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 Drangiana/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, Afghanistan) - 329 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)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Philip’s Apogee and his Assassination - Macedonia forged by Philip II - 16

Philip’s Apogee and his Assassination (336 BC)
Knowing Philip, he would never leave anything to chance if he could avoid it. So, in order to stay on good terms with his wife’s brother, Alexander of Epirus, after he had given shelter to his wife, he decided that a wedding with his own daughter Cleopatra would do the trick (yes, Cleopatra was going to marry her uncle).

It was July 336 BC when the big celebration took place at Aegae, widely attended by delegations from all the Greek states, the Macedonian nobility and even common people. Philip could afford to show off now that he was hegemon of all the Greek states, just had fathered a baby girl Europa with his last wife, and had already an advance army force securing the front lines in Asia. On top of all that, he now had consolidated his back in Epirus.

The day after the wedding proper was reserved for athletic games, to be opened with a grand procession in the theatre. Statues of the twelve Olympian gods were carried inside, followed by one of Philip himself (probably meaning that he placed himself among the gods). When everyone was seated, Philip arrived flanked by the two Alexanders: his son and his son-in-law (Alexander of Epirus) who was also his brother-in-law, but he made his entry into the theatre alone, dismissing even the royal bodyguards. He certainly wanted to show the world his full power as he walked under the protection of the gods. Suddenly Pausanias, one of the old-time guards emerged and stabbed Philip in the chest, a mortal blow. King Philip II of Macedonia died forty-six years old.

My story about Philip should end here, but I can’t avoid the logical questions that follows: who was really behind this murder and what was the true reason for it? Already in antiquity speculations have ran high and they are still ongoing in our modern times. We’ll most probably never know the truth, but then do we know the truth about recent assassinations like the one of President John Kennedy or President Hariri of Lebanon? Anyway, I’ll try to sift out a number of facts and figures.

Let’s first take a closer look at this Pausanias. He was one of Philip’s bodyguards and for some time even his lover. But the king ended the relationship and took another lover, also by the name of Pausanias. Our murderer was very unhappy being rejected, of course, mocking and calling names to the new lover, who confided his grief and jealousy to his friend Attalus, the warrant of Cleopatra, Philip's last wife. After the new lover Pausanias sacrificed himself on the battlefield for king and country, it seems that Attalus decided to avenge his friend and arranged a gang-rape at his own house after which he handed the unhappy victim over to the slaves to repeat the humiliation. Pausanias in his despair complained to king Philip, who did nothing more than promoting Pausanias to his personal guard for he was already in the process of planning his campaign to Asia where he needed Attalus. When Attalus was promoted to commander in the  Asian force and later became Philip’s father-in-law, it is not difficult to see Pausanias’ increased anger and resentment to both Philip and Attalus.

Now both Diodorus and Justin mention that after murdering Philip, Pausanias was running towards waiting horses (not one horse but more than one) to escape. This may implicate that more than the one murder was planned and in view of the above the other person might well have been Attalus. Yet who would/could have been the other murderer?

All this would imply that Pausanias assassinated his king for personal reasons, but what if he acted by order of Queen Olympias or/and Prince Alexander? When Philip decided to marry Attalus’ adopted niece, tension between him and Olympias rose to the point that she left the court and sought refuge with her brother in Epirus. At that same time, Alexander had fled Macedonia also and went to neighboring Illyria. They both may have planned revenge, although this is pure speculation and nothing has ever been proved unless we consider that the executor Pausanias comes from Orestis which had close relations with Epirus and Illyria. Olympias may simply have believed the young man and encouragement him in view of her own relationship with Philip or did she really want her son to rule Macedonia instead of her husband? I doubt the last.


[Picture from Oliver Stone's movie Alexander]

As to Alexander, we know he recently had suffered his father’s humiliation in the Pixodarus affair and he certainly will have taken his mother’s resentment about Philip’s wedding to Cleopatra closely at heart. Would that be reason enough to have his own father killed? Not for Alexander as we learn to know him during his own reign where he has given ample proof of his magnanimity. But then there are rumors that Alexander would not participate in his father’s campaign east but stay home as regent of Macedonia and fulfill the role of deputy hegemon of the League of Corinth. Philip formed a clique with Parmenion, Antipater and Attalus of which Alexander was excluded as these generals were bound together by several intermarriages. I am certain it was never Philip’s intention to belittle his son’s role in his own plans, for he desperately needed someone he could and would fully trust back home while fighting the Persians. Yet Alexander, young (he would soon turn twenty) and ambitious as he was may have felt left out when his father was going to conquer new territories and he would sit idle in Macedonia. Enough reason to kill the king? Personally, I can’t believe it but I guess everybody will draw his own conclusions.

