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, November 28, 2016

The tempting site of Kibyra

It was only by chance that I noticed the name of Kibyra on a sign-post but since I was running out of time I never visited the site, which I deeply regret.

Kibyra seems to be mentioned for the first time in 189 BC, which is during Roman expansion, but it must have been a rather important city since it had two votes in the Lycian League. After the major earthquake of 23 AD, nobody less than Emperor Tiberius financed the city’s reconstruction and renamed it Caesarea Kibyra. It is not surprising that it thrived under Hadrian but suffered about a century later from the invasion of the Goths after which it was largely deserted.

One of the main buildings is, of course, the theater offering a wide view over the surrounding plain and the mountains further south. With a diameter of 81 meters, it is one of the largest theaters in Anatolia. It is rather well preserved with up to fifty tiers of seats where a two meters wide diazoma could have led to another ten rows. The total seating capacity of this theater is being estimated at 7,400 spectators.

South of the theater, we find the Odeon that has recently revealed a rather unique flooring of eleven meters in diameter, entirely covered with fine mosaics representing Medusa - the sole such example known in the world. This Odeon has been dated to the middle of the third century AD.

Further to the east of the theater, there are several larger buildings, including the agora and the surrounding stoas. The streets are paved with limestone slabs covering the antique sewage system and lined with stubs of columns.

The Stadion is another striking element in the landscape. It is about 198 meters long and 7.5 meters wide with on the hillside 25 tiers of seats that are particularly well preserved, especially at the upper end.

Today, Kibyra is tentatively put on the list of the UNESCO, while excavations are ongoing since 2006. Recently, close to the agora, a round-shaped Nympheion has been exposed. This fountain plays a key role in understanding the city’s water management. With its conical roof, it is one of the most magnificent structures and archaeologists are hopeful to restore this Nympheion to make is working again by 2018. 

The site will open to the public at some time in 2017.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Olympie, the daughter of Alexander

The other day, while tuning in on my car radio, I heard the announcement for an opera involving Alexander the Great. My brain-computer went immediately to work, screening all possible sources and composers who could have produced such a work. Händel for sure had written an opera Alexander’s Feast, but the singing was in French. Händel in French? Impossible. So what was this opera about and who wrote it?

Back home, I started my investigation and found that this particular station had broadcasted the opera Olimpie (or Olympie) composed by a certain Gaspare Spontini. The piece was based on a play by Voltaire (well, well, …) and was performed for the first time on 22 December 1819 by the Opera de Paris. The opera has been translated in Italian and in German and was renamed, Olympia.

It is obvious that the story is pure imaginative for there is no known daughter of Alexander and no historical Olympie.

The story is set after the death of Alexander when his successors are fighting for control of his empire. The two main characters in the play are Cassandre, the son of Antipater, and Antigonus, one of Alexander’s generals. The fiction starts with Stateira, daughter of King Darius and Alexander’s widow who in reality was killed upon Roxanes orders. In the opera, she survives incognito as a priestess of Diana in Ephesos.

The opera implies that both Cassandre and Antigonus were involved in the murder of Alexander in Babylon. After fighting each other, they finally agree to make peace but then they both fall in love with the same girl, Aménais, who is nobody else than Stateira’s daughter by Alexander, Olympie. Aménais/Olympie is in love with Cassandre but Stateira accuses him of murdering Alexander. Aménais/Olympie pleads for Cassandre who saved her life, while Stateira turns to Antigonus for revenge. The armies of both men clash and on his deathbed, Antigonus confesses that he is responsible for Alexander’s death. The happy end is that Olympie and Cassandre get married.

A soundtrack of the opera can be found on this Youtube link but no live images exist because Spontini’s opera success was short-lived due to his competition with Gioachino Rossini.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Cyrus the Great, venerated by the Iranians today

A fact that seldom reaches the outside world is the deep admiration and pride that the modern Iranians have for their founders. They cannot avoid remembering the great Achaemenid Empire that started under Cyrus the Great in 560 or 559 BC and ended with the arrival of Alexander the Great in 331 BC. It is not surprising that Alexander is considered as “the cursed” since he terminated a dynasty that had ruled over Persia for two hundred years.

I was aware of the Nowruz festivities, Iran’s New Year that also is the first day of spring, when everybody goes en masse to the ruins of Persepolis, but the celebrations for the “Day of Cyrus the Great” are new to me.

Based on historical records, Cyrus the Great is being remembered on October 29, the date on which he entered Babylon in 539 BC. Since this city was the ancient capital of the world that included modern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Israel, the Persian King Cyrus was soon recognized by all these countries as their legitimate ruler.

