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)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Alexander avoided the siege of Termessos

You have to see Termessos for yourself in order to fully assess the importance of its strategic location, but the place today is not easily accessible as it lies in the middle of the National Park of Güllük Dagi, which contributes widely to the sense of walking on trails of eons past.

When Alexander was about to wrap up his campaign in Pamphylia after a short while in Perge, he inquired about the best route towards Sagalassos in the north on his way to Gordion where he was to meet up with Parmenion and the remaining part of the army.  Some uncooperative guides had advised Alexander to take the route through the narrows of Termessos, a nearly impregnable obstacle. Luckily the people of Sillyum were kind enough to draw Alexander's attention to another much easier road, meaning that there was no need to besiege strongly defended Termessos

According to Strabo, the people of Termessos called themselves Slymi, a Pisidian population who took their name from Solymeus, an Anatolian deity. Before Alexander's arrival, very little was known about them, and after his death, the city was quite easily ruled by the Ptolemy's. By the second century BC, ties of friendship were established by Attalus II, King of Pergamon, and the two-stories high Stoa was built in his honor. These ties probably led to the fact that Termessos chose the side of Rome and consequently was declared an independent city in 71 BC – a freedom that was long-lived. Termessos was granted several privileges, contributing to its prosperity. The decline gradually came when it fell under the Byzantine Emperors and the city was finally destroyed by a severe earthquake, ending in its abandon around the end of the fourth/beginning of the fifth century AD. 

Not much has been excavated in Termessos and that contributes to its charm, although that does not make the visit any easier; on the contrary, quite adventurous. The paths are not very obvious and not without danger, especially by rainy weather. My Sunflower Guide warns the intrepid visitor to move with utmost caution under such circumstances, which is why I didn’t venture inside on my own this time. I was lucky to have visited the site during my Alexander tour with Peter Sommer a few years ago and that has left a deep impression.
It is very early spring when I follow my fellow travelers among the lush  bushes and grasses on the narrow trail. I have no idea what to expect and find it quite exciting to discover remains of city walls, grey spots in the thick bright green undergrowth. I pass crumbling remains of the Roman Baths next to the Gymnasium and vaulted niches where once the shops lined up along the market place. The layout of the Temple of Zeus is hard to picture but its two storied walls are impressive enough. 

And then I reach the spot I have been waiting for, the gate through which Alexander was expected to enter Termessos. What a view! On a clear day, one can see as far as Antalya and the Mediterranean. It shows how strong the city’s position must have been in this narrow and it is very clear that they could see their enemies approaching from quite afar. In my mind I can picture Alexander facing this siege, he certainly was not afraid. What a task that would have been! 

Next fascinating spot is, as always, the Theater, originally a Greek construction which the Romans put to their hand of course. I marvel at its location, count the five entry gates on the stage and chuckle at the sight of the windows in the back wall meant to let the wind through and alleviate the pressure on that wall – how ingenious! It is said that this theater can only be compared to that of Taormina in Sicily, although the Termessos theater is relatively small, seating only 4200 spectators. 

My scramble continues. At times, I have to climb on hands and feet over the huge building blocks but it adds to the respect we owe to ancient architects and builders. Between the tree tops I catch a glimpse of the Temple of Artemis (3rd century BC), walking past the back-wall of the Bouleuterion, nearly ten meters high; a Heroon for an unknown hero; till I reach the comfortable Roman pavement leading to the central Agora, once the beating heart of the city where grain and fruit, as well as horses and cattle, were bought or exchanged. Another surprise awaits me here for this is the first time I see huge 10 meters-deep water-cisterns hidden underneath the pavement (it later appears to be quite a usual solution for water storage in mountainous areas). But this is quite an ingenious idea, solving the space problem in a mountainous country or at times of sieges. The Greeks who occupied Termessos before the Romans had foreseen their own cisterns in other locations, and I find one just alongside the trail I am following.

There are more remains of buildings to be found, like this one labeled as Corinthian Temple and Stoa of Attalus, two stories high, just like the Temple of Zeus, I saw earlier. The Corinthian Temple takes its name from the Corinthian capitals on the outside columns and measured some 10 x 10 meters with walls over a meter thick, making it the largest temple of Termessos. It is evident that the site could be made more attractive to the tourist when so much of the walls are still standing, but then it would also lose part of its charm which is to discover the buildings on your own as if you were the only one to have found them!

The very climax, however, is the Tomb of Alcetas. I was totally unprepared to see it and didn’t even know who was Alcetas at the time. Meanwhile, I have updated my information.

Alcetas, the brother of Perdiccas, is first mentioned as one of Alexander’s generals in his Indian campaign by Arrian. After Alexander’s death and during the Wars of the Diadochi,  Alcetas was outlawed after murdering the Macedonian Meleandros and he found refuge in Termessos. The city promised him protection against his Macedonian rival, Antigonus. But then Antigonus showed up in front of the city with an army of 40,000 infantry, 7,000 cavalry and numerous elephants, demanding the surrender of Alcetas. The city elders wanted to accept the request, but the young men were ready to fight. In order to settle the internal conflict, the elders used a ruse (promising to continue the fight) and lured the youth out of the city, so Antigonus could walk in – something Alexander had not been able to achieve.

Realizing the betrayal, Alcetas committed suicide. Antigonus, as a matter of course, refused to bury him. In the end, it were the young men, by now filled with resentment and shame, who buried poor Alcetas with full honors. Over the centuries, the front of the tomb has vanished but the back wall still survives to this day and this is what I am confronted with, without any preparation about the history or the picture. Well, this is quite a shock for it is like looking at Alexander in person! The mounted warrior is dressed in full Macedonian outfit holding his arm up with what may have been a sword or a spear. There is a striking resemblance between this armor and that worn by Alexander in the famous mosaic from Pompeii. The face has been disfigured, unfortunately, so no there are no eyes looking back at me. On the next wall, I can discern the body of an eagle with a snake in its beak, symbols of kingship. There are niches which once contained the burial gifts and remains of a hewn out jar for wine, grain, etc. The Macedonian shield, only recognizable around the edges, has been blasted away, but a grave stele is still standing in relief against the side wall. Wow! This leaves me speechless …


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    1. Warfare is indeed a fascinating subject – unfortunately that is what makes history. We all want peace but we have to fight in order to obtain and preserve it. How contradictory that is for when are we fighting for “the right cause” and what is the definition of a right cause? I’m certain such discussions have been held by politicians, philosophers, kings and generals for centuries without reaching any satisfying conclusion.
      Thanks for taking the time to write your comment.