As it turned out, the year 336 BC was filled with far-reaching events which were to change history for ever. King Philip II was dead. Long live King Alexander III – but that’s an other story.

Click here to read the full story about Philip II from the beginning

Monday, December 19, 2011

Philip’s wives and marital conflicts - Macedonia forged by Philip II - 15

Philip’s wives and marital conflicts (337 BC)
We know or hear very little about the first five wives of Philip before Olympias. It is interesting to note that in all four of them spoke Greek (Phila, Philinna, Nicesipolis and Olympias) and two of them did not (Audata and Meda). How historians managed to find that out, I wonder. Nicesipolis died soon after childbirth, but all the others were apparently living at court in Pella (read also The Many Wives of Philip II.). It is obvious that Olympias had a special status because she was the mother to the heir, Alexander. The other ladies had given birth to a daughter or the retarded Arrhidaeus. Since these marriages had happened rather early in his kingship and for political reasons, one may wonder how close Philip kept in touch with them.

Now in 337 BC, at the age of 45 Philip announced his marriage to the daughter of a Macedonian noblewoman called Cleopatra. She was an orphan and had been adopted by Attalus, one of Philip’s generals of noble origin, as his niece. Rumor had it that Philip fell in love with the girl, but speculations run in a different and more serious direction. As Philip was getting ready to invade Asia, he needed one or more heirs to insure his succession for betting on Alexander alone did not offer enough security. This very idea will not have been well accepted by Olympias, fearing that a son of Cleopatra could displace Alexander on the longer term of course.
[picture from Oliver Stone's movie Alexander]
The wedding took place, probably a typical Macedonian affair with abundance of wine flowing between the men. I think that even to their own standards they all got pretty drunk. Anyway, at a certain point Attalus, now father-in-law of his king, proposed a toast to the bride and groom wishing them a legitimate Macedonian heir. It is not difficult to picture Alexander’s reaction, who felt deeply hurt by the insinuation that Attalus (and who knows who else) considered him a bastard! A fiery argument broke out, the king tried to intervene but had probably been drinking too much himself as he took side with Attalus and demanded excuses from Alexander. As we can expect, Alexander refused. He left the room, picked up his mother and took her to her brother in Epirus. He himself sought refuge in Illyria. Now there is a theory by which Olympias tried to convince her brother to revolt against Philip while Alexander might have worked the mind of the Illyrians in the same direction, but nothing is proven. Eventually Philip hired an actor (as was customary to settle differences), Demaratus of Corinth, who managed to bring Alexander back to Pella. Yet this must have left quite a bitter aftertaste on both sides.

It is rather clear that Alexander was accepted as Philip’s heir since the age of fourteen when Aristotle became his tutor. There is no trace to include for instance Amyntas, the son of Perdiccas III and true heir to the throne which Philip now occupied, in Aristotle’s lessons, yet when Alexander became king he had Amyntas executed. It is also a fact that Alexander took over the regency of Macedonia at sixteen while his father was campaigning, and at eighteen Philip trusted him to lead the cavalry at Chaeronnea. But in spite of all that, Philip was still father and king and did not tolerate anyone, even his own son, to act against him will. A clear example is that of the Pixodarus affair.
Pixodarus was the ruler of Caria (the area of Bodrum) who had kicked his sister Ada, the widow of the previous ruler, from the throne while remaining submissive to the Persian King. But Persia was in turmoil after eunuch Bagoas murdered Artaxerxes III and in the confusion Pixodarus thought it wise to seek support from Philip, an interesting consideration that fitted Philip’s plans to march east. Pixodarus offered his daughter, Ada, in marriage and Philip in exchange presented the retarded Arrhidaeus. The pact was accepted. But Alexander felt his father had left him out and decided to act on his own, offering himself as marital candidate to Pixodarus, who of course could not have asked for a better deal! When Philip got vent of this maneuver behind his back, we can imagine how infuriated he became. The entire agreement with Pixodarus was called off and Philip seriously reprimanded his son by exiling several of his closest friends from Pella . That must have been quite a blow for Alexander!
These events clearly illustrate that all was not running smoothly between father and son, which may have led to the conclusions about the true murderers of Philip the next year.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army by Donald W. Engels

