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, January 9, 2018

Hellenistic gymnasium found in Egypt

After the death of Alexander the Great, his general Ptolemy became the ruler of Egypt and took the country into the Hellenistic world. As his empire grew, more and more Greek speaking settlers moved to the newly founded city of Alexandria and generally to the entire Nile delta.

These newcomers mingled with the natives and soon Greek sanctuaries arose next to existing Egyptian temples. Besides, they also built monuments for their own comforts like baths and gymnasia. In the delta villages, these buildings were generally financed by the wealthy Greek inhabitants and by the men governing the institutions.

In one such village, Watfa, situated five kilometres east of Qasr Qaroun in the Fayum area, the very first Hellenistic gymnasium in Egypt has been discovered. Well, this is what the media tell us. We should not forget, however, that in antiquity Egypt was much larger since it also included modern Libya.  Over there, the city of Cyrene proudly shows its Hellenistic Gymnasium also called Ptolemaion in honor of Ptolemy VIII who built it in the 2nd century BC. When the Romans arrived in the first century AD, they paved the wide grounds and turned it into a Forum, that was eventually called Ceasarion. (see: Cyrene, founded by the Greeks).

Watfa is the modern name for Philoteris, founded in the 3rd century BC by Ptolemy II Philadelphus who named the town after his sister/wife Philotera. It is estimated that in those early years, Philoteris counted approximately 1200 inhabitants of which one third was Greek speaking.

The gymnasium of Philoteris is composed of the main building arranged around a courtyard, a large hall for meetings that was adorned with statues and a dining hall. The running track met the standard racing distance of a stadium, i.e. about 180 meters. It is hard to imagine in this now desert landscape that the gymnasium was once surrounded by lush gardens. No measurements are given but I assume they may come close to the impressive 85 x 96 meters of Cyrene.

In those days, such a grand building was a matter of prestige for here the young Greek upper class would meet not only to be trained in sports but also to learn to read and write, and to enjoy philosophical discussions as was customary in their homeland.

Until now, the existence of gymnasia in the Egyptian countryside was known from inscriptions and papyrus documents only but the find at Watfa is the icing on the cake. It also shows the huge impact the Greeks had in the Egyptian countryside.

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