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 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)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Alexander’s arrival at Persepolis

For years I lived with the image of the straight road leading up to the plateau supporting the Palace of Persepolis as described by Peter Bamm in his book “Alexander, Power as Destiny” and I am not at all surprised to find the place exactly as I had pictured it: a 12 meters-high wall on top of which a dozen of tall columns compete with each other for the visitor’s attention.

Alexander must have arrived over this very same avenue some 2,500 years before, welcomed no doubt by Tiridates, the citadel commander. This man had sent a letter to Alexander stating that if he made it ahead of those who planned to defend Persepolis for King Darius III, he would hand the palace and its precious possessions over to him. Alexander didn’t have to think twice about such an appealing proposition and he hurried to Persepolis in order to take over ownership.

The earliest construction of Persepolis goes back to Cyrus the Great in about 518 BC, but it was King Darius I (the Great) who conceived and partially built this man-made plateau 450 meters wide and 300 meters deep where he erected the Apadana, the Tripylon, and the Imperial Treasury. A titanic task that was completed by his son, Xerxes the Great. Later Achaemenid rulers all added their own touch and more buildings, yet each and everyone blended in with the initial style.

Alexander reached Persepolis about the first week of February 330 BC and like me, he must have climbed the double stairway that leads from the broad valley floor unto the terrace. It is one of the stateliest steps I ever encountered with an easy rise of 10 cm at the time, 38 cm deep and nearly seven meters wide. After a first flight of 63 steps to a landing, they make a 90 degrees turn to another stretch of 48 steps, 111 steps in all to take you to the top. Unlike similar staircases at the entrance of the Apadana, for instance, these walls are plain and barren. Over the centuries, a tale has grown that the slow raise of these stairs was planned on purpose so the visitors could reach the terrace on horseback, but this theory is totally unfounded since entering the palace of a ruler on horseback was considered to be a grave insult.

Once on the plateau, the only access to the huge complex is through the so-called Gate of All Nations which we owe to Xerxes. For some unknown reason I have the feeling of being in a cramped hallway, but the truth is that it measures nearly 25 x 25 meters – a quite sizeable room, I must admit. It has three doors: the one through which I just entered (west) and the one opposite (east), both 3.80 meters wide and ten meters high; and a much higher third doorway on the south side leading directly to the Apadana. This gate is also wider, measuring 5.12 meters. Nothing much remains of this gate, however, but evidence has revealed that the doors would have been made of wood covered with sheets of gold and bronze decorated with designs of animals. Hard to imagine!

The inner sides of the eastern and western doorjambs of this Gate of All Nations are filled with two enormous bulls standing on a 1.50 meters-high pedestal. The composite animals have the body of a bull, the head of a bearded man in Assyrian style and the wings of an eagle. Above their backs are cuneiform inscriptions in three languages: Elamite, Old Persian and Babylonian confirming that Xerxes was Great King by the grace of Ahuramazda. Unfortunately, visitors from later centuries felt the need to write their names there as well – graffiti is of all times it seems. The faces of the bulls looking out over the broad valley are badly damaged but the ones staring out over Persepolis are pretty well preserved, helping to visualize their brothers on the opposite side; originally they were painted in vivid colors (just like Greek statues). What we miss, however, are the very walls connecting the doorways which were built of mud-brick and covered with glazed bricks like those found at Susa and Babylon. It must have been a rather pleasant reception hall.

From the Gate of Nations, one automatically walks up the so-called Army Street, 92 meters long and nearly ten meters wide, which connects to the Palace of the One Hundred Columns created by Xerxes. As I learn later on, this Army Street was the parade ground for the Persian army and it is not impossible that Alexander used the space for similar shows by his Macedonian troops.

Although it seems logical to proceed to the Apadana from here, my honest opinion is that Alexander continued straight ahead, over the Army Street directly to the Treasury. He had to make sure that Tiridates had kept his word and that the moneys were indeed there for him to collect.

