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)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Alexander the Great in India. A Reconstruction of Cleitarchus by A. Chugg

In the tradition of his previous book in the series of Cleitarchus’ Reconstruction (see: The Death of Alexander the Great: a Reconstruction of Cleitarchus), Andrew Chugg wrote Alexander the Great in India. A Reconstruction of Cleitarchus (ISBN 978-0-9556790-1-8).

Once again, the author has been comparing the surviving texts from Arrian, Curtius, Diodorus, Plutarch and Justin to filter out the original work these authors have used themselves based on Cleitarchus of Alexandria. To a lesser extent Chugg also includes the Metz Epitome, many of Jacoby’s precious observations, as well as comments formulated by modern writers.

In spite of all this, the book makes an exceptional pleasant reading. Since Chugg is combining the texts from ancient authors there is no need to go through each of them individually to get the whole picture. Centrally in Alexander’s conquest of India is the Battle of the Hydaspes against Porus and this part of his conscientious gathering of information is by itself worth the reading! He ends his book with a concise description of Alexander’s Route Through India – very handy if you want the history in a nutshell but with yet enough pertaining details.

Cleitarchus, son of Deinon wrote his account in the decades following Alexander's death and most of the surviving ancient texts were more or less based upon his work, although not a single copy has come to us since they all were destroyed or discarded at some time or another.

Chugg has reconstructed Cleitarchus’ Book 10 (June 327 BC – June 326 BC that includes the Battle at the Hydaspes), Book 11 (July 326 BC – May 325 BC where we find the mutiny on the Hyphasis) and Book 12 (June 325 BC – June 324 BC including Alexander’s march through the Gedrosian Desert).

The author includes a Table listing all the Books and Fragments of Cleitarchus, from Book 1 to Book13, followed by a Table listing the Sources of Cleitarchus in chronological order. Next is a short Table giving the matches between Curtius and Diodorus. He also adds a very handy sketch showing the links used by each and every author in antiquity around the central figure of Cleitarchus.

The book ends with a Table giving for each episode in Cleitarchus' terms the corresponding sources and references with additional comments in the last column.

For those who want to read more of such reconstructions covering other periods of Alexander’s eventful life, there is good news since Andrew Chugg has recently published such a book: Concerning Alexander the Great: A Reconstruction of Cleitarchus (ISBN 978-0955679087).

If after all that you still have questions, please do get in touch with Andrew Chugg in person.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pasargadae in the headlights

Although most people know about Persepolis and Pasargadae, there are only few who are aware that we owe their discovery to the German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld. Pasargadae is the oldest capital of the Achaemenid Empire which Cyrus the Great founded when Medes and Persians came under his rule around 540 BC (see: Cyrus the Great who made Pasargadae the capital of Persia. Cyrus’ tomb is still commanding the view at the site of Pasargadae today (see: The gem of Pasargadae: the Tomb of Cyrus the Great).

[Picture of Cyrus' Tomb made by Herzfeld - from Smithsonian]

Herzfeld briefly surveyed the area as early as 1905, and returned in 1923 and 1928 for more extensive excavations. We owe him the very first map of the site and the labeling of the major structures.

The Smithsonian Museum in Washington is presently exhibiting wide selections of Herzfeld’s drawings, notes, and photographs. This collection presented under the name “Heart of an Empire: Herzfeld’s Discovery of Pasargadae” can be visited till 31 July 2016 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

It is a unique opportunity to access these first-hand views and insights from nearly a century ago.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Restitution of stolen artifacts

In these uncertain times where so many precious archaeological artifacts disappear – if not, are destroyed – it is a pleasure to hear that some tens of thousands antique relics of extraordinary quality are on their way back to their place of origin.


