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)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Which Cnidos? Near modern Tekir or modern Datça? - Caria 4

History is often more complicated than it appears to be at first glance. The famous city of Cnidos, boasting about its unique statue of the first naked woman ever created in the shape of Aphrodite is located at the end of the Dorian peninsula near today’s Turkish town of Tekir. The lizard-like peninsula is approximately forty miles long but at no point more than eight miles wide and its name “Dorian” refers to the origin of its first settlers who came from the Greek city of Sparta according to Herodotus. Being built shortly after 360 BC, it would have looked pretty new if Alexander the Great had visited Cnidos. We must imagine shining white stones and polished marbles enhanced with the bright colours on the pediments and the friezes of the many temples. This is one of those moments in life I wish I could travel back in time … 

Among the Carians, the Cnidians were renowned sailors who traded with cities all over the eastern Mediterranean and who, together with other Greeks, established several colonies, even as far as Sicily in the early 6th century BC. The best known settlement however is that of Naucratis established as early as 610 BC in the Nile Delta roughly 70 km away from the later city of Alexandria. 
Exceptionally, the Egyptian pharaoh granted it the rank of city and named it Hellenium. Here a good half dozen states including Cnidos and Halicarnassus were allowed to trade, the only place in Egypt where Greeks were allowed to do so. The Cnidian entrepreneurship made them one of the most prosperous people in the Greek world and it is not surprising to see typical Cnidian amphora at the Archaeological Museum in Bodrum. I personally think that business was so flourishing that they could afford their own amphora factory and their own design with a cone shaped base that served as a third handle - a funny looking little knob. Cnidos had some sort of monopoly of the wine from Chios which was distributed all over the Mediterranean and the Aegean, reaching its peak between the 3rd and 1st century BC. This inexpensive rather sweet wine called “protopon” was especially appreciated by the soldiers posted in Alexandria and Athens, it seems.

Yet the city of Cnidos was not always located near modern Tekir which I visited (see: Was Alexander the Great aware of Cnidos?) but until about 360 BC was lying halfway the Dorian peninsula, near the pleasant harbour of modern Datça. Except for a few coastal patches, this peninsula had not much arable land between the mountains and the sea - most of the eastern end is truly bare. For that reason the few villages settled near fertile land around the middle of the peninsula, exactly where I find Datça when sailing into its busy harbour. I don’t have the opportunity to investigate the scarce remains of this first settlement of Cnidos but traces of a well-defended city wall dating to around 400 BC have been found. All we know of this city is based on the few stretches of walls, lose blocks and solid foundations of a large building near the river-mouth for most of it is now buried at considerable depth. It seems that the old city at Datça was not abandoned when the new Cnidos was built at the western tip of the peninsula, but since commerce was centred on this new efficient double harbour at Cape Crio, it is evident that the old location became less attractive. Looking at the overall landscape, I try to find the acropolis and the outlines of the ancient harbour. This is not easy for the entire bay is crowded with ships and boats tied to the concrete shoreline where scores of cafés and restaurants compete for the tourist’s attention. In an effort to escape the crowds, the noise and the invading music, I seem to walk around in circles and I’m glad that we soon heave the anchor to rest in a more peaceful cove for our own meal on board.

Famous artists flocked to the new city of Cnidos. I mentioned Praxiteles earlier as the sculptor of the beautiful Aphrodite, but there were others, like Bryaxis who made a statue of Dionysus; Skopas who created another Dionysus and an Athena; the unknown creator of the famous head of Demeter that Newton found in the area; and finally Sostratos who eventually built the lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt. As early as the 5th century BC, Cnidos knew many good doctors, like for instance Euryphon who developed a new method to examine his patients. And there was Ctesias, in fact a historian whose excellent medical skills promoted him to become the personal physician of the Great Persian King. The most famous citizen of Cnidos is in my eyes the scientist, Eudoxus, a many-sided scholar, who is said to have built an observatory on top of the hill in Cnidos (the new city near Tekir, of course), but no trace has been found so far. Besides being an astronomer, he also was a mathematician, physician, geographer and philosopher. Some say that he was the one who wrote the code of laws for the new city – it would be interesting to find that out, wouldn’t it? He is known to have died about 355 BC (when Alexander was only one year old …).

The prosperity of Cnidos must not have gone unnoticed by the Persians who were ever pushing further westwards. After taking Lydia in 546 BC, they gradually moved further south and took possession of Caria by 353 BC. Yet their rule was a pretty loose one and the Carians were happy with the way the Hecatomids treated them. When Alexander the Great arrived there in 334 BC, he found a Persian satrap governing the region while the Carian Queen Ada, the true successor to the throne of King Mausolus was living in exile in Alinda. How and what Alexander decided to do with Cnidos is not documented. It probably was simply included in Ada’s Caria till she died as well as Alexander. After that, Cnidos became the scene of the unfortunate wars of Alexander’s successors.

