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, 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)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More exhibitions about Alexander the Great this year

It is hard to understand how after so many years of waiting, we are suddenly flooded with one exhibition about Alexander the Great after the other!

It all started last year with the magnificent exhibition Alexander der Grosse und die Öffnung der Welt at the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum (REM) in Mannheim (for the full story, please read Alexander the Great Exhibition in Mannheim) and which has meanwhile moved to the Canal de Isabel II in Madrid under the title Exposición Alejandro Magno. El encuentro con Oriente, running till May 3, 2011.

Then it was Amsterdam’s turn with The Immortal Alexander the Great at the Hermitage Museum (for my full story, please read The Immortal Alexander the Great. The Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam) with in parallel the smaller exhibition at the Allard Pierson Museum, called Alexander’s Heritage – The Greeks in Egypt (for my full story, please read Alexander’s Legacy. Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam). Both exhibitions can still be visited till March 20, 2011.

Meanwhile two more exhibitions have been announced for this year. Fasten your seatbelt!

The next event will be held from April 7 till August 29, 2011 at the Ashmolan Museum in Oxford, UK, with the exhibition Hercules to Alexander: the Legend of Macedonia. Exceptionally certain artifacts from the Museum of Pella, Alexander’s hometown, that have never left the country will be on display, among which the head of young Alexander.

In the fall, the Louvre will open a special Alexander exhibition, Au royaume d'Alexandre le Grand, la Macédoine antique. Strangely enough there is no further information available on the internet site of the Louvre as yet, but the news has appeared in several newspapers and on the internet. So, make space in your agenda for this event some time between October 2011 and January 2012.

Well, I suppose this should be enough to keep us out of trouble for a while. My own impressions about these last two exhibitions will be published in time, of course, that is as soon I have visited the exhibitions in Oxford and in Paris.

Alexander the Great in Egypt. Lecture of 24 November 2010

I attended this very interesting lecture about Alexander the Great in Egypt. It was given by Prof. Olaf Kaper at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam. He had my undivided attention since he has been working on the site of Siwah for several years and he managed to give me information I wasn’t aware of before.

He started introducing Alexander the Great with his itinerary from Pella over the Hellespont, mentioning the battlefields of Granicus and Issus, and the siege of both Tyre and Gaza till he arrived in Pelusium, his first city in Egypt. From here he went to Memphis, the capital of Egypt in his days, where he received a delegation from Cyrene that brought him horses among their gifts. I remember when I was in Cyrene (now in Libya) how their horses in antiquity were praised for their stamina especially on a battlefield, so it felt like meeting up with old friends. The speaker speculated that this may have been an invitation for Alexander to visit Cyrene, a Greek colony at that time. In any case, it doesn’t seem too clear whether Alexander was heading for Cyrene or already for Siwah when he left Memphis for the northern coastline where he chose the location to build Alexandria. He must have traveled along the main stream of the Nile to Naucratis, another Greek city that lived off the commerce with the Egyptian hinterland, before turning westward.

The choice for the location of Alexandria is geographically speaking excellent with the natural outline of a harbor and an inland lake with fresh water. Strangely enough I heard in the meantime from Richard Miles on BBC that these waters were brackish, a huge mistake of Alexander. It would have been Ptolemy’s doing to build a 30 km long canal to the Nile and adequate underground cisterns to provide the necessary water for the city! I can’t believe Alexander would make such a mistake, for whoever in his right mind would found a city in place where there is no water? Certainly not Alexander! Besides, the cisterns shown in this documentary looked Roman to me. Back to the lecture though, we are shown a few pictures with temple remains of Paraetonium, another Greek colony on the Mediterranean, from where Alexander turns south towards Siwah – leaving Cyrene for what it was.

Olaf Kaper then draws a comparison and parallel between the Temple of Zeus-Ammon in Cyrene, built in Greek style (note that this temple in Cyrene is larger than the Parthenon in Athens!), and the Temple of Ammon-Zeus in Siwah, built in Egyptian style. Yet the temple of Siwah shows several Greek characteristics, like the intermittent use of large and small stones in the walls and the half-Doric columns at the entrance, for instance. He assumes that Greek architects from Cyrene were hired to build the Siwah temple. Then follow a couple of views of the empty desert landscape, a stretch of 300 kilometers which Alexander and his close companions covered on horseback in eight days, getting lost a couple of times, as we know… Then some great pictures of the Siwah oasis itself that turns out to be more than 60 km wide! I had no idea of the size!

We know that Alexander entered the Temple of Siwah alone, but now I’m told that the temple was used only to ask the question(s) to the god whereas the answer(s) was(were) given in the temple on the opposite hill! The announcements there were a public affair, so Alexander’s entourage must have heard the answers of the god although they may not have known the questions … There was a holy road connecting both hills of which little or nothing remains today. The temple remains on top of the hill across the temple of Siwah itself are almost entirely gone, except for a few low walls. They were rather complete till the end of the 19th century when the local governor decided to blow them up in order to use the stones for his own house. Yet, don’t know where that was or is …

I also learned something new about the picture of Zeus with the rams horns. It seems that this custom was born in Cyrene for Ammon-Zeus (Ammon, the Libian god is spelled with double mm, while the Egyptian Amon is written with one m). The idea has traveled from Cyrene to Egypt and has reached Alexander in the process. When I later returned to the Hermitage Museum, I noticed a coin of the “old” Ammon-Zeus with horns which looked something like these examples: 
          

And there is more interesting news, at least to me. When Alexander left Siwah, he traveled East towards the Nile along a known road which he was told was shorter. That road runs from one oasis to the next, of course, and in the second oasis after Siwah, archeologists have recently discovered a Greek Temple dedicated to Alexander with several inscriptions and pictures related to the great man! Unbelievable and unexpected.

