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 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)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The richness of Perge once again in the limelight

In spite of all the excavations, explanations and reconstructions we still cannot really imagine what a city like Perge  must have looked like during its heydays. Walking through the wonderful collection at the Museum of Antalya, it is amazing to see how many of the statues have been found at Perge  alone. This great city has a room of its own in Antalya’s Museum but is bursting out of it seams. It is quite exciting to read that even more near-intact statues have been recovered over the past three years.

No less than 13 rare sculptures have been unearthed at Perge’s necropolis at the end of the western street. In a Nympheion close to the northern baths a complete statue of Emperor Caracalla nearly 2m20 high was found, the only complete one so far. Also a 1m30m tall sculpture of a horse with perfect anatomic details was recovered in the area.

And then an impressive number of Greek gods and goddesses have been deterred as well: a 2-meters-high Selene, the moon goddess and sister of the sun god Helios; a strong and handsome Helios venerated on the same level as Apollo; a 1m70 high statue of Nemesis in a transparent dress; a statue of Tyche, the Latin Fortuna; a great Asclepios, god of medicine and health holding a plate of medicine in his right hand and a ferula plant in his left; a reassembled Aphrodite (since she was found in bits and pieces), the goddess of love and beauty; and an armored and finely sculptured Athena, the goddess of peace and intelligence. Last but not least there was a headless statue of a woman in long dress and coat, that of a headless man holding a sword, and finally the statue of a priest holding a horn-of-plenty in his right hand and showing two snake reliefs on his neck.

All these beauties have meanwhile made their appearance in a new Perge  Hall at the Archeological Museum of Antalya. Time to return for a new visit at the museum as well as to the site of Perge  itself since according to the picture released in the Hurriyet Daily News more of the ancient city has been cleared, including the hill behind the main fountain that leads to the acropolis.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Opramoas of Rhodiapolis, posthumously businessman of the year?

It is never too late for a promotion and certainly not for a posthumous promotion, even if that happens after 1,862 years! This honor was granted to Opramoas of Rhodiapolis, the great benefactor of Lycia, who contributed largely and generously to rebuilding many cities destroyed and destabilized after the repeated earthquakes in the region during the second century AD.

The initiative was taken by the Antalya Industrials and Businessmen Association (ANSIAD) after his name was put forward by Professor Nevzat Cevik, an academic of the Akdeniz University Archaeology Department. In today’s wording Opramoas would be called a businessman and as such he became an “honorary member” of the Association. The idea was that Opramoas deserved to serve as a raw model in today’s business world. If that is not an honor, I don’t know what is!

As explained in my earlier blog Opramoas of Rhodiapolis, this Lycian notable who worked at the Lycian League (see: The world’s first Parliament building) attained his wealth from agriculture, banking, and trade, in other words, he was a most successful businessman. He was a great donor and was especially known for his contributions to rebuilding cities hit by the earthquake of 141 AD. Based on the inscriptions on his tomb at Rhodiapolis, it has been calculated that his donations amounted to three million dinars, an astronomic figure! To give an idea, the construction of the two-story high Stoa at Patara amounted to 30,000 dinars, which means that he could have financed the building 100 such Stoas. The list of his contributions is a long one and at least 32 cities are known to have received help from Opramoas. It is not surprising to find his name in almost every antique city you can visit throughout Lycia today.

Although he may be best known for his help to the devastated cities, he also provided food for the poor, arranged for a dowry to be paid to the newly wed in need and paid the wages of the workers at the Lycian League (see above).

For a full list of his achievements, one can go to his tomb at Rhodiapolis which carries probably the longest Greek text listing all of his benefactions in 7,000 to 8,000 words. Roll up your sleeves and start reading!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cyrus the Great who made Pasargadae the capital of Persia

It is well documented that Alexander had a great admiration and respect for Cyrus the Great, the king who united Media and Persia into the largest empire of the then known world. The story of his early life, written down in the fifth century BC by Herodotus in his Histories, is more legend than reality, but there is reason enough to attribute a good deal of truth to it.