Today the Treasury is razed to the ground. Only at the far end, we can see a relief showing the audience held by King Darius with his heir Xerxes standing behind him, originally set at the center of the eastern stairway facade of the Apadana. There was an identical relief on the northern stairway of the Apadana and since this one is better preserved, it was moved to the National Museum of Tehran. Why in antiquity these reliefs were moved to the Treasury is not entirely clear, but it seems plausible that when Xerxes became king he didn’t like his place as crown-prince behind his father’s throne. Opposite the enthroned king, stands an official of the empire doing obeisance to his king by throwing him a kiss with his hand. It’s an image I have seen repeatedly, not knowing where it came from.

Diodorus mentions that Alexander took possession of the treasury, i.e. the accumulation of the state revenues since the rule of Cyrus the Great. The vaults were packed with silver and gold amounting to 120,000 talents. Alexander kept some of the money to cover his war expenses but the main amount was loaded onto mules and other pack animals to be centralized at Ecbatana. It was Parmenion who was put in charge of this titanic expedition, transporting 7,290 tons of gold and silver from Persepolis, Susa, and Pasargadae with 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels. Just imagine the huge logistics involved to lead such a hoard over a distance of approximately 514 miles, with all their drivers and soldiers to police the precious cargo! Even today, nobody in his right mind would consider undertaking such an operation!

Yet to reach the Treasury, Alexander had to pass the Palace of the One Hundred Columns and if he did not visit it properly upon arrival, he undoubtedly must have stopped here soon after in pure awe. Going by the documented and 3D reconstructions, this building must have been absolutely breathtaking. The sheer size and the multicolored decorations of the columns, ceilings and walls must have been beyond what he had ever seen (and I say this not knowing exactly how the inside of the Palaces at Babylon or Susa must have looked like as so little has been recovered and those scant remains now scattered among several museums worldwide). The 3D reconstruction uses green and purple as main colors, but personally, I find the combination rather odd.

The Palace of the One Hundred Columns, measuring 70x70 meters was a military statement made by Xerxes, although its construction was finished by his son Artaxerxes I. Consequently, it is being dated between 470 and 450 BC. We find no trace of the original ceiling or walls, and no full-size column is still standing, all we have are the remains of the eight huge access doors with their high reliefs.

The two pillars of the northern doorways are unique with their reliefs of 100 soldiers carrying the enthroned king in a very symbolic relief. The left and right panels mirror each other. Each shows two groups of fifty soldiers in five rows of ten soldiers on one side; with the same on the opposite side, i.e. ten rows of ten, equaling one hundred, which is the same number as for the columns. On the southern doorways, however, we find Artaxerxes I being brought into the hall by his throne-bearers with the Royal Glory (Ahuramazda) hovering above him. A favorite subject used here on the eastern and western doorjambs is that of a royal hero fighting a lion-looking creature with wings and eagle’s feet.

The 14 meters-high columns of this palace are lined up in ten rows of ten each; they excel in their typical style of a bell-shaped base, topped with a round disk on which a fluted cylindrical column is resting; this column, in turn, supports the elaborate flowers that are crowned by the well-known double-headed bulls. It seems that only two of these bull-capitals have survived: one is on display in Chicago and the other one is exhibited in Tehran. Foundation inscriptions written in Babylonian were recovered and state that the palace was built by Xerxes and finished by his son Artaxerxes I.

Adjacent and nearly sticking to the Treasury we find a series of smaller rooms that are being attributed to the Harem. I guess they needed a place of their own in this large complex, and recent archeological study has revealed that these identical units were, in fact, apartments, in which the rooms were arranged around a four-columned central hall. The Harem is surrounded but sturdy walls, much thicker than any other wall in the palace to protect the privacy. There was only one access to the Royal Harem reserved to the king entering from the Palace of Xerxes. Today the area has been converted into a museum with a bookshop, erected in bright red columns. I find it difficult to understand the color and the size of this building when compared to the other palaces on the plateau for somehow it looks like a toy.

