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)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Alexander exhibition at the Louvre, Paris

« Au Royaume d’Alexandre le Grand. La Macédoine Antique. » Quite a mouthful for an exhibition, but definitely one that was worth to be seen. Such a pity it ran for so short a period of time (from 13 October 2011 till 16 January 2012) and I wasn’t able to visit the Louvre till near the very end. Consequently, there was no point in sharing my impressions any time sooner.

I found the title of this exhibition rather confusing: was it about Alexander the Great or was it about Macedonia? Well, in the end it was about both, of course, but the accent was set around old Macedonia, and it was a well-deserved recommendation. Today like in antiquity it seems that Macedonia is some kind of stepchild, not entirely part of Greece or worthy to be part of it. The excavations of the past thirty years or so prove much to the contrary.

The very first excavations date back to 1861, when two French archeologists (of course, we are referring to France and the French here!), Léon Heuzey and Henri Daumet made their first discoveries under close watch of the Ottoman rulers. They uncovered the remains of the Royal Palace of Aegae, not knowing that this was Aegae, the old Macedonian capital, in what is called today Vergina. After that, we have to wait till after the First World War when Konstantinos Rhomaios starts new diggings in the area in 1920. He is the one who put Pella on the map, the second capital of Macedonia, about 25 kilometers further inland than expected because of the silting up of the Axios River. He also discovered several tombs in the Vergina area. By far the largest and most sensational discovery happened in 1977 when Manolis Andronicos localized the unspoiled Tomb of King Philip II, Alexander’s father. Huge quantities of precious gifts were found in his burial chamber as well as in the nearby tombs underneath this same tumulus. In the wake of this discovery, other promising diggings were generally started elsewhere.

Strangely enough, new finds show that the art in archaic Macedonia was closely akin to what we have seen in Mycene, here only one hundred years later. Clear traces of this influence can be found mainly in the area of Pieria, in the westerly region. But meanwhile it is obvious that the so-called Hellenistic art first and for all originated here in Aegae and in Pella at the court of the Kings and in the houses of the Macedonian elite. As early as the 5th century, the Macedonian Kings attracted notable artists like Zeuxis of Heraclea who decorated the Palace of King Archelaus, or Euripides who wrote his Iphigenia in Aulis, Archelaus and The Bacchantes here. Later on, we find more famous artists at the Court of Pella, like Lysippos, de official sculptor of Alexander, and Apelles, his official court painter; but also top painters like Aristides of Thebe or Philoxenus of Eretria. Even if the names had come to us, we still had no idea about the quality of their work till the now famous fresco’s in the Tomb of Persephone were discovered in Vergina; they give a totally unexpected image of their craft, in this case the skills of Nicomachus of Thebe – a most lively and unique testimony. Wall-paintings from the houses in Pella on the other hand turn out to be of such high quality and colour that they are considered as the precursors of the Pompeian style, which we meet in Pompeii – yet five centuries later!

The Louvre has done a thorough job with this exhibition and they have not limited themselves to collecting a random amount of objects from the Greek Museums. It all starts right at the entrance with a splendid copy of the pebble mosaic showing a lion hunt with Alexander on the left and Craterus to the right. A great welcome from homeland Macedonia!

I recently travelled through Macedonia myself visiting many of the museums and seeing all these objects over here was like meeting old friends again. Pure out of memory, the following is what I remember having seen again in Paris (the Louvre didn’t allow any pictures!)

  • From the Museum in Aiani (Pieria), clay figures and vases;
  • From Vergina, silver jars, a bronze lamp, gold crowns with delicate leaves and flowers or tied with Heracles’ knot;
  • From Amphipolis, a multicoloured vase, a dashing terracotta dancer and a true to life painted head of a terracotta woman;
  • From Polygoros, one of the arrows engraved with “Philippou”, i.e. with the compliments of Philip (used during the siege of Olynthus);
  • From Veroia, the intriguing bust of Olganos of Kopanos which reminded me of Alexander;
  • From Pella, moulds for terracotta statues and finished clay statuettes, pots and jars found around the Agora, earthenware roof decorations and pieces of burial furniture in wood, bone and ivory;
  • From Dion, a striking relief of Demeter;
  • From Thessaloniki where evidently most of the objects came from, with gold masks in the style of Agamemnon; bronze helmets with or without a gold trimming; an earthenware pyxis painted with a garland of flowers on a black background; gold jewelry like bracelets, necklaces, earrings, fibulae, etc; gold, silver and bronze coins; a lovely bronze medallion of Athena in high relief; the painted inside walls of a tomb; etc.
  • From the Louvre, a small bronze Alexander with spear (not very resembling); a drum and capitals of columns from Aegae (brought back by Heuzey and Daumet but apparently never exhibited) which are now placed in the frame of a life-size drawing of the colonnades surrounding the central square of the Palace of Aegae. It’s as if you are truly walking inside. In the very centre I find the head of Young Alexander from the Museum of Pella.
Also, a showcase filled with Greek vases, bowls, drinking vessels, pots and jars, all beautifully decorated, of course. And all around this on the walls, I recognize pictures of the fresco’s from different tombs in and around Vergina, Pella and Lefkadia.

