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)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Unknown city recently “discovered” in Greece is well-known after all

Archaeology News Network published an article about recent explorations of a previously unknown ancient city in Central Greece. The work was carried out by the University of Gothenburg and they stated that nobody had explored the site before – something highly unusual in Greece to say the least.


They found remains of towers, walls and city gates at the top of a hill and the plans were to explore the underground with ground-penetrating radar instead of traditional excavations. They were able to locate the town square and several streets inside the city walls covering an area of more than 40 hectares. Thanks to the potsherds and coins that were recovered, they could date the city to at least 500 BC, although it reached its heydays in the 4th and 3rd century BC.

In the wake of this announcement, Archaeology News Network published an errata a few days later, confirming that the so-called lost city had already been discovered some 200 years ago. However, no in-depth examination had been carried out and the scholars are happy to learn this was a sizeable settlement in antiquity.

They apologize (rightfully so) for their earlier confusing publication, stating that the press headlines were “a bit exaggerated”.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Alexander the Great, Man and God by Ian Worthington

After reading Ian Worthington’s book Philip II, King of Macedonia, I had high hopes for a book about Alexander by the same author.

Alexander the Great, Man and God by Ian Worthington (ISBN 1-405-80162-X) follows Alexander from the first day when he became king after the assassination of his father, Philip II of Macedonia, until his death in Babylon.

The author expresses a surprising and unexpected strong opinion of Alexander as he clearly is pro-Philip while here he appears as an anti-Alexander. At times I find it difficult to accept this point of view, but that is evidently a matter of opinion. Each and every historian writing about Alexander has his own appreciation and view.

For me, the most inspiring chapters are the last ones in this book where Worthington analyses the impact of Alexander’s untimely death in the then known world and the imprint he left for posterity. The author also takes a closer look at the “Man and God” part of his title, quoting very appropriately the Indian philosophers Alexander consulted when he was in that country. “How can a man become a god?” was his question, and the answer he received was “By doing something a man cannot do”. Whether this quote is true or pure propaganda is open for discussion, of course, but the subject is worth consideration. Another chapter, "Philip’s Ghost", develops the role which Philip as a king played in Alexander’s upbringing but more so in his life – a point that is generally overlooked by Alexander authors.

Sadly, this book does not make it to my top ten but that does not mean that it does not deserve a place on the bookshelves of the true Alexander aficionado.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Another wave of destruction hitting Palmyra

Well, by now we all have read the headlines "Isis destroyed a tetrapylon and part of a Roman theater in ancient Palmyra”. The words by themselves strike like a bomb for we thought we had had it.

Palmyra has been hit on several occasions before (see: The glorious days of Palmyra).

The first victim of this senseless destruction was the little Temple of Baal-Shamin, the god of rain and fertility on 23 August 2015. It was built around 150 AD and very well preserved because the Byzantines converted it into a church. It was a lovely spot, in the shade of a young tree that grows within its sheltering walls – all relinquished to memory.

Next, on 30 August 2015, Isis aimed at the great Temple of Bell or Baal built in the year 32 AD and the surrounding portico with 18-meters-high columns that were originally covered with gold and silver plates (see: The Temple of Bell at Palmyra – in memoriam).
Unique to this temple was its most sacred part, the naps or adyton. Following Semitic traditions, there were two such shrines one on each side. The roof of the left wing showed the seven gods and seven planets surrounded by the twelve signs of the zodiac and the niche underneath once housed the statue of the main god. A smaller statue apparently stood in the opposite southern shrine and could be carried around during the processions on heydays. Amazingly, this ceiling was cut from one single monolith stone. The entire sanctuary is now reduced to dust, including the fresco on the wall facing the entrance in between the two altars. (See also: Good news from Palmyra?)

Isis continued its demolition by blowing up seven tomb towers and on 2 September 2015, the most beautiful one and best preserved Tower Tomb of Elahbel fell.

The world was relieved to hear that Isis was retreating from Palmyra but they went in style, as a matter of speaking, blowing up Palmyra Castle on 20 March 2016. After that, it was quiet till the Arch of Septimus Severus was destroyed in October of that same year.

