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)

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Exploring the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

It is not common knowledge that many relics of the powerful Macedonian Kingdom are being kept at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. The most precious grave goods from all over Macedonia and from the many tombs from the 4th century BC discovered in the suburbs of Thessaloniki are accumulated within its walls.

Treasures ranging from delicate gold-sheet ornaments found on funeral garments to numerous gold earrings, pendants, necklaces, rings, fibulae, bracelets and coins await the unprepared visitor. The most striking artifacts are probably the exquisite gold wreaths composed of olive, ivy, myrtle and oak leaves, at times centered around the tiny figure of Heracles or his typical knot. When a crowd of people walk around, these tiny flowers and leaves tend to tremble; imagine the effect they had when worn live!

The richest finds come from the so-called Derveni Tombs located some 10 km NW of Thessaloniki. One of these tombs yielded twenty silver vases, a great number of alabaster and bronze vases, terracotta vessels some of which were gilded, iron weapons including a pair of bronze greaves. But the piece de resistance is the richly decorated bronze crater generally referred to as the Derveni Crater, which is worth to be explored in detail.

The Derveni Crater stands 90 cm tall and weighs some 40 kg. It is not made of gold as one would assume at first glance but of a bronze alloy containing about 15% of tin which produces its unique golden sheen. The figures and other decoration elements are made from different metals or inlays of silver, copper, bronze, etc. The motives are a mere hymn to the god Dionysus who is depicted sitting naked next to Ariadne and familiarly resting his leg on his wife’s thigh. Behind the newlywed couple stands a panther, the animal sacred to the god. Around the crater and surrounding the couple we recognize satyrs and maenads in their orgiastic dance. Two more maenads, a resting Dionysus and a sleeping satyr are all sitting cozily on the shoulders of the vase.

The bands above and under the relief of the godly couple are filled with vine and ivy branches, palm leaves and acanthus in different metal colors among tame and wild animals. This crater is generally dated between 330 and 320 BC and may be the work of either a sculptor from the Chalcidice trained in Athens or a bronze smith from the Royal Court of Alexander the Great.

This is one of the pieces that truly stands for the wealth and beauty that existed at the Macedonian palaces and surrounded Alexander.

There are more vessels and jugs that were recovered from these graves and which are labeled as bronze although they shine like gold. Such a high standard of art! There also is a fine iron pectoral covered with a thin gold sheet from Pydna, not so unlike the Macedonian ones exhibited elsewhere.

Worth the visit altogether is this gold medallion said to represent Queen Olympias wearing a chiton and a light himation to cover her hair. The reverse of the medallion depicts a sea monster, half bull half fish with a nude woman sitting on its back who has been recognized as the Nereid Thetis, mother of Achilles – clearly inspired by Alexander’s admiration for Homer’s tales. It was issued during the games held in honor of Alexander at Beroea in 225-250 AD. This medallion is part of the hoard of twenty such pieces found in Abukir, near Alexandria in 1902. 

Three other medallions are part of the collection at the Bode Museum in Berlin. It is pure joy to admire these priceless portraits of Alexander the Great, one with Nike and another with a diadem. Eleven of the other medallions have been acquired by the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal; the one depicting Emperor Caracalla, great admirer of Alexander, is at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, USA. Up to now, this is the only picture we have of Olympias, although it probably is idealized.

Beyond this precious and unique collection of Macedonian gold, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki holds another rare treasure: Europe’s oldest surviving papyrus ever, also found at Derveni. Since the roll to which it belongs has been dated to around 340 BC, the papyrus is contemporary of Philip II and Alexander! The bits of papyrus belong to a philosophical treatise, a commentary on an Orphic poem concerning the birth of the gods which was most probably written by Euthyphron from Prospalta in Attica around 420-410 BC.

It certainly pays off to venture downstairs where the Tomb of Agios Athanasios  occupies a privileged room of its own but that story has already been covered previously (see: The Macedonian Tomb of Agios Athanasios in Thessaloniki).

