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)

Thursday, June 21, 2018

“The countless aspects of Beauty” at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

The beauty of Greek art, especially from the Classical and Hellenistic periods is, in my eyes, unsurpassed.

In order to celebrate its 150th birthday, the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, put together a special exhibition to illustrate the beauty of Greek art from the Neolithic period to the late antiquity. To this purpose 340 works from the museum’s collection have been selected and are now exhibited under the common title “The countless aspects of Beauty” – a unique way to appreciate this facet of Greek art.

This special exhibition is set up in four separate sections.
Eternal aesthetics” is the first section presenting objects of everyday life in prehistoric times, followed by “The Beautiful and the Desirable” referring to the aesthetic preferences in clothing, hairstyles and beautification. The third section “Focusing on the Body” treats the human body as represented from the Neolithic period to historic times. The exhibition concludes with a final section titled “The endless Quest” which concentrates on the significance of the beautiful and its value for humans.



Among the masterpieces, please note the Bronze head from Delos (early 1st century BC),  the Birth of Aphrodite from Baiae (2nd century AD), the Boy from Marathon (4th century BC), the Diadoumenos from Delos (100 BC copy of an original from 450-425 BC) and many, many others.

This exhibition was started last month and will remain open to the public till the end of 2019 - time enough to plan your visit to Athens allowing you to include this highlight in your trip.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Alexander the Great, Son of the Gods by Alan Fildes and Joann Fletcher

A pleasure for the eye is what first comes to mind after reading Alexander the Great, Son of the Gods by Alan Fildes and Joann Fletcher (ISBN 0-89236-783-0).

Much care is given to the presentation, print, paper and illustrations. The edge of the pages is color-coded to match each of the five chapters: The Prince of Macedon; Conqueror of the East; The Great King; To the Endless Ocean; and, Return to Babylon. The fact that this book is published by Getty Trust Publications, J. Paul Getty Museum stands for quality, of course.

Portions of Alexander’s eventful life are served in small comprehensive bites, often filling two pages for a subject which is always started with a summary insert to keep the story flowing. Comprehensive maps cover selected areas, yet each map is connecting chronologically to the next. On top of all that, there are inserts on pertinent subjects like, His Father’s Son; Alexander’s Men; Coins for a New Empire; Crowns and Caps, Hats and Headcloths; Military Engineering; Medical Care; and plenty of other details.

This book makes easy and interesting reading. It is ideal for those who are looking for a solid overview of Alexander’s personality and campaigns without getting lost in too many details.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

An update on Germenicia

Back in 2012, I posted my first blog about the city of Germenicia located some one hundred kilometers north of Gaziantep in eastern Turkey (see: Ever heard of Germenicia?).

Illegal digs carried out in 2007 had revealed the presence of the Roman city of Germenicia or Germenicia Caesarea named after Emperor Caligula (in full Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus) which covered an area of 140 hectares. The terrain has been divided in 50 parcels and after almost ten years the land of 30 of them has been expropriated. Works have been ongoing since in order to register, excavate and preserve the many large Roman villas and their exquisite floor mosaics.

[Mosaic from Germanicia, at the Kahramanmaraş Museum

It appeared that these villas belonged to the local elite and military leaders and it is estimated that there are approximately one hundred such residences built on the foothill of the mountain. The mostly intact mosaics that have been unearthed so far are of the highest quality and generally date from the 4th, 5th and 6th century AD. They feature sophisticated designs using a mix of colored glass, marble and limestone tesserae, deploying even three-dimensional effects. The quality of these mosaics is unusual because of their realism and their details ranging from architectural representations to scenes of daily life.

The Romans were not the first to occupy the region. Earlier settlers were the Urartians, Assyrians, Persians, Macedonians and the Seleucids because the city was built on the crossroads of several ancient trade routes, like the Silk Road. But the wear and tear of repeated wars, landslides and fire buried the city into oblivion for almost 1,500 years.

Kahramanmaraş, the modern version of Germenicia  has a worthwhile museum of its own. It displays more than 30,000 artifacts from local excavations dating from prehistoric times, Hittite occupation, Roman and Byzantine era. Most spectacular are, of course, the mosaics recovered from the Roman villas of Germenicia  but also from other nearby sites. An adjacent room is exhibiting a number of steles, sarcophagi and marble heads of the Roman elite; another room illustrates daily life through a rich collection of tools, jewelry, armory, pottery, bronze and glass artifacts as well as coins from Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman eras.

As elsewhere, Turkey hopes to draw tourists to Germenicia, who may already be visiting the treasures of Sanliurfa (founded by Seleucos in 304 BC as Edessa) and Gaziantep (where the mosaics from Zeugma are being exhibited).

