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)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Selge welcomed Alexander

Selge is one of those hidden treasures just a stone’s throw north of Antalya that only few people visit.

The road leads through an inhospitable land with barren hills, rough rocks and recently burnt down trees and bushes, to the banks of the Eurymedon River, today’s Köprülü River that flows past Aspendos further downstream. This river lightens up the entire landscape, tracing a pale turquoise ribbon through the young green grasses and the dark pine trees. The repeated rapids in this fast flowing water make it very suitable for rafting, a booming business, it seems. Nature unfolds in all its splendour and once again I wonder if Alexander had an eye for this kind of beauty. The higher the road climbs, the denser the thick pine trees, creating a dramatic setting against the snow-topped Taurus Mountains reaching to 2,000-2,500 meters. The steel blue sky makes every turn of the road a picture-perfect postcard.

Inside the National Park of Köprülü, named after the Roman bridge that still spans both steep canyon walls of the river by the same name, I have to drive my car over this centuries-old bridge – quite an exciting experience! From this point onward the road takes one hairpin after the other, but the view is breathtaking! The Eurymedon River gets ever smaller and the view ever wider. Shapeless grey rocks of conglomerate curiously dot the soft spring grass with its profusion of flowers. The scene has something dramatic, unreal, but at the same time timeless - a primeval force. Then the first terraces appear, neatly trimmed parcels of cultivated land promising a good harvest. Above them the first houses arise, low constructions providing shelter from the cold and wind, built in the same grey rocks I saw earlier and brightened up with red tiles. This is the village of Altinkaya, actually built among the ruins of antique Selge.

Selge itself is spread over three hills, all three being located on top of the same hilltop. Nobody in his right mind would even think about attacking or besieging such a city! An earthen road winds between somber houses, a desolate place softened up by a few scanty blossoming pear trees. In antiquity, grapes were cultivated in these parts and even olive trees managed to survive the harsh conditions of Selge. Old sources also mention the presence of a small tree which produced a resin similar to that of incense; an occasional rare specimen may have survived. The grapes disappeared with the arrival of the Islam and today their living conditions look even more precarious than before.

Strabo tells us that Selge was founded in the aftermath of the Trojan War, during the second millennium BC. After that the Spartans moved in, followed later on by emigrants from Rhodes, but that the true history of the city starts with the arrival of Alexander the Great in 333 BC.

Selge was constantly at odds with its neighbours and that included Termessos which Alexander would besiege afterwards. So the people of Selge thought it wise to welcome the Macedonian King from the start. Later on, the city would do the same with the Romans although they remained independent until the fall of the Roman Empire. In the fourth century, the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius decided to settle the Goths in Phrygia (i.e. the northern region) who, warlike as they were, attacked and destroyed many cities in Anatolia. In 339 AD they also stood before Selge but couldn’t take the city.

Nothing has been excavated here and everything is left the way Selge was abandoned eons ago. Most remains are like elsewhere in Turkey from Roman times, roughly 2nd century AD. As always, the theatre is the eye catcher. Built in three-quarters of a circle, its plan is typically Greek; the 30 tiers below the diazoma out of the total 40 are still preserved because they rest on a rocky bottom while the upper 15 rows were supported by masonry that collapsed over the years. Close to nothing is left of the Roman scene that was added later on. Just before entering the theatre, I luckily notice the blank panel that never received its inscription. The theatre seated 9,000 people, meaning that Selge must have counted 20 to 25,000 inhabitants. It is a mighty sight, to say the least and the view from the top towards the snow-capped Taurus Mountains is absolutely breathtaking. I could spend all day just sitting here on the top row…

Through a gate holding the chickens I enter the Stadium. The owner of this parcel, an elderly man, kindly opens and closes his rudimentary gate in the fence made of all sorts of planks and branches wired together. I glance at his house if I may call this a house, four grey stone walls recuperated from antiquity no doubt but properly covered by a modern tile roof. Three months of the year Selge is covered under the snow, so this roof is definitely no luxury. The inside is a black hole with barren stone walls and an earthen floor, one room for everyone and everything. How can they possibly heat such a place? It takes some effort to discern the outlines of the Stadium, half broken down, half overgrown or disappearing inside some shack. According to George Bean (Turkeys’ Southern Shore) it never reached the full length of 185 meters, which was also the case with the Stadium of Arykanda and several others but I never seem to have paid much attention to the measurements.