Click on the label Caria 2012 to read the full story

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Was Alexander the Great aware of Cnidos? - Caria 3

While history spends time and words about Alexander’s siege of Halicarnassus, close to nothing is known about him in connection with other Carian cities, except Alinda which I’ll treat later on. One of these cities is the important harbour of Cnidos situated at the tip of the Dorian Peninsula, 18 miles due south of Halicarnassus, today’s Bodrum. I had the immense pleasure of sailing into the ancient commercial harbour of Cnidos on yet another trip with Peter Sommer Travels and watch the old city unfold on either side of me. When our gullet, The Almira, threw her anchor and was securely roped to the rocks, I felt like stepping back in time. What an experience!

What remains of Cnidos may not seem spectacular at first sight, but it is the overall setting with the two distinct harbours, one on the north side called the Trireme Harbour and the other one facing south which I just entered, that makes the place so special. Sailing along the Carian coastline is by itself a unique experience for I always have visions of the daring seafarers from Phoenician, Greek and Roman times who crossed these waters and witnessed the same rocky hills and peaceful coves, but entering one of those ancient harbours is absolutely rewarding!

Cnidos was built in the 4th century BC and was laid out in the Hippodamic plan inside a four kilometres long wall reinforced by forty towers to protect it on the land side. I’m amazed to learn that in its heydays this port-city counted more than 70,000 inhabitants. Cnidos was also known to shelter one of the four medical schools of antiquity, the Asclepion, together with the one at Pergamon, Epidaurus and Cos. And last but not least it was here that Praxiteles put his first nude women ever on display, i.e. Aphrodite who was worshipped as Aphrodite Euploia, de goddess of Good Sailing. The story goes that the people of Cos had ordered a statue of this deity from Praxiteles, but they rejected the nude figure he proposed and requested a clothed one instead. The residents of Cnidos however accepted the nude statue of the goddess of love, an easy way to immortalize their city and to bring in flocks of worshippers (today we would speak of tourists). This statue which is believed to have been modelled on Praxiteles’ beautiful mistress and courtesan has been saved for posterity thanks to its many copies over the centuries. It must have been so gorgeous and so lifelike that a young admirer fell deeply in love with her. One night, so the story goes, he sneaked into the sanctuary where she stood and embraced her. Since then she bore a dark stain on one of her inner thighs where he had kissed her so passionately. The rather controversial “archaeologist” Iris Love, pretended in 1969 that she had found the base of the circular temple where the statue once stood, but nothing is less certain. She also claims that the very head of this Aphrodite is resting in the basement of the British Museum, yet the museum authorities insist that the battered head is that of Persephone discovered by Charles Newton in the 19th century.


Except for a handful of houses and a small restaurant on the waterfront, Cnidos still lies there for us to discover. Few excavations have been carried out over the years, yet just enough to entice the visitor’s appetite, otherwise we can let our imagination run freely. On the right hand side of the harbour lies the eastern part of the city where we find the official buildings (theatre, temples, sanctuaries, etc), while the left hand side on the actual western tip of Cape Crio was occupied by the people of Cnidos.


On the hilly slopes, the city was built over several terraces. The Temple of Dionysus welcomes us like any visitors from eons past. In Byzantine times it was converted into a church but excavations have removed most of the Byzantine traces. Except for the rounded apse of this church we now walk over a clean floor in search of outlines of this once grand temple dedicated to the god of wine and pleasure. Right behind it and parallel to its long side runs a one hundred meter long Stoa (3rd century BC) leaning against a heavy back-wall that still supports the higher terrace. It sheltered 25 small rooms for ceremonial use, all of the same size and opening up towards the temple. Most probably, this is where lavish banquets were held during the Dionysian festivals, a theory that is strengthened by shards of tableware and offerings found in the small corridor running between the depth of the rooms and the back-wall. It is possible that this Stoa was two stories high. A few of the five meters high Corinthian columns added around the 2nd century AD have been re-erected to help our imaginary reconstruction. Small slabs of marble still cling to the bottom of the rooms’ entrances next to stumps of columns, capitals and architraves.

At the western end of this Stoa, a Nympheion marks the corner with one of the stepped main streets running uphill. It is so fascinating walking over this marble pavement wondering how many feet have trodden across the same floors and stairs over the centuries. It is hard to imagine what it would have looked like in all its splendour still flanked by columns and leading to the entrance of the many temples and sanctuaries on either side. The remains of occasional earthen pipes show how the city coped with its water management. Looking over my shoulder about halfway my climb, the old Trireme Harbour is in full view with the lighthouse on the highest top of Cape Crio behind it – I wonder if there was one there already in antiquity?

On my right, I pass one back-wall after another, each supporting the terrace above. Then I reach the Propylaion, once covered with white marble, where Ionic columns straddled across the north-south and east-west cross-road, and serving at the same time as entrance to the Temple of Apollo Karneios built in early Hellenistic style. A spring of running water seems to be still in working order on the north side. Amazingly the steps along the northern terrace-wall were used to seat the visitors during the ceremonies – hard to picture. 