[Picture from Thessaloniki Travel]

There is, of course, far more to discover in the sections about the Kingdom of Macedonia and Thessaloniki, Metropolis of Macedonia that fit in the broader Alexander context. Most noticeable are for instance a lovely head of a youth inspired by Alexander the Great from the 2nd century AD, an inscription mentioning “Thessalonica daughter of Philip, Queen” dated 150-200 AD referring to Alexander’s half-sister, and a very interesting relief dedicated to Hephaistion from Pella and dated 320-300 BC (see: Another effigy of Hephaistion?). Besides, there is a great assortment of sarcophagi, funerary steles, inscriptions, statues, mosaics and architectural elements from all over Macedonia and from Thessaloniki in particular like the columns from the Temple of Aphrodite (see: Thessaloniki’s Temple of Aphrodite).

Please, do include a visit to this magnificent museum next time you are in the area – or hop a plane if you happen to be in Athens, for instance. It is worth the effort!

[Click here for more pictures from the Archaeological Museum in Thessaloniki]

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Thracian Tombs at Doxipara, Greece

Thrace is generally associated with Bulgaria but originally its borders extended from the Istros River (now the Danube forming the border between Bulgaria and Romania) to the Aegean Sea, and from the Hellespont, the Bosporus and the Black Sea in the east to Philip’s Macedonia in the west. Today, there still is a Greek province of Thrace which stretches from the Rhodope Mountains on its northern border with Bulgaria to the Aegean and is squeezed between the rivers Nestos in the west and Hebros in the east which forms the modern borderline with Turkey.

Because of its geographical position, Thrace clearly was a country on major crossroads and as such it functioned as a buffer zone in cultural and economical exchanges with its surrounding neighbors.

When Philip became king of Macedonia, his eastern border was at the Strymon River but he soon pushed further east, all the way to the Hellespont. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, the cards were reshuffled between his generals and eventually it was Lysimachos who became king of Thrace. The Romans added the country to their empire creating the Province of Thrace in 46 AD. Both Trajan and Hadrian (creating their own cities of Trajanopolis and Hadrianopolis) recognized the importance of Thrace but at the same time left ownership in the hands of the indigenous population.

One of the most characteristic heritages of Thracian civilization is their profusion of burial mounds – a tradition that goes back to the Bronze Age, the middle of the 4th-2nd millennium BC. In central Bulgaria alone over 1,500 such tumuli exist in what is called the Valley of Thracian Kings and so far only 300 of them have been properly excavated. Among the most popular monuments to date is the richly painted Tomb of Kazanlak (see: Valley of the Thracian Kings) from the 4th century BC as well as the temple-tomb of King Seuthes III who died in 300 BC.

Beyond Bulgaria, the typical Thracian tumuli are found also in the most eastern Province of Thrace in Greece. It is here that the burial mound of Mikri Doxipara – Zoni  is located. This one was constructed much later than the abovementioned ones, i.e. at the beginning of the 2nd century AD when the region was under Roman rule. Obviously, the style and decoration of the tombs have evolved from frescoed domed rooms to hold the cremated remains of the deceased to simple burials in the ground where the dead were put to rest together with their chariots and horses.

The tumulus of Doxipara is not very tall, hardly 7.5 meter high but with its diameter of 60 meters it is one of the largest in the region. It was situated close to the road that connected Hadrianopolis (modern Edirne in Turkey) to Philippopolis (modern Plovdiv in Bulgaria).

Excavations which were started in 2002 have revealed four large pits containing the cremated remains of three males and one female. A total of five chariots and their draft animals have been exposed and can be divided into two groups. The first group is made of two chariots labeled as B and C. The second group consists of three chariots labeled A, D and E. Although four-wheeled wagons have been found in many places both in Europe and in Asia, this is a first for Greece.

Close to each group are separate horse burial sites where the spare horses were laid to rest: two horses in site A and three horses in site B. In all cases, the chariots that had carried the dead to the burial site were interred together with their still harnessed horses. The wheels had been taken from the chariots and what remains today are the bronze rims, bolts and other bronze elements since the wood has disintegrated occasionally leaving their imprint in the clay bottom. At first sight, these remains closely resemble the picture of the Thracian chariot discovered lately in Bulgaria (see: The story of the Thracian chariot) but this site is much and much bigger.

Horses were a clear symbol of wealth and status for their owners and it is assumed that the burial site of Doxipara belonged to a rich family of landowners although no houses or nearby residences have been located as yet.

