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 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)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Our beautiful planet earth - or isn't it no longer?

Our planet is quite fascinating, especially if you can look at it through the pictures on this YouTube presentation.

This picture of the world is so very far from what Alexander imagined and knew what it was like. It makes me wonder what he would have made of this? 

I often wonder if he ever saw the beauty of the landscapes he was crossing. As far as I'm concerned, he must have for he moved at slow speed compared to our modern ways of transportation. He walked or rode on his beloved Bucephalus, but what would he actually be doing? Talking to his generals? Drawing imaginary plans? Listening to the problems of his soldiers? Contemplating new conquests? Discussing possible roads with local guides?  I simply cannot picture Alexander just sitting on his horse or walking doing nothing useful. Can you?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Volubilis in Morocco, hardly known

Unfortunately most people visiting Aspendos leave immediately after having seen its unique theater, and skip its aqueduct altogether, although it is a true masterpiece of Roman architecture that can only compete with the Pont du Gard in France or the aqueduct of Volubilis in Morocco.
During a tour of Morocco, I made a stop at Volubilis and my hopes run high when I have a first glance of this huge city spread out over the gentle slopes of the overall green landscape. I fail to see why this location was chosen for the sea it too far away and I’m not aware of any neighboring commercial towns or network of cross-roads, and that in spite of the fact that this city once was one of the largest of North-Africa together with Leptis Magna and Sabratha in Libya and Douga and El Jem in Tunisia. Time for some in-depth research.
The Volubilis I am discovering covers 42 ha. In the third century BC is was a true Carthaginian city built on top of older prehistoric settlements. In the year 40 AD, Volubilis became part of the Roman Empire and the administrative center for the Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana. The fertile farmlands around the city produced rich crops of wheat and olive oil which were in high demand in Rome and contributed to the local prosperity. This answers my initial question but unfortunately nobody informs me about the many buildings and mills dedicated to olive pressing. It is only afterwards that I hear that Volubilis counted 58 oil-pressing sites in as much they have been unearthed until now.
The poor ruins of Volubilis date in majority from the 2nd-3rd century and are pretty disappointing, but that is because most of its remains were largely shaken by the earthquake of 1755 which also destroyed great parts of Lisbon, Portugal. On top of that, the site was widely plundered and stripped of its marble in the 18th century to build nearby Meknes that was supposed to become a second Versailles. An incredible madness considering today’s standards, but on the other hand nothing much has been done to restore any of the key buildings of this antique site as is generally practice nowadays. Moreover, most of the artifacts have been moved to the Archaeological Museum of Rabat. In 285, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, the Romans suddenly left Mauretania Tingitana and life returned only in 789 when Idris I, a descendant of Prophet Mohammed settled here and renamed the town Walila.
In a distance I discover remains of the city walls dating from 168-169 AD with a lonely arch, the Tingis Gate, one of the eight city-gates. From there the straight Decumanus runs down to the well-preserved Arch of Caracalla at the southern end, erected in his and his mother’s honour in 217 AD. It is decorated with Corinthian columns and was originally topped with a bronze chariot as customary on triumphal arches. The inscription on the outside wall in still in situ and reads as follows:
Translated by Wikipedia it says:
For the emperor Caesar, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus [Caracalla], the pious, fortunate Augustus, greatest victor in Parthia, greatest victor in Britain, greatest victor in Germany, Pontifex Maximus, holding tribunician power for the twentieth time, Emperor for the fourth time, Consul for the fourth time, Father of the Country, Proconsul, and for Julia Augusta [Julia Domna], the pious, fortunate mother of the camp and the Senate and the country, because of his exceptional and new kindness towards all, which is greater than that of the principes that came before, the Republic of the Volubilitans took care to have this arch made from the ground up, including a chariot drawn by six horses and all the ornaments, with Marcus Aurelius Sebastenus, procurator, who is most deeply devoted to the divinity of Augustus, initiating and dedicating it.
Only a dozen of columns have been re-erected along said Decumanus and a sharp eye will notice several public fountains (Nympheions) along the way with their worn-down edges where so many water jars have been pulled up.
My guide (who was imposed on me) has no interest for these details and I find it rather annoying to be herded from one mosaic to the next without receiving any explanation about the general layout or history of Volubilis. It feels like a tour of Pompeii in the 1970’s when archaeology was approached in quite a different way. The mosaics are pleasant enough, but rather crude and less refined, and the floors are in dear need of a good cleaning and even restoration job. In spite of the rush I still can appreciate the peculiar round Atrium we are crossing surrounded by twisted columns crowned with Pergamese capitals and the out-of-common layout of what is called the North Baths, but the overall picture unfortunately remains vague.

