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)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Alexander’s pleasant body odor

What a subject for discussion! Well anyway, I want to share my opinion on this matter that seems to have occupied the mind of many ancient and modern authors alike.

Time and again, I read how people around Alexander were surprised by his body fragrance and many ancient writers find it exceptional enough to mention it. But then Alexander is known to have taken a bath whenever possible, using a nearby stream or lake when the comforts of home were not at hand. Examples are plentiful.

Plutarch is by far the most informative on this subject and talks about it at the very beginning of his book “The Life of Alexander the Great”, where he gives us a detailed description of Alexander’s appearance. “… he was fair and of a light colour, passing into ruddiness in his face and upon his breast. Aristoxenus in his Memoirs tells us that a most agreeable odour exhaled from his skin, and that his breath and body all over was so fragrant as to perfume the clothes which he wore next him; the cause of which might probably be the hot and adust temperament of his body.” He proceeds with a rather questionable theory developed by Theophrastus about sweet smells in hot temperatures that doesn’t sound very convincing and then he continues “His temperance, as to the pleasures of the body, was apparent in him in his very childhood, as he was with much difficulty incited to them, and always used them with great moderation; though in other things he was extremely eager and vehement, and in his love of glory, and the pursuit of it, he showed a solidity of high spirit and magnanimity far above his age”. It seems that Plutarch has been widely quoted on this subject, from antiquity to modern times and may well be the only description of Alexander that has come to us.

And then there is the by far best known episode of Alexander bathing in the cold waters of the Cydnus River near Tarsus, in today’s southeastern Turkey. Plutarch tells us that he caught a “sickness that detained him”, “which some say he contracted from his fatigues, others from bathing in the river Cydnus, whose waters were exceedingly cold”.

Arrian in his Campaigns of Alexander the Great (Book 2, 4) is more informative about this episode, which he draws from Aristoboulos. “About this time Alexander had a bout of sickness. The cause of it, according to Aristoboulos’ account, was exhaustion, but others say that he plunged into the river Cydnus for a swim, as he was sweating with heat and could not resist the pleasure of a bathe. The Cydnus runs right through Tarsus, and as it rises in Mount Taurus and flows through open country, its waters are clear and cold; the result was that Alexander was seized by a convulsion, followed by high fever and sleepless nights.”

And finally our newspaper reporter from antiquity, dear Quintus Curtius (History of Alexander, Book 3,14-15), writes a nice story about this event: “The river Cydnus, …, flows through the middle of Tarsus; it was then summer, the heat of which burns no other shore more than that of Cilicia with the sun’s fires, and the hottest time of the day had begun. The clear water of the river tempted the king, who was covered with dust and at the same time with sweat, to bathe his body when it was still heated; accordingly, laying off his clothing in the sight of the army – thinking that it would also be fitting if he should show his men that he was content with attention to his person which was simple and easily attained – he went down into the river. But hardly had he entered it when his limbs began to stiffen with a sudden chill, then he lost his colour, and the vital warmth almost his entire body. His attendants caught him in their arms, looking like a dying man, and carried him almost unconscious into his tent.” The story continues in the same theatrical style, of course.

Whatever the reason for Alexander’s sickness (often assimilated to malaria which prevailed in this area till early 20th century) the fact is that Alexander did plunge into the river. Someone who is not accustomed to it would not have even considered setting a foot in that icy stream.

