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, 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)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Alexander in Bukhara (Central Asia 10)

[9 - Alexander probably went as far as Bukhara and even Merv in today’s Turkmenistan where he founded his Alexandria-Margiana (it seems no “Alexandria” was ever founded without the king being present)].

After spending the night in Khiva, I once again have to cross the Oxus River but this time over a solid bridge to reach the main road to Bukhara and Samarkand. The view of the river is about the same as before, only from higher up, but still as impressive! No wonder Arrian stated that this is the widest river in Asia after the Indus.

This road is absolutely awful, more like a track in the heart of Africa than the main road. An entirely new road is under construction but the new sections have not been opened to traffic. I have all the time in the world to inspect the red desert sands stretching out in low rolling hills as far as the eye can see. The only greens are meager tiny bushes kept short by the everlasting wind that swept the arid land for eons. My thoughts drift away to Alexander, of course, who had to cross this kind of empty space time and again like he did on his way from Bactra to Termiz on the south side of the Oxus River or on his way to the Jaxartes River and the Scythians further to the northeast.

Bukhara, although hardly mentioned in Alexander’s campaigns, certainly must have played an important role. Some say the city was founded by Alexander, but it already existed 4,000 years ago and was used throughout the ages as a crossroad for trade between east and west. We know more of Bukhara as being a meeting point on the famous Silk Road, but that Silk Road only followed older trading routes which under Persian rule were already heavily used. Other major cities along that trade route included Bactra (Balkh), Alexandria-in-Areia (Herat), Alexandria-Margiana (Merv), Maracanda (Samarkand), Termiz, Nasaf (Karshi) and Khorezm (Khiva), amazingly enough, all of them within the borders of Bactria and Sogdiana. It is not hard to imagine the caravans with traders, envoys and travelers treading over these sandy roads. They definitely were adventurous, brave and strong men. It is quite evident that Alexander used these same roads whenever possible and he definitely will have appreciated them to their right value as economic and military assets.

As to the city of Bukhara proper, I assume that Alexander reinforced the city walls, turning it into a stronghold as its strategic value will not have been lost on him. Even after his death, this region knew golden times when Seleucos, one of Alexander’s generals and successors, laid the basis for the later Greco-Bactrian Empire, which in turn led to the Kushan Kingdom. Trade was, throughout the centuries, a most rewarding lifeline in this region.

I don’t expect to find traces of Alexander’s presence in Bukhara, and I don’t. The only location that I can connect to him is the Citadel, whose foundations go back to the 4th century BC. But as houses were built on top of other houses over the centuries, the citadel now stands about twenty meters high sheltering the city remains of Tamerlane’s time.

But all is not lost, for I find quite unexpectedly my own private Alexander. Walking through the main street of old Bukhara with all the handicraft shops, I stop at a table where an artist is painting what I see as Persian miniatures. Such delicate work, fine drawings, strong colors with bold touches of gold, I engage a conversation with the young man. He explains that these are Uzbek miniatures and not Persian ones, pointing to the typical headdress and decoration of the men’s robes. Well yes, now I see the difference. In the exhibition rack next to him, my eyes suddenly stop at a familiar picture … Iskander and Roxane, I ask? The artist’s face brightens up, yes it is indeed! How do you know? I don’t remember where I saw it, in which book or exhibition. In any case, this is the piece. How appropriate to find it here, in the heart of Central Asia, in Roxane’s homeland! Of all places! It is beautiful work, painted on old silk paper and I’m afraid to ask the price. I can’t resist, of course, and I go home with my precious miniature, and for a moment I’m in the very presence of Alexander and his beautiful bride!


According to Frank Holt (Alexander the Great and Bactria), it is most probable that Alexander went to Merv to found his Alexandria-Margiana but sources are unclear about when and how. Robin Lane Fox is sending Craterus to Merv instead with a detachment of the army in the spring of 328 BC. David Engels mentions that Alexander founded the city. The problem is that the antique writers focused on Alexander exclusively but at times couldn’t single out Alexander’s personal expedition in his complex campaign through Bactria and Sogdiana. Since Ptolemy actively participated in nearly all the skirmishes, pursuits and sieges, and that both Arrian and Curtius generally based their story on Ptolemy’s account, they seem to be the most trustworthy historians to follow, although modern writers have tried in vain to straighten out history. Pierre Briant is his recent book Alexander the Great and his Empire situates Margiana a few miles east of the Derbent’s Iron Gates, but the confusion may still be greater than expected since Leonid Sverchkov (Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia) is looking for two distinct cities, Margania as named by Curtius and Margiana as referred to by Pliny. Good luck!

