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)

Monday, February 29, 2016

Alexander de Grote. De ondergang van het Perzische Rijk by Jona Lendering

Under the original title “Alexander de Grote. De ondergang van het Perzische rijk” (ISBN 9025331440) Jona Lendering is about the only author to have written a book about Alexander in Dutch. There are less than a handful of books available in Dutch translation and even less written by Dutch authors, so it is evident that his book is a valuable contribution for those who do not read in another language.

The great merit of this book is that the author also includes information that has been made available from Babylonian and Persian clay tablets, contributing to a more complete historical picture.

He sketches the situation in Greece and Macedonia during the reign of King Philip II, Alexander’s father, down to the events leading to his murder and Alexander’s accession to the throne. He then takes the reader step by step through the foreign lands as Alexander marches east clarifying many cultural backgrounds of the people he conquered on the way. The book ends obviously with the death of Alexander in Babylon and the ensuing civil war over his succession.

The book contains good local maps of the king’s campaigns, which are a great help to better understanding the vast complexity of each battlefield and the demands of each and every siege of the key cities and sites.

It is written in a simple style which greatly helps the novice to follow Alexander’s path and to assimilate the huge amount of information that inevitably is involved.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Water management in antiquity

Water management is a modern word for something that exists since early antiquity.

We tend to think of the Romans as being the first to bring water where it was needed thanks to the ingenuity and the skills of their architects since they left us a great number of aqueducts and fountains, but they certainly were not the first to “manage” water.

Other civilizations in other climates had to rely on other techniques and other resources. One such system is known as the kareez or qanats, which were first mentioned to me in Libya. There the ancient people of Garamantes, a Berber population that prospered from about 500 BC to 700 AD, used this technique locally knows as “foggaras”. It consists of a network of underground tunnels with shafts by which fossil water is led to the desert surface creating as by magic fertile lands and oasis.

The idea sounded rather abstract till I came across a similar system near the city of Nurata, roughly north between Bukhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan. At the foot of the Nurata fort (Nur in antiquity) is a holy mosque that boasts about its sacred waters that come from the distant hills through a system of qanats. Here, the qanat is an underground tunnel that slopes gently and transports water from a spot under a distant hill to the lower lands; it is punctuated with a series of vertical access shafts at set intervals through which the channel could be cleaned. (Read more under: Could Alexander have known the Garamantes?)

More recently, I was told that it was, in fact, an ancient Persian invention or maybe even older since similar waterworks were mentioned in Sumerian and Assyrian documents, i.e., at least, one thousand years earlier. Yet the invention is generally attributed to the Iranians at some time during the first millennium BC who heavily relied on the qanats till the middle of the 20th century. When I recently was in Iran, I was shown a succession of heaps of stones which were the shaft’s entries to the underground channel. Unfortunately, all I saw were these mounds, merely over-sized anthills, not a real illustration of this ingenious system.

Striking, however, were the so-called yakhchal or ice pits which are clearly visible above ground in Iran, like this one on the road between Shiraz and Yazd. The system, said to have been mastered around 400 BC (just before Alexander’s arrival!) is quite sophisticated as clearly explained in Wikipediathey built a wall in the east–west direction near the yakhchal (ice pit). In winter, the qanat water would be channelled to the north side of the wall, whose shade made the water freeze more quickly, increasing the ice formed per winter day. Then the ice was stored in yakhchals — specially designed, naturally cooled refrigerators. A large underground space with thick insulated walls was connected to a qanat, and a system of windcatchers or wind towers was used to draw cool subterranean air up from the qanat to maintain temperatures inside the space at low levels, even during hot summer days. As a result, the ice melted slowly and was available year-round”.

On another front, the water supply system of Petra in Jordan is at present under close scrutiny. The attentive visitor walking through the narrow canyon (Siq) to the heart of the city will automatically notice the water channels at elbow’s height following the contours the side walls, interrupted by shallow holes meant to filter the water. Yet the entire landscape around Petra is thrown with smaller and larger cisterns using the natural slope of the rock walls and the cracks in the cliffs. I was taken to such a cistern from Nabataean times on the road to Little Petra, nothing more than a square door in a huge rock wall. A narrow staircase led me down inside the dark water reservoir and I could only guess its depth. In its glory days it is said to hold as much as 1.2 million liters – how can I size that up? Today’s water level is much lower but the precious water is still being used to irrigate the Bedouin crops in the surrounding fields and to water the animals.

It is rather unusual to encounter a water problem high up the El Deir Temple at Petra, also known as the Monastery. (see also: Hellenistic Petra, indirect heritage of Alexander). Where it stands, El Deir always takes the full brunt of any storm that rolls in from across the desert. Besides, this monument is not cut deep enough into the soft sandstone wall and leaves the façade very exposed.

