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 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, June 28, 2012

Latest Books and eBooks News - Updated June 2012

Modern technology is slowly but surely catching up with our printed books. We certainly made a great step forward with many ebooks being available but to my chagrin the specific books that I want to read generally are not – or not yet. Luckily we are in for a change in this field also and I want to share with you some of my favorite authors who are making progress in that direction.

I just was made aware of Andrew Chugg’s updates and ebook versions to two of my favorite books:

Alexander’s Lovers” (see my comments on Megas Alexandros) with extra information about Alexander’s deification and Hephaistion’s funeral pyre. This edition is now available in Amazon’s Kindle (ASIN: B007OXZU60) but for those who still like to hold on to a printed copy, a second printed edition can also be obtained also (ISBN: 978-0-9556790-4-9).

“The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great” (see my comments on Megas Alexandros) has also been edited with the latest information about Alexandria and his search for Alexander’s tomb at the San Marco in Venice. The Kindle format is available under the ref ASIN: B0085NSY2A and a second printed edition (ISBN 978-0-9556790-6-3) will follow this August 2012.

Then there is Robbert Bosschart’s Spanish version “Todas las Mujeres de Alejandro Magno” is entirely up-to-date and contains lots of new elements and complementary information, like Alexander’s meeting with the Pythia in Delphi or details about the relation of Artemisia I of Caria with King Xerxes. His printed revised edition (ISBN 9788415160687) is available from Eride, while the second edition of his ebook (ISBN 788415425687) with otherwise unpublished illustrations can be found through Casa del Libro. 

Meanwhile I’m happy to see that many more titles became available digitally. I hereby give a list of those books listed so far under the Category “From my Bookshelves” on the present site of Megas Alexandros.
For my earlier comments, please click on this link

Historical Sources in Translation, Alexander the Great” by W. Heckel and J.C. Yardley
For my earlier comments, please click on this link.

Alexander the Great and His Empire” by Pierre Briant
For my earlier comments, please click on this link.

For my earlier comments, please click on this link.

History of Alexander the Great” by Curtius Rufus
For my earlier comments, please click on this link.

The Afghan Campaign” by Steven Pressfield
For my earlier comments, please click on this link.
For my earlier comments, please click on this link.
This lists is, of course, not exhaustive and definitely will be updated at some time in the future. Till then, I wish you all happy reading!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The History of Alexander by Curtius Rufus

Quintus Curtius Rufus lived in the Roman Empire of the first century and is the author of this History of Alexander (ISBN 0674994078 and ISBN 0674994051).

It makes good reading for his style is that of what we would call today a journalist. He loves to elaborate and embellish the stories he apparently found in his main source of Cleitarchus, so be aware to keep a critical eye on the events he is describing.

Basically any story about Alexander the Great that has come to us has a core of truth and Curtius’ story is no exception. However most critics seem to accept him as a reliable informant when it comes to geography, so there is definitely enough merit to spend time reading his work.

All in all Alexander’s history was spread over ten books, eight of which have generally survived except for some material from books 5, 6 and 10. Unfortunately the two missing books are the first two and we only pickup Alexander’s life story with the events of 333 BC.

My copy is an edition from the Loeb Classical Library (containing also the original Latin text) in a translation by John C Rolfe, published in two volumes: Books I-V and Books VI-X. It contains a rather general (tiny) map of Alexander’s conquests but an extensive Index at the end of the second volume, which is extremely useful when doing specific research.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Alexander the Great and his Empire by Pierre Briant

Alexander the Great and his Empire (ISBN 9780691141947) certainly is an all-encompassing title covering every aspect of the person of Alexander and of the Empire he created, although for the purpose of making the reading easier Pierre Briant has divided his book in a handful of chapters:
  • A brief overview of Alexander’s major conquests;
  • Alexander’s objectives (not only his pothos as reported by Arrian);
  • The resistance Alexander met during his different conquests;
  • How Alexander administered and exploited his new conquests;
  • Alexander’s changing relations with the Macedonians, the Greeks and the Persians;
  • A few words about Alexander’s succession.
At the end of this highly interesting book, he inserted an Appendix summarizing the current state of scholarship and several hints for future research on this vast subject.

In short, Pierre Briant gives the reader a fully up-to-date account of what has been written and excavated about Alexander the Great. His book dates from 2005 (in French) and was translated and updated again in 2010 by nobody less than Amélie Kuhrt.