Strangely enough, this is the only book ever (at least to my knowledge) presenting a serious study of the logistics related to such an extensive campaign as Alexander’s conquests of Asia. We take his expeditions for granted as he moves from one battlefield to the next and from one city or fortress to the next one, but there is so much more involved! In his Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (ISBN 0520042727), Donald Engels underlines a considerable amount of facts and figures to make you look at it all from a very different angle.

As he takes his reader treading in Alexander’s footsteps, Engels makes me discover what true preparations for such campaigns meant – and I’m certainly not the only one!

I had no idea for instance, that Alexander would plan to cross to Asia at the right time of the year to reap the upcoming harvest in order to get enough food for his men and fodder for his horses and pack animals. Engels calculated the daily quantity of food and water each man needed, based on thorough analysis made by the American Army, and he did the same for the pack animals and the horses. If you multiply those quantities by the number of men and beasts, multiplied by the number of days such provisions should last, you obtain unbelievable figures!

I had no idea that horses definitely needed a full day rest after trudging on for four, maximum five days! Unlike us human being, they cannot go on day after day.

I had no idea that when Alexander split up his forces during the winter months (for instance between Gordion and Lycia in 334-333 BC, or between Bactra, Maracanda (today's Samarkand) and Nautaca in 328-327 BC) the main thought behind this decision was to make sure there was enough forage for man and beast.

I had no idea that timing was so basically tributary of the terrain. One example is when Alexander has to retrace his steps across the Pillars of Jonah Pass because the Persian King Darius showed up in his back near Issus. Engels has figured out that at its narrowest part the pass would allow only two cavalry horses or four infantrymen to march through at the same time. Setting a pace of one such entity per second, multiplied by the number of troops, he manages to produce an irrefutable timetable. An amazing conclusion when you read that Alexander fanned his troops out almost immediately to be in place to face the Persian army!

And finally, I had no idea how accurate Alexander’s bematists were. They are rarely mentioned in any history book but it is beyond believe to read how precise their step counts even over long distances were, matching almost exactly today’s equivalent in English miles.

As a matter of course, Donald Engels consulted ancient authors like Arrian, Plutarch, Diodorus, Curtius, and many modern writers. Interestingly, he also consulted the notes and topographic maps made by the English when they crisscrossed the regions of Afghanistan and India for instance. The location and usage of old Royal Persian Roads and the ancient Silk Road are other precious assets.

This all means that in the end, Engels is able to retell Alexander’s conquests based on all the facts that he collected from these different sources, which he analyzed and translated into practical figures leading to a practical day by day progress of the king’s troops! A titanic job, but a very rewarding one!

He shares his theories and mathematics with the reader in many additional comparative tables, including an analysis of Alexander’s troops at different times of his conquests. Detailed local maps further clarify the king’s march through fertile valleys, skirting deserts and crossing mountain ranges towards newly founded Alexandria’s. A few Appendixes provide extra information about food rations, the battlefield of Issus, the horrible march through the Gedrosian desert, etc.

For those who really want to take a closer look at the genius of Alexander, this is the book to read!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Philip’s hegemony and his plans for Asia - Macedonia forged by Philip II - 14

Philip’s hegemony and his plans to cross over to Asia (337 BC)
Although at first sight the Greeks could make their own decisions within the frame of the synedrion, it definitely was Philip as hegemon who was pulling the strings – he was the one who had all the power.


This was clearly illustrated at Olympia, where Philip commissioned the building of a splendid Philippeon, a large circular tholos counting 18 Ionic columns on the outside and nine Doric ones on the inside. A statue of Philip, slightly larger than life-size would stand in the center, surrounded by his parents (Eurydice and Amyntas), his wife Olympias and his son Alexander. The architect was no one less than Leochares of Athens who had worked on the famous Mausoleum of Halicarnassos. This Philippeon  was located in the sacred area and must have caught the eye of all the visitors by its shear shape (the only round building in the sanctuary of Olympia), if not size. It may have looked like a thank-you to Zeus for his recent victory at Chaeronea, but it most certainly showed off Philip’s power and that of Macedonia.

