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)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Philip II of Macedonia by Ian Worthington

Philip II of Macedonia by Ian Worthington  (ISBN 0300164769). So many books and so many pages have been filled with all aspects of and opinions about Alexander the Great that in the process we generally forget his father, King Philip II. What a shortcoming! Personally, I always believe that if the world had not known Alexander, we would have talked about Philip the Great instead – maybe we still should… It is exciting to read that Worthington shares this idea with me, yet who am I, for I could never have assembled all the information he did! I wouldn’t even try!

When it comes to Alexander the Great, we have a handful of writers from antiquity who made the effort to tell us about his life and conquests, and although sketchy at times, there are great authors like Arrian, Plutarch, Diodorus and Curtius Rufus who put down their knowledge based on contemporary sources that are lost to us today. In any case, we have a rather solid base, certainly in comparison to Philip who went into history in the shadow of his son – unfortunately.

I’m extremely impressed by Ian Worthington’s research for it is nearly hopeless to find anyone who wrote about Philip in his days or even shortly after his death. The scarce sources are very fragmentary and very much influenced by their time frame. We are lucky to have large fragments by Theopompus of Chios, who visited Macedonia in Philips days, and by Diodorus who had to rely on earlier works. The chore of literature comes from Demosthenes in Athens, who grasped every single occasion to belittle and harshly criticize Philip – even if he had to make up his own version of the events. He utterly hated Philip, so we cannot trust his opinion too much, can we? Besides, Demosthenes speeches were oratory and not historical, and he made sure to turn the events to his own advantage. There is Plutarch’s life of Demosthenes in which Philip is being mentioned and finally later sources like Justin, Polybius (2nd century BC) and the geographer Strabo (1st century BC/1st century AD). But in the end, Philip’s campaigns remain very vague and hard to date. Philip deserves better. Had it not been for his father, Alexander would not and could not have done what he did.

Macedonia was a poor territory where sheepherders and farmers lived in constant war with one another. Philip took things into his own hands, creating a professional army, consolidating his borders with fortified cities, fighting, bribing and cunning his enemies in such ways they never knew what to expect. He turned gold and silver mining to a profitable business, built roads and canals, received ambassadors at his court to tell them what they wanted to hear but not acting accordingly. The unification of Macedonia was a very strenuous and lengthy project that in the end paid off very well. We tend to forget that it is Philip who created the first land state in history, Greece, replacing the obsolete city-state system. With the Peace of Corinth, he finally united all his previous adversaries, including Athens into one entity. What a formidable achievement that was!

Worthington has gathered all the available details to support each step. After Philip’s assassination, Alexander has all the elements to make the next move, and that is to invade Asia.

The book concludes with a number of Appendixes where the author takes a close look at several specific issues, such as The Question of Macedonian Ethnicity (very much in the news these days!); Macedonia before Philip II; Pella (and the Royal Palace); Philip’s Apparent Divinity (very interesting since Alexander’s divinity is under close scrutiny these days); and finally The Vergina Royal Tombs (including the recent theory that Philip’s tomb might not be his).

Personally, I find this book a real jewel. There is so much information there that Worthington had to dig out from time before time it seems, with all the references to the books and articles where he found it. The book is a 2008 edition and truly contains all the latest information available.

A precious source of information for all of us who want a better understanding of Alexander!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Macedonia, my first experience

It was mid-summer when I drove over the unsafe roads of Yugoslavia, south towards Greece. Back then, in the early 1970’s only few people in their right mind would venture that deep in what was then Yugoslavia. Only one “autoped”, a highway you might think but in fact a simple two-ways road, ran through that country’s flat lands where kolkhozes still ruled over the seemingly endless cornfields – all the way some 1,300 kilometers. My expectations were running high – very high, indeed, for I was on my way to Greece - a country I knew only in my dreams but which I was going to enter now for real.

