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)

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]

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