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)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pella and Gadara, two more settlements for Alexander’s veterans

When Alexander returned from Egypt in 331 BC, he marched along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean. How close to the coast may be subject to debate but the fact remains that he had to send foraging parties into the hinterland. Alexander must have depleted much of the local provisions when he marched his troops through the region the year before as did his fleet that supported him and his troops on their way to Egypt, especially when crossing the Sinai. This being said, it is very plausible that his foraging parties had to move further inland when he returned. To that purpose, they must have exploited the lands east of the Dead Sea, Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee and that is exactly where we find cities like Gerasa, Pella, and Gadara which are said to be founded by Alexander.

The founding of Gerasa has been treated in an earlier blog (see:  Alexander founder of Gerasa). Some 45 kilometers north of that city lies the town of Pella (previously Pihilum) known to be named in honor of the city where Alexander was born. Pella flourished in Hellenistic times as it became a regional power in the maze of trade routes running through the city. It has been established that Pella was largely populated in Hellenistic times as it was a hub for merchants crossing the region (see: Apamea, heritage of Alexander). Under the rule of Seleucus, the city was renamed Apamea after his wife Apame.

After the death of Alexander, Gerasa, and the neighboring territories were annexed by the Ptolemies in 301 BC. At some time during the third and second centuries BC, the Seleucids took hold of the area and undertook a thorough Hellenization till by 64-63 BC it became a Roman province. The Romans, in order to properly govern Judea and Syria, created a Decapolis (see: Alexander founder of Gerasa), a group of ten cities that shared the same language, commercial relations, and political status. Each city enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy with their own Semitic, Nabataean, Aramean and Jewish culture. The members were according to PlinyDamascus (in Syria), Philadelphia (modern Amman in Jordan), Gerasa (now Jerash in Jordan), Scythopolis (now Beisan in the Jordan Valley, North Israel), Gadara (modern Umm Qays in Jordan) and once the capital of this Decapolis, Hippos (on the banks of Lake Tiberias in Israel), Dion (probably near Irbid in Jordan, but not yet discovered), Pella (in the Jordan Valley, northwest of Amman in Jordan), Canatha (now Qanawat in Syria) and Raphana (probably north of Umm Qays in Jordan, but not yet discovered either). As part of the Decapolis, these cities shared the common political, cultural and commercial interests of the other members and enjoyed their Golden Age that lasted for about 150 years.

The Romans left their usual buildings like theaters and temples along familiar colonnaded streets in Apamea. It is hard to imagine in today’s desert-like landscape that these cities were blessed with fertile soil and plenty of water, making them favorite stops on the busy trade routes between Europe and Asia. Let us not forget that beside goods and agricultural skills, Greek culture and language widely spread.

Another 30 kilometer onwards, we find the town of Gadara, today’s Umm Qays near the northern border of Jordan with Israel and Syria in the hills above the Jordan Valley. Since Gadara emerged in the wake of Alexander the Great as well as Pella and Gerasa, it shares most of its history. It became part of the kingdom of the Seleucids and we know from Polybius that Antiochus III ruled here in 218 BC and that Gadara was coveted by both the Ptolemies and the Seleucids who captured and recaptured it time and again confirming the role it played on the trade routes with the east. The Seleucid kings renamed the city Antiochia or Antiochia Semiramis and even another Seleucia, as they turned the city into a center of Greek culture.

Gadara boomed under the Romans after Pompey conquered it in 63 BC. At that time, the reputation of the local poet Meleagros (131-61 BC) had already spread far and wide. He was a much admired Hellenistic author who wrote an anthology of other poets – a true statement of the city’s high cultural level. Gadara certainly deserved its surname of “Athens of the east” when in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD it became a center for philosophy, literature, and theater.

The ruins of Gadara are far less impressive than those of Gerasa mainly due to the fact that most of the city still lies underneath the old Ottoman village from the 18th-19th century that has been vacated in recent decennia. The spooky streets and buildings are hiding the Roman living quarters. This settlement leans closely to the crumbling walls and has inherited its medieval name of Umm Qays

The very top of the hill has been carefully excavated and exposes many of the official buildings. It is always a delight to enter an ancient city over the Cardo which here is paved with large blocks of black basalt. The Roman Theater on the right almost immediately calls for attention. It is entirely built of black basalt as well and offered seating for 3,000 people. This is generally called the West Theater as there are remains of another theater on the north side of town, which has largely been dismantled by the locals and recycled for their own contemporary constructions, leaving an overgrown field. Unlike the usual eastern oriented theaters, this theater is looking to the west so that the theater-goers would be sheltered from the strong eastern wind! The remains date generally from the first and second century AD and are overall in good condition. From the top tiers, , one has a most wonderful view over this biblical land on the eastern bank of the Jordan River where the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee shimmer at the horizon.

Back on the Cardo, one notices a number of vaulted spaces underneath the skene where once shops were set up. Even in antiquity, the theater-goers could be tempted by food and drinks or other entertainment commodities!

Then the Cardo reaches the Decumanus which has been well cleared and runs on for at least two kilometers to the west. Its black basalt pavement stands in sharp contrast with the white Corinthian limestone columns that separate the road from the sidewalk lined with shops of all kinds. The deep ruts in the pavement testify of the heavy traffic of carts with goods that were transported along the edge of this high plateau to nearby cities like Pella. In its heyday, this road ran all the way to the Mediterranean coast. Halfway there is an unknown sanctuary and a Nymphaeum next to still overgrown public baths from the 4th century.

Turning back, one encounters another large and very impressive Nympheum set in the same black and white stone combination as found on the Decumanus. To the right is an area called the Terrace Church dating from the 6th century. This is a strange mixture of all kinds of Roman remains from the 2nd century enhanced with columns from Byzantine and early Islamic times. It is not easy to figure out the pattern and discover a central square framing an octagonal space. Each corner of this octagonal is marked by a black basalt column and it is believed that this was an unusual inner sanctum. On the west side, there is a large entrance hall and on the north side another open space that looks like an atrium. This may have been a pilgrimage site for some important martyr, although no hard proof has been found so far. Like so many buildings in Gadara, this church was destroyed by the severe earthquake of 747 AD after which the city was abandoned.

The Decumanus looses itself further east past well-preserved city walls embracing the skeleton remains of the Ottoman houses and their crumbling walls. There must be a hippodrome and a stadium out there somewhere as well as an aqueduct but apparently, not much has been exposed.

It is nearly impossible to look at Gadara or Gerasa beyond the Roman influence, for these cities originally did not have any Greek roots. Since they were founded by Alexander they should be seen as a pure Macedonian concept. It is here that the first seeds of later Hellenism were planted and this makes me wonder how much of the Macedonian influence went into the Alexandria’s founded later on during Alexander’s campaigns.

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