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)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A view of the Battlefield of Gaugamela!

A view of the Battlefield of Gaugamela at last!

Just have a look at this video of Gaugamela. It is only one of the many scenes from Oliver Stones' movie on Alexander the Great, but what a movie and most of all: what a scene! It is absolutely breathtaking for you are right in the middle of the battle.

It's exactly how I always saw it in my dreams...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Alexander coins found in Syria

Every new discovery of an Alexander item is great news as far as I’m concerned. This time the news comes from Syria and more precisely from Najm Castle in the Aleppo area, which I visited recently, where a hoard of coins has been unearthed. Why don’t I find such hidden treasures….!

Well, to start with I am not a local, like this Syrian who did some construction works on his land and discovered a bronze box filled with no less than 250 coins! He was so honest to deliver them to the competent local authorities who quickly could sift through them. They were all from Hellenistic times and all made of silver, i.e. 137 tetra drachmae (four drachmae) and 115 drachmae.

The tetradrachmae all clearly show Alexander the Great on one side, while the obverse depicts Zeus sitting on a throne holding an eagle on his arm. As can be expected, most of these coins carry Alexander’s name but they come in two different ways: 34 coins read King Alexander and 81 just show Alexander. Strangely enough, the remaining 22 coins bear the name of King Philip!

On the single drachmae coins however, one hundred of them show the name of Alexander while the remaining fifteen coins are inscribed with the name of Philip.

Why the name of King Philip, Alexander’s father is showing on Hellenistic coins seems kind of odd as he never got as far as Syria and the Hellenistic period started only after Alexander’s death many years later. This article from Global Arab Network (March 2010) does not offer any further explanation, nor does it mention a timeframe when these coins were minted. That is highly unfortunate, I would say.

Isn’t this great news? There certainly are not too many Alexander coins around and if the Syrians banalize this find and think it is not worth more press space, they are certainly welcome to distribute them among the Alexander fans of this world. Personally, I would even travel all the way to Syria just to collect one of these Alexander coins. Who else?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Alexander the Great. Selections ... by James Romm

The full title of this book actually reads “Alexander the Great. Selections from Arrian, Diodorus, Plutarch and Quintus Curtius. Edited, with Introduction and Notes, by James Romm. Translated by Pamela Mensch and James Romm".

Quite a mouthful indeed. The reason I purchased this book was to read, at least parts, of the original texts which every single author seems to refer to, i.e. the writers from antiquity. Since I don’t know Greek or Latin, I have to use whatever translation that is available. This means that I have to trust today’s authors to present a thorough and/or complete text for I have no way to control this by any means.

James Romm has put together the life-story of Alexander the Great, starting in Macedonia with his father Philip, and ending with his own death in 323 BC. He is using alternatively whatever ancient writer he feels fit, tying his selection of ancient writers together with an occasional explanatory paragraph.

Personally I find this book rather disappointing for it does not add any new vision or argument to the battles and conquests of Alexander the Great or to the exceptional personality he was. It is however easy reading, yet just too superficial to my taste.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Immortal Alexander the Great. The Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam.

Just brace yourself, for the treasures from this exhibition will leave an everlasting impression on the visitor’s poor soul! In a way, the many artifacts are meant to convince the public that Alexander is indeed “immortal” if ever such need existed. In my eyes and in the eyes of his many admirers over the centuries, this statement is redundant and throughout history, the adulation for Alexander reaches the headlines on a regular basis. We all know how the Roman Emperors admired him, to start with Caesar who allegedly was deeply moved when he visited Alexander’s Tomb in Alexandria. But even less valorous Emperors like Caligula and Caracalla liked to dress up like him posing with his shield and helmet. During the Middle-Ages, we saw the evolution of the Alexander Romance, a collection of the most fantastic stories based however on true facts. The Persians revived him as Iskander the Two Horned with colorful miniatures in their delicate manuscripts. Closer to home we find rulers like Catherine the Great of Russia and Louis XIV of France who envied his name and his achievements, and we owe them a true Alexander cult which erupted all over Europe.

In today’s world, we take a more analytical point of view when we look at Alexander’s life and heritage, where our critical eye leaves nearly no room for any imagination or even appreciation. However, the outcome remains unchanged for Alexander left an everlasting imprint on the lands and the peoples he conquered. He cannot have done this on purpose for how could he have foreseen how deeply Hellenism would revolutionize the world then and now. Traces of his Hellenism may not be so obvious but are still very much present in our daily life. Just take a closer look at our churches, cathedrals, villas, museums, palaces, etc. More often than not their facades are embellished with Greek columns and pediments enhanced with Greek figures in their decorations. How many sculptors, jewelers and potters from Europe to China to America have copied Hellenistic statues, jewels, and vases? How deeply have these influences touched our daily life, time and again?