Since Cyrus the Great is buried at Pasargadae, this is where the Iranians come together. This year, the gathering was moved back one day to compensate for the leap year in the Iranian and Gregorian calendars. October 28 fell on a Friday, the weekend in Iran, and people from near and far flocked to Pasargadae. They started gathering around Cyrus’ tomb on the night before, creating unknown traffic jams on the roads which eventually had to be closed down. Social media, however, shared images of the devotees shouting slogans praising the king. Every Iranian still knows the words of Darius’ prayer for his people: “May Ahuramazda protect this country from invaders, famine and lies!”, although some historians doubt the authenticity of these words.

President Rouhani of Iran kindly commented that Persepolis is one of the invaluable and unique remains of the ancient history and had appreciative words for the ingenuity, the wisdom, and the management skills of his ancestor. However, the most senior Ayatollah in the holy city of Qom harshly criticized these gathering because Iran has so long been oppressed by kings, adding that the Iranians today live in a revolutionary and Islamic country.

Poor Cyrus, who respected the customs and beliefs of all nations, and truly deserved to be called “Great”. Translated in today’s vocabulary, we should say that he was famous for his achievements in human rights, politics and military strategy. After all, he laid the foundations for a central administration and a government that worked to the benefit of his subjects. It is sad to see how his great principles have been turned into a political and religious discussion, something he definitely did not want.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The siege of Sangala (in modern Pakistan)

It is one of those fights that hardly catches our attention and is generally ignored among the greater battles of Alexander. Yet it is another of those gems among his incessant conquests pushing ever further eastwards.

As soon as Alexander had set foot on the eastern bank of the Hydraotes River, modern Ravi (see also: Alexander marching beyond the Hydaspes), most of the Indian tribes surrendered without resistance and those who did not were, of course, subdued by force. Sangala, however, was another story. Although the city has not yet been located, we are told by Arrian that it stood on top of a hill. The tribes that resisted Alexander in the immediate surrounding of the city had sought and found refuge inside its walls. Three consecutive circles of carts were set up around the hill by the defenders to function as individual obstacle walls. They felt pretty comfortable behind their defenses from where they could easily venture out to face Alexander - or so they thought.

Alexander is a master when it comes to adjusting his tactics to any given situation and upon arrival, he immediately instructed his archers to ride along the enemy front line while shooting their arrows at long range in order to pin them down inside the city. This gave Alexander enough time to put his men into position so he could start the advance towards the outer line of carts. The Indians advanced and climbed on their carts, attacking with bows and arrows at long range. Clearly, the cavalry was of no use here and Alexander rapidly dismounted to lead his infantry to the assault. The enemy was soon driven from the first line of carts and rallied behind the second line where they could better defend themselves as they fought in closer ranks. Although the Macedonians had to push and maneuver their way through the outer ring of carts to reach the Indians, the enemy was once again forced to withdraw. They did not make another stand behind the third ring of carts but retreated rapidly inside the city instead.

This was enough fighting for one day and Alexander instructed his infantry to string out around Sangala. However, he did not have enough troops available at this time to allow a complete encirclement. The break in his defenses was opposite a shallow lake so he took the precaution to post his cavalry around the lake. Alexander’s guess was that the Indians would try to slip out of Sangala under cover of darkness. How well he understood what warfare was all about, for his supposition turned out to be correct. In the dead of night, the Indians left the city but fell in the arms of the patrolling cavalry. Many were killed, others returned to the relative safety of the city walls.

At this stage, Alexander built a double stockade around the city and made sure that the lake itself was more efficiently guarded. He even made arrangements to bring in his siege engines when he learned from stray Indians that the people of Sangala planned to escape that very night through the opening in the stockade at the lake.

Ptolemy was put in charge and he collected all the Indian carts that were left behind and placed them across the line of the Indian’s escape route to stop or at least slow down their flight. He also instructed his men to collect the wooden posts that had not been used for the construction of the stockade and pitch them as a barrier on either side between the lake and the city. Since most of this work had been done in near darkness, the people of Sangala had no knowledge of this barrier. As soon as the Indians opened their city gates and speeded down to the lake, Ptolemy sounded the alarm and soon his men were on top of the Indians who tried to find their way between the carts and the newly erected palisade – to little or no avail and once again they withdrew inside the city.

