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)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

About Alexandria-on-the-Oxus

It is not always easy and often even impossible to match antique cities with modern names and locations and Alexandria-on-the-Oxus or Alexandria Oxiana is one such an example. The city was, as the name says founded by Alexander the Great on the banks of the Oxus River (modern Amu Darya) in 329 BC.

Since the discovery of Ai-Khanoum in northeastern Afghanistan by Paul Bernard and the French archaeologists in 1964, many scholars believed they had found Alexandria-on-the-Oxus on the confluence of the Kokcha and the Oxus Rivers. At the time of the excavations, France had reached an agreement with the Afghan government, according to which the French were allowed to keep half their finds which were eventually moved to the Musée Guimet in Paris whereas the other half had to remain in Afghanistan together with all the jewelry and the objects made of silver and gold (see: De Kaboul à Samarcande (From Kabul to Samarkand)).

Unfortunately, these archaeological diggings had to be interrupted abruptly when the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The Taliban who arrived shortly afterwards, thoroughly plundered and destroyed the precious work done by the DAFA (French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan), both on the site and eventually also at the Museum of Kabul where the treasures had been kept “safe” (see: Putting archaeological sites on the Map of Afghanistan). It seems that all we have left today are the artifacts that were entrusted to the Musée Guimet in Paris but this is the subject for another blog since we are focusing at present on Alexandria-on-the-Oxus.

The first known candidate for this city, Ai-Khanoum, was a large city of approximately 1.5 km2 founded by Alexander but really developed by the Seleucids ruling over that part of the empire after the king’s death. The city thrived for a good five hundred years till the death of King Eucratides, the last king of the Graeco-Bactrian Empire that had blossomed here (see: Bactrian Gold, the Hidden Treasures from the Museum of Kabul). Altogether, a city worthy of Alexander.

Before his arrival, the settlement already knew an irrigation system with a network of canals that was expanded by the new Greek settlers. True to their origins, they built a city where they felt at home and included a large theater with loges, a gymnasium, an agora, many so-called mansions as well as a Heroon dedicated to a certain Kineas considered as being the founder of the city. Ai-Khanoum became a Hellenistic city by excellence with an exceptional “royal” palace erected in a mixture of Greek and Achaemenid styles. It made headlines when inscriptions containing Greek lyric poetry were found together with a precept from the oracle in Delphi.

In later years, this Alexandria changed name several times to become Diodoteia or Diodotopolis, Dionysopolis, Ostobara and eventually Eucratidia after the last Graeco-Bactrian king who expanded the palace complex and even added a treasury. In this treasury, archaeologists found numerous artifacts among which a throne and inlaid plaque from India which led them to believe they were deposited here after Eucratides’ conquest of Taxila and other cities. In and around Ai-Khanoum many large hoards of coins were retrieved most of which were from Greek and Bactrian origin but others were minted in India. In any case, the most recent specimens date to the rule of Eucratides, linking the end of Ai-Khanoum to this king. After the sudden departure of its inhabitants, the city was destroyed by fire. Although the locals returned after their hurried departure, they simply squatted in the remaining storeroom until they were expelled by yet another wave of nomadic attacks. The city was abandoned in 146 BC.

Ai-Khanoum rose from its ashes for a short while when the French started the excavations as mentioned above but was thoroughly destroyed again by modern invaders and treasure hunters – unfortunately.

Recently, another candidate for Alexandria-on-the-Oxus seems to be Kampyr Tepe situated some 30 kilometers from Termez, very close to the place where Alexander crossed the Oxus after his perilous march through the desert in 329 BC. (see: Alexander crossing the Oxus River).Today, this site lies in Uzbekistan and is separated from Afghanistan by the modern Amur Darya River. Kampyr Tepe was discovered in 1979 just before the Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan. Soon afterwards, it became a very sensitive and tightly guarded military zone at the border of the two countries until finally excavations were started about two years ago, in 2015, by the renowned archaeologist Edvard Rtveladze.

It certainly makes sense to find an “Alexandria” on this strategic river ford, populated by some of Alexander’s veterans together with Sogdian farmers and nomads. This lower city probably occupied the plains near the river bank and was inevitably destroyed at some point in time by the meandering Oxus River.

The ruins of the upper city can be found on a ridge overlooking the lowlands and appear rather like a citadel surrounded by powerful walls meant to protect the first Macedonian settlers, followed by the later Graeco-Bactrians.

Unlike Ai-Khanoum, Kampyr Tepe lacks the typical Greek buildings like a theater or an agora, but these may have stood in the lower part right on the Oxus. The upper city, in any case has been laid out in a grit plan in which the streets are lined with large comfortable houses for about six hundred families. They were built using dried bricks just like for the city walls – the only construction material available in this desert void of trees. The main city gate leading to the harbor offers a phenomenal view over the plains created by the river, now flowing several miles further south on the very border with Afghanistan.

The most striking find in Kampyr Tepe is the huge amount of dolia, large terracotta pots. This leads scholars to believe that the city had mainly a logistical function. Besides the usual ceramics and sculptures, some unique Bactrian manuscripts have been found as well which amazingly were written on papyrus. The diversity of the finds suggest that different cults and religions coexisted side by side for centuries. Beside the obvious Greek gods, relics of Zoroastrian, Buddhists and several local cults have been discovered mainly as images stamped on coins. The ruins of an imposing Buddhist monastery with Zoroastrian influences proudly stand outside the city walls.

These days, scholars are inclined to link Alexandria Oxiana to Kampyr Tepe rather than to Ai-Khanoum but so far they have found no evidence to substantiate either city.

[Picture of the necklace from The Australian. Picture of Kampyr Tepe from Caravanistan]

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