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)

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Bisutun relief of King Darius I

The most important rock-wall relief and certainly the best known is that of Bisutun in which Darius I celebrates his victory over Gaumata and eight more pretenders to the throne in 518 BC.

Bisutun or Behistun was located on the well-travelled road connecting Babylon to Ecbatana (modern Hamadan) and it was obviously an ideal place for Darius I the Great to advertise his military victories, although the relief is perched some one hundred meters above the valley floor. I find it terribly disappointed that I am not allowed to climb up the scaffold to the platform to have a closer look at the scene. Instead, I have to step back as the platform is blocking the relief from view when standing at the foot of the cliff. From down here it is impossible to see the trilingual inscriptions and I wonder how travelers in antiquity were supposed to read the exploits of their king.

Unlike the rock-wall reliefs of Naqsh-e Rustam and Persepolis, there is no tomb at Bisutun, just a victory scene – but what a victory!  To clearly understand what has happened, we have to go back to Cyrus the Great, who was succeeded by his son Cambyses II known for having lost his army in the Egyptian desert. When Cambyses died, he had no direct successor and it seems that a man posing as his brother Bardiya, a magian and/or Gaumata, a Zoroastrian priest, seized the throne.

Darius, the later Darius I the Great contested the legitimacy of this new king and claimed his rights as being the great-great-great-son of Teispes, just like Cambyses II. Here at Bisutun Darius I provides a lengthy sequence of events. Within the year he fought no less than nineteen battles, murdering Gaumata and Bardiya (also known as Smerdis). After that, he marched against several other pretenders to the throne choking several revolts in Media, Elam,  Babylonia, Armenia, Parthia, Margiana, Scythia and even in the heart of Persia. This is what is being related on the Bisutun relief where a row of nine prisoners, their heads locked in a collar and hands tied behind their back, are led in front of Darius standing in a commanding posture. Above the group floats the emblem of Ahuramazda by whose will Darius receives his kingship.

The trilingual inscriptions relating the king’s conquests are basically written in five columns in Old Persian, Babylonian, and Persian. Unfortunately, from the valley floor, one cannot even see that there are any cuneiform signs up there!
[Click here to see all the pictures of Bisutun]

To my greatest surprise I am confronted with another inscription left by Darius I and his son Xerxes. This happens at a place called Ganj Nameh, some five kilometers southwest of Hamadan. There are no pictures here, just two clear-cut frames in a granite wall, each written in three languages: Old Persian, Neo-Babylonian, and Neo-Elamite. As is customary, they both start by praising Ahuramazda and continue by describing their lineage and deeds, Darius on the left panel and Xerxes on the right one. It reads: "The Great God [is] Ahuramazda, greatest of all the gods, who created the earth and the sky and the people; who made Xerxes king, and outstanding king as outstanding ruler among innumerable rulers; I [am] the great king Xerxes, king of kings, king of lands with numerous inhabitants, king of this vast kingdom with far-away territories, son of the Achaemenid monarch Darius." Again the entire setting is quite spectacular in the landscape close to a fast running mountain river and lovely waterfalls.
[Click here to see all the pictures of Ganj Nameh]

This about closes the subject of Achaemenid rock-reliefs and tombs (see also my previous post: Achaemenid Tombs at Naqsh-i Rustam and Persepolis), which I feel certainly deserves our full attention since Alexander must have seen them all, even if historians do not mention them. 

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