And the Louvre has unveiled more hidden treasures from their catacombs, i.e. remains from the Palace of the Roman Emperor Galerius (305-311 AD) who promoted Thessaloniki to capital of his tetrarchy. These are tall square marble pillars, approximately two meters high with on the front and back a relief of a recognizable figure, like a Manead, Victory, Dionysos, Aura, Ariane, one of the Dioscuri, Leda with the Swan, and Ganymedes. The building to which the pillars belonged is called “Incantada” and once stood at the northern entrance to the Agora of Thessaloniki. This is all new to me and very revealing.

At this stage I wonder why Alexander the Great is supposed to be the central personage of this exhibition since beside the head from Pella and the scanty bronze statue with the lost lance I haven’t seen him. He turns out to be the surprise, probably meant to be the very climax … not very successful, if you ask me! When I’m about ready to leave I discover a rather narrow window in a black box where Alexander is waiting for me. Gee, why cramp him behind this one window? They could have put him in a full size showcase entirely made of glass, no? Anyway, this is where I find the true treasures of the entire exhibition (in my eyes, that is, of course), Alexander in person! To start with, there is the most striking Azara Hermes from the Louvre – after all, this is a copy of an original made by nobody less than Lysippos! Also Alexander as Pan from the Museum in Pella, the Guimet Alexander from the Louvre, a torso that is being attributed to him and an inscription from Thessaloniki of which I remember nothing. And finally, at the very corner of this same dark showcase, a long narrow glass étagère with the gold medallions of his Royal parents, King Philip II of Macedonia and Queen Olympias – precious pieces shovelled away in an almost forgotten corner. True sacrilege, I would say!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Antique statues from illegal digs in Greece and Spain

The news made the headlines as a 2,500 year old statue of a woman was discovered in a goat shack near Athens. The shepherd was held under suspicion of planning to sell this statue for no less than half a million dollars. The 120 centimetres high statue of a koré seemed to date from 520 BC, and after a first autopsy by archaeologists is being estimated to be worth 12 million Euros. The world is juggling with dollars and Euros in the millions these days, it seems.

Yet, only ten days later the Greek Ministry for Culture announces that the statue is a fake. A more thorough analysis has revealed that the statue was casted and not sculptured. I’m not an expert in these matters, but it seems to me that a good archaeologist could make the difference between casted and sculptured, no? Not very flattery for the one(s) who made the initial statement…

In any case, they now are certain that the statue from the goat shack is a copy identical to the one found in 1886 on the Acropolis. End of story.

On the other hand the bronze statues that were dug up illegally in Spain are very authentic. The two Roman statues measuring respectively 150 and 130 cm are very well preserved. The newspaper article doesn’t provide any further information as to who or what is represented, only that the suspects were about to sell their finds on the black market to an Italian. In any case, this transaction has been stopped and the Museum of Cordoba can happily add two more statues to their collection.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Archaeology becomes Greece's Achilles heel

We are no doubt very much aware of the financial crisis in Greece and this situation affects the work of archaeologists all over the country. Licensed digs are being postponed (indefinitely as it seems) and illegal ones are proliferating, while theft from the local museums with their staff trimmed considerably are on the rise. Semi-professionals working for art trafficking networks and common treasure hunters are having the time of their life, smuggling precious pieces out of the country to obscure destinations and avid collectors. What a waste of efforts, analysis, study, restoration, if not cultural heritage!

