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 Dragiana/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 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)

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

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