A British antique art dealer, Robin Symes, who had ties with Italian tomb raiders kept a storage unit at the Geneva Freeport warehouse complex in Switzerland where he stashed his huge collection of antiques. The forty-five crates contained precious objects looted in the 1970’s and 1980’s from places all over Italy: from Sicily, Puglia, Campania, and Calabria. The plan was to sell the objects illegally to clients in Japan, Germany, and others.

A coordinated action of Italian and Swiss police made it possible to recover these treasures, among which are several Etruscan painted sarcophagi, one Roman sarcophagus, many marble statues and heads, and floors and walls belonging to a temple. Generally, the objects date to between the 7th century BC and the 2nd century AD.

It is hopeful to see these precious artifacts retuning to Italy where they were recently presented to the press. After restoration, they will return to the regions from where they were stolen, but sadly they have been taken out of their context forever.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Unraveling a mysterious wall in the middle of the Jordanian desert

Jordan is much more than the splendid site of Petra and intriguing Wadi Rum, there is a huge desert stretching away to the northeast of the country that is sparsely inhabited and seldom visited by the tourists.

For that reason, it is not surprising that this 150-kilometer-long stone wall which the local Bedouins call Khatt Shebib was detected from a plane in 1948 for the first time. It is so remote that these remains have come only now under investigation. Studies are being made using what is called low-level oblique photography from helicopters to expose the overall complexity of this odd wall that does not fit any precise time in history. All we know is that it predates Roman times.

This Khatt-Shebib follows an erratic pattern, whereas some walls run parallel to each other, some are branching off the main line while other sections run an interrupted course. Because of its length, it is impossible to study it on the ground and the researchers have to rely solely on photographs, even old ones as some stones have been removed since their first discovery.

It is believed that the walls must have stood a meter or a meter and a half tall, whereby stones were simply piled one on top of the other without recognizable pattern or style. They cannot have served as a defense because they simply are too low for that and they have too many gaps. Further into the eastern desert, traces of forts have been discerned, probably built to defend the water points and possible routes, but there is no hard proof for any such theory or any other. It may well be a demarcation line between the area used for farming and that attributed to herding, or between the desert and the farming lands.

But then, there is the question raised by the hundreds of small towers, measuring only two to four meters in diameter. Their obvious role could be watchtowers but it is unlikely that they served any military purpose. Another possibility is that they were used as a shelter by local desert hunters in case of a sandstorm or simply as a place to store food. It is all down to guesswork.

There must have been a reason to pile up these loose field stones, and one worth the huge effort involved in manipulating such an enormous amount of stones over a stretch as long as 150 kilometers. Given this length, the idea and the concept must have come from a well-organized central power – but who?

The theory that the wall predates the Romans is based on pottery shards found nearby, but this evidence is too scarce to tie it to a certain time-frame, although researchers are inclined to consider the Iron Age or the Nabataean era.

Hopefully, one day the riddle will be solved?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The battle of the Hydaspes and the genius of Alexander


This battle is by far the greatest battle Alexander ever fought, yet it also is the one generally overlooked by historians and truly dwarfed by all previous similar confrontations. The Granicus was Alexander’s first test against the Persians who had underestimated their adversary. At Issus, Darius appeared in person on the battlefield but this was not the terrain he had chosen; listening to bad advice he moved his army to find himself cornered in a far too small area for his massive number of men. Darius fled to save his bare life, meaning that he had to challenge Alexander in another fight. This time, at Gaugamela the terrain was exactly what Darius needed but Alexander tricked him into opening his defensive lines and eventually charged straight at Darius. Again the king fled, and kept on fleeing till he was assassinated by one of his own kin, Bessus, who promoted himself to be the new king.

At the Hydaspes River, things were entirely different. Alexander’s adversary was Porus, a powerful Indian ruler both in posture and in command, who was not going to budge from his choice location and advantageous position on the east bank of the river Hydaspes.

I think Alexander liked the challenge to this kind of battle, one army opposing the other where he could deploy all his strategic skills. This had not happened since Gaugamela as in Central Asia he had to adapt his tactics of warfare and convert them into a guerrilla war – a far cry from a glorious fight!

