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, November 22, 2012

Philippi, Macedonia’s gold and silver mines

Philippi is one of the milestones in the life of King Philip II but maybe even more so in shaping the history of Macedonia. An exciting place to visit in order to visualize its importance.

Today Philippi lies within easy reach from Thessaloniki thanks to the freeway Thessaloniki-Amphipolis-Kavala, roughly 160 km. From there the road North to Drama and Serres leads you straight to Philippi after less than 15 km. It is a lovely drive, in spite of being on a freeway for the road offers impressive views over Lake Koroneia and Lake Volvi along which King Philip II of Macedonia as well as his son Alexander the Great must have marched eastwards. Between Stavros and Amphipolis, the road runs close to the sea as it crosses the delta of the River Strymon, which before Philip’s reign was the eastern frontier of Macedonia. From Amphipolis to Kavala, the road runs a little more inland but right around the foothill of the Pangaeon Mountains, rich in gold and silver mines. And that is what Philippi was all about.

The antique city of Philippi was situated at the top of a hill, overlooking extensive marshlands that ran all the way to the seashore. On the east we find the gorges of the Sapaeans and Corpileans, while in the west we discover the beautiful fertile plains that bordered the River Strymon. There is another nearby hill called the Hill of Dionysus, rich in gold. The remains we see today are mostly from the Roman city located at the foot of the ancient citadel, but that is a different chapter in history.

Let us start with King Philip, who was the one to put the place on the map, starting the early years of his kingship. At that time, the place was called Crenides because of the many springs bubbling up around the hill, and it was a colony of the island Thasos. Towards 357 BC the king of eastern Thrace besieged the strategic and precious city of Crenides, just above the port of Neapolis (today’s Kavala), a valuable naval base in the region. Philip immediately marched in and defeated the Thracian forces. He was determined to stay and in order to put his stamp on this place, he changed the name to Philippi. He fortified the city walls and towers of this strategic location from where he could control the entire Strymon valley and beyond that all the way to the Danube hinterland. Beside that, he had access and control over the port of Neapolis.

These newly acquired mines provided Philip with a reliable and steady inflow of money, Crenides being the largest and most profitable mine. To improve the situation further, he had the marshy plain drained and cultivated, adding another boost to the local economy. 

The city prospered in Hellenic times thanks to the Via Egnatia which passed through Philippi in the 1st century BC, making it even more important. Philippi turned out to be a major center, connected through this Via Egnatia with Amphipolis, Thessaloniki, and the ports of the Adriatic Sea in the west, and to Neapolis and Byzantium in the east.

Things changed dramatically when the plains of Philippi became the theater of an important battle in 42 BC. Two Roman armies approached each other: Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar and defenders of the Roman Republic, arrived from the east, and a bit later, the triumvirs Marc Antony and Octavian moved in from the west, wishing to avenge the murder of Caesar. This was not just a battle between rival factions, the future of Rome depended on it. Because Brutus and Cassius had occupied the best positions on two hills approximately 4 km from Philippi, Marc Antony tried to circumvent Philippi by building a causeway through the wetlands to the south of the city, but Cassius discovered the plan and built a transverse dam. But then, Marc Antony unexpectedly stormed Cassius' camp. This was a great maneuver for it made Cassius believe that all was lost, and he committed suicide. That was a far too hasty decision for at the same time Brutus had defeated Octavian and captured his camp and that of Marc Antony. In other words, both sides had won a victory and suffered a defeat.

A second clash occurred a few days later. This time, Marc Antony and Octavian were able to lure Brutus into a battle he should not have accepted and the triumvirs ended up victorious. As we know, eleven years later Octavian defeated Marc Antony at the Battle of Actium and took on the surname Augustus. Veterans of these battles were settled in Philippi, which became a Roman colony (Colonia Augusta Julia Philippensis). The city expanded and became an economic, administrative and artistic centre, the result of which we can still see in today’s remains.

An important visitor of Philippi was Apostle Paul, who spent time here in 49 or 50 AD establishing the first Christian Church of Europe, making Philippi a metropolis of Christianity.

The city slowly was abandoned in the early 7th century AD due to repeated earthquakes and the invasion of the Slavs. However it survived the Byzantine era as a fort on top of the acropolis but was entirely deserted after the Ottoman conquests of the 14th century.

All the road-signs are in place and ancient Philippi welcomes the visitor with a spacious parking space and an even more spacious park where school children seem to have gathered today for a special outing. I hope they are not screaming like this around the site!

They are not, I even seem to have the excavation site all to myself, except for a bus or two with Chinese tourists who move with a discipline of their own.

• The very first building I encounter is inevitably the theatre. It was probably built by King Philip II around the middle of the 4th century BC and was improved in the 2nd/3rd century when the Romans made rearrangements and additions to meet the needs of that time.

The walls and the acropolis. The line of the walls begins at the top of the hill and it surrounds the foot of the hill and part of the valley below. The structure has two architectural phases: the first was built by Philip II and the second by Justinian I in A.D. 527-565. Inside the acropolis there is a tower dated to the Late Byzantine period.
The Agora (Forum). The Agora built during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, was the administrative centre of Philippi. The public buildings are arranged around a central open square (100x50m). It is bordered on the north side by the Via Egnatia, and on the other sides by steps and porticoes leading to the main municipal buildings. Parallel with the Via Egnatia were fountains, a rostrum and commemorative monuments. The west side is bordered by traces of a temple and administrative buildings. In the southwest corner stands an unusual upturned marble table, the cavities of which are thought to have been used for measuring, and holes in de the ground of playing marbles.

The Palaestra. The largest part of the monument is now covered by Basilica B. The Palaestra comprised a peristyle central court, rooms and a small amphitheatre.
The prison of Apostle Paul. The structure is actually a Roman water cistern which was later converted into a cult place.

Basilica A. Large, three-aisled basilica (130x 50m) with transept aisle on the east side, a square atrium and gallery over the aisles and the narthex. Fragments of the luxurious pavement and part of the ambo are preserved in the middle aisle. Particularly impressive are the frescos that imitate orthostates (dados) in the porch of a chapel. Dated to the end of the 5th century A.D.

Basilica B. Three-aisled basilica dated to ca. 550 A.D. It has a narthex and annexes to the north and south (phiale, vestry). The almost square in plan, central aisle was covered with a vault supported by huge pillars composed of ancient drums. A second vault roofed the sacred Bèma. Its sculptural decoration is under the influence of Constantinople.

Basilica C. An impressive three-aisled basilica with narthex and transept, and a double ambo. It had luxurious marble inlaid floors and rich sculptural and architectural decoration. Dates from the 6th century A.D.

Octagonal church. The building is square in plan as seen from outside and octagonal inside. The nucleus of the whole structure is the vaulted tomb-heroon of the Late Hellenistic period. The octagonal church was built in ca. 400 A.D. and replaced the first small church dedicated to Apostle Paul.

• In the area between the Via Egnatia and the cult buildings of the Octagon, we find one of the Baths of Philippi. The complex also includes the phiale, a baptistery and a monumental gateway towards the Via Egnatia.

[Click here to see all the pictures of Philippi]

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