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 Alexander “a 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
Susa, golden Darics 9.000
Perspolis, Darius personal 8.000
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]