The road was long and dangerous with local trucks driving according to their own rules and always had the right of way, whatever the crazy situation they created. The camping sites were dirty, smelly, ill-kept and simple commodities like fresh water and bread were not easy to come by. The further south, the worse the conditions. Hunting for bread in Titov Veles with its Cyrillic letter signs, I had to look inside each cubicle that hardly was worthy the name “store” to see what was being offered. The looks I got in return from the locals were far from friendly, rather hostile I would say. Steadily but surely, my high hopes started to tune down…

My last night before reaching the border of my promised land, the only safe haven was inside the fenced enclosure where all the foreign travelers, probably as crazy or unconscious as I was, were herded together in front of an impersonal building labeled as Motel. They were British mainly, but with a handful of Germans, French and Dutch, I felt more or less secure, being among fellow travelers. The landscape was fascinating though, with sharp hillsides rising like dark grotesque figures against the evening sky where mysterious sunrays exploded from behind. This was Macedonia, the land of Alexander the Great and I wondered if ever he had been in this forlorn corner and if he could have seen this…

My hopes and ideals about Greece plummeted dramatically that night. What would the next morning bring? I felt very much pressured to leave here as soon as possible, as if ancient ghosts were on my heals. The narrow road twisted uncomfortably between the high menacing cliffs on either side and at last I arrived at the tacky border outpost, nothing more than a handful of gloomy ran-down buildings. My heart sank in my shoes. Dear Lord, what if Greece was going to be like this? Had I risen my hopes to an impossible height? Had I imagined an ideal country, a perfect land? It seemed my dreams about Alexander the Great, Athens, Mount Olympus and Delphi with all their Hellenistic treasures were sinking away into Hades! This was horrible!

After a meticulous, lengthy and unfriendly control by the border officials, I was at long last allowed to drive on. All of the sudden, as if by magic, the entire décor changed. I was literally transposed unto another world. A smiling custom employee waved me through and a huge blue traffic sign reading “Hellas, we welcome you!” stared me in the face. If ever in my life I felt welcome, it definitely was here! Ahead of me the freshly asphalted double freeway descended gently over the rolling hills towards Thessaly, a black ribbon trimmed with pink laurel shrubs amidst the golden glow of harvested fields. I could breathe again, I could smile, I could jump for joy, for this was the picture I secretly had carried around in my mind for so many years – this was what Greece was all about, what it stood for! Wow wee!

It was as if the world had been freshly washed and I took it all in with wide open eyes. Then on my right, rose the majestic mountains culminating with mighty Olympus. The very top was shrouded appropriately in puffy clouds although the blue sky was perfectly clear otherwise, but then nobody less than Zeus, the father of all gods was ruling from up there. He needed some privacy, don’t you think so?

My first night was spent at Kamena Vourla, a small tourist town in those days but for me it was like being embraced by Aphrodite in person. The Aegean Sea was, of course, irresistible and I waded carefully like the goddess of the sea must have done rising out of the waves. It was late, the sun was gone and the first street lights along the shore hung like a shiny string of pearls in the darkness while I floated away in the protective arms of Neptune … I’ll never forget that moment in time, it was simply too unreal.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great in Egypt?

An endless subject of discussion and speculation, no doubt. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll stick to the conclusions Andrew Chugg made in his book, but that doesn’t mean that the questions raised by the finds on YouTube are to be brushed off lightly.

We are shown pictures from the Bahariya Oasis, about 300 km south of Alexandria, where a great number of rich graves was found that belonged to the local mixed population of Romans, Greeks, Bedouins and Egyptians. In other words, it was a good place to hide and secure the body of Alexander the Great from interference by Christians and Muslims alike. A theory like any other? Maybe so, but the fact that Dr Zahi Hawass is there in person to point out the relief of Alexander in the neighboring temple is a clear indication that we should give this theory some serious consideration. The desert is a big place and I’m convinced there are much and much more treasures hidden under its sand.

Wouldn’t it be baffling to find the remains of Alexander the Great after all these centuries? An exciting perspective, but I doubt I’ll live long enough to witness that great day!