The place is totally littered with loose stones, broken columns and pottery, and plenty of antique rubble through and over which one has to find a way to other paths, passing through more wooden gates and climbing over low walls. Yet I reach the Basilica on the second hill and suddenly I'm standing in the middle of the fully paved Agora, measuring approximately 50 x 50 meters. Remains of the Stoa that framed the Agora on three sides await craftsmen to put the columns back in place. I find a stone with a Greek inscription between Corinthian capitals and column drums, and behind that a row of loose square pillars line up along what might have been a street. Gee, if only archaeologists would come down here and excavate Selge like they did in Arykanda, it looks so promising!

I scramble around for about three hours, yet visiting only two of the three hills. I take a good look at the third hill from the top of the second one to define the impressive city wall, once three kilometers long. I’m truly baffled for I had no idea that Selge was so large and so imposing. No wonder that Alexander left Selge for what it was! In the middle of no man's land, at a height of 2,000 meters, what was the point? Yet this is a majestic landscape.

Returning along other tracks, I pass a spring of clear water in the shelter of a rock wall, in fact, this is the antique spring that is still being used by the villagers who fill their plastic jerry cans here every day as there is no running tap water.  

I leave Selge that looks still as poor as it was in the second half of last century when George Bean visited it, and I cross the same Roman bridge again. This time, I take the time to stop for a closer look into the deep canyon. You have to admire the engineers from antiquity to dare “hang” this bridge so high above the water and in such a way that it still is being used today. The wild waters of the Köprü River are squeezed through the narrows from which two waterfalls add to the spectacle. In fact, these waterfalls are fed by underground springs whose water is pressed through the cracks in the rock formation. I don’t think the rafting companies I passed earlier today will dare venture in this part of the river! A little further down there is a second bridge, the Bügrüm Bridge from Ottoman times that spans the Kocadere River, a tributary to the Köprü (old Eurymedon) River. There is a path leading over that thin arch but that is too daring for me. I also come across the typical red and white marks of the Lycian Way that follows an ancient road that once connected Side to Konya.

Yes, there is enough left for a second visit to Selge, some day soon I hope.
[Click here to see all the pictures of Selge]

Friday, October 25, 2013

Persepolis in modern technology

So much has been written about Persepolis either during the heydays of the Achaemenid Empire or after Alexander’s arrival at the palace when it burnt – intently or not – down to ashes.
I can only speak for myself, but I often find it difficult to imagine what the Palace of Persepolis must have looked like with its many rooms and separate affectations. Thanks to our computer era, there finally are tools to help my imagination and the most effective one that I found is this 360 degrees view, linked to a clear floor plan.
One can play with it for hours and have Alexander and his generals climb the stairways, passing underneath portico’s and gates, walking through the corridors and courtyards, entering the Hall of One-Hundred Columns, the Apadana Palace, the Palace of Darius or the earlier Palace of Xerxes, all the way to the wealth of the Treasury.
I often wonder what impact such a place must have had on Alexander for whom the luxuries of Macedonia and Athens were peanuts compared to this lavish splendor!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Prophets and Prophecies about Alexander the Great

Very little of our literature mentions the prophecies made by the Babylonians or the predictions made by prophets about Alexander the Great. Just like the majority of the clay tablets that have been so far deciphered never made it to the ancient Greek world and consequently never to our western world, the prophecies have been kept away from us also.

I was made aware of the very existence of those clay-tablets during the Zenobia Congress that was held a couple of years ago in Amsterdam and where Prof. dr Bert van der Spek, specialized in classic and ancient Near Eastern studies at the VU University of Amsterdam, mentioned them. It is a new way to “adjust” history as it came to us through ancient authors. Thanks to these tablets, an entire astronomical diary could be pieced together. What caught my attention was the 29th Ahû-tablet from the Book of Heaven which reads: “When on the 13th or 14th day of the month Ulûlu the moon eclipses […] there will be an intruder to [unreadable: arrive, attack or raid] with rulers from the west; during eight years he will exercise his kingship; he will defeat enemy armies; and there will be opulence and wealth on his path; he’ll constantly pursue his enemy; his luck has no end”. The 13th day of the month Ulûlu corresponds to 20 September 331 BC when a moon eclipse was predicted. During this eclipse, the planet Jupiter disappeared and the planet Saturn appeared instead, which was considered as a presage that a king would lose his empire. Ten days later, the Great King Darius was defeated by Alexander the Great during the Battle of Gaugamela on 1 October 331 BC. Eight years later the Macedonian conqueror died on 11 June 323 BC in the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon.