We have to go back to Astyages who became king of the Medes in 585 BC. Astyages had a dream in which his daughter, Mandane, gave birth to a boy who would destroy his empire. To avoid this destiny, he married her off to Cambyses, a Persian man of good family thinking that their son would be no threat to his throne. But while his daughter was expecting her first child, Astyages had another dream, which the Magi explained as that the boy would rule over Asia. As soon as Cyrus was born, the king sent for a trusted kinsman, Harpagus, ordering him to take the baby with him and kill him. Harpagus took the boy home but feared for his own safety should he proceed with the murder, so he sent for one of the king’s herdsmen, Mithridates and put him in charge of executing the king’s orders. But when Mithridates brought the infant to his house he found his wife in tears as their own baby was still-born. Together they decided to present their own infant as the murdered king’s child and to adopt Cyrus as their own.

Cyrus’ life took a sharp turn when he was about ten years old. He was playing king with his friends and when one of his play-subordinates disobeyed him, he arrested him and all joined in to beat the boy. The disobedient boy who was the son of a distinguished Mede ran home to complain of his harsh punishment. The father took his cherished boy to the king to show his wounds upon which King Astyages summoned the herdsman and his son. After a serious confrontation, Astyages found out that this boy was Cyrus and that evidently his trusted man Harpagus had not obeyed his explicit orders. It was here that Cyrus’ true identity was revealed and he was reunited with his parents, Cambyses and Mandane, the king and queen of Persia. Astyages took vengeance over Harpagus, who by the time Cyrus had come of age persuaded the Medes to revolt against the harsh rule of their king. There was a serious court intrigue and a confrontation of both armies, but in the end Cyrus was victorious. This is how Media and Persia were united into one kingdom under the rule of Cyrus.

Cyrus thus became the founder of the Achaemenid Dynasty in 559 or 560 BC and his reign lasted about thirty years. Throughout those years he expanded his power and annexed the Lydian Empire as well as the Neo-Babylonian Empire before setting off to conquer Central Asia. His empire reached from the Mediterranean Sea with the Balkans and Thrace to the Indus River in the east.

During his reign, he found time to build a new capital which he named Pasargadae, actually on the very spot where he defeated the Median army of Astyages. Still today we find remains of his Palace not too far from his famous tomb (see: The Gem of Pasargadae, the Tomb of Cyrus the Great). As far as we can make out, it consists of a Gate House or entrance, an Apadana or Audience Hall, a Private Palace with a Garden and two smaller palaces.

Just as for the construction of Susa and Persepolis, the walls were made of mud-brick pierced by tall stone doorways. The Gate House still has its relief in the northeast corner representing a four-winged man (maybe Cyrus himself?) wearing Elamite dress and two rams’ horns in Egyptian style holding three sun-disks with bundles of reed flanked on each side by a cobra. The cuneiform inscription in the upper right corner is hard to make out but reads “I am Cyrus the King, an Achaemenid” in three different languages (I suppose Elamite, Old-Persian and Babylonian based on the current practice at Persepolis, for instance). Here as all over the site, the connecting walls have been reconstructed in mud-brick to a height of approximately half a meter, which helps to map the Palace Complex.

Pasargadae does not expose the grandeur of Persepolis but there is much more left to see than at Susa, for instance, but then this was the first Persian Palace ever to be built on such a scale.

The Apadana has served as an example for later palaces at Persepolis and Susa. Consequently, it has been designed with the same layout, measuring here 32x22m. Only the lower part of the doorjambs have been preserved and show reliefs with the feet and legs of two figures resembling human beings either with the tail of a fish, the legs of a bull or the claws of a bird; only one has normal feet. There is also a 13-meters tall pillar carrying a cuneiform inscription in Old Persian reading: I, Cyrus the king, an Achaemenid, i.e. basically the same text as written near the four-winged figure at the Gate House.

The Residential Palace is recognizable by its remaining columns set in five rows of six because unlike Persepolis, the floor plan here is rectangular and not square. Apparently, only the lower part of these columns was made of stone and the upper section was made of wood that was plastered and painted. The portico on the southwestern side overlooked the royal gardens where we still can see the paved water channels. This Palace contains the same cuneiform inscription we encountered in the previous buildings – a clear way for Cyrus to put a stamp on his achievements. The northwestern portico was supported by twelve columns and the preserved lower part of the doorjambs shows reliefs of the king accompanied by two of his servants. Two archaeologists are at work here when I visit the site, cleaning up the reliefs – a very tedious task! I just notice some holes in the reliefs confirming that real jewelry once enhanced these panels.