The Palace of Xerxes stood seven meters higher than the Harem. Why do I have the feeling that Alexander turned this palace into his headquarters? It had direct connections to the other buildings and at the same time, it gave him enough privacy away from the Apadana and the Palace of the One Hundred Columns. It counted four staircases from where he could directly access the Palace of Darius and the Tripylon towards the north and the Harem through a balcony on the southern side. From this balcony, the king had a splendid view over the entire valley and it just reminds me of the balcony at the Royal Palace of Aegae (today’s Vergina) overlooking the plain below.

This Palace of Xerxes was arranged around the main square hall of 36.5x36.5 m which counted 36 columns set in rows of six each. There were five doorways: two opening into a 12-columned portico on the north; one onto the southern balcony; and two accessing the private apartments. The jambs of these doorways are decorated with reliefs of Xerxes entering of leaving the room accompanied by two attendants, one holding the royal umbrella and the other the towel or the king’s fly-whisk. Xerxes is holding his scepter in his right hand and the lotus symbol in his left. The scene is covered with trilingual cuneiform inscriptions in Elamite, Old Persian, and Babylonian. Like everywhere else, no walls have survived and we have to mentally connect the different doorways to recreate the walls of this palace.

The best-preserved palace of all (and one of the oldest) is the Palace of Darius, leaning against the southern wall of the Apadana (although on a nearly three meters higher level) and diagonally opposite the Palace of Xerxes. It is easy to find the outlines of this palace since all the doorways seem to be connecting to each other. It has a rectangular plan, measuring 40x30 meters. Like the other palaces, it consists of the main hall with twelve columns and both the north and south porticos have columns. The façade of the staircase on the southern side is best viewed from the open space in front of it and reveals two rows of Persian soldiers facing the central cuneiform inscription in Old Persian. Strangely enough, this text has been written by Xerxes, who also provided the cuneiform inscriptions at either end of this wall, in Elamite to the right and in Babylonian to the left. The same text is repeated again on the inside of the pillars above. These inscriptions are believed to prove that the Palace of Darius was finished during Xerxes’ reign. The inner wall of the stairways carries cute reliefs of servants and attendants alternatively dressed in Median and Persian dress who actually are climbing the stairs, stepping from one step to the next carrying food and utensils.

Here too the columns are lost but it is interesting to learn that they have been reproduced in the façade of the tomb built for Darius the Great at Naqsh-e Rustam that I’ll visit later. These columns stood on two square bases and were made of wood which was then plastered and colored; like elsewhere, they were crowned with double-headed bulls. In the doorways, we find reliefs of guards in Persian dress holding their wicker shields and long lances. The doorways of the main hall show Darius entering or leaving the room followed by his attendants just like at the Palace of Xerxes. His crown was originally covered with sheets of gold and the holes in the wall are there to prove it; armlets, earrings, torques and other jewelry were inserted as well. Just imagine what this image must have looked like, brilliantly painted and shining with its gold accessories!

By far the most imposing building is the Apadana, linked to the Tripylon at the very heart of Persepolis. They deserve an attention of their own, so I’ll describe them in a separate post, Alexander amidst the pomp and circumstance of Persepolis.

[Click here to watch all the pictures of Persepolis]

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Antipatreia, a city referring to Antipater?

Today Berat in Albania is specially known for its Ottoman houses, which amazingly have survived the severe communist regime of Enver Hoxha. Not my cup of tea, sorry, but my attention rises when I read a street sign Rruga Antipatrea, a street named after Antipater? It feels like meeting family and of course I have to explore this source.