After Bukhara, I’m once again on the main road to Samarkand, i.e. the old Silk Road. It is common knowledge that this road was dotted with stopping places where merchants and travelers could spend the night finding forage for the animals and accommodations for themselves. Every 30-40 kilometers or so there was a caravanserai offering the weary traveler a place to spend the night, to trade his goods or maybe to enjoy the comforts of a hamam. In fact, it is a system copied from the glory days of the Persian Empire and I am convinced that whenever possible or available, Alexander followed these same roads, making use of the same facilities. So, when I stop at the 11th-century caravanserai of Baboti Malik, I have no difficulty picturing what such a station must have looked in his days.

The place is rather isolated, more in the middle of nowhere than alongside a major route. This caravanserai is in a pretty poor state; only the façade has been re-erected while all the other outer and inner walls are only reconstructed to approximately one meter high. Still, it gives a good overview of the layout, although I have in mind the well-preserved building of Kervansaray in central Turkey, especially because of the central octagonal base of what once was the top lantern which impressed me immensely. But here it is the location rather than the caravanserai itself that strikes me for it is easy to imagine what a safe-haven such a place must have been to the traveler through these hostile lands.

On the other side of the road is the ever needed water reservoir, the Sardova from the 14th century – an impressive vaulted construction that shelters the water from dust and pollution while offering a clean spot to drink and to water the animals. To me, it is obvious that this entire construction stands over an old well that has been used over the centuries by local sheep and cattle herders, as well as by the merchants on this busy east-west road. It gives a clear image of the welcome stops Alexander may have encountered during his many desert crossings.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Discovering Forts Alexander might have known (Central Asia 9)

[8 - In Spring 328 BC, Alexander splits up his army in five sections. Hephaistion cleans up the Panj River Valley, Ptolemy the Vaksh River Valley, Perdiccas the Karfernigan, Coenus the Surkhan and Alexander marches to Maracanda where his generals will join him afterwards.]

Alexander used his winter in Bactra to evaluate the complex resistance he has been facing in Sogdiana. Killing Bessus had made him King of Persia but as it turned out not the ruler of Sogdiana where Spitamenes and his warlords led a full scale guerilla war. Alexander had to learn to face this new kind of warfare and had to make drastic changes in his tactics and in his army set-up. He decided, once across the Oxus, to split his forces in five columns, as each of them would mop up the valleys between the outstretched fingers of the Pamir Mountains. His faithful friend Hephaistion would handle the Panj River Valley on today’s border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan; Ptolemy would take care of the Vaksh River Valley originating in Kyrgyzstan as the Kyzyl-Suu, passing Dushanbe and emptying into the Amu Darya; Perdiccas would lead his men along the Karfernigan River, the longest of Kyrgyzstan and last tributary to join the Amu Darya; Coenus would subdue the people along the Surkhan River in southern Uzbekistan also running into the Amu Darya; and Alexander would ride to Maracanda to rendezvous with all his generals afterwards. Unfortunately, historians only relate about Alexander, dismissing any details about the accomplishments of his generals.

They took several forts perched high amidst the Central Asian plains, roughly east of Derbent on the southern edges of the Pamir Mountains into western Tajikistan When I am in Khiva, I have the opportunity to visit some of such forts. It is my chance to get an idea of what this episode must have meant in Alexander’s life. The road takes me north, on the other side of the main road Urgench-Tashkent near Beruni, towards Bostan. This is still within reach of the Oxus and its irrigation canals watering the cotton fields. We make an unexpected stop alongside the road for a steady look at the Kyzyl Kala, i.e. the Red Fort, just beyond the fluffy cotton stacks. It is a near-square construction of 65 x 63 meters that once stood two stories high - not difficult to guess even from this distance. Soldiers from neighboring Toprak Kala were stationed there, I’m told, spending alternatively one week inside these walls, one week at Toprak Kala and one week working in the fields. Time-wise it belongs to the 1st-8th century as part of the Kingdom of Khorezm.

