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, 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)

Friday, October 10, 2014

The King is dead, long live the King!

Most histories about Alexander the Great simply start with his kingship and immediately jump to his conquest of Asia. This is evidently where he spent the most important part of his life and where the great battles were fought, but he could not have even considered this campaign had he not settled the unrest in Greece and the Macedonian northern borders first – a fact that is often omitted, unfortunately.

In July 336 BC, just twenty years old, Alexander unexpectedly became the new King of Macedonia and his life was to take a new turn. The most pressing matter was evidently to consolidate his place on the throne and to eliminate all those who could have been involved in the murder of his father. Next he had to consider and evaluate all the pretenders to the throne that could be a threat - among them was Amyntas, the son of Philip’s brother Perdiccas now a grown man. Alexander however spared his simple-minded half-brother Arrhideus. And …. His final priority was his father’s funeral, the construction of a huge pyre that was set afire in the presence of the full Macedonian army and the transfer of his remain to his last resting place inside the Royal Tomb outside the walls of Aegae. – a tomb that was found intact in 1977 by Manolis Andronicos.

No doubt Alexander was itching to move on in his father’s footsteps and set out for Asia as soon as possible, but more urgent matters kept him in Pella for a while. Athens had been rejoicing at Philip’s death and many other cities still resented the fact that Philip’s Macedonia ruled the Greeks as Hegemon of the League of Corinth, a title that Alexander inherited much to their discomfort and sorrow.

With the support of the army Alexander marched south into Thessaly where his route was blocked at the Tempe Pass. Instead of attacking the Thessalians head on, he simply marched around the pass, settling the opponent’s resistance once and for all. As he won the support of northern and central Greece, Athens could only do the same and they sent their pledges of support to the new king. Leaving Athens for what it was, Alexander travelled to Corinth to make sure all the Greeks swore their oath of allegiance as they had done to his father before.

Now that Greece was secured, Alexander returned home for the winter, planning his spring campaign in Thrace to settle the unrest among the Triballi and the Illyrians living along Macedonia’s northern border. This would be his first test with the army and assert his authority as king before crossing over to Asia.

In the spring of 335 BC he left from Amphipolis and was soon met by the Thracians who held the pass over Mount Haemus. The enemy had hauled wagons up the pass in order to let them thunder down on the Macedonian army as soon as they were within reach. Alexander assessed the situation and gave orders to the phalanx to open up their ranks to let the wagons run through; where there was no space for the soldiers to step aside they were instructed to lie down on the ground and lock their shields over their head. As a result, the Thracian wagons hardly did any damage. It should be noted that the army followed Alexander’s orders, showing that they trusted their commander – a matter of detail, but a very important detail! It is said that 1,500 Thracians were killed and their women and children were sent to Macedonia to be sold as slaves.

Alexander’s next goal was the Triballi who lived along the southern banks of the Danube River. Their strength was their many well-concealed defensive positions and Alexander had first to dislocate them in order to attack them in open battle. He sent out a small contingent of slingers and archers to lure them out their hiding places. This stratagem worked as he intended for soon the Triballi rushed out in force only to be met by the full Macedonian army. About 3,000 Triballi were killed and those remaining sought refuge on an island in the middle of the Danube that had natural defenses because of its high banks, rocks and the fast flowing river. Since a front attack would be too costly, Alexander decided to wait and simple cut off the enemy’s supply routes.

Unexpectedly the Getae from the plains north of the Danube showed up with a force of 10,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, which because of its shear number could not be ignored. Alexander decided to cross the Danube overnight with 4,000 men and 1,500 cavalry using some small boats but mostly using floating devices made from the Macedonian leather tents filled with straw. When the Getae discovered them at daybreak, they fled. The fight was over before it began and Alexander simply destroyed their crops. This meant that the Triballi on their island were entirely isolated and all they could do was to surrender. And so they did, together with the stray Thracians and Celt from the Balkans.

Behind Alexander’s back the Illyrians now revolted. Cleitus the formidable king of the Dardani (from around Kosovo) had persuaded the Autariatae (from around Bosnia) to join forces and attack Alexander on his march to meet him, and even the Taulantii (from around Tirana) would march to join Cleitus. Alexander had to act fast would he not be enclosed on all sides. He foiled Cleitus’ plan and marched to Paeonia (Skopje), across the plains of Florina to the heart of Illyria at Pelion where Cleitus was holding a fortress. The Taulantians did not arrive in time to join forces with Cleitus, Alexander was there first. When he learned that the Taulantii had not posted sentries around their nearby camp, he immediately decided to attack them by night. Caught by surprise, they surrendered leaving Alexander with one enemy less to face. On his way to attack Cleitus, a more pressing matter demanded his attention: Thebes had revolted and called the other Greeks to put an end to Macedonian rule! This required a drastic change of plans. Luckily for Alexander, Cleitus escaped from the fortress but did not raise arms against him again, the Illyrians even sent troops to join Alexander’s forces in Asia.

The attitude of Thebes was of the utmost importance. Thebes was endangering Alexander’s hegemony of the League of Corinth and breaching the  basic constitution of the Treaty. Thebes had signed the Common Peace and could not legally revolt unless it faced the armies of all the other League members. Alexander must have felt that Thebes revolt was putting his authority in the balance and on a personal level that they were hampering his plans to attack Persia.

Alexander force-marched his army south from Illyria, covering 250 miles (400 km) in 13 days over mountainous terrain, crossing Mount Grammus, Mount Pindus and Mount Cambunia, allowing his men only one day’s rest in Thessaly. This was so fast (more than 30km/day) that even the Thebans didn’t believe that it was Alexander standing before their city-gates! Athens, who at first had taken side with Thebes, now withdrew (freaking out, no doubt), leaving Thebes to fight the battle on their own from the well-fortified Cadmea where the Macedonian garrison was still surrounded by the Thebans. In the battle that ensued and in spite of their fortified position, the Thebans had to give way to the Macedonians led by Alexander personally. At least 6,000 Thebans died in the last stand and 30,000 were taken prisoner to be enslaved. It is not surprising that Alexander wanted to set an example for the other members of the League of Corinth, but at the same time he diplomatically left the punishment of Thebes to the League which urged the total destruction of the city. At this stage, I believe Athens got scared and sent an embassy to congratulate Alexander for his victory over the Illyrians and probably against their will, with his punishment of Thebes. To cut the matter short, Alexander demanded several of their politicians to be handed over to him, men like Demosthenes, Lycurgus and Hyperides, but Demades, another Athenian orator, was able to convince Alexander to change his mind. Well, after all, now that Thebes was razed to the ground and that cities like Corinth and Chalcis were in his hands, he could be generous towards Athens that no longer had any support from other cities.

It was time for Alexander to return home and nobody dared doubt his leadership. He spent nine days at Dion, the Macedonian sanctuary at the foothills of Mount Olympus to feast in honor of the Muses and Zeus. He held a number of banquets in his royal tent that could fit one hundred couches, a true feast Macedonian style. The wide plain at the foot of the old Greek theater is still there to kindle our imagination.

Back home, games were organized in honor of Olympian Zeus at Aegae. It was here that he issued the first coins bearing the image of Alexander, this was in 335 BC. He now was truly King of Macedonia, feared and/or respected by all of Greece. He could now concentrate on the invasion of Asia. That is how he spent the winter and in the early days of spring 334 BC he set his army in motion leaving Macedonia in the hands of his Regent, Antipater. Alexander would never see his homeland again.

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