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)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Who is Alexander?

Good question, especially since most people have no idea. The answer, however, is not that easy. Alexander the Great was the greatest general ever and he was one of the greatest conquerors of the world creating an empire that reached from Greece to India and from the Caspian Sea to Egypt. His exploits have been handed down over the centuries and are still fueling heavy discussions 2,500 years after his death. Yet his fame among the general public is overtaken by people like Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan or Napoleon to name only a few – a very unfortunate fate for such a great man!

Alexander was born as the son of King Philip II of Macedonia and Queen Olympias, meaning that on his father’s side he was a descendant of Heracles and on his mother’s side of Achilles. He ascended the throne at age twenty after his father was murdered in 336 BC. It took him two years to secure the borders of Macedonia and to obtain recognition from the other Greek city-states to act as their leader in his campaign to free the Greek cities of Asia Minor still under Persian rule. By capturing all the harbors of the eastern Mediterranean he inevitably made the Persian navy inoperative and obsolete. He faced the Great King Darius III during the Battle of Gaugamela and came out victorious although he had not captured the king. That happened only after a wild chase ever further east in the heart of Central Asia. Having acquired the title of King of Kings he pursued his dream east to the Indus where his army mutinied and refused to march eastwards any longer. Alexander had no choice but to turn back. He died in 323 BC in Babylon from an unconfirmed illness – not the heroic death he evidently must have wished for. During his years of kingship, he outdid and outshone every king before him and after him.

His life and exploits have reached us only second handedly as the original texts by his court historians Callisthenes, the nephew of Aristotle, and Eumenes, his father’s secretary, were lost in time. King Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt, from Macedonian stock and one of Alexander’s generals, wrote an Alexander biography which although lost was still available at the time Plutarch, Arrian, Diodorus and Curtius wrote their history. There exist, of course, other less complete literary sources to which we must add information provided by archeological excavations and discoveries – an ongoing business.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to summarize Alexander’s all too short life that is cramped with battles, sieges, campaigns and endless marches over hills, across rivers, deserts and steep mountain ranges. The further east he moved, the more challenging his operations became as he ventured through generally unchartered territories. 

So, it may be best to illustrate his life and exploits piece-meal, just as I discovered it over the years. A good place to start is obviously Pella in modern Greece, the city where Alexander was born in the early summer of 356 BC. In fact, his birth coincided with the fire of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesos and it is said that the goddess was too busy helping Alexander into this world neglecting her temple duties. Legend or not, the fact remains that Alexander made quite an entrance on the stage of life!

We know very little about his youth which is told nearly exclusively by Plutarch. Every schoolboy, however, is familiar with the story of Alexander taming the wild horse Bucephalus. It happened during the yearly horse-market where King Philip was presented with an unusual Thessalian horse. The horse reared up ignoring all commands and Philip found it unmanageable and vicious, not the kind of animal he would trust in the heat of a battle. But the ten years old Alexander had other ideas and wanted to have this horse at all costs, much to Philip’s annoyance no doubt as he was himself a connoisseur in this matter. Anyway, the King gave his son a chance. Alexander had noticed that the horse was afraid of his own shadow and turned him to face the sun, whispered sweet words in his ear and was able to calm him down. This is how he won his confidence and managed to ride him to the greatest joy and probably relieve of his father and all those present. This may have been the time when Philip exclaimed: “look for another kingdom, my son, Macedonia is too little for you”. Alexander called his horse Bucephalus, meaning Oxhead after the white blaze on his head. Since that day, Alexander and Bucephalus were inseparable. When his magnificent mount died of old age in India, he even named a city after him.

Plutarch also tells us another anecdote about young Alexander who, apparently in his father absence, received a group of ambassadors from Persia. The prince impressed them by asking the right questions which were not childish at all. He inquired, for instance, about the roads leading to the heart of Asia, about their King and how he carried himself towards his enemies, what size of army he could muster and things like that. Useless to say that the Persian delegates were very much impressed and full of admiration for the son of Philip.

Alexander’s first preceptor was the austere Leonidas, a kinsman of Queen Olympias, followed by Lysimachos the Acarnanian who called himself Phoenix and Alexander Achilles. When the young prince was about twelve years old, his father sent for Aristotle, the most learned and celebrated philosopher of his time and decided that the temple of the Nymphs near Mieza was the appropriate location for his teaching [see: Mieza, Alexander's schooling]. With boys his age, he received not only the doctrine of Morals and Politics but also those theories which the philosophers professed for oral communication only to the initiated. Alexander’s interest in medicine must have come from Aristotle also, a skill he used throughout his life to treating his sick friends.

Even King Philip must have noticed and recognized how bright and intelligent his son was as he trusted him with the seal of Macedonia while he led an expedition against Byzantium. Alexander was only sixteen years old at the time and proved up to his role of Regent when he even fought the rebellious Maedi, founding his first city in the process. 

At the Battle of Chaeronea opposing King Philip’s forces against an alliance of the Greek city-states led by Athens and Thebes, who felt that Macedonia under Philip was gaining too much power, he entrusted his son with the command of the left wing.
At eighteen years of age, the young prince and his cavalry killed the unbeatable Theban Band to the last man, eliminating the centuries-old entity for good. Athens who had not willingly faced Macedonia as their equal in the repeated peace negotiations was now ruled by the master of all the free city-states that so deeply had believed in their own freedom. That winter, Philip summoned them all to send their delegation to Corinth and soon The League of Corinth was born. This meant that each state individually had to swear not to harm any other member of the Common Peace (or Philip or his descendants for that matter) and not to interfere in their internal affairs. They also swore not to become an ally with any foreign power that could damage any member of the Treaty. No member could undertake any operation that might endanger the peace or overthrow its constitution.

This is, in a nutshell, the baggage Alexander had accumulated when his father was brutally murdered during the wedding of his daughter Cleopatra, Alexander’s sister, in the summer of 336 BC. Alexander, now twenty years old became King of Macedonia and Hegemon of all of Greece, except Sparta which always wanted to stand apart. His task was now to continue in his father’s footsteps who had already made preparations for an expedition to the east in order to free the Greeks of Asia Minor.

[Picture of Philip and Alexander from Oliver Stone's movie Alexander]

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