After all these saddening events of barbaric destruction, we thought and hoped peace was restored. Isis had left and archaeologists worldwide came to assess the damage. The only buildings standing were the Roman Theater, the wall of the Agora and the Great Colonnade Street with its elegant Tetrapylon. We counted our blessings but apparently, nobody saw yesterday’s destruction coming.

We write 20 January 2017 and the magnificent Tetrapylon, a group of four times four columns at one of the Decumanus’ crossroads has been blown to pieces. Only one of the sixteen pink granite columns was original, imported all the way from Aswan in Egypt, and the other columns were meticulously reconstructed. This Tetrapylon sadly no longer highlights its key position at the bend in the Great Colonnade Street.

At the same time, the magnificently preserved stage wall of the 2,000 years old Roman Theatre has been blown up.

This latest war crime and loss for the Syrian people and humanity seems to have taken place ten days before the news was released as authorities wanted to verify the information through satellite images provided by the researchers from Boston University. Well, we have the pictures to prove it.


I fear that much of the 1200-meters-long Great Colonnade Street or Decumanus has been heavily hit by the repeated explosions. With its porticoes and sidewalks, this Decumanus was exceptionally wide and measured nothing less than 23 meters!

It is terrible to be so helpless in trying to protect and save a civilization. Khaled al-Asaad, Syria’s leading archaeologist paid for it with his life. The director general of UNESCO has summarized this situation very well “This new blow against cultural heritage … shows that cultural cleansing led by violent extremists is seeking to destroy both human lives and historical monuments in order to deprive the Syrian people of its past and its future”. (Text quoted by The Guardian).

For those who want to have an idea of what Palmyra looked like before Isis murdered the city, please visit this link or my album on Pinterest.

Friday, January 20, 2017

What the Stadiasmus Patarensis in Patara is about

The Stadiasmus Patarensis is maybe better known as the Miliarium Lyciae, a Roman milestone that was found, as the name indicates, at Patara in ancient Lycia.



The monument has the shape of a pillar and it is of particular interest because it provides a roadmap of Lycia, listing no less than 63 roads with the distances between the fifty cities mentioned. Interestingly, one-third of these 63 roads have been uncovered so far; another five roads were located during excavations in eastern Lycia and ten more in central Lycia. At present, archaeologists are investigating western Lycia near Fethiye and Seydikemer and so far six more roads were found.

There is still a lot of work to be carried out and researchers hope that eventually, they’ll be able to map the entire transportation infrastructure of Lycia, together with its administrative system in Roman times.

Loose blocks of this Stadiasmus Patarensis were discovered in 1994 and when they were put together it resulted into a seven-meter high monument carrying Greek inscriptions on three sides. The central face contains a dedication from 46 AD to Emperor Claudius and the side faces show an official list of roads built by Quintus Veranius, the first Roman governor of the province of Lycia. Since the main face with the emperor’s dedication does not refer in any way to the roadmaps, it is thought that the side panels were inscribed at a slightly later date.

Its initial purpose was to show the power of the Romans in Lycia and Patara as its capital was the right place to erect this monument. The inscription on the central panel describes the Lycians as loving Rome and Caesar, having restored “concord, equality before the law and ancestral laws’.

The above clip shows the reconstructed pillar from all sides and a fully restored view of the inscription. This precious milestone can be seen in the gardens of the Museum of Antalya

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Lycian Way by Kate Clow

The Lycian Way by Kate Clow (ISBN 0-9539218-2-4) is the best walking guide you can find to navigate the 530 kilometers long route throughout Lycia in southern Turkey.

The Lycian Way follows ancient Greek and Roman roads as well as traditional nomad trails and forest tracks, which are linked up to form a continuous walking route. The walker will travel at the pace of the farmers and goat herders who roamed through Lycia for eons. Since it once was one of the richest and most densely populated areas, signs of ancient civilizations are plentiful. Because of its rugged landscape, the area has not been spoiled by modern hotels and other facilities.

This book simply provides you with all the information you need, whether you travel solo or with a group, whether you are interested in history, botany, wildlife, geology or simply want to enjoy the quietness of nature.

The route is always clearly marked with white and red stripes on rocks or trees and sign-posted in green and yellow where it leaves the asphalted road. An excellent detachable map is included giving full details about the elevation, the terrain to cross, pertinent points of reference and the water points and cisterns. GPS Data can also be downloaded from their website which is regularly updated.