Well, it seems that Berat is built on top of ancient Antipatreia, originally settled by a Greek tribe here in northern Epirus in the 6th century BC. The name Antipatreia apparently leads us back to Cassander who took control of the region in 314 BC. When the Romans arrived in 200 BC, they are said to have razed the city walls and massacred the entire male population. No wonder I see no trace from antiquity. The Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II in turn strengthened the walls again in the 5th century and about one hundred years later Emperor Justinian entirely rebuilt them. We had to wait till the 13th century for a revival of Berat when a fortress was built, and this is now the heart of old Berat with picturesque streets and medieval houses and churches.

Berat is beautifully set on both banks of the Osum River and under this threatening sky it seems to revive some spirits from the past. A strange encounter to say the least.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Inconclusive analysis of Philip’s Tomb at Vergina

No more speculations, no more discussions, the remains inside the gold larnax that was retrieved from the tomb of Vergina in the 1970s by Manolis Andronicos are indeed those belonging to King Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. A scientific bone analysis published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology has confirmed this theory based on computed tomography (CT) and X-ray fluorescence (XRF). During the scientific research, experts also found scars on the bones that match Philip’s battle wounds. They used no less than 4,500 digital photographs and scans, scrutinizing every single bone, each tooth and each and every other fragment that was locked inside the larnax.

As positive as this may sound, there seem, however, to be certain restrictions as from further investigations I read that “sharp trauma to one of the bones of his palm is actually the only injury the researchers found that lines up with historical accounts”. The bones belong to a male aged about 40-50 years and wear and tear due extensive horseback riding has also been established. But for now this only means that it is reasonable but not conclusive to confirm that the remains found in the Tomb ascribed to Philip II are his. How to make headlines, I wonder!

I was hoping that at last, this great king, the one who put Macedonia on the map, might rest in peace, but we are not there yet.

In the same article, a female skeleton buried in the same tomb has been analyzed. This is being referred to as belonging to a Scythian princess, Philip’s seventh wife. This statement left me puzzled when I read about this a few months ago for I had never heard of such a marriage (see: The many wives of Philip II); Philip's seventh wife was Cleopatra whom he had married shortly before being murdered. Yet, according to an article published by Mediterraneo Antiguo it seems that as early as 1978 NGL Hammond had suggested that this woman could be the daughter of the Scythian King Ateas. She had injured her left leg and the short greave found in the tomb might just have been hers and not Philip’s. This might also explain the presence of the Scythian gorytos found in the antechamber.

It just looks as if we are back to square one. Only time will tell, us usual!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Susa with its unique glazed brick walls

If you look at the map, Susa is situated almost on the same line as Babylon but away from the Mesopotamian valley, in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains. More importantly, Susa was no more than three kilometers away from the Choaspes River (modern Karun) which flowed into the Tigris further south and was navigable all the way – a priceless connection to the Persian Gulf.

It had taken Alexander twenty days of a leisurely march to cover the 365 km that separated Babylon from Susa that late November of 331 BC. Here he installed Sisygambis, Darius’ mother, as well as her grandchildren, who had travelled with him since the aftermath of the Battle of Issus in 333 BC. Curtius and Diodorus mention that Alexander provided teachers for them to learn the Greek language. Nobody ever tells us whether over the years the Macedonian king learned the Persian language but he must certainly have picked up some of it, being as smart as he was.

Immediately after his victory at Gaugamela in early October 331 BC, Alexander had sent his trusted officer, Philoxenus, to Susa to make sure that the city would surrender with its legendary treasures. Apparently, the mission was successful for upon reaching the banks of the Pasitigris River, Alexander was met by the satrap of Susa, Abulites, who brought him splendid gifts including camels and elephants and escorted him personally to the winter capital of the Achaemenid Empire. Here, the Treasury of Susa was handed over, intact. This meant a bullion of 40,000 talents of gold and silver and 9,000 talents in gold darics, the largest amount Alexander ever collected in one take.