In one month’s time, Greek police have arrested 44 people, recovering thousands of ancient coins and several Byzantine icons. In October 2011, a gang was arrested with Macedonian golden grave offerings from the 6th century BC worth some 11 million Euros. A worthwhile effort from Greek authorities no doubt, yet this is only the tip of a huge iceberg. With corruption running high in a country where people are cut short of their income, there is no way to even envision where this will end.

Until now, foreign archaeology schools are still at work on the Acropolis in Athens, the Minoan Palace complex of Knossos on Crete, the sanctuaries of Delphi, Olympia and Vergina, but it becomes harder and harder to protect their excavation sites. Besides, the Greek state has the obligation to share in the financing of each such excavation and since there is no money available from that side the foreigners’ budget is being stretched. With one out of ten employees from the Ministry of Culture dismissed, it is not hard to imagine the unfortunate consequence for Greece’s precious heritage. In the meantime, 3,500 temporary staff have been hired to man museums and archaeological sites, but how trustworthy are they, I wonder?

Greece counts 106 archaeological and Byzantine museums, 250 organized archaeological sites and 19,000 (yes, that figure is correct) other important locations – yet only a handful have escaped the consequences of the Greek debt crisis. Athens’ and Thessaloniki’s Museums of Archaeology repeatedly shut down part of their collection because of shortage in staff. Other museums and sites close at 3 p.m. or don’t open before the high tourists’ season for the same reasons.

A very sad episode in the life of such an ancient and proud culture. I’m sure that great men like Pericles, Solon and Alexander the Great would turn in their graves if they had to witness this!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Remains of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in Malta?

Yes, I do put a question mark after above mentioned title since there is no tangible proof for this declaration, although serious and well documented research has been carried out.
Strangely enough, this discovery was not made by professional archeologists but by an oncologist and history lover, Dr Stephen Brincat, as published in a Maltese newspaper last year. He came across this precious information while reading an article about excavations by the British in the 19th century, stating that a wall from the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus (today’s Bodrum, Turkey) was dismantled and used to build a dock in Malta, which is know as Dock No 1. Archives show that when British archeologist Charles Newton shipped the excavated art work from the Mausoleum to the British Museum in London, the HMS Supply entered Grand Harbor in 1858, one year after this dock was built. The same Charles Newton, which I would label as an art-lover, thought that the very wall of the Mausoleum was not worth to be saved, as it would be dismantled by the local population of Bodrum for reuse elsewhere anyway. He may be right, of course, for in the late 1850, the view towards archeology was quite different from ours today, but personally, I don’t see that as being reason enough to dispose of the blocks in his own way. Dr Brincat traced the stones of this wall to what is now called Cospicua Dock in Malta, which had taken about six years to build.
[picture from Steventilly's album]

It seems that in the past Malta was used on a regular base as a transit port for loading and unloading antiquities. The precious Elgin Marbles from the Acropolis in Athens for instance, also passed through Malta! They slept on its docks for several years before being finally transferred to the British Museum in London. Unbelievable!

Yet the available plans of the dock don’t tell anything about the origin of the building blocks and the waters in the area are too murky to see all the way to the bottom. So, in a way we are still guessing, although it would be quite exciting to get the confirmation that a part of the walls from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, still exists. Until now, I was made to believe that the Knights of Rhodes were the culprits for tearing down those beautiful walls, which as a matter of fact would make the British less guilty, right?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Alexander!

Today, on July 20th we have the opportunity to wish Alexander the Great a Happy Birthday!

Although born in the year 356 BC, it is not so strange as it may appear to give him our best wishes as he still lives on in the memories of so many people, century after century.


Friday, July 13, 2012

A plea in favor of Bagoas

It is obvious that history has not been handling the subject of eunuchs with kindness. The Persians were very familiar with the very concept, and so were the Macedonian kings like Philip II and Alexander the Great. Firstly, there is Hermias, the eunuch and pupil of Aristotle who, with help from King Philip II, became the Persian satrap of Ionia (Asia Minor). Secondly, there is Alexander who held Cyrus the Great of Persia in high esteem and who was influenced by Xenophon’s “Cyropaidia” containing a true praise for eunuchs. This, at least, shows that  Alexander was familiar with eunuchs and could comprehend their promotion to high and important posts in the Persian empire as is documented by Bagoas’ namesake who carried the title of Chiliarch and proclaimed himself Great King by poisoning the incapable ruling King Ochus, better known as Artaxerxes III of Persia.

