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 Ariana (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in the Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (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 Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 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)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Alexander the Great and Bactria by Frank Holt

A striking title, if you pay attention to the details, Alexander the Great AND Bactria (ISBN 9004086129), while one would expect to read Alexander the Great IN Bactria. There is a good reason for that.

Although the title includes only Bactria, one should see this book in the broader context of Bactria + Sogdiana, generally reunited under the label of Central Asia. Beside his Introduction, Frank Holt divides his book in three distinct parts: before the arrival of Alexander; during Alexander’s occupation; and what became of the area after his death. All in all a far from easy task.

I was aware of Frank Holt’s account of Alexander’s campaign through today’s Afghanistan in Into the Land of Bones, a fascinating and captivating voyage in the wake of the Macedonian King. I expected to find the same in this book about Bactria, but this is an entirely different ballgame.

In Alexander's days, Bactria was at the far end of the known world where nobody “civilized” wanted to go and where nobody really knew where it started or where it ended. Even a meticulous geographer as Strabo got confused between Bactria and Sogdiana on many occasions, and Arrian and Curtius were no great help either as they managed to give contradictory accounts using Bactria and Sogdiana randomly. As it turns out, modern historians are not more successful in their endeavors. Rivers are not exact frontiers but seem rather to bring the desert peoples together, and the same goes for mountains where passes serve to commute between different peoples instead of separating them.

So far, I had a rather confused view of Central Asia and I was hoping that Frank Holt would shed some light on the subject. In a way he did, as besides Strabo, Arrian and Curtius, he closely analyzed all available ancient authors like Pliny (National History), Claudius Ptolemy (Geography), Ammianus-Macellus (on Persia), and Stephanus the Byzantine (Ethnika). Yet in spite of his thorough study, and consulting other modern writers the end result is rather disappointing. Facts and dates are so much intertwined that there seems to be no way to clarify the situation.

I assume that this explains why Frank Holt talks about Alexander AND Bactria instead of Alexander IN Bactria. It makes sense. Pending new discoveries, new excavations, and new theories, Frank Holt is the best we have for now to get a good overall view of Bactria and Sogdiana, roughly of Central Asia.

The book is not easy to come by, the latest print dates back to 1989, but it is an extremely useful tool for those who want to understand the complexity and the genius of Alexander’s maneuvers. After all, he spent three years of his short life in Central Asia – three years out of the ten during which he marched through Asia!


  1. Hello,

    I was hoping you would be able to help me with some research I am carrying out at the moment. I have been asked to find the possible destinations of the fortresses Alexander found/claimed in Bactria during his reign. Holt's book seems ideal to me for this research, but I can't seem to get my hands on it. Do you know where I would be able to find it? Or better yet, might you have some information yourself on where Alexander's fortresses/citadels where located (roughly) during his reign. I am looking to put a map together of his "thousand" cities - of course, a lot less than that will do!

    Thanks for your time!


  2. Hi Fiona!

    Good luck to you! I found Bactria the most controversial part of Alexander’s campaigns. That is due on the one hand to the fact that Callisthenes was arrested in 327 BC (he couldn’t continue writing his Journal) and on the other hand because Eumenes’ papers were destroyed by fire on the Indus in late 326 BC. These events created a big hiatus in Alexander’s Journal.

    I did some research on the subject when I travelled to Uzbekistan (read for instance my two chapters about Sogdian Rocks and Forts: and . In the end, I would say that your guess is as good as mine.

    But I think it is worthwhile to get a hold of Frank Holt’s book “Into the Land of Bones” . Although the subtitle is “Alexander the Great in Afghanistan” he treats the Bactrian and Sogdian campaigns as a whole and because of that the book is even more comprehensive than his “Alexander the Great and Bactria”.

    You may also want to have a look at Pierre Briant’s “Alexander the Great and his Empire” which is a precious update of all the latest news about Alexander and includes two very clear maps of Sogdiana and Bactria. Should you wish so, I’ll be happy to scan the maps and send them to you (in which I would need your email address) but I leave that option entirely up to you.