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)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

An Alexandria in Kurdistan - Iraq?

Two and a half thousand years after his death, the name of Alexander is still making good PR. As soon as some ruins or artifacts are being found somewhere near the presumed route the conqueror took during his campaign through Asia, there is a rush to connect them to Alexander. Maybe wrongly, maybe rightfully so – time will tell.


The spot this time is situated in northern Iraq, actually in the Kurdish region near the city of Qalatga Darband which according to some daring researchers could be a city founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. Qalatga Darband is located a good one hundred kilometers east of the battlefield of Gaugamela, meaning that the assumption is not entirely improbable. Other theories link the site to the late Hellenistic era or even to the transition period from Hellenism to Parthian rule. The very name translates into Kurdish as “Castle of the Mountain Pass”, a strategic location where the Little  Zab River cuts through the mountain range to empty eventually into the Tigris River.

Qalatga Darband was discovered in 1973, but excavations in this troubled region started  first by the French in 2013 followed by the British in 2016 who used the terrain to train Iraqi archaeologists. Unfortunately the latest unrest after the Kurdish referendum for independence has forced the last foreign experts to leave.

The once so proud archaeological tradition in Iraq is in a very poor state after the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War and more recently the invasion of IS. Many sites have been looted or simply bulldozed, meaning that history has been obliterated altogether. Others remain inaccessible and based on aerial and satellite surveys there are still many more to be explored. But the days of excavations by foreign nations are no longer acceptable and the Iraqis will have to do it themselves – hence the training mission of the British Museum that is set to run until 2020.

In the meantime, the discovery of two statues at Qalatga Darband seem to indicate that the site was once a thriving hub on the route from Greece to Mesopotamia and Persia – possibly linking it to Alexander because one of the unearthed statues could be his portrait (a second statue looks like Aphrodite). Of course, it will take far more research and excavations in order to confirm the link with Alexander as there are many gaps in the facts and figures that came to us.

The grass-grown walls of Qalatga Darband, running down to Lake Dokan
The fortifications defended the western border of the young Parthian Empire. In the foreground is one of the square towers under excavation. 

The Kurdish region seems to be rich in archaeological sites as satellite images have found some 354 sites! One of the images taken near Qalatga Darband  and shared in the article from The Guardian shows an overgrown fortification wall interrupted every twenty meters or so by a square projecting tower – a very tempting project!

In the end, I’m afraid that Qalatga Darband is not high on the list of researchers and archaeologists as bigger names from history will claim priority once the staff is properly trained. After all, Iraq is home to rich historical sites like Nimrud, Ctesiphon, Nineveh, Ur, Uruk, Babylon, Borsippa, Hatra, and Seleucia-on-Tigris to name just a handful.

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