I have no idea what is left of the city of Susa itself if anything at all. What I find is a scorching hot plateau with neatly reconstructed mud-brick walls up to one meter high belonging to the palace with at its heart the Apadana. Like its namesake at Persepolis, this Apadana is filled with stubs of columns only. Bits and pieces of columns and their capitals have been piled up together on the side, except for one lonely double-headed bull capital placed under a protective roof. I remember the capital that is now at the Louvre Museum in almost perfect condition. My heart aches to look over the remains of this once so grand a palace – hard to imagine what it must have looked like. Interestingly the very stone on which the king’s throne once stood is still in situ.

There are some more remains southwest of the Apadana and it seems that recently one of the entrance gates has been restored, evidently in mud-bricks, but without a proper plan I cannot really figure this out. It were French archaeologists who excavated the site in the 1890s and the agreement at that time was that they should leave everything gold and silver in Iran, but that they could take everything else with them. They obviously did. To make things worse (at least in our concept of the 21st century), all the leftover mud-bricks and debris were used by the French archaeologists to build their living quarters and storage area. This building that looks like a castle has been converted into a local museum.

Knowing the superb glazed-brick reliefs that are housed at the Louvre, I find it even more difficult to imagine the splendour and grandeur of this palace in Alexander’s and Sisygambis’ days. After all, it was the setting for the Susa mass wedding that took place here in 324 BC after Alexander returned from India.

Seven years after he had left the Persian Royal princesses in Susa Alexander arranged not only his own wedding but that of about ninety members of his court as well as. The stage was set for an elaborate, colossal and most expensive marriage ceremony. Standing here on the Susa plateau, I wonder where the famous ceremonial tent was set up, most likely somewhere at the foot of this plateau for how else could the ninety-two bridal suites be fitted in, more so since the whole hall was almost half a mile in circumference. In any case, it has been recorded that the hall contained a hundred bedrooms, each furnished with a lavishly decorated bed with linen sheets, and each worth half a talent of silver. Alexander’s bed, of course, had legs of gold – nothing less. The hall itself was framed and trimmed with sumptuous draperies woven with animal figures and gold thread, hanging down from gilt and silver rods; purple carpets embroidered with gold were spread out. The huge tent was held up by thirty-foot high columns that were gilded and silvered and set with precious stones.

Alexander sat at the very centre surrounded by the other bridegrooms and all his personal friends sat opposite. He took two princesses as his wives, Barsine (renamed Stateira) the eldest daughter of Darius, and Parysatis the youngest daughter of Artaxerxes III. His close friend Hephaistion married Drypetis, another daughter of Darius. The idea behind this marriage was that Alexander wanted their children to be nephews and nieces. The wedding itself was performed in Persian style; the grooms would have a drink (I suppose a kind of toast) after which the brides were led inside to take place next to their respective husband-to-be. The bridegroom would then take his lady by the hand and kiss her, Alexander being obviously the first to do so. That sealed the marriage.

The ceremonies lasted five days and the banquets were announced by the sound of trumpets. Many entertainers from Greece and Asia performed for Alexander and his noble guests. There was music, songs and recitations, theatre performances with tragedies and comedies in which the greatest artists of those days appeared.

Each of the newly wed couple received a dowry from the king, and on this happy occasion, Alexander even had a special thought for all his Macedonians who had taken Asian wives during his campaigns and granted them a gratuity.

These are the thoughts that rush through my brains as I stand among these scant sun-bleached ruins. There is no sound rising from the city below, no bird, not even a fly to give this site a sense of reality. It seems that even the spirits have abandoned the place.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The oracle of Didyma returned to life after Alexander’s visit

Didyma is one of those WOW places mostly ignored by the bus-loads of tourists but a real blessing for the truly interested souls. What’s more, it was here that I realized how grand and impressive the famous Temple of Artemis in Ephesos must have been.

My very first encounter with the Temple of Apollo happened by pure chance while driving into modern Didim, which is built smack on top of the ancient town. Yet a couple of re-erected columns immediately drew my attention and these turned out to belong to the very temple I came to see. Once inside the sacred and now fenced area, I was facing the bottom of the stairs leading up to the temple’s entrance. As I climbed the fourteen high steps my eye reached the floor level of the temple; it was there that I felt totally dwarfed. For once, I had the urge to take a picture showing a person next to these enormous bases of 2.4 meters in diameter, simply to have an idea of the proportions. I felt very small, insignificant even. What a building!