A second meeting of the Synedrion was held that same spring in Corinth to officially elect Philip as hegemon. This is when he announced his plans to invade Asia as part of a pan-Hellenic plan to liberate the Greeks of Asia Minor from Persian rule and to punish the Persians for sacking Athens some one hundred and fifty years before. This is what he proclaimed, while we may wonder whether it was his dire need of money that instigated this decision. We know he made huge profits from his several gold and silver mines (more than 1,000 talents a year from Crenides alone), but vast amounts went into his army. His court in Pella cannot have come cheap either with all the women and guest-friends. And then there were all the bribes he paid to influential statesmen and the many awards he lavishly granted for building temples, fortifications, etc. It’s interesting to read a comment made by Diodorus that “Philip used gold more than arms to enlarge his kingdom”, which tells a lot. We all remember that Alexander when he set out to Asia had no more than 70 talents in his treasury and that he had to borrow 600 talents on top of that – a clear proof that Philip’s money was not there for the taking, although he somehow always had managed to use the income from one campaign to finance the next one.

Now the reason why Philip went to Asia is another interesting question. There are several theories, as always, but most likely is that Philip wanted to win the cities of Asia Minor over to Greece as the country was in need of agrarian land (it might even be a place where the Greeks could dispose of their unwanted or disreputable elements!). On the other hand he had a golden opportunity to expand his own empire and acquire more wealth.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Common Peace or League of Corinth - Macedonia forged by Philip II - 13

The Common Peace or the League of Corinth (338-337 BC)
Philip now had to deal with the fate of the states he conquered. The Thebans came first, obviously I would say. They had to pay a ransom for those killed during the battle; the Thebans taken prisoner were sold as slaves. In the west, he soon controlled the entire north-south route from de Gulf of Corinth  all the way to Epirus.

Athens was an entirely different ballgame. The king sent a delegation with an offer of peace (once again), followed by an official embassy led by nobody less than Alexander in the company of Antipater and Alcimachus. They took the ashes of the cremated Athenians from the battlefield with them, as well as the two thousand Athenian prisoners taken at Chaeronea for which no ransom was demanded. They only requested that an Athenian embassy would go to Philip to discuss a mutual peace. Why Philip was so lenient towards Athens is a question that remains unanswered (Alexander also treated them differently from the other cities), but one important reason may have been his plans to invade Asia. He could hardly set out to punish the Persians for destroying Athens if he himself were to attack and loot the city now. After two years of warfare, both parties finally agreed on a treaty of friendship and alliance. The Athenians went even as far as conferring citizenship to Philip and Alexander, which by itself was not an exceptional gesture but it shows they made a step towards pleasing Philip. They even erected an equestrian statue of him on the Agora.

With peace restored in central Greece, Philip could and should now focus on the Peloponnese where Sparta still had the power (and probably the ambition) to create an uproar – something the king could do without if he were to cross over to Asia. The Spartans remained stubborn and since Philip did not want to engage in another war, he simply isolated Sparta by winning the surrounding states to his cause. Simple but effective.

That winter, Philip summoned all the Greek states to send their delegates to Corinth. There was nothing else they could do but comply and soon the Community of the Greeks (to koinon ton Hellenon) was born, the treaty we call The League of Corinth. I’m amazed how timely and topical the concept and the language of this treaty sounds! Our European “Union” can still learn from this and I feel it is worth to take a closer look of its contents.

[picture graciously shared by Jim]


Each state individually had to swear not to harm any other member of the Common Peace (or Philip or his descendants for that matter) and not to interfere in their internal affairs. They also swore 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. It sounds so simple, so logical and yet, still today, a near impossibility.

A new council (synedrion) headed by a hegemon (this was evidently to be Philip) was created to enforce the peace and each state had to send a number of council members elected by their own political organs to the synedrion’s meetings. This council would decide by a majority vote on all military, financial, domestic and foreign matters of the league. In fact, this synedrion 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. Whoever would not adhere to these basic rules would face serious reprisals.

The very first meeting was held that same winter in Corinth and the Greeks (except Sparta, of course) all voted in favor of Philip’s settlement. This done, the members went home and Philip returned to Pella. He had finally defeated the Athenians, paralyzed the Thebans and neutralized the Peloponnese, in short Greece was now his. Before Philip, Greece as such did not exist except for an agglomeration of several cities and city-states. We owe the first national state ever created to Philip and this was Greece – an aspect that is generally forgotten or belittled, unfortunately. 