Up to now, I was familiar with Pierre Briant’s “Alexander the Great, Man of Action/Man of Spirit where he skillfully manages to give a complete insight into the life of this Macedonian King with endless details, although here the history is being summarized. In a way, he has done the same in his present book, depicting Alexander against the Achaemenid Persians on one side and against the Macedonians on the other side, both within his army and on the home front.

For instance, he underlines the threat of a revolt in Greece led by Sparta, a realistic fear for Alexander as it might coincide with a major Persian attack during the years 333-331 BC where he would be caught in the middle. He puts history back in its own context, including the position of King Darius who was a worthy opponent rather than a coward as so often related in other tales.

Or the fact that Alexander always tried to gain the support of the elite of the lands he conquered – a crucial aspect of his strategy where he gladly copied Cyrus the Great. He aimed at a full cooperation between the conquerors and the conquered as proven by an astronomical clay-tablet found in Babylon – something his contemporaries didn’t understand and neither do our modern authors.

Pierre Briant also sheds a new light on the Philotas Affair, which may simply have originated in his Companion’s opposition to Persian customs rather than from a conspiracy, adding that by 330 BC even Parmenion no longer served Alexander’s needs. Another eye-opener I find is about the Opis Mutiny when Alexander sent the veterans home while the real grudge may well have been the fact that the army wanted to go home altogether and with their King.

Even about Alexander’s succession Pierre Briant has an interesting remark: If Alexander had produced an heir before leaving for Asia, the boy (assuming it would have been a boy) would have been ten years old by the time of his death in Babylon in 323 BC. The problem to appoint a successor would have been the same, meaning that a joint kingship of his half-brother Arrhidaeus and the boy (like now with his son by Roxane) would have been inevitable.

He also stops at the idea that is generally developed that Alexander aimed to create a universal brotherhood. Although he evened the gap between Greeks (read “civilized”) and Barbarians, Pierre Briant stresses Alexander’s remarkable political intelligence and his wish to take lasting long-term decisions. Another astonishing fact is that Alexander managed in two years time (324-323 BC) to reorganize his army, creating an entirely new joint Macedonian and Persian force. 

A treasure of information and a most pleasant reading as can be expected from this author. Personally, I found his updated map of Alexander’s conquest highly interesting, especially the enlargement of his march through Bactria and Sogdiana (at last a clear outline of his route to go by!). In short, this book is a must on the bookshelf of anyone who wants to read a serious study of Alexander the Great.

Also available as an e-book

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sogdian Rocks and Alexander’s Fort in Nurata (Central Asia 12b)

[11b - In early 327 BC Alexander attacks the Sogdian Rocks of Ariamazes (= Sogdian) and Chorienes (= Sisimithres). Arrian and Curtius disagree on the location and the chronology.]

It is great news when I hear that I’ll be visiting an Alexander fort! No, not any of the Sogdian Rocks that went down into history, but one I never heard about. Local legend or true history, I don’t know what to think of it or what to expect. These past days I have seen many a fort and I had all these visions of Alexander’s army marching through the desert and the rough terrain followed by the inevitable baggage train – all moving in Alexander’s care. A gigantic task. You have to see this land to realize what it meant.

Yet here I am told that Nurata, the ancient city of Nur, was built in 327 BC by nobody less than Alexander the Great and it is here that I’ll be visiting one of his forts built on top of the nearby hill. That must be something! We drive through the outskirts of Nurata when at the end of the lane I suddenly see the hill topped with remains of earthen walls, with at its feet a well-kept Muslim sanctuary including a Djuma Mosque (Friday Mosque) and hamam (khamom). The round mosque from the 10th century with a cupola of 16 meters in diameter is said to be the largest in Central Asia, and is built on top of a spring. As it turns out, the entire story evolves around this spring…

According to the Muslims, the spring emerged when Hazrat Ali, the son-in-law of Prophet Mohamed, hit the soil with his staff. The water is said to possess healing powers and since ages pilgrims flock in from far and wide to cleanse themselves with the holy water – hence the adjacent hamam. Striking fact however is that throughout summer and winter these waters remain at a constant temperature of 19.1 degrees Centigrade. The fish (only Allah knows where they came from) that thrive in these crystal clear spring waters are holy as well, meaning that no one is allowed to catch them – just like in SanliUrfa (Turkey).