Plutarch treats us also to another story when Alexander marched from Babylon to Ecbatana and saw “the place where fire issues in a continuous stream, like a spring of water, out of a cleft in the earth, and the stream of naphtha … . This naphtha, in other respects resembling bitumen, is so subject to take fire …”. This was something new and I’m sure everyone in Alexander’s army wanted to play with this fire, although Plutarch blames “the barbarians” for turning the whole street in one continued flame. The interesting passage for me is where he says, “Among those who used to wait on the king and find occasion to amuse him when he anointed and washed himself, there was one Athenophanes, an Athenian, who desired him to make an experiment of the naphtha upon Stephanus, who stood by in the bathing place…”. Well, he set the poor man on fire with one single drop of the stuff causing that “Alexander was in the greatest perplexity and alarm for him, and not without reason; for nothing could have prevented his being consumed by it, if by good chance there had not been people at hand with a great many vessels of water for the service of the bath…”. So here once again, everything was made ready for Alexander’s bath, not just one single jar of water by the way!
Diodurus Siculus (Library of History) is very meager when it come to personal information about Alexander. The Cydnus episode is entirely left out and there obviously is no mention at all about the discovering of oil and the experiments involved. In fact, I found only one single sentence about bathing which is right after the Battle of IssusThe royal pages now took over the tent of Darius and prepared Alexander’s bath and dinner ….” (Book 17, 36-3).

It is this repeated bathing and extreme cleanliness that made me think of Alexander’s pleasant body odor. He definitely was an exception and must have been perceived as an eccentric to his servants and army alike. I have never heard of any Macedonian soldier bathing or enjoying a refreshing swim in some river or at the seaside although Alexander’s father, King Philip, had decreed that his men should use cold water only – hot water being the privilege for women who had just given birth (see Ian Worthington – Philip II of Macedonia). This being the case, I doubt that many would have ventured in the cold rivers of Macedonia or Thracia. Most would have stayed out of the water as armies have done over the centuries, only washing up by the time they went home, for instance.

So, in the end, my belief is that Alexander did not have an especially fragrant skin but that because of his regular bathing, he simply carried a pleasant smell among the generally unwashed bodies of his entourage. That even his clothes were impregnated with his body odor is only normal, but it must have been a striking phenomenon in his days.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Philip's Macedonia also included today’s Bulgaria

Pushing aside the ongoing discussions between Greek Macedonia and the FYROM, it is time to focus on Bulgaria, which once was part of the realm created by Philip II of Macedonia.

It seems that finally the FHW (Foundation of Hellenistic Work) and the NAIM-BAS (the Archeological Institute of the Academy of Sciences in Sofia) are working together in the excavations at Halka Bunar, just northeast of Plovdiv, i.e. the city of Philippopolis founded by Philip II. In his days, the Odrysoi Thracians lived here and today’s closest big city is Stara Zagora, which the Romans called Augusta Traiana.

It is one of those forgotten corners of archeology, at least in our western world, for we have little or no idea of all the excavations that occurred and still occur in Bulgaria. Halka Bunar was discovered by accident – as usually is the case - in 1999. Since then four ceramic kilns, a series of loom weights, great quantities of ceramics both local and imported Greek and commercial amphorae (carrying wine from Knidos in today’s southwestern Turkey) were found next to figurines and coins. These coins indicate that the site flourished mainly around the end of the 4th century/early 3rd century BC since they were stamped with the effigies of Philip II, Seuthes III, Lysimachos, Cassander, and Demetrios-Poliorketes – another proof that Halka Bunar maintained constant and close contact with Macedonia and the Greek colonies in Thrace.

More importantly, Halka Bunar was located almost exactly at the crossroads of important Roman roads, which probably followed older Hellenistic or Classical routes of communication. One of these roads ran from the western Balkans to the coast of the Black Sea and Byzantium in the east, as it passed through Serdica and Philippopolis. The other road ran up from Abdera and Mesembria on the Aegean coast in northeastern Greece, crossed the Rhodopes Mountains (the backbone of today’s Bulgaria) all the way to Seuthopolis, the Thracian capital city founded by Seuthes III near today’s Kazanlak in Bulgaria.

Beside what is already well-known about the Greek colonies along the coast of the Black Sea, little do we know about the Greek influence in this part of Bulgaria and the excavation here in the area of the Odrysoi Thracians hopefully will shed some light on their Hellenization and that of the neighboring peoples.

