying so many features of this Parthian city that survived for two thousand years.

As early as the 7th century, Parthia occupied the land in modern northeast of Iraq but when a century later Cyrus the Great created his larger Persian empire, the territories of the Medes and the Parthians were automatically assimilated. This was the empire which the Achaemenids inherited and Alexander the Great conquered in 331 BC. After his death, this part of his realm fell into the hands of the Seleucids. Parthia soon established its own empire but remained the center of conflicts between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies, and later on the Romans. Their empire was created in 247 BC and as an independent country they managed to survive for roughly five hundred years. Eventually they fell to Ardashir who became the first king of the Sassanid Empire in 224 AD.

Parthia was very much coveted as a prosperous center of trade and commerce, being located on the Silk Road between the Roman Empire and the rising Empire of the Han dynasty in China. Because of its strategic position, the country underwent the influences of both west and east, generally showing a combination of Achaemenid and Seleucid elements. Yet they added their own architectural features like for instance the vaulted iwans which they produced on monumental scale (the largest iwan has a span of 15 meters).

Overall, the surviving remains of Hatra date from the 1st century BC but most buildings belong to the period between 117 and 150 AD.

Recently the ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives has published a highly interesting article by Jaimy O’Connell about the damaged relics of Hatra with great photographs of pre- and post-damaged buildings and features enhanced with pertinent comments. Please click on this link to see them all as I will show you only a select choice.

The temenos of Hatra in the center of the city counted almost twenty temples. This aerial view 

as well as the plan tell a lot about the grandeur of that time.

This pre-damaged picture of the interior speaks for itself:



The pictures of the recent barbarian destruction simply break my heart and I cannot include them in this precious reference to glorious times past but they are part of the article by the ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives and have been showed on several occasions in the media also.

Would it be asking too much to see that future generations will remember the beauty and the splendor of places like Hatra without having to relive the senseless destruction by these fanatics? Unfortunately, all wars over the centuries have destroyed precious relics out of pure stupidity and/or greed. It seems that mankind will never learn.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The army’s Swiss knife - not really.

As so often, our modern inventions are not exactly new and a mere “re-invention” of something that existed centuries before and was lost in the mists of time.

[Picture from © The Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge]

That is exactly what happened with the Swiss knife. The news made headlines in an article written by Carly Silver and published in Ancient Origins last June. The pictures immediately speak to our imagination and it is hard to believe that we are looking at an ancient Roman multi-function tool from the 3rd century AD having a small knife, a spatula, a fork (oh, yes!), a toothpick and a spike.

It seems that several such “Swiss” knives do exist, the most elaborated one being at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. It is made of iron and silver, and as such it is rather expensive and not exactly a possession for the common soldier. Not knowing where the knife was found except that it comes from the Mediterranean may imply that the owner would not necessarily be a Roman and that he may have acquired it anywhere in the Empire of those days.

The backpack of the Roman soldier (and the Macedonian soldier before him) could easily weight some 30 kilo. Carrying this kind of gadget knife would made some difference in the load, just like today’s backpacker will brake off most of the handle of his toothbrush to save weight.

It seems that a similar multi-function tool from the same period was recovered in the Greek province of Thrace but this one had specific utensils used by a physician like lancets and other items for treating wounds.

Said article also quotes Aristotle saying that “nature makes nothing in an economizing spirit, as smiths make the Delphic knife, but one thing with a view to one thing.” meaning that Nature designs everything for a singular purpose, in contrast to those who make “Delphic knives,” which combines lots of singular-purpose items into one multi-function masterpiece.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Greek physician Galen is still popular

Maybe, just maybe, researchers from the University of Basel have deciphered a papyrus that was written by the Greek physician Galen!

This specific papyrus was part of a lot counting 65 papers which were purchased by said University back in 1900 as part of the private collection of Basilius Amerbach who acquired it in at some point in the 16th century.

