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)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Seleucid and Parthian rock-reliefs

The Achaemenid rock-tombs and the rock-reliefs of the Sassanid kings are known to most travelers in Iran, but Seleucid or Parthian reliefs and inscriptions are pretty rare.

It is always interesting to see how one civilization copies from a previous one or is inspired by its contemporaries. What I find here at Bisutun, for instance, is quite surprising to say the least. For some reason (our western look towards history?) I expected Hellenism to transpire through art in the days following Alexander’s conquests. It has happened in Sogdiana/Bactria and in India, but not here in Persia. Seleucos and his successors seem to have made greater efforts to integrate Persian customs than we might suspect at first sight.

The idea occurred to me when I was staring at this relief of a fatso bearded Heracles at Bisutun. He poses as a naked athlete holding a bowl, seated on a lion pelt underneath an olive tree; his heavy club rests at his feet and his bow and quiver with arrows hang from a nearby olive tree. The composition has all the Greek ingredients but this scene was definitely not created by a Greek artist, nor was it inspired by Hellenistic heritage.

Next to Heracles’ head there is a temple-like facade carrying an inscription in Greek telling us that this picture was created by Hyacinthos, son of Pantauchos, and carved in honor of Kleomenis, the local Seleucid governor in 148 BC. It is important to remember that Heracles was considered as the ancestor the Seleucid dynasty.

Not far from this Heracles is another more elaborate rock-relief in honor of the most powerful of all Parthian kings, Mithridates II. This was made after the collapse of the Seleucid Empire and when this part of the country was taken over by the Parthians, who ruled for almost four centuries.

The entire panel is more than 12 meters long. The key position is now occupied by a framed Persian inscription added in 1684, obliterating a considerable chunk of the Parthian relief. The original relief was made for King Mithridates II, who ruled over Persia from 123 till 88/87 BC. On the left-hand side we discern two figures in profile; above them there is a Greek inscription and a Nike in Greek style. Thanks to a drawing reconstruction, we know there were four dignitaries approaching their king. The central person caries the Nike and another one seems to raise a cup. To the right of the 17th century’s niche we see two men on horseback fighting each other. This relief represents the Parthian King Gotarzes (38-51 AD) subduing his enemy Meherdates. Above them hovers another Nike holding a diadem.

Well, both panels have suffered serious damages from the weather elements and the later Safavid inscription, but they are proof that the Parthians tried to integrate the Persian culture at least as much as the Seleucids before them.

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