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 Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 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, March 23, 2015

Afrasiab excavations: remains of a monumental public building

To my surprise, excavations at Afrasiab (ancient Greek Maracanda or modern Samarkand in Uzbekistan) by the Franco-Uzbek Archaeological Mission have revealed the burnt remains of a monumental public building from the early Hellenistic period. Based on the charred remains of millet and barley, it has been established that this must have been a granary for the Greek garrison of Samarkand.

This square building made of mud-bricks is characteristic for Hellenistic times. Archaeologists have determined that it was destroyed by a violent fire, which has baked the bricks and the cereals stored inside, transforming the content in a multicoloured ash dust. The heat was so fierce that the bricks have intensively hardened and at the same time has vitrified the soil as well as the lower parts of the walls, which at the same time led to their excellent preservation.

This granary was found at a depth of 8.5 meters, underneath successive occupation layers all the way to the mosque that was under construction in 1220 when Genghis Khan massacred a great deal of the population and destroyed Samarkand’s irrigation canals. This vast complex was divided in eight separate rooms of 11.5x5.5m each set in two rows of four. Much attention was given to the construction of these storage rooms, whose walls were made of mud brick squares of 38x38cm and probably stood 2.5 meters high of which today some 2 meters are still preserved. It seems that the roof of this granary simply collapsed at the time of the fire, together with the now parched remains of the supporting beams.

It is clear that this building was used to store perishable food. Remains of millet and barley have been identified in four of these rooms, where millet was simply thrown on the unpaved floor. Analysis have shown that this was the so-called panicum miliaceum, i.e. a common millet generally found between northern China and western Europe and is grown on irrigated land. It is a cereal that does not germinate, meaning that it could easily be stored for up to ten years. This millet played a fundamental role in people’s food staple in Central Asia and would have been ideally used in garrison life or as a life-saving food in case of siege. It is evident that barley and millet were the major food supplies for soldiers, although in Achaemenid times the barley-gruel was eaten by soldiers and slaves as well as horses, and the rations were counted. The barley, however, is thought to have been used more as fodder for the horses rather than to feed humans, and it seems to have been stored in sacks. In many places the floors and the walls were covered with ashes in shades of green, blue, orange, red, yellow and grey, which may refer to other kinds of food - yet unidentified. It has been calculated that the granary of Afrasiab could hold as much as 75 tons of cereals.

Further investigation has established that the fire was a very fierce one and researchers don’t exclude a possible explosion caused by a high concentration of gas as we know to happen in modern grain-silos. There are also indications that attempts were made to extinguish the fire or to contain it; by letting the roof collapse they hoped to kill the fire – to no avail as the blaze devastated the entire storage building.

Typical for early Greek occupation in Afrasiab is the use of square bricks as in the granary which matches similar bricks found in the inner gallery of the ancient rampart and the posterns of the so-called gate of Bukhara. Till recently no traces of Greek residential houses have been found although their presence has been suggested by Greek ceramics found on different locations surveyed by previous Soviet research. In fact, this granary is the first proof of the earliest Greek inhabitants of Afrasiab. Future excavations will certainly contribute to a better understanding of Hellenistic Samarkand.

This information is completing my earlier post: Afrasiab, ancient Samarkand where I’m concentrating on Alexander spending the winter of 328/327 BC within these walls and on the circumstances leading to the murder of Cleitos.

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