The entire tumulus has been dug out and removed but the wagons and horse skeletons are left exactly where they were uncovered. This makes it a very exciting place to visit!

As mentioned above, there are also human remains, those of three men and one woman who died in close succession. They were cremated in appropriate pits together with small animals like piglets or birds and fruit like walnuts, almonds and pine nuts. Once the fire was extinct, the usual offerings that accompanied them in the afterlife were placed around the remains together with vessels in bronze, glass and terracotta containing water, wine, milk or honey. Personal possessions such as bronze lamps and lanterns, weapons, small jewelry, etc. were added as well. Once this ritual was completed, the pits were filled with earth and slowly a mound covered those entered.

On the eastern flank of the tumulus, two platforms were exposed which served as funerary altars.

The site of Doxipara is a unique example of funerary procedures of the Thracians in Roman times, proving that their own customs still prevailed over whatever rites were current in the Roman Empire.

[Click here to see all the pictures of The Thracian Tombs of Doxipara]

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The preservation of Volubilis, a step in the right direction

When I visited Volubilis a few years ago (see: Volubilis in Morocco, hardly known), I expressed my disappointment about the overall poor condition and obvious neglect of the site.

Excavations here had started in 1915 but apparently they led to looting especially during Morocco’s colonial years when the country was ruled by the French. Yet, we cannot blame the French alone for this unhappy situation because since their departure in 1956 Volubilis is regularly victim to illegal “finds” of archaeological artfefacts, especially mosaics and ancient coins. In 1982, for example, a marble statue of Bacchus mysteriously disappeared and in spite of the personal intervention of King Hassan II, all efforts were in vain and the statue has never been recovered.

So it is great news to hear that after so many years of pillage and neglect, Volubilis is now properly fenced off and closely guarded by a newly appointed group of 14 custodians surveying the site day and night.

In order to draw more visitors and tourists to the site, a new museum has been built as well as a visitor center. This sounds very promising and we may hope that these measures will bring the expected results.

There are plans, it seems, to extend excavations as one third of the 17 ha wide city has never been touched.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

High stakes at Corinth

When Philip was proclaimed leader of all the Greeks at Corinth, he was clever enough to insert a clause in the treaty making his title hereditary. Each state individually had sworn not to harm any other member of the Common Peace and not to interfere in their internal affairs. They also had sworn not to become ally with any foreign power that could damage any member of the Treaty. No member could undertake any operation that might endanger the peace or overthrow its constitution. The then assembled council or synedrion at Corinth was the final authority to settle any dispute between individuals or between member states. They had to help each other if one of the members was attacked, but were not allowed to accept support from foreign powers.

This means that after the assassination of Philip in 336 BC it was one of Alexander’s priorities to be accepted and confirmed as Hegemon of this League of Corinth.

Walking around the impressive remains of Corinth crowned by the Temple of Apollo which Alexander saw in all its glory, make you wonder where these meetings took place. The most obvious location would be the theatre rebuilt early 4th century BC on the foundations of an older one from the 5th century BC. This theater could seat around 15,000 spectators but there is very little left of this building. There also is a Bouleuterion behind the Agora to consider but this turns out to be a Roman construction that didn’t exist in Philip’s days.

The Lechaion Street which connected the center of Corinth to the western harbor of the same name is one of the highlights of the city. In recent years, expert-divers have been exploring the very harbor of Lechaion to expose the infrastructure of this important port-city, locating two monumental piers built of ashlar blocks next to a smaller dock. They also have found a canal entrance leading into Lechaion’s three inner harbors, as well was a breakwater.

Lechaion was only one of Corinth’s harbor as the city is strategically straddling the isthmus between mainland Greece and the Peloponnesus (less than 4 miles wide), which means that they needed both an eastern and a western harbor. Lechaion, on the Gulf of Corinth, served the western sea routes to Italy, Sicily and beyond to Spain. The harbor of Kenchreai gave access to the Saronic Gulf from where the ships sailed to and from the Aegean, Asia Minor, Cyprus, Syria and Egypt. Goods could be transported overland from one port to the other as lightweight ships were hauled using a platform along the road connecting Lechaion to Kenchreai. This was before Nero planned to dig a canal meant to link both sides, a plan that eventually materialized two thousand years later. The remains of the Kenchreai Street are not as impressive as the Lechaion Street which is tucked away behind the shops of the Agora but both were familiar to Alexander.

