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)

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Lion Horoscope of Mount Nemrud

I already talked in detail about the unique location of Mount Nemrud in Mount Nemrud, as close as you can come to the gods and referred to the Lion Horoscope in my discussion Alexandria was born under a regal star.

Mount Nemrud is a huge funeral monument built for Antiochus I Commagene, at an elevation 7,000 feet in eastern Turkey and must already have been a very special place in the first century BC. The two terraces of this tomb are directed towards the summer and winter solstices, and it has been recently figured out that the colossal (now beheaded) statues on the eastern side faced the Regulus Star on the 23rd of July, i.e. the date of Antiochus’ ascent to the throne as mentioned in the inscriptions on the monument. What’s more, Antiochus explicitly refers to Alexander the Great as his ancestor in the abovementioned inscriptions. 
The Lion Horoscope that once adorned the west terrace is absolutely unique. From what I understand it is now locked up inside a grave chamber that itself has not yet been excavated. Meanwhile the wildest stories go around about the significance of this relief.
 [Picture from Nemrud Tourist Information]

The conclusions published on the site of Learning Sites are open for any discussion, to say the least. This is what they say:
  • The site possesses the earliest extant Greek Horoscope in the form of a striding lion -   a reading of its date firmly fixes the site in time, a rarity in archaeological research. 
  • The inscriptions on the back of the ancestor stela provide conclusive evidence, available nowhere else in the ancient world, for the sequence of Seleucid, Macedonian, and Persian rulers back to Alexander the Great and Darius I, making the steles on Nemrud Dagi crucial historical documents.
  • Evidence exists here for demonstrating for the first time that Alexander was called "the Great" already in antiquity.
  • The fusion of Greek and Persian deities and religious rituals at Nemrud Dagi, evident in the sculptural iconography and the inscriptions, provides stunning evidence of the extent to which the Mithraic religion had moved from the Near East toward Europe, marking here in Commagene the crucial crossing from East to West of this popular counterthrust to the emergence of Christianity.
  • The attention Antiochus' craftsmen paid to precise historical details of regalia on the figures depicting rulers hundreds of years earlier than the Hellenistic age is unprecedented. [Read the complete story at the Learning Sites]. 
The relief, measuring 1.7 x 2.4 meters is in itself rather intriguing. It shows a majestic looking male lion covered with nineteen stars (in the shape of eight pointed rays) set in such a way that they closely resemble the constellation of Leo. Above his back three stars are depicted with sixteen points instead of eight and these are recognized as planets, i.e. Mars, Mercury and Jupiter labelled by their Greek names Pyroeis Herakleos, Silboon Apollonos and Phaeton Dios respectively. There is also an upturned crescent of the moon under the lion’s neck symbolizing the New Moon. The star above this moon disk is Regulus, always associated with royalty throughout history from Babylonian, Persian, to Greek and Ptolemaic kings. 
It is clear that in many antique cultures the lion was commonly used to symbolize power, magnificence and dominance. It was first popular in the Near East where we find lions on the walls of many palaces (Babylon, Susa, etc.) and on border stones. The lion definitely represented royalty at the times of the Commagene rulers. Also many lions were found in Macedonia and Greece as symbols of royal power, later adopted by the Romans. 

The labelling of Lion Horoscope may however be a far searched one. What we actually have here are three elements: the lion or the constellation Leo (representing royalty, military and political power), an inscription identifying the three planets (Mars, Mercury and Jupiter) and the crescent symbolizing the moon goddess (source of fertility known as Tyche/Commagene). According to one theory the Lion Horoscope was meant to contribute to the self-divination of King Antiochus I, placed at the centre of this relief and depicted as a conquering lion. But then, there are thousand and one other theories losing themselves between astronomy and astrology although with interesting retro-active calculations placing the constellations in the skies of two thousand years ago. 

More details but not necessarily convincing elements can be found in this article by A. Öncü Güney, “An Iconological Study on the Lion Horoscope Relief of Nemrut Dag Hierothesion and on the site of Learning Sites mentioned above.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Nautilus exhibition puts Alexander in the spotlights

The BOZAR Museum in Brussels is hosting the exquisite exhibition NAUTILUS that can still be visited till Sunday April 25, 2014. It is meant to highlight the close relationship between the ancient Greeks and the Mediterranean Sea – a quite understandable subject and certainly reason enough to have a look at the artifacts that are otherwise spread over many museums or that have never left the country.

It is no surprise to first be confronted with statues and pot-shards belonging to the Cyclades which go back to 3,000 BC. Then follow vases, bowls, drawings, reliefs and small bronzes from Minoan and Mycenaean times. One of the striking objects is the life-size fresco of a fisherman from 1,600-1,500 BC graciously on loan from the Archaeological Museum of Thera. Fitting in the Mycenaean era are a set of gold cups hammered out with curly motives dating from 1550-1500 BC found in a tomb and on loan from the Archeological Museum of Pylos.  From one small room to the next, the visitor is taken consecutively through Greece’s archaic, classical and Hellenistic periods – more to my own taste, of course. There are theater masks, several reliefs from minor but not less interesting museums, and even an elegant bronze statuette of a boy riding a dolphin from the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

But then I freeze in my steps for here is Alexander the Great staring at me from the top of his transparent supporting pillar. What is he doing here? No idea, but I immediately recognize the head that belongs in the Museum of Pella where I missed it during my latest visit. Well, well, … good to see my friend!