The Palace of Pasargadae is not well-known as visitors generally only stop at the Tomb of Cyrus the Great, but the setting of both buildings in this wide still wild valley overlooked by the nearby Tall-i Takht citadel and the frail remains of the Achaemenid tower create a homely feeling. It has grandeur but it is not one of pump and circumstance like at Persepolis. It is a place where one could live and live in a very pleasant way for that matter. It nearly makes one forget that Cyrus was the first king to instate a series of regal titles: Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World (just in case he had forgotten one of those corners!)

It is known that Cyrus the Great respected the customs and religions of those he conquered, an example that Alexander has widely accepted and followed. He established a successful centralized administration with a system that was beneficial for all his subjects thanks to the satraps or governors he put in place to supervise the local population. In this field, Alexander tried to follow in his footsteps – but his attitude was entirely misunderstood by his Macedonians who saw themselves only as victorious conquerors. How or whether Alexander could have brought this to a good end will always remain an open question since he died too soon after his return to Babylon to implement his Persian administration. The mass-wedding at Susa was a first step in that direction, but after his untimely death even this attempt quickly fell apart.

 Had he lived longer and had he been able to bring the message of Cyrus to his world, our world today would have been quite different. Cyrus had declared that his newly conquered peoples would enjoy religious freedom. It was written in cuneiform script on a clay cylinder and kept at the temple of Marduk in Babylon (now at the British Museum in London). It is widely accepted as being the oldest known declaration of human rights – and that almost 2,600 years before the United Nations came up with the idea! During Assyrians conquests, most of the non-Babylonians had been moved from their home countries by force, and this included the destruction of Jerusalem. Cyrus, in turn, allows the Jews to recover their statues and gods that had been confiscated and taken out of their own temples; they also were allowed to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild their temple. That gesture earned him the title “shepherd of God” and “Lord Anointed” (Messiah) in the Book of Isaiah. From ancient Greece to the Renaissance, to the Founding Fathers, generations of philosophers, kings and statesmen found their inspiration in Cyrus’ words giving shape to a very modern way of ruling, uniting people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions (see also: The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning).

[Click here to see all the pictures of Pasargadae]

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The name Amphipolis does sell

Sotheby’s inevitably found out recently that the very name of Amphipolis helped to sell a collection of terracotta statues, and this in spite of the fact that the general interest for the Tomb of Amphipolis that made headlines in 2014 has dropped considerably.


The terracotta figurines date back from the second century BC and according to their information have originated from Amphipolis. It seems however impossible to confirm this origin as they probably are not even characteristic of Amphipolis, but that doesn’t diminish their sales value.

Whatever their name or origin, someone found that the six figurines were worth to disburse $8,750.00 for – a sure sign that the general public is still fascinated by Amphipolis and its tomb.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The gem of Pasargadae: the Tomb of Cyrus the Great

Visions of Pasargadae are automatically linked to the tomb of Cyrus the Great, somewhere on a rather lonely spot in the broad flat valley of the Pulvar RiverThe setting is unreal yet a commanding one, undisturbed by the more than 2,500 years since its construction, except for the surrounding grove with all sorts of trees mentioned in antiquity that has disappeared.


Cyrus the Great was king of Persia from 559 BC till approximately 530 BC. He is generally seen as the founder of the Achaemenid dynasty as he united Media and Persia to form the mighty Persian Empire. In his days his realm comprised today’s Afghanistan and Uzbekistan; Lydia and Babylonia, which included modern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Israel/Palestine. He finally led an expedition into Central Asia where he was killed in a battle against the Massagetae at the Jaxartes River. Well, this is what Herodotus tells us in his Histories. There are several other versions: Ctesias tells us that Cyrus was wounded in a battle against the Derbici and was brought back to camp where he appointed Cambyses as his heir; Diodorus’ story is that Cyrus was taken prisoner and crucified by a Scythian queen; and Xenophon has Cyrus dying at home. In the end nobody offers a decent explanation why or how he was buried here at Pasargadae.