Wait and see what this will reveal …

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Plovdiv, King Philip’s Philippopolis

Hot news in Bulgaria’s newspaper The Sofia Echo of 9 December 2011, is the latest discovery made by road-workers in the centre of Plovdiv, one of the main cities of Bulgaria that was founded by nobody less than King Philip II of Macedonia and which he named after himself – hence Philippopolis.

[picture from the Sofia Echo]

I read that a major part of a fortress wall has been located during work on the heating infrastructure, measuring 50 meters in length and nearly two meters wide, adding an important element to the lay-out of Philip’s city. According to the archeologists called to the site, this wall dates from the last quarter of the 2nd century AD, so definitely Roman. Other large structures seem to refer to a tower or an entrance building but this cannot be confirmed as the remains disappear under a building on a busy street.

Unfortunately, since the roadwork has to be carried out as planned, the wall will be covered over again in order to complete the job. That is the never-ending story of any city that is built and rebuilt on top of its antiques remains. Exciting stuff though…

Monday, January 9, 2012

Alexander's Isthmus, Tyre, Lebanon

This is old news (early 2008), but I didn’t come across this information before and maybe my readers didn’t either, so I think it is important enough to be stressed here.

By now we all know that Alexander the Great built a half-mile long causeway to connect the island of Tyre to the mainland in today’s Lebanon in 332 BC. This achievement goes down in history as one of the most daring engineering projects of its time and many theories have circulated about how successfully or unsuccessfully Alexander managed the construction of this dike.

We owe it to the recently developed geoarcheology to shed additional and important light on this enterprise. Nick Marriner, member of France’s National Center of Scientific Research and his colleagues published a study in which they show that Alexander took advantage of a natural sandbank located between the mainland and the island. With today’s technology of underwater studies and satellite pictures, this knowledge seems pretty obvious but it certainly was not the case in Alexander’s days! It turns out that the submerged sandbar was lying only one or two yards under the water level, which definitely must have been most helpful in the construction of this imposing causeway.

A good two thousand years later, we are able to conclude that this causeway altered the coastal currents on both northern and southern side of Tyre where the constant flow of sand helped to make this connection permanent. In fact, it reshaped Lebanon’s coastline forever.

The engineers from antiquity never cease to amaze me, and with them Alexander himself, of course.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tyre, without Alexander the Great?

I’m all ears when reading this article from PressTV about the recent discovery of five Byzantine tombs near the city of Tyre in today’s Lebanon – a new attraction for tourists no doubt. These marble tombs came in different sizes and are said to belong to the 14th century, rather late in the Byzantine time-frame if you ask me.

What I don’t understand however is that this article talks about the old Byzantine route that connected the original island of Tyre to the mainland for it gives the impression that it was build at that time. I’m sorry to disappoint the Byzantine believers, for the very first connection between the island of Tyre with the mainland was the doing of Alexander the Great.

This powerful strongly fortified city refused to let Alexander in on his march south along the eastern Mediterranean in 332 BC, leaving him no choice but to lay siege on it. Yet, Tyre being an island and enjoying the protection of the Great King of Persia, the people felt pretty secure inside its walls, under the wings of a substantial Persian fleet. Alexander had disbanded most of his own navy and the handful of ships he had kept were obviously no match. So he decided to build a causeway connecting the island to the mainland, a tedious and dangerous operation as Tyre had no intention to surrender. The Tyrians put up a fierce fight, maneuvering their ships in serious attacks, and even pouring hot sand over the approaching Macedonian forces – a horrible death for the soldiers when the sand settled underneath their harness and burned their skin! It took Alexander full seven months to finish this mole and when he finally entered Tyre he knew no mercy.

But, back to this article, I read further that Tyre knew “many civilizations” which are named as the Phoenicians, the Romans and the Byzantines, but they don’t mention the Greeks and certainly not Alexander the Great! How could they omit such an important personality and such an important phase in their history! The tombs however are said to be found near the Greek Palaestra, so the Greeks were there after all? A rather incoherent story, to which the last line adds even more confusion mentioning that the city’s history goes back over 5,000 years!

A good attempt to fill a newspaper column, but entirely unconvincing!