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Improving the archaeological site of Philippi

Money is generally the main ingredient to get new excavations under way and it is great to hear that 2.3 million euros are being made available for Philippi, the city named in honor of Alexander’s father.

The site, as it is today, is a very welcoming place with ample parking and a large park where locals like to spend time with their children playing while enjoying a cool drink in the shade of old trees. It is an excellent spot to start a visit.

Until now, the ancient site of Philippi was divided in two parts by an old and recently disaffected asphalt road keeping the theater and Paul’s prison on one side and the Byzantine churches and the Roman Forum and private houses on the other. The new project includes the removal of this tarmac allowing the site to be fully unified. At the same time, the Via Egnatia running right next to that asphalt road will become more accessible.


The works will also include new fencing of the site with a new entrance to the west of Philippi as well as the restoration of the eastern fortifications. New archaeological finds resulting from these works will certainly make their way to the local Museum of Philippi which is sadly so often overlooked by tourists.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Greek bronze found in Slovakia

The rare discovery of pieces belonging to a Greek bronze relief in Slovakia is far from obvious. It happened during research carried out in 2016 and 2017 at the village of Slatina nad Bebravou not far from the Celtic settlement on the Udriana hill.


Archaeologists were able to determine that the relief was made in Taranto, Italy, in the middle of the 4th century BC and arrived in Slovakia about a century later. The shoulder board relief is said to be part of a bronze breastplate that belonged to a prominent Greek warrior. Digitization has enabled to reconstruct the entire picture which has been labeled as Hellenistic since it represents an Amazonomachy, a battle of Amazons and Greeks.

How this breastplate ended up in central Slovakia gives room for speculation but it seems plausible that it was looted from Delphi when the Celts/Gauls plundered the sanctuary in the first half of the 3rd century BC.

The fortified settlement of Udriana is one of the rare sacrificial places used by the Celts and only found in Slovakia (not in neighboring countries). It was customary for the Celts to offer precious objects, animals and even humans to their gods. All their gifts were ritually broken and burnt, and the charred bones, glass jewelry and pieces of metal like these bronzes are still there to prove it. They believed that by performing this ritual, they would release the spirits.

Archaeologists also located the sacrificial hole that would collect the blood of animals and humans. A truly bloody business, no doubt.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The many colonies of Miletus

The colonization by the Greeks, either from mainland Greece or from Asia Minor remains a fascinating subject. I touched the topic before when discussing Magna Graecia (see: Magna Graecia, the forgotten Greek legacy) and this time I will concentrate on the shores of the Black Sea, the Pontus Euxinus of antiquity.

The first settlers arrived in the second half of the 7th century BC mainly from Ionia but by far the most prominent group came from Miletus. Ancient authors go as far as claiming that the city possessed between 75 and 90 colonies but this number does not immediately refer to cities founded and populated by Miletus since they did not have enough manpower to occupy so many settlements. In fact, Miletus rather acted as their organizer and the initial true number of colonies was about 25.

The reason for people from Asia Minor to emigrate is complex but one of the main causes to relocate was the westward expansion of the Persian Empire who even attacked Greece itself. The Ionians were facing a simple choice to either submit to the Persians with the risk to be killed or enslaved or to leave their homeland for new horizons.

The Actual Archaeology Magazine of May 2011 published a very interesting article, “Greek Colonisation of the Black Sea” written by Gosha R. Tsetskhladze about the origins of a great number of settlements on the shores of the Back Sea including both sides of the Cimmerian Bosporus.

Among the first settlements, we find Berezan (modern Borysthenites) founded in the third quarter of the 7th century BC and Tangarog (on the Sea of Azov) in the last third of the 7th century BC (completely destroyed by the sea). Other colonies were located on the western shore of the Black Sea like Histria (at the mouth of the Danube) in ca. 630 BC, Apollonia Pontica (modern Sozopol in Bulgaria) in ca. 610 BC and Tomis (modern Constanta in Romania) at the end of the first quarter of the 6th century BC. On the southern shoreline we find Sinope (modern Sinop in Turkey) from the late 7th century BC and Amisos (modern Samsun in Turkey) from ca. 564 BC. Olbia (in modern Ukraine) was settled on the northern side the Black Sea by the end of the first quarter of the 6th century BC.

Between 580 and 560 BC, Miletus colonized new territories on the Kerch peninsula (western side of the Cimmerian Bosporus) and the Taman peninsula (eastern side of the Cimmerian Bosporus). On the European side of the straight, we find cities like Panticapaeum, Nymphaeum, Theodosia, Myrmekion and Tyritake (all on the Crimean peninsula); and on the Asian side we name Kepoi, Patraeus, Corocondame (destroyed by the sea) and Hermonassa (joined colony of Miletus and Mytilene).