My following visit was when I walked in Alexander’s Footsteps with Peter Sommer who in Miletus had drawn my attention to the Sacred Road and its rough direction towards Didyma (see: Miletus, Alexander’s first siege in Asia). I like to believe that Alexander reached Didyma, marching over this very road. Unfortunately, I did not walk the entire distance myself but instead picked up the other end at the north side of the Temple of Apollo in Didyma – a breathtaking moment! It was Emperor Trajan who decided to pave this road around 100 AD using huge white slabs of marble, pure luxury. Today’s visitor has to mentally transpose the many statues and monuments that once lined the route and which are now exhibited at the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul and even some at the British Museum in London). Yet this is one of those places where you can be sure Alexander preceded you.

But let’s go back to this remarkable sanctuary. The first Temple of Apollo was erected as early as the 7th century BC, in honour of the god who speaks through the oracles and by 500 BC it had grown to become one of the leading sanctuaries in Greece. As we know, the Persians had destroyed this temple and it was Alexander the Great who ordered its reconstruction when he arrived here in 334 BC. The size of this Temple of Apollo was, even by Hellenistic norms, colossal, reaching 109 x 51 meters (the archaic temple already measured 87 x 41 meters). A double row of columns ran around the temple, reaching a total of 122. It is said to be built by the same architect as the famous Temple of Artemis in Ephesos and the two re-erected Ionic columns are there to prove it. It must have been a spectacular view for in size and beauty only the temples of Samos and Ephesos scored better.

The bases on which these nearly twenty meters high columns stood are wonderfully well decorated with small panels or garlands of twigs and flowers. The double row of columns held a marble roof.  In the grass around the temple, I find one of the Ionic capitals that from so close-by is much and much larger than what one would expect. The same goes for several enormous Medusa heads that once decorated the architrave on top of the columns.

Strangely enough, there was no entrance from the outside into the naos, the sacred heart of the temple. Instead, the visitor had to use one of the two vaulted side corridors that led to the inner courtyard of 21 x 53 meters. Walking through the dark corridor into the sudden brightness of the sacred Adyton which was not roofed the visitor still feels the might and influence of the ancient gods. Turning around in this holy courtyard you’ll discover a staircase in-between the two vaulted entrance corridors; these stairs are 15 meters wide and their 24 steps were meant to lead the visitor into the hall where the oracle was written down and delivered. Matching the height of the columns, this area was covered with marble slabs. At the end of this chamber a special door, 5.6 meters wide and 14 meters high opened into the pronaos. The Adyton court was planted with laurel, Apollo’s hallowed tree, and this is the very shrine of the holy spring where the pilgrims cleansed themselves before approaching the oracle and where the bronze statue of Apollo must have welcomed them, the one which was taken in the fifth century either by Xerxes or by Darius I to Ecbatana and later, probably around 300 BC, returned by Seleucos I (one of Alexander’s successors).

As an oracle Didyma is much less known to us than Delphi, yet in its heyday it was as famous. The prophecies made by the priestess were written down but we don’t know the exact procedure. What we do know however is that Apollo’s voice fell silent after the Persians sacked and looted the site. The temple was left unattended and the sacred well dried up – that is, till Alexander arrived here in 334 BC on his way from Miletus to Halicarnassus. He always had deep respect for the gods and maybe more so for the oracles. When he visited the temple, history tells us that the sacred waters started to flow again. With the spring, the oracle came back to life and as we know the first prophecy went directly to Alexander predicting his victory in Gaugamela and the death of Darius III.

