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)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Alexander Crossing the Oxus River (Central Asia 3)

[2 - Alexander crossed the Oxus River (today’s Amu Darya) on his way to Samarkand, probably around Termiz although the exact location is still being debated (see David EngelsAlexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonia Army” and Robin Lane Fox in “Alexander the Great” as opposed to the latest discoveries made by E.V. Rtveladze]

I am in for more surprises than I could have suspected when the next day I am taken on a drive north out of Khiva. The bus stops on the south bank of the Oxus River (Amu Darya) where a series of abandoned boats is spanning the river. Only passenger cars are allowed on these pontoons and pedestrians like me, of course. What an unexpected bonus this is!


When Alexander reached the Oxus in June 329 BC after his perilous march through the desert, he found that Bessus had burnt the bridge behind him. My crossing point, although similar, is much further downstream than Alexander’s which is generally accepted to have taken place near or shortly below Termiz, just opposite today’s border with Afghanistan. As we know Alexander was not at all discouraged by this setback of burnt bridge and he certainly was not short of creative ideas. He made his army swim across the Danube during the first year of his kingship, and so he did here ordering his men to sew their leather tents into bags that could be stuffed with anything that would float. Five days later the entire army and all the horses had safely landed on the opposite river bank. An exploit by itself, I think as I purposely tramp over the shiny metal sheets of the decks, fully taking in the view over the fast flowing river and picturing Alexander giving directions and shouting orders from the sandy banks. What an experience! I sniff up the air as if to catch a lost remnant from those heroic days. The last part of the pontoon is dispersed and the road leads through the swept-up dunes of some sandbanks that are touching the mainland. Crystal-clear water mirrors the rare reeds of the quiet pools, and in the distance away from the ever eroding currents I notice some bushes and trees. Once I’ve reached firm ground, I can’t help looking back over the shimmering river. So wide, so peaceful, so inviting, and so life-giving. So, this is what the mighty Oxus River looks like! I feel this must be the absolute climax of my entire trip, although I have barely started!

It also occurs to me that in Alexander’s days the river must have been much wider. We are told by ancient sources that the Oxus was six stadia wide, approximately 1,100 meters and too deep to wade through. I have no idea how to measure the width of the river here but I know that nowadays most of the water goes to irrigation, especially for growing cotton. In the Soviet era this crop was highly developed and in my eyes even overdeveloped, drawing so heavily on the water supply from the faraway Hindu Kush that the river no longer empties into the Aral Sea, which in turn is drying up. This is a story by itself that goes back to last century when countries like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were mere provinces of the URSS who tried to give each one of them a fair share of the river. When these provinces became independent states after the fall the Soviet Union twenty years ago, they found themselves stuck with these frontiers that run rather randomly with mutual enclaves creating what I call a jigsaw puzzle. None of the countries is inclined to concede terrain to his neighbor and attempts to exchange certain parcels of land against others to create more consistent borders are not materializing. Meanwhile the Soviets have taken their cotton machines with them and the Uzbeks, not willing or not able to revert to other crops, simply continue to grow this water-consuming cotton and pick it by hand.

[Click here to see all the pictures of the Oxus River]  
Click here to read Episode 4 of  Central Asia

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