As to the predictions, there is one related by Ezekiel 26-3:10 made in 588 BC. Here we read that many peoples have attacked Tyre, starting with the Babylonians who destroyed the city on the mainland. In the operation, defence towers were demolished, walls torn down and houses demolished. Afterwards, the Greeks came and threw the rubble, stones and beams into the sea and turned the city on the island into a barren rock on which the city was never rebuilt. After the destruction of Tyre, Alexander went to Jerusalem. The Israelites who were familiar with the prophecies granted him free passage to Egypt. The symbol of a radiant sun (also known as the Macedonian star) was used by Alexander the Great all over his empire and is to be found in the family tomb in the village of Vergina. His star blazed briefly but very brightly. In just eleven years, he managed to conquer the entire known world. He was King of Macedonia, hegemon of the Corinthian League, Pharaoh of Egypt, Shah of Persia and King of Asia. Nevertheless, none of these titles went to his successors! So much for Alexander’s passage mentioned by Ezekiel. More details can be found at this Bible Gateway site.

The rise and fall of Alexander’s empire was also revealed in great detail to Prophet Daniel, two centuries before the king’s rule. In a nutshell, this is what has been reported to us:
In a vision of 603 BC, four successive empires are being presented as a large statue of which the Babylonian empire is the head made of pure gold to be succeeded by three empires, successively represented by a silver chest, thighs in bronze and legs of iron. The third empire of bronze would be overthrown by the Greeks under Alexander the Great and dominate the entire world. The iron legs would turn out to be the Roman empire that split in two, the Western and the Eastern Empires.

Next vision from around 549 BC presented the four empires as four big beasts. The first beast representing Babylon was a lion with eagle’s wings. The second (Medo-Persian) empire was represented as a bear holding three ribs between his teeth (Media, Lydia and Babylonia), and the third empire by a four-headed leopard with four wings on his back representing the expeditious conquest of Alexander the Great.

In a vision from around 547 BC the mighty kingdoms of Media and Persia were represented by a ram with two horns. The ram, however, is being defeated by the Greek empire in the shape of a fast moving male goat coming from the west that has a large horn between his eyes. The large horn of the ram represents the first king. According to the explanation of this vision, four empires emerged from the four horns that arose from the broken one. This empire never reached the power of the first king.

In 536 BC, Daniel had a vision revealing that the fourth Persian King would use his wealth to conquer the Greek empire. After this, a heroic king would appear in the Greek empire. His power would be great but his rule short-lived, after which his empire would fall apart to be distributed over the four corners of the world but would not fall in the hands of his own children. The newly formed kingdoms would not be as powerful as under the leadership of the heroic king. More details can be looked up at the site of Lamb & Lion Ministries.

It is evidently easy to explain visions afterwards and I am not saying that all the above is true or interpreted in the correct way, but at least it should make us rethink history in a different way. Predictions and prophecies in antiquity were seen very differently than what we do today. It has nothing to do with our horoscopes or soothsayers. Yet we must agree that with hindsight it is not difficult to recognized Alexander in the different prophecies.

Maybe one day we will find the key to unlock these mysteries. After all, there is much more between heaven and earth than what we are aware of.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Heracleion, ancient Greek port in Egypt

Many cities have been named after Heracles and we find plenty of examples in Greece as well as in Turkey, but this Heracleion was discovered about 30 feet under the surface of the Mediterranean at Abukir Bay in the Nile delta. Before the foundation of Alexandria by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, Heracleion, which the ancient Egyptians called Thonis, was a major port going back to the 8th century BC.

Thonis-Heracleion as it has been baptized for convenience was a main trade hub as well as an important religious centre. Herodotus for instance told us about a great temple that was devoted to Heracles after he set foot on Egyptian soil. He also mentions that Helen of Troy visited Heracleion with Paris before the Trojan War. Strabo visited Egypt four hundred years later and recorded that the Temple of Heracles was straight to the east on the Canopic branch of the River Nile. Evidence has shown that the city was spread along a network of canals which must have given it a leisurely appearance.

After 13 years of underwater excavations, 64 ancient beautifully preserved shipwrecks and more than 700 anchors have been dug out of the mud. More archaeological material shows that the city reached a peak between the 6th and the 4th century BC, including a wide variety of artifacts like  gold coins, weights from Athens (never found in Egypt before) and giant tablets with ancient Greek and ancient Egyptian inscriptions. Some religious objects, like a 16-foot stone sculptures supposedly from one of its temples, and limestone sarcophagi apparently used for mummified animals were also unearthed.

The one mystery that remains to be solved is why so many ships sank. It has been suggested that the overall weight of the large buildings on the water-logged clay and sand inevitably led the city to sink in the wake of an earthquake.

