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 Drangiana/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, March 30, 2010

Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault


Fire from Heaven (ISBN 0582101344) was one of the very first books that I read on the subject of Alexander the Great, here depicted in his early years up to his accession to the throne of Macedonia. It is a novel, of course, but it is what we call a historic novel as the entire story is based on facts that have come to us through ancient writers. Consequently, the greater part of Alexander’s life is fiction and we should not look too closely at the details, but, all in all, Mary Renault manages to describe the décor and circumstances in which Alexander grew up with a great feeling of trueness since they are interwoven with historical facts.

Although Mary visited Greece only once in her life, she manages to describe the landscape and daily life very vividly and makes you feel part of the events. It is amazing to discover that she wrote this book when she was well into her sixties (1969), to be followed three years later by the controversial Persian Boy. In her later years, Mary Renault, to be pronounced as Ren-olt, managed to create her own Greek world based on what she read in ancient literature and the details she found in statues and on painted vases about all facets of life in those days.

Whether you know about Alexander or not, you witness a vivid and lively account of daily life in Macedonia in the fourth century BC and more specifically at the Royal Court. Both Alexander’s parents show themselves each with their own character, King Philip II the womanizer but highly successful warrior and leader of the peoples in and around Macedonia; Queen Olympias with her dark furies and mysterious Dionysus rites and very possessive of her son. We witness how Alexander struggles within himself with this heritage, but also how he finds comfort in Hephaistion’s unwavering trust and devoted friendship.

Historians have a tendency to shrug their shoulders and smile pathetically when you mention this book, but it is one of the rare occasions to come so close to what could have been Alexander’s true life in his early years. The only author from antiquity mentioning anything about his boyhood is Plutarch, all the others start with Alexander’s deeds after Philip’s murder when he became King of Macedonia and set out to conquer Asia. Based on the very scarce information available, the efforts of Mary Renault are even more recommendable.

Personally, I dare say that this story is very close to the truth – at least, that is my personal opinion. When I visited Pella for the first time many years ago, I had the feeling of a déjà vu thanks to her book. It was amazing to discover how skillfully she brought the ruins to life!

Also available as e-Book.

The many wives of Philip II of Macedonia

In antiquity, women had no say at all. They had absolutely no rights and were treated as common goods, to be sold or bought, negotiated or given in marriage at will. I always have dreams of living in antiquity but definitely not as a woman!

But here I am confronted with Philip II of Macedonia, the womanizer – or that is how history likes to present him. I’m still under the fascination of Ian Worthington’s book, presently reading the chapter about Philip’s Marriages as Policy. It starts with Philip’s wedding plans with Eurydice, previously called Cleopatra. I didn’t know that Cleopatra’s father and brother had died, and that her guardian was Attalus (a Macedonian nobleman), who adopted the girl as his niece. She thus was an adoptive niece and not a true relative, although from pure Macedonian blood. And then there is the plausible fact that this marriage of Philip with Eurydice for once was not a political move, but one of true love – at least as far as Philip is concerned, of course.

The only source to mention all of Philip’s wives and the reason for the marriages are fragments from a biography written in the 3rd century B.C. by a certain Satyrus, a philosopher from Aristotle’s school, which was quoted much later by Athenaeus, a writer who lived in the 2nd century A.D. According to Worthington, the list/sequence is not entirely correct, but generally speaking all of Philip’s marriage can be tied to his wars and Worthington feels that this should be the correct order. The names and sequence given by Satyrus are as follows:
- a)Audata (2), an Illyrian, who gave him a daughter Cynna;

- b) Phila of Elimea (1), sister of Derdas and Machatas, meant to secure control over Amphaxitis;

- c) Nicesipolis (5) of Pherae (when he wanted to appropriate Thessaly), by whom he fathered a daughter Thessalonike; and

- d) Philinna of Larisa (3) (also while when he wanted to appropriate Thessaly), who gave birth to Arrhidaeus;

- e) Olympias (4) served to acquire the kingdom of the Molossians (Epirus), the mother of Alexander;

- f) Cleopatra (7) sister of Hippostratus and niece of Attalus, with whom Philip had fallen in love and who bore him a daughter, Europa.