From here I have a higher view over the Trireme or Military Harbour and I clearly can see the round towers on either side of the entrance (in fact both ends of the city walls) from where in case of danger the harbour entrance could be closed off with a metal chain. The higher I climb the better the overview of this harbour which was very well protected and defended on all sides, and by now I also can spot the Commercial Harbour. The very privilege of Cnidos is this double harbour. The prevailing winds along most of the Carian coast blow from the north, which makes it very difficult at times for the ships to enter the harbours along this coastline. The lay-out in Cnidos is such that ships could and still can anchor at all times in either of the two harbours. Under northerly winds the ships coming from the Aegean would enter the western harbour, while under southerly winds those sailing from the eastern Mediterranean find shelter in the Commercial Harbour. The geographer Strabo tells us that in his days (end 1st century BC/early 1st century AD) there was a canal that connected both harbours, making it possible for the ships to move from one harbour to the other enabling them to sail by any wind. How ingenious!

At the far end of my upwards street, close to the northern city wall, lies the so-called Round Temple, the one which Iris Love attributes to the famous Aphrodite. Well, as far as I’m concerned this is hard to believe if we follow Lucian’s description of the site (2nd century AD), who places the temple amidst splendid gardens for which there certainly is no room on this terrace. From the accounts that have reached us, the temple stood on a round podium about 1.5 meters high with two steps that still are in situ and was surrounded by 18 Doric columns. It had no cella wall, but the space between the columns was closed with barriers reaching halfway to the roof. The base of the statue that occupied its centre, Aphrodite or not, measured approximately 1.3 x 1.10 meters. Based on Lucian’s description one would not be able to walk around the statue inside the temple since he had to ask for the back door to be unlocked for him. Another theory however suggests that this Round Temple where I am standing was dedicated to Athena because of the inscription found in its pavement. Others tend to opt for Apollo instead because of the omphalos that was retrieved here, an exact copy of the one in Delphi. A great number of terracotta statues have been found in the close vicinity, among which curiously enough a quantity of erotic and pornographic pottery as referred to by Lucian. In general, based on the many elements this Round Temple can be dated to the 2nd century BC. However, many questions still remain unanswered and only time will tell.

A little further to the east are the remains of a Corinthian Temple, definitely Roman (second half 2nd century AD) that counted four columns at the entrance while the cella walls were decorated with six half columns on the outside and pilasters on the inside. Money doesn’t seem to have been an issue as this temple is entirely built of white marble. Among the scattered stones I find the top of the pediment and a stone shield from its relief decoration, probably once covered in gold. Underneath that temple, another Byzantine church has been excavated with a clear apse and out-of-place Arabic graffiti in its pavement. Nearby stands a real sun dial from Hellenistic times, like a marble pulpit sharing its wisdom with the sun.

Walking back down to the waterfront, I can’t miss the Greek theatre that counted 35 rows and must have seated 5,000 people (definitely far from enough for the 70,000 inhabitants mentioned earlier). Overall it is pretty well preserved although the footing is rather loose and I wouldn’t venture beyond de first couple of top rows. An interesting feature is the vaulted entrance simply because it could be Greek and not Roman as one would automatically assume. The theatre has been altered in Roman times with a skene behind the orchestra. This orchestra lying below street level may have been turned into a small pool for naval games. As always the location is superb with both harbours at your feet, enough to entertain the theatre-goer before or after the spectacle!

That evening we have a fish-barbecue on board, a fairy-like sight of red-hot glowing charcoal against the orange-pinkish sky after sunset. The black masts of our gulet stand out against this fiery background and by the time we hit out bunks, the waves peacefully rock us to sleep.

Click on the Label Caria 2012 to read the full story.
[Click here to see all the pictures of Cnidos]

Friday, August 24, 2012

Halicarnassus, capital of Caria

As part of the Persian Achaemenid’s Empire from 545 BC onwards, Caria was governed by a succession of uneventful satraps (governors). The first satrap to make Caria more independent was Hyssaldomus of Mylasa – the capital city at that time. He was succeeded by his son, Hecatomnos, followed in turn by his son, Mausolus in 377 BC. Mausolus was a man with ambition and quite a visionary. He really established Caria’s independency, rebuilt the cities of Myndus and Syangela, fortified the city walls of Latmos and Caunos, and as if it were the most evident step, moved everyone else to Halicarnassus which he proclaimed his new capital to replace Mylasa because its location was more favourable. Mausolus married his sister Artemisia as was customary, and when he died childless in 353 BC, she was the one to finish the construction of the grand Mausoleum. She continued ruling until she too died from grief, it is said, after which the power went to her younger brother, Idreus. Idreus had married his younger sister Ada, who ruled after her brother’s/husband’s death. But there was still another younger brother Pixodarus who hungered for the title of satrap. He expelled the widowed Ada from Halicarnassus and she sought and found refuge in her stronghold of Alinda, further inland. Pixodarus aimed to befriend the Persians and ruled unofficially for a short while next to the Persian satrap Orontobates, who took over after Pixodarus’ death. This is the situation in Caria when Alexander the Great arrives at Halicarnassus in 334 BC.

The city of Halicarnassus was built as a natural theatre around its well protected harbour and was, on the land side, defended by a seven kilometres-long wall dating from 365 BC, the reign of King Mausolus. This wall ran along the surrounding hillcrests meaning that the approaching enemy could be watched and attacked from higher grounds, giving the city an unmistakeable advantage. Only few parts of that city wall are still visible today as most of Halicarnassus is hidden under the modern houses and streets of Bodrum.