Nearby, a series of coins are also exhibited with among them a silver tetradrachm of Alexander, a gold stater of Alexander and a gold stater of Ptolemy I Soter. Well, useless to say that in spite of the pleasant tour of the exhibition Alexander made my day!

In the last room and apparently rescued from the sea, where three splendid bronzes from Roman times, 2nd century AD: a statue of an unknown man, a magnificent head of a man with inlaid eyes wearing a Macedonian kausia, and the front part of a life-size dolphin.

All along the exhibition, the antique objects are intermingled with contemporary art, to what purpose I do not know. I don’t feel that these modern paintings and sculptures are adding anything at all to this exhibition. The photographs of seascapes on the contrary do reflect a taste of Greece and its seafarers in eons past.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Macedonian War Machine by David Karunanithy

After all the books about Alexander's campaigns, The Macedonian War Machine (ISBN 184884618-5) finally gives us an inside view of the entire organization behind the day-to-day business as is suggested by the subtitle, "Neglected Aspects of the Armies of Philip, Alexander and the Successors 359-281 BC". A colossal job!

By now it is common knowledge that Alexander the Great owes his well-oiled and well-drilled army to his father, King Philip II of Macedonia. Alexander made his own additions and improvements, especially during his long march east and the Successors of Alexander reaped the fruits of this entire enterprise as they followed in his tracks.

It is an absolutely fabulous book that discusses so many aspects of the Macedonian army. Beside known and lesser known antique authors, David Karunanithy also closely analyzes wall-paintings and fresco’s, statues and reliefs, coins and medallions, tombs and stelai spread among sites and museums worldwide, with astonishing results. Especially the Alexander Sarcophagus, treasured by the Museum of Istanbul, the famous Alexander Mosaic exhibited in the Museum of Naples and the paintings from the Agios Athanasios Tomb, proud possession of the Museum of Thessaloniki, offer an abundant source of information.

The author systematically scrutinizes the outfit of Macedonian infantry and cavalry distinctively, officers as well as common soldiers and servants: their sandals, their shin or calf-high boots (krepides) with hobnail soles or not; their protection greaves; their felt socks (pellytra) with open toes; their chlamydes (cloaks) and tunics for either winter or summer use; their muscle-cuirasses, gorgets and assortment of corselets; their headgear from leather or woolen kausiai to Boeotian and Phrygian helmets; their bronze decorated and maybe painted and color-coded shields; their kopis (saber) and xiphos (straight sword); spears and sarissai; etc. These outfits and equipment had to be produced at key locations to be hauled and stored at preset points on Alexander’s route. A full-blooded industry is hidden behind these services alone, and workshops and arsenals arose when and where needed with highly skilled and professional workmen.

Training the soldiers was another ongoing business where newcomers were taught how to handle their arms and how to move in formation, with drills and fake combats, forced marches, hunting and all other aspects that would enhance their performance on the battlefield. It is obvious that the cavalry had a training of their own – not to forget that horses had to be acquired, tamed and made ready for combat. Over the years, many mounts had to be replaced and we know what a keen eye Alexander had to select the very best animals any region could produce. His Companion cavalry was privileged with the Nisaean thoroughbreds which were highly praised and celebrated, as they were perhaps closely related to the modern Arabian horse. New breeds of large, strong horses were gradually introduced as the march eastward progressed. A lot of care went into finding the best grazing lands while on the move; stables had to be built even on the way in order to shelter these noble animals.

The troops obviously needed a constant supply of food, arms, armor, horses and clothing. This meant that the importance of the baggage train in Alexander’s army cannot be underestimated and required adequate supervision by a highly reliable transport officer. The author feels that there is a good indication that this was one of Parmenion’s tasks since he had gained inestimable experience under King Philip II. After the general’s death, the post was most likely filled by Craterus or Erigyius. On the move through the many deserts of the East, food supplies were sealed and held at the centre of the baggage train to make sure famished soldiers would not steal any of it.

The book also contains an enlightening chapter about camp-life. It covers the role of the scouts whose task it was to choose the most ideal location to set-up camp. We get an insight in the layout of these camps that followed the Hippodamian plan in which every unit had its pre-established place with the King’s quarters in its very center. A closer look is taken at the different kinds of palisades and entrenchments that were used depending on the terrain and whether or not travelling in a hostile country; the soldier’s tents; the use of distinctive standards and banners; etc. Also, the security measures and signaling routines that applied in camp are discussed.

In fact, the list of topics is endless as David Karunanithy extensively scrutinizes the details of daily life and discipline of the Macedonian army before, under and after Alexander. At the end of his book, he adds extensive information about the technical expertise that was required and widely used for building roads, causeways, bridges, siege machines and all sorts of artillery. These technicians also were proficient in constructing altars, pyres, harbors; deviating water courses; filling up ravines; planning the crossing of the many waterways and digging for wells when water was scarce.

