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, 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)

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A debate about Alexander – just for the fun of it

How often has Alexander the Great been at the center of a debate during his lifetime and more so during the 2,400 years following his death? No computer could keep track, I am sure!

Yet, today, just for the fun of it, I’d like to share one of the most recent debates that is centered around a mosaic that was found at Huqoq in Israel among the ruins of a synagogue dating from Roman times – not the first area that comes to mind when talking about Alexander but very much worth the argument.

Going by the picture, this mosaic looks rather confusing at first glance.


It has been dated to the fifth century AD and it obviously shows a meeting of two high-ranking figures, one of which can be defined as a great general leading his troops. The scenes include elephants equipped for battle, which either could refer to Alexander the Great or to one of his Seleucid successors who often used elephants in their armies. Unfortunately, this mosaic, unlike most antique and Byzantine examples, does not carry any inscription. This basically means that your guess is as good as mine for even scholars cannot agree among themselves who is who or what is what. The reason for the absence of labels may simply be that everyone at that time knew exactly who was depicted here – an evidence that is lost to the modern viewer.

Theory No. 1
Reading the mosaic from bottom to top, the leader of the army is none other than Alexander the Great meeting with the high priest of Jerusalem – an event that never took place but that emerged in historical fiction in later centuries. It is a widespread tale that almost naturally resulted from the conqueror’s fame and many people, including the Jews, liked to associate themselves with his fame and greatness. The central part of the picture shows the high priest of Jerusalem (the bearded man in the center) surrounded by other priests or nobles who are at the city gates to welcome Alexander.  In the top part, the high priest and his retinue meet Alexander and his army that includes battle elephants. Alexander wears the attributes of a Greek king and military commander, i.e. a purple cloak and a ribbon in his hair that equaled the royal diadem.

Theory No. 2
The bottom part of the mosaic depicts a Seleucid attack led by Antiochus VII in 132 BC. Among the soldiers, we see an elephant and a bull killed by spears hurled down by Jerusalem’s defenders onto the invading army from atop the city walls. The middle part tells us what is happening inside Jerusalem during the battle with young men grasping their swords, ready to fight. The two leaders in the top part are John Hyrcanus I on the left and Antiochus VII on the right as both are negotiating a truce in the presence of their troops. As a true successor of Alexander the Great, the Seleucid leader wears a purple cloak and the royal Greek diadem. It should be added that the day of the truce is a Jewish feast, meaning that we see Antiochus offering the Judeans a bull to be sacrificed in their temple.

The theory about Alexander the Great reminds me of Alexander’s Mausoleum in Alexandria, Egypt that is not mentioned by any traveller in antiquity, simply because everybody knew it was there…

So, why or to what purpose this mosaic at Huqoq was made remains a mystery and so far, there is no watertight explanation that could fit all the details of the mosaic.

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