The document that has now been tied to Galen was a very intriguing one since it was written in mirror writing on both sides. Thanks to modern ultraviolet and infrared imagery, the laboratory was able to determine that this was not a single sheet but made of several layers that were glued together. After the intervention of a specialist, the different sheets were separated and the Greek papyrus could at last be decoded.

The majority of these sheets are letters, contracts and receipts but the Greek text is a medical description of the phenomenon of what is called hysterical apnea. This links the papyrus directly to Galen, being either his own work or an early commentary on his work. To support this theory is the fact that experts were able to connect the document to similar papyri from the chancery of the Archdiocese of Ravenna, Italy, where many antique manuscripts (palimpsests) from Galen are being kept (see also: Hello? Dr Galen?).

The research team in Basel has made huge progress in deciphering, digitizing, annotating and translating their papyrus collection which will be published early 2019. Making their collection available in a digital database will allow other researchers to add their own papyri and eventually piece together the many fragments from other papyrus collections or possibly compare different versions of the same antique work.

Click here to read the full article published by The Archaeology News Network on deciphering the Basel papyri.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Harpalos’ mismanagement or is it Alexander’s?

It is common knowledge that Alexander valued friendship above all. His first core group of friends took shape at an early age when they joined him in Mieza for Aristotle’s tutoring and these friendships lasted till the end of his life. Harpalos was one of them and he was among those who were exiled by Philip for siding with and supporting his son in the Pixodarus affair. Once he became king, Alexander called them back and promoted them to high positions in his army. Harpalos, however, being physically unfit for military duty was assigned as Treasurer.

In Alexander’s eyes, his friends could do no wrong and a few of such examples have transpired.There is Philotas’ first conspiracy in Egypt that was reported by his mistress Antigone and confirmed by Coenus who was married to Philotas’ sister Antigone – strong evidence that Alexander refused to believe. That was in 332 BC and Philotas survived another two years before being put to death in Alexandria in Drangiana for failing to report or for participating in another conspiracy to take Alexander’s life. It is pretty significant that the king left most of the judging and sentencing to his Companions and the Macedonian army.

The case of Harpalos is another matter and by far the most enigmatic example. Just before Alexander engaged in the Battle of Issus and for some obscure reason, Harpalos fled to Megarid in Greece. He may have cowardly chickened out, not believing in his king’s victory against Darius, and seeking a safe haven elsewhere. Or, he may have been under the bad influence of a certain Tauriscus who escaped at the same time to find refuge in Italy. In any case, this indicates that both men had serious reasons to fear Alexander’s wrath for whatever wrong-doing or embezzlement they had committed.


Two years later, however, Alexander inexplicably called Harpalos back and reinstated him with the resounding title of Guardian of the Babylonia Treasury and the Revenues Accruing Thereto and put him in charge of the enormous treasures he had so far collected in Asia Minor and in Egypt. Alexander reassured Harpalos that he would not be punished for whatever happened before. Why he made this decision or what triggered it, is everyone’s guess. One would think he had enough capable and responsible officers in his army he could trust with this highly sensitive position beside Harpalos. Maybe the fact that the aunt of his friend, Phila, was one of his father’s wives played a role since this relationship also made him a family member. In any case, there is no rational explanation for Alexander’s decision. The fact remains that Harpalos occupied the most powerful position compared to Alexander’s other friends and this in spite of the fact that he had betrayed his king’s trust.

After seizing the intact treasuries of Babylon, Persepolis, and Pasargadae, Alexander put the largest wealth ever accumulated in history into Harpalos hands, installing him in Ecbatana with 6,000 troops to guard the booty.

As Alexander headed further east into the heart of Central Asia, his treasurer moved to Babylon where he lavishly spent the moneys for his own pleasures with prostitutes and hetaerae, setting up court only equaled by Nero a few centuries later. He picked a courtesan from Athens named Pythionice who was covered with gifts worthy of a queen. This extravagant love affair did not last for she soon died and was interred in a stunning memorial for the baffling price of 200 talents paid for by the treasury. Yet Harpalos’ megalomania did not stop there since he also built a temple in Babylon where she would be worshiped as Aphrodite Pythionic and another expensive monument on the Sacred Road in Athens. This last epitaph was witnessed by our travelling reporter Pausanias several centuries later who considered it unworthy of the 30 talents it had cost.