Useless to mention that my expectations are running high when I rush through the entrance gate of the Hermitage Museum as the very first visitor of the day. The Museum is located in an old 17th-century building whose interior has been completely modernized. The layout is well thought-off with the latest technologies and the friendly personnel are a pleasant bonus.

The exhibition starts on the first floor with The Myth of Alexander the Great, illustrated by 17th-century paintings of Alexander. Personally, I could have done without them for the Alexander who is portrayed here gives, in my eyes, an exaggerated and deformed image. We find Pietro Antonio Rotari ‘s work of Alexander and Roxane; Sebastiano Ricci portraying Alexander’s court-painter Apelles while he is painting Campaspe; and Charles Le Brun, an excellent artist no doubt, who knows how to please Louis XIV. But none of this meets my personal vision of Alexander although the paintings by themselves are excellent, of course. On the opposite wall, we can admire panels by Antoine Marie Melotte (from nearby Liège in Belgium) who has translated Le Brun’s painting in wood carvings, and at the far end of this room lures a magnificent tapestry made in Brussels (1661-1695) representing Alexander with the Family of King Darius. But my heart skips a few beats when I reach the Hellenistic and Roman statues in the second half of this room.

This section is about Alexander’s Reality. It starts with the world in which Alexander grew up in Macedonia amidst his godly forefathers and mythical heroes. The eye catchers are two huge statues, evidently Roman copies of Greek originals, one representing Heracles with the apples (2nd century) and the other Dionysus/Bacchus (also 2nd century, after an original from the 4th-3rd century BC). I personally prefer the smaller Heracles killing a Nemean lion (2nd-3rd century AD) in full action with tense muscles, very realistic. Next to it stands a rather complete marble statue of young Eros ready to shoot his arrow from his drawn bow. This too is a Roman copy, just like the identical statue I know from the Louvre in Paris. Nice to meet his brother here! At the far end I meet up with to names that were familiar to Alexander, Aeschines depicted on a marble medallion from 150 AD and the head of Demosthenes, a Roman copy of 100-125 AD from a Greek original by Polyeuktes.

The showcases are filled with weapons and armament among which a 16th-century steel breastplate covered with bone scales and lion masks, a pattern which goes back all the way to antiquity. In contrast, there is a huge Greek breastplate with a frightening looking Medusa in its center dating back to the 5th-4th century BC and found in the northern area of the Black Sea – something Alexander must have known.

The set would not be complete without a collection of Greek vases, mostly the type with a black background like the hydria from about 500 BC showing Achilles and Polyxena or the volute-krater carrying a picture of offerings dating from 340-330 BC found in Apulia (Southern Italy). The heroic figure of Achilles occupies a central place in Alexander’s life and in the decoration of the various vases, so again on another black-figured hydria from Attica (510 BC) where Achilles is bending over the body of Hector – a very well-known scene.

The main part of this section covers Alexander’s Journey, a word that apparently prevails over the appellation “conquests”. Visitors can follow the road of his entire expedition on the computer with interactive maps, but the images move too fast if you ask me and I wonder if anyone who looks at Alexander’s route for the first time is able to follow his progress and realize his impact. I have my doubts.

Luckily, the exhibition continues in chronological order, starting with Alexander’s crossing into Asia (today’s Turkey), his progress through Syria to Egypt, and from there to Persia and Babylonia, to reach Bactria (northeastern part of today’s Afghanistan) and finally even India. Not only do we see what Alexander must have seen, but more so the imprints of what he left behind, i.e. the Greek influence on local art and on the local way of life. It goes without saying that I have never seen most of these artifacts, not even in pictures for they never or seldom leave the Hermitage in St Petersburg. I even wonder whether the tourist in St Petersburg will actually see all of this for the Hermitage Palace is far too big and the visits, from what I’ve heard, far too short.

Anyway, there are several striking pieces I want to highlight here. To start with there is a small marble head of Alexander from the 1st century, evidently a Roman copy of a Greek original (most certainly by Lysippos) and although rather damaged it is still very resembling. Then, a portrait study of one of the Ptolemies from Egypt (3rd-1st century BC) which illustrates the impact of Alexander’s General Ptolemy and his offspring on Egypt. There also is an impressive collection of cameos made of sardonyx. I particularly remember the one portraying Alexander hunting boar from the 1st century AD (from Italy), the one of Alexander-Helios, son of Cleopatra VII and Marc Anthony, depicted as Horus-Harpocrates from the 1st century BC (from Egypt); the twin portraits of Ptolemy II Philadelphos and Arsinoe II from the 3rd century BC, i.e. the so-called Gonzaga cameo (from Alexandria); the Triumph of Dionysos from the 1st century BC (also from Alexandria) and a particularly fine Zeus with brown curly hair from the 3rd century BC (again from Alexandria). Pictures of these precious pieces can be found under the Dutch tab Beeldmateriaal van de Hermitage (not available in the English version, unfortunately).

