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)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lost World of the Golden King by Frank Holt

Lost World of the Golden King, in search of ancient Afghanistan by Frank Holt (ISBN 978-0-520-27342-9) is the latest book by this author who has an unparalleled knowledge of Bactria, a country often neglected by and unfamiliar to most historians.

I absolutely enjoyed his earlier books: Into the Land of Bones, Alexander the Great and Bactria and Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions, as no one knows Bactria more intimately than Frank Holt. He was my mental guide and support source when I visited Uzbekistan (see several articles under the label: Central Asia), so I couldn’t skip reading this latest update of his.

As always, his work is very precise and consistent. After Alexander’s conquests in 329-327 BC, the country somehow kept many of its invested Greek influences, eventually giving birth to the Greco-Bactrian kingdom followed by the Indo-Bactrian rule. However, after repeated and devastating attacks by its nomad neighbors, the empire of “a thousand cities” vanished and from the tenth century onwards only the name of Bactria survived. We had to wait till the eighteenth century when a Greek coin was unearthed and the first explorers started their search.

Frank Holt follows them step by step, all through the 18th and 19th century, analyzing their assessments and holding their conclusions against today’s still sparse knowledge about the Bactrian Kingdom. Not all the coins carry an inscription with the name of their Basileus and those who do so don’t specify if we are looking at Eucratides I or II, Demetrius I or II, or Diodotus I or II, while on the other hand, we still have no way to put them conclusively in their correct chronology. The studies of these earlier explorers have their merit, of course, but archeology has evolved since then, new techniques have been applied and the entire study of numismatic evidence has progressed.

Meanwhile, one of the “thousand cities” has been located and excavated extensively by Paul Bernard (1964-1978) till modern wars put everything on hold and destroyed his painstaking work. By now Ai-Khanoum at the far northern border of today’s Afghanistan has made headlines and most of his precious finds have found shelter inside the walls of several museums (see the exclusive and still travelling exhibition, Afghan Gold Treasure)

Frank Holt uses the excavation results and artifacts from Ai-Khanoum to reconstruct as much as possible of Bactria, whose most famous king was Eucratides. His huge golden “Eucratidion”, was the very first coin that rose from Bactria’s ashes. Sporadic texts and inscriptions, together with the various hoards add further information but also raise more questions.

All in all, the reader will get a fresh look at Bactria, its kings, and heritage. Beside a full chapter about the mining and minting techniques including the knowledge involved, Frank Holt’s book offers a wealth of information about every possible aspect of life after the campaign of Alexander the Great in the furthest northeastern corner of his empire.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Latest find at Stratonikeia, Turkey

Turkey is an everlasting source for new discoveries. The country has such a rich past of which only few tourists seem to be aware and then only with names like Ephesos, Miletus, Priene and maybe Didyma or Halicarnassos, modern Bodrum. But there is so much more with constant new finds, some more spectacular than others. 

A while ago I wrote about the amazing sarcophagus that was unearthed in the area of Milas (see: Sensational Archeological find near Milas), and today it is the turn of Stratonikeia, roughly halfway between Milas and Muğla. Stratonikeia was part of Caria, a generally unknown kingdom although in its heydays it was ruled by nobody less than King Mausolos, the builder of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassos - one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

During their seventeen months excavations, archaeologists have uncovered part of a road flanked by columns that led to the gate in the city walls. These walls are estimated to be 3,6 kilometres long and for now a stretch of 400 meter length has been exposed. It seems that the walls were restored by King Mausolos some 2,400 years ago.

[Photo: AA, from Today's Zaman]

Main find in the area was this huge 2,000-year-old Hellenistic bust of a king that stood one and a half meters high and is two metres wide, showing features of a bull’s head and a goddess – signs of wealth and power. Previously a chariot had been discovered as well as a 1,500 years-old Byzantine mosaic. All in all 460 artefacts, both Roman and Byzantine, have been collected by the archaeological team, and are now transferred to the nearby Museum of Muğla.

After full restoration, the wall will be accessible to visitors, and so will the Museum once the finds have been treated appropriately.

For a great overview of Stratonikeia, please refer to this link at Peter Sommer Travels.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Irbil, and no mention of Alexander?

I am very much excited to hear that in spite of the war a new archeological project has been started in the region of Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in Northern Iraq in search of ancient cities, roads, walls, etc. In just a few months the Harvard-led project covering some 3,200 square kilometers has revealed about 1,200 potential sites and they are still counting.

There is, however, a downside to the project because the economy of Kurdistan is booming and new developments are exploding all around. One of the main problems is that the archeologists don’t limit themselves to the individual sites but are also interested in the spaces in between, looking for traces of agriculture and irrigation canals as well as for roads and tracks that connected the settlements. Because of these widespread constructions, these are the areas that are most prone to be destructed before being properly studied and documented.

Evidently, the archeologists are very keen to work in the area because it has been a zone of conflict for so many years. At last, they are able to take a close look at early civilizations as is mentioned by Phys Org in November 2012.

