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, August 11, 2014

Aegae, where Alexander’s world changed forever

The Theatre of Aegae was one of the largest of Greece in the fourth century BC but nowadays we need a good amount of imagination to picture its size and shape. Except for the front row reserved to the most prominent guests, the theatre was not built of stone. The hillside adjacent to the Royal Palace was probably lined with wooden seats, of which nothing remains. During my last visit in early spring 2011 the terrain was overgrown and the grass stood high, revealing dimly the rough shape of the cavea divided in wedges separated by corridors. Work is still in progress with new excavations and there is hope for a better understanding of the theater that is anchored in history. Enigmatic is still the place reserved for the king, which usually was a special seat in the front row, but no single hint has been found. Manolis Andronikos, the great archaeologist who discovered the Tomb of Philip II in modern Vergina, tentatively suggests that either a special throne-seat was carried into the theatre or that the Macedonian king would have sat in his own comfort on the northern porch of his palace which is only 60m away front the edge of the orchestra. 

Anyway, it was here that in the early morning hours of a summer day in July 336 BC, Alexander’s world was going to change forever. The day before, King Philip II of Macedonia had celebrated the marriage of his daughter, Cleopatra, with King Alexandros of Epirus. Beside the noblemen and the Macedonian people, representatives and envoys from all over Greece had been invited to attend the ceremony. For Philip, the wedding was also an opportunity to show his own success as he had brought prosperity and peace to Macedonia, and more importantly peace to all of Greece since he had been acclaimed as Hegemon of Greece by the League of Corinth. As an additional festive note, his new wife had given birth to a daughter, Europa, only a few days earlier.

Today would be filled with musical contests and lavish banquets for the king’s friends and all his guests. As ruler of the Greek world, he felt safe to walk alone to the center of the large orchestra (28m in diameter). It is here that Pausanias, one of his royal bodyguards suddenly rushed in and stabbed the king to death. It is almost as if we can hear the shouting, the cries of disgust and fear, the tumult, the general chaos of people witnessing this atrocity and running in every direction. No Greek tragedy had ever been so real! Alexander cannot have been far away when it happened, but all help came too late. Pausanias was caught soon enough and killed on the spot.

Alexander was now King of Macedonia, but his kingship started in blood, his father’s blood, and more blood was going to be shed over his succession to the throne (read more: Philip’s Apogee and his Assassination). Was it chance/fate or premeditation/conspiracy that led to the murder, we’ll never know.

Only the day before had Alexander been worrying about his role as heir to the Macedonian throne. His father had sent an advance party of 10,000 men to Abydos across the Hellespont, under command of his closest generals Parmenion, Attalus and Amyntas. After the wedding, Philip would join them. Alexander must have felt uncomfortable about his father’s inner circle in which Attalus now had become his son-in-law. Attalus in turn was married to a daughter of Parmenion, and so was general Coenus. These men occupied important posts within the army, of which Alexander was excluded. It is most probable that Philip destined his son to stay in Macedonia as Regent and deputy-hegemon of the League of Corinth. Although this role was of the utmost importance, it meant that Alexander would sit at the royal desk - a very far cry from his desire to fight and to conquer. In Philip’s eyes it would have been unwise to leave Macedonia together with his son, for he would have left his country exposed should they both be killed in Asia.

But in these early hours of what was supposed to be a festive day, Alexander’s life and evidently his destiny took a very sharp turn. He now had to think quickly and instantly assume his role of king. Luckily, the Macedonians were quick to accept him and swore allegiance to their new king. After that, everyone who could have been involved in the murder of his father and those who could be a threat to his place on the throne had to be eliminated. That evidently included Amyntas, the true heir to the throne entrusted to Philip when he was still a minor. Amyntas was now in his twenties and could have claimed his rightful title. Another threat was Attalus, who soon was executed. Queen Olympias took care of Philip’s last wife and her baby.

Alexander’s next priority was to organize his father’s funeral. The dead king’s body was placed on a pyre, together with his arms and outfit, and the entire Macedonian army in polished outfit marched by for a last salute. Afterwards, as was the custom, Philip’s bones were washed with wine and placed inside a gold larnax, which in turn was placed inside a stone sarcophagus. Meanwhile Alexander had constructed an appropriate tomb to receive the king’s remains along with funerary goods made of silver and gold. Then the tomb was covered with earth to form a 43 meter-high tumulus that was to be revealed only two thousand five hundred years later (see: The Great Tumulus of Vergina).

It seems that from now on, magnificent Aegae was stained with blood. It was the old capital of Macedonia, founded in the last years of the 4th century BC, showing off with all the pomp and circumstance we can expect of a kingdom at its apogee. It was the most magnificent building of Macedonia in its days, measuring roughly 105x88m, with all rooms arranged around a central open courtyard. It had a monumental entrance on the eastern side composed of three or four successive hallways. This facade is the only side of the palace that had an upper floor where traces of dark-blue and red paint have been found – a colorful statement visible from far away to any visitor.

The open inner courtyard was surrounded by a colonnade of 16 columns on each of the four sides, a square in which each side was 44.5 meters long. The best reconstruction of the palace, although partial, was shown at the exhibition at the Louvre “Alexandre le Macédonien” for on the terrain it is very difficult to mentally rebuild it. This may change when the ongoing restoration works come to conclusion, I hope at least.

To the left, just before entering the courtyard there is the Tholos, most probably used as a shrine or as a court of judgment, although it may also be seen as the Throne Room.

The rooms on the south side of the courtyard, i.e. on the left have a suite on either side of the entrance space and seem to indicate that they were used for public services. The asymmetric entrance door and the raised platform along the walls tend to indicate that these were androns where banquets would be held. Two of the three rooms have yielded fine pebble mosaics.

Opposite the main entrance to the Palace are located three larger nearly square rooms. They measure roughly 17x17m and the floors were covered with marble slabs still in situ. Here also there is a slight elevation running along the walls making believe they were used for couches for bigger banquet events, probably reserved to the palace guards. These rooms were roofed as plenty of tiles have been found on top of the marble floor, but it puzzles the archeologists how a roof could span such a wide space.

The northern rooms were bordered by a one-meter-wide veranda, accessible through a small corridor from the central yard, offering a wide view over the Macedonian plain below. This definitely was an innovation and no other example of a veranda has so far been found.

A short update of the excavations was published early 2012 in this article.

It is hard to imagine the kind of luxury and refinement that surrounded Alexander since boyhood, either here at the Palace of Aegae or at the Royal Palace of Pella of which even less is known. Yet all this beauty faded when with the death of his father and Greece saw a great opportunity to revolt in a serious effort to throw off the Macedonian yoke. The tribes along the northern borders of Macedonia also considered that this was the right time to regain their independence. These themes will be handled in the next episode “The King is dead, long live the King”.

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