In the middle of my excitement and concentration, I’m suddenly disturbed by a guide, who is projecting his comments from three rooms further down. Gee, can’t he lower his voice? This is terrible for I can’t hear myself! I’m deeply upset by this disturbance that pulls me away from the spell of this Alexander world. It seems that the best thing I can do presently it to take a coffee break and I take off in search of the cafeteria.

When I return, the storm has subsided and peace has returned so that I can pick up where I left off. More thrilling items are luring from all sides! In the Egyptian showcase and as a matter of course, I come across Cleopatra VII of Egypt, a delicate basalt statue from 51-30 BC with clear Hellenistic elements. This is the Cleopatra we all know as Queen of Egypt although she unmistakably has Macedonian blood from the first Ptolemy running through her veins. New to me is to hear that besides Caesarion, her son with Ceasar, she had another three children, this time with Marc Anthony: a son Alexander-Helios (see above) and twins, a girl and a boy. After Cleopatra’s death, the children have been raised by the sister of Octavian, the imperial victor, after which they entirely disappear from history. I was not aware of this part of her life; I learned something new today. I’m also quite surprised by the bronze head of a “Hellenistic ruler with helmet” that looks Egyptian but is not. It probably originates from the Eastern Mediterranean and should belong to the 2nd-1st century BC. 

Then unexpectedly I am walking among life-size heads, Roman copies of course, like the marble bust of Achilles that somehow reminds me of Alexander and is copied from an original from 170-160 BC; and the head of Meleagros also from a Greek original from 350-340 BC. Striking and obviously, Hellenistic also is the marble head of Mithridates VI Eupator from Pergamon dating from 90-80 BC. The relief fragment from Iran also demands some attention: it represents a royal guard from about 500 BC belonging either to Xerxes or Darius. Lovely to see this at eye level.

Scattered among these statues and statuettes I’m enchanted to find a collection of coins from all corners of Alexander’s Empire. First, there are coins of Alexander himself with ram’s horns, lion head or elephant skin, and of Alexander’s successors in similar attire. The gold stater with Alexander from Macedonia is an inevitable eye catcher and the Bactrian coin where the ruler wears a kind of sun-helmet looks very familiar too. Originally, only gods and goddesses were depicted on these coins and I notice a very special silver one with the profile of Zeus who has his hair made of oak leaves. Take a good close look for this is really something unique.

Nike, the goddess of Victory, was also very popular, not only on coins (there is a wonderful golden one on display here) but also in jewelry like the golden-winged earrings from mid 4th century BC, in a typical Greek representation which is believed to be a reduced copy from a monumental statue. Most charming is the set of earrings with a pendant of a dove sitting on a tiny swing that must be going back and forth with each move of the wearer’s head. The dove is dressed in colored glass and hessonite (a cinnamon colored quartz). This jewel was made in Alexandria in the 2nd century BC. I think they would look very well on me.

Athena is also present, of course, and the seal-ring of Athena Nikeforos really deserves some attention. This ring is pure Greek also from the 4th century BC and was apparently found in the Northern Black Sea region. Such craftsmanship in those days! While talking about gold, I’d like to mention a few rare items. There is, for instance, a very well preserved golden bowl with handles in the shape of animals from Persia dating from the 5th-4th century BC; a golden quiver (gorytos) with action scenes from the live of Achilles from the Northern Black Sea area dated 350-325 BC; and finally the many golden Greek olive crowns from the same area, mid-4th century BC – there must have been lots of them for they keep turning up so often in so many different sites. And finally a gorgeous golden choker from East Iran dated 5th-3rd century BC.

Finally, there are miscellaneous objects among which some striking bronze and silver bowls and beakers. I admire a very fine silver drinking cup (kylix) with at the bottom the figure of Helios in his carriage and a bronze Hellenistic head used as a decorative element on a chariot - both from the 3rd century BC. It is here that I come face to face with the silver gilded Phaleras, larger than I imagined them, showing scenes of fighting elephants in a clear mixture of Greek and Asiatic elements, dated 3rd-2nd century BC and found in East-Iran. All in all too much to make a complete list, but they certainly deserve our attention.  All in all too much to make a complete list, but they certainly deserve our attention. I can’t get enough of it, of course!