So, here we are in May 326 BC. After crossing the Indus River, Alexander is moving east and at about 77 km away from the next major river, the Hydaspes (modern Jhelum River) he is informed that Porus has set up his massive line of defense on the opposite river bank ready to keep the advancing Macedonian army out of his territory.

Porus’ army must have looked very impressive from the onset. Ancient authors describe it as an enormous wall of 30,000 men/infantry interrupted at an equal distance by a towering elephant of which there were at least 85 depending on the sources. Spread among the foot soldiers were powerful archers using 90cm high bows able to shoot cumbersome large arrows. Some 300 four-horse chariots and 3,000 cavalry completed the setting. Porus dressed in silver and gold armor sat on the largest elephant, looming over the entire army – enough to frighten any enemy. Besides, the river at this point was almost 800 meters wide, and this time of year an impetuous current offering no real fording in spite of some sandy islets. Ancient sources compare Porus’ army to a huge city wall (infantry) with intermittent towers (elephants).

It was immediately clear to Alexander that there was no way he could cross the river and attack Porus frontally, and that he would have to develop a good strategy. At first, he tested his adversary and for days in a row he had Ptolemy move his army then upstream, then downstream, shouting and making as much noise as possible, threatening to cross the river. Porus, well-prepared to impede his opponent’s army to cross followed course, moving simultaneously up and downstream. As after many days nothing happened, Porus’ attention relaxed. This was exactly what Alexander had hoped for and while his men were moving back and forth, he explored the river bank further inland and found a wooded island some 28 km upstream, just behind an angle in the Hydaspes River. At that point, the river bank at his side also had a depression just deep enough to hide his army both foot and cavalry from sight. In other words, an almost ideal place to cross the river in spate.

In order to fool his adversary further, Alexander directed his pavilion to be set up further downstream with his personal squadron standing guard and all his personal royal paraphernalia in sight. He went even as far as to dress his general Attalus in his own attire with the royal chlamys and all so he would easily be confused with Alexander since he had the same build and appearance as his king – at least from a distance. Attalus was also instructed to make excursions to the edge of the river with the king’s entourage to this spot or that in order to give the impression that he was planning a crossing. What a stratagem!

It now all came down to choosing the proper moment and clearly the gods were on Alexander's side. After dark, when a heavy thunderstorm broke loose at nightfall he decided to make his move. Meanwhile, Ptolemy was still marching up and downstream with his troops and Craterus was left behind to light as many fires and make as much noise as he could in order to create the impression that the entire army was still there. His instructions were to cross the river and join the battle only when he could see that the Macedonians had broken the Indian lines.

The night was pitch dark and the Macedonians could hardly see one another, they had to shout to stay in touch but their voices were dwarfed by the wailing winds and the noise of thunder and lighting. Tempestuous rains drenched the soldiers who were at times swamped by the downpour. Fortune definitely was on their side for under these circumstances their sounds were not carried over to the enemy lines. It is amazing how Alexander managed to keep his men together during such a spooky night. In spite of the blacked-out heavens, he managed to reach the depression near the crossing spot, probably by midnight or soon thereafter. Alexander’s troops must have been exhausted after this horrific night march of nearly thirty kilometers and he allowed his men a rest. Just before dawn when the rain stopped and the wind died a little, he signaled his forces to embark on the ships and the rafts made of inflated hides with wooden decking. The king himself launched his own vessel first (of course) and as Porus’ attention was still focused on Ptolemy feign-maneuvers Alexander and his troops landed unnoticed on the wooded island. From here, Alexander and his men waded through the second part of the river, whose fast flowing icy waters reached to their armpits and submerged the horses to their necks. It seems that this action escaped the enemy’s attention till Alexander had reached Porus’ side of the river. The cavalry was first to set foot on land and Alexander immediately set off in the direction of Porus, instructing the infantry to follow as soon as they had safely crossed the river.