Whatever the cause, it often occurs to me that Alexander, although he never knew about the America’s or Australia, had a far better knowledge of his world than we have today as we keep on discovering so many lost cities he was familiar with!
[visit Goddio's Heracleion website for more pictures].   

Sunday, October 13, 2013

De Kaboul à Samarcande. Les archéologues en Asie Centrale by S. Gorshenina and C. Rapin

Under the original title "De Kaboul à Samarcande. Les archéologues en Asie Centrale”(From Kabul to Samarkand) by Svetlana Gorshenina and Claude Rapin (ISBN 9782070761661), this book is being edited by Découvertes Gallimard. It is one of the rare books that treats about archaeology in Central Asia in a professional way. It only has the size of a pocket book but is stuffed with pertaining maps like Alexander’s route and Central Asia set against today’s countries, with plenty of illustrations.

After a short introduction about mainly Russian occupancy of Central Asia going back to the tsarist era, it appears that finds from Central Asia not only wind up at the Hermitage in St Petersburg and its subsidiary museums, but also in newly created museums in Samarkand, Tashkent, Fergana and Ashkhabad, as well as in countless private collections.

The French who excavated in Afghanistan were allowed to keep half their finds which were eventually moved to the Musée Guimet in Paris, but the oriental museums of Rome and Turin got their share with parts of the reliefs from Gandhara discovered in the Swat area. Strangely enough most collections from western European museums have vanished, unless they dwell in some lost corner of their basements. Exceptions however are the museums in Bern, Copenhagen, Berlin, Helsinki and Stuttgart. We may remember Ai-Khanoum, once the capital of eastern Bactria at the confluence of the Amu Daria (Oxus) and the Kokcha Rivers that revealed how a Greek city in that part of the world looked like, establishing the relation between the Greeks and the nomads. Also the role of the philhellenic Parthians is being highlighted.

From the sites themselves, especially in Bactria, very little remains have survived simply because the cities were built with mud bricks – examples are Afrasiab, Shahr-i-Sabz, Erkugan, Bactra and Merv.

Headlines were made with the discovery of the Oxus treasure, composed of golden and bronze objects like statues, vases, bracelets, necklaces, rings, gems, votive plaques with Zoroastrian priests, the benefactors and sacred animals. On top of all that, they found about 1300 coins ranging from the Achaemenid period to Hellenistic, probably from a temple treasury. Another exceptional discovery was the Hellenistic temple of Takht-i-Sangin with some 800,000 artifacts from its treasury, similar to the finds at Oxus and one of the richest collections of its kind in Central Asia. The hoard counted ex-votos, instruments tied to the cult, portraits of gods and benefactors, and a plaque from the 5th century BC showing a dignitary in Bactrian dress holding a dagger very much like the procession at Persepolis.

The book also devotes a chapter to religion, starting from early Buddhism during the Kushan Empire (including a handy map) in the first centuries AD with cities like Hadda, Tapa Sardar, Bamyan, Bactra, Dilberdjin, Dalverzine-tepe, Shahr-i-Nau, Airtam, Adjina-tepe, Kara-tepe and Fayaz-tepe, near Termez, and Balalyk-tepe. Matters change dramatically with the arrival of Islam with a high level of cultural and economic renewal.

Another turn-around happens when the Soviet-Union occupies Central Asia and when Afghanistan is closed to foreigners. Today, as many of the countries in Central Asia have become independent, a revival of their national inheritance is slowly taking place, while the situation in Afghanistan is still unchanged.

Well, this book shows that there still is a great deal of work to be done, not only on the historic sites themselves but also in the larger context of reciprocal exchanges between east and west.

Friday, October 11, 2013

News about Greek (Macedonian) wine

In my earlier article Greek wine, not so Greek after all I explained that wine was domesticated for the first time in southeastern Anatolia at some point between 8,500 and 5,000 BC and that the birthplace of the world’s first known domesticated plants is to be sought in Mesopotamia.

A recent discovery approximately 2 km from the ancient city of Philippi showed  the oldest samples of wine ever recorded in Europe, dating back to 4,200 BC, which in fact is confirming the earlier statements made above. It happened that one of the houses in the prehistoric settlement of Dikili Tash revealed quantities of carbonized grape berries, duly pressed and stored in pots.
This proves indeed that the juice was collected from the grapes but immediately the archeologists are talking about wine. I am in no position to discuss their theory but I still wonder if grape juice automatically means wine in this case for we should have found other tools to confirm this theory – no?
Anyway, this is close enough to Alexander’s homeland to make the story believable.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cute anecdote about doping in antiquity

Instead of pure archaeological information, I’m sharing this cute anecdote about the use of “performance-enhancing” drugs in antiquity.