The Temple of Apollo certainly is the main landmark. It is built in Doric order, counting 6x15 columns, seven of which are still standing and define the skyline of Corinth. Rather unique is the fact that the columns are monolithic and stand more than seven meters tall. It is here that the slight convex floor to support the temple’s columns has been implemented for the first time antedating the much praised concept for the Parthenon in Athens! There is no trace of the bronze statue of Apollo that once stood inside the temple as mentioned by Pausanias.

Another unmistakable feature in Corinth is the Fountain of Peirene built in the late 6th century BC and enhanced many times, especially by the Romans in the 2nd century AD. Much older, and probably built together with the Temple of Apollo is the adjacent Fountain of Glauke, an inelegant cube of about 7.5 meter. Inside is a succession of reservoirs with a total capacity of approximately 527 m3. Water management in antiquity was far more sophisticated than generally admitted.

Since its early beginning, Corinth was a booming trading hub in the eastern Mediterranean and has lots to tell. For more than one thousand years, roughly from the 6th century BC till the 6th century AD, the city was at the center of all trade carried out by its mixed population of Greeks, Romans and Jews, and later by early Christians as well. The importance of this city cannot be stressed enough and few people know about the many colonies Corinth founded all over the Mediterranean. As early as 733 BC, the first such colonies were established at Corcyra (Corfu) and Syracuse (Sicily). Less than a century later, many more settlements followed like Epidamnus (Dϋrres) and Apollonia (Fier) both in Illyria, modern Albania, as well as Potidaea in Chalcidice, Greece. Corinth was also one of the co-founders of Naucratis in ancient Egypt. These facts alone prove the overall importance of the city which rivaled with Athens and Thebes.

It is not difficult to imagine the hustle and bustle of people in Alexander’s days, merchants talking feverishly with buyers and sellers, while seafarers were seeking the distractions common to every port - temples, taverns and brothels are the same all over the world. Sacrifices to the local and foreign gods were being made to thank them for their safe arrival and to pray for a safe journey onward. Corinth certainly was no exception.

If the story is true, it was here that Alexander met Diogenes (see: Alexander meeting Diogenes in Corinth). This Cynic philosopher originated from the Black Sea and died in Corinth the same year as Alexander, in 323 BC. Diogenes’ own writings have not survived but were known by his disciple Onesicritus who accompanied Alexander on his Asian campaigns. It may be thanks to him and Ptolemy that his philosophy slipped into the later Alexander Romance.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Albania’s precious underwater heritage

The rich history of Albania, ancient Illyria is scarcely known and has been only occasionally explored (see: Looking for Illyrian remains in Albania). Yet there is much more archaeology to be found under water along the country’s long coastline where hundreds of Roman and Greek shipwrecks and their contents are in danger of permanent destruction by looters and treasure hunters.

In 2007, the RPM Nautical Foundation in Florida together with a joint Albanian-Italian team started exploring the seafloor with high-tech sonar and remotely operated underwater vehicles. Between the Greek border and the Bay of Vlorës, i.e. about one third of Albania’s coastline they have found at least 22 shipwrecks ranging from the 8th century BC to WWII. That section faces Corfu  (ancient Corcyra) and the very end of the heel of Italy where traffic was very heavy with ships heading for the many natural harbors of Illyria and those entering the Adriatic Sea to further destinations up north including to the east coast of Italy. It is not surprising that ancient shipwrecks yield such huge quantities of amphorae, the packaging material par excellence in antiquity.

Because of the severe communist regime of Enver Hoxha, Albania has been isolated for more than half a century and its archaeology widely neglected. Since the new republic emerged in 1991, the country is trying and hoping to meet western standards. This is a long and difficult road and it is not surprising that looting has occurred in the archaeological sites and it is far from easy to control unlawful underwater treasure hunters.

Hopes are now centering on the non-profit Institute of Nautical Archaeology in Texas who envisages exploring the possibilities of excavating those shipwrecks resting along the Albanian coastline. As this coastline has been well protected because of secret nuclear-powered submarine bases, much of wrecks are still undisturbed and for that reasons, very promising.