Yet, this list is missing Meda of the Getae tribe, wife number (6). The figure between parentheses corresponds to the chronology which Ian Worthington (see: Philip II of Macedonia) feels is correct as based on Philip’s military campaigns.


After a good twenty years of ruling and fighting, Philip managed to bring peace and unity in Greece and he is getting ready to cross to Asia. Worthington’s theory is that Philip wants to have one or more successors to secure Macedonian kingship before leaving. The simple minded Arrhidaeus is of no use and there is too much at stake to rely only on Alexander – even if he leaves him behind in Macedonia to look after his interests and to keep a close eye on the newly signed Corinthian League. So much could go wrong while he is away!

Aside from Olympias, little or nothing is known about the other wives. They supposedly all lived at The Royal Palace of Pella, probably each in their own quarters to avoid possible (and probable) conflicts and quarreling with one another. Nicesipolis seems to have died shortly after giving birth to her daughter, and as far as the other wives are concerned, your guess is as good as mine. Justin however tells us that Philip had many children, of whom some died in battle and others by accident or of natural causes, but it is strange that we have so little information about them – hardly a name. As to Philip’s marriage with Eurydice, who was much younger than him, Worthington assumes that the other women may no longer were able to produce a healthy heir or were simply too old already. And yes, let’s not forget that Eurydice was a full-blood Macedonian! We all know how Alexander reacted to this wedding!

The story becomes even more interesting when I learn that Attalus, just to be closer to King Philip, decides to adopt Eurydice as his own daughter just before the wedding takes place. To have the King as father-in-law makes him much more important, doesn’t it?

When it comes to marriages, they were a high staked game in those days! Not only was Attalus himself married to a daughter of Parmenion, but so was Coenus, another of Philip’s generals (Parmenion’s three sons, Nicanor, Philotas and Hector all fought later on in Alexander’s army). Attalus and Parmenion left together at the head of the shock-troops which Philip sent to Asia ahead of his own planned invasion. All these events lead us to believe that Philip pulled the strings of an entire network arranging inter-marriages among his generals. In fact, it was a whole clique, of which Alexander was unfortunately excluded – to his greatest sorrow, I dare say. Although he obviously was recognized as the official heir to the Macedonian throne – probably so since he was fourteen and Aristotle was brought to Macedonia and certainly since he carried the seal of Macedonia at sixteen while his father was fighting on the eastern front; and again later on when he successfully led his cavalry against the Theban Sacred Band at Chaeronea – he had no place in Philip’s closest entourage of which he was excluded. This may have been reason enough for Olympias and Alexander to consider murdering Philip…?

A lot of stuff to think about! So many intrigues at the court! Enough for Louis XIV to find some inspiration here and Henry VIII with his six wives could be looked at mildly, although Philip never divorced any of his wives or chopped their heads off. What an incredible mess!

As a side note, the huge and extravagant wedding party in Susa comes to my mind, where Alexander arranged in 324 BC for about one hundred of his generals and friends to marry girls from the widespread Persian aristocracy. The idea was not exactly a new one, was it?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Immortal Alexander the Great.


This is what I’ve been waiting for, the exhibition about Alexander the Great with artifacts from the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg! The dates are set, from 18 September 2010 till 18 March 2011 in Amsterdam. Make sure to take note!

Most of us will never get all the way to Russia, but Amsterdam is not so far away and can easily be reached by train, road and even by plane. I don’t know about you, but I’m terribly excited at the very thought of seeing all these gems for myself.

When Alexander left his homeland Macedonia in the spring of 334 B.C. he most probably didn’t know how far his conquests of the Persian Empire and other countries to the east would take him, not even in his wildest dreams. Needless to remind you that he left an everlasting impact on that part of the world, Persia, Afghanistan, Bactria, India, etc. There definitely was a world before Alexander, but more so after Alexander, and it is called Hellenism.

The recent exhibition in Mannheim already showed Alexander’s legacy in that part of the world, with the Buddhism in its wake. It is rather unexpected to find yourself confronted with a Greek heritage so far away from mainland Greece and so many centuries after Alexander’s conquests!

All the details about visiting hours, admission fees, guided tours and access information can be found at Immortal Alexander the Great. Enjoy!