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)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A sample of Caligula’s megalomania

Speaking of megalomania, I believe the Roman emperors of the first century AD excel in that domain with Caligula and Nero in prominent places.

The opulence that was common good to them goes beyond our most daring imagination and one such example is the two ceremonial ships which Caligula built for his eccentric pleasure on Lake Nemi, some 30 kilometers south of Rome. These ships were not meant for sailing as they were simply too big to maneuver for the size of the lake. But then, the lake was sacred to the Romans as confirmed by the presence of the goddess Diana Nemorensis and the god Virbius which were venerated in the towns on the surrounding shore.

Much speculation is shrouding these ships in mystery but it is thought that the largest vessel (73 meters long and 24 meters wide) served essentially as a floating palace with rooms whose floors and walls were covered with colored marble and lively mosaics. This residence had its own baths and pool equipped with the appropriate comforts of plumbing and heating. The other vessel was not much smaller with its 70 x 20 meters and seems to have been a floating temple for Diana. Both ships were built from cedar wood and carried sails made of purple silk. History further tells us that they were adorned with gold and precious stones as well as bronze reliefs. Somehow they even “grew” a number of fruit trees and vines on board. The example set by the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Hellenistic rulers in Syracuse certainly was not lost on Caligula!

It is known that Romans could make ball bearings out of lead and the story goes that this invention was used on the Nemi ships to move the windlasses and even to rotate the statues of the gods! Top notch technology was implemented like several hand operated bilge pumps that worked very much like modern bucket dredges. Piston pumps, in turn, supplied the hot water for the baths and the cold water for fountains and drinking water. It is hard to believe that this knowledge of piston pumps was lost in time until it finally was “rediscovered” in the Middle Ages.

Caligula’s pleasure vessels were short lived as he was assassinated about a year after they were launched and opposition parties soon stripped them of their precious content and intentionally sunk them. They remained at the bottom of Lake Nemi for almost 2,000 years during which time fishermen and treasure hunters regularly retrieved small treasures from the wrecks.

This is probably the origin of a square piece of inlaid marble which features a geometric pattern using green and purple porphyry, serpentine and molded glass that recently made headlines on the antique markets. The owners who acquired the piece in the early 1970s framed it and turned it into a small coffee table. The details of that story can be found in the New York Times of 19 October 2017.

The life of the two Nemi ships did, however, not end at the bottom of the lake. In 1927, Benito Mussolini (another megalomaniac) ordered to drain the lake in order to expose and retrieve the ships. The first ship was recovered in 1931 and the second one in 1932, and in 1936 he built a museum to host both vessels. Unfortunately, in 1944 fire destroyed the museum and its precious contents after several bombings. To this day, it is not clear whether the Germans started the fire or the allies caused it by their intense bombing. Today, a new museum can be visited on the site sheltering scale models of the ships and those rare artifacts that have survived. Let us hope that this “coffee table” will soon be visible at that museum also.

Lake Nemi, once hosting scenes of orgies, cruelty, music and sport is once again a place where the people of Rome can enjoy the clean air and cooler temperatures in the summer months. The lucky visitor may still witness the magical reflection of the Moon in the center of the lake during summer nights – a phenomenon the ancient Romans called Speculum Dianae, in other words, Diana’s Mirror.

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