In front of  El Deir, there used to be a catch pool designed to collect the water from occasional downpours but at present, the very entrance to this pool is obstructed by rubble and soil that accumulated over the centuries. Storms when they occur, are rather violent and turn into torrents of fast-moving water that puddles at the base of the façade. Today the flash floods hit the monument from all sides and water stagnates at the base of El Deir, whose walls absorb salt and other minerals from the soil leaving a crystallized crust on the stone's surface. This crust weakens the stone and eventually will lead to its destruction. The Nabataeans clearly were aware of the problem and built that wall with the catch pool. Archaeologists now realize that the reconstruction of this wall is a priority.

It is clear that water is not always there where we need it and is not always available in the appropriate amount. Another part of the archaeological project at El Deir aims to clear out dozens of water channels and cisterns in order to restore the Nabataeans’ efficient water management. At the same time, the current inhabitants could profit from the precious water and this efficient system could eventually serve other desert communities.

Water management is nothing new and it is quite amazing that in our advanced 21st century we can still learn so much from our forefathers! 

Monday, February 22, 2016

The sanctuary of Asclepius on the Acropolis resuscitated at last.

 The presence of a sanctuary of Asclepius on the slopes of Athens Acropolis has been a subject of discussion for many years. Scholars knew there was such a building but till now it could not be located.

The first temple dates from 420-419 BC and a second one was built right on top of it at some time during the first century BC, probably after 86 BC.

It has been a painstaking business of shifting through piles of stones till it was established that they somehow belonged together. After handling and taking inventory for five years or so, it was only in 2011 that the first hints were found among 450 pertinent blocks. Two stones from a corner were matching the foundations. After that is what relatively easy to determine that all remaining blocks belonged to the sanctuary since they were made of the same type of marble and had the same design. Unfortunately, over the centuries, many stones have been re-used in other constructions and it is not easy to identify them.

The temple which archeologists are aiming to restore is the second sanctuary that will, however, include later repairs and expansions from the third century AD, i.e. after the thorough destruction of Athens by the Herulians in 267 AD. In a first stage, they hope to reconstruct the base of the walls of the sanctuary by the end of 2016.

It will be a huge challenge to puzzle together the many buildings that crowded the foot of the Acropolis over eons past.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Selinunte died tragically not unlike Pompeii

It is common knowledge that Pompeii was razed from the surface of the earth following the volcanic explosion of the Vesuvius in 79 AD, but the sudden end of Selinunte in Sicily is not less spectacular – yet unknown till now.

Selinunte originally was allied with Carthage, but after the battle of Himera (see: The Battle of Himera, a major confrontation) in 480 BC they sought the protection of Syracuse. Yet the situation in Sicily was never stable and like Selinunte other cities kept changing sides, at times with the Carthaginians and at other times against them. One such situation developed in the late 5th century BC when after a nine-day siege, Hannibal utterly destroyed Selinunte slaughtering 16,000 inhabitants and soldiers, and enslaving the 5,000 male survivors as well as many thousands of women and children. From one day to the next, the thriving city was entirely deserted.

Recent excavations have shed some light on the sudden disappearance of Selinunte. Archaeologists have found half-eaten remains of meals abandoned by the people as bowls with food residues were unearthed. Besides, they have also discovered dozens of unfired ceramic tiles and pots abandoned by the terrified workers before they could put them in the kilns. Whereas the city of Pompeii disappeared nearly overnight under a thick layer of volcanic ash, Selinunte gradually was covered beneath a thick coat of dust and earth.

Thanks to the wonders of modern geophysical techniques, it was possible to investigate the terrain and so far 2,500 of Selinunte’s houses have been identified, lining up alongside its streets, around its harbor and even inside its busy industrial zone. What’s more, we are able for the first time to have a detailed comprehensive plan of a Greek city from the classical era, where until now we only had scant and fragmentary impressions. Thanks to this study, scholars have been able to count the exact number of houses in the city and this, in turn, led to determine its population. Since even the industrial zone has been preserved, it is now possible to determine its interaction with the residential area.

No less than eighty kilns have been located so far and that includes very large ones where thousands of roof tiles and large ceramic amphorae were produced. Another dozen of kilns was dedicated to the production of giant ceramic food vessels and ceramic coffins. The smaller kilns were used to make smaller pieces like tableware, loom-weights and statuettes of the gods. Among some of the pottery-making tools traces of paint were also identified. It has been established that the potters had a place of worship for their own gods like Athena who protected the workers, Artemis who assisted in childbirth, Demeter as the goddess of fertility and harvest, and even upper mighty Zeus.