Arrian tells us that when Alexander arrived from Mylasa in the east, he set up camp about half a mile from this well-fortified city. The very next day, he faced the first attack without difficulty. A few days later, hoping to find an easier approach, Alexander moved to the other side of Halicarnassus near the road to Myndos (modern Gümüşlük). Luckily for us, this Myndos city gate has been preserved and partially restored, giving us an insight of what Alexander was up against. The imposing towers of andesitic blocks open up into a well-defended courtyard from where another gate led into the city. Next to the Myndos Gate, a short stretch of city wall is still visible surrounded by the remains of the moat which according to Arrian ran 45 feet wide and 23 feet deep. These measurements seem to fit with what I see here, including the restored trench that runs over a length of some fifty meters. The feel of it alone is a unique experience and it is very rewarding to stand between the towering walls of the gate itself, where I easily picture Alexander shouting orders amidst the battle-cries of the Macedonians.

The Persians had amassed a substantial force of troops and mercenaries at Halicarnassus, under the leadership of the Rhodian general Memnon whom the Persian King Darius had by now appointed to control all of Asia Minor and to command the Persian fleet anchored in the harbour below. We’ll remember how Memnon, although under command of the Persian satrap Arsites,  had lost the previous confrontation with Alexander at the Granicus a year earlier, and he we can be sure that he was not willing to face another defeat.

Here on the Myndos (western) side of the city, Alexander started to fill the moat without much difficulty and brought his siege-engines in position. The Halicarnassians didn’t waste any time either and as soon as darkness fell they set fire to the siege towers, but the Macedonians on guard acted promptly and extinguished the fire.

Meanwhile it was on the Mylasa (eastern) side that another situation developed, involving two Macedonian infantrymen who one evening were bragging about their bravery. Under influence of wine, their boosting reached such extremes that they decided to grab their weapons and set out to conquer Halicarnassus single handed. The guards on the city walls reacted, the two soldiers got support from their mates and friends, the defenders got their own reinforcements and in no time the brawl turned into a full-blooded battle. Halicarnassus was nearly taken and would have been if the attack had been organized and planned in full force. I’m not sure how Alexander took this incident, I don’t think all too kindly. The next morning, Alexander brought in his siege engines, which were again promptly torched by the town’s people. Yet as soon as the King appeared in person, the brave attackers hurriedly withdrew.

All in all however, the defenders of Halicarnassus had the advantage of a commanding view over their enemy from the height of the city walls. Alexander personally led a new attack, his catapults hurling heavy stones towards the walls and soon a breach was made. The defenders counterattacked on two fronts, one group pouring out of the gap in the wall and another near the Tripylum Gate (north side). Disaster struck at this gate when the Macedonians had to retreat in force over a bridge across the moat. The narrow bridge collapsed and the soldiers were either trampled or shot by their comrades in the commotion. One such a bridge has been reinstalled over the moat at the Myndus Gate, a shivering thought when you know this story. Worst of all was the slaughter which occurred near the city gates where the over-anxious Persians and mercenary soldiers, in order to keep the Macedonians out, were shutting their own men out. Lots of them were stranded before closed doors and turned out to be easy prey for the Macedonians who simply cut them down there and then. Once again, Alexander nearly took the city. This is what Arrian tells us.

If however we follow Diodorus, we read a rather different story. He tells us that Memnon collected two thousand picked men equipped with lighted torches. At daybreak he threw the city gates wide open, and while one group of his soldiers set fire to the Macedonian siege engines he led the other to attack Alexander’s men who were moving forward to extinguish the fire. At this stage, Alexander himself sounded the attack. Under dense showers of missiles, the Macedonians killed the fires, sustaining heavy losses. That was however too much for the Macedonian veterans who were witnessing these events from a distance as they themselves were exempted from duty. After all, they had served under King Philip, Alexander’s father, and were far more experienced. Besides, they felt that the honour of Macedonia was at stake as well. They joined the fight and with great effort, the Macedonians pushed the enemy back within the city walls and Alexander sounded the recall.

At this point, according to Arrian again, Orontobates and Memnon set up a meeting to discuss further action since part of the city wall was gone and other parts were seriously damaged. It was clear they couldn’t hold out much longer. Besides, they had suffered heavy losses. They still had the harbour with the fleet in their hands, but the ships were of no use in the present situation. It was decided to set the city’s magazine on fire as well as the houses close to the walls, but strong winds spread the flames all over the city. When reports of these fires reached Alexander, he immediately took action and ordered his Macedonians to kill every man they saw setting buildings afire. The inhabitants however should be spared and rescued. Meanwhile, the surviving enemy army withdrawn to the Arconese, an island stronghold in the harbour of Halicarnassus (where today’s fort is located, probably on top of the Carian Royal Palace - now attached to the land), and on the high grounds of the acropolis.

Diodorus simply mentions that Memnon decided to abandon the city, moving his best men to the acropolis with sufficient provisions, sending the rest of the army to the nearby island of Cos. When Alexander discovered this move the next morning, he razed the city (although we may wonder how much of the city was actually razed) and surrounded the citadel with a formidable wall and trench. Arrian, on the other hand simply tells us that Alexander decided not to besiege the Persians in their strongholds which were difficult to take. Besides, such a siege would not bring him much advantage as the city of Halicarnassus was his already.