An entire chapter is devoted to what to bring and what to wear, followed by one centered around traveling in Turkey, shopping and first aid and rescue. If you read these carefully, you are fully prepared to start walking through this magnificent region. The book even contains hints about what to look out for if you are not acquainted with recognizing remnants of antique cities like theaters, temples, city walls and necropolises.

The Lycian Way by Kate Clow is to be your travel companion. You can start your walk at any point and stop wherever you like. For each stretch of the route, the book provides full information about shops and water availability, lodging possibilities, the length of the walk and the time it will take you, with in between key points you’ll have to cross-check on the way – keep your eyes peeled and you most certainly will get there.

For those who truly fall in love with Lycia (as I did) the book also provides a rather complete and very comprehensive history of the region as well as a handy list of Turkish vocabulary for trekkers.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Two key afterthoughts on Gaugamela

The Battle of Gaugamela is generally seen as an overall victory for Alexander and that is what has been recorded in history. Yet, there are two factors or rather personages that call for some serious afterthoughts.

The first is about King Darius III who turned his chariot around and left the scene before the battle was over. In the thick swirling cloud of dust and heavy fighting, it makes me wonder how soon Alexander noticed Darius’ retreat. There may have been a sudden opening in the Persian lines when the Ten Thousand Immortals and Darius’ personal retinue pulled out to escort their king in their sworn duty to protect him. In any case, Darius was the whole reason for the battle to take place and Alexander was not going to give up at this stage. He cannot have been aware of the overall situation on the battlefield as every soldier simply fought the enemy that appeared in front of him in the obscuring dust, but the Macedonians were well drilled and extremely disciplined. They knew what Alexander expected of them and performed to excellence as against all odds, they were able to keep their overall frontline intact – amazing when you consider they were outnumbered six to one.

As soon as he knew that Darius had left the battlefield, Alexander dashed in his pursuit with about 2,000 cavalry. Some claim that he abandoned his army for the sole scope of capturing Darius, but his generals had their instructions and would further fulfill their duty without hesitation. Alexander knew that he could rely on them as he also knew that he needed to capture Darius if he ever wanted to be King of Asia.

Alexander’s pursuit was not without danger or obstacles. Let’s not forget that he was not alone heading in the general direction of Babylon. In fact, he had to thrust through the cloud of dust created by the masses of Persian cavalry on the run who, still faithful to their king tried to stop Alexander and his men. The ensuing fighting was particularly savage and it is known that at least sixty of Alexander’s companions were wounded, including Hephaistion. By the time Alexander shook off the enemy cavalry, Darius had gained a decent head start and had crossed the Great Zab River where he exchanged his chariot for a horse. He soon reached the Royal Road near Arbela, one of the main intersections in the Persian road system. By the time Alexander passed the Great Zab River darkness started to fall and it was obvious that he couldn’t catch up with Darius that day. He decided to get some rest and allow the horses a well-deserved breather.

By midnight he was in the saddle again and reached Arbela in the early morning hours. Here he learned that Darius had taken a sizeable head start, taking a shortcut through the hills. His trail led through the Kurdish mountains with 3,000 meter-high passes where Alexander would be in unchartered terrain and prey to a hostile enemy. He was realistic enough to know that he had to give up his chase. It is clear that he was very disappointed but at the same time, he realized that his first priority now was to take possession of Babylon. The capture of Darius had to wait.

The second case is about Mazaeus, the commander of Darius’ cavalry who fought on his right wing opposite Parmenion.

Records of the Battle of Gaugamela are obviously concentrating on Alexander and only scattered information transpires about what happened on his left wing, except the tale that Parmenion sent a message to Alexander for extra support. This message is a very questionable one and even in antiquity authors do not agree on the details. What is fact and what is fiction? Besides, it seems near impossible to anyone to find Alexander in the commotion and heavy dust bowl on the battlefield. But that is another subject of discussion.

