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)

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.

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