In the wake of Cyrus westwards conquests during which he took the stronghold of Sardes in 546 BC, the Black Sea area was once again flooded by a new wave of Ionians – this time by people not exclusively from Miletus. The Megarians and the Boeotians founded Heraklea in 554 BC on the south shores, and Miletus founded Odessos (modern Varna in Bulgaria) on the western shore. In turn, those colonies who already had settled around the Black Sea created many small settlements of their own.

Around that same time, new cities like Tyras and Nikonian appeared together with some fifty rural settlements under their control. Non-Milesians founded Gorgippia (modern Anapa in Russia), Toricos (near modern Gelendzhik in Russia), Akra (in Russia, destroyed by the sea), Porthmeus (in Russia) and several other colonies on the Cimmerian Bosporus and around 542 BC the Teians established the colony of Phanagoria on the Taman Peninsula (as well as the city of Abdera in Thrace).

Ionians settled even further north along the Black Sea coast and by 422/1 BC, Herakleia Pontica founded a small town that would become the later Chersonesus (near modern Sevastopol in Crimea). The Milesians, once again, founded Colchis (modern western Georgia) who in turn established the cities of Phasis, Gyenos and Dioscuria, and two more settlements, Pichvnari and Tsikhisdziri. The last wave arrived when the Ionians were defeated in their revolt against Persia. Mesambria (modern Nessebar in Bulgaria) was founded on the western shore of the Black Sea by the Chalkedonians and Byzantines, and in western Crimea the Ionians established Kerkinitis and Kalos Limen which later on became part of Chersonesus.

In the days of Alexander and even during the reign of his father Philip, we read about ships bringing corn from the Black Sea to Athens. This leads us to believe that this traffic existed already in earlier centuries. It has been established, however, that the earliest ships loaded with corn circulated at the end of the 5th/beginning of the 4th century BC, and that they were not meant for Athens but for the island of Aegina and the Peloponnese instead. Except in case of emergency, it appears – according to the abovementioned article - Athens was perfectly capable of feeding its citizens.

With so many sites spread over so many countries around the Black Sea (from Turkey, to Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, and Georgia) one can wonder how much of these colonies still exist or have been excavated and, if so, to what extend. Yet the fact remains that this geographical knowledge was part of Alexander’s baggage and his Companions. The ancient world was much and much larger than what we like to believe!

The heavy colonization shows that emigration is not a modern phenomenon but existed in eons past. Famine may have been a major reason for people to leave their house and hearth but generally it was and is war that triggers the displacement of entire populations. In any case, it is quite amazing to see how many peoples were on the move between the 7th and the 5th century BC. In my opinion, these three centuries of constant emigration explain - at least in part – the general Greek resentment against the Persians. Their occupation of Greece and the burning of the Acropolis is, of course, another valid reason for their grudge.

Monday, May 28, 2018

How to purchase your own archaeological site

For a rough 35 million Turkish Liras anyone can become the owner of the ancient Greek city of Bargylia located 30 kilometers from Bodrum between Iasos and Myndos.

Legend has it that the city was built by Bellarophon after his horse Pegasus killed his dear friend Barglos. The theme of Pegasus on the coins of Bargylia is referring to this myth.

This is a strange story for it is known that the site has been looted repeatedly by illegal treasure hunters knowing that no official or legal excavations were ever carried out. The reason for this ambiguous situation is that the land of Bargylia is on private property since 1927 where officials are unable to protect its historical heritage. 

It is everybody’s guess what treasures have disappeared and how much has been left to discover. Property owners would like the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to expropriate the land or exchange it for another plot. Yet not all the co-owners want to sell.

On the side, it should be noted that Alexander the Great spent some time in Bargylia while taking control of the region. Together with all the neighboring land, it later on became part of the Roman Empire.

Bargylia, which allegedly seems to include an amphitheater, a temple of Artemis (mentioned by Strabo), a bath complex from Roman times and a necropolis from the Byzantine era, is riddled with holes left by illegal excavators. A single example has been recorded where a mosaic was destroyed and stolen by smugglers.

It is terribly worrying to see the remains of ancient sites being plundered and looted but Turkey simply has too many of them. It is said that out of 192 archaeological sites in the province of Muğla alone, only 22 have been taken under protection and that does not mean that treasure hunters can no longer access the sites.

[Pictures are from The Archaeological News Network], except the Temple of Artemis which is from Guncel 7/24]

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Crossing rivers using animal skins

Alexander aficionados like to believe that crossing rivers using animal skins is something Alexander “invented”. Well, I have to disappoint them for as it turns out, the practice was already known by the Assyrians who used this technique as early as the ninth century BC, i.e. at least five hundred years earlier. It is not impossible that the practice is even much older but has not been documented.