Yet, in all of this research, I don’t find a single word about Alexander the Great while Irbil  is only 100 kilometers away from the very spot where the famous Battle of Gaugamela was fought in 331 BC – the supreme encounter of Alexander and Darius III of Persia. How dare these archaeologists omit Alexander from their reports!

[picture from Oliver Stone's movie Alexander]

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Poor Babylon

Babylon once hosted one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world when during its heydays King Nebuchadnezzar out of love for his homesick wife built the famous hanging gardens. It was here that Hammurabi wrote the very first laws etched in stone and now one of the proud possessions of the Louvre Museum; it is also where the biblical and historical Tower of Babel ruled over the surroundings of the Temple of Ishtar; and where the Achaemenid kings occupied their luxurious palaces till King Darius III of Persia was defeated by Alexander the Great, who died within its very walls.

Babylon, or what is left of it, has been located about 90 kilometers south of Baghdad, Iraq, along the banks of the Euphrates River. Today, the remains of this ancient site are in very poor conditions and we are to close to loose it altogether.

Although the first excavations in the Babylon area started in the early 19th century, serious work began towards the end of that century by successive archaeologists from England, Germany and Italy. Useless to point out that much of the finds are spread between their respective museums. When Sadam Hussein came to power, he wanted to wallow himself in the splendor and fame of this ancient capital and in 1983 he started to build a city of his own on top of the fragile ruins of the dried bricks walls. He inscribed his name in the bricks, just as Nebuchadnezzar had done before him, and as if the damage done to these ancients walls was not enough, he had serious plans to erect a palace of his own atop of some other ruins. The outbreak of the Gulf War put an end to this madness but by then the modern bricks and mortar of Sadam’s megalomania had dangerously damaged the brittle ruins.

After that, in 2003, the coalition forces camped in parts of ancient Babylon’s ten square kilometers for two years. They dug trenches, drove steel stakes into the ancient walls, built roads, parking lots and even a helicopter pad, bringing further damage to Babylon, including the famous Ishtar Gate and the Procession Way through which Alexander the Great made his triumphal entrance some 2,500 years ago.

Peace has not returned yet. For several years, villagers, invading armies and fortune seekers plundered whatever they could. An ever increasing number of people settled in new villages on top of the ruins and now rising groundwater threatens the ancient walls even further. To make matters worse, the Iraqi oil business is spoiling the precious grounds of this wondrous city tearing up the soil to lay down their pipelines 1.7 meters deep right next to two other pipelines that were dug under Sadam Hussein. The Ministry of Oil ignored the pleas from their own Iraqi archaeologists, simply stating that they didn’t find any artifacts while digging – as if they were experts in the matter!

Meanwhile, the UNESCO has written to the Iraqi authorities to express their concern and Iraq’s own department of Antiquities has sued the Ministry of oil demanding the removal of the pipelines. The World Monument Fund, on the other hand, is helping out to protect the damaged ruins of Babylon against the rising groundwater which is caused by new irrigation policies. But overall the situation is at a standstill since the government of Iraq has decided to suspend their contacts with US universities and institutions that are involved in saving Babylon. Let’s hope that these measures are only temporary and that the ban will soon be lifted.

Today, desolation and destruction are all too evident. Poor Babylon.

[Picture of the map is from NBC News and the lion picture is from The Australian]

Monday, January 14, 2013

New hope for the Museum of Baghdad

Thanks to the travel-blog of Gadling, I have been made aware that the National Museum of Iraq is to reopen soon. One of the authors of this blog, Shean McLachlan, was allowed inside for a sneak preview.

After the fall of Baghdad in 2003, the entire city was in chaos and nobody was there to protect the museum – probably the last concern for the invading armies. As always, looters swarmed in like vultures, ransacking and steeling whatever fell in their hands. The Museum staff resisted as best as they could, asking the American army for protection but it is still not clear how well this was handled. Countless artefacts were smashed, thousands were stolen. Yet, thanks to the bravery of the museum staff the best pieces were hidden in secret locations, others were later on recovered although most disappeared in the hands of private collectors. A very sad story of lost culture!

So, I am very pleased to hear the good news that Baghdad is working on reopening its precious Museum where treasures from the dawn of civilization had found refuge. In his sneak preview, Shean McLachlan witnessed giant Assyrian statues standing next to peculiar bright eyed Sumerian ones. Reliefs with hunting scenes and warfare have found their way back, together with cases full of cylinder seals that somehow survived the looting (they are so easy to smuggle out of the country!). All in all, he saw twenty-two completed galleries, with five more still being under construction. It seems that some rooms have been reproduced as they were before the war while others are completely remodelled and modernized. Interestingly all the galleries are now labelled in both Arabic and English. This does not mean that everything has returned to the museum and illegal transactions are still ongoing – unfortunately.

Anyway, the Museum is to be reopened at some time in 2013. When you consider that this is one of the greatest museums in the Middle-East and definitely the greatest museum in Iraq, we have something to look forward to!

I wish Iraq and more specifically Baghdad were a safer place to travel to for I can’t wait to go there and look around for what Alexander could have seen or even left behind – after all, Babylon is not too far away.