Alexander generously handed Caria over to Queen Ada who ruled over her country once again. She probably died in 323 BC, the same year as Alexander the Great. As to Memnon, he organized fierce opposition in the Aegean which could have been a serious threat in Alexander’s back had he not died of illness on Lesbos in 333 BC.

Since I first was here with Peter Sommer on his tour "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great" I was mesmerized by the locations that spoke to me as if the battle had happened just yesterday. Since then, I returned several times and each time I am rewarded with new vivid memories of what happened here 2,500 years ago.

Click on the Label Caria 2012 to read the full story
[Click here to see all the pictures of Halicarnassos]

Monday, August 20, 2012

An introduction to Caria, Turkey

It is quite amazing to realize how little we know about the ancient regions of Turkey. In Greece we are quite familiar with Attica and Macedonia, for instance, but in Turkey that knowledge is still very remote. Ask any of the millions of tourists who flock out around Antalya each year and close to none will be able to tell you that they actually are in ancient Pamphylia.

Well, I have been among those ignorant travelers for years, I must admit, as it is only since I intensively followed the trail of Alexander the Great after crossing the Hellespont (modern Dardanelles) that I became aware of the distinctive areas. They slowly fell into place: the Phrygians with their typical hats, the Lydians with King Croesus, and mostly Ionia with cities like Ephesus, Priene and Miletus. So my puddle of awareness slowly grew as I marched alongside Alexander the Great to the East.

This time I find myself in ancient Caria where Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum) once shone with its famous Mausoleum, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However, unlike the situation in our modern times, clear borderlines generally did not exist and the limits of these more or less independent regions were rather vague. At times a river or a mountain range may have defined the limit, but otherwise many boarder-towns were often alternatively ruled by the strongest ruler on either side.

In any case, although I had visited several inland cities in southwestern Turkey that belonged to Caria I still had no clear image. Caria remained some abstract region. Strange, to say the least.

It is generally accepted that Caria covered the area from the Meander River in the North to today’s Lake Köyceğiz above Caunos in the South. The Carians curiously enough do not fit in with their neighbors in any way, neither culturally, nor linguistically. There are many theories about their origin but as they say themselves, they always lived on the mainland and always were called Carians. Homer in his Iliad mentions that they were “barbarous of speech” and it seems that even today’s Turkish in that region is labeled as being “harsh”. They were excellent seafarers though serving in many foreign armies and were for instance highly prized (and probably well paid) by the Egyptians. It is said that it were the Carians who taught the Greeks to put crests on their helmets and showed them how to affix handles on their shields, which till then were simply slung over the soldier’s shoulder.

Caria’s greatest ruler certainly was Mausolus, who lent his name to the word “mausoleum” after the tomb he built for himself. This is definitely a “must-see” for every visitor, yet what is left is a very disappointing sight, I would say. The ancient Mausoleum stood in the very heart of the city, but today’s site looks more like a bomb-crater amidst the low houses. I thoroughly admire the efforts of historians and archaeologists to bring these unique remains back to life, but it is asking a great deal of our imagination to picture this once so grandiose building on this spot. What is left here are only crumbs. For twenty centuries, the Mausoleum withstood many wars and natural disasters, but the repeated earthquakes turned out to be fatal and when the Knights of Rhodes arrived here in 1402 they found ready building material for the construction of their fortified castle, the very one that we call St John’s Fort in the middle of the harbour. The story goes that the Knights still found an untouched coffin in the base of the Mausoleum, but postponed opening it till the next day. Yet the next day, the tomb had been plundered. It is said that both Mausolus and his wife Artemisia were cremated, meaning that there could only have been an urn with their cremated remains but that is something we will never know for sure. The Knights were kind enough to save some of the friezes that were lying around, and used them to decorate the walls of said castle. This is where the British archaeologist, Charles Newton found them in the mid-19th century to recover them and ship them to the British Museum, together with part of a wheel (two meters in diameter) from the quadriga on top of the Mausoleum and the statues of King Mausolus and Queen Artemisia. In a later shipment he loaded the blocks of marble and green stones that were to be transhipped in Malta. This load however never left the Maltese docks because the stones were considered of less importance and amazingly enough, they were used in the construction of the city’s new docks in the 19th century (see Remains of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in Malta?).

In spite of all the efforts made in recent decades, we are still not entirely sure what the Mausoleum really looked like. Although we have detailed descriptions from witnesses like Pliny and Vitruvius, they don’t give a good overall view, yet plenty of facts and figures to go by. A fact is that the most talented artists of that time were called upon. Skopas, Leochares (the same architect who built the famous Philippeon in Olympia for Alexander’s father!), Bryaxis and Timotheus were appointed to decorate one side of the Mausoleum each, assisted of course by hundreds of craftsmen of all kinds. The Mausoleum is said to have been 148 ft high, resting on a square base with a stairway leading to the first platform. The outer wall of that platform was decorated with statues of gods and goddesses, while on each corner a warrior on horseback was guarding the tomb. Op top of this platform stood an imposing square mass which was girded with a band of reliefs representing the battle of centaurs and Amazons with Greek soldiers. This section was then crowned by 36 columns, alternated with more statues, behind which a massive block supported the pyramidal roof where the quadriga with Mausolus and Artemisia was placed. During my last visit, it suddenly dawned on me that this Mausoleum has in fact close ties with the Pyramids in Egypt, as in both cases the actual tomb is hidden deep inside a massive stone construction.