Yet, we do have a contemporary version of the facts recorded in the so-called Babylonian astronomical diaries. One of those cuneiform tablets has been deciphered at the British Museum in London and although it is damaged the text contains the omens and foretells the outcome of the battle. (The full text of these clay tablets has been reproduced in detail on Livius’ site together with a more scholarly report also on this Livius’ site.) Through the fragments, it transpires that some high-ranking officers, including Mazaeus, deserted Darius with a number of men from Battle of Gaugamela. The text says that “the troops of the king deserted him” which could mean that these Persians either joined Alexander and fought on his side, or that they simply refused to fight. This theory of troops deserting King Darius raises speculations that Alexander possibly bribed his Persian enemy – a process that was not at all uncommon in antiquity. Maybe the scheme had been planned on the banks of the Euphrates three months earlier?

When Hephaistion was building his two bridges over the Euphrates, Mazaeus observed the works from the opposite side of the river. Both men faced each other for several days as Hephaistion did not risk finishing his bridges fearing that Mazaeus would immediately destroy them. This game of cat and mouse ended when Alexander in person appeared with the bulk of his troops. At this point, Mazaeus and his 2,000 Greek mercenaries turned around and proceeded to scorch more earth in front of the enemy’s advance as ordered by Darius. It is pure speculation but not impossible that Hephaistion and Mazaeus exchanged messages (Mazaeus having been satrap of Cilicia did speak Greek) while troops on both sides (all Greeks) shouted back and forth over the water.

The fact remains that as soon as Mazaeus saw Darius riding away from the battlefield at Gaugamela, he hurried to Babylon. When Alexander arrived there some three weeks later, he was welcomed in appropriate style by Mazaeus and other Persian noblemen.

In the end, I guess we’ll never know the entire story, neither about Darius’ reason to flee nor about the role played by Mazaeus who, let’s not forget, was Alexander’s first Persian to be appointed as governor in one of his conquered cities.



Interestingly, among the clay tablets, there is another fragment that seems to be a part of Alexander’s address to the people of Babylon, in which he reassures them that he will not “go into their houses”. This corresponds to known Greek sources mentioning that the Macedonians were not allowed to loot Babylon when they entered the city after their victory at Gaugamela.

[Pictures from Oliver Stone's movie Alexander]

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Crossing the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers

River crossings are generally considered as mere accessory events in Alexander’s campaign, but I think they are widely underestimated. On their way east, the Macedonians had to cross countless rivers, streams, and rivulets. Each of these, however, came with its own challenges: some were mere sandy flats while others were filled with rocks; some banks were steep and slippery while others were marshy and swampy; some streams were lazy water ribbons while others were torrential white waters; and some were hazardous while others were placid.

Over the years, Alexander crossed many major rivers among which the most important are the Danube, the Nile, the Euphrates and the Tigris, the Oxus and the Jaxartes, and finally the Indus including the entire Punjab, i.e. the Hydaspes (Jhelum), the Acesines (Chenab), the Hydraotes (Ravi), and the Hyphasis (Beas). This time, let us concentrate on the Euphrates and the Tigris which were major barriers on Alexander’s march through Mesopotamia.

In mid-July 331 BC, Alexander sent Hephaistion ahead to build two separate bridges over the Euphrates. In antiquity, such crossing points were well-known and Alexander’s intelligence must have provided the necessary information. The most amazing part of such expeditions is the logistic involved. It is said that Alexander transported his ships in separate elements from Phoenicia to be re-assembled on the banks of the Euphrates. Even in a straight line from the eastern Mediterranean, let’s say from Antioch (Antakya) to Thapsacus (Carchemish), we are talking about a distance of more than 200 km, implying that he must have planned this colossal move early on, maybe even while he was still at Tyre. As always, his invaluable scouts did a thorough reconnaissance job, for Alexander could not take chances to expose Hephaistion and his advance forces to enemy attacks on the way. What’s more admirable even, is the timing of the entire operation since the bridges had to be completed by the time Alexander and the bulk of his army arrived.

Hephaistion’s forces included carpenters and engineers who directed the hauling of the ship’s parts, but also enough soldiers to do the foraging and to withstand any unexpected attack by local tribes or those people still faithful to the Persians. The crossing point was near Thapsacus where the river was about 800 meters wide. Unfortunately, the river banks are now flooded by yet another dam further upstream and it is not possible for archaeologists to investigate this in any way.