Click here to read the full story about Philip II from the beginning

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Battle of Chaeronea - Macedonia forged by Philip II - 12

The Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC)
The Greek coalition was very much aware of Philip’s position and immediately realized they had to settle the fate of Greece once and for all in a serious confrontation. If Philip won, Greece was his; if the Greeks won, they expected to keep their freedom and autonomy. A matter of simple calculation. The scene was set later that summer of 338 BC on the plains of Chaeronea, the very heart of Greece with a carefully chosen topography.
[picture graciously shared by Jim]
I finally find myself on more familiar grounds here, since I can pick up the history of 18 years old Alexander serving under his father and already proving his insight and capability on the battlefield. This was not just any battle, but a decisive one that would determine the fate of Greece for many years to come.

The plain of Chaeronea was about three miles wide, bordered by rivers and mountains on the northern and southern sides. The Cephissus River and its marshy lands on the eastern edge limited the fighting space and seriously hampering the movement of Philip’s cavalry. For the opposition, it was in fact the ideal place to stop Philip on his road to Thebes and hence to Athens. Basically both sides more or less equaled in strength: Philip with 30,000 infantry including some allies like Thessaly and 2,000 cavalry; the allied troops commanded by Athens numbered around 30,000 infantry also and 3,800 cavalry, but they could count on extra forces from Boeotia (including the Sacred Band of Thebes), and other cities and islands. Because of their numbers, the allies were in a defensive position and none of them had ever faced the disciplinary trained Macedonian army.

It is interesting to take a closer look at the formation of both armies as they were facing each other. The Greeks stretched out in a long line over the entire width of the plain flanked by a river on each end. Their left wing was headed by the Athenians (with Demosthenes among the defenders of his city) and the right wing comprised of Boeotians including Thebes famous Sacred Band; the other sections assembled the other forces arranged by ethnic units. On the Macedonian side, the left flank was occupied by the cavalry commanded by Alexander (probably assisted by the veteran generals Parmenion and Antipater), facing the Sacred Band from across the marshy fields. King Philip himself commanded the right flank, opposite the Athenians.

We are used to hear how Alexander could judge his enemies’ strategy in a wink, but apparently he inherited this instinct from his father. Here at Chaeronea, Philip immediately understood that the Greeks intended to force his own line to stretch to the point of reducing the depth of his phalanx, which in turn would present less resistance to their attack. We should not forget that the Macedonians had been fighting almost every year and were superbly drilled. They were able to move like clockwork, and they did.

Philip started to move his line of men forward but not parallel the opposition. His right flank was closer to the enemy than his left. The Greeks didn’t budge until Philip’s right wing started to retreat moving slightly further to the right. To face this movement, the allies moved along towards their left, causing their entire line to stretch out thinner – in fact exactly what they had hoped to do to Philip’s army! Only the Theban Band stood put, probably realizing that Alexander was facing them. The disciplined Macedonian army kept their lines closed as the soldiers moved still further to the right till they had reached the Lykuressi stream. By this time a gap had opened in the enemy lines as the Thebans stood their ground. It was the signal Alexander had been waiting for and he charged for the opening in the allied lines while part of his cavalry contingents moved around the flank of the Theban Band which was immediately encircled. Alexander simply had to win this battle, for himself and for his father to prove that he was worth his trust – and so he did by annihilating the entire Theban Band. They fought to the last man, all three hundred of them. After that, Alexander turned to the other Boeotians, defeating them in another fierce battle. Meanwhile Philip had halted his feigned retreat and started a true onslaught as the enemy stood no chance against the long sarissas of his phalanx. He drove the Athenians back, killing one thousand of them, while about two thousand were taken prisoner. The battle was over. Demosthenes managed barely to escape and his glamorous orator carrier was over.