All the pictures in Shean McLachlan’s article are under copyright. So please visit his Gadling-weblog for his photos – the one of the jade Sumerian is absolutely superb!
[Picture of the Museum is from the Digital Journal]

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Troy, a unique exhibition

Troy once one of the most magic cities in the world and it definitely was for Alexander, even if there may not have been much left for him to see. But at least we are sure that the Temple of Apollo still stood there since he exchanged his armor and especially his shield against that of his much admired example, Achilles. Besides, Alexander and his life-long friend Hephaistion visited the nearby Tomb of Achilles and Patroclus, stripping off their clothes and running around the tumulus. 

So yes, Troy is very much interwoven with Alexander and his hero, Achilles. This is reason enough to put the current exhibition “Troy. City, Homer and Turkey” high on my list. It is held at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam and is part of the conclusion to the celebration marking 400 years of diplomatic relations between Turkey and the Netherlands.

On display are more than 300 artifacts collected from different places in the Netherlands and abroad - a rare opportunity to see so many archeological items together in one place.

What we know about Troy is mainly the story of the 12-year war between Greeks and Trojans that inspired Homer to write his famous “Iliad”, and the sensational discoveries made by Heinrich Schliemann at the late 19th century. Myth and history are very much intertwined, as they were for eons past. Excavations at Troy have revealed 5,000 years of settlements in which so many people, countries and cultures have left their imprint. Various aspects of Troy are being presented at this exhibition, using its many myths as a thread running through time. The results of old and recent excavations are on display with original pieces and copies of the famous Treasure of Priam (the cache of gold and jewelry found by Schliemann). The most striking item is a large marble head of Zeus, generously contributed by the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul.

Perception of Troy’s history in the 19th and 20th century in Turkey and abroad forms a major part of this exhibition, including items dating from the Ottoman Empire, like Schliemann’s permit for the digging and pictures of Ataturk’s visit to Troy.

Troy. City, Homer and Turkey” will run till 5 May 2013, so there still is time to take a look at this uniquely assembled collection.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great by Elizabeth Carney

Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great (ISBN 0-415—33317-2) is an exceptional book about an equally exceptional woman – an absolute must for every admirer of Alexander the Great!
It is quite amazing what information Elizabeth Carney has been able to produce, especially since so very little has been written about Olympias, even in antiquity. E. Carney knows the mother of Alexander the Great very intimately and as she states herself, she has been living with her longer than with her own husband. That tells a great deal. 

From appearance, the book looks deceptively small but the amount of information and the conclusions she manages to present is huge.
The chapter division has been kept quite simple in fact:

  1. Olympias the Molossian, telling us about Olympias’ youth; the kingdom of Molossia; the social place of married women in Greece and in Macedonia; and about the preparations for her wedding with Philip II of Macedonia in Samothrace
  2. Olympias, wife of Philip II, discussing the problems of a polygamous marriage; her place at Philip’s court; her role as mother of a possible heir; her involvement in the Pixodarus affair and in the consequences of Attalus' accusation about the legality of Alexander as Macedonian king; Philip conceiving the construction of the Philippeon in Olympia after his victory at Chaeronea.
  3. Olympias, mother of the king, Alexander the Great, which obviously starts in 336 BC with her possible implication in the murder of her husband and her son's ascension to the throne. Discussed is the murder of Cleopatra  (Philip’s last wife) and her child(ren); her disagreements with Antipater since Alexander had not clearly defined the role of each; Olympias’ own political power through customary female religious activities (together with that of her daughter Cleopatra  queen of Molossia, by now widowed from marrying her uncle, Olympias’ brother).
  4. Olympias on her own, leaves her in a world of total chaos with no time or opportunity to grieve over her son’s death (his body never returned home). The bickering of Alexander’s generals is examined, the generally accepted idea that Alexander was poisoned at Antipater’s instigation with complicity of his sons. Olympias measures her strength against that of Adea Eurydike, the wife of Philip Arrhideus, and then liquidates both of them. Cassander rules over Macedonia. Cleopatra, Alexander’s sister, tries to save Macedonia by putting herself on the marriage market, without success and is eventually killed. Finally the murder of Olympias and its circumstances are scrutinized. This is by far the period when most of what we know about Olympias has been recorded, although the chronology is often lost in the complexity of the events.
  5. Olympias and religion, handles less Olympias’ religion practice than the general involvement of women in religion, both in Macedonia and in Greece proper.
  6. Olympias’ afterlife, examines her burial and how she has been remembered all the way through Roman times, generally together with her famous son.
  7. Appendix. Olympias and the sources. In this extra chapter E. Carney clearly explains the pros and cons related in sources like Diodorus, Justin, Curtius, Arrian, Plutarch and Pausanias.
Throughout her book E. Carney painstakingly examines what has been written by abovementioned authors as well as what has been mentioned in the Alexander Romance in order to put together an image of Olympias and the time she lived in. She does this in a most pleasant way, with an open mind, scrutinizing and analyzing every nuance in the sentences of the extensive bibliography she is using. She is very careful in drawing her conclusions and rightfully so. Unlike so many other authors, she is not ramming down her own views and ideas down my throat.

In my opinion, it takes a woman to write about Olympias. No one could have done a better job than Elizabeth Carney.