Beside the Arch of Caracalla there are only two other buildings that clearly stand out in all of Volubilis and these belong to the Capitol Complex with the Basilica and the Forum. It is easy to mentally reconstruct the Basilica because the walls of the five wings are still intact. Opposite lies the Capitol from 217 dedicated to the Roman gods Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, of which only the columns in the front are in place. The 1300 square meters between the Basilica and the Capitol form the paved Forum with the remains of an altar. And this is where my tour ends …

That leaves me with my most burning question: where is that famous aqueduct? Based on the maps it is supposed to run on the east side of and more or less parallel to the Decumanus but I see no trace. The aqueducts of Aspendos and Pont du Gard are quite easy to spot, you simply can’t miss them – why not here in Volubilis? Maybe it is to be found on the other side of the hill, out of view? The site has been put on the Unesco World Heritage List but even in the literature I cannot find any reference to this famous aqueduct… Any additional information is most welcome!

[Click here to see all the pictures of Volubilis]

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

La Route de la Soie, d’Alexandre le Grand à Marco Polo by J Dauxois.

Although the title “La Route de la Soie, d’Alexandre le Grand à Marco Polo” (ISBN 9782268064994) by Jacqueline Dauxois sounds very promising, the book is simply disappointing.

I expected to walk in the steps of Alexander to the east, who for a greater part follows what is later called the Silk Road, to be taken over by Marco Polo who extended his voyage further east to China proper. Not so.

With all my respect for the author/teacher, all I discover is a very sketchy history that starts with Alexander the Great and ends with the Polo family returning to Venice, Italy, with just an occasional word about silk. From Alexander’s times, she jumps to China, to Rome, to Constantinople, the Mongols, the Vikings and the origins of Russia, quoting events randomly and lingering extensively on the wars, atrocities, destruction, murders and killings by the thousands and hundreds of thousands.

Obviously, the part about Alexander interests me most but I am not rewarded. Jacqueline Dauxois lets her imagination run freely, giving details meant only to spice up the story and describing situations in a non-historic light.

The main subject, the Silk Road itself, is hardly mentioned, its route(s) is not mentioned (not even on a simple map), its importance is not explained and its legacy shrouded in mystery!

Maybe I should have considered this book more as a novel, in which case liberties are allowed, but the references the author gives with names and dates lead me to believe otherwise. Maybe this is typically French with their tendency to embellish their story (avec mes sincères excuses envers mes amis français). It’s up to the reader to decide.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What is the kaunakès?

Kaunakès” is the Greek word for thick cloth, attributed to a woolen skirt or cloak that replaced the old sheepskins. The tufted effect was reproduced later on by weaving loops into the fabric or by sewing tufts on the cloth.

I was made aware of this word when searching for more background information about the statuettes of Bactrian princesses or goddesses at the Louvre Museum. This visit followed my trip to Uzbekistan in search of Alexander’s path in Bactria and Sogdiana. My curiosity was kindled by the Uzbek women’s dresses whose imprint was an intriguing feather pattern on colored backgrounds of blue, green or red. It was obvious for me to link the so-called Bactrian princess with their tufted garments to these modern dresses. Digging further on the subject, I came across the striking statues of the blue-eyed Sumerian priests and their bulky feather-skirts.