Meanwhile, King Darius was very much aware that Alexander had to cross the river and he sent his most experienced general Mazaeus with instructions to burn the crops ahead of the enemy route. This order was carried out although the harvest had already taken place and there was not much left to burn. Besides, this policy had no effect since Alexander took a more northerly route which Darius had not expected.

Anyway, we know that Mazaeus arrived on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and watched Hephaistion’s construction progress for several days. Hephaistion stopped his operation short of the opposite river bank as he did not want to see the end of his bridges destroyed by Mazaeus. There was little else to do for Mazaeus but to wait, but when Alexander appeared with the bulk of his army he turned around and left to further execute his orders of scorching the earth.

By now, it must have been mid-August and soon the two bridges were completed. This means that Hephaistion accomplished his task in maximum six weeks times – speaking of engineering prowess! Of course, these were no bridges in the true sense of the word but boats and rafts tied together with ropes and chains. A walkway of planks was placed over the boats and the passage was created to move the nearly 50,000 troops across, as well as the thousands of horses. It seems it took the army five days to cross the Euphrates.

Alexander led his troops further east and on the road he learned from spies that Darius was encamped on the Tigris River. As an army is most vulnerable when crossing a river, Alexander force-marched his troops and reached the Tigris two weeks later. Here he found no sign of Darius and nobody to stop his army. The obvious fording location has been pinned at Abu Dhahir, near the Persian Royal Road.

There was no need to build a floating bridge over the Tigris River since its waters were shallow although fast flowing and men could simply wade through. Well, this is the simple version which most historians like us to believe, but Diodorus tells a very different story. According to him, Mazaeus had decided that the river could not be crossed at the time because it ran too deep and its current was too swift. Consequently, the Persian general did not find it necessary to guard the crossing. So, when Alexander arrived at the ford, the water was above a man’s breast and the current swept away those who entered the river. At this stage, Alexander ordered all his men to lock arms with each other and “to construct a sort of bridge out of the compact union of their persons”.

Yet the most vivid and perilous report is given by Curtius. He mentions that Alexander cautiously sent a few of his cavalry to test the river. The water rose up to the flanks of their horses and by the time the horses were mid-channel to their necks. “Tigris” in Persian means “arrow” and the river owes its name to its current running as fast and an arrow. Alexander ordered his troops in formation with the infantry in the center. The men had to carry their weapons above their heads as they waded through the river with great difficulty. Like in a battle formation, the cavalry was posted on either side where the horses upstream would break the strong current and the cavalrymen downstream would catch those soldiers who lost footage and were swept away. Alexander directed the operation like on a battlefield, pointing his troops in this or that direction and encouraged them to move on. They all landed safely without any loss of life, only some material losses.

Once one dry land, Alexander gave his men a well-deserved rest. This was at the time of the moon eclipse that occurred on 20 September and it has been recorded that Alexander sacrificed to the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth.

[Bottom picture is from World Archaeology]

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Where on earth is Paphlagonia?

Paphlagonia is one of those less known regions in northern Turkey, although it is considered to be one of the most ancient civilizations of Anatolia. We are much more familiar with Asia Minor and its early Greek colonies and with those regions conquered by Alexander the Great and his followers in Caria, Lycia, Pamphylia and Pisidia to name only a few. Generally, excavations are carried out in that part of the country to the disadvantage of regions like Paphlagonia.


But being forced into excavations after reported treasure hunters carried out their own digging, a rather impressive burial chamber from the 2nd century BC has been exposed in the Kastamonu Province, roughly northeast of Ankara.

This burial chamber measures 22 meters in diameter and its walls are five meters high. Apparently, much of the funeral monument had been torn down by the looters leaving the stone blocks scattered around. Archaeologists had to bring in a crane to lift each unique block weighing between 800 kg and 8,5 tons and after sorting them out they were able to replace each one on its own spot.

This is very first such burial chamber ever found in Paphlagonia and it is thought to belong to an aristocrat. It very much resembles Roman tumuli from Italy.

Now that the loose blocks are back into place, archaeologists will proceed with the overall restoration work and the landscaping around the grave monument.

This burial site is a first in the region and it will be interesting to closely follow future excavation in Paphlagonia.