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 Drangiana/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, Afghanistan) - 329 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)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Was Hannibal superior to Alexander? No way!

There really is no way to compare Alexander and Hannibal, I know, but I lately watched a program about the exploits of Hannibal crossing the Alps with his elephants, in which it was mentioned that Hannibal achieved the greatest exploit ever by crossing the Alps. Is that so? How about Alexander crossing the Hindu Kush? This was simply too much for me and I went in search of some facts and figures to defend the case of Alexander.


I will not deny that Hannibal leading his army and most of all his elephants over the Alps in 218 BC (at the beginning of the Second Punic War with Rome) was a quite unique and daring undertaking, but there is no way this achievement could match or surpass Alexander’s march across the Hindu Kush roughly some one hundred years earlier.

The figures recorded by Polybius reveal that Hannibal travelled with 40,000 foot soldiers, 4,000 horsemen and 37 elephants. Alexander on the other hand, having left Macedonia with 40,000 soldiers and 1,500 cavalry, but lead an army of 100,000 men, an unknown number of cavalry and horses and no elephants over the unforgiving heights of the Hindu Kush. 

On top of that, there is no way to compare the Alps with the Hindu Kush. Once again I let the figures speak for themselves. The highest top of the Alps is the Mont Blanc reaching 4,810 meters, while the highest summit of the Hindu Kusch lies at 7,690 meters. Consequently, the passes over the respective mountain ranges are situated at quite different altitudes as well. Scholars have argued at length about the most probable route Hannibal could have followed. Based on the reports from Polybius and Livy, it is generally agreed that the lowest pass, the Col de Montgenèvre between Briançon in France and Susa in Italy was the most probable choice, located at 1,854 meters. Alexander on the other hand used the Khawak Pass at 3,848 meters in 329 BC when he moved his huge army from the Kabul Valley in Afghanistan to Bactria in the north. Two years later he crossed the Kindu Kush in the opposite direction to enter Pakistan, using the much easier yet more famous Khyber Pass situated at 1,070 meters.

Of course, crossing the Alps by itself was an exploit and the Romans themselves felt safe behind this solid natural barrier. Crossing them with elephants was absolute madness (Hannibal was probably driven by his deep hatred for the Romans) and in the end it seems that only two dozen of them survived the expedition. Yet, that by itself is not enough, in my eyes, to place him above the Macedonian King! Alexander's march is a heroic one in its own right, generally not stressed enough as it is very hard for us in the West to imagine the overall travel conditions through the Hindu Kush range and passes and what its challenges are. Alexander’smen suffered dearly, especially in 329 BC as winter lingered on much longer than usual and the troops were often caught in blizzards where men and beast froze to death if they dared stop moving.

More often than not Alexander is forgotten in our western history while he opened up much of Asia. For ten years, his amazing campaigns lead him all the way to India across unforgiving deserts, wide and fast flowing rivers, and daring mountain ranges of which the Hindu Kush definitely is the highest. The story of Hannibal’s elephants or the conquests of Julius Caesar in France, Germany and Britain are much more familiar to us than Alexander’s challenging and daring march through Asia. That is not fair!

[Pictures from Wikipedia]

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