Pasargadae, the oldest capital of the Persian Empire, was founded by Cyrus – maybe the reason why he was buried here. Unlike the tombs of later Achaemenid Kings that were hewn in the cliffs around Persepolis and Pasargadae, the Tomb of Cyrus is a rather unique construction. The monument has the shape of a small house measuring 13x12 meters and is set on a base about five meters high. Inside the low tomb chamber the gold coffin containing the embalmed corpse of Cyrus was placed with next to it a couch with gold legs. A Babylonian carpet and purple rugs formed the bedding upon which the Median coat with sleeves and other Babylonian dresses were spread out, i.e. the royal cape that every new ruler was supposed to wear for his inauguration. The Median trousers and robes were dyed the color of hyacinth; others in purple and other colors; there also were collars and sabers, earrings of gold and precious stones. Next stood a table dressed with precious tableware. When Alexander visited this tomb in 330 BC while collecting the treasury at the Palace of Pasargadae he must have been amazed by its richness.

However, on his return from India in 324 BC he did stop here to pay his respects and instructed the tomb to be unsealed. As Alexander stepped inside the small chamber, he found the remains of Cyrus scattered over the floor, his purple mattress, his clothes and the precious grave-gifts were gone; the lid of the sarcophagus was broken. Alexander is known to have had a special veneration for Cyrus and we can easily imagine his anger, maybe more so since no real culprit could be found in spite of torturing the Magi who were supposed to guard and maintain the tomb. The Greek historian, Aristobulus, was appointed to repair Cyrustomb. It is said that he managed to replace the royal clothing but I wonder how; then the entrance door was sealed with stones and clay stamped with the king’s seal.

Alexander considered himself as Cyrus’ heir and he had hoped that this standpoint would be appreciated by the Persians and the Greeks alike since both people showed great admiration for the founder of the Persian Empire. The disturbed grave-site must have hurt Alexander deeply, and not only for the damage done but for its symbolic meaning. He certainly was aware of the crowning ritual as explained by Plutarch in his history of Artaxerxes II who became king in 404 BC, nearly 150 years after Cyrus’ death. The king would be initiated in a nearby temple dedicated to a war goddess not unlike Athena. To this purpose he had to drop his own clothes and wear the dress which Cyrus wore at the time he became king, apparently a rough leather uniform. He then had to eat a ritual meal of figs and terebinth leaves with a bowl of sour milk. After this ceremony, he then would assume Cyrus royal cloak to finally access to kinghood. It was clear to Alexander that since the tomb was stripped of the meaningful clothes the crowning ceremony as he had imagined in Cyrus’ footsteps was impossible.

Today the Tomb of Cyrus is being protected by a discreet Plexiglas screen but the entourage has been entirely stripped of whatever columns and other remains that appear on photographs taken last century, for instance by Ernst Herzfeld, the German archaeologist who in the 1930s spent most of his life excavating the site of Persepolis. Because of the security screen, no one is allowed to climb the six steps leading to the very entrance of the tomb on the western side. The doorway is very narrow and very low, but it would have been terribly gratifying to step inside the funeral chamber knowing that Alexander had been there before!

Nearby are the pretty stripped remains of the Palace of Pasargadae that was built by Cyrus the Great (see: Cyrus the Great who made Pasargadae the capital of Persia) but the lay-out definitely inspired Darius the Great some fifteen years later when he drew the plans for his palaces of Susa and Persepolis.

[The black and white Photograph of the tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae with remains of a more recent cemetery, probably taken in 1923, © Photograph by Ernst Herzfeld, Freer|Sackler Archives

[Click here to see all the pictures of Pasargadae]

Friday, August 14, 2015

Time to revisit Andriake, the harbor of Myra

Andriake is one of my favorite places to stroll around and the good news it that it is time to go back! Archeologists have worked very hard over the past four years to clear Andriake’s business area, its harbor structures, baths, churches, and synagogues.