Writers like the old (and negative) W. Tarn, but also Arrian would have liked to simply leave Bagoas out of their history books, solely because a eunuch did not fit the idealized image of Alexander they wanted to project. Others have tried to create another Bagoas, a kind of Persian prince so that they would not have to accept that a eunuch and loverboy of Alexander could occupy a place among his most prominent and influential courtiers. They preferred the image of a slave and body-servant of the king (as used in the Alexander movie by Oliver Stone). Not only Christians but also the Romans had great prejudices toward the concept of eunuchs and lots of superstitious misunderstandings were circulating. In their endeavor not to damage the image of Alexander, most of the writers contributed to erasing as many traces of Bagoas as they could!

But let’s have a look at “our” Bagoas. He was introduced and presented to Alexander by Nabarzanes, previously one of the Commanders of the Persian King, together with other gifts since he wished to prove his goodwill by surrendering to Alexander after the death of King Darius. According to Curtius, these events happened in Hyrcania in July/August 330 BC. Curtius is very clear about this, while Arrian, who wrote for the Roman patricians of the Antonine period, hardly mentions Bagoas in his otherwise so carefully documented history (we hardly find any trace of him).

I’m convinced that Alexander didn’t take Bagoas only for his good looks or for the fact that he was a eunuch. He had refused handsome young boys and men that were presented to him on previous occasions – whether or not with a certain disgust. Andrew Chugg (cfr. Alexander’s Lovers) considers that since Bagoas had been the personal attendant to King Darius, he could prove the truthfulness of Nabarzanes’ story. He also assumes that he probably spoke Greek and as such could act as translator, which was one of the many talents a good eunuch should possess and which may be one of the reasons why he was so easily admitted among Alexander’s entourage. Curtius writes: “… was still young and a favourite of Alexander’s because he was in the flower of his youth, but, though he equalled Hephaistion in handsomeness of form, he did not match him in charm, since he was not at all manly” (proof that Hephaistion definitely was manly, a trait that is often being questioned!). When Curtius speaks of Bagoas, he uses the word “spado”, which matches our word for eunuch, as opposed to “castrati” (totally castrated).

Andrew Chugg has found Bagoas to be mentioned seven or eight times by ancient writers from four different sources. The best-known story is, of course, the one about the dance and singing competition in Gedrosia where Bagoas turned out to be the winner and was rewarded with a loving kiss by Alexander. Not only Plutarch relates the story, but also Athenaeus who referred to Dicaearchus, another pupil of Aristotle - a rather trustworthy source of information.

New to me is to learn that in India, Bagoas was listed among the 33 trierarchs (commanders of the triremes, i.e. ships with three rows of oars). This list was composed by nobody less than Nearchus, the fleet commander and one of Alexander’s generals. The title was purely honorific and had nothing to do with actual sailing the ships down the Indus River. Other trierarchs were, for instance, Eumenes, Alexander’s secretary, his doctor Critobulus, his friend Medius of Larissa, etc. But then Waldemar Heckel in his “Who’s who” mentions that this Bagoas might be different from the one close to Alexander and he refers to a Persian satrap of the same name, perhaps from Lycia.

Last but not least, there is the story of Bagoas being involved in the arrest of Orsines when Alexander upon his return to Babylon discovers the mismanagement of several of his Persian satraps. After the death of one of these satraps, Phrasaortes, a certain Orsines took over and exploited his power, murdering his countrymen and stealing the moneys of the temple. He is the one, although indirectly, is being held responsible for the plundering of the tomb of Cyrus the Great. At that time, Bagoas occupied the highest rank at the Persian Court (!). Alexander probably asked him to serve as interpreter and maybe even asked for his advice to establish if Orsines spoke the truth or was credible. On previous occasions, Alexander had left the condemnation of “criminals” to the local rulers and he could very well have done the same this time by leaving Bagoas in charge.