Nurata itself owes its life to the so-called kareez, i.e. a combination of surface and underground canals that basically slush water from a spring, lake or ground water to a city or surrounding fields. Thanks to these underground galleries, it was possible to collect melting snow or rain from the nearby mountains in order to turn these arid lands into flourishing oasis (also read …). This extensive introduction finally brings me to Alexander as the story goes that he was the one who gave instructions to detour the waters from below the mountains behind Nurata through underground corridors and canals in order to irrigate the fields. This antique system seems to be several kilometres long. In fact, it is a combination of horizontal passages and vertical shafts as clearly explained in this drawing made by the Heritage Institute. Even today, the system is still effectively used by the local population thanks to thorough recent cleaning and restoration. Amazing to hear that such an intricate irrigation work is still in working order many thousands of years later as it seems to go back to times from before the Achaemenid’s empire. Alexander most probably helped to maintain the system. 

An intriguing detail is the small Muslim tomb erected at a discrete distance behind the mosque to honor a saint; it is surrounded by seven slim columns in typical Uzbek teardrop style but as a whole is carries a clear Greek influence – or is it my imagination?

In any case, here I’m standing at the foot of Alexander’s fort – with high expectations and my heartbeat racing at 200 miles/hour! This fortress however looks more like a huge clump of earth eroded by rain and wind, baked by the sun. What am I looking for?

Uzbek sources relate that Alexander instructed one of his generals, a certain Farhangi-Sarhang (“Sarhang” meaning as much as “Officer” I learn later on), to build a fort that even he could not take. What a challenge! Alexander left for other conquests and when he returned and saw the fort, he shouted orders to open the gates for him. His faithful general refused bluntly. Alexander I’m sure was far from happy with this response, how dared his general refuse! He had no other choice but to charge the attack, yet to no avail. That certainly must have stirred his blood. I immediately picture a frantic Alexander, pacing back and forth – maybe even having one of his Macedonian fits that some authors attribute to him. To put it mildly however, he certainly must have been quite frustrated and pretty angry for not being able to take this very fort. He gave up. At this point, the general gave orders to open the gates and walked out towards Alexander with a broad smile on his face no doubt, claiming that he had successfully executed his king’s orders. End of story. I have found no trace of this event in any book but my local guide assures me that it is very present in Uzbek’s literature. I find the foundation of Nur and the construction of the fortress south of the town on Wikipedia but no trace of this general unfortunately, but then his name may be Persian and the question is what would the Greek translation sound like. It seems that east and west still have difficulty talking to each other … Many stories from the east have not made it to the Greek homeland hence into our western literature. One example are the recent discoveries made by Edward Rtveladze, member of the Academy of Science in Uzbekistan, who carried out meticulous excavation expeditions to find the traces of Alexander during his campaigning in Bactria and Sogdiana (see above). His conclusions are written down in Russian, I’m still trying to get a hold of them in English!

Today as in Alexander’s time, the location of this fortress at the southern end of Nurata is a very strategic one, i.e. at the very edge where agricultural land turns into wild steppe. In fact, it was an ideal place for the king to gather his army in formation before attacking neighboring tribes, while in later years it was an ideal refuge for rebels and outcasts. This fortress surrounded by large walls and supporting towers must have looked like a small town with an inner core, the Shahristan, measuring 500x500 meters. The Uzbeks say it is one of the most important monuments of Uzbekistan – how far does patriotism reach, I wonder?

I finally start my precarious climb over a smooth surface of thick pounded clay, hard as stone after centuries of weathering. There is hardly any path and this trail is extremely steep and slippery because of the dust with no handrail for security and no tree or brush to stop your fall if you lose grip. I walk over what looks like an ancient wall with a gaping void to my left and an ellipse shaped depth to my right. About halfway small cluster of grass have found a foothold and the courageous pilgrims like me have attached a wish ribbon to the meagre blades, an old habit to ask favours from the gods. Shall I tie my wish also and ask for Alexander’s protection on my climb?