Porus, at first, assumed that his reinforcements were joining up with him but his scouts soon discovered that their foe had managed to come across the river. The Indian ruler deployed 100 four-horse chariots and 4,000 cavalry commanded by his son. The force of the chariot is not to be underestimated because each vehicle was manned by six men, two of which were archers posted on either side of the chariot and two bore shields while the two remaining men were charioteers armed with javelins. That is at least what Curtius tells us although we may wonder how he could fit that many men on the small carriage floor.

Fortune once again was at Alexander’s side because after the recent heavy downpours the sandy bank was slimy and totally impracticable for these vehicles which soon became bogged down. Alexander immediately sent his available light infantry to attack them. A wild fight followed as the charioteers desperately tried to get some control over their vehicle, to no avail and soon all of them were put out of action. Porus’ son who had led the operation was killed in the skirmish.

Unable to impede Alexander’s crossing of the Hydaspes, Porus now had to attack his adversary. He moved north in search of relatively dry sandy land where he could effectively post the majority of his elephants, his greatest weapon, in a massive battle formation. It was immediately clear to Alexander that the Indian formation was fundamentally defensive, which in turn allowed him plenty of time to wait for his infantry to catch up with him. After having crossed the second part of the Hydaspes, these men had to take on what normally was a day-march of nearly 30 km. They had already completed an equivalent march the previous night followed by a tempestuous river crossing and it is obvious that by the time they rejoined their king they must have been pretty exhausted. It was only sensible to allow them a rest before starting the battle. In order to conceal the presence of his 9,000 infantry and the strategy of his own deployment to Porus, he ordered his 5,300 strong cavalry to keep moving back and forth in front of the Macedonian army. The trick worked, just as Alexander expected.

We don’t know how much rest the army was given before commencing the battle, but Alexander certainly had plenty of time to study the enemy’s position. Porus’ had again arranged his elephant in the front line, some thirty meters apart and his foot soldiers filled the gaps by standing in formation behind them. On either side, he has posted his cavalry protected by the remaining chariots in front of them. Alexander, rightfully so, assumed that Porus would keep his front line together and march in a straight line. He decided to start by eliminating the Indian cavalry to enable the flanking attack he liked so much.

When Alexander’s troops were rested, he moved his infantry to the center facing Porus’ line and all his cavalry to the far right. His instructions were very clear. The infantry was to stay put till the Indians were thrown into confusion by the Macedonian cavalry. Coenus and Perdiccas at the head of the Companion cavalry should stay behind at their assigned place till Porus called his cavalry from his own right flank to support his left against Alexander.

The scene is set and Alexander starts the attack by moving forward in an oblique line away from the trumpeting elephants. Porus’ cavalry followed suit, extending their own lines to prevent a flanking attack. However, the Indian ruler soon realized that he had to call for horse reinforcements from his own right flank. This was exactly what Alexander had anticipated and conform the king’s orders Coenus and Perdiccas moved towards the empty cavalry spot of the enemy. They passed behind the Macedonian infantry, turned behind Porus’ aligned infantry and fell on the enemy’s cavalry from behind, which by now was totally encircled. At this point, the only solution for Porus was to divide his cavalry in two, one group would face Alexander’s attack and the other the Coenus/Perdiccas forces. Alexander’s timing had been perfect and he now was able to launch his flanking attack which was a total success. The Indian horsemen fell back into confusion on the elephants who were called in to assist them. At this point, the solid straight line of defense broke down, which automatically created the opportunity for the Macedonian infantry to rush forward and join the action.

