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 Drangiana/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)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Miletus, more than a city

When writing about Miletus it is obvious to tackle the remains of that once so great city and to place them in their historical context – in my case especially around Alexander the Great (see: Miletus, Alexander's first siege in Asia). But Miletus is much more than just a city of stone; it actually produced many of the brightest brains of antiquity.


Miletus greatly surpassed the other cities on the Aegean coastline of Ionia, and founded as many as thirty cities around the Black Sea, the Hellespont and the Sea of Marmara. The city also possessed a trading post in Naucratis, the Greek settlement on the Nile delta dating from the seventh century BC. This created envy with the Persians who after the defeat at Plataea in 479 BC took their revenge by thoroughly destroying Miletus.

The city bounced back and was flourishing once again by the middle of the fifth century BC. Thanks to its busy and prospering harbors, Miletus came in touch with older and more advanced civilizations like that of Egypt from where they copied the idea of dividing the year in twelve equal parts. From Mesopotamia they obtained the gnomon or shadow marker, which led to the first sun dials that divided the day in twelve parts as customary in Babylon. Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of fertility was recognized by the Greeks as Aphrodite and used to identify the bright Venus star we all know. This means that there was a wealth of knowledge available to Miletus and to the rest of the Greek world, the extend of which we can only guess.

But returning to Miletus, the best known citizen is probably Hippodamus of Miletus, a town planner but also physician, mathematician, meteorologist and philosopher, who lived in the fifth century BC. As opposed to confusing and chaotically built cities like Athens, Hippodamus introduced us to city-planning with order and clarity creating wide and straight streets crossing each other at right angles. Many cities around the Mediterranean were built by him or according to his grid plan, later to be known as the Hippodamian Plan. The harbor of Piraeus was one of his first works, but he was also involved in the new city of Rhodes and the reconstruction of Miletus after the Persian destruction. Examples of later date are for instance the cities of Olynthus and Pella in Greece. Hippodamus’ ideal city would be inhabited by 10,000 male citizens, which would correspond to a total of 50,000 people when including women, children and slaves. It would typically have a large central area that soon became the Agora, surrounded by neighborhoods of 240 m2 blocks of houses with an upper floor and separated by an outer wall, all facing south. Aristotle tells us that Hippodamus’ cities were meant to be divided into three classes: for the soldiers, artisans and common citizens, just like the land was divided in sacred, public and private. Yet Hippodamus must have been the hippie of his time with his long hair (not shown on his picture), expensive ornaments yet wearing the same clothes in winter as he did in summer.

Isn’t it amazing that today, 2,500 years later modern cities like Manhattan or Denver were built based on the same principles of what urban architects meanwhile call the checkerboard plan?

Another great name is Thales of Miletus, one of the Seven Sages of ancient Greece who lived a good century earlier, from ca. 625 to 547 BC. He is considered as the father of philosophy and is supposed to have calculated the height of Egypt’s pyramids by pacing off their shadow at the moment when their height was equal to their shadow. Thales is credited for inventing geometry, literally meaning “land measurement” but actually a branch of abstract mathematics. He also was a philosopher, mathematician and astronomer, reaching into theology with his concept that all things are full of god. Thales speculated on the nature of matter; he believed there was an arche or fundamental substance that always endured. He claimed that the principle was water simply because the earth rests on water (the general belief was that the earth was surrounded by an ocean).

His friend, Anaximander of Miletus (ca 610-ca 545 BC) declared however that the arche could not be water because it could not give rise to its opposite, fire. He even went so far as to state that none of the elements (water, earth, fire, air) could be arche for the same reason. Anaximander seems to have been the first to publish a treatise on nature. He also wrote about astronomy as he apparently was the first to use the gnomon to determine solstices, time, seasons and equinoxes; he also published a work on geography with the first map of the inhabited world. According to Anaximander, the earth had a cylindrical form and was at the centre of the universe.

Anaximenes of Miletus was a younger contemporary and pupil of Anaximander. His theory was that the prime substance was pneuma, i.e. breath or air, which assumes various forms through its eternal motion. He provided a theory of change which was supported by observation. Rarefied air becomes fire, condensed it becomes first wind, then clouds and after further condensation water, then earth and eventually stones. Anaximenes thought that the earth was flat and floated upon the air like a leaf.

These four men by themselves alone prove that Alexander not only took walls and buildings when entering Miletus but many bastions of knowledge, and I am sure that these were not the only ones that were available at that time for there is still so much of that knowledge that has not come to us.

[Pictures of the personalities are from Wikipedia]
[Click here to see the full picture album of Miletus]

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