Finally, there is a short piece of text from the time that Alexander was still underway to Ecbatana in 324 BC which is told by Aelianus in his “Varia Historia”:”: “He [Alexander] had dinner on the twenty-seventh [17th October 324 BC] with Bagoas – the distance from the palace to Bagoas’ house was ten stades [+/- 1800 meters] – and on the twenty-eight he slept”. Andrew Chugg concludes that at that time Bagoas is being held in high esteem by Alexander, i.e. seven months before the king’s death and immediately before the death of Hephaistion. Bagoas was rich and independent enough to maintain a household of his own, which doesn’t match at all with the image of an influential courtesan. There is no doubt about Alexander’s generosity towards Bagoas simply because organizing a dinner for the king meant an expense of at least 40 kilograms of silver (Dixit Plutarch).
Our historical Bagoas carried out many important diplomatic and governmental obligations like for instance escorting the Sacae (Scythian tribe) and the execution of unfaithful satraps. He must have been very talented, capable and influential – and then there were his dances, of course.

From all these bits and pieces, I would conclude that Bagoas must have occupied the highest rank after King Alexander and his Chiliarch Hephaistion. We’ll definitely have to welcome him with more consideration and reverence next time we talk about him. To me, he truly is “one of the boys” together with Alexander and Hephaistion!

[pictures of Bagoas taken from Oliver Stone's movie "Alexander"]

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ode to Alexander and Hephaistion

There are hardly a handful of pictures of Hephaistion that came to us from antiquity, and the few that made it are of very poor quality and rather damaged. The only decent statue of him is the head that is kept at the Getty Museum in Malibu, California, together with a head of Alexander that is said to belong to the same multi-figured group.

[picture from Free Image Finder]

Hephaistion, for those who do not know, was the lifetime companion of Alexander the Great. They were together since boyhood and Hephaistion fought alongside Alexander all through his eastern campaigns till his death in 324 BC. Since then and with the permission of the Egyptian oracle, Alexander had his friend worshipped as a hero.

Both life-sized heads are said to have been found in Megara (35 km west of Athens) as part of a funerary monument for some courtier who admired and probably worshipped Alexander. Altogether the Getty Museum possesses over thirty fragments of this group, probably a sacrificial scene that may have included besides Alexander and Hephaistion, a goddess, Heracles, a flute-player, as well as some animals and birds. The ensemble has been dated to 320 BC, meaning that it was made only three years after Alexander’s death in 323 BC. Striking that these are true Greek heads and no copies made by the Romans in later years.

Both heads have been re-carved in antiquity. Hephaistion probably once had a metal ribbon or diadem on his head, and his hair has been shortened. Maybe that is why his face looks so young. Alexander’s young idealized face is represented in the style which made Lysippos so famous, i.e. with deep-set upturned eyes and his typical anastolé.

How unique to have them both together – not only from the original statue but also together at the museum!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

End of Alexander’s campaigns in Central Asia (Central Asia 14)

In the chronological confusion, it is not clear where exactly Alexander spent the winter of 328/327 BC. Depending on the choice, the sieges of the Sogdian Rocks would have taken place in the fall of 328 BC rather than in spring 327 BC. But give or take a few months, this doesn’t change much to the facts.

The year 327 BC is to be Alexander’s last year in Bactria and Sogdiana, but it will be another eventful year. He may well have reached a satisfactory settlement with the tribes of Central Asia by now but within his own camp matters were taking a different turn. The Macedonians strongly felt that they were the conquerors of Asia and therefore superior. Alexander on the other hand understood very well that he could not rule the Persians in the same way he ruled the Macedonians. There was no way the Persians would respect a king who didn’t live by their ceremonial requirements, which the Macedonians on the other hand regarded as pure barbarian.

Alexander wanted to put all his subjects on equal footing, but this was a very sensitive matter. He already had appointed several Persians to govern newly conquered satrapies, taking others in his personal service. He tried to compromise by adopting some aspects of their protocol, wearing some of the Persian regalia - but if this was welcomed by the Persians, it was heavily resented by his fellow countrymen.