[Map from Frank Holt's book 'Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions' reproduced with the approval of the author for which I am very grateful]

One thing is certain, hell broke lose! Porus’ elephants were his greatest strength and most probably Alexander’s greatest challenge. The Macedonian king was quick to realize that his heavy infantry was ill-equipped to deal with these beasts and he sent his light-armed troops to poke the elephants and their drivers with arrows and javelins. Curtius graphically describes how enraged elephants trampled the Macedonians and threw others over their heads. In spite of a renewed attack by the Indian cavalry, they were no match for the Macedonians. Coenus had joined ranks with Alexander and together they made successive attacks on the Indian cavalry and infantry. Through the joint pressure of the Macedonian heavy infantry and the Companion Cavalry the elephants were forced back onto their own troops. As most of the mahouts had been killed the cornered beasts trampled to death both friend and foe. The wounded and bewildered animals could no longer be controlled; maddened by pain and fear they spread death all around them. The Indian cavalry was jammed by the elephants and having no space to move suffered severe losses also. The Macedonian infantry had enough moving space to manoeuver and tried to deal at best with the madden elephants, but the trapped Indians suffered badly.

Gradually the elephants became exhausted and their charges grew weaker. Alexander saw the time right to encircle what remained of the Indian army, signaling his infantry “to lock shields” and advance onto the enemy en masse. Those who were able to escape through a small gap in the cavalry line did so but were intercepted by Craterus, who by now and according to his instructions had crossed the Hydaspes with fresh troops and joined the fight. The entire battle must have been a grueling carnage!

Although Porus still towering above the battlefield had been wounded at least nine times and bled profusely, he kept on fighting with undiminished verve until he collapsed. His mahout turned his master’s massive elephant and set in the flight, with Alexander evidently in close pursuit. At this point, Alexander’s horse was shot from under him and some assume this was how and when his dear Bucephalus died while other sources tell us that his horse died from old age. In any case, Alexander lost some time in his pursuit as he had to mount another horse.

Alexander sent a messenger to Porus asking for his surrender, which he proudly refused. The events that followed seem to come straight out of some tale about a fearless knight. Flights of missiles of all kinds were hurled towards the Indians and their powerful king, who started to collapse and slid down his mount. His mahout thinking that Porus wanted to dismount, directed the elephant to crouch down on its knees and automatically all the other elephants did the same. Thinking that Porus had died, Alexander ordered his body to be stripped but as soon as the Macedonians approached, the elephant began to stand guard over his rider and menaced whoever dared to approach. He then picked up his noble king and put him back on its back. Once again the Macedonian attacked in full force with an overwhelming amount of missiles till the elephant fell down. Porus was laid in a chariot.

Soon word spread that the Indian king was dead and his army set out to flee. For Alexander the fight was over; he clearly was victorious and he sounded the recall of his troops. As he went over to Porus and saw him move his eyelids he could not help but ask why he had not surrendered when offered. According to some source, Porus seems to have answered that he considered that there was nobody as strong as him “though I knew my own power, I had not yet tested yours”. When asked how he should be treated, Porus responded with the known phrase “as a king”. He evidently won Alexander over not by compassion but by respect. Alexander had Porus’ wounds cared for and when against all odds he recovered, Alexander restored his kingdom to him and even extended his territory.

[The two action pictures are evidently from Oliver Stone's movie Alexander]

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Open letter from Syrian archaeologists about Palmyra

Now that the Islamist forces have been expulsed from Palmyra (see my recent post: Good news from Palmyra?), the Syrian archaeologists express their concern about UNESCO’s plan to start restoring the damaged site. They feel that such a statement is far too early and beyond reality since the war in Syria is far from over; besides, implicating Russia in the future of Syria’s heritage is outrageous and absurd. Outsiders cannot simply decide on the future of Syria and certainly not on the future of poor Palmyra.

So, they decided to write an open letter to UNESCO, which I reproduce hereafter. 

Absolute despair with UNESCO: An Open Letter
On March 27th I read on the UNESCO site the press communication made by the Director-General on the re-taking of Palmyra. It goes without saying that the expulsion of the Islamists is good news for everyone, and I can only rejoice with all my heart. Even if the loss and recovery of the city of Palmyra were above all the subject of a theatrical set piece staged for the media, and not of the fierce struggle that they would like to make us believe - as anyone who was sufficiently aware of the realities on the ground and the progress of the operations on site would already have known. 