The exhibition now continues on the second floor. This part is only about Alexander’s Legacy, but I have to admit that I expected more convincing material. There are a few papyri written in Greek to prove that this language was still in use after the Arabs had conquered the Middle-East. From here, it is only a short step to the Middle-Age concoction of the Alexander Romance and the miniature illustrations of Iskander in the Persian literature of the 15th and 16th century. I’m not too impressed with these exhibits for they are far from the “Greek” image that we know of Alexander.

Last but not least, we reach the pump and circumstance of the Russian Court, which I personally think is exaggerated like the Alexander statue that was cut end 18th century from walrus bones – a meager figure on horseback. A more rewarding result has been achieved with the huge bronze clock from the end of the 19th century where Alexander is (very idealistically) depicted while reading. The story goes that Alexander wanted to avoid falling asleep at any cost and that is why he is holding an iron ball in one hand. If his attention lapsed or if he was about to fall asleep, the ball would slip from his hand and fall in the bowl underneath with a loud rattle. He would be certain to resume his reading after that. A charming tale, but we are looking at an elegant, attractive and handsome Alexander. All pictures and photographs show only his face and that is a pity for I’m totally taken by his entire posture, his delicate sandals, and his elegant chair with his weapons leaning against it – not to mention the fine relief that runs all around the base of the clock.

To prove that Alexander the Great is still a topical figure in our times, there luckily is a reference to the movie which Oliver Stone made in 2004. And I do say “luckily” because the movie has been rejected by much of the public and by many historians. These critics, in my mind, do him wrong and are definitely without foundation. The old movie with Richard Burton never got such critics, far from it, and that movie is absolutely horrible to watch.

Well, that’s it. In the wide corridor on the way downstairs, you can stop at four monumental pictures by Erwin Olaf, who made a photographic interpretation of Alexander. This man, at least, understood what was expected of him when he was asked to combine objects of this exhibition with life figures. This is great art and it pays off to take a moment to watch these superb creations. For your information, one of his photos is shown on the billboards for this exhibition. Had he lived, Alexander would certainly have been flattered!

In short, this exhibition does credit to its name: The Immortal Alexander the Great. Alexander has truly defied the centuries and 2,300 years after his death he still lives on in our imagination. If that does not mean being “immortal”, what is?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Genius of Alexander the Great by NGL Hammond

I finished reading The Genius of Alexander by N.G.L. Hammond (ISBN 0807823503) and ended up with mixed feelings. To me, Alexander the Great simply is a genius and I was curious to hear what Hammond's arguments on the subject would be. He seems to be an authority on Macedonian history, but I found him rather disappointing since he did little to nothing to explain where he saw Alexander's genius. Yet, who am I to question him? There are however several statements where I put a question mark as I don’t know what to think. Maybe there is someone out there who can help me?

1. After settling the interior conflicts of Greece after Philip’s death, Alexander conducted sacrifices to Zeus and organized a lavish feast constructing a huge tent with one hundred couches for his friends and commanders. Hammond says this was held at Aegae, while I am sure it was at Dion as I have read the billboard out there myself. Unless there were two celebrations?

2. Hammond writes about Alexander, “He must have been much influenced by his paternal grandmother Eurydice, who as Queen Mother was held in the highest esteem”. This is new to me. Where could this information come from?

3. He also claims that Alexander called himself Lord of Asia as soon as he crossed the Hellespont! In my mind that happened only after Gaugamela. I doubt that Alexander himself would have used this title for why else would he have gone after Darius who was still at large? That doesn’t make sense, does it?

4. A last remark about food transportation, and this happens in the chapter where Alexander is going to cross the Hindu Kush. The army had “to purchase or requisition a huge stock of basic supplies, which were transported on four-wheeled wagons, drawn by horses, mules or oxen”. He confirms that the Macedonians and the Thracians had a long history of road building and that the Persian Empire had its own roads (of course), but he makes it appear as if Alexander paved the world where there were no roads! It was Philip who kicked out all carts from the army to start with, and Alexander followed in his footsteps, I’m sure. That Alexander took advantage of existing Persian roads where available sounds logical, but I would not write that he used four-wheeled wagons as a standard means of transportation, and definitely not when he is on his way to cross the Hindu Kush.

This book leaves me with lots of questions. The most interesting part is, however, at the end when Hammond makes up the balance with the worldwide consequences of Alexander’s conquests. But then Arrian has done this before him; Hammond only puts it in a 21st century context, that's all.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More in the Footsteps of Alexander the Great!

If Alexander wanted indeed to be remembered after his death, his wish definitely has been fulfilled but never in his wildest dreams, I am certain, would he have expected his memory to cover a span of 2,300 years!

