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, 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)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

From Thutmosis III to Alexander III

History, as it is generally taught in our schooling system, is a mere succession of names and dates, of kings and battlefields, of peace treaties and foreign invasions. It usually starts with rough sketches of prehistoric times, to be soon followed by the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, till after the separation of east and west we soon get to the Middle Ages. In these dull lessons, each civilization was compartmented, one making place for the next. This misconception, unfortunately, is one that we carry along for the rest of our life. How wrong this is!

It is not so long ago that I discovered that rather than a vertical list of events, history is an exciting world spreading horizontally, overlapping east and west where each kingdom ultimately "borrowed" and used knowledge from their enemies in newly conquered territories. Since then, I keep marveling at this ever expanding ancient world.

Oliver Stone in his Alexander movie puts a remarkable idea in the mouth of Aristotle: that of looking at the Middle (Mediterranean) Sea as a frog pond. I think this is a fairly truthful picture, as “frogs” from all the harbors and cities bordering the Mediterranean jumped back and forth over the centuries. We have no idea of the intense traffic of ships ferrying goods (and ideas) from one place to the next, or sailing up main rivers to reach further inland destinations. It was not all pillage and warfare, there definitely was commerce, the very keystone of a flourishing economy. This is something every king or citizen understood and worked for.

It so happened that I was confronted with Thutmosis III, pharaoh of Egypt from 1479 BC to 1425 BC reigning partially in the shadow of his co-regent and aunt, the exceptional Queen Hatshepsut. As strange as it may seem and although Thutmosis III lived more than a thousand years before Alexander the Great, he got my undivided attention when I learned about the new equipment he used in his army and the talent he developed in his conquests. Immediately, I made the link with Alexander who is never far away in my thoughts anyway.

There is the case of the Battle of Megiddo when Thutmosis fights against rebellious Canaanites led by the King of Kadesh. Here, Thutmosis used the composite bow for the first time and he was able to push the Canaanites back inside the city walls. As a consequence, Megiddo was kept under siege for seven months and when the city finally surrendered, Thutmosis had to solve another problem: how to govern a city so far away from his native Egypt. He decided to take with him all the children of the noblemen in order to give them a proper Egyptian education; they would eventually return to their hometowns as true Egyptians. By doing so, he obviously kept the elders and nobles under control. Inevitably this action reminded me of Alexander who created an army of 30,000 Persian boys, sons of prominent leaders and members of the local nobility, to be drilled and educated the Macedonian way. His goal was the same as that of Thutmosis: to control the influential class of natives and using the young men to his own benefit. Maybe that was a generally accepted procedure but even in antiquity historians presented Alexander’s action as an exceptional move and even as an innovation.

The other fact that made me link Thutmosis to Alexander was Thutmosis’ attack on Mitanni after having taken control of Syria. The pharaoh sailed from Egypt to Byblos where he disassembled his boats and took them with him knowing that he had to cross the Euphrates River later on. At the banks of the river, he had his ships reassembled to put his men and horses across. Amazingly enough, the pharaoh took the Mitannian King entirely by surprise for he was not expecting an invasion at all. Mitanni had no defense line or walls, they only could try to stop the Egyptians from crossing the Euphrates – a futile attempt as it turned out. This story reminded me of course of Alexander crossing the many rivers in India where he regularly dismantled and reassembled his ships. I thought this was a novelty but now I hear that the Egyptians used the same technique tens of centuries earlier! Of course, this doesn’t make Alexander less of a genius in my eyes for after all there is still a difference between knowing the technique and implementing it. Maybe the very idea had been forgotten meanwhile?

So much of the knowledge from the ancients has been lost over the centuries that we will never know how much they really knew and how much information was exchanged between the different civilizations.

[Picture of Thutmosis III at the Temple of Karnak]

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