Except for a few dozen of lost blocks and column drums nothing significant is left on the spot to see, with one single frieze that found shelter in the small museum next to the very ruins. For those who are really interested, it is worthwhile to take a closer look at St John’s Castle itself to locate the recuperated stones and column drums from the ancient Mausoleum in its walls. Finally, I would highly recommend a visit to the British Museum in London, to admire the magnificent statues of Mausolus and Artemisia, the horse head with its iron bit still in place, the lions that once watched over the lower staircase, and of course the many friezes created by the four great artists. (See my Photo Album) – were it only to make the (mental) picture complete.

Click on the Label Caria 2012 to read the full story

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Kalash, a lost tribe of Alexander the Great?

A far searched statement? Maybe. Maybe not.


"Long, long ago, before the days of Islam, Sikander e Aazem came to India. The Two Horned one whom you British people call Alexander the Great. He conquered the world, and was a very great man, brave and dauntless and generous to his followers. When he left to go back to Greece, some of his men did not wish to go back with him but preferred to stay here. Their leader was a general called Shalakash (i.e.: Seleucus). With some of his officers and men, he came to these valleys and they settled here and took local women, and here they stayed.
We, the Kalash, the Black Kafir of the Hindu Kush, are the descendants of their children. Still some of our words are the same as theirs, our music and our dances, too; we worship the same gods. This is why we believe the Greeks are our first ancestors."

This is what Kazi Khushnawaz, a Kalash himself, is telling today. What a family tree to claim!

The Kalash are living in a remote area of northwestern Pakistan on the steep slopes of mighty Hindu Kush. It seems they have a great deal of similarities with the Greeks from Alexander’s time, such as their religion, their culture and their language – or is this more wishful thinking than anything else?

The story goes that they believe in many gods and more specifically in the twelve gods of ancient Greece including Zeus, Apollo and Aphrodite. Shrines in their honor can be found in every Kalash village – a reminder of the sanctuaries we would expect in ancient Greece. Oracles, believe it or not, still play an important role in their social structure where every question or prayer to the gods usually includes an animal sacrifice.

And then there is their ritual “Day of the Transfiguration” which is celebrated on August 6th when the grapes are ripe and offered to Dionysus asking his blessing for a plentiful harvest. In ancient Greece Dionysus was the god of wine and fertility, but what is he doing here in Pakistan, an Islamic country prohibiting the use of alcohol? The Kalash are certainly an exception as they produce and consume wine.

They also feast with songs and dances and in their dance, the Kalash move in circles and shout cries of “i-a” and “i-o” which would be inspired by the battle-cry of the Macedonian soldiers.

Another oddity in the Kalash’s lifestyle can be found in their furniture. They are the only ones in the East to decorate their chairs with drawings such as the ram’s horns which can be traced back to Alexander’s helmet and even battle scenes depicting Greek soldiers, not at all unlike those discovered in Vergina, Greece.

The British explorer George Robertson concluded in 1896 that half of the Kalash’s language derived from ancient Greek and there is the story about a tablet found in one of the villages carrying some hieroglyphics, which when translated read “Alexander the Great lives forever”. Lots of things to think about …

Many have been puzzled by the Kalash’s “European” looks due to their unusual number of light haired and skinned people as well as by their green eyes. Although Pashtuns and Persians have been known for their blond hair or green eyes, that may not be conclusive, especially since extensive genetic testing has shown no connection… According to in-depth studies, their blue and green eyes may simply be the result of isolated recessive genes due to isolated genetic parentage or even inbreeding and mutation.

According to the Kalash’s own myths however, their founder was a “horned-god” and an equestrian conqueror with devilish horns – yes, a picture that matches that of Alexander the Great with his horned helmet. Yet, there is no smoke without fire. Their claim as descendants of Alexander the Great may simply refer to the political and economic legacy of Alexander’s Empire. After all, he left his marks on all the lands he conquered, not the least the Hellenistic influence that continued for a number of centuries. Besides, the tale of the “two-horned Iskander" is told everywhere in Asia.

It is difficult to know what to believe or not. Of course, the Kalash’s Greek origins may simply be the inevitable blend of the Greco-Kushan tradition spiced with Buddhist influence and left-overs from Zoroastrian origins. The Kalash were surely part of Alexander’s conquest and legacy, meaning that the tale of the “two-horned Iskander” may simply have been passed down the generations. Like other disparate and unique tribes as the Pamirs and the Kush found throughout Central Asia, they may have settled in the area after Alexander’s campaigns but as proved by recent studies published in the European Journal of Human Genetics they almost certainly are not Greek.

