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)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Along the Via Egnatia: Dyrrhachion in Illyria

Except for the significant remains in Apollonia which I discussed earlier (see: Along the Via Egnatia: Apollonia in Illyria), the other cities along the Via Egnatia have little remains to offer, merely indications of where to find its course. As poor as those remains are, I am trying to gather as much information as possible in this corner of Illyria (today’s Albania), stopping this time at Dyrrhachion.

As mentioned before, the Via Egnatia (see: Via Egnatia, a road to remember) was built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD and was the main road between Byzantium and Rome. As far as Illyria, the road came from Ohrid (FYROM) in the east and then ran through Elbasan from where one arm connected directly to Dyrrhachion (Dürres). Another one diverged to Apollonia and Antipatrea (Berat) to end also in Dyrrhachion on the Adriatic coast where ships ferried people and goods to Brundisium (Brindisi) on the Italian side.

This time, I’m stopping at the most western end of the Via Egnatia on the Illyrian side of the Adriatic Sea, i.e. at the city of Dyrrhachion situated at the narrow in the Adriatic Sea right across from Brindisi, some 200 km to the west. The only significant testimony from antiquity that is left for us to see is the Roman amphitheater from the first half of the 2nd century AD, and even this is incomplete since there are still modern houses sitting on top of it. Yet it is rather interesting to wonder through the vaulted corridors, discovering even a small Byzantine chapel. The oval amphitheater reached at its longest diameter 120 meters and stood originally 20 meters high. It offered seating for 15,000-18,000 spectators who watched gladiator fights, animal combats or other artistic shows. It is sad though to see that all the seating material has been removed – most probably reused somewhere else. Yet is spite of its bareness and partial excavation it is a most impressive construction.

As early as 627 BC the first colonists from Corinth and Corfu founded the city of Epidamnos, named after the Illyrian King Epidamnos, its co-founder. The king’s daughter had a son who received the name Dyrrhachion and it was this name that stuck. Dyrrhachion was the ideal location for a city, built around a natural harbor with high cliffs and protected on the land side by swamps.

Obviously, the envious Romans had their mind set on this prosperous city and after a fierce fight with the Illyrians in 229 BC, they took possession of the city, which they renamed Dyrrhachium, modern Dürres.


Dyrrhachium was the site of a battle during Caesar’s Civil War on 10 July 48 BC. He faced Pompey who came out victorious, although not for long. The decisive battle of the Civil War was fought at Pharsalus in Central Greece on 9 August of that same year. This battle eventually led to the assassination of Pompey on 3 September 48 BC. Another waste of lives in history …

Emperor Augustus turned the city into a colony for his veterans after the Battle of Actium, proclaiming it to be a free town. By the fourth century Dyrrhachium became the capital of the Roman Province of Epirus Nova but it was soon hit by a severe earthquake that destroyed the city’s defense walls. They were almost immediately rebuilt to a height of 12 meters and were wide enough for four horsemen to ride abreast on them. Remaining portions of the wall from the fifth century are still in place but have lost most of their strength and were first reshaped by the Byzantine Emperor Anastasios I after the catastrophic earthquake of 345 AD. He defended the city with three rows of walls guarded by consecutive fortification towers every 60-65 meters. During later occupations, the walls were modified several times. Dyrrhachium did not escape the repeated attacks by the Huns, but in Byzantine times, the city gained importance as a major link with western Europe once again. 

There are no traces of the Via Egnatia to be found in Dürres, but I am pointed towards a tall apartment building near the beach that supposedly stands on top of it. The nearby lonely Venetian tower from the 15th century is said to be built over an earlier Byzantine construction while reusing its stones. It stands nine meters tall with a diameter of 16 meters and is surrounded by intriguing modern pebble mosaics with birds and fishes moving around in a black and white pattern.

[Click here to watch all the pictures of Dürres]

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