[Picture from the Hurriyet Daily News]

As announced in my article “Andriake’s granary to be turned into a museum”, this building of 56 meters long and 32 meters wide has by now been converted into a Museum of Lycian Civilization where artifacts from all the cities belonging to the Lycian League have found a home. It is evident that the granary needed some restoration and adaptation for this purpose, but it sounds very promising.

At the same time, the Agora and the huge water cistern (24x12m and 6m deep) have been restored. When I visited the place last in the spring of 2010 (see: Andriake, port of Myra), I witnessed the gaping openings of that cistern located underneath the Agora where I watched my steps with some apprehension.


Today a nice walking route has been laid out, at least through the eastern part of the city. Meanwhile, the western side is being cleared from trees and low bushes, and a first archaeological assessment has been made revealing arched structures and the city walls from Roman and Byzantine times. 

In order to make the site more appealing, a replica of a Roman ship (16-meters-long) has been moored in the harbor in front of the museum together with a crane to load and unload the goods. The picture from the Hurriyet Daily News looks indeed very inviting.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A walk through ancient Miletus

Together with Ephesus and Priene, Miletus is one the grandest cities on Turkey’s West coast to visit. Yet, unlike Ephesus with its Curetus Avenue and the superb view of the Library of Celsus, its well-restored villa’s and the splendid theater, Miletus has hardly more that the very impressive theater to offer to the hasty visitor. There is much more, of course, but it takes some time and effort to investigate further and to mentally put the temples, agora, baths and its once so busy harbor in place.


A great way to prepare your next trip is this virtual tour of Miletus. You can choose your own itinerary by using the arrows and zooming in and out. Have fun! 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Fire over Persepolis

Contrary to what we like to believe, Persepolis was not THE capital of Persia but just one of the capitals. Because of the size of the Persian Empire and the different climates proper to each region, the King of Kings moved between several cities that became the capital for as long as he stayed there. There is, of course, the city of Babylon (now in Iraq), a rather unhealthy place amidst the marshes of the Tigris floodplain where the summers were too hot but the winters rather pleasant. Susa, which was conquered by Cyrus the Great around 540 BC was a better place to be and the Achaemenid’s generally spent their winters there. Darius the Great built his palace on the high plateau of Susa about the same time as he worked on the construction of Persepolis. Ecbatana, today’s Hamadan, was friendlier and cooler in summer because it was located much further to the north. Persepolis as well as Pasargadae were in turn built on a high plateau, which made both cities rather pleasant residences. Pasargadae is the oldest city ever founded by a Persian ruler, in this case, Cyrus the Great, whose tomb still lights up the landscape. When Darius I, the later Darius the Great, came to power he wanted to build a palace of his own and that was nearby Persepolis.

As Alexander moved further east, he inevitably occupied each of these capitals in turn. First came Babylon, which he entered shortly after his victory at Gaugamela in October 331 BC. From there he marched to Susa in late November of the same year and reached it after twenty days of a leisurely march (see: Susa with its unique glazed brick walls). After a short winter, he headed for Persepolis where he arrived during the first week of February 330 BC (see: Alexander’s arrival at Persepolis and Alexander amidst the pomp and circumstance of Persepolis).

Alexander spent four months at Persepolis, yet it is difficult to track down what he did during that time. After the battle of Gaugamela, there had been no strain on his army as Babylon and then Susa surrendered without problems. The same reception was given at Persepolis and Pasargadae where the intact treasuries were handed over to Alexander. Of course, King Darius III was still on the run, sheltering at Ecbatana for the time being, meaning that Alexander must have kept one eye on the evasive king and one on his business here at Persepolis.