The sources David Karunanithy used to bring this huge amount of information together in an understandable language seem endless, ranging from scant notes from antiquity to modern analysis and studies, of which there are many. As a consequence, his reference bibliography is huge. Useless to say that I couldn’t grasp it all at once and had to re-read the entire book all over again, knowing that I will get back to it time and again.

The Macedonian War Machine underscores once again the massive and unique achievements of Philip II and the genius of Alexander the Great. No wonder that the men who fought under either or both kings thrived on this experience for years, fighting each other in the following decennia to keep the Macedonian aura shining.

Also available as e-Book.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Messene (Greece) founded by Epaminondas

The city of Messene came in the news lately as a candidate to be put on the list of World Heritage Sites of the UNESCO. The name of Messene did not ring a bell with me but its founder, Epaminondas, does.

Epaminondas founded Messene in 369 BC and together with Pelopidas was one of the most brilliant generals of Thebes. That happened exactly one year before later King Philip of Macedonia (the father of Alexander the Great) went to Thebes as hostage at about thirteen years of age. He stayed at the house of general and statesman Pammenes, who was befriended with Epaminondas. Philip did not waste his time in the principal city of Boeotia, which in those days was the dominant power in Greece, and kept his eyes and ears wide open.

Epaminondas had been victorious over the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC and is mentioned in history as the supreme master of warfare before Philip II – nothing less. Well, he was the one who applied shock tactics and combined actions by both cavalry and infantry. Pelopidas was equally talented but died in 364 during battle in Thessaly, leaving Epaminondas in sole charge of Theban affairs. Eventually this skilled general was killed when facing combined forces of Athens, Sparta, Elis and Achae in 362 BC by which time Philip had returned to his homeland Macedonia. But while in Thebes, Philip would have watched how the famous and invincible Sacred Band were trained – an elite corps of three hundred Thebans. It is said that the corps was composed of 150 couples of lovers who would fight to death were it only to protect or save their partner. Ironically, the Band was entirely annihilated by Alexander fighting under his father’s command in 338 BC at Chaironeia.

But Messene was the work of Epaminondas who managed to fortify the city in 85 days, building a wall of nine kilometers long and nine meters high, strengthened by 30 guard towers. There were only two entrances, one being the Arcadia Gate to the north and the Laconia Gate to the southeast. There was enough agricultural land and an important spring (Klepsydra) inside the walls to withstand any siege – which the Spartans tried out pretty soon, of course. Messene still flourished in Hellenistic times and the Romans made it the capital the Messene State.

Today, Messene is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Peloponnese with nicely excavated and restored remains of many building like the Asclepion, the Temple of Poseidon, the Sanctuary of Demeter and the Dioskouri, the Propylaea of the Agora, the stadium and the gymnasium as well as the exceptional theatre that may have inspired even the Romans. The Arcadia Gate, next to the museum, has preserved its two square flanking towers on the outer side surrounding a circular ward of nearly 20 meters in diameter; from here the lay-out of the walls can easily be followed in the landscape.

The Peloponnese in the southern region of Greece is generally ignored by today’s tourists and is even worse off than Macedonia. It has however lots of unique and impressive remains to offer to those intrepid travels who take the time to investigate and make the effort … to be highly rewarded , and not only by the many antique remains but also by the breathtaking landscape!
[Pictures from Wikipedia]

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Porus, King of India by Georg Friedrich Händel

After discovering that Händel wrote an opera about Alexander (see: Alexander's Feast) I’m quite surprised to find out that he also wrote one about Porus, the King of India who was defeated by the Macedonian King at the great Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 BC.

Under its Italian name “Poro, Re dell’Indie” the opera was first performed in 1731 and was met with more or less success but then was generally forgotten till it was revived quite recently.

The story develops around the triangle love story borrowed from recorded history in which Queen Cleofide seeks to help Porus by pretending to be in love with Alexander the Great who is presented in Händel’s piece as a philosopher and marriage counselor. Porus voice was originally created for a castrato but today is taken over by a countertenor; Alexander’s role is sung by a tenor (of course, I would say!) and that of Cleofide by a soprano. It is the quality of their singing that dictates the success of the opera centered on some wonderful duets.

Quite amazing is that in this imaginary story Händel managed to express the respect Porus and Alexander showed each other in spite of pertaining to two different cultures which truly came together with them.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bouleuterion of Assos

Assos, on the north-western coast of Turkey, is one of those places still on my list of things to see, were it only because Aristotle lived here for while during the fourth century BC and because Plato built a second Academy here – the first being the one in Athens of course. The very idea of a Bouleuterion or Council House was born with the democracy in Athens at some point during the 5th and 6th century BC when the citizens gathered to discuss administration, politics and business. But Assos was the first city in history to be managed by philosophers, quite something noteworthy.

[Picture from Archaeology News Network]

Fact is that Aristotle, after leaving Plato’s Academy, went to Assos in 348 BC where he opened an Academy of his own. He was welcomed by King Hermias, whose adopted daughter or niece Pythias he married. Soon Aristotle was leading a group of philosophers before he moved to Lesbos three years later. When the Persians invaded Assos, torturing and killing Hermