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 of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, 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, Afghanistan) - 329 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)

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Monday, October 31, 2011

City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish by Peter Parsons

For those who are looking for something very different to read, this book City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish, Greek Papyri Beneath the Egyptian Sand Reveal a Long-Lost World by Peter Parsons (ISBN 0753822334) definitely is the answer.

It is about the Greeks who settled in Egypt shortly after Alexander’s time, i.e. during the reign of the Ptolemy’s. They often occupied important hierarchic positions as most of them could read and write, where for the Egyptians these skills were limited to a selected few scribes. The Egyptian hieroglyphs were, of course, a handicap as the average writer needed to know at least 10,000 signs by heart. In any case, the Greeks knew their business and introduced their alphabet which very soon became the official language in Egypt (How proud Alexander the Great would have been had he witnessed this!)

We have to step back in time to 1897, when two young English archeologists started digging through several sandy mounds outside the antique city of Oxyrhynchus, a little south of today’s Cairo discovering to their amazement that these old rubbish dumps contained precious bits and pieces of papyri, sometimes even entire sections of old books.

A small portion of about 10% turn out to be official documents, theater plays, poems and other literature. The remaining part are letters and notes from daily life that shed a clear light on the organization and structure of the town. There are complaints about the water supply, the construction of new streets or the building of houses, disputes with the administration or neighbors’ quarrels, etc. And then to think that this is only the tip of the ice(sand)berg for about 500,000 pieces are being kept at the British Museum, carefully stored inside old newspaper pages locked away inside metal boxes. Whenever such a box is opened for examination nobody knows what to expect. The bits of papyri have to be deciphered first after which the experts have to find out in which context they'll eventually fit.

Most of these papyri date from the 2nd and 3rd century AD, i.e. from Roman times as the lower layers of rubbish have mostly been damaged by ground-water. The top layers on the other hand have been used by the local population over the centuries as fertilizer for their meager fields. This means that from time to time the patient reader lays hands on excerpts from books whose existence is known but that have not come to us. I still have a secret hope that one day new information about Alexander the Great will surface from this rubble - from Ptolemaic times for instance, it is a possibility, isn’t it? That would be a highly interesting discovery! The thought alone …

Yes, my imagination is giving me wings when I read a book like this. Such a source of information, and who knows what else we can learn when these personal letters, shopping lists, wills, fragments from Greek literature and censured Gospels will be deciphered. This will evidently take several more years since there are only a handfull of scholars who are familiar enough with ancient texts to be able to place them in their pertaining context.

Yet each chapter of this book makes exciting reading, like for instance the one about the dikes. By the time the flooding of the Nile was expected, all citizens had the obligation to repair and rise their portion of the dikes, and to clear their section of irrigation canals. Official dike-watchers inspected the operations very closely, and you were not allowed to charge anyone money instead of doing the work or to subcontract the job. When the Romans ruled Egypt, the system was already in place for thousands of years and it worked the same way till 1889! Well, I always thought that it were the Dutch who invented the water management with their dikes, requesting each landowner to clear his own stretch of canal! It is amazing to realize that the more I dig in ancient history (in the broadest possible way) the more I see the wheel is being reinvented over and over.

There definitely is enough reading material here to entice everybody’s imagination and to lift a small corner of the veil of time. The voices of the marketers come back to life, from the donkey-drivers to the wine-merchants in and around the once flourishing bustling city of Oxyrhynchus.

Whoever wants more in depth information about these exciting papyri of Oxyrhynchus can click on the link of the University of Oxford, Department of Papyrology.

Monday, October 24, 2011

More wars and end of the Peace Treaty with Athens - Macedonia forged by Philip II - 10

More wars and end of the Peace Treaty with Athens (345-341 BC)
Yet the peace that had been so hard to reach was far from being achieved. The Thebans were unhappy to be left out; the Spartans complained about being isolated, and even the Thessalians resented the peace outcome for they had expected more. Athens was not faring any better in 345 BC for Demosthenes did all he could to sabotage the treaty, while Aeschines tried by all means to keep it alive.

Meanwhile, Philip was up north fighting some obscure war against what is now southern Albania where he broke his collarbone. Details of these encounters are not known but they led Philip to take the drastic and emphatic decisions to submitting the conquered peoples once and for all. The facts seem to be related by Justin only. Philip moved entire cities and tribes to areas he felt that needed to be populated. Some people were settled right on his borders to serve as a buffer against his enemies, others were moved to the far frontiers of his kingdom and yet others were used to repopulate some of his cities. His aim apparently was to create one cohesive kingdom with one people instead of the large numbers of tribes and clans spread all over his territories. Although this may be considered as being a useful tactical and political move, the victims of this move were far from content. According to Justin, the overall feeling was that of deep fear, "there was a silent, forlorn dejection, as men feared that even their tears might be taken to signify opposition” – a picture far from the loving and caring king we want to see. But in Philip’s eyes, this decision was a rational one as these new cities served as training grounds for the military where boys would be trained the Macedonian way. They would acquire experience defending the outposts, indirectly adding power to the king’s army. This was also the time when Philip ordered the swampy areas to be drained and turned into agricultural land. He had new roads built that could be used year round and made sure of the rivers by building dikes. It is important to note that is was the army that undertook most of these projects, creating a kind of engineering corps that would be crucial in later years, especially in Alexander’s conquests east.

[picture graciously shared by Jim]
In the summer of 344 BC, Philip headed south towards Thessaly that was still sulking over the peace treaty. He had heard enough complaints, he seized Larissa and Pherae and installed Macedonian garrisons in several places. He even went as far as to revive their old administrative system of tetrarchies, meaning that each of the original four tribes was again headed by a governor, appointed by the king and answerable only to him. In this way, he remained firmly in control.

But then it was the Molossian ruler who created new problems for Macedonia and Philip invaded Epirus to settle the matter once and for all. It turned out to be a bloodless campaign; the Molossian king left for Athens (he had Athenian citizenship) and Philip put Alexander, his brother-in-law, on the throne – a wise move because this Alexander had spent time at Philip’s court and was Olympias’ brother. Macedonia’s southwestern border was now properly secured while the king acquired access to rich timberland and pastureland.

As was to be expected, Demosthenes had done his utmost to convince the Athenians that the peace treaty with Philip was worthless, using every opportunity and trick in the book to manipulate his audience and distort Philip’s words. By 342/341 BC the famous peace treaty collapsed entirely.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

End of the Third Sacred War and Peace with Athens - Macedonia forged by Philip II - 9

End of the Third Sacred War and Peace with Athens (346 BC)
An embassy of ten men was sent to Pella to discuss ‘peace and the common interests of Athens and Philip’ (cfr. Demosthenes). This would be the first of four embassies. Personally, I find this passage very exciting because of the vivid and captivating story told by Mary Renault in her book Fire from Heaven, featuring young Alexander.  The ten envoys travelled to Pella in March 346 BC, when Alexander was about ten years old. Among them were great names like Philocrates, Nausicles, Demosthenes, and Aeschines. Each had prepared his speech on the proposed alliance and peace, and they had decided to speak in order of age, the youngest last and this happened to be Demosthenes after Aeschines who tells us that he began “in a voice dead with fright, and after a brief narration of earlier events suddenly fell silent and was at a loss for words, … Seeing the state he was in, Philip encouraged him to take heart and not to suppose that he had suffered a complete catastrophe. … But Demosthenes … was now unable to recover; he tried once more to speak, and the same thing happened.” What an appearance for such an orator!

Having listened graciously to every ambassador, Philip told them that he recognized Athens’ claim to the Chersonese, their corn route to the Black Sea. On the subject of the Sacred War, he made believe through his usual confusing diplomacy that he would consider the protection of the Phocians but he needed Athens’ full guarantee to support him in this matter. In other words, he meant to exclude Phocis from the treaty. As to the Athenian prisoners taken at Olynthus in 348 BC, he would release them without ransom as soon as they had accepted his terms – a handy gesture to put their fate in Athens’ hands. In short, Philip’s idea was that of a bilateral agreement between him and his allies on one side and Athens and their allies on the other.

As soon as the embassy left, Philip set off to Thrace cleaning up all their independent forts along the coastline, but not before the had sent Antipater, Parmenion and Eurylochus to Athens to repeat his terms of peace and receive Athens’ consent in return. The news was buzzing in Athens’ Assembly, which at first was inclined to accept Philip’s proposal but Demosthenes had to put his own twist as usual and persuaded the Assembly to go for a Common Peace in which every state was free to join. Of course, this was refused by Antipater when he was called in the next day for that were not his king’s terms. In the end, the Athenians and their allies swore their oaths to the peace and alliance to Macedonia.


The Macedonian envoys left Athens which prepared a second delegation with the same men to set off to Pella. Since Philip was still warring in Thrace, the Athenians sat there waiting for some time while Demosthenes filled his days with brooding schemes. After Philip gave his oath to peace, the company left and collected the oaths from the king’s allies on their way back to Athens. By this treaty, the war between Athens and Amphipolis finally came to an end.

Philip then played his own political maneuver with Thebes which in the end forced the Phocians to surrender, not to the Amphictyonic Council  as they should, but to Philip. How that went down with the Athenians in 346 BC, I don’t know. They must have been relieved to learn that the Third Sacred War was now over and that Delphi finally was liberated – Apollo’s crowned soldiers had done their job!

[graciously shared by Jim]
At this stage, the punishment of Phocis had to be decided and the Athenians once more sent an embassy to Philip, without Demosthenes this time, who thought he could do more harm to Philip talking to the people of Athens… It is this delegation that attended the Amphictyonic Council  instead of Athens. Several states wanted to impose the legal penalty for sacrilege, whereby all the Phocian males would be thrown from the Phaedriades cliffs of Delphi. Since Philip did not want to take side for or against Phocis he managed to obtain a milder punishment, meaning that those who had participated in the occupation and robbery of Delphi would be cursed, their lands confiscated, their membership to the Council withdrawn, their weapons and horses taken away. Phocis itself would not be allowed to consult the oracle and the people couldn’t buy any horses until they had repaid the money stolen from Delphi’s treasury. The exact sum is not known but seems to vary between 1,622 and 3,244 talents, a considerable amount of money in any case.

To reward Philip for the liberation of Apollo’s treasury, Thessaly proposed to give Phocis’ two votes in the Council to Philip, who as Archon automatically held at least half of all the votes already. These two votes, however, were Philip’s in his own right, whereby he became an official member of Amphictyonic Council  – no small achievement for a ‘barbarian’ king!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dion, the Macedonian Sanctuary


Dion, at the feet of Mount Olympus, has been Macedonian’s Sanctuary for eons. It was here that Alexander brought offerings to Zeus before crossing over to Asia. It was here that his father, King Philip II came to celebrate his many glorious victories. It was here that King Archelaos started brightening up the festivals with athletic and theatrical performances. But all Macedonian kings had one thing in common: they gathered here to sacrifice and bring offerings to the Olympian gods, whatever the occasion. Enough reason for me to take a close look at the place, not the least because of Alexander’s multiple visits.

Although Dion became part of a Roman colony founded by Emperor Augustus in the 1st century AD, the city managed to preserve its Greek character up to the Byzantine times. Yet, after a combination of natural disasters and repeated invasions by the Goths in the 5th century AD, Dion sank into oblivion.

The drive from Thessaloniki, takes me south past the antique sites of Methoni and Pydna, past modern Katerini till mighty Mount Olympus looms at the horizon on my right, an unforgettable and most rewarding view!

Directions in and around Dion (modern Dio) are very clear. The town has been able to lead tourists’ traffic in such a way as not to interfere too much with the daily life of the community. Except for a handful souvenir stores and cafés, not much has changed here. I decide to start with the museum as it is said to close at 3 pm (the excavation site is open until 7 pm) - we are never sure what to expect when walking either through a museum or an archeological site, are we?

The museum is not really big but offers quite some pieces of interest, although I am still not sure whether one should visit the museum before or after seeing antique Dion. I have done it both ways, once in 2006 and now in 2011, but it does not make the explanations any easier. I still have difficulty matching one with the other. Dion is a sanctuary, meaning, in fact, a collection of temples and altars ranging from the 4th century BC all the way to the 5th century AD. Even walking around Dion it is very confusing to sort out the array of buildings, leave alone here at the museum where bits and pieces have to match with the remains out there in the field.


I pick out the pieces that most appeal to me: some statues (like that of Hygeia); heads (Demeter and Niké); funeral steles (Hunter with his dog and Mother and Child); slender funeral craters that are well preserved; terracotta statuettes (a lovely Macedonian boy); coins of all kinds and mainly Macedonian; glass beads and other pieces of jewelry; small ivory heads from funeral couches; mosaics (spiral mosaic from the Villa of Dionysos); and a superbly reconstructed hydraulic organ. I even spend some time checking out the slabs with inscriptions: like the Treaty between king Perseus and the Boeotians; a Letter which Philip V wrote to a certain Eurylochus; and the base for a statue of Cassander. Outside in the grass, I find a dozen or so of Roman tombs with Greek inscriptions and in the shelter of a portico even a stone tomb door, very much like the one that has been reconstructed at the Museum of Pella.

The museum has no cafeteria but I find the place across the street inviting enough and their coffee (Greek) is excellent and their toilets are clean. It a good thing to take a short break to digest all the impressions before heading for the actual site of Dion, which is in fact within walking distance.

It is obvious that this location was one chosen by the gods in a broad flat valley under the watchful eye of snowcapped Olympus. Its icy waters ran and still run through Dion and this holy river saved the city from plundering when after heavy earthquakes it disappeared under two meters of water and mud. We had to wait for centuries to put the city back on the map as many pumps and slush gates are still helping to keep our feet dry.

I start with the Greek theater, more name than remains, but a wooden reconstruction has been put in place and the original layout is clearly visible. It was located outside the actual city walls and built during the reign of Philip V (221-179 BC). It looks out over a splendid park-like field, the very spot where Alexander pitched the tents to entertain his one hundred guests, friends, officers and ambassadors who came from all over Greece to celebrate his departure for Asia. The huge Altar of Zeus where he made his offerings is located near the other end, close to the Roman Theatre from the 2nd century AD. Not often can one come so close to Alexander as we can here.

I wonder if it was in this area that I should picture the famous bronze group made by Lysippus, Alexander’s dedicated sculptor. It represented and was dedicated to 25 cavalrymen which had fallen during the Battle of the Granicus, Alexander’s first victorious confrontation with Persia.

Evidently the most important god worshipped at Dion, was Olympian Zeus, after whom the city was named (the genitive of "Zeus" being Dios). The sanctuaries were used not only by the inhabitants of Dion, but also served the religious needs of a greater number of people during the festivals with thousands of visitors. It is here that the base of a big statue of King Cassander was found, now in the Museum. Various pilgrims' offerings were placed in the sanctuaries of Dion. At the Sanctuary of Olympian Zeus, inscriptions were found referring to important state affairs such as peace treaties, regulation of boundaries, honorary decrees, etc, some of which are now in the Museum. The Macedonians who crowded these festivals could read these texts and be informed – an official newspaper in a way.

It is a most pleasant walk along the banks of the clear fast-flowing steam where fish and crabs have found a home, till I reach the Sanctuary of Demeter. This is said to be the earliest Macedonian sanctuary known to date and was used uninterruptedly from the late 6th century BC to the early 4th century AD. For a leyman, it is not evident to figure out the remains of walls and chambers, but with some effort, one can discern two small temples of the megaron type with an open antechamber and a cella. This is where most of the offerings were found, statuettes, lamps, vessels, beads, etc. which all indicate that an earth goddess of fertility was worshiped here, confirmed by an inscription referring to Demeter (4th century BC).

I now have to cross the lowest part of this cult area, which seems always to be more or less flooded – no wonder when to my great surprise I see the many springs bubbling up amidst the ruins! Reflecting in the water and amidst lush green growths lie the elegant Sanctuaries of Serapis, Isis and Anubis that came to this region during the Hellenistic period thanks to the propaganda of the Ptolemy’s of Egypt. It is a most pleasant sight how these statues are bathing in the water or admiring their mirror image. A metal bridge has been put in place so we can walk very closely through this eerie setting. When I climb out of this depth I pass a Byzantine wall where an unknown deity and the head of Aigle have been reused in its construction. How dare they!

Past the remains of the Roman city wall, I finally enter the city of Dion which is generally Roman from the 2nd century. What we find here is an entire network of streets along which many buildings, warehouses, private houses and public baths have risen. A few of these constructions stand out of course, like for instance the Roman Baths with parts of the mosaic floors and the hypocaust still in place or the Polygon Villa with a 12-sided courtyard surrounded by columns giving access to the house. At the entrance we can still admire the 3rd century mosaic of wrestlers at practice, a very Roman portrait I would say. Further down to the east, we find the remains of the Villa of Dionysos which takes its name from the large mosaic depicting the god that covers the floor of the banqueting room. And then there is the set of reliefs showing very Macedonian cuirasses and shields that has be set up alongside one of the streets. At some places, you can even see the sewage conduits underneath these streets. It always makes me wonder how we possibly managed to lose this knowledge in our Middle-Ages and had to entirely reinvent the system. If you look closely, you’ll also notice that many mosaic floors have been covered with plastic and gravel to protect them, but it’s so unfortunate that we cannot see them!

Dion is much less known than the Sanctuary of Delphi, for instance, but is certainly not less inspiring. It definitively completes a thorough visit of Greek Macedonia. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Fall of Olynthus - Macedonia forged by Philip II - 8

The Fall of Olynthus (348 BC)
After his march through Thrace in 351 BC, Philip had given the Olynthians a serious warning, avoiding a direct attack, maybe because they had granted asylum to his half-brothers, Menelaus and Arrhidaeus, and to Machatas, the exiled brother of Phila, Philip’s first wife. But now it seems that even ten years after being crowned king of Macedonia, Philip still felt the need to eliminate possible pretenders to the throne when Olynthus, at the head of a league of about 32 cities, refused bluntly to surrender the possible pretenders to the throne and a full-scale Macedonian invasion was launched in the summer of 349 BC.


Marching in from the north, Philip’s strategy was to isolate Olynthus and to that purpose he attacked the cities around it, picking one after another. He besieged and razed Stagira  to the ground as a main warning. Other towns like Stratonicia, Acanthus, Apollonia and Arethusa got the message and surrendered immediately but not Olynthus, which called in Athens’ help. It took Athens a while to make up its mind and when it did, Philip had taken his army away on a short campaign to settle matters with rebellious Pherae in Thessaly. But he returned to Chalcidice a few months later and a new Athenian force was sent to Olynthus’ rescue; it failed. Philip took Apollonia, then Torone and shortly thereafter Mecyberna, the port of Olynthus. Now that reinforcements couldn’t reach Olynthus from the sea anymore, Philip was in a position to sack the city. A last support attempt was made by Athens, sending a huge fleet that was seriously hampered by the Etesian Winds (which blow between May and September) and arrived too late. Olynthus had been taken and leveled entirely, not without putting up a serious fight as proven by the bolt-heads from catapults that were found carrying Philip’s name. His two half-brothers were executed and the Athenians present in the city were taken to Pella as prisoners to be negotiated over later on. After Olynthus fell, Philip went to Dion to celebrate the festival in honor of Zeus Olympus with lavish sacrifices, extensive symposia as only he could organized and spectacular competitions.

It is interesting to see how the sack of Olynthus by Philip because of their sheltering pretenders to the throne can be compared to Alexander when razing Thebes to the ground about a decade later for the same reason since they harbored Amyntas, the legal heir in 359 BC – as suggested by some inscriptional evidence. Alexander has walked further in his father’s footsteps than we may think at first sight.

This meant the end of the Chalcidian League and with it Athens’ chances to recover Amphipolis. Philip now had full control over the peninsula’s rich timber and minerals (gold and silver), and he replaced the local coins by Macedonian coinage, especially the silver tetradrachme and later the gold staters that eventually circulated all over the ancient world.