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)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cambyses’ lost army found after 2,500 years?

Such news deserves to make the headlines. Imagine the King of mighty Persia having to admit the loss of 50,000 of his soldiers who simply disappeared in the Egyptian desert. What happened?

We owe the story to the Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 BC), who tells us how Cambyses, son of Cyrus the Great, sent a large detachment of soldiers from Thebes in Egypt to attack the Oasis of Siwah and its oracle because the priests refused to legitimize his claim to their country. The army did reach an oasis (believed to be that of El-Kharga) and after they left, they were never seen again. They are said to be buried beneath the sands carried by a strong and deadly southern wind. Cambyses was evidently never accepted as ruler of Egypt, unlike Alexander the Great who received the confirmation as son of god from the oracle of Amon at Siwah in 332 BC.

As no tangible evidence ever surfaced, the story was moved to the land of tales till first surveys of the area were carried out in 1996. Researchers noticed some human remains next to a large natural rock shelter 35 meters long and 3 meters deep – the only one is a wide area. Using a metal detector, they were able to dig up remains of ancient weaponry like a bronze dagger and several arrow tips. By itself not a massive find, but these pieces were identified as belonging to the Achaemids of Cambyses times. About 500 meters from that shelter, they then found a silver bracelet, an earring and a few silver beads belonging to the same period.

During the following years, ancient maps were studied closely and the researchers came to the conclusion that in 525 BC, Cambyses’ army did not follow the known caravan route but a different itinerary that existed already during the 18th Dynasty. From El Kargha, the army marched westwards to Gilf El Kebir, passing through the Wadi Abd el Melik, from where they headed toward Siwah. The advantage was that this route was not controlled by the Egyptians, meaning that the Persian soldiers would not have to fight for every single oasis on their way. To prove this theory, geological surveys were carried out along said alternative route. What they found was astonishing: many dried up springs as well as artificial wells made from hundreds of pots buried in the sand, which afterwards were dated to Cambyses’ days. There definitely was enough water to make this desert march possible.

In 2002, the team decided to investigate the oral Bedouin stories about thousands of white bones that had emerged from the sand several decades ago after a sandstorm. Surely enough, they found a mass grave with hundreds of bleached bones and skulls. Among the remains, there were a number of Persian arrowheads and a horse bit, identical to what was known from Persian pictures.

The conclusion is that the army was surprised by a cataclysmic sandstorm that lasted for more than one day, although starvation from lack of food and water may also have played a role.

This statement still stands although the Egyptian Supreme Court of Antiquities (i.e. Zahi Hawass) do not authorize any digging in the area as Mr. Hawass refuses to believe the story.
My afterthought on this story is that this episode of Persian history must certainly have been known to Alexander when he set out for the Oasis of Siwah and it makes me once more aware of Alexander’s courage and determination.

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