When Peter Sommer walked in Alexander’s footsteps in 1994 the entire length of today’s Turkey, i.e. from the crossing of the Hellespont (Dardanelles) all the way to the site of the Issus Battlefield near the Syrian border, I thought we had seen the last of his kind.

After him came, nearly as a matter of course, Michael Wood, who in 1997 went the whole way, from Alexander’s birthplace in Pella, Greece, to the most eastern limit of his empire in India. But Michael Wood travelled with the entire BBC organization at his side and he did not literally walk in Alexander’s footsteps. He didn’t go on foot as Peter Sommer did in Turkey, walking some 2,000 miles  - an awing and most rewarding experience, I’m sure.

To my greatest surprise, I now discover that there is another brave young man who got inspired by Alexander the Great and is presently walking in his footsteps. His name is Theodore May, journalist and reporter for the Middle-East in the past four years or so, a native New-Yorker with a degree in history.

He picked up Alexander’s route mid-April of this year, where Peter left of, on the banks of the Pinarus River, the place of the first confrontation between Alexander and the Persian King Darius in 333 BC took place. Theodore's final destination is Babylon and he hopes to reach it in eight months, after a journey of 2,000 miles also. This is quite an undertaking for the Middle-Eastern countries he is crossing are not the most evident ones. Luckily for us at home, he keeps us posted on his blog as he has the luxury of traveling with today’s technology of GPS and computer – something Peter Sommer only 16 years ago had to do without. I can’t help wondering what Alexander the Great would have thought about our instant means of communication …

I truly believe we should support Theodore as much as we can. Do visit his site Backpacking to Babylon as often as you can and send him some encouragement and marks of appreciation. We would do no less for Alexander, would we?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Alexander the Great. Man of Action/Man of Spirit by Pierre Briant

Alexander the Great. Man of Action/Man of Spirit (ISBN 0-8109-2833-7) is a tiny book but definitely worth its value. Pierre Briant manages to give the reader a brief but captivating overview of Alexander’s life and conquests. The book is richly illustrated with colored photographs of good quality, each carrying its own comment, meaning that even the superficial reader will pick up plenty of information about the thundering exploits of Alexander the Great without having to strain himself. There are also a couple of colored maps to clarify the routes which Alexander and his army followed, a non-negligible asset in my eyes.

Most unexpected however is the figure material that Briant manages to integrate without being boring or overwhelming. The number of troops and cavalry that are involved on both sides in the skirmishes and battlefields all along the way east, and the extensive booty in gold, silver, jewelry, etc. captured at the Royal Palaces in Persia (Babylon, Susa, Persepolis, Pasargadae and Ecbatana). He even manages to squeeze in the names of the writers from antiquity that he used as his sources.

Alexander’s exploits are put down on nice glossy paper whereas the second half of the book is printed on normal white paper. This second half contains excerpts from Alexander’s historians, Arrian, Diodorus and Plutarch to name just a few; a couple of pages about Alexander’s successors quoting Justin, Diodorus, Curtius, Aelian and Plutarch; and finally a chapter about Alexander’s legend. The book would, of course, not be complete without an analysis and maps of the Battle of Gaugamela and a glance at the grave site at Vergina where it is generally accepted that Alexander’s father, King Philip, has been buried. A helpful Chronology, Further Reading and a List of Illustrations conclude this passionate account of Alexander’s conquests.

In short, whether you are a seasoned reader or a timid novice on the subject of Alexander the Great, there is enough material in this book to entice everyone.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Alexander’s treasure located at Kyinda / Cyinda?

High atop of the Karasis, a mountain in the heart of the Taurus Mountain Range in southern Turkey, rises a mysterious stronghold that was discovered in recent years. Speculations run high whether or not this could be the legendary fortress of Kyinda, where the war booty of Alexander the Great was being kept. The location in Cilicia is mentioned by Strabo in his Geography (Book 14-5.10) “Above Anchiale lies Cyinda, a fortress, which at one time was used as a treasury by the Macedonians”. Diodorus Siculus (Book 18-62.2 and 19-56.5) refers to Cyinda while talking about Eumenes and Antigonus retrieving money from its treasury during the Diadochi Wars, but so far the location had not been found. (After Eumenes had exploited its resources in 318 BC, some 10,000 talents remained for Antigonus in late 316 BC. Later still Antigonus paid his army for three months out of the money he took from Cyinda for the campaign of Ipsus. – see Bosworth, The Legacy of Alexander)

When Alexander died in 323 BC in Babylon, he was the richest man on earth. During his campaigns he had amassed huge booty which included the treasuries piled up by the Persian Kings in their Royal Palaces of Ecbatana, Persepolis, Susa and Pasargadae. All this wealth was in the hands of Alexander and at his death became a serious subject of dispute and fight among his generals until forty years later his Empire was finally divided between Seleucos, Ptolemy, Lysimachos and Cassander. We know about the occupied territories, the underlying killings and personal greed of Alexander’s successors (the Diadochi), but what happened to his treasures?