Well, so much for all the Alexander believers who like to find his offsprings at the end of the world and for the everlasting optimists who see Alexander everywhere. Each of us will have to draw his or her own conclusions …

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Aladdin’s Lamp by John Freely

Aladdin’s Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World by John Freely. (ISBN 0307277836).
An all encompassing title and ditto subject! What a book! My memory falls short and cannot keep up with all the names and the inventions, treatises, analysis, and discoveries that were made over the centuries in so many fields: geometry, philosophy, cosmology, physics, mathematics, medicine, astrology and astronomy, to name just a few!

As the title states, Greek science has travelled from Athens to Alexandria, and from there with the spread of Islam to Baghdad and Central Asia where lots of works were translated into Arabic. But the Islam also went westwards through northern Africa to Spain where the Moors ruled for several centuries. Some textbooks were then translated into Spanish and with the Reconquista by the different Christian kings of Spain into Spanish. Power in Europe shifted then to Sicily where Arabic documents were consulted and translated in Latin, picked up by several popes who hired and invited such scientists to their court, just like the eastern rulers had done before them. With the creation of the first universities, the Greek theories of men like Aristotle and Euclid were reinterpreted and at times even translated into English. On the other hand, works that had stayed in Byzantium found their way, if not burned by the Crusaders, to the powerful Italian city-states where they were translated into Latin. It is quite amazing to read how early discoveries were reviewed and reworked over the centuries while others were totally ignored until new scientists reinvented theories that were in fact more than a millennium old. This is not exactly bedtime reading, but absolutely worthwhile in order to understand the lost richness of antiquity and our modern world.

John Freely starts in Miletus with Thales (end 7th/early 6th century BC), Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus and Hecataeus. He then moves to the 6th century (mainly in Magna Graecia, southern Italy) with Pythagoras of Samos (the one of the famous theorem, which states that in a right triangle the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides), Xenophanes of Colophon, Philolaus of Crotona, Parmenides and Zeno of Elea, Empedocles of Acragas, Leucippus of Milete, Democritus of Abdera (Thrace) and Anaxagoras of Clazomenae – and more.

He then moves to classical Athens with the times of Pericles, when Plato founded the Academy (to be compared with the colleges in the first European Universities) and when Hippocrates of Cos wrote the Hippocratic Oath that was used by physicians for centuries. This is the time of Eudoxus of Cnidus, the greatest mathematician (including arithmetic, geometry, harmonics and astronomy), of Callipsus of Cyzicus the astronomer who studied our planets, and of the great Aristotle of Stagira who was competent in a wide range of sciences: logic, metaphysics, rhetoric, theology, politics, economy, meteorology, literature, ethics, psychology, physics, mechanics, astronomy, cosmology, biology, botany, natural history and zoology (a knowledge-baggage that Alexander the Great must have picked up, of course!). Among his pupils we find Heraclides Ponticus (from the Black Sea) and Theophrastus, who was Aristotle’s successor at the Athenian Lyceum.

I’m not going to list all the scientists which John Freely is treating is this book, the list would be too long. I only wanted to put the above names down because I’m terribly impressed with their sheer numbers and the knowledge of so many scientists so early in our history.

With the decline of the Macedonian rule due to repeated civil wars, Athens was soon to be surpassed by Alexandria with its precious Museum and Library, founded by Ptolemy (one of the generals and successors of Alexander the Great) and further developed by his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus. In the early 3rd century BC the Library seems to have counted more than half a million parchment rolls.

That era was full of great names that were referred to time and again in later centuries. One of them was Euclid (ca. 295 BC) whose extant textbook on geometry is still in use today; he also laid the foundations of algebra and number theory; and wrote a textbook on astronomy and an elementary treatise on perspective. Greek mathematical physics reached its peak with Archimedes of Syracuse (ca 287-212 BC), famous for his inventions, among which a model of the celestial motions (mechanism of Antikythera?) and his screw used to move water to a higher level. He worked as military engineer, discovered the concept of specific gravity, studied the fluids in equilibrium, and found that the earth rotated around the sun! And our faithful geographer Strabo (63 BC-25 AD) who also made encyclopedic descriptions about land and sea, animals, plants, fruits, etc. Finally, we should not forget to mention the astrology and geography works of Claudius Ptolemaeus (ca 100-170 AD), in short referred to as Ptolemy. He cataloged the stars, wrote extensively about trigonometry and did researches on light.

The Alexandrian Library was active at least till the early 6th century AD, and although the Romans controlled most of the Mediterranean by the mid-second century BC, Rome never reached the level of Alexandria. Yet Rome was not left out of the inevitable cultural exchanges. We are all familiar with the accounts of Pliny the Elder (ca 23-79 AD) about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, or Seneca’s letters, dialogues and tragedies, for instance.

With the rise of the Islam, tables were turned around. It took only a century for the armies of Islam to be stopped in southern France in 732 during the Battle of Tours. From Jerusalem, they moved to Damascus and soon reached Baghdad that was established as the capital in the years 762-765. It so happened that the ruling caliphs had books translated from foreign languages into Arabic. This meant that books on arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and on practical skills as surveying, metrology and civil engineering in Greek, Latin, Byzantine Greek, Pahlavi, Neo-Persian and Syriac found their way east. Local astrologers added their own knowledge; mathematical works were reviewed; and algebra found a place of its own. Philosophers and scientist got involved, and it is amazing to see the explosion of new calculations and new discoveries.

