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)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

All Alexander’s Women. Sisygambis’ Letters by Robbert Bosschart

The title alone made me stop in my tracks: Sisygambis' Letters (ISBN 1439272018)! I got “hooked” on this subject after attending a lecture by Robbert Bosschart at the Zenobia Congress 2010 when I heard his thorough investigation about the women in the life of Alexander the Great for the first time. Beside this book, which is a historic novel, he also wrote another one, All Alexander’s Women: The Facts, that records his in depth study of the matter, and I have to admit that I find this quite exciting.

How Bosschart dared talking about “all his women” made me raise my eyebrows at first for Alexander didn’t have that many wives or concubines. But Bosschart is not exactly talking about spouses and mistresses, but rather about the mother figures in Alexander’s life: his own mother Olympias, of course; Queen Ada of Caria; and most of all about Sisygambis, the Queen Mother of Persia. Alexander’s sister Cleopatra also enters the picture, although we know very little about her and most is pure speculation.

This novel gives us a kind of detective story in which a Swiss archeologist with the significant name of Barsine gets hold of several secret papyri which she is able to decode. These documents turn out to be the private correspondence between Queen Ada and Queen Sisygambis mostly, but there are also a few coded messages written by Alexander personally. This is evidently a very utopian happening, but all in all through these documents we are able to shed an entirely new light on the Persian world in which Alexander had to move as a King.

New to me, and this is no fiction, is to hear that women in the East (which includes Persia) were very much emancipated. They occupied high positions, could exercise a profession and were considered the equals of men! Once you manage to let that knowledge sink in, it is quite amazing and even more unbelievable to realize that thanks to the Romans and the Christian belief we needed more than two thousand years to start the process of emancipation all over again!

Keeping this concept of emancipation in mind, the person of Olympias –whose forefathers came from Troy – is to be seen in an entirely different light. The role of Barsine, the widow of Memnon and mistress of Alexander (she gave him a son, Heracles) cannot be neglected either, particularly if you remember that she spoke Greek and was able to converse with Alexander. Through her, he would have been aware of the protocol at the Persian Court, meaning that when he went to Sisygambis’ tent after the Battle of Issus, he must have known how to carry himself and how to handle this situation with the correct procedure. And let us not forget Queen Ada, who was put back on the throne of Caria by Alexander himself after the siege of Halicarnassus. She was not a queen by name only, but one who had full power to rule. Remember that unlike in other cities, Alexander did not leave a Macedonian garrison behind to have a finger in the pie. That is no small matter!

We are used to look at Alexander as a conqueror, a fighter, and maybe even as a politician, but rarely as a human being and certainly not in a world were a woman had as much to say as a man. It is an intoxicating thought to even consider what our world would have looked like had Alexander lived long enough to organize his empire taking this aspect into account! We certainly would not have known a Roman Empire, and Christianity would not have spread (or would have spread differently) in a world of religious tolerance and equality between men and women. I am sure the Greeks and more so the Macedonians will have taken great care to leave that knowledge out of their records!

A subject for deep reflection and lengthy discussions, no doubt! This very book, although it is a historic novel, is no less exciting and makes highly entertaining and intriguing reading!

15 comments:

  1. It is true that Alexander is more of a man's hero, books on him(novels or non-fiction) tend to relate more to his men, a few books to his mother. The title and your comments intrigued me enough to buy it. The kindle edition is very reasonably priced too. The book is a real page turner, well researched and entertaining. I recommended it on the Alexander the Great Reading Group Facebook group too. I hope the posting will awaken the curiosity or interest of some some members of the FB group too. Thank you very much.

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    1. Glad to hear from you again!
      The book is indeed very intriguing and may or may not be seen as an introduction to The Facts, which shows highly interesting and in-depth research by Robbert Bosschart.
      I am not on FB myself, but it is great to hear that you are recommending this novel to the Alexander the Great Reading Group. It must be a bunch of serious aficionadas of which Alexander would be very proud 
      Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm!

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    2. I added a smiley to accentuate Alexander's pride, but it didn't show in my text. So, here it goes again :-)

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    3. Thanks for taking time to comment. I read the book in one day, it reads easy like a Dan Brown mystery. I will read the second factual book too. It is true that Alexander had such grand visions regarding humanity- the Susa marriages is a glaring example. Later hellenistic empires did bring the world together too but with Alexander alive, the whole process would have been smoother and quicker. What a major tragedy his untimely death was ! About the reading group- we are rather fans, not erudite or serious aficianados, more that 900 members, currently at the 'Funeral Games' of Mary Renault. What is nice is that there are many Persian, Pakistani, Indian, Indonesian and other non-western members too. (I am myself a Nepalese). They can have a diverse angle on the conqueror. After all, Alexander created an Afro-Eurasian empire, his legacy is not only Mediterranian or European. :-))

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    4. What do you have in mind when you say that “later Hellenistic empires did bring the world together”? After Alexander’s death, his world was a mess till after the raging of the Diadochi we find two major powers in place, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. None of Alexander’s generals, however, managed to keep his world together (although Antigonous came very close), it was simply too vast and none of his successors had his vision or his drive.
      It is great to hear that people from all over the globe are joining your reading group. It must be very interesting and rewarding to get insight from so many different angles! Alexander would have loved this!
      When you are through with The Funeral Games, I warmly recommend Dividing the Spoils since it takes the succession wars to a human scale. Good luck!