Pierre Briant is a marvel when it comes to figures, facts and statistics (see: Alexander the Great. Man of Action/Man of Spirit) and I gladly will quote him while adding up the figure material.

Alexander’s first substantial booty was the one taken in Damascus after the Battle of Issus. Briant accounts for it at follows: “silver earmarked for enormous payments to the army, vestments of a host of noble men and women, gold place settings, golden horse-bits, tents decorated with royal splendor, and chariots abandoned by their owners and overflowing with unheard-of wealth”. At that time, Alexander needed the money badly to pay his army for future campaigns as he had left Macedonia in debt and with borrowed money, but it gave him a first glimpse of the wealth that could be his.

When Darius fled the Battlefield of Gaugamela, he left Alexandera treasure worth roughly 4,000 talents (between 75 and 100 tons of silver), his bow, his arrows and his chariot”. Yet Alexander was just starting his march through the Persian Empire, taking possession of one Royal City after the other, and evidently there was more to come.

First stop was at Susa,which boasted one of the empire’s largest treasure-stores, where the Great Kings stocked their precious metals. The ancient authors estimated its value at between 40,000 and 50,000 talents –from 1,000 tot 1,250 tons of gold- plus 9,000 talents (225 tons) of the gold coins known as darics.” By the way, the value of the textiles alone were worth more than 5,000 talents, and included more than 100 tons of purple cloth colored with a mixture of dye from the Gulf of Spetsae and honey to keep the color fresh. Do we have any idea what this looked like, I wonder.

At this stage, Alexander possessed more than substantial reserves of precious metal and his financial worries were history. Previously, Pelusium in Egypt had contributed to the royal treasury with 800 talents (20 tons of silver and gold), Babylon with 18,000 talents (4,500 tons of silver and gold), and now he was heading for the great palace of Persepolis where the unbelievable sum of 120,000 talents or 3,000 tons of gold awaited him! According to Plutarch, 10,000 spans of mules and 5,000 camels were needed to transfer this enormous load to Susa. The wealth and figures are beyond comprehension, even in antiquity as according to the standards of the 5th century BC, the booty at Persepolis alone was about 300 times the equivalent of the annual national income of the Athens.

After Persepolis, Alexander laid siege to nearby Pasargadae, the former capital of Persia, where another 6,000 talents were added to his financial reserves. Meanwhile Darius was still on the run ahead of him, supported by a small but faithful band of soldiers, using 7,000 or 8,000 gold talents (175 or 200 tons) from the treasury of Ecbatana before leaving the remaining sum to Alexander. The size of this booty is not mentioned by the ancient writers but we do know that Alexander left 6,000 Macedonian soldiers in Ecbatana to guard it and this while he could have used every single man for his upcoming campaigns further East. I wonder how many men were ever in charge of guarding Fort Knox.

Anyway, a simple sum of all the figures above, gives us a most impressive amount of gold and silver alone, and this while we only know the main provenances of the money.

     Alexander’s booty                                      in talents

     Pelusium                                                           800
     Babylon                                                        18.000
     Gaugamela                                                     4.000
     Susa                                                              50.000
     Susa, golden Darics                                       9.000
     Persepolis                                                   120.000
     Perspolis, Darius personal                             8.000
     Pasargade                                                       6.000
     Total                                                            215.800

This list does not include the Indian campaigns, which must have yielded huge amounts of precious stones, ivory, and textiles. We get a subtle hint when we read Arrian’s account of the gifts from Taxiles when Alexander reaches the Indus: “200 talents of silver, 3,000 oxen and over 10,000 sheep for sacrificial purposes, and some thirty elephants.” These were only gifts, meaning Taxiles could easily spare them! There was gold and silver from minor cities and towns also, live stock, horses, cattle, slaves, jewelry, etc. After campaigning around the Aornos fortress for instance, Arrian casually tells us “the Macedonians took possession of more than 230,000 oxen, of which Alexander chose the finest specimens since they seemed to him of remarkable beauty and stature and he wished to send them back to Macedonia to work the land.” A casual remark it seems, but just try to picture 230,000 pieces of cattle together in a field!

