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 Ariana (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in the Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (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)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron

It does not matter which book I pick for reading, Alexander is always in the back of my mind. This is also the case when I hold The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (ISBN 978-0-141-44209-9), were it only because Alexander the Great spent nearly three years of his short life in Oxiana, corresponding more or less to today’s Afghanistan.

Robert Byron travels from Venice, via Jerusalem, Damascus and Bagdad (Iraq) to Persia in 1933 and finally reaches Afghanistan in 1934, keeping a detailed diary of his journey. In those days the King of England, George V, was still emperor of India; Afghanistan was ruled by King Nadir Shah who was assassinated in November 1933 to be succeeded by his 19 years-old son Zahir Shah; the Imperial State of Persia was governed by Reza Shah Pahlavi; meaning that the reader gets a good picture of the peculiar background against which the story evolves.

What captivates me especially is the fact that part of the roads correspond exactly to those followed by Alexander some 2,000 years earlier. The landscape is a commanding factor in antiquity as well as today and the obvious itineraries always follow the same rivers, oasis and towns, skirting the same deserts and mountains, using the same passes and goat-tracks.

Byron is mostly interested in Islamic art and evidently he finds lots of examples along his journey, giving very detailed and lively descriptions, especially in Persia and later in Afghanistan. He often is not allowed to take pictures, so he makes drawings. The way he writes, however, corresponds in a way to drawing with words, stopping at the many discussions with officials as he moves from one stop to the next, generally by lorry but also by car or on horseback. Old caravanserais are still used when there is no local governor or friendly Brit around to offer him a room to spend the night and he relates all the folkloric details of such encounters.

This book is extremely interesting from different points of view, either for its detailed Islamic architecture and art, or for daily life in that part of the Middle East in the early twentieth century. So in the end, I read it twice as after these most evident reasons I went in search of landscapes and cities which Alexander most probably encountered in places like Ecbatana, Persepolis, Pasargadae, Balkh, Kabul and Peshawar, crossing the Elbruz Mountains towards the Caspian Sea or his perilous march over the famous Khyber Pass of the Hindu Kush. Lots of pertinent information for whoever wants to take a closer look!

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