My knowledgeable speaker also mentions Alexander’s instructions to rebuild the “bark” area of the temples of Karnak and Thebe, in fact the sacred inner area of the temple that held the bark in which the god was carried around on heydays. He also had beautiful photographs of some walls in Karnak where hieroglyphic inscriptions referred to King Philip Arrhideus. I have no idea why he is being mentioned here and I forgot to ask Olaf Kaper … sorry.

And as a matter of conclusion, Olaf Kaper warmly recommends the book Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher, a contemporary story that takes place in the oasis of Siwah and gives an excellent idea of the location. So more reading material to be put on my wish list!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

From Boy to King, Alexander the Great: a trip you shouldn't miss!

After running his Alexander the Great tour in Turkey for several years now (In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great), Peter Sommer is organizing an entirely new one in Greece this year: From Boy to King, led this time by knowledgeable Michael Metcalfe.

It will be a unique opportunity to explore Alexander’s homeland, starting in Pella where he was born and visiting Aigai where the old Macedonian Palace once stood with the theater where his father, King Philip II, was murdered in 336 BC and young Alexander was crowned King of Macedonia.


As always, Peter Sommer makes sure to stop at the places that played a most important role in Alexander’s life. There are for instance Mieza where Aristotle taught young Alexander and his companions; Stagira the city of Aristotle’s birth; the battlefield of Chaeronea where young Alexander annihilated the Sacred Theban Band in a cavalry charge in Philip’s left wing; Thebes that was besieged by the Macedonians and razed to the ground by Alexander; Olynthos where King Philip lost an eye, and the city of Crenides which Philip renamed Philippi after taking possession of the gold and silver mines; Dion where Alexander feasted and made offerings to the gods before setting out to Asia.

The tour wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the sanctuary of Delphi that was consulted by Alexander; Olympia where a grand tholos was erected by King Philip with life-size statues of himself and his family (including Alexander); Athens, which Alexander most certainly has visited; and Corinth where Philip was appointed hegemon (leader) of the incomparable League of all Greek States, a title which Alexander took over after his death.

It is approximately a three week round trip that I would warmly recommend to those who are interested in Alexander the Great or who would like to get some insight in this fascinating and ever captivating historical figure. For full details, please click on Peter Sommer’s link In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great. From Boy to King.

For 2013, this trip has been updated to The Birth of a Legend.

Historical Sources in Translation, Alexander the Great by W. Heckel and J.C. Yardley

Historical Sources in Translation, Alexander the Great by W. Heckel and J.C. Yardley (ISBN 0631228217) is a true gem, not for those who are looking for a historical account of Alexander’s life but for whoever just wants to grasp a moment in time. Heckel and Yardley have researched the many sources from antiquity in order to present them to us in a handy succession of excerpts. What a job! Yet this is so terribly appealing if you are looking for that one date or that one event in Alexander’s thrilling life.

We know that official records were kept by his secretary, Eumenes of Cardia while Alexander was still alive but only fragments of those records have survived and they seem to present a rather boring account of daily business with little military or political information. For that part, we have to refer to Callisthenes of Olynthus, but one may wonder how much truth there is in the propaganda he wrote to plead the Hellenistic cause and to please the Greeks at home.

More realistic are probably the accounts of Nearchus, Alexander’s general who commanded his fleet sailing from the Indus to Babylon, and those of Ptolemy, another of his generals who ruled over Egypt and lived to a blessed old age. But then there is Onesicritus of Astypalaea who made the voyage with Nearchus and had his own version of this experience. These men all wrote while Alexander was still alive or shortly thereafter. Better known is Cleitarchus, who made use of texts from both Onesicritus and Nearchus, but in the end, it seems that most of the workable elements come from two men, Ptolemy and Aristobulus who told their version late in life - which makes us wonder how much they truly remember or believe to remember.

In any case, we are left with five extant historians of Alexander which Heckel and Yardley use in their book. They are Diodorus Siculus, Curtius Rufus, Plutarch (later Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus), Arrian of Nicomedia and Justin (Marcus Junianius Justinus) who kind of summarized the work of Pompeius Trogus that is mostly lost.

In addition, Heckel and Yardley also have searched for pertaining information among other authors. This list is a long one and I won’t go into details but just name the sources: Aelian, Aristotle, Athenaeus of Naucratis, Cassius Clio, Cicero, Frontinus, Livy, Lucian, Pausanias, Pliny the Elder, Polyaenus, Polybius of Megalopolis, Stephanus of Byzantium, Strabo, Suetonius, and Valerius Maximus – i.e. geographers, tacticians, orators and rhetoricians. Additionally, Heckel and Yardley consulted the Alexander Romance, The Metz and Heidelberg Epitomes, and the Itinerarium Alexandri (Itinerary of Alexander) of an unknown writer from about 340 AD.

It is evident that both Professors did their homework. I can highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to investigate Alexander’s character and to exploit it more in depth. It is such a handy and pleasant tool to work with!

Also available as an ebook.