On the other hand, it is evident that Alexander was confronted with huge expenses on logistics, moving and feeding an army of tens of thousands was not a small matter. We know how he loved rewarding his friends and granting bonuses to his most meriting and valorous soldiers. The army winded up spending more money than they ever thought they would possess and although it helped to boost the world economy of those days, the men got used to living above their means. We’ll remember that at the splendid Susa wedding of 324 BC Alexander had to step in and with a gesture that once more shows his magnanimity, he acquitted their debts, paying the incredible amount of 20,000 talents from his own pocket (this is more than what the treasury of Babylon had yielded!). Another chunk was taken by Harpalos who, unfit for military service had been appointed by Alexander as Imperial Treasurer. He led a life of crime and debauchery in Babylon. So when he learned that Alexander was heading back for Babylon in 324 BC, Harpalos cowardly fled to Athens, taking with him “considerable sums” of the kings’ money.

But all this was minor compared to the enormous wealth that was left after Alexander’s death and which his successors undoubtedly divided among them. We know for instance that Lysimachos’ money was safely kept on the Acropolis of Pergamon - a mere 9,000 talents in silver and gold, roughly worth several billions in today’s value. A similar or higher amount must have been the share of Ptolemy, Seleucos and Cassander. Where can one find a place safe and trustworthy enough to keep such enormous amounts of money, jewelry and precious stone?

This brings us back to Strabo, who names the stronghold of Kyinda (or Cyinda) which was never found, until now it seems. Just in recent years, a strange looking ruin was spotted on a nearly 2,000 meter high mountain top in the remoteness of the rough Taurus Mountains. Could this be Seleucos’ secret hiding place? After all, his capital city of Antiochia, modern Antakya, lies only 150 km further south and certainly was not defendable enough to keep the treasury safe.

When Mustapha Sayar, Turkish archeologist, and his friend and colleague Adolf Hoffmann, Manager from the German Archeological Institute in Istanbul set out by helicopter in search of what could be Kyinda they cannot believe their eyes. A closer look at the walls perched high on the needle rocks in the Cilician landscape reveals ruins of massive straight walls; slowly their trained eye discover building after building, thick outer walls and watchtowers and even a large hall right above the precipice. A secret building complex hidden from human eye for eons, as even the local farmers are not aware of anything up there. Soon an expedition is put together. An expedition it is, for there are no roads at all on this steep slope, and the climb upwards is a demanding and strenuous one. Archeologists as well as the local manpower are full of excitement and anticipation. Who were the builders of this fortification on the Karasis? When was it built? And most of all, for what purpose?

Strategically this fortress is ideally situated. The ruins emerge out of nowhere it seems and the high straight walls wrap around the entire mountain top. It is almost a miracle that the spot has never been discovered before.

Both archeologists soon agree that this must be a fortress from the days of the Diadochi, Alexander’s successors. Wrestling through the thick undergrowth they marvel at the perfect cut stone blocks and their precise fitting. The architects from antiquity must have been near geniuses. Pretty soon they discover a relief of an elephant above one of the doorways, the emblem used by Seleucos and his successors - a solid confirmation that this fortification matches the time period they suspected. The elephant was the wonder weapon of the ancients. We all remember how Alexander turned victorious over Porus and his war elephants in 326 BC. Ever since, the elephant was considered a symbol of power and it was used by Seleucos on the reverse of the coins he minted.

At the bottom of the imposing walls, the archeologists find a hidden entrance leading through a vaulted tunnel with smooth close fitting stone walls. Niches covered with soot lead to believe that oil lamps once lit the passage way and high air shafts guaranteed a good air circulation. Is this tunnel leading them to the hidden treasure? But then suddenly the corridor ends and all that is left to see is a pool of clear water, a treasure of another kind for without water life up here would not have been possible.

Back on the mountain top, Hoffmann’s men figure out that the large hall right above one of the steep faces of the Karasis must have served as storage area, measuring 60 x 12 meters. By deduction they estimate that approximately 700 tons of wheat could be stored in there, a sound supposition as the room shows a good ventilation system. Thanks to such a storage space, the fort could be manned and defended for years in a row. Next to it, there is a small vaulted room, built in the same fashion as the underground passage to the water spring. Maybe this is where the treasure was kept? Yet not a single coin, no jewelry and certainly no treasure has been found here either, although the historian Diodorus tells us that the Kyinda treasure amounted to at least 10,000 talents, i.e. 200 tons of pure silver.

The place was practically impregnable, so what happened? Too many questions that cannot be answered yet, in spite of all the high tech equipment used to measure the lay-out of the place. It is generally agreed that it were the Celts who swept down to cities like Delphi, Ephesus and Pergamon to loot the precious gifts that were stored in their temples. The same may have happened at Kyinda.