There was for instance the sensitive matter of the proskynesis, a prostration the Persians used to perform to their king as a sign of respect but which was ridiculed and rejected by the Macedonians who only would prostrate themselves in front of their gods. Alexander could have abolished the proskynesis but he would have lost face with the Persian courtiers and kinsmen, or he could have implemented separate rules for the Persians and the Macedonians – which in the end he did. But before reaching that decision Alexander wanted to give the proskynesis a try. It happened in Bactra where he organized a banquet to be attended by both Persian noblemen and his Macedonian companions. The plan was that they all would toast to his health and then perform the proskynesis. There was a fiery speech about Macedonian values at the end of which the Persians rose and prostrated themselves before Alexander. Then, as had been arranged, a golden loving-cup was passed among the companions (as reported by Chares, the Royal Chamberlain). The king's companions would have a drink, rise from their seat, prostrated himself and then receive a kiss from Alexander

All went well till it was Callisthenes’ turn, the court historian and nephew of Aristotle. Callisthenes drank from the cup, and thinking Alexander was too busy talking to Hephaistion to notice him, skipped the prostration to get the kiss. Alexander might have ignored the missed prostration but not his companions who were watching each other with eagles’ eyes and notified Alexander immediately of the cheating. The king refused to kiss him. It seems Callisthenes simply shrug his shoulders, saying that he would return to his seat a kiss poorer. Well, this was enough proof for Alexander that the best way would be simply to compromise, leaving the Persians to perform their prostration and not demanding it from his Macedonians.

Callisthenes definitely made headlines in Bactra for he may well have been playing a major role in the pages’ conspiracy against Alexander that happened shortly after the banquet. The pages were young men from leading Macedonian families in charge of guarding the king when he slept or joining him on his hunting parties. Yet part of their training was also provided by Callisthenes, whom they greatly admired. One of these pages, Hermolaus seems to have broken the royal etiquette during a hunting party when he shot Alexander’s prey. That was a no-no and Alexander ordered him to being whipped in front of his comrades. This fact alone was, of course, not reason enough to plan the conspiracy but the general resentment of Persian favors fueled by Callisthenes’ personal attitude towards the king may all have contributed to the plot. A close group of pages managed to switch guard duties in such a way that they all were on watch the same night. They would assassinate Alexander in his sleep. Yet Alexander stayed up all night, drinking till dawn and never went to bed. Inevitably the plan leaked and Hermolaus and the other suspects were executed after fruitless interrogations and tortures. No evidence was found against Callisthenes, but he was imprisoned all the same where he eventually died.

Alexander was paying a very high price for his life and for his plans to march on into India. Hephaistion must have been quite a comfort to him in these needy times, and Alexander knew how to reward him by promoting him second in command with the title of Chiliarch. This meant that he carried military responsibilities, a job and title created by the Persian Kings. Personally I feel that Alexander could not have given his friend greater honors.
It is also around this time that Alexander decided to have 30,000 young Persians trained in Macedonian warfare and Greek writing. He obviously was very proud of these “epigonoi” as they were called, but their presence was not generally accepted by his Macedonians. In their eyes the conquered people remained their inferiors and forever their enemies, not people they were now supposed to take into their ranks and treat as equals. The king had also promoted one of Oxyartes’ sons, a brother of Roxane, to a high position.
That summer, Alexander moved south to Alexandria-in-the-Caucasus (Begram in Afghanistan) where his army spent a lazy summer. Alexander, however, worked hard to reshuffle his army and draw up an entirely new plan.

To start with, he left 14,000 men to supervise the Oxus provinces. His strategic phalanx was dismantled since it no longer served its purpose in this terrain and in these guerilla wars. The mounted Lancers joined the Companion Cavalry together with the habile horsemen from Bactria and Sogdiana to which he added 2,000 horse-archers from Spitamenes’ nomads. He must have thought it preferable to have these Central Asian forces fight at his side rather than against him.

On an other level, the commanding posts needed to be redistributed now that Philotas was executed, and both Parmenion and Cleitos had been murdered. Their detachments were split up between Ptolemy, Hephaistion, Perdiccas and Leonnatus. The Royal Shield Bearers were promoted to the title of Silver Shields led by Seleucos and Nearchus, under the supreme command of Neoptolemus (family of Olympias). The Royal Squadron of Companions remained under Alexander’s own command. These Cavalry Commanders and trusted squadron-leaders made it possible to divide his army more freely between different attacks at any one time. These past three years has been a harsh and unforgiving lesson, but it had not been lost on Alexander. I guess you must be a military man to truly fathom what such a reorganization implied. For Alexander this was a far cry from the kind of warfare he grew up with and used so far in his career, but he must have realized its limits. His genius once again prevailed.

