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 (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 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)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Alexander Meeting the Branchidae on his march to Maracanda (Central Asia 5)

[4 - Encounter with the Branchidae, emigrants from Miletus which Alexander massacred because of treason.]

Alexander first arrived in Maracanda in late June 329 BC in pursuit of Bessus who had proclaimed himself to King Artaxerxes V after killing Darius III. On his way, he unexpectedly met a group of Greek-speaking people and was told that they were the Branchidae, a group of emigrants who had fled Miletus a good hundred years before.

In the 5th century BC, the Branchidae ruled the Temple of Apollo in Didyma (which belonged to Miletus). They were in charge of the temple's money and during Xerxes’ conquests of Greece, taking their responsibilities seriously they refused, at first, to hand over this money, but eventually, they gave in – meaning in fact that they took the side of Persia. When the Greeks came out victorious from that Persian War in 479 BC, the Branchidae had reason enough to fear revenge from their compatriots. Their pro-Persian attitude forced them to ask for Persian protection and that is how the Branchidae packed their belongings and migrated east to Central Asia – the end of the world as was generally accepted.

As a consequence, the Temple of Apollo at Didyma was left unattended, the sacred waters dried up and the oracle fell silent, till Alexander arrived there in 331 BC on his way from Miletus to Halicarnassus. He always had deep respect for the gods and maybe more so for the oracles. When he visited the temple, history tells us that the sacred waters started to flow again. With the spring, the oracle came back to life and as we know the first prophecy went directly to Alexander predicting his victory at Gaugamela and the death of Darius III.

But this happened two years ago and many, many miles before … Now Alexander finds himself in the middle of Central Asia and is happily welcomed by Greek-speaking people. Curtius remarks that although the Branchidae have maintained their ancestral customs, they had already degenerated from their native tongue and had become bilingual (which is exactly what happens to Bactria after Alexander’s death where it takes about that same time for the population to become “Hellenized”). To the men in the army, it must have felt like a homecoming so far from home and initially the surrender of the Branchidae is generally accepted, till many feel that the Pan-Hellenic cause has been betrayed. Arrian, strangely enough, does not mention this episode, but the facts have been reported by Callisthenes who was present at that time. He wrote that after the festivities and warm welcomes, Alexander gave orders to kill the entire population, raze their town to the ground and even uproot the trees and vines, burning the very roots. What the Branchidae had done was considered as the betrayal of their country and what it stood for, maybe even sacrilege.

I look around at the desolate terrain with sparse houses, some cattle roaming freely over the dusty lands. A few trees, some green shrubs where water must be flowing, not very enticing. The Branchidae must have found a good location, an oasis with plenty of water for their crops. I wonder if we will ever find any trace of this paradisiacal setting where such atrocities have happened.


  1. Indeed historian Arrian reports nothing on "Branchidae massacre" and is more serious than e.g. Cleitarchus. Look also (even at web) "Alexander the Great: Vol 2, Sources and Studies", "The alledged massacre of the brachidae", by W W Tarn, critically denying that this massacre had occurred.
    Alexander had vices, yet he did not seem double faced, to have festivals with a group of people and then kill them. Alexander had not only funs, but also enemies. The issue needs more digging for evidence.

  2. Hi Kostas,

    I totally agree with you that the matter needs further investigation. There is no smoke without fire, the saying goes. It is extremely difficult to figure out what really has happened over there 2,400 years ago. Like you say, it is unlike Alexander to entertain the Branchidae at first and killing them to the last man and woman afterwards, but then we don’t know what the circumstances were. It may have been a brawl among his Macedonians with memories going back to their ancestors; it may have been a fiery disaccord with the Persian soldiers or elite; or it may have been a political move for one reason or another. Unfortunately, history is never entirely black&white. Even today we do not exactly know the moves of our rulers and politicians, there are always reasons and agreements made behind the screens that we are not aware of.

    Fact is that the Branchidae disappeared from history after Alexander’s alleged visit. Arrian may have skipped the subject for some good reason – or not. It is pure guess-work which I’m not going to solve and which – honestly – I don’t think anyone can solve unless we discover some new documentation somewhere… To state (like Tarn) that this massacre has never occurred is, in my eyes, a simple denial. Why would other ancient writers invent such a story unless there is some truth in it?

    Thank you however for your reaction, I truly appreciate.