Now Khorezm deserves some explanation for most of us never heard of this kingdom, which may find its origin in the fact that it has so many different spellings: Chorasmia, Khwarezmia, Khwarizm, Khwarazm, Khorezm, Khoresm, Khorasam, Harezm, Horezm, and Chorezm. Pick you choice!

The land was inhabited as early as 3,000 BC and is said to be colonized by an Iranian hero in 1292 BC. When Alexander arrived here some thousand years later, it was governed by the Persian Achaemenids together with Bactria and Carmania. Arrian in his Anabasis mentions that the king of the Chorasmians, Pharasmanes, visited Alexander at his court in Bactra in great style “with 1,500 mounted troops. He told Alexander that his territory had common frontiers with the Colchians and the Amazon women, and that if Alexander should ever contemplate an invasion of those countries with the object of reducing the various peoples in that part of the world as far as the Black Sea, he was willing to act as his guide and to provide all the necessary supplies for his army.” It is one of those paragraphs we tend to dismiss amidst all the events Alexander is being confronted with in 328 BC. It is evident that he had no intention at all to march back West as his plans for India were by now drawn up. So “he thanked Pharasmanes for his offer and concluded a pact of friendship with him, adding that an expedition to the Black Sea was not at the moment convenient…” [Arrian, Book 4, 15-16]. This being said, it is clear that this Kyzyl Kala survived the largely independent days of the later Parthian and Seleucian dynasties, and those of the Sassanid rulers as well. How exciting to stand in a place with such rich history! Of course, Islam took over and leaders like Genghis Khan and Tamerlane swarmed down over these lands as well, but that is beyond this part of the story.

Back to my own itinerary, the landscape soon becomes very desolate and that is no surprise since I’m in the middle (well, middle…) of the Kyzylkum, the Red Desert, which I first discovered from my precarious airplane. We drive on for quite a while as distances are proportionate to the land, as always. I enjoy the comforts of an air-conditioned bus, while Alexander and his army had to trudge through these sands and spiny shrub on foot. Sturdy men, no doubt.

Toprak Kala, meaning Clay-Fort, lies in the middle of the Ellik Kala oasis as part of a city of which I see no remains. This fort is much larger than the previous one, 500 x 350 meter, with walls reaching up to 8-9 meters, but I find the site in poor condition, the earthen walls have suffered badly from eons of exposure and erosion. One of the wooden doorposts still carries an inscription but I cannot even figure out in what language it is written. Russian archeologists have counted three hundred rooms in the palace on the northwestern side, discovering wall fresco’s and polychrome statues of Zoroastrian gods as well as documents from the royal archives written in the Khorezm language (1st-4th century). A few vaulted corridors are in fact the most striking elements that remain today.

About twenty kilometres further down the road, the fort of Ayaz Kala stamps its presence on the flat landscape. It was part of a series of forts very much like the Roman Limes, built to protect the agricultural lands against the nomads’ invasions. From the top of its one hundred meters high hill it has a commanding view over the surrounding land. It measures 180 x 150 meters and dates from the 4th/early 3rd century BC, meaning this is the kind of fort Alexander must have been confronted with. And I am going to climb to the top, ploughing through the loose sands as if walking in the dunes, what an experience!

Once I have reached the inside of the fort, I’m totally taken by surprise as it has not just one outer wall but two walls with in between them a vaulted passageway approximately two meters wide. Each wall is about ten meters high and at its base at least 2.2 to 2.4 meters thick. What a defence that must have been! During the 3rd century AD these walls were enhanced and fortified by forty-five semicircular watchtowers at 10-15 meters interval. As a fort, this construction was used till the first century but after that it remained a safe-haven for the local population till far into the Middle-Ages. The flat top of this hill has been stretched to its limits and covers an area fit for a small town. The entrance gate was built in the shape of a labyrinth and was consequently highly defendable. How ingenious!