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    5. Hello Kalpana, queen-mother Sisygambis and I are extremely happy with your comments, thank you so much!

      As you may remember, Sisygambis writes in her last letter:
      "The whole civilised world, all its peoples, working together as one, under his lead. No more Persians or Medes, Makedonians or Greeks, Syriacs, Egyptians, Sogdians, Indians; but all of them, Alexander's men and women. Learning to live with each other, all contributing to his vast kingdom..."

      So, Queen-Mother Sisygambis would have been very proud to hear you say about your reading group:
      "...there are many Persian, Pakistani, Indian, Indonesian and other non-western members too. (I am myself a Nepalese). They can have a diverse angle on the conqueror. After all, Alexander created an Afro-Eurasian empire, his legacy is not only Mediterranian or European. :-))"

      Exactly, that is what Alexander worked for in all his -too short- life. Wish he would have had more time to change our world...

      Thanks again, and best greetings to all members of your global group of Alexander fans!

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    6. Ah ! I am tickled pink and utterly honoured to get a reply from the author himself! Thank you for your engaging novel on such enthralling subjects Alexander, his women and the Great Goddess. Your extensive research on Alexander's women was obvious even to a lay person like me. I throughly enjoyed it. I just felt the slight tinge of disappointment was when your evoke Egypt as the sole haven for the worship of the Great Goddess. My reaction is due to the fact taht I belong to an Indic civillisation and Mother Goddess and the divine woman power (called Shakti) are huge in our cultures. But, pur veneration for 'Mother' is most probably off-topic or simply not relevant to the western scholarship or readers.

      How right you are about Alexander's legacy of a convergeant world. 'Meeting of the Oceans' was the beautiful term that a great Moghul prince of 17th century India would use to describe such a meeting of the civilisations.

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    7. Pardon for the many typo mistakes.

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    8. Hello Kalpana: the Shakti veneration for "Mother" is certainly not off-topic, and I would have included this issue in my chapter on the Great Goddess, if my research at the time would have produced sufficient data for that. (Otherwise said: I simply didn't know enough about it.)

      Oh, I would love to know --that is, to have someone tell me-- what Queen Kleofis/Kripa of Massaga must have told Alexander the Great about the Mother Goddess she surely worshipped! Alexander had a habit of asking after such things, and he is known to have maintained conversations over several days with Kleofis/Kripa.(As you may know, he reinstated her as queen of Massaga, the fortified city guarding the Katgala Pass towards the Swat valley - i.e. Pakistan today).

      In other words, I would very happily expand the "territory" of the successor goddesses eastwards, if we could identify the Aryan-Indic counterpart of the Aryan-Avestan goddess Anahita! All information that you or your fellow readers have seen on the topic would be most welcome.
      Beste regards!

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    9. K- My splendid Lord, you tire me with your babble on your divine father Zeus. Do you even know where your celestial pater comes from ? In the hory past, there was originally one unique divine entity Dyavaprthivi which became two- Dyaus Pita, 'Sky the Father' the primordial male god....

      A-

      K-Yes ! You nailed it ! Of course 'Zeus Pater'. But he is only the primordial male half. Know that you have a divine mother too- the primordial female, we called her 'Prithivi Mata, Earth the Mother'. I have been told that your Yavana (Greeks) have reduced her to some kind of harvest goddess Demeter and that you did not even go to the Eleusinian Mysteries and honour her when you were in Athens.

      A-

      K- Ah ! Gaia ! I am reassured that she is still worshipped in your land. But did you personally, my gentle sweetheart, visit her temple and receive her blessings ?

      A-

      K- Ah, Men ! You should have. She is the all powerful Mother Goddess of Earth. You were not planning to conquer the sky but the world, my beloved, the earth she rules. You even visited, I am told,the Ra-Amon temple in Mishra(Egypt), another aspect of your father Zeus. Did you visit any of the powerful Egyptian Goddesses' temples too. Agr ! Dear me, Men !! How mutton headed they can be ! Must be the effect of that strange ram horns you like to wear! But let me reassure you, my treasure, that you have not been totally negligent. Mother Goddess, the sum total of all the female divine power, whom we here simply call 'Mata' or 'Ma' has thousands of aspects. And you, dear boy, you have been, without knowing, worshiping and sacrificing to her all these years.

      A-

      K- In her 'Rana Chandi' the 'Moon Goddess, lady of War' aspect. She bestows joy, riches, children, good hunting and victory in battles....

      A-

      K- Incredible ! Just one child ? Poor you ! Well, we have to do something about it after I have explained an important matter concerning the Great Goddess. A few moments of patience please Alakshendra !