It is hard to imagine the hustle and bustle of Selinunte’s harbor and industrial zone. Special attention will now be turned towards exposing the foundations of the large warehouses that once stood there. Excavations of the shops and the houses around the agora revealed that ships and goods from all over the Mediterranean moored here. So far, pottery, glass and bronze ware from countries like Egypt, Turkey, southern France and northern Italy have been found. Selinunte’s own production in 409 BC, for instance, is estimated to have reached an annual amount of some 300,000 ceramic artefacts. It has been calculated that less than 20% of these vessels were used by the citizens themselves, the remainder evidently was destined to shipping their rich harvests of agricultural produce like wheat and olives.

In my earlier blog about Selinunte (see: More temples in Sicily to be proud of) I only spoke about the temples which, since they had not been closely identified where simply referred to by a letter. These temples were mainly disturbed by successive earthquakes or partially plundered as their building stones were reused for other structures over the centuries. There was indeed a lot of rubble laying around although a first effort was made to clear the layout of the city and its main street now revealing a number of shops (in 2014).

Basically, 15% of the city surface is being exposed, i.e. mostly temples and Selinunte’s acropolis, all the rest is still hidden from view. In spite of this meager percentage, Selinunte has become the largest archaeological park in Europe!  

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The oldest lighthouse in the world at Patara

In an earlier blog, I spoke about this most ancient lighthouse which I saw from a distance during my walking tour of Lycia (see: Wonderful Patara!). At that time, new excavations were underway and it seems that by now they have been finalized and the lighthouse is being exposed in all its glory.

Lighthouse Ruins, Patara, Turkey

For many years, it was thought that the lighthouse at La Coruna in Spain was the oldest in the world, but this record has been broken by this one in Patara by sixty years.

A large chunk of Patara was buried under the ever moving sand dunes and recently with great efforts major buildings like the theater and the Lycian Council (see: The World’s First Parliament Building) have been cleared – both looking brand-new. The latest work was carried out at the site of the lighthouse that must have stood 16-20 meters tall right at the entrance of the water channel leading to the harbor of Patara. It actually has Hellenistic features and an inscription around the base of the lighthouse, once carved in bronze, has been exposed. Also, the entrance and a spiral staircase are now visible to the brave visitor.

Lighthouse Engraving, Patara, Turkey

Archaeologists presently claim that this lighthouse was destroyed by a tsunami at some time in antiquity based on the human skeleton found among the ruins. This skeleton could be that of the lighthouse keeper who was crushed under the crumbling stones.

Further excavations are still ongoing at the Basilica, the Lima Hamam, the Palaestra, the city’s Acropolis and the Ancient Lycian waterway (see: A new Season of Excavations at Patara).

[Pictures from Turkey's for Life]

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A laptop in ancient Greece?

It sounds like one of von Däniken’s statements, but true or not the relief that triggers this assumption raises awkward questions.

The sculpture from around 100 BC is exhibited at the Getty Museum in Malibu and labeled as “Grave Naiskos of an Enthroned Woman with an Attendant”. There is nothing wrong with that until you take a closer look. The attendant is holding a shallow box with the attached lid turned upwards and the woman facing her seems to look straight at the lid and not inside the chest.

A modern onlooker automatically will associate the “box” with a laptop, more so because of the two holes on the side of the bottom part reminding us of two USB ports.

It is not surprising that this image triggers the imagination of those believing in aliens and go so far as to connect it to the legend told about the Oracle of Delphi where priests got in touch with supernatural beings to pass along advanced technology and knowledge.

Some historians tend to see this “laptop” as a writing tablet although the woman in question is not holding a stylus to write on it, but then she may simply be reading the message on the tablet. Yet it is being argued that this “laptop” is much thinner than a writing tablet.

There is still a lot we don’t know about antiquity and till we find watertight proof speculations will continue to run high.

Meanwhile, this object reminds me of a similar yet thinner “laptop” I saw a few years ago at the Archaeological Museum of Sophia, Bulgaria, where it was labelled as being a soldier’s diploma. It is composed of two square bronze sheets tied together showing the inscription on the inside of these bronze sheets.

Maybe the lady on the grave relief is reading some message after all?

[The three top pictures are from Daily Mail]

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Another Macedonian tomb unearthed in Pella

It seems that excavations at the Eastern Cemetery of Pella have been carried out between October 2014 and December 2015, examining nineteen cist graves and other tile-roofed graves.

One of these tombs is remarkable because, beside the usual antechamber and main chamber, it also has two side chambers situated on either side of the ante-chamber. The vaulted roof of the main chamber has collapsed but the vaults of the side rooms have survived in excellent condition. The walls of the main chamber still stand to a height of 2.5 meters, and one of the side chambers still contained the stone pedestal on which the deceased was placed. The door to the ante-chamber must have been a wooden one, measuring 2.78x1.30 meters.

As so often, this tomb has been looted in antiquity, but some pottery, lamps and figurines have been recovered, enabling to date the tomb to the first half of the 3rd century BC.

The tomb’s façade has not been studied yet but looks rather promising as the debris suggests that it may have been quite a monumental construction crowned with a pediment.