Under me, between this fort and the road, lays a lower hill of about forty meters high with on its top another, much smaller fort. This was the residence of King Afrig and was at the time connected by a suspension bridge to the next rocky outcrop crowned with a citadel to defend the king’s palace. This is all more recent, 7th/8th century and functioned till the 13th century. These walls are clearly round and oval in shape, quite original I would say. From what I hear the movie about Genghis Khan was shot at this location – has anyone seen it?

The view alone is worth the climb. The wind feels like a storm up here and I’m not surprised to learn that the locals called this place Windy Fort. I’m still within the flat valley floor of the Oxus and in the distance I can see the blue waters of Akcha-Kul Lake on one side and to the left the sharp outlines of yet another fort. This one, shaped as a parallelogram of 260 x 180 meters dates from the 1st/2nd century AD, but remains in the north-eastern corner are said to be much older, 5th/4th century BC. So, yet another fort from Alexander’s days! The outside walls were not as thick as up here, a mere 7.5 meter and the watchtowers were entirely circular. According to the archaeologists, the fort was mainly used during the 1st century as a garrison but it may also have served as a shelter for the tribes’ leaders or even as a temporary residence for the local population in case of trouble. Those who want to learn more about these forts can visit this interesting link of the UNESCO.

It goes without saying that this entire setting in this specific desert area is giving me a precious insight of the forts Alexander the Great had to besiege during his campaign. Besides, who dares to say he never was here? It is not because nothing is put down in our history books that nothing has happened here …

Click here to read Episode 10 of Central Asia 
To see all the pictures of the differents forts, click here

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Alexander's March to Maracanda (Central Asia 8)

[7 - In early autumn of 329 BC, Alexander marched to Maracanda in three days and nights to see Spitamenes vanish in thin air. He re-crossed Oxus to winter in Bactra. Arrival of reinforcements from Macedonia.]

In early autumn 329 BC, as soon as he could manage health wise, Alexander marched to Maracanda in the hope to find Spitamenes and avenge the recent cruel ambush of his envoys. Alexander was never in for half measures and he proved it once again, covering the distance of a good 180 miles from Alexandria-Eschate to Maracanda in three days and nights, the fastest march of his life (an average of some 45 miles a day!). He must have had an iron constitution to travel at such high speed after suffering the discomforts of dysentery and his recent wounds. The loss of the 2,000 good men in Maracanda must have hit him hard.

Spitamenes meanwhile had attacked Maracanda a second time, but as soon as he was informed of Alexander’s approach he quickly withdrew. Alexander set in the pursuit, but his enemy’s lead was too great. In this process, Alexander passed the ghostly battlefield where his troops had lost their lives a few months earlier and arranged for a decent burial. In his anger he ordered to sweep the entire valley of the Polytimetus River, modern Zeravshan still running past Samarkand. His instructions were clear, every house and every village should be taken down, all the crops burnt and any person that sympathized with Spitamenes should be killed. I wonder how many questions the enraged Macedonians bothered to ask before killing…

These measures only put more oil on the fire with the Bactrians and the Sogdians. Most of their towns were now in ruins, the population wiped out, they had nothing to lose and their only hopes laid with Spitamenes. Personally I think it is about this time that the new Great King realized that warfare in this part of his empire was entirely different from his well-planned, well-drilled and well-executed battlefields!

With the fast approaching winter at his doorstep, Alexander left 3,000 men on guard in Bactria and retired to Bactra where enough provisions had been stored to sustain the severe winter months. The good news must have been that the highly needed and long expected reinforcements finally arrived from Macedonia, 22,000 fresh Greek mercenaries sent out by Antipater. A welcome boost to manpower and moral, no doubt.