After this extravaganza, Harpalos sent for another Athenian hetaera, Glycera. Like her predecessor, she lived like a queen and even received divine honors. Her beauty was trumpeted forth in Syria with a statue dedicated to her beauty and at Tarsus where a luxurious palace was constructed for her pleasure. Harpalos showed no respect for Alexander and certainly did not reciprocate his friendship. Like on the eve of the Battle of Issus, he probably expected his king to be the underdog in one of the many fights, battles, skirmished and confrontations with the barbarians in the east. Alexander would evidently be killed and never return to the court Harpalos had cut out for himself at Babylon.

But Alexander did return from India and soon discovered how many satraps had taken advantage of their privileged position to fill their own pockets. His response was immediate and he promptly executed the culprits there and then. Obviously, Harpalos had all reasons to expect his king’s anger and he feared for this life. He packed up as much money as he could possibly carry and with 5,000 talents [that is the equivalent of three billion dollars] and 6,000 mercenaries he set sail for Athens.

It is known that Alexander sent three different embassies to demand Harpalos’ extradition but they all returned empty handed. Thanks to lavish bribes paid by Harpalos to the Athenian politicians – led by the ever sour Demosthenes - who still resented Alexander’s successes and the Macedonian power, he was able to escape. Eventually Harpalos was captured in Crete and assassinated by his own men, one year before the king’s own death.

How is it possible that Alexander, the conqueror of the world, was unable to catch and judge Harpalos wherever he was? Many men were killed for stealing less than Harpalos’ extravagant expenditure and the 5,000 talents (equaling 142 tons of silver and 14 tons of gold) he took with him to Athens. Alexander must have been aware of this corruptible behavior but turned a blind eye to it? Neither stupidity, nor ignorance can be the reason for Alexander’s action – or non-action - and the most obvious explanation would be mismanagement.

This is an extremely serious accusation and it is hard to believe that a bright mind as Alexander’s could be capable of such a misjudgment and such a miscalculation. As strange as it may be, it seems that Alexander was not truly interested in money but rather in conquering new territories and expanding his power since there are other examples of embezzlement that were left unpunished or which he somehow accepted.

There is the case of Cleomenes, whom Alexander had appointed in Egypt to collect taxes and manage his finances, including the building of Alexandria. This man had set up a shady trade business selling wheat to Athens, extorted money from the priests on a broad scale and cheated the soldiers in his service. An official complaint was filed and sent to Alexander, and guess what? The king not only pardoned Cleomenes for said crimes ordering him to build a temple in honor of Hephaistion but he also forgave him all future violations! Unbelievable! Ptolemy was much smarter and as soon as he became king of Egypt he executed Cleomenes. Chop-chop!

In between Harpalos’ two appointments as treasurer there were the cases of Coeranus and Philoxenus who got away with exorbitant amounts of money. The final replacement for Harpalos, Antimenes of Rhodes made a reputation for oppression by imposing outrageous taxes, setting up a swindle business with slave owners and travelers on the royal roads. All these financial officers somehow escaped disciplinary actions, or least none are being documented beside the cases of Harpalos and Cleomenes.

Maybe it is true that Alexander was not much interested in money, at least not beyond the strict necessity to finance his next campaign or war which would automatically generate a new inflow of money. He loved to give and he gave in style, not only to his close friends, but also to new allies (e.g. Porus), to his soldiers as a prize for merit and bravery in combat and to his veterans sent back to Macedonia including travel expenses, bonuses and stipends for the wives they left behind in Asia. He entirely financed the huge Susa wedding, i.e. his own but also that of his one hundred Companions and he offered wedding gifts for his 10,000 Macedonians who had taken Asian brides on the road. When he heard that his army was in deep debt he paid them some 20,000 talents out of his own pocket (evidently from his treasury) requiring 280 tons of coins.

