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 Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 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)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The little known oracle of Claros

It is not common knowledge that Claros ranges among the three most important oracles in antiquity, together with Delphi and Didyma.

The first cult of Claros occurred at some time during the 7th century on a round altar, which a century later was replaced by a larger rectangular altar measuring circa 15x6 meters. At the same time, the foundations were laid for the marble Temple of Apollo at the nearby spring and another yet smaller temple was erected in honor of his sister, Artemis. This makes the oracle of Claros the oldest prophecy center in the ancient world.

The sanctuary remained overall untouched till the 4th century BC when plans were made to enlarge the monuments. These plans were, however, only realized in the third century BC with the construction of a new Temple of Apollo and a new altar. The temple seems to be inspired by the one in Delphi having a similar crypt-like adyton where the oracle delivered her prophecies. The vaulted corridors are still visible today, although the passage is more often than not flooded by the sacred spring.

It seems the renovation works were never completed and it is astonishing to learn that only a few years ago (2006) divers found eight drums for an entire ten-meter high column and its capital in Doric style in the nearby shipwreck of Kızılburun, about 40 miles from Claros (see: Sunken column finally delivered to the Apollo Temple in Claros). It clearly never made it to the temple.

Unlike most oracles in antiquity, the diviners in Claros were men. After fasting for 24 or 48 hours, the question was whispered in the ear of the oracle. He then drunk some of the holy water, reappeared from the cave room, washed his hands and face, and formulated the question to the god Apollo. Through either inspiration or revelation, he later received the answer which he delivered to the priest in the shape of a poem. These rituals were held at night and the messages were written on tables that were erected in front of the temple for all to see. Yet, their content travelled as far as Dalmatia, Rome, Sardinia, Algeria, and even Britain and Russia! With the spread of Christianity, the oracle was gradually abandoned.

In this sanctuary, one still can read many of the ancient inscriptions on walls and steps, even on a curved marble bench. It is the largest group of such inscriptions that have survived from Greek antiquity. It is also the only place providing us with a clear picture of the way priests could perform the hecatomb, i.e. a sacrifice to the gods in which as many as 100 cattle could be killed simultaneously. This ritual may have been performed at the end of the Claria Games which were held at Claros every fifth year in honor of Apollo (a similar ritual existed in Olympia at the closure of the Olympic Games).

Today’s visitor can still admire the remains of the Temple of Apollo with its vaulted adyton when it is not flooded. This happens generally in spring since Claros is located in the river valley and the temple itself is below the local water table. Yet, this adds to the charm of the place.

In front of the temple, archaeologists have painstakingly reassembled the fragments of three colossal sculptures, a seated Apollo holding his lyre, flanked by Leto and Artemis, standing 7 meters tall. 

It seems that even Alexander the Great consulted this oracle before building the fortress on the nearby hill of Pagos where the residents from Smyrna were resettled.

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