I just can’t believe that I now have arrived in Samarkand myself, the Maracanda of the Greeks and the Afrasiab of antiquity! The very name rings like Baghdad, Babylon or Persepolis an unknown world as far as I’m concerned somewhere in the Orient. No wonder, for Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in the world, although opinions differ widely when it comes to dating its origins. However we are certain that the Persian Achaemenids ruled the local tribes from the 6th to the 4th century BC. With the arrival of Alexander the Great in 329 BC, Maracanda occupied a key position and became an important business centre thanks to its location with is impregnable citadel surrounded by a more than ten kilometers long city wall, which in later centuries even kept the Arabs out. But the arrival of the Islam could not be stopped, nor the hordes of Genghis Khan. Golden times blessed the city when Tamerlane declared Samarkand the capital of his empire that reached from the Bosporus to the Indus. Today’s treasures of Samarkand are to be found in the mosques, madrassa’s and mausoleums Tamerlane left us, unique beauties that are luckily added to the World Heritage List of the UNESCO. Inevitably, Samarkand is also closely linked to the Silk Road being situated on the crossroad of two main routes, one running from Persia in the west to China in the east, the other running south towards India. As I said before, Alexander must have followed these same roads since they ran in fact on top of the Royal Roads built by the Great Kings over the centuries to connect their many palaces and to quickly move their armies through this huge empire.

No trace of Alexander is to be found in today’s Samarkand. I’ll have to go to neighboring Afrasiab that was constantly inhabited till the Mongols arrived here in 1220, and leveled the proud city upon explicit orders of Genghis Khan. Those who survived these terrors fled the premises and chose to settle at the edge of the foothill and this is where today’s Samarkand is still shining. I’ll be visiting Afrasiab, of course. [See: Part 10, Afrasiab, ancient Samarkand]

I’m walking along the Zeravshan River, old Polytimetus River, during my visit to a Natural Reserve in that area. I am told that this is a safe haven for foxes and lynxes, a certain number of birds but all I see are some apparently unique deer, fenced-in like our deer-parks. Not exactly what one would expect under the label of a Natural Reserve, but we are probably very spoiled with our western safari parks and the kind. The local guide is willing to take us to the banks of the Zeravshan River; nobody is really interested but me. Yes, of course since Alexander has been here rampaging through the thickets on his reprisal expedition after Spitamenes brutal murder of the Greek mercenaries around here. The path is wild and overgrown with lots of spiny plants and branches that scratch you wherever they can, not very inviting I must say. How Alexander’s men managed to cut their way through these dense thickets and low thorny branches makes you bow in respect because their bodies, arms and legs must have been badly covered with scars. I guess these seasoned troopers were used to it or worse. I can’t take in enough of these wild grown shrubs and grasses, as if Alexander could dash out of this wilderness anytime right in front of me!

A year later, Alexander is back for another sweep-up along the Polytimetus and its tributaries in a demonstration of his power and that of his army. Strangely enough and in spite of his harsh actions, legends about Alexander still flourish in this part of the country where an Alexander River (Iskander Darya) flows out of an Alexander Lake (Iskander Kül). It is believed that he built a golden dam to create the lake and that gold particles can still be panned further downstream. Another story tells how Alexander and his trusted horse Bucephalus rise from the lake with every full moon to cross the sky (Michael Wood and Frank Holt).

My path stops abruptly at the bank of the Zeravshan, at least five feet above the riverbed. All I see is a charcoal black muddy surface, plowed by deer and cattle that wadded through on their way to the water near the opposite side – a shimmering rivulet, nothing more. But then, this time of the year (fall) the rivers around here are at their lowest; they swell in spring after the snow from the surrounding mountains starts melting. The Zeravshan rises at the fringes of the Pamir Mountains I crossed on my way from Shahr-i-Sabz and may have emptied into the Oxus in antiquity although today it simply peters out in the desert before reaching that far. Alexander must have seen this river also fully swollen as he repeatedly traveled between Maracanda and Bactra (having to cross the Oxus River each time again also). We have no idea of the hardships, or even of the distances out here; Samarkand-Balkh for instance, is roughly 200 miles, almost as far as Los Angeles - Las Vegas or London - Land’s End).