The people of Bactria-Sogdiana however were left very much to solve their own fate, which cannot have been very promising. Those who were not killed in the repeated raids were largely herded together and moved to populate the newly built Alexandria’s. They had been torn from their tribes and ancestral grounds to live among Macedonian veterans who hated these places and had rather returned to their homelands. Daily life must have been a struggle for everyone and far from the idealized picture most historians would like us to believe, that of Alexander having “civilized” the east. With no clearly drawn frontiers and no political victory, he rather left these peoples to their old way of life – unless their Macedonian rulers could convince them otherwise (The cultural victory happened much later after Seleucos’ rule and the start of the Greco-Bactrian dynasty). For Alexander, it was a sad balance of three years heavy campaigning and heavy losses of precious lives.

Alexander’s interference in Central Asia ended in Alexandria-in-the-Caucasus where he received the submission of several Indian tribes from this side of the Indus and the surrender of Taxiles. In early winter 327 BC, he marches up the Kunar Valley into the Swat Valley and thus entering India. Alexander moves into another chapter of his short life.

This ends my impressions of Uzbekistan or should I say my impressions of Bactria and Sogdiana. A fascinating country that has far much to offer than one would expect, but I am not sure other travelers will find the traces of Alexander the Great I found or maybe simply imagined? Who knows.

[picture of the Persian noblemen is from Oliver Stone's movie]
[Click on the label Central Asia to read the full story]

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Alexander and Roxane (Central Asia 13)

[12 - Maybe the most important event is Alexander’s marriage with beautiful Roxane, daughter of a local Bactrian warlord in early 327 BC.]

During my two weeks’ stay in Uzbekistan, I had plenty of opportunities to meet the local people, either on the street or in the marketplaces. We frequently were invited to their homes for lunch or dinner and often were treated to their folklore songs and dances. Not that I am so fond of folklore, but this was so different! I immediately associated the music, dances, and costumes with Roxane’s dance in Oliver Stones’ movie “Alexander”. How is that possible? I kept seeing “Roxane” everywhere and mostly because these dancing girls and mannequins I met at the occasional fashion show were extremely beautiful!

Trying to analyze their faces and shapes, I would divide the Uzbek women into three categories: one with clear Mongol or Asiatic traits, one showing influences from Russian occupation and finally a minority group of these tall, slender, delicate and most beautiful creatures I ever saw. There is no doubt in my mind, Roxane must have belonged to this latter elite. No wonder that Alexander fell in love at first sight as some say – although that assumption has been contradicted by others.

As mentioned above, Oxyartes and his family including Roxane fell in Alexander’s hands after the siege of the Sogdian Rock. Roxane was a girl of marriageable age, of whom Arrian relates that Alexander’s soldiers used to say that she was the loveliest woman in Asia, with the exception of Darius’ wife. Well, it is obvious that Alexander would not have married an ugly girl, but now that I have seen these young ladies for myself, I fully understand what is meant speaking of beauty. Yet, whatever Alexander’s feelings were towards her, he must have realized that politically speaking this marriage could help to smoothen his relations with the Sogdian warlords and through them with the entire population. As a captive, the king could have taken the girl without having to marry her, of course. That shows that love was not the only factor Alexander took into consideration.

The wedding ceremony may have been a simple one but the setting showed Alexander’s sense of grandeur. A lavish banquet was arranged in the high fortress of Chorienes (I suppose because they had plenty of food?). In accordance with Persian customs (still used in today’s Turkestan), a loaf of bread was split in two and bride and groom ate their half before all the guests present as a symbol of their match. For those who don’t know, Roxane in Persian (Farsi) means “little star”. Yes, the Great King, now 28 years old married for the first time and took a girl of little significance, except politically I suppose.
[picture from Oliver Stone's movie]

How unique then to find a miniature of this wedding in the streets of Bukhara. Iskander as Alexander is called in the East and Roxane sitting under a canopy surrounded by courtiers and musicians in a spring garden. I just wonder what the Arabic inscription underneath could reveal.

Coming to think of it, Roxane’s destiny was a sad one. She was never accepted in the world of her new husband, which since a young age she learned to fear and maybe even to hate. As Queen Roxane, she found herself caught up in a strange and foreign world, never to see her homeland again. When she finally carried Alexander’s child, her husband died without knowing she would give him the much-needed heir to the throne. In spite of Queen Olympias’ protection, she finally succumbed to Cassander’s thirst for might and power. She was murdered in 310 BC, and so was her son, Alexander IV.