However I am thoroughly shocked, like most of my Syrian colleagues, with regard to two fundamental points concerning the treatment of heritage during what still is an open and armed conflict:

Firstly: After various conflicts of all kinds - those of the last century and those which followed during the twenty-first century - UNESCO suddenly plans the "restoration" of the damaged sites (the Executive Director “reiterated her full support for the restoration of Palmyra”) as if the war were already over and the people had returned to their homeland. The only operations that we can consider in the present context are an inventory and emergency intervention, certainly not restoration. How can we speak of restoration of cultural property when the conflict is still ravaging the country? This is without even mentioning the dramatic plight of the citizens of Palmyra, driven away by two terrors: that of the Syrian regime and that of the barbaric bearded men. More importantly, how can we decide for the Syrians what should happen to their cultural heritage? As you well know, Syrian specialists in Syrian cultural heritage, of all categories, are divided into a thousand factions because of this conflict, are refugees around the world, or are traumatized, desperate, and I could go on ... And here UNESCO adds fuel to the fire. 

Secondly: To talk with Russia about the future of Syrian heritage, and to designate that country as the only partner for the restoration of our national identity, taken hostage by the different actors of this war, is both absurd and outrageous. Russia plays a dividing role in our country, for reasons that are well known. Paradoxically, its action is the exact opposite of the one called for by the vows of the Director-General in her speech: "the critical role of cultural heritage for resilience, national unity, and peace". As for me, I naively ask where this national unity is in a country severely divided, both politically and physically, and whether peace (a glimmer of hope for the Syrians) is really likely to be reached in the near future. In any case Russia, as far as I know, is not a mandatory power over our country. So why must we negotiate with Russia the future of Syria? 

UNESCO should be a neutral scientific and moral institution, a guarantee of integrity for the Syrians, all Syrians, without meddling in their political or other partisan positions. There is no need to take sides here, either with the rebels or with the loyalist ranks (of course, the Islamists are excluded from the outset). If, in these critical times, decisions are taken for the Syrians, without their consent, in agreement with only a small minority of their specialists, this will create a huge problem in the future after the war, when it is finally possible to work towards national reconciliation. Syrians expect from UNESCO a unifying role: to unify the Syrians through heritage.

Sincerely,
Ali Othman
Archaeologist - National Heritage Curator

Everyone can hereby draw his own conclusions, I believe.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Good news from Palmyra?

Now that the forces of IS have been pushed out of Palmyra, the first journalists and photographers are able to reassert the extent of the destructions. They found much of the site intact and most of its famous artifacts untouched, it is said.

Yet, I wonder. Alright, the theater is still standing (because it was used as execution décor to kill the enemies of the jihadists) and at first sight, most of the columns on the main street are still standing, but the great and unique Temple of Bel has been blown to dust, as was the small and intimate Temple of Ball Shamin. Nothing but rubble remains from the most beautiful of all Tower Tombs, the one called Elahbel. Facts are being turned into figures and we should be happy that 80% of ancient Palmyra is still intact.

Should we rejoice because the destruction is not worse? Maybe so, but nothing can justify the annihilation of so much of our heritage and this once so great culture.

   
As to the local museum of Palmyra, it is too early to really assess the damage since most of the pieces seem to have been evacuated before the IS arrived, but still the pictures break my heart. For a well-illustrated overview, please click on this link to BBC News. Hereabove is a view of "before" and "after" (the after picture is from the BBC News)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pausanias - Führer durch Olympia

Pausanias was born in Asia Minor in 110 AD and lived during the reign of Emperors Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, i.e. the heydays of the Roman Empire. He travelled extensively and he is the author of the first travel guide ever!