Click here to read Episode 9 of Central Asia

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tlos in the beautiful Xanthos Valley


I find it quite exciting to read that recent excavations have been carried out in the ancient city of Tlos, not too far from Fethiye in Turkey. To me, Tlos is entirely linked to Alexander the Great although there is no proof at all that he ever was here. In fact, this is true for the entire Xanthos Valley which is part of ancient Lycia. All we know is that Alexander crossed Lycia in today’s Southern Turkey after his siege of Halicarnassus in 334 BC. At that point, he sent the newly wed soldiers home to Macedonia for the winter and split the remaining part of his army up with his general Parmenion who would take his men to Gordion whereas Alexander would cross Lycia from west to east to join Parmenion next spring in Gordion.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of having lunch amidst the ruins of Tlos on a most exquisite picnic place: a series of blocks from the bathhouse aligned in its shade with an eagle eye’s view over the historic valley below. This was really something special, to sit there among those ruins savoring the food in a place where Romans, Greeks, Lycians and earlier civilizations lived in centuries past. The ancients must have spotted this place too and maybe savored their own snack watching the same scenery. It always makes me feel very privileged to sit in a place where people from times bygone have done so too. What were they seeing? What were they thinking? Whom did they talk to? This is beyond imagination, of course.

 Inevitably, I pictured Alexander the Great riding his Bucephalus at an easy pace through this luscious Xanthos Valley that produced and still produces a variety of crops. These fertile fields were dotted with a string of cities from Tlos and Pınara in the north to the more familiar Xanthos and Letoon in the south. Somewhere to the northwest of Letoon lies Sidyma, half buried under and among today’s Dodurga. An abundance of history for the taking!

 [picture from The Hurriyet Daily News]

Turkey is so rich in antique sites, some of them being left mostly untouched, but from time to time archeologists set out for further investigation. This summer apparently is was the turn of Tlos where several Roman statues have been uncovered and moved to the local museum in Fethiye. Time to go back, it seems. From the one picture published with this article in The Hurriyet Daily News in August 2011, one can easily recognize Emperor Hadrian standing in the middle of the group. Other statues, which seem to be life-size, represent Antonius Pius and his daughter Faustina Minor, Marcus Aurelius and the goddess Isis.

Moreover, other artifacts have enabled to date Tlos back 10,500 years while it was previously believed that the site was occupied for the past 2,700 years only. The archeological team will continue its excavations in the next few months, focusing on the city center, the rock tombs around the Acropolis, the Stadium, the Basilica and the Theater tower, while investigating at the same time Girmeler Cave and Tavabaşı Cave.

Tlos is not very well known and evidently much less than Xanthos or Myra, for instance, but it is definitely worth investigating if ever you ever are in the area.

When I was there in 2007, archeologists had been working on the Roman Bath complex removing much of the soil and rubble from the Solarium where apparently precious mosaics were found to be covered with plastic and dirt to protect them from the elements – and unfortunately to my view also. The thickness of the layer of soil that was removed here is remarkable (I would say 1.5 to 2 meters), exposing amazingly white original building stones. The many rooms of this bathhouse had not been mapped yet, but there must be several more rooms although it is too early to establish their mutual connection and function.

Inside the Byzantine Basilica, all the trees and bushes had recently been cut down (the core of the trunks and branches is still whitish). The overall plan now plainly exposes three wide naves with a central row of columns lying just as they have fallen down. There are even a few traces of plaster visible on the walls. This Basilica might be standing on top of an older temple, only time will tell.

The theater is located next to the Basilica. The loose stones have already been inventoried and one day they’ll occupy their original place again. Parts of the skene and proscenium are still standing, including a remarkable window to the outside that may have been framed by a column on either side and covered with a protruding roof.

Inside the theater, the lower rows of seats were cleared of rubble and soil. The big blocks were piled up near the skene and the debris neatly heaped up in the middle of the orchestra waiting to find a way to carry it outside. The benches of each row are still neatly aligned with at the corner the lion paws at their feet. All around the top of the theater high slabs are preventing the visitors from falling down, as the theater’s back is not leaning against the hillside. The original construction is definitely Greek and was adapted to Roman needs, as done in Fethiye and Patara. The bashed and battered VIP seats have been moved to the ambulatorium, meaning that at some point the theater was turned into an arena. The vomitoriums on either side are still filled with fallen stones and rocks. I thought it would be interesting to return some day to see the results of these excavations and restorations and apparently the archeological team is working here again in 2011!

On the other side of the modern road, the Stadium has been unearthed, showing several rows of seats over the entire length, leaning against the Roman city wall. The floor itself is being used by the villagers for their good looking crop of corn, but the spine of the stadium has been cleared and is plainly visible. From what I saw lately on Turkish TV, diggings have been carried out recently, clearing part of the floor. It is a place that tantalizes your imagination, picturing the races that were held here, something like in the Ben-Hur movie.