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      K- You like it? Sounds better that the your persian name ? Don't digress please otherwise we will spend the entire night talking. I'll be brief ! You are going to the End of World, right up to the great Encirling Ocean. Yes, when you hit the plains, you have to keep going east and further east, a longway but you will reach it.The country is called Venga (Bengal) and it is the realm of the most powerful all the forms of Mother Goddess- we call her Kali, the Great lady of Time itself. You see Time contols destiny, life and death, the seasons everything. The entire creation is subject to her, even the immortals have to bow to her, our mighty Lord Shiva, Lord of the Lords is shown prostating to her. Therefore please when you reach the end of the world, do not neglect to worship and sacrifice to her.

      A-

      K- No, not bulls. We worship cows, bulls are a no-no. Male Water buffalos.

      A-


      K- You will know what these are when you reach the wet plains. Enough talking, now come lets do something about the 'scarcity of children' part.

      A-

      K- Ha! ha! definitively worshiping together another aspect of the Mother Goddess !

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  2. Arrh ! I had told myself that I will not bother you any more with comments. But your -'what do you mean' sorely tempts. Bringing the world together also means, don't you agree 'culturally, diplomatically, commercially draw closer various empires, religions, cultures, philosophies...'?

    Well, for example I could go on and on the ancient Indo-Greek interactions (the Greek influence on Buddhism, the Indo-Greek kingdoms etc) a subject that passionates me, but will just tire you with one small example


    Here is the translation an extract of 13th Rock edict of the great 3rd century BC Indian Maurya emperor Ashoka which states that emissaries were sent to...."even six hundred yojanas (4000 miles) away, where the Yavana (Greek) king Amtiyoko (Antiochus II Theos of Syria) rules, beyond there where the four kings named Turamaye (= Ptolemy II Philadelphos of Egypt), Amtikini ( =Antigonus II Gonatas of Macedon, Amtikini (= Antiochus II Theos of Syria), Maka (= Magas of Cyrene) and Alikasudaro ( Alexander II of Epirus) rule.............

    An Indian emperor to have such precise knowledge of the Greek world to name the kings correctly and sending emissaries so far away, is this not bringing the world together ? Never before the Hellenistic era, were there records of Indian kings sending emissaries to the West and nor will there be after (just only exceptionally to the court of Augustus) till the modern ages. Was this concergence not a contribution of the Hellenistic empires ?

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    1. OK, got you! I misunderstood and misinterpreted your sentence. Hellenism did bring the world together; it was a common denominator in all the lands “touched” by Alexander and the Greek language was the universal language.
      This is quite an interesting text you are quoting there! I never heard of it, although I have great reverence for Ashoka. Thank you for giving me something new to investigate!
      … and … don’t worry, you are not bothering me at all. It’s always a pleasure to learn something new.

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  3. Thanks a lot !If Ashoka and Greek interactions interest you, there is another Ashoka rack edict Kandhar in Afganistan written directly in Greek and Aramaic. I did not manage to copy paste the image on this message but here is what it says (source: wikipedia)

    Two edicts in Afghanistan have been found with Greek inscriptions, one of these being a bilingual edict in Greek language and Aramaic. This edict, found in Kandahar, advocates the adoption of "Piety" (using the Greek term Eusebeia for Dharma) to the Greek community:

    Ten years (of reign) having been completed, King
    Piodasses (one of the titles of Ashoka: Piyadassi or Priyadarsi, "He who is the beloved of the Gods and who regards
    everyone amiably") made known (the doctrine of)
    Piety (Greek:εὐσέβεια, Eusebeia) to men; and from this moment he has made
    men more pious, and everything thrives throughout
    the whole world. And the king abstains from (killing)
    living beings, and other men and those who (are)
    huntsmen and fishermen of the king have desisted
    from hunting. And if some (were) intemperate, they
    have ceased from their intemperance as was in their
    power; and obedient to their father and mother and to
    the elders, in opposition to the past also in the future,
    by so acting on every occasion, they will live better
    and more happily. (Trans. by G. P. Carratelli[3])

    There is a fascinating Hellenstic Indo-Greek king who is considered the Second Pillar of Buddhism, the first being Ashoka. His name is Menander I Soter,ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ ΜΕΝΑΝΔΡΟΥ, (Milinda in Sanskrit). Have a look at him if the subject interests you.(Beg your pardon Sisygambis, we are off subject here !).

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    1. A great many thanks, Kalpana, for this highly interesting text. Ashoka and the Greco-Indian empire should make it to my blog, I know. So far, I only highlighted the Greek influence in art, mainly sculptures, but it is evident there is much more. I think we know more about the Greco-Bactrian heritage of Alexander than about the Greco-Indian, but I may be wrong looking at it from a distance.
      It may take a while before I tackle this subject, but eventually I will. I’d love to stay in touch with you on this subject!

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  4. You are truly opening many new doors to me. I highly appreciate your input and your “eastern” point of view of Alexander’s legacy.
    I’m sure Sisygambis doesn’t mind us to be lingering in her realm – she has such a soft spot for Alexander!
    I’ll talk to you soon!

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