The Battle of Chaeronea totally changed Greece as the “Barbarian” king which Athens had not willingly faced as their equal in previous repeated peace negotiations had now become master of all the free states and city-states that so deeply had believed in their own freedom. Greece was now part of Macedonia and Macedonia ruled over all of Greece! How the tables had turned! I think Justin did Philip right by stating that “as far as he could, he conquered without making anyone feel that he was a conqueror” – again one of those phrases that would or could be used on Alexander later on…

Today we all know the Lion of Chaeronea, which according to the story was erected as a tribute to the bravery of the Sacred Band on the western edge of the battlefield. The original monument was destroyed during the Greek War of Independence and has now been restored. There is still the ongoing argument whether or not the Sacred Band was buried in this spot. Since all 300 men are said to have died in this battle, only 254 bodies were uncovered during the restoration, neatly arranged in seven rows.

Click here to read the full story about Philip II from the beginning

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Philip’s campaigns east and the Fourth Sacred War - Macedonia forged by Philip II - 11

Philip’s campaigns east (342 BC) and the Fourth Sacred War (339 BC)
In spite of his manipulations and conniving, one can only admire Philip’s achievements as King of Macedonia. It certainly was no small affair to keep control over all these full-blooded and hot-tempered men, while managing at the same time to structure his empire, boost the economy, and stay alerted of all that was happening in Greece and across his borders. This was also the time when he decided that his son Alexander, now aged fourteen needed a proper tutor. He had kept in close contact with Aristotle whose father had been a physician at the Macedonian court and he invited him for the job. Aristotle accepted, and Alexander together with a group of select friends moved to Mieza on the slopes of Mount Vermion, some 30 miles away from Pella. For the next three years, Alexander I’m sure learned all he could about geography, zoology, medicine, geometry, but no doubt also philosophy and rhetoric. Philip must have been quite a visionary to do this.

By now the king of Thrace once again stirred up the dust by subduing the Thracian cities along the Hellespont, a sensitive area demanding Philip’s full commitment. So he did. That summer, he marched his army eastwards to settle this matter, leaving Antipater as his deputy in Pella since this was not a small campaign as it covered today’s European Turkey, the Hebrus valley (today’s Maritza valley in Bulgaria) and the northern Balkan Range. Diodorus is the only historian to report this expedition and spends no more than one paragraph on the subject. But in the end, the campaign paid off and Philip gained control of the inland route from Bisanthe (today’s Tekirdag in European Turkey) to Macedonia. Later that year, he turned northwards against the people living between Thrace and the Danube valley. Their king was quick to surrender and even gave his daughter, Meda, in marriage to Philip (his sixth wife). This is the time when he founded the town of Philippopolis, today’s Plovdiv in Bulgaria. He then returned to Pella, having secured his northern borders, much to Athens’ unhappiness as they saw their corn route threatened once again.
 
A year later Philip was called to intervene in the Chersonese’s conflict with neighboring Cardia, one of his allies. He sent only a small force to their assistance but wrote many letters of complaint to Athens as that city-state had violated their mutual peace treaty attacking Philip’s allies and pirating the Macedonian merchant ships. Demosthenes, as can be expected, took it personally and his speeches On the Chersonese and his next set of Philippics were wildly applauded and very successful in Athens. They even went so far as to request support from the Persian King, who gave the ambassadors large sums of money, some of which eventually found its way to Demosthenes. We can imagine how relieved Philip must have been that Artaxerxes did not join Athens in an open alliance for how could he have faced such manpower with his limited army? In the end, all Philip could do was to march personally back to Cardia, which equaled to an open declaration of war against Athens. Thanks to Demosthenes probably, they didn’t realize it till Philip seized their corn fleet. In spite of this happening, Demosthenes was crowned for his services at the Theatre of Dionysos during the festival of 340 BC.

It is about this time that Philip ordered his 16 years old son Alexander, who was still studying with Aristotle in Mieza, to head back to Pella in order to take over the regency of Macedonia while he set off to Perinthus. That tells a great deal about how serious the situation was. Philip’s two devoted generals, Antipater, and Parmenion, also stayed in Pella and not without reason for soon a revolt on the upper Strymon River broke out and Alexander crushed the enemy, founding his first city Alexandroupolis. There were three other Thracian revolts which were met by Antipater and Parmenion, although one may question how much say Philip had is these maneuvers. The Macedonians now held the territory from the upper Strymon and Hebrus rivers all the way to the Black Sea, further isolating the still independent cities of Perinthus, Selymbria, and Byzantium – probably one of Philip’s clever outmaneuvering.
 