He had restrained his army from looting when entering Babylon and Susa, but once they arrived in Persepolis he let them loose to rampage the city, all but the palace. Arrian as usual is very sober about this but Diodorus and Curtius tell the story in every tiny detail – an awful business. According to them, Alexander would have described Persepolis to his troops as the most hateful city in Asia, the richest under the sun where even the private houses were furnished with great wealth. It is not surprising that the Macedonians were unstoppable in their greed, storming through the houses, plundering the premises, and slaughtering the men. The Persian wealth had rubbed off onto the common people and it is said they possessed much silver and gold, rich furniture and garments tainted with sea purple and embroidered with gold.  Diodorus speaks of an “orgy of plunder”. After rampaging the city for a whole day, the Macedonians still wanted more and fought each other over the looted trophies, even killing their fellow soldiers who carried away bigger prizes. He reports that some went as far as splitting the finds in two so each would get his share, or cutting off hands of those who were grasping the same treasure piece they were coveting. They dragged off the women simply for their luxury dresses. Alexander’s proud army definitely was drunk with greed. Many Persians, rather than falling into Macedonian hands, threw themselves from the walls together with their wives and children. Others set their houses afire, preferring to be burnt alive with their families. The rampage became so outrageous that Alexander in person had to order his men to spare the people and the ornaments of the women. No wonder that the Iranians today look at Alexander as a barbarian beast.

To distract his men or to keep them occupied in a more “civilized” way, Alexander set out for the interior of Persia proper with a light-armed force in order to reduce all the villagers to his power, devastating their fields. About 30 days later he returned to Persepolis where he performed costly sacrifices to the gods and held games in honor of his victories. He entertained his friends lavishly, feasting and drinking.  

And then, there is the fire that destroyed the rich palaces of Persepolis. What happened? Was the fire an accident or was it ignited on purpose? If so, why was Persepolis burnt or set afire? Many theories have been developed over the centuries but until now none of them has been conclusive.

Ancient sources are not too clear either. Arrian (who uses Ptolemy as his main source) mentions the fire as a matter of course, a mere statement of the fact, while Plutarch, Curtius and Diodorus (who used Cleitarchus as their source) tell the story of a drinking bout or a binge led by Thais that ran out of control – or didn’t it? Thais was an Athenian courtesan, mistress of Ptolemy, the later Pharaoh of Egypt. As such, any involvement by Thais might have its repercussions on Ptolemy’s rule and integrity when he wrote Alexander’s biography. This could explain why she was left out of Ptolemy’s account used by Arrian. The three other ancient writers sound, however, unanimous about Thais’ role in this devastating fire.

The story goes that there were prolonged banquets attended by the king and his companions, but also by some women. The wine flowed freely with lady pipers and flutists encouraging the singing. At a certain moment the said Thais, probably as drunken as the rest of the company, declared that Alexander would win prestige among all the Greeks by setting the palace of Persepolis on fire; it would only be a fair reprisal for Xerxes’ sacrilege at Athens some 150 years ago. The idea kindled the fiery brains of the banqueters and all jumped to their feet, seizing torches – some say Alexander was the first to spring into action. Well, it doesn’t really matter who threw the first torch that ignited the bone-dry adobe walls, the draperies, and carpets, the plastered columns catching the cedar ceiling and setting the palace ablaze in no time at all. It is believed that the fire started at the Palace of Xerxes and quickly spread to the Hall of the One Hundred Columns, the adjacent Treasury, and the Apadana. The Macedonian army that was encamped nearby rushed to the Palace to help to extinguish what they thought was an accidental fire, but upon arrival, it was clear the fire was lit on purpose and they joined the bonfire.

There is a theory that Alexander planned this fire ahead of time since all the jewelry and precious decorations had been removed from the walls and doorways throughout the palaces. But on the other hand, it is evident that not only the building of Treasury was emptied to be transferred to Ecbatana but also that all the gold, silver, and precious stones that were found throughout the palace had been removed. Moreover, the king had previously appointed a new satrap for Persepolis and arranged to garrison the city as he had done so many times before and would do so often afterwards.

Surveying the plateau of Persepolis it is easy to see how fast a fire could jump from one building to the next. Alexander and his Companions must have run for their lives in order not to be caught in the fire themselves. It feels awkward to be standing at the entrance of Xerxes’ Palace, the doorway Alexander must have used repeatedly getting in and out of the building, covering the short distance to the adjacent palaces.

With the fire, Alexander had destroyed the center of Persian power; his own new center would be Babylon. The statement was made – or wasn’t it? All ancient writers agree that Alexander regretted his act as soon as he sobered up and his regrets are reiterated six years later when he returns to Persepolis from the East, but the damage to the Persians was done and he didn’t live long enough to mend it. The Greeks may never have forgotten Xerxes' burning of Athens, but the Persians certainly never forgot Alexander’s burning of Persepolis.