His trips took him to Asia Minor and Greece, including Macedonia and probably Epiros, but also to Syria and Egypt, and even to Rome with the Latium region and Magna Graecia to the south. His travel experiences have been written down in ten books and cover the Greek regions of Attica, Argolis, Laconia, Messenia, Elis, Achaia, Arcadia, Boeotia and Phocis. They are a first-hand testimony of what the world looked like in the second century AD.

The major part of his story is about Olympia which takes about one-fifth of his entire work, a treasure-trove for those who want to drift back in time.

Pausanias, Führer durch Olympia (translated by Ernst Meyer) is thus only a part of Pausanias’ travel guide and it so happened that I came across this German version many years ago. It may only be a pocket book but it does contain Pausanias’ story in full.

It is wonderful to walk with Pausanias through the streets of this famous city where the Olympic Games were held for twelve centuries (from 776 BC until 393 AD). He starts with the city’s origins and myths and soon goes straight to the Temple of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. He describes the temple in details: the roof, the pediment, the metopes, the grand statue of Zeus by Phidias, the votive offerings, and the altars. He then walks to the workshop of Phidias, the Temple of Heraand the Philippeon built by Philip II and finished under Alexander III. At the Philippeon, he actually witnessed the statues of both Macedonian kings together with those of Amyntas and Eurydike, Philip’s parents and of Olympias, his wife – all executed by Leochares in ivory and gold.

He spends time and effort to describe the unbelievably great number of Zeus statues all over Olympia, including one representing Alexander the Great as Zeus! Then follows a description of the statues erected for the winners at the Olympic Games. In between, he stops at a statue of Anaximenes, who not only wrote a history of the Greeks but also that of Philip II and his son Alexander. It is quite amazing to read that such a large number of these statues were made of bronze, silver, and even electron, and that many of them beside the famous Zeus were also chryselephantine sculptures with their hands and face made of gold or ivory. This is beyond our imagination!

Next, he treats the many Treasury Houses, to end with the renowned Stadium and the adjacent Hippodrome.

Although this book dates from 1971, it contains a very pertinent list of annotations that is still very much up-to-date. To help us in picturing Olympia, there is a clear map locating the city’s main buildings. To complete the story, there is a useful Register of the buildings and memorials, as well as a list of all the Athletes and Artists treated in this book.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Another effigy of Hephaistion?

Pictures of Hephaistion are terribly rare and when finally a new one is being discovered at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, we dare not believe it truly represents Alexander’s faithful friend and possible lover!

This time we see a lovely relief representing a man with his horse, probably just dismounted, who is met and welcomed by a woman. The piece was unearthed in Pella, the old Macedonian capital, and carries the intriguing inscription ΔΙΟΓΕΝHΣ ΗΦΑΙΣΤΙΩΝΙ ΗΡΩΙ, meaning “Diogenes to the hero Hephaistion”. Based on its style, is has been dated to the last quarter of the 4th century BC.


The so welcome effigy, however, raises many questions. First of all, Hephaistion died in 324 BC at Ecbatana and was cremated in great pump in Babylon far away from Pella. Secondly, history tells us that after his death and with the approval of the Egyptian oracle, Hephaistion was promoted to the status of a hero which in fact equals that of a semi-god. The composition itself is a rather standard representation of a soldier and his horse being met by one of his relatives and it could be anyone by the name of Hephaistion.

The Museum of Thessaloniki is rather careful and attributes the relief to a veteran of Alexander’s eastern campaign, which is, of course, a plausible explanation. After the death of Hephaistion and Alexander many more wars have been fought in and around the Macedonian homeland, Illyria or Thracia, meaning that some soldier by the name of Hephaistion could be honoured in Pella


This all sounds very credible were it not that the very name of Hephaistion is pretty rare. For a great admirer of Hephaistion, it would however not be too difficult to find a serious resemblance between the man shown in this relief and, for instance, the Hephaistion from Alexandria that is now at the Archaeological Museum of Athens.