[Picture from Nemrud showing Assyrian soldiers using inflatable devices to cross a river from Ancient History]

Cyrus the Great, who Alexander greatly admired, used inflated or stuffed animal skins to cross a Babylonian river as mentioned by Xenophon. Another example is Darius I who used the same technique in 522 BC to cross the Tigris River. Much later, the Romans and the Arabs still resorted to this simple but ingenious solution.

One impressive such depiction comes from the Northwest Palace of Nimrud and shows how King Ashurnasirpal II and his army cross the Euphrates River on their march westwards in order to expand the empire all the way to the Mediterranean. This king immortalized his successes on the walls of his splendid Palace of Nimrud at some time between 865 and  860 BC. A substantial number of these reliefs found their way to museums around the world, including the British Museum in London.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Close encounter with an ancient Water-Organ

Several years ago, I was browsing through the Archaeological Museum of Dion after having explored the nearby Macedonian sanctuary and Roman city. It is a lovely little museum but what truly impressed me was the water-organ that stood on the first floor and was visited by only a handful of tourists. It was so recognizable as an organ that I even suspected that this reconstruction could be too far away from reality.

It was during excavations outside the beautiful Villa of Dionysus at Dion in 1992 that archaeologists discovered a row of pipes together with large copper slabs bearing the imprints of pipes. After further examination in the on-site laboratory, they were able to establish that these pipes belonged to a water-organ. It turns out to be the oldest surviving musical instrument of its kind and it has been dated to the 1st century BC, making it 2,200 years old!

The ancient Greeks called it a ‘hydraulis’ which made its first appearance in Alexandria. The first ‘hydraulis’ was built by Ctesibius and operated by compressed air that was channeled through a container of water to equalize the pressure. A row of pipes of different length produced the sound and by adding more pipes a polyphonic effect could be obtained. What an invention!

The arrival of the water-organ was received with great success because of the powerful and pleasant sound it produced, making it a favorite instrument in theaters, hippodromes, and at other public gatherings. Eventually, it entered into the Roman Imperial court. The Byzantines improved the organ and managed to make it function without using water. The amazing fact is that this ‘hydraulis’ is the ancestor of our church organ since the Middle-Ages.

Ancient music and more specifically Greek music is an intriguing subject which I tackled in earlier blogs (see: Reconstructing ancient music, an impossible task? and An insight into Ancient Greek Music). The history of this ‘hydraulis’ as another interesting contribution to this chapter.

The good news is that we will be able to listen to ancient Greek water-organ music at a live event - that is, if you have the opportunity to travel to Athens this summer. The Acropolis Museum is organizing a free concert with quite an interesting program that looks as follows:


An introduction to the history of the ‘hydraulis’ and the discovery of the elements in Dion will be given by Professor Pandermalis. After that, the audience will be treated to a virtuoso recital on the ‘hydraulis” by the famous Greek organist, Ourania Gassiou. The concert will end with a special harp recital by harpist Thodoris Matoulas.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Roman “Villa of Alexandros” in Northern Greece

No, the villa did not belong to Alexander the Great, but to his namesake who lived in Amyntaio near Florina.

With a total of 96 rooms, this majestic villa whose construction started in the 2nd century AD is one of the largest and most luxurious ever found in the area. The inscriptions with the names of Alexandros and Memmia refer to the successive owners who occupied the premises in the middle of the 3rd century AD. The town of Amyntaio, which covered 25 hectares, flourished around that time since it was strategically situated along the ancient Via Egnatia.

The owners are thought to be wealthy Roman officials with a pronounced preference for everything Greek. The numerous floor mosaics cover an area of some 360 m2 and have much to tell about Greek mythology. The mosaics of the Europa Hall are the best preserved and include scenes like the Abduction of Europa, the Abduction of Dione, Pan with the Nymphs, and Apollo on a Griffin.

The co-called Nereids Hall is with its 90m2 the largest room and served as a reception hall for the guests. They must have been impressed by the elaborate mosaics arranged around a central fountain picturing sea nymphs seated on sea horses, cupids riding dolphins, a number of fishing scenes among birds and fish, and framed with the personification of the four seasons in the corners. This room also featured statues of the gods that did not survive in the best condition but are still recognizable as Hermes, Athena and Poseidon. The remains indicate that these statues were of exceptional quality for Roman copies of Greek originals made in Attica.

A number of smaller items were also recovered from this room, such as statuettes, bronze and silver jewelry and fragments of clay, bone and glass objects.

Another room has been labelled as the Beast Warrior Hall after the floor mosaic showing a male figure being attacked by a lion. It is thought that the subject could refer to an actual fight that celebrated the emperor.

Excavations are still ongoing since only one third of the complex has been exposed so far. Work will continue this summer and hopes are high to make more fascinating discoveries.

[Picture Credit: Thessaloniki Ephorate of Antiquities]