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)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Admiration for Alexander, or adulation, or veneration?

Alexander more than any other conqueror or king has fired the imagination of scores of people over the centuries. In many eastern countries his memory is still very much alive as locals can point you to a road he took, a mountain path he climbed or a fort he built. Cities, lakes and strongholds are named after him and legends are still being told as bedtime stories and by travelling barters.

It must have started right after Alexander’s death in Babylon by his generals and his soldiers alike. We will remember how the men insisted on saying their goodbyes to their dying king. They carried him on hands in spite of their differences when they refused to join him in his attempt to reach the outer eastern ocean, the end of the world as they knew it. Alexander’s generals fought for nearly forty years in order to rule over at least part of his empire, maybe out of greed or out of ambition, but basically it all goes back to their admiration for Alexander and their desire to follow in his footsteps.

The fight over his corpse is another sign. We must be thankful to Ptolemy that he snatched away Alexander’s funeral carriage from Perdiccas’ escort on his way to Macedonia. Had Alexander’s body arrived in his homeland for burial as was customary for all Macedonian kings, we may never have heard of the adulation and veneration he enjoyed in the following centuries. It took some chaotic years till Macedonia had a new ruler and when this happened it turned out to be Cassander, Parmenion’s son, and we know how he treated Alexander’s son Alexander IV, wife Roxane and mother Olympias! There would have been little or even no hope for any respect or consideration for Alexander’s body had it fallen in Cassander’s hands.

We owe it to the Ptolemaic dynasty which ended with Cleopatra of Egypt that Alexander’s body was kept “in state”. It is in Egypt that the Great King’s shrine was visited by many, the best known being the Roman Emperors. Julius Cesar is said to have wept over his tomb; Octavian, the later Emperor Augustus, laid a golden crown on the mummified corpse breaking off his nose in the process; the half-witted Caligula dressed up with Alexander’s breastplate taken from the mausoleum; Vespasian must have visited the tomb since he reigned out of Alexandria instead of Rome; Hadrian crowned himself with the elephant headdress on specially issued coins in Alexandria, in an imitation of Alexander; Septimus Severus is reported to have been shocked by the accessibility of the dead king’s remains and ordered the burial chamber to be sealed off; Caracalla, son of Septimus Severus, claimed to be the reincarnation of Alexander and is said to have taken some cups and weapons from the tomb. Clearly the Roman emperors’ admiration turned into adulation as they set out to imitate Alexander which they saw as their example and hero.

One of the most striking and best known images of Alexander is without doubt the mosaic discovered in the Villa of the Faun in Pompeii. We do not know who lived in that house and ordered this magnificent floor, but he must have been quite an admirer of Alexander, an adulator even.

Even in our modern times, I hear many tales of people creating Alexander shrines in their homes, enhancing their interior with copies of statues and wearing Alexander coins around their necks. In the third century already, a Roman aristocratic family wore coins with Alexander’s image as jewels or stitched onto their garments. They are reported to have eaten from plates carrying a picture of his face and used special bowls telling the story of his life! And this was only the beginning, of course. Shortly afterwards, it had become fashion among the people of Constantinople to wear an Alexander coin on their head to protect them from evil. Coins and medallions in all sizes and shapes soon appeared with Alexander’s effigy. Pure veneration, isn’t it?


In the footsteps of the Roman Emperors, later rulers would be treading. Napoleon wishfully considered that he had found Alexander’s tomb during his campaign in Egypt, while it turned out to be that of Nectanebo II. The so-called Alexander-sarcophagus that is now in the Archeological Museum of Istanbul depicting a fighting Alexander never contained his body; it was found in Sidon and was made by a Phoenician admirer of the king.

Tsarina Catherine of Russia was inspired by Alexander and named her grandson after him, telling him about the great exploits of his illustrious namesake. In a way, her ambition to build a vast empire was similar to Alexander’s. In fact, when the Russians adopted the orthodox religion from the tenth century onward, the Alexander tradition had been carried over and he became their hero.

King Louis XIV of France took great interest in Alexander the Great and proclaimed himself to be the new Alexander – why not? He commissioned a series of paintings by Charles Le Brun to enhance his palaces and since the French king’s fashions were copied by other European courts, we see painters at work in the palaces of Italy, Spain, Germany and Austria, bringing the saga of Alexander back to life once again.

Whether or not Alexander thought of himself as a god or simply from godly descent, once he was dead many people considered him to be a god or at least a hero. In our modern world either definition is hard to value as nobody reaches the state of godliness anymore. Christianity has handily replaced all the gods of the ancient pantheon by saints, so today we would speak about sainthood and then only in the context of the Christian belief which has nothing in common with Alexander’s great exploits. The church counts many saints called Alexander, but none of them refers to Alexander the Great

Today’s heroes on the other hand can only be found among those achieving heroic deeds like saving a stranger from a fire or drowning, or rescuing a comrade in war. The heroics of antiquity were of a different kind, attributed to men who in their achievements surpassed those of average people and because of that were placed somewhere between heaven and earth. Men like Achilles and Alexander, of course, but also dynastic leaders among the Ptolemies and Seleucids. We know that when Hephaistion died, the army honored him as a hero (not waiting for the official confirmation by the Egyptian priests) – they cannot have done less for Alexander.

Time and again, I’m surprised to hear how many people carry Alexander in a corner of their heart, often with a sense of homesickness for a time they never shared and a man who never had his equal in later history. So many wanted and tried to emulate him, to no avail. Yet he should be proud of his achievements for he left us such incredible memories. One of his main heritages is definitely Hellenism that spread around the world like a wildfire and persisted for many centuries, in the east and in the west. Rome or Alexandria could not have known their grandeur without Alexander’s heritage, nor could the Greco-Bactrian or the Indo-Bactrian civilizations have flourished. Persia’s revival under the Sassanid dynasty existed because of Alexander, and Christianity or even the Islam could not have caught on without the Greek language which rested on Hellenism – all this we can thank Alexander for!

[Top photograph Colin Farrell as Alexander in Oliver Stone's movie]

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