The generally white Sumerian statues of which some have retained their striking big blue eye crowd the Museum of Damascus, for instance. They are generally smaller than life-size and their puffy skirts are truly intriguing till confronted with the knowledge of this “kaunakès”. Time-wise both Sumerian and Bactrian statues share the late third/early second millennium BC.

It is known that this was a time of prosperity in Mesopotamia to which Bactria contributed by supplying raw materials. Most people have hardly heard of Bactria and those who have are not aware of its cultural or artistic merits. I find it quite amazing to be confronted with the cultural and artistic exchange that existed some five thousand years ago between Sumer, basically the land between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, and Bactria all the way beyond the Oxus River and the Hindu Kush Mountains.

Bactria produced highly distinctive statuettes as well as exceptionally fine works of metal to which I paid far too little attention when visiting the Louvre since I was focusing on the Bactrian princesses instead. There are many factors that make these statuettes unique. They consist of a number of detachable parts made of contrasting colors, like for instance white calcite and green steatite where obviously the white was used for the body parts while the steatite rendered the dress and hair. It is not always clear to establish whether these ladies are standing or sitting down with their wide skirts spread around them but they all show a flat lap in which their (missing) hands were supposed to be resting. Yet all the dresses show the same featherlike pattern.

There is a theory that points towards labeling these ladies as goddesses and that is not surprising when you realize how they carry themselves with clear awareness and dignity. They may even represent a main goddess of Central Asia that ruled over the natural world and which is otherwise represented by a lion, a snake or even a dragon. Standing completely on its own is a male figure presented in the same pose and in two distinctive colors. Why a male? What or who is he representing?

It is clear that many questions still remain unanswered as a substantial chunk of history in Central Asia remains untold. But it all makes me wonder how this garment lived so long and survived after five-thousand years to be worn as a matter of course in today’s Samarkand or Bukhara, just like during Alexander’s campaign of 329-327 BC in Bactria. Who knows, maybe Roxane wore something similar?

Anyway, it is quite remarkable to see how ancestral traditions are being kept alive in that part of the world – Alexander’s world and ours.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Ancient Corinth in colour!

It is only a tomb, but imagine what the real homes must have looked like!

During works on the Corinth-Patras road, a well-preserved Roman tomb of 3.30x2.63 meters was discovered, complete with vaults and wall paintings. The most striking element however is the stone bed or rather the coffin that was painted in such a way that it looked like a bed!

[Pictures from News Archeology Network]

The tomb, dating from the first or second century AD was accessed through a staircase with a relief tile on either side – one showing a chariot pulled by four horses, the other one pulled by dolphins. The ash urns were still in place in the niches and the terracotta coffins contained bones, oil lamps, bronze coins and several pottery shards. The walls of the tomb were also painted with garlands and fruit, as well as with the pictures of two men and a woman.

A similar tomb has been discovered last year in the same area as part of an ancient cemetery where vessels for burial offerings were found similar to those found at the Kerameikos in Athens, the only other example so far.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wine is a popular subject these days, now in Bulgaria

It seems wine is a very popular subject for archeologists these days for after Greek wine, not so Greek after all and News about Greek (Macedonian) wine, the latest update now comes from Bulgaria.

[Picture from Focus Information Agency]

One of the main tourist’s destinations these days is the city of Nessebar on the Black Sea and it is precisely here that a perfectly preserved cellar full of wine amphorae from the 5th century BC has been discovered. Great news for the wine aficionados!

The cellar measuring 2.6 x 2.5 meters belonged to a house located at the far northern end of the peninsula mostly ignored by later settlers. Amazingly enough more than thirty untouched amphorae were unearthed. Based on their shapes and measurements, they could be traced back to the islands of Chios, Lesbos, Thasos, etc. to transport wine (and oil) from prominent producers and importers.

The article from Focus Information Agency does not reveal whether this wine is still drinkable. I wonder …