[Click here to see all the pictures of Persepolis]

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A two-month project to excavate the city of Soli (near Mersin, Turkey)

The news has been announced about mid-July 2015. For years, all one could see here were two rows of columns running on each side of what seems to be the main street of the Roman city. Tourists had no access to the site and I hope this will change after said excavations have been carried out.

This year’s team will work on the restoration of the columns, most of which still have their Corinthian capitals, and investigate the continuation of the street as well as the Roman shops established alongside. Last year they unearthed a very active harbor, including part of the wall dating from the period between the first century BC and the first century AD.

Soli has my interest because it is one of those Cilician cities where Alexander installed a garrison in 333 BC after having demanded a fine of 200 talents of silver for supporting the Persians against him. This fine is quite a remarkable sum if one considers, for instance, that the yearly income of Athens in 431 BC was estimated at 1,000 talents. From Soli, Alexander marched against the Cilicians holding the hills behind the city. Some were driven off, others surrendered, and within a week he was back in Soli – a short incursion it seems.

It is here that Alexander received the long-awaited news that Halicarnassus had finally fallen! Ptolemy and Asander had stayed behind in 334 BC to besiege the city and to evict the Persian commander Orontobates. With the fall of Halicarnassus, the towns of Myndos, Caunos, Thera and Callipolis came in Macedonian hands, together with Cos and Triopium (Cape Crio in southwestern Turkey). This victory called for a celebration and Alexander is said to have offered sacrifices to Asclepius – no doubt to thank the god for his recovery from the fever he caught in Tarsus. He also held a ceremonial parade of his troops, followed by a torch race and games with music and poetic contests as well as athletics.

Whatever the situation, Soli was allowed to retain its own popular government. After the Battle of Issus in November 333 BC, Arrian tells us that Alexander cancelled the debt of fifty talents Soli still owed and returned their hostages. This kindness was reciprocated to Alexander when he was laying siege on Tyre a year later and three ships from Soli joined the reinforcement fleet of eighty Phoenician vessels and several others.

I doubt there will be much if anything left to testify from Alexander’s day since reference is generally made to the Roman and Byzantine occupation, with a faint hint towards the Seleucids who were Alexander’s successors in Cilicia.

The first to colonize the area were the Greeks from Rhodes in about 700 BC and they named the city Soli which eventually flourished especially when the Persians ruled Asia Minor. After Alexander, Soli gradually lost its importance with the decline of the Seleucids in the first and second centuries BC, but gained again in prosperity with the arrival of the Roman general Pompey. He took advantage of Soli’s naval base while campaigning against the pirates who pillaged the cities of the eastern Mediterranean. From those days onward, the city was renamed Pompeiopolis in honor of their leader and liberator. New defensive walls and several public buildings and roads were built, and after Hadrian’s visit and sponsoring in 130 AD the harbor was expanded. Pompeiopolis/Soli successfully withstood the Persian attack of 260 AD and the city’s importance kept on growing, even through the Byzantine period when it became a bishopric. However, the powerful earthquake that hit the region in 525 AD completely devastated the city that was abandoned.

Monday, August 3, 2015

One illusion less to find Alexander’s descendants among the Kalash

It has been widely debated whether or not the Kalash Tribe in Pakistan are descendants of Alexander the Great’s army. Pros and cons have been discussed in a previous blog: The Kalash, a lost tribe of Alexander the Great?

[Picture from Les Alans]

In a recent study by British, Italian and Pakistani scientists, DNA samples of 23 Kalash people living in three different valleys have been collected and analyzed to be compared with the DNA of ancient hunter-gatherers and European farmers. The result shows that the Kalash have a closest affinity with hunter-gatherers from Siberia, meaning that they are from northern Eurasian origin. This widely contradicts an earlier analysis according to which a genetic miscegenation between Kalash and western Eurasian had occurred, which led to the association of this tribe with Alexander the Great.

I cannot judge whether this latest analysis should be more reliable than the previous one. For now, I would simply put another question mark to this theory. Maybe in the future there will be more substantial evidence.