And then, there is the fascinating story about the Branchidae who ruled the Temple of Apollo in Didyma (which belonged to Miletus) since the 5th century BC. They were in charge of the temple’s money and during Xerxes’ conquests of Greece, taking their responsibilities seriously they refused, at first, to hand over their treasury, but eventually they gave in – meaning in fact that they took the side of Persia. When the Greeks came out victorious from the Persian War in 479 BC, the Branchidae had reason enough to fear revenge from their compatriots. Their pro-Persian attitude forced them to ask for the enemy’s protection and that is how the Branchidae packed their belongings and migrated east to Central Asia – the end of the world in those days. When Alexander arrived in Central Asia in 329 BC he stumbled upon their descendants, who still spoke Greek and lived very much the Greek way. Callisthenes, present at that time, wrote that after the festivities and warm welcome, Alexander gave orders to kill the entire male population and sell the women and children as slaves. He then razed their town to the ground and even uprooted the trees and vines. What the Branchidae had done was considered as betrayal of their country and their gods, maybe even sacrilege (see: Alexander Meeting the Branchidae on his march to Maracanda).

It is interesting to learn that the accounting for Alexander’s restoration project has been recovered and I’m amazed to learn that the price-tag for just one column was 40,000 drachmae. Compared to the labourer’s wages of 2 drachmae a day, it is easy to understand that the costs were huge. As a consequence, it is evident that such a sanctuary was a long-term project. As it turned out, the place was a building site for nearly 700 years where at least eight architects directed no less than twenty construction companies, often working simultaneously. In spite of all the efforts and investments, this colossal temple was never finished. Yet, it was considered one of the greatest of all Greek temples and it certainly was one of the biggest!

What few people know is that the south steps of the temple platform served as seats for the north side of the adjacent stadium. These steps ran over 109 meters, i.e. the total length of the temple and allowed the audience to watch athletic races seated on one of the seven rows. Just put your imagination to work! Who knows, maybe Alexander organized some athletic competitions here?

Well, so much for Didyma. In Christian times the temple was converted into a church and Didyma even became a diocese in 385 AD. In 493 AD, an earthquake destroyed the city and its sanctuary.

Recently, illegal digs have uncovered remains of a wall, suggesting by its size and location that it might well pertain to another temple next to the Temple of Apollo. Because of the city’s name Didyma literally meaning “twins”, the dedication to Artemis, Apollo’s twin-sister is rather obvious but, for now, this is mere speculation (see: News from Didyma).

[Click here to see all the pictures of Didyma]

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Olympia, an ongoing excavation project

In spite of a general shortage of financial means, excavations at the ancient site of Olympia in Greece’s Peloponnese have resumed. It always makes me happy when new buildings are being brought to daylight or when new artifacts lift another corner of the veil shrouding antiquity.

[Picture from Archaeology News Network]

Work at Olympia’s gymnasium has revealed another section of thirty meters of its eastern stoa. Earlier excavations had already exposed a 70-meters long section, but a remaining 80 meters are still hidden underground. The central court of the gymnasium was surrounded by a wide stoa, whose roof was supported on the inner side by a double row of Doric columns. Behind the stoa on the west side were the rooms dedicated to the athletes, while on the east side the stoa was closed off by a solid outer wall.

An acute problem at present is caused by the rainwater that used to be drained by running over the road alongside the gymnasium but which is now – not too well – collected in a basin and does regularly inundate the site. To remedy this major problem, it has been agreed to divert the excessive water towards the nearby Kladeos River. The river seems to have been a problem even in antiquity as its waters swept away most the west wing of the gymnasium.

It will be interesting to see when and how this problem with be tackled properly.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Lost Chronicles of Alexander the Great by Steve E. Stylianos

Although the title The Lost Chronicles of Alexander the Great by Steve E. Stylianos (ISBN 978-0979200816) sounds very promising, the book is highly disappointing - not worth spending your time on mine reading it.

The author makes it appear as if he truly has found Alexander’s lost chronicles, but it is all fake. A story for a dime, nothing more.