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 of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, 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)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Heading for Dascylium and Sardes

After contemplating the Battle of the Granicus, I am taken further north on this trip with Peter Sommer In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great, heading for Dascylium. I am a little surprised for Alexander never went to Dascylium as he sent his seasoned general Parmenion instead. Well, I suppose it was just part of the campaign and I take in the same rather dull flat landscape I met on the road to the Granicus. Yet, so much history has been written in the furrows of this freshly plowed soil. Less than one hundred before Alexander, Xenophon and what remained of his Ten Thousand marched through this countryside, a detail that cannot have been lost on Alexander.

But the Macedonian king had to press south, well aware of the threat posed by the sizeable Persian navy patrolling the coast of Asia Minor. Parmenion took Dascylium, the capital of Hellespontine Phrygia, without trouble as the guards had abandoned the town. A new satrap, Calas, was quickly put in place. From now on the tribute Dascylium used to pay to Persia would come to Alexander.

It is hard to imagine the city on this low hill now overgrown with bright spring flowers, yellow rapeseed, and red poppies. Remains of low Greek city walls with neatly cut stones, bits of Byzantine walls in which spolia from earlier ages is used, and then the scarce ruins of habitation. It is beyond doubt that Parmenion did a thorough job! A lovely place for a city anyway, I think.

From here we pass but don’t stop at Cyzicus which Alexander conquered also. It is said that he was responsible for connecting the island to the mainland. I wonder what is left of the huge amphitheater with a diameter of 150 meters which the Romans built here in the third century BC. It was intersected by a stream, making it particularly fit for naval battles – the only one of its kind in Turkey! It must have been a magnificent sight and it is mentioned as being one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Apparently as late as 1444 the visitor could still admire thirty-one of the immense columns in place.

My trip continues through a landscape filled with tumuli, which I am told belong to the days of King Midas (late 8th century BC). It is a long drive to Sardes, the capital of Lydia, for Alexander a march of nearly 200 miles. Apparently the news of Alexander’s victory at the Granicus had travelled quicker than his army and before reaching the fortified city he was met by the leading men and their satrap, Mithrines, who not only surrendered Sardes but also its treasury. The money was most welcome, of course, since Alexander had left Pella with only sixty talents - a very poor financial situation knowing that he had inherited a debt of 500 talents from his father and had been borrowing another 800 talents to get this expedition under way. For now, he had a financial breather.

The army set up camp on the banks of Hermus River, about 2,5 miles from Sardes and Amyntas was sent to take possession of the fortress. Alexander kept Mithrines with his own suite and treated him according to his rank. After taking Babylon, Mithrines was appointed governor of Armenia.

As we will see so often afterward, Alexander treated well those who did not defy him. Sardes and Lydia were now declared free from Persian rule but had, of course, to pay the same tribute to their new ruler, yet in exchange, they were allowed to observe their old customs. It was also here that for the first time Alexander gave orders for Lydian youths to be trained in Macedonian tactics, a practice that would be repeated over the years in Lycia, Syria, Egypt and Persia. This shows once again that Alexander never doubted he would be victorious!

Sardes, as it has reappeared from archeology, is definitely worth a visit. On a previous visit I had walked around the beautifully restored Palaestra (gymnasium) and Baths with the Synagogue that was reserved for the Jews and incorporated in the Palaestra by Severus Alexander in the third century.


I was looking forward to seeing it from Alexander’s point of view. The two-story high (restored) buildings are visible from afar and it is a pleasure to stand in front of this mixture of high Ionian and Corinthian columns, some of them with spiral grooves turning alternatively to the right and to the left. In as much as possible the original inscriptions have been reintegrated. It seems this complex was inspired by the Library of Celsus in Ephesos. Behind the Palaestra are the Baths with two distinctive pools, just tempting my imagination. This complex built in Imperial Style was completed in the second century AD and remained in used till the Sassanid invasion of 616 AD.

In Alexander’s days, neither this sport complex, nor the integrated Synagogue, or the Roman villa’s and the public buildings across the street existed. Next to the modern road runs the monumental 18.5 meters wide avenue that was built on top the original Lydian road from the 7th-6th century BC two meters below. So maybe Alexander walked over that Lydian road? Luckily the modern asphalt road has been planned to run parallel to the south in order to expose the antique marble slabs of this Roman thoroughfare of the 4th-6th century that was wider than the modern road!

With my co-travelers threading in Alexander’s Footsteps, we move further to the impressive remains of the Temple of Artemis that was never finished. Some columns have been fluted, many were not. The construction began at the time of Alexander the Great in 334 BC, having a double row of columns surrounding an enclosed inner building.

The altar of Artemis, however, is much older than the temple itself and seems to go back to the sixth century BC. The stepped platform we see it today dates from the Hellenistic period. Construction of this temple went by fits and starts and was hit by the earthquake of 17 AD. At some time, Artemis shared her sanctuary with Zeus as indicated on an inscription honoring both. In about 150 AD Sardes gained the title of “neokoros”, meaning “temple-warden”, which implied that is was required to have a temple dedicated to the Roman imperial family. This time, the Temple of Artemis was split in two where Artemis and Empress Faustina were worshiped together in the front part while Zeus and Emperor Antoninus Pius shared the back of the sanctuary. With hindsight, the base of the columns look very much those of Didyma and this makes sense as this is the fourth largest Ionic temple in the world after Didyma (the largest being the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, followed by the Temple of Hera in Samos).

It makes a huge difference to visit this site under the guidance of a historian like Peter Sommer as he effortless points out the details of the buildings or the reasons for their inscriptions, something that a lone traveler will have a hard time figuring out.

We do not climb to the acropolis, however, since the visible remains are mainly byzantine and do not add to Alexander’s exploits. According to Arrian Alexander went up there and saw the Palace of the Lydian kings and the Persian garrison. He must have been aware of his luck for not having to besiege this impregnable fortress. He decided that this was the right location to build a temple in honor of Olympian Zeus. While he was considering the best spot, a thunderstorm broke loose, which he took as a sign sent by Zeus himself and he made his decision accordingly. Whether or not this temple was ever built, we simply don’t know.

Alexander then made all the practical arrangements, leaving Pausanias, one of his Companions, in charge of the fortress and assigning others to specific organizational functions. Then, the news reached him of unrest in Ephesos and it was time to resume his march south.

[Click here to see more pictures of Sardes]

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