We have to thank the latest excavations at Magnesia on the Meander located about 15 miles east of Miletus for this information. The diggings focussed on the stadium revealed a relief telling us that the most important part of the stadium limited to 60 persons was reserved for a group called the Mandragoreitoi. These were people who produced mandrake, a deliriant and hallucinating drug held in high esteem and apparently encouraged to be used by the competing athletes. Wikipedia defines mandrake as follows: Mandrake is the common name for members of the plant genus Mandragora, particularly the species Mandragora officinarum, belonging to the nightshades family (Solanaceae). Because mandrake contains deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids such as atropine, scopolamine, apoatropine, hyoscyamine and the roots sometimes contain bifurcations causing them to resemble human figures, their roots have long been used in magic rituals, today also in contemporary pagan traditions such as Wicca and Odinism.

While clearing the old stadium with a capacity of 40,000 people from tons and tons of soil, it was discovered that part of the seats were reserved for the citizens of Ephesos, while some political groups, bakers, gardeners, and bird sellers had combined tickets. Other reliefs found on the podiums tell us about the awards that were granted to competitors in any of the three categories, gymnastics, riding and music. Successful athletes were interestingly enough granted a bundle of clothes, probably a distinctive outfit.

More reliefs await future excavation and the archaeologists hope to find some 125 of them, meaning that more information about the stadium and the competitions will become available.

[Pictures from Hurriyet Daily News]

Monday, October 7, 2013

Caunos and its newly discovered lady

All of Turkey is one big excavation site when it comes to archeological sites. The latest news reaches us from Caunos (see: The Surprise of Caunos) where an elegant statue of a young women has been unearthed. It was found in a lime pit where marble objects were left as gifts to the god of Caunos, Basileus Caunios. It has been dated to the Hellenistic period, some 2,300 years ago. After being cleaned and restored, it will be on display in the Museum of Fethiye.

[Picture from Hurriyet Daily News]

Who knows what other treasures are still hidden in that marvelous city which most people only know from the tourists pictures of the rock-tombs high up on the wall along the Dalyan River.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Arsemia, the summer capital of the Commagene Kingdom

Very few people have heard of the Commagene Kingdom, and even less of Arsemia. Well, to be honest, I hadn’t either till I visited Mount Nemrud (see: Nemrud, as close as you can come to the gods) a few years ago.
Arsemia, once the summer residence of the Commagene kings, is located sixty kilometers from Adiyaman. At the foot of this ancient city there is a magnificent relief representing Heracles (or maybe Artagnes, a Persian deity whom the Greeks identified with Heracles) shaking hands with King Mithridates of Commagene from around 50 BC and next to it is located the greatest Greek inscription of Anatolia. This sounds interesting enough for anyone to make the detour to visit the place, I would say.

There is a special path, once used for religious ceremonies that leads up the mountain with a statue pointing towards the temple. About one hundred meters farther stands what is called a Dexiosis relief, i.e. the abovementioned handshake. Nearby are several rooms cut from the rocky cliffs that were used for religious ceremonies. Further uphill still, one discovers the large Greek inscription telling about the political intentions and the religious beliefs of the Commagene Kingdom and mentioning Arsemia as its capital. It also states that Mithridates, the father of King Antiochus I, was buried here. Just beneath this inscription is a stairway running 158 meters down into the depth of the rocks and this once was the entrance to Arsemia which is now blocked. It would be interesting to learn what future excavations may reveal. Above the inscription, another path runs up the mountainside towards the remains of the Arsemia Palace and its mosaic floors.
It was King Antiochus I (Theos – signifying his divinity -  Dikaios Epiphanes Philoromaios Philhellen of Commagene) who built the city in honor of this father, King Mithridates I Callinicus. Due to its location, it soon became a military fortress, now to be found next to the modern town of Eski Kale and still showing well preserved walls and parapets. Antiochus’ mother was nobody less than Laodike, daughter of the Seleucid King Antiochus VII Grypos who ruled Commagene from around 69 to ca 31 BC.
About a mile outside Arsemia there are the remains of a Roman bridge built in honor of Septimus Severus around 200 AD. Here I can pick up the link for I crossed this very bridge on my way to Mount Nemrud. It has been erected at the narrowest point of the River Cedere and it is said that its 112 feet clear span makes it the second largest extant arch bridge ever built by the Romans.
There must be a second Arsemia on the Euphrates, at the modern location of Gerger, where Antiochus I set up a similar religious centre in honor of his father. Gee, there is still so much to discover and to see!