Since the King was now openly at war with Athens, he seized the moment to lay siege on Perinthus. But this city was not that easy to take for it was built on many uphill terraces, meaning that each time Philip managed to breach a wall the inhabitants moved up one step higher. Even with his new torsion catapults (which he used here for the first time), the city walls were soon out of reach. One may wonder why Philip, as brilliant a general as we have ever seen, kept such a long siege going for Perinthus that was supplied by sea from Athens, as was neighboring Byzantium which Philip attacked as well. He probably only wanted to coax Athens to further action, and pouring more oil on the fire, he seized their corn fleet as “prize of war”.  The fleet counted probably 230 vessels, 180 of which were Athenian ships that he kept for himself, sending the remaining ships on to their homeland. He sold the corn for the huge sum of 700 talents, i.e. about the year’s income for the Athenians. That must have hurt them in their bones! In the end, peace was made with Byzantium, Perinthus and their allies in 329 BC and Philip left the area with his head high, stronger than ever before. His influence now reached all the way to the Hellespont, meaning it also included the Back Sea.

Yet there was still the area ruled by the Scythians, stretching from south of the Danube to the Sea of Azov. In order to secure his eastern front, Philip thought it would be a good idea to teach these fierce riders and fighters a good lesson. One battle apparently was enough and Philip came home with not only a booty of some twenty thousand thoroughbred horses but also a large number of women and children to be used as slaves. But en route he was attacked by the Triballi, an independent Thracian tribe, who eyed this booty. Surprisingly enough, Philip turned out to be the loser in this conflict, maybe solely due to the fact that he was badly hurt by a sarissa that went through his upper leg. Abandoning their rich booty, his men had to carry him to safety and he arrived in Pella in late summer 339 BC.

Now I better understand why it was so important for Alexander to conquer those tribes between Macedonia and the Danube early in his kingship.

[photo by the gracious courtesy of Jim]

While Philip was campaigning against the Scythians, The Amphictyonic Council  at Delphi declared the Fourth Sacred War, this time against Amphissa which had illegally occupied holy lands. As hegemon, it was up to Philip to settle this war, which obviously worried the Athenians a great deal. But before he could intervene, Thebes seized Nicaea at the entrance of the Pass of Thermopylae, a city which Philip had given to Thessaly, and expelled the Macedonian garrison he had left behind. This meant that he now had to face Thebes besides Athens and Amphissa. Once again, Philip tried diplomacy and sent two Thessalian tetrarchs to persuade the Thebans to continue their alliance with him (meaning: not with Athens). At about the same time, Athens was facing a similar situation while Philip was only a two-days’ march away, and meant a very serious threat; but if Philip managed to win the Thebans over to his side, Athens’ situation would be far worse. Here Demosthenes was clever enough to put his differences with Thebes aside and convince the Athenians to join him in an alliance against Philip. It was one of his greatest diplomatic triumphs, although it came at a great cost for there were a number of demands that Thebes required in exchange.

The other Greek city-states now had to choose which side they would rally to, but none was keen to do so. Philip called to arms to support the Amphictyonic Council  against Amphissa, meaning in fact against Athens and Thebes, without success. Although he was hegemon of this Council, it did not mean that the members would follow him in battle. In the spring of 338 BC he decided to act and to attain his purpose he used one of his tricks, i.e. a letter his opponents would intercept, leading them to relax their guard on his march to Amphissa. It worked out as he planned and one dark night Parmenion blasted through the pass and took Amphissa within three hours. Thus ended the Fourth Sacred War. Officially Philip had acted according to the Amphictyonic Council  against Amphissa, but the truth was that his presence in Amphissa  gave him a serious foothold in central Greece.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Get involved with Oxyrhynchus

Roll up your sleeves! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to help archeologists to decipher the texts of ancient papyri from Oxyrhynchus, even if you have no training or if you can’t read any Greek.

You may have heard of Oxyrhynchus for the first time when I commented on Peter Parson’s book, City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish, Greek Papyri Beneath the Egyptian Sand Reveal a Long-Lost World. Oxyrhynchus has made the headlines at the end of the 19th century when Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt from Queen's College, Oxford, discovered a dumpsite outside today’s el-Bahnasa in Egypt where hundreds of thousands of papyri were uncovered. The precious finds have been blotted inside newspapers and piled up in metal boxes, still stored in the vault of Oxford. Only a few percent of this colossal amount of papyri has been translated so far. Any help is more than welcome for after translation, the texts still need to be matched to other existing texts or pieces of literature that is known but hasn’t come down to us.