I stop to catch my breath and look over my shoulder, scared to move too much and loose my balance on this narrow edge. Best to ignore my fear. Instead I’m rewarded by a magnificent view over the city of Nurata beneath me, a truly green oasis in this inhospitable land. At last, I reach the top, or rather the basis of the huge earthen clump crowned with a defacing antenna on top (could they not have found another outcrop to plant this mast, I wonder irritated?). In the lower part of this clump I clearly see rows of sturdy adobe bricks, meaning that at the top of the construction the outer core has kind of “melted” these bricks but they still are there underneath – after all these centuries…? From my high outlook post I admire the mountain range which provided and still provides the precious spring water, the desert steppe at its feet and on my left the big blot with the houses of Nurata. It is a lonely windy place though, certainly not the kind of reward any garrison soldier would seek and certainly not any of Alexander’s veterans whom he relocated on so many occasions. History really comes alive up here!

Time to start my descent and I decide to risk my life stepping carefully down the hollow part – not exactly the safest choice, but then Alexander faced greater dangers and I gain courage. I land safely at the foot of what seems to be central building. What a shame they didn’t put up some directions or a map of what this fortress could have looked like – they are asking a lot of my otherwise so fertile imagination. I walk to the back of the fortress where a thick wall once served the defences, now flanked by a modern wall and a row of poplars surrounded by garbage plastic bottles and other rubbish. Here too I can see the sundried bricks at the bottom of the walls and I wonder if they indeed date back to Alexander’s days or if they are from a later date … The sun breaks through and it all looks so much more appealing. What an adventure!

Click here to read Episode 13 of Central Asia

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sogdian Rocks and Alexander’s Fort in Nurata (Central Asia 12a)

[11a - In early 327 BC Alexander attacks the Sogdian Rocks of Ariamazes (= Sogdian) and Chorienes (= Sisimithres). Arrian and Curtius disagree on the location and the chronology.]

Having spent the harshest part of the winter 328/327 BC in either Maracanda or Nautaca , Alexander set out to capture the last mountain fortresses, the last sites of opposition in his eyes. We know that he passed the site of the Branchidae massacre of the year before. Nearby he found a mountain stronghold sheltering allegedly some thirty thousand people with ample supplies. The king sent an envoy up the high precipitous rock to parley the rebels into surrender, but Ariamazes, the commander, refused and simply dared the king’s army to come after him “if they could fly”. Well, we know they could as Alexander sent up some three hundred volunteers to climb the back of the sheer mountain – 270 of them made it to the top. When he received the signal that they had reached the summit, it was the king’s turn to taunt Ariamazes. He told him to look up and see that his soldiers could indeed fly. That is how the fort fell in Alexander’s hands.

The Uzbek archaeologist E. Rtveladze has come to the conclusion that the Sogdian Rock offered asylum to Oxyartes’ family. He places the fort on the very border between Bactria and Sogdiana near the Iron Gates in the valley of the Shurob River, west of Derbent. This location is shared by Pierre Briant (Alexander the Great and his Empire), maybe also because archeologists have recently found a Macedonian stone catapult ball near the Iron Gates on the Shurob River.

Shortly afterwards, Alexander attacked the Chorienes Rock, also called the Rock of Sisimithres. Arrian and Curtius are not too helpful in placing events in the right order and manage to jumble both attacks together. Frank Holt has closely studied the ancient writers and comes to the conclusion that Arrian’s Rock of Chorienes seems to be that of Sisimithres mentioned by Curtius, Plutarch and Strabo, while at the same time Arrian places Roxane in the context of the Rock of Sogdiana. Time-wise also, this siege has been placed in the winter of 328/327 BC by some, but it seems more probable that spring was late and that Alexander experienced a sort of second winter in the early months of 327 BC. To make things even more complicated, Pierre Briant (Alexander the Great and his Empire) is pointing out the location of three forts: The Kyrk-kyz or Rock of Chorienes, the Derbent-Sarymas or Rock of Ariamazes, and the Akrabat or Rock of Sisimithres. Moreover, a German-Uzbek archeological team has recently located a fort whose oldest remains date from 328 BC, clearly from Alexander’s days. The Kurganzol Fortress as it is called is located east of Derbent in Uzbekistan, but I couldn’t figure out if this fort matches one of the two or three known forts.    
What we know for certain is that the citadel of Chorienes was no less formidable than that of Ariamazes. This stronghold took full advantage of the steep terrain, protected by a narrow defile and a raging river, reinforced by a strong wall. It was cramped with fugitives from other less fortified places who sought for protection. In the freezing cold, Alexander first attacked the fortified pass with his battering rams. The second obstacle he faced was a deep ravine with a waterfall that he had to bridge. Once Alexander had made up his mind, nothing could stop him – we know that, but still. He organized the operation in such a way that he took charge personally during daytime, while his generals Perdiccas, Ptolemy and Leonnatus took over at night. Round-the-clock work, which not only impresses us but most of all, must have fascinated the rebels. The king had the ravine filled with a framework of piles and wickerwork filled with earth, slowly bringing him ever closer to the fortress level. Sooner or later, Sisimithres must have realized that he had no means to match the technology of his adversary; Alexander’s engineering and firing powers were more than he could take. The warlord was ready to parley with the king’s envoys. According to some sources, Oxyartes (Roxane's father) held captive after the Chorienes Rock was captured by Alexander’s forces, presently talked Sisimithres into surrendering.

At this stage of his conquests, the king treated the remaining Sogdian chieftains well. He may have executed Ariamazes and his kin, but he handled Oxyartes and others in a much milder way, often restoring the warlords in their ancestral position. It seems that Alexander finally rallied to the policy previously used by the Persian King, which consequently led to less opposition from the Sogdian side. During these fierce wintery times supplies were short as the Macedonian army was caught in snow and freezing temperatures, but the recently conquered forts and their “commanders” readily shared their provisions. Chorienes alone offered a two-months’ ration for the entire army, distributing grain, wine and dried meat from his storerooms. Arrian states that by this gesture, Chorienes had not even shared one tenth of his provisions – something to think about, I would say.

Many more forts, generally less spectacular than these ones, must have been taken but the Chorienes Rock signaled the beginning of a new era.

Around this time, Alexander must have laid eyes on Roxane, one of Oxyartes’ daughters made captive with her family during the taking of the Sogdian Rock

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Afrasiab, ancient Samarkand (Central Asia 11)

[10 - In Autumn 328 BC, the head of Spitamenes was brought to Alexander. The army is being divided between Bactra (Balkh), Nautaca and Maracanda (Samarkand) because Spitamenes had destroyed the winter provisions in Bactra. Alexander spent the winter of 328/327 BC in Maracanda-Afrasiab. Murder of Cleitos.]

Maracanda is the Greek name for today’s Samarkand, but the real name in antiquity was Afrasiab and I’m terribly excited to know that I can still visit its remains. It is an important city in Alexander’s relentless marches up and down Central Asia, one of those crossroads he just had to take. It is here that he murdered Cleitos and it is here that he received the head of Spitamenes – speaking about the irony of Fate.

Afrasiab occupies 220 hectares mostly hidden beneath an 8 to 12 meter thick layer of soil, with at the very bottom “the adobe houses of the Sogdians” as mentioned in the Avesta. Since the end of the 19th century, periodic excavations have taken place, mostly by Russian archaeologists who moved the most precious finds to the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg; lesser items went to a newly built adjacent museum.

As I said before, this city was situated at the crossroads merchants used between India, China and Europe, and it is no surprise to find that it was blessed with wide streets and high defensive walls, while the houses showed all the wealth that came with living in such a location. One example is to be found in the wall frescoes that have been moved to the nearby museum, a unique testimony of the rich cultural exchanges between east and west. As if to underline the extensive trade connections, we see pictures of envoys from China, Turkey and India, all carrying precious gifts like elephants, ostriches, panthers, and weaponry. A detailed research has been made by the University of Halle in Germany – most interesting!

The entrance to Afrasiab is right next to the small but exquisite museum. My path goes straight uphill and when I reach the top, the extent of the old city reveals itself, it’s huge! Where should I start? I find no reference point to go by, maybe behind the next hill? According to what I saw at the museum, I should be able to recognize the palace from which the precious frescoes were rescued as well as remains of the city walls. I’m walking over a stone road but can’t judge if this pavement is old or new. Suddenly the road ends near the top of a hill. Clearly some excavations have taken place in the depth below me, but most remains have been hidden from sight by the wind-swept sands and low bushes. Strange but at the same time rather exciting as I discover the contours of modern Samarkand just above the horizon. That reminds me that it were the Mongols who leveled the proud city upon explicit orders of Genghis Khan in 1220, after which the horrified survivors chose to settle at the edge of this foothill, i.e. where today’s Samarkand is still shining.

