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 of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, 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)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A mental reconstruction of Alexander’s triumphal march into Babylon

For obvious reasons, I have not visited Babylon but I am terribly happy to have at least been able to see the next best thing, the city’s imposing reconstructions at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

In a way it may just be as well that I have not seen the remains of Babylon located less than 100 kilometers south of modern Baghdad in Iraq simply because this historical site has been so intensively damaged during the Iraqi War when the American army used the place as military camp, destroying part of the city in the process (see also: Babylon, victim of war). The old paved roads leading to the different city gates have crumbled under the weight of heavy tanks. Much of the rubble (often precious archaeological material) has been used in the construction of airfields for helicopters and parking lots. Smaller archaeological material was also used to fill sandbags. The scanty remains of the Ishtar Gate have also suffered. To be fair, we cannot ignore that under Saddam Hussein Babylon has not been treated with much consideration either for in 1983 he started building a city of his own on top of the fragile ruins of the dried bricks walls.
He inscribed his name in the bricks, just as Nebuchadnezzar had done 2,500 years before him and he made serious plans to erect a palace of his own atop of the ruins. The outbreak of the Gulf War put an end to these damaging plans but since then the modern bricks and mortar of Saddam’s megalomania are dangerously undermining the brittle ruins.

Peace has not returned yet. For several years, villagers, invading armies and fortune seekers plundered whatever they could. An ever increasing number of people settled in new villages on top of the ruins and rising groundwater threatens the ancient walls even further. To make matters worse, the Iraqi oil business is spoiling the precious grounds of this wondrous city tearing up the soil to lay down their pipelines 1.7 meters deep right next to two other pipelines that were dug under Saddam Hussein. The Ministry of Oil ignored the pleas from their own Iraqi archaeologists, stating that they didn’t find any artifacts during their digging works – as if they were experts in the matter!


Historians tell us that Alexander entered Babylon through the Ishtar Gate and proceeded over the Procession Way from where the Royal Palace, the Temple of Marduk and the Ziggurat came into full view. This is the first grand city Alexander encountered and as he approached it from the dusty Mesopotamian plain he must have been awed and impressed by the deep blue glazed bricks walls rising amidst the lush green grasses on the banks of the Euphrates River.

Over the centuries, Babylon has seen many conquerors entering through its city gates. This is the place where King Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) wrote the very first laws etched in stone, now one of the proud possessions of the Louvre Museum. It also is the city where King Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BC), out of love for his homesick wife, built the famous hanging gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. And, last but not least, this is where the biblical and historical Tower of Babel ruled over the sacred complex including the Temple of Ishtar. Less obvious is that from the sixth century BC onwards, the Achaemenid kings occupied the luxurious palace rooms of Babylon, their most westerly capital.

The Pergamon Museum has done a great job in rendering the imposing Ishtar Gate, repositioning the original dragons and aurochs (symbolizing the gods Marduk and Adad) in alternating rows and filling up the background with modern blue glazed bricks that blend in very well. Even the original building inscription by Nebuchadnezzar has been artfully inserted. The entire wall is framed with a tasteful mix of original and contemporary yellow bands and sunflowers embossed glazed bricks.

After having passed this monumental gate, one arrives on the Procession Way reproduced over a length of 30 meters and eight meters wide. Originally, this avenue was 250 meters long and 20-24 meters wide, and it is not easy to mentally multiply the length by seven and the width by three to catch the true immense proportions – a tall order in this confined space. Yet the walls have been faithfully covered with some of the 120 striding lions, dragons and bulls, including the yellow and black trimmings at the bottom and top with flower motives symbolizing the goddess Ishtar.

Standing here, it is pretty obvious to see how close Oliver Stone has come to reality when creating Alexander’s triumphal march into Babylon. The Macedonians must truly have taken the utmost pride in polishing their shields and outfit to look their smartest on this occasion as they must have been very much aware of what their victory over the Persian Empire meant.

However, although Babylon was firmly in Alexander’s hands, Darius was still on the run further east. This meant that Alexander could not yet take the title of King of Kings and he settled instead for King of Asia, as he was called throughout the rest of his reign.

Truly, I praise myself lucky to have seen the precious remains of Babylon in Berlin, as well as those exhibited at the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, although much less impressive.

[Bottom picture is from Oliver Stone's movie Alexander]

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