So far, the best known archaeological site in Albania is Butrint,
ancient Buthrotum which is being protected by UNESCO (see also: The surprise of Butrint, ancient Buthrotum in Epirus).

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A closer look at Euripides

Several years ago, the major part of the collection of Hellenistic art at the Louvre was housed in one of the larger ground floor rooms. Lighting there was rather poor and in my memory the statues were only touched by the changing moods of daylight.

There were no huge crowds in those days although this is where we would find the Resting youth by Polycleitus; the elegant Aphrodite said to be replica of Callimachus’ original; a young satyr playing the flute, a replica of an original Praxiteles; the touching elderly Faun holding a Child; a copy of Hermes attaching his sandal; the Hunting Diana in full swing; the Eros ready to shoot his arrow which is a replica of Lysippos as well as the famous Azara Hermes of Alexander the Great another replica of an original Lysippos, and several others. I often sighed that the statues were so dusty, itching to get some water and soap out to wash them off. In spite of all this, there was a special atmosphere in that half lit room that made you feel close to times long gone since.

Almost lost in a corner near one of the large windows stood the small statuette of a seated Euripides staring out into a world that was not his. However, it caught my attention because the back panel of this statuette listed 32 of his plays. Exhibited at eye level, I would read the titles one by one and it was as if I each name disclosed an entire shelf of papyri ready to be unscrolled.

Then the room was closed for years until the entire collection was moved elsewhere and arranged in a way complying with the demands of today’s visitor where each piece of art is highlighted in appropriate floodlights. There was, however, no trace of “my” Euripides and I wondered what had happened to him. Maybe he was moved to a different room to fit another topic, who knows?

Yet, all was not lost! At times, it takes patience and the reward came last year when I visited a temporary exhibition at the Louvre-Lens called Music, Echoes from Antiquity. A great number of old musical instruments had been brought together, not only from the Greek and Roman era, but also from Egyptian, Persian, Sogdian, Assyrian and Sumerian times. To complement the instruments, there was a number of paintings, vases, reliefs and statues representing the musicians in action.

It was here, for no apparent reason, that I suddenly found my precious Euripides! What he was doing here among the vases and small musicians was not obvious, except probably the fact that Greek theater plays included choral songs that told the story. I was over the moon to find my friend back sitting there in the front of this oversized window presiding over his oeuvre.  

Euripides was by far the most prolific tragedian of his time, producing more than his contemporaries Aeschylus and Sophocles together. During his lifetime (ca. 480 - ca. 406 BC), he stayed in Pella at the court of King Archelaus, Alexander’s great-grand-father, and at least two of his plays were performed in Macedonia one of which is the Bacchae. It tells the story of the  king of Thebes, Pentheus, who is killed by his mother and other women in a maenadic frenzy.

It seems no coincidence that the Bacchae is being performed this summer at the theater of the Getty Villa in Malibu, California. This production is being directed by Anne Bogart (one of the three Co-Artistic Directors of the SITI Company, and Professor at Columbia University)  and translated by Aaron Poochigian (earned a PhD in Classics from the University of Minnesota and an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University). This is a wonderful opportunity to immerse ourselves back in history and watch a play that Alexander must have seen more than once!

It is not surprising that Alexander grew up with a close knowledge and great love for theatrical performances, which he loved to organize all through his eastern campaigns – often inviting celebrated actors from Athens for the occasion.

Isn’t it amazing how much one small statuette has to tell.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Kingdom of the Bosporus

The Kingdom of the Bosporus comprised the lands between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, more precisely the Taman Peninsula and the Kerch Peninsula on either side of the Cimmerian Bosporus.

As developed in an earlier blog about the Greek colonization of the Black Sea (see: The many colonies of Miletus), the Ionian city of Miletus created new colonies especially over the period from 580 to 560 BC. Here, the foundations were laid for the Kingdom of the Bosporus which lasted for almost a thousand years. Over the centuries it became a melting pot of civilizations as the Greeks mingled with neighboring Scythians and Sarmatians. This kingdom whose capital was Panticapaeum, reached its peak between the 6th and the 3rd century BC when the new colonists maintained strong cultural and trade relations.

This part of the world, which – let’s not forget - cannot have been unknown to Alexander, is subject at present to successive excavations triggered by the Russians who are constructing a highway leading to the Kerch Bridge over the Strait of the same name in order to link Russia with the Crimea.