At this point I decide to keep to the right, towards the city walls and the palace - a pure gut feeling, but the terrain is treacherous and a deep V-shaped valley demands a detour. The sun is low and I have to shade my eyes to find a proper path to go down and back up again on the other side. To my left I discover a large square space that could reveal the agora surrounded by straight running hills through which the archaeologists have cut several corridors, apparently to sample the successive layers. On the agora itself, shifting sands and erosion have erased all traces of buildings or walls, it seems.

I have the site entirely to myself and I thoroughly enjoy the peaceful stillness in which spirits of the past can come alive any time. The sound of a bell followed by bleating makes me aware of a small heard of goats, cared for by a lonely shepherd who only speaks Russian. I now have reached the modern road to the airport, which triggered the discovery of old Afrasiab. The sun is setting ever lower and long shadows clearly define any minute change in the landscape. Unexpectedly I find the remains of the so-called palace from the 3rd-2nd century BC, which I recognize from the scale-model at the museum. The golden evening sun even lights up the fort. What a feast!

I realize that it must have been around here that Alexander murdered Cleitos the Black. This happened during one the banquet nights where wine flowed profusely and poets praised and glorified Alexander’s exploits, going as far as fueling the king’s pretension of divinity and denigrating his achievements in favor of his father’s, King Philip II. Every veteran in the assembly felt he had done more than his share – why should Alexander receive all the glory, especially when brought by a poet who never took part in any fight. These veterans (who had served under Philip) shared the glorifying words in favor of Philip, and it was Cleitos, still faithful to his old king who spoke up in name of all of them. He not only praised Philip but also his own person, reminding his comrades that he was the one who saved Alexander’s life at the Granicus. Tempers ran high, fired by the wine and the latest hardships in hostile Sogdiana, and Cleitos’ vehement words caught on. We should not forget that Cleitos had just recently been “promoted” to satrap of Sogdiana since old Artabazus (the father of Alexander’s mistress Barsine) had requested to be relieved from his function. Cleitos resented the appointment. To him it was a pure punishment having to spend the rest of his days in this remote country at the end of the world. Heated discussions followed, while more wine was flowing; strong words and insults filled the air. This was more than the usual Macedonian brawl and Cleitos’ words were more than passionate. Some of the Companions intervened to hush Cleitos and took him outside. Like a Jack-in-the-box he re-entered the room, sadly before the king had time to calm down. More shouts and new insults flew back and forth; Alexander called for his bodyguards. By now, he was beside himself and impatiently snatched the spear from the nearest bodyguard and ran Cleitos through. Historians all tell us how Alexander grieved for three days, refusing all food and water.

So much history has been written on the very soil I am standing on. Oh, if only the stones and the dust could talk! The fading light of this sunset with its long shadows seems to add to this eerie atmosphere. What a place to be!

My senses slowly return to the present. I have to get back but I am not sure behind which hill I can find the museum from where the road will lead me back to my hotel downtown. Is it more to the right or to the left? In my excitement, I have not set by bearings and paid no attention to the landmarks. It seems I have underestimated the distance for it is taking me more time than I thought, but drifting away to the very presence of Alexander made me lose track of time. Then I notice a cow, a nice brown animal that strangely enough commands a dozen of sheep and goats by bellowing them back to their home stable. Well, have you ever! Instead of the museum I arrive at the cemetery next to a mosque. From there I reach the Siab River, the very one that gave its name to the city. The banks are particularly green after my stroll through barren hills and the fast running water with the wild ducks is particularly refreshing. From here I easily find my way back.

At this stage of his campaign, Alexander had learned to spread his army in view of the coming winter months, especially now when Spitamenes had destroyed his winter provisions in Bactra. According to some sources, Alexander spent the winter of 328/327 BC in Maracanda-Afrasiab; others state that a larger force was posted in Maracanda to keep an eye on northern Sogdiana and that Alexander himself moved to Nautaca (Shahrisabz). Large detachments of soldiers were left among the natives to forage for themselves while preventing Spitamenes at the same time from getting access to any source of supplies. With the king’s troops occupying key positions in this wide web, Spitamenes had to fall into the trap sooner or later. The plan paid off. Just like Spitamenes had once betrayed Bessus, he was now betrayed by the Scythians, who had reconsidered their alliance. They simply chopped off his head and brought it to Alexander. Curtius, however, has a different story to tell. He insists that Spitamenes wife delivered the head of her husband to Alexander, being tired of the constant moves and the dangers she had to face all these years at his side.

[Click here to see all the pictures of Afrasiab]
Click here to read Episode 12a of Central Asia.