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)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sillyum escaped Alexander’s siege

Even in today’s landscape the trapezoidal hill of Sillyon is clearly visible in the overall flat plain of Pamphylia. I even could see it from the plane one day while taking off from Antalya airport, but of course you need to know what to look for. Driving toward Sillyon or Sillyum as it was called in antiquity, is not difficult – just take any road in the general direction, you can’t miss it.

It does not take a specialist to realize that because of its location alone, Sillyum is an impregnable fortress. The Persians had a mixed force of foreign mercenaries and native barbarians there and it was the first Pamphylian city to resists Alexander. As can be expected, the king didn’t hesitate to attack, but was not very successful. However, before he could conceive a second plan, the news reached him that the people of Aspendos had changed their mind and decided not to respect the freshly signed treaty. Catapults were immediately dismantled, the arsenal wrapped up and Alexander’s troops were summoned to march back to Aspendos. Since Sillyum had no access to the sea like Perge or Aspendos, Alexander decided that Sillyum was not worth the trouble of a siege and fell back on Perge.

The origins of Sillyum are shrouded in the mist of times, probably going back as far as the Trojan War. Very few excavations have been carried out and present conclusions are based solely on visual assessments. Sillyum’s heydays seem to have been lived during the 1st century BC when the road from Perge to Aspendos led through Sillyum as is obvious from the Peutinger roadmap (i.e. a medieval map copied from a Roman original of the fourth century). The tombs outside the city date mainly from between the 3rd and the 6th century, which makes sense when you consider that the most recent building on this hilltop is from the Byzantine era.

The remains we see today are mainly Roman but several Hellenistic features can still be found, like for instance the horseshoe-shaped court with a tower on each side built according to the same Hellenistic design as the one in Perge, and still pretty much recognizable. There are also two Hellenistic buildings, including the building in which an inscription in Pamphylian dialect still enhances the doorpost, and the meagre remains of a crumbling theatre.

I start my climb of a good 200 meters over a narrow path through the thickets on the west side, the only side that is not absolutely vertical. I’m happy to reach my first clue: a square tower that originally was part of the lower city fortification built when the people of Sillyum moved to lower grounds in order to be closer to their fields. Originally it was two stories high and curiously enough the door on the north side has a horizontal lintel while the inner door is arched.

When I reach the broad slope towards the old Roman city gate I can get my bearings. I find part of the ancient ramp – always an exciting element in any site. From here I literally have to dive into the shrubbery through a low doorway leading to a dark space. Once my eyes are accustomed to the dim light I see four cows that found refuge in this cool room to ruminate. I’m not too happy with this crowded reception and just hope I won’t step into any cow dung. All goes well and I’m glad to be back in broad daylight again. I’m now walking through the Roman Baths with rounded walls that held the vaulted ceilings and I even recognize the square windows of the solarium.

Slightly lower there is a small fountain still pouring out cool spring water for the thirsty traveller on a hot summery day. In the grass a fallen base proudly shows its Greek inscription – well, I suppose it is Greek for at least the letters are Greek. It may well be an inscription in Pamphylian for I have read in George Bean’s book “Turkey’s Southern Shore” that there must be some rare Pamphylian writing around here. I have no way to figure this out.

It is only when I find the inscription in the doorway that matches the photograph in George Bean’s book that I know that I am looking at something Pamphylian, a local dialect related to Greek and quite different from the language written and spoken in Side. Although this inscription uses Greek letters and runs over 37 lines it is not being understood, except for a few loose words, like the name Selyviios. By the year 100 BC the Pamphylian language has completely disappeared to be replaced by Greek that is by then generally spoken in the area. In any case, I feel privileged to have seen this inscription with my own eyes. Said doorway is part of a Hellenistic building with richly decorated frames around the windows and doors, probably dating from around 200 BC. The bushes are much too dense to make any sense of this construction or even to take a decent look at it from a distance.


Another yet larger Byzantine building stands next to it with its impressive 55 meters-long western wall, reaching a height of six meters. It counts ten windows, strangely enough all of different sizes.

There are plenty of trails and tracks crossing each other and I wonder if they are created by cows and goats or by the sporadic visitor like me. I tread with care through the high grasses and low shrubs for I have now reached the “Hall of Many Cisterns”, an area cramped with pits of ancient wells. One misstep could mean a broken leg – no thank you. The marble holes still show the deep grooves from the many ropes that ran through them over the years. There is even a huge underground cistern nearly thirty meters long, of which I see the entrance but dare not enter. 

Unexpectedly I arrive at the edge of the high plateau. It looks as if there are only a few blocks lined up there and it occurs to me that it might be a wall of some kind, but when I get closer I discover them to be the upper seats of the theatre. A landslide in the spring of 1969 took most of the theatre away including its stage and the Odeon next to it. All that remains are these four rows of seats. Such a pity when a theatre survives for so many centuries to disappear 2000 years later because of a landslide. The view however is breathtaking for I have an all embracing picture of the wide landscape all the way to the sea – roughly ten kilometres to the south.

I return along the Hellenistic Gate with its round towers as I have seen in Perge and Side, once part of the fortification built by the people of Sillyum when they moved their houses closer to their fields. For me this is one of the highlights of the day since it is bringing me closer to Alexander.

[Click here to see all the pictures of Sillyum]

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