The area turns out to be rich in archaeological finds. One of them is a Roman villa from the middle of the 1st century AD considered to be a true example of daily life. It has yielded a number of household items, various tools, cheap jewelry, and small terracotta figurines which are identified as toys and have been baptized Hellenistic Barbie dolls. At that time, the economy was booming in the kingdom of the Bosporus which included not only eastern Crimea and the Taman Peninsula but also the downstream areas of the Don River. The archaeologists have concluded that the area was occupied by a slightly well-off middle class but by no means large Roman landowners.

Another project is the Greek necropolis in the Taman Peninsula counting some 600 burial mounds. They belong to several Greek colonies that lived in the wider area from the end of the 7th century BC until the middle of the 4th century BC. A Corinthian bronze helmet has been unearthed in a grave from the 5th century BC. This is a spectacular discovery considering that these helmets appeared in Greece only a century before and were widely used by the Greek hoplites. It was also the stereotype model that was applied when representing Athena or Pericles, for instance.

In a burial mound in Crimea, on the other hand, Russian archaeologists discovered a partly disintegrated wooden sarcophagus from the second half of the 4th century BC holding the skeleton of a teenager. Among the grave goods, they found many sport-related gifts like ten alabastrons, a strigil, 150 knucklebones and a red-figure wine jar belonging to the so-called Kerch style.

It will be interesting to follow the excavations around the Black Sea for they certainly will reveal many more treasures.

As until recently archaeological discoveries depended purely on coincidences and good luck, the modern road and metro works carried out in cities like Athens, Rome, Thessaloniki, Sofia (ancient Serdica), Plovdiv (ancient Philippopolis), and many others, are yielding knowledge and information otherwise inaccessible. As always, excavations are a matter of politics and money – sadly.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Nature of Alexander by Mary Renault

The Nature of Alexander by Mary Renault (ISBN 0-394-73825-X) is not a historical novel like her bestsellers Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy but rather a biography of Alexander the Great in as far as the story of his life can be told as such.

During his lifetime Alexander was a legend and after his death the legend only grew to such an extend that it is very difficult to paint a true portrait of the world conqueror some 2,500 years afterwards. Whoever writes or talks about Alexander from antiquity onward has his/her own tainted version for it is utterly impossible to be impartial – the figure of Alexander is just too complex for that.

In order to write her two above-mentioned historical novels, Mary Renault made an in-depth study of the authors from antiquity, the closest we can come to lifetime information. This biography recounts the Alexander figure as it transpires through her research and is evidently not the one and only facet of his personality. Pushing her book aside as unfit for a serious student of Alexander is underrating her personal approach to the world conqueror. Beyond being a general, a leader of men (and what a leader!), a king, he is also a man with great visions and far ahead of his time. His ambitions were not understood by his Macedonian commanders and soldiers, nor were they accepted by the conquered Persians, Sogdians or Indians. I share Mary Renault’s viewpoint that the only person who truly understood Alexander was his lifetime friend Hephaistion.

The great merit of Mary Renault is that she underscores this private side of Alexander and examines his thoughts and considerations as daily events and life in general unfold. It is one thing to write about the conqueror Alexander and his generalship, but it is another – and far more challenging – to write about the great man he was, a genius as the world has never seen since.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Spotlight on the Evros River

Among the rivers that have a magic name, the Evros or Hebrus River certainly is one of them.

For a start, it is the second longest river in Europe after the Danube. Its source is to be found in the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria where it is called Maritsa. I remember how the Maritsa River runs through Plovdiv, ancient Philippopolis but never realized that this is the same river as the Hebrus.

The Hebrus River has repeatedly made headlines because today it largely constitutes the border between Greece and Turkey, except at Edirne (Turkey) that sits on both river banks. Also in its lower course the river – named Maritsa – forms the border between Bulgaria and Greece.

The total length of the combined rivers is 480 kilometers, of which 320 run through Bulgaria and 160 kilometers are shared between Greece and Turkey.

When the Thracians ruled over that part of Europe in the 7th and 6th century BC, they spoke of the Euros or Ebros River. Eventually the Romans changed the name into Hebros or Hebrus. In modern Greek it is still called Evros.