Being the richest man in the world with a wealth acquired in a short decade, Alexander could not call on anyone with enough experience and skills to manage such huge sums. Even himself, although a brilliant general and military leader had no training in managing such enormous amounts of gold and silver. Even his shrewd father had always spent his money before even having it in hands, but in his case the consequences were limited because the amounts were less and the world in which he moved was much smaller.

To Alexander’s credit, it should be noted that he leaned heavily on the existing Persian administrative system created by Cyrus the Great but its true implementation would have taken more time since his Macedonian commanders and officers did not (yet) share Alexander’s broad vision of this new world he had created. In the end, they never did for within one year their king was dead and they now had to manage the empire on their own. This, they could not do either and they fought each other in fierce competition for the next forty years.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Restoration of Persepolis – a game of words?

The restoration of Persepolis is making headlines these days following a mutual agreement signed between Austria and Iran to fund the renovation of the site. This is what is being reported by the Archaeological News Network in July 2018.


It seems, however, that a “restoration” is not exactly what is meant.

The project is said to be split into five separate steps. The first step is about securing the site of Persepolis, including the lay out for a new entrance area with coffee shops, souvenir shops and book shops, WC and other useful commodities. In a second phase, attention will go the construction of an electronic exit gate (I suppose, they mean also the entrance gate?), a conference space and a hall for VIP visitors. Next step will center around the organization a tour guide system to function day and night – it is quite tempting to visit the palace remains by full moon, for instance! In the final phases, the Museum of Persepolis will be completed and a separate area will be arranged to host major events.

From what I understand, these plans are focusing on the organization and streamlining of the visitors to the precious remains of Persepolis but have nothing to do with “restoration” of the site itself. A game of words, maybe?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Istanbul, The Imperial City by John Freely

Istanbul, The Imperial City by John Freely (ISBN 978-0140244618) is by far the most complete historical guide you can find. It is a light-weight, handy format that easily fits into your backpack.

Every first time visitor will inevitably be overwhelmed by the many remnants of this capital famed successively as Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul which played such a far-reaching role on the world map for more than three thousand years.

For obvious reasons, the book is divided in three parts.

The first and shortest covers the birth of the city on the Bosporus and the first Greek colonization, to become the Roman Byzantium with all the wealth that could be displayed. This was the city besieged by Philip II of Macedonia in preparation for his invasion of Asia. The Romans in turn linked the city to Italy through the Via Egnatia and the Golden Milestone known as The Million marked the distance to the cities stringed along the road. The Great Palace and the Hippodrome date from that era.

The second part starts with the advent of Emperor Constantine in 330 AD who renamed the city after himself, Constantinople. As such, it became the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire. Under great emperors like Theodosius, Justinian, and the dynasty of the Comneni the city expanded again. Constantinople was besieged repeatedly from the 7th to the 10th century by the Sassanids from Persia, the Arabs from the Umayyad caliphate and also by the Crusaders who thoroughly sacked the city.

The last and not less important part treats the birth of Istanbul as the capital of the rising Ottoman Empire that started in 1453. Sultans like Suleiman the Magnificent wrote history, and many of the great buildings we see today were built in those days. To name just a few, there is the Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, and the many mosques, especially those built by Sinan, to rival with the Haghia Sofia from the 6th century.

Instead of a dry and dull account, John Freely takes us by the hand and leads us from one place to the next, often unfolding the many superposed layers of Istanbul’s rich history. A very useful additional chapter is dedicated to Notes on Monuments and Museums to which the author referred in previous pages. As another helpful tool in the complicated and long succession of rulers, there is also a complete list of all the Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans ending when Turkey as such was born and Atatürk became its leader.

As always, John Freely makes history look simple and it is a great pleasure to travel through the ancient world in his footsteps. Another excellent book by the same author is Aladdin’s Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World – a treasure trove of knowledge!