I must admit that I’m not familiar with their names, except maybe Al-Biruni (973-1050) who wrote many works on astronomy, astrology, chronology, time measurement, geography, geodesy, cartography, mathematics (including arithmetic, geometry and trigonometry), mechanics, medicine, pharmacology, meteorology, mineralogy, history, philosophy, religion, literature and magic, as well as detailed description of his own inventions and about the instruments he used. To complete the description of this genius, it should be noted that he spoke Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Chorasmian, and Turkic, besides Greek, Hebrew and Syriac! We honestly have no idea of the wealth of knowledge that brought Baghdad to the center of the world.

Meanwhile, Moorish Spain knew a Renaissance of its own with Cordoba promoted to capital city in 784-786 and the independence of Al-Andalus by the end of the 10th century. This is the time of El Cid, which I remember from the movies, where the Christian opposition fought for the Reconquista that ended with the fall of Cordoba in 1236. During the Moorish rule, Greek and Arabic manuscripts were used to study and create new theories. Cordoba had a reputed school of medicine from which many prominent physicians emerged. Also astrology flourished beside science, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, and many works were translated in Spanish. It is surprising to read that score of women copyists were employed in that field!

In these golden times, Christian scholars came to study in Spain. We owe it to them that many scientific works were translated from Arabic into Latin, often with the help of local multilingual scribes. When the Crusaders established their first states in cities like Edessa, Antioch and Jerusalem, east and west met once again and new volumes were translated from Arabic to Latin while additional treatises were written in Arabic, Latin and Greek. All these translations were terribly important for there was no other way for scholars to learn about previous inventions or theories.

By the 13th century, Europe was slowly awakening from the dark Middle-Ages now that an enormous amount of Greco-Arabic works were translated into Latin. New universities were opened one after the other, in Bologna (1088), Paris (1150), Oxford (1167), Salerno (1173), Palenzia (1178), Reggio (1188), Vicenza (1204), Cambridge (1209), Salamanca (1218), Padua (1222), etc. By 1500 Europe counted some eighty universities! In spite of the goodwill of so many scholars, they all had to reckon with the Vatican who stuck to the theory that the earth was the center of the universe because God had created the world, meaning that many discoveries and proofs otherwise remained unpublished or were silenced. The Polish Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543), the German Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) and the Italian Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) faced hard times because of that.

When we reach the days of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), it is surprising to read that he made no reference to any Arabic scientist while he widely credited his European predecessors, most notably Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, as well as the ancient Greeks like Pythagoras, Empedocles, Philolaus, Democritus, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Euclid, Archimedes, Apollonius, Aristarchus, Diophantus, Ptolemy and Pappus of Alexandria.

Since I’m personally far more interested in antiquity than in any other time of history, my summary may seem distorted, but I can assure the prospect reader that there are enough facts and figures and names in this book to place every scholar in the right context. There are plenty of drawings to illustrate the significance or consequence of many of the theories. It’s a kind of reference work to be consulted on many occasions!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Organized Looting in Syria

Syria seems to be on the verge of a civil war, by itself a most frightening and disruptive situation for all parties involved and especially for the civilians who receive the heaviest blows. Nothing has changed in this world over the centuries, unfortunately. Yet beside the human sufferings and losses, there is always the inevitable destruction of our remnants from the past. Buildings, temples, graves, theatres together with precious statues and artefacts sheltered in the museums are now under threat. Testimonies that go back hundreds and thousands of years, which have been meticulously and lovingly restored and returned to their glorious days of eons past are now succumbing to shooting, looting and other destructions.


Places with ringing names like Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are now being damaged by the ongoing internal conflicts. In Palmyra, the Syrian Army has set up a base on the hill just behind the Roman ruins and firing on them from the ancient strategic position of the citadel and there is nothing we or the UNESCO can do about it. A group that goes by the name “Syrian Archaeological Ruins in Danger” has set up a Facebook space for people to share the news and make us aware of the destruction that threatens the cultural heritage of Syria, especially since reports of actual gunfire on the ruins came through.

Looting is another problem, although not a new one but with no strict reinforcement whatsoever, it is easy to smuggle artefacts over the border to antiquities markets in Europe and the United States. Recently a memo written by the Syrian Prime Minister Adel Safar addressed to the ministers of Culture and Finance as well as to the Governor of the Central Bank has leaked. Safar claims that “professional international gangs” have brought “equipment and satellite communication devices for stealing manuscripts and robbing museums, safes, and banks” (cfr Global Heritage Fund). Well, whether international or local communities are at fault or not, repeated looting is unfortunately a fact.

In the same article I read that security in Syria’s 25 antiquities museums is being compromised by the ongoing conflict. Provincial museums are hit the hardest as they are spread all over the country near the pertaining excavation sites. Moving their contents to safer locations seems not to be feasible in the present circumstances. I recall the remote locations along the Euphrates, Rasaffa, Halabia, Deir Ezzor, Dura Europos and most ancient Mari … All so close to the Iraqi border, still looking out over the bare desert from their lonely spot. What a mess!