Finally, Mustapha Sayar and Adolf Hoffmann end up with an excellent computer reconstruction of what they believe to be legendary Kyinda, but no trace of a treasure. So the place still remains shrouded in mystery.

I’m very curious to hear what has happened since this program aired on German television ZDF in March 2006. So far all is quiet and even on the internet there is very little information available about Kyinda (or Cyinda). It feels like hunting for the Golden Fleece, but who knows what secrets are buried out there, somewhere. We may need Schliemann’s luck to find the treasure of Alexander the Great. Let’s keep our eyes peeled!

[pictures of Kyinda come from the Terra-X program on German TV]

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great by Andrew Chugg

The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great (ISBN 0955679001) is not a sequel to Chugg’s 2004 “The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great”, it is more a 2007 update, meaning that there is no need to be aware of what he wrote previously to dig into this captivating story to find out how much ground he covered over the past three years!

Personally, I like Chugg’s analytical approach of this whole quest. He checks and quotes all the authors from antiquity, the Islamic world, the Middle-Ages down to the most recent books and research, working through them like a police investigator. 

His book includes, for instance a very clear table of Alexander’s illness in Babylon based on what can be found in ancient literature; a list of all his inflicted wounds; the various sources stating Alexander’s wish to be buried in Egypt; detailed maps of the Serapeum in Memphis and the available tomb of Pharaoh Nectanebo II where he probably was laid to rest pending the construction of the Soma in Alexandria; maps of Alexandria at different epochs, including a very detailed one drawn by Mahmoud Bey in 1865, etc. 

Chugg has researched the most probable date for the transfer of Alexander’s body to Alexandria, the location of the tomb and its shape - probably inspired by the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. He then runs down the list of those eminent persons who have visited Alexander’s Tomb till it vanished towards the end of the 4th century AD. 

An elaborate search then leads the reader to the time where the worship of Alexander as the Founder of Alexandria curiously overlaps that of St Mark, the Founder of the Alexandrian Church shortly after 391 AD. This is a very interesting theory and a very plausible one as well for the disappearance of Alexander’s corpse strangely coincides with the first appearance of St Mark’s tomb at that time. In 828 AD, the corpse of St Mark was abducted by the Venetians, who built a special church to host it. The increasing wealth of Venice, enabled the Republic in 1063 to fund the construction of the more elaborate Basilica of San Marco, the very spot where we still find it today. San Marco was placed in a tomb in the crypt of the Basilica on 8th October 1094, where he rested peacefully until the beginning of the 19th century. It is here that the story is really picking up!

Because of the repeated flooding, the Venetian tomb became at risk in its downstairs crypt and was moved in 1811 to the high altar on the main floor where it is still visible today. This transfer was witnessed by a certain Leonardo Conte Manin stating having seen a head with teeth and the skeleton of a man, while it is generally believed that St Mark’s body was cremated by the pagans of Alexandria in the 1st century AD. I’m quoting the most striking element of Chugg’s investigation but there are many more facts and discrepancies that lead to question if these remains are indeed those of St Mark or if they could belong to Alexander the Great, swapped somewhere back in the obscure days of the 4th century? 

Chugg has contacted the Church in order to obtain a closer look of the remains at San Marco’s Basilica, and to request an independent research by experts and laboratories. Even a simple visual examination could give enough clues to assert whether or not this body could be Alexander’s, simply based on the wounds he received over the years. But the Church does not allow any access to the corpse or any form of examination whatsoever – of course, I would say.

And then there is an additional clue or incentive to investigate the matter further and that is the huge slab that was uncovered when the corpse was moved from the crypt to the present location. This stone, measuring 140x120x30 cm, clearly shows a Macedonian shield of 70cm in diameter, i.e. life-size. Beside the typical relief of the 8-pointed starburst shield, the slab shows a Macedonian sword, the kopis, and a pair of greaves, exactly like what was found in King Philip’s grave in Vergina and in other Macedonian tombs from the 2nd century AD. Intriguing, isn't it? Without further research or explanation, the slab has been moved to the nearby Cloister of St Apollonia in Venice and in spite of Chugg’s insistence, there is no way to obtain an independent thorough examination of the stone! One would think that nobody wants to know!

As to Alexander’s magnificent tomb in Alexandria, all the excavations during the past centuries have been in vain. Chugg’s conclusion however is that the digs were carried out at all the wrong places. According to his theory, the easiest way would be to locate the temenos of the Soma since the most likely location would be near the medieval walls close to the intersection with Street R3 on Mahmoud Bey’s map. What are the experts, archeologists, historians, critics, even money-makers waiting for?

Also available in ebook (ASIN: B0085NSY2A) You can all stay updated on the latest news by visiting the authors website at