At this time, Porus who had been called in to reinforce Alexander’s troops arrived with his elephants and some 5,000 Indians, and Alexander had erected his siege engines. The Macedonians, in the meantime, had been able to undermine the city wall and climbed the scaling ladders they set all around the town. Sangala was taken by assault and up to 17,000 Indians were killed in the process while over 70,000 were taken prisoner. Alexander also captured 500 cavalry and 300 war chariots. His own losses did not reach more than one hundred men but strangely enough over 1,200 of his troops were wounded – a remarkably high number. These figures can be explained when reading Curtius’ account of the battle. He tells us that the Indians had tied the chariots together and standing on their platforms were able to rapidly leap from one cart to the next, attacking the Macedonians with lances and axes from above. In the ensuing chaos, Alexander soon ordered that the bonds that held the chariots together should be cut first after which his troops could attack the enemy on the individual carts. It must have been quite a bloody affair.

After having buried his dead with the proper rituals and ceremonies, Alexander sent his secretary, Eumenes, with a small detachment to convince the two neighboring towns which had joined in Sangala’s resistance with offers of peace if they surrendered willfully. The embassy was useless for the bad news had traveled ahead of them and the people of both cities had fled by the time Eumenes arrived. Alexander tried to catch up with them, but they had had enough time to get away. He then returned to Sangala and razed it to the ground.

Porus was sent to back to the cities that had surrendered with instructions to garrison them. Alexander himself resumed his march east towards the Hyphasis River, modern Beas.

[Picture of the Hydraotes River from Wikipedia By Vjdchauhan - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0]
[Map from Travel, Tourism, Transport and Maps of Pakistan]

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Euromos, just a bowshot away

Several years ago, while driving down from Kusadasi to Milas I was intrigued by a signpost pointing towards Euromos. I had never heard of this city that showed on my map with three dots, typically telling me these were ruins of some kind.

I was in for a shock when this bunch of tall Corinthian columns rose up from a clearing amidst the pine trees. I was utterly speechless and dying to know more about this hidden treasure!

As it turned out, these columns belonged to a temple dedicated to Zeus, which with its 17 columns still standing is one of the best-preserved temples in Anatolia!

Wind and weather had definitely left their marks on this building dating from the 2nd century BC. As so often, I was the only visitor but I had a ball stepping onto the crepidoma of the temple, trying to figure out its layout and the sacred cella. I even found a strange relief of a double ax, which I learned, later on, belonged to the Carian Zeus.

Since 2011, excavations have started again at Euromos. These will involve cleaning of the blackened columns but also a more extensive analysis of the site. There are still many blocks pertaining to this temple lying around and they hope to use them for a better understanding of this wonderful place.

When I walked away from the temple, there was very little else to see, except for a few tiers from what must have been the theater and a flat that could have been the agora with a round tower. In recent years, more excavation work has been carried out exposing more of the theater and the agora, but also a bath and some city walls.

As usual, the purpose of these restorations is to draw more tourists to the area but for me, nothing can replace that very first approach simply frozen in time!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Latest excavations at Cnidos

The theater of Cnidos is in a precarious state and it is nearly impossible to climb the rows of seats because of their unstable condition.

Finally, new excavations have been started, exposing the seven or eight-meter high main wall of the theater, including two arched structures right next to it. The largest structure may have been a water source for the theater-goers while the smaller one seems to have served as a storage area.

In the process, also the VIP area has been cleared exposing a special ceremonial tribune where people were awarded in front of the theater public whose numbers could reach 5,000 people.

Cnidos was, of course, especially known for the famous statue of Aphrodite who was worshiped as Aphrodite Euploia, de goddess of Good Sailing. It was Praxiteles who dared putting his first nude women ever on display here – a favorite and much-loved tourist attraction in antiquity!

More information about Cnidos can be found under the title Was Alexander the Great aware of Cnidos?

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.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Tomb of Amphipolis, a symbol of military heroism?

After the hype over the Tomb of Amphipolis two years ago, archaeologists are now more careful when it comes to sending their information into the world.

Excavations are still ongoing, of course, and new data has now revealed that the façade of the tomb must have been of magnanimous design, including complex ornaments.

The excavation research team has by now been able to identify marble artifacts that once belonged to the tomb and are now spread all over the globe. At some time during the 19th century, the monument has been stripped by well-intentioned aficionados and the bits and pieces have so far been located in different museums like the Louvre, the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul and the Getty Museum, but there may well be many other places.

By linking all these items together, the theory is born that there may have been such a rich array of elements that this tumulus may be interpreted either as a tomb or as a monument in honor of a high-ranking Macedonian officer. It may well have developed into the site of an oracle and fortune telling.

An interesting but rather bare reconstruction has been projected so far and published by the Greek Reporter (see picture above). Unfortunately, this drawing doesn’t look very inspiring. We’ll have to wait for more elements to draw a decent conclusion.