As it turns out, Chris Lintott, project manager of the Imaging Papyri Project working together with papyrologists from Oxford University and the Egypt Exploration Society, have scanned these papyri and put them on a newly created website called Ancient Lives. Each visitor of this website will receive a picture of a papyrus fragment. His task will be to click a letter on the papyrus followed by a click on the corresponding letter shown on the keyboard below. The purpose is to make each fragment just a little more “readable”. Later on, the experts will collect these bits and pieces and try to make sense of the texts.

So, if you are in for a challenge and some excitement go to Ancient Lives and contribute to history by deciphering your own piece of papyrus! Don’t worry, you are not alone for only two days after starting the project, volunteers had decoded and transcribed more than 100,000 characters already. Have fun doing something useful!

Monday, October 31, 2011

City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish by Peter Parsons

For those who are looking for something very different to read, this book City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish, Greek Papyri Beneath the Egyptian Sand Reveal a Long-Lost World by Peter Parsons (ISBN 0753822334) definitely is the answer.

It is about the Greeks who settled in Egypt shortly after Alexander’s time, i.e. during the reign of the Ptolemy’s. They often occupied important hierarchic positions as most of them could read and write, where for the Egyptians these skills were limited to a selected few scribes. The Egyptian hieroglyphs were, of course, a handicap as the average writer needed to know at least 10,000 signs by heart. In any case, the Greeks knew their business and introduced their alphabet which very soon became the official language in Egypt (How proud Alexander the Great would have been had he witnessed this!)

We have to step back in time to 1897, when two young English archeologists started digging through several sandy mounds outside the antique city of Oxyrhynchus, a little south of today’s Cairo discovering to their amazement that these old rubbish dumps contained precious bits and pieces of papyri, sometimes even entire sections of old books.

A small portion of about 10% turn out to be official documents, theater plays, poems and other literature. The remaining part are letters and notes from daily life that shed a clear light on the organization and structure of the town. There are complaints about the water supply, the construction of new streets or the building of houses, disputes with the administration or neighbors’ quarrels, etc. And then to think that this is only the tip of the ice(sand)berg for about 500,000 pieces are being kept at the British Museum, carefully stored inside old newspaper pages locked away inside metal boxes. Whenever such a box is opened for examination nobody knows what to expect. The bits of papyri have to be deciphered first after which the experts have to find out in which context they'll eventually fit.

Most of these papyri date from the 2nd and 3rd century AD, i.e. from Roman times as the lower layers of rubbish have mostly been damaged by ground-water. The top layers on the other hand have been used by the local population over the centuries as fertilizer for their meager fields. This means that from time to time the patient reader lays hands on excerpts from books whose existence is known but that have not come to us. I still have a secret hope that one day new information about Alexander the Great will surface from this rubble - from Ptolemaic times for instance, it is a possibility, isn’t it? That would be a highly interesting discovery! The thought alone …

Yes, my imagination is giving me wings when I read a book like this. Such a source of information, and who knows what else we can learn when these personal letters, shopping lists, wills, fragments from Greek literature and censured Gospels will be deciphered. This will evidently take several more years since there are only a handfull of scholars who are familiar enough with ancient texts to be able to place them in their pertaining context.

Yet each chapter of this book makes exciting reading, like for instance the one about the dikes. By the time the flooding of the Nile was expected, all citizens had the obligation to repair and rise their portion of the dikes, and to clear their section of irrigation canals. Official dike-watchers inspected the operations very closely, and you were not allowed to charge anyone money instead of doing the work or to subcontract the job. When the Romans ruled Egypt, the system was already in place for thousands of years and it worked the same way till 1889! Well, I always thought that it were the Dutch who invented the water management with their dikes, requesting each landowner to clear his own stretch of canal! It is amazing to realize that the more I dig in ancient history (in the broadest possible way) the more I see the wheel is being reinvented over and over.

There definitely is enough reading material here to entice everybody’s imagination and to lift a small corner of the veil of time. The voices of the marketers come back to life, from the donkey-drivers to the wine-merchants in and around the once flourishing bustling city of Oxyrhynchus.

Whoever wants more in depth information about these exciting papyri of Oxyrhynchus can click on the link of the University of Oxford, Department of Papyrology.