The rocky hillside behind the Stadium was obviously the favorite spot for the Lycians to build their tombs, many showing the early wooden door patterns. I even discovered one tomb that still has its sliding door in place! I tried to move it but it didn’t budge. Maybe it needs some waxing to make it slide again, I wonder.

I climbed higher up to the Acropolis, past a few typical very weathered Lycian sarcophagi. The Acropolis itself had little to offer from antique times, only the 19th-century walls of the fort that Aga Ali, also called Bloody Ali built here. Yet the view over the Xanthos Valley is breathtaking! One can easily locate the other old cities of Sidyma, Pınara, and Patara further south, with at the far horizon the glittering Mediterranean Sea. This was definitely a most fertile valley, and it still is today with the many prosperous fields and healthy fruit trees.

So, yes, you definitely should include a visit to Tlos whenever you are around Fethiye or the Xanthos Valley!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The latest news about the Palace of Aegae

In recent years the Palace of Philip II in Aegae has been off limits to visitors because of new archaeological digs on the site of what is now called Vergina in northern Greece. Intensive restoration works have lead to document new facts about the lay-out of this palace.


According to the latest news, construction of the palace was started by Philip II of Macedon in 350 BC and works were completed only in 336 BC, the year of his cruel murder. The research has revealed important information about ancient Macedonian architecture, especially since the palace was built without interruption and thus in a very consistent style.

Most revealing is the two-storied front section of the building as archaeologists until know believed that such galleries appeared only in the 2nd century BC. More importantly even is the general acceptance that Pytheos was the palace’s architect, i.e. the same one who built the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Aegae seems to share the same sculptor Leochares, also.

I simply can’t wait till this area will open to the public again to have a closer and different look at all these details!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Alexander and Turkey

As you’ll know by now, I like to follow the latest archeological news in the Hurriyet Daily News and when the news is about Alexander the Great, it has my undivided attention.

Last summer (July 2011) they published an article written by Frank White, Professor Emeritus at City University of New York under the title “Alexander and the land that became Turkey”. I was, as can be expected, very much intrigued by what he could be revealing about the role of today’s Turkey in Alexander’s conquests. After all, the king of Macedonia spent only a good year crossing this country from the Hellespont (today’s Dardanelles) to the Syrian border, but then he fought two major battles against the Persians, one at the Granicus River and the other one at Issus. In both cases, he was evidently victorious.


But I found this article very disappointing. There were no new facts or revelations, no accent on any part of Alexander’s campaigns, sieges or routes, while Turkey certainly can provide a wealth of information on these matters. Yet all I read is a speedy list of successive countries, cities and territories which Alexander crossed over the twelve years of his conquest of Asia and I entirely fail to understand the relation between the title and the contents. I would have expected more from a university professor, the more since he lives in Alanya part of the year and should be familiar with Alexander’s traces in Turkey.

In any case, the article will make good reading for whoever wants to have a compact text about the life and conquests of Alexander the Great. You are free to fill the gaps where and whether you want.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Alexandria-Eschate and Cyropolis (Central Asia 7)

[6 - In July 329 BC, Alexander was building his Alexandria-the-Furthermost, modern Khodjend in Tajikistan, while taking seven Sogdian cities, including CyropolisAlexander was seriously wounded.]

Alexander marched north to Cyropolis, a city founded by nobody less than Cyrus the Great, whom he admired greatly. But Cyropolis was situated about 10 km away from the edge of the Jaxartes River and Alexander felt that it didn’t serve his purpose, i.e. to protect the country against the nomads inhabiting the lands beyond the majestic river. He decided to build a city of his own, Alexandria-Eschate or Alexandria-the-Furthermost (Ultima) right on the banks of the Jaxartes – the location of today’s Khodjend in Tajikistan. Shortly after starting his project, a general revolt broke out and the entire area exploded into an armed resistance counting as much as 20,000 men. It was more than obvious that this Macedonian settlement was not welcome.

The uprising spread rapidly to Cyropolis and the neighbouring towns. An infuriated Alexander struck back and was wounded for the first time since Asia Minor, taking an arrow in his leg that broke his splint-bone. However, determined as always, he sent Craterus to besiege Cyropolis (by far the largest town), while he systematically subdued the other six cities in the area. Arrian mentions that the king took five cities in three days, nothing less. From what I have seen in other places, the walls of these towns, although made of mud-bricks could be quite formidable, yet he razed them all to the ground. Returning to Cyropolis and in spite of his wounds, Alexander was alert enough to notice a stream running under the city walls; that was all he needed to crawl inside and open the city-gates from the inside to let his army in and subsequently subdue the city. Most of the defenders were obviously killed but in such a close-combat many of Alexander’s men suffered severe injuries, and so did Alexander. He fell unconscious when a large stone hit him on the head. He suffered from blurred vision and couldn’t speak for several days. He must have been quite upset with himself for all these injuries combined made it impossible for him to ride his horse, see or speak clearly. He may have been lucky after all, for it was here that Cyrus lost his life during a similar attack in 530 BC.

As if the situation was not bad enough, the king received news that his garrison in Maracanda had been attacked by Spitamenes who had banded up with several other warlords in order to resist Alexander’s decision to settle the area. The tables had turned since the capture of Bessus just a few months earlier, and certainly not to Alexander’s advantage. The Bactrians and Sogdians became true terrorists (although the very word is a modern conception) and Spitamenes was the worst among them. In my eyes, he was the equivalent of the Bin Laden of our times. Nothing seems to have changed in that part of the world …

To settle the rebellion in his back, Alexander sent 2000 mercenaries to Maracanda hoping that the rebels could be talked into peace – a serious miscalculation as he had put this detachment under command of an interpreter instead of a capable general. They were never to be seen again.

In spite of his impaired condition, Alexander pushed on with the construction of Alexandria-Eschate. Within 21 days the city-walls were erected, 5.5 miles long, i.e. the equivalent of a Macedonian camp. A prowess by itself! But the Scythians from the opposite shore of the Jaxartes also grew furious about this new city and they joined the Sogdian revolt, putting Alexandria-Eschate under constant attacks and taunting Alexander to come after them. When the city walls reached a defendable height and the king had recovered well enough from his wounds to fight back, the crossing of the Jaxartes was set in motion. It is one of those exploits that is not stressed enough in our history books!

I have no visual image of the Jaxartes since it was pitch dark by the time I crossed it, but picturing it more or less like the Oxus I cannot be far from the truth. When Alexander decided to attack the daunting Scythians on the opposite bank, he had a solid plan. This was far from the one he applied on the Oxus earlier on because if he had sent his men swimming across the Jaxartes they would have been killed like sitting ducks by the enemy’s arrows. He conceived a flotilla of large rafts (12,000 rafts assembled in three days, according to Curtius) made from stuffed leather tent covers, rigged together and covered with a sturdy platform. These rafts could carry a serious contingent of men and even some horses. Besides, Alexander equipped them with long-range catapults, a kind of machine the Scythians were going to discover for the first time. As the volleys hit the startled nomads, Alexander’s archers, slingers and other catapults kept on firing while the troops, both infantry and cavalry managed to get ashore – nothing less than a modern landing with amphibian tanks! The current was swift and tore at the rafts but they held long enough for every men and horse to land safely. When the Scythians recovered from their first shock and surprise, they played their favourite manoeuvre by riding and attacking in circles, but even here Alexander knew the answer. He threw in a mixed force of infantry and cavalry and successfully broke the circle, sending the Scythians to retreat further inland. Alexander, as a matter of course, set in the pursuit for several miles into the desert before giving up. I read somewhere (but don’t remember where) that this battle took place near Kungur-tao on the northern bank of the Jaxartes but I can’t pinpoint this location. Any suggestions?

King and army then set out to return victorious to Alexandria-Eschate, but many were sick with dysentery as they had drunk foul water. Alexander shared the same fate and on top of all his recent wounds, he now had to be carried on a stretcher. Ancient sources mention that infantry and cavalry quarreled about who would be carrying the very ill king, as both fell entitled to the honour . Alexander settled the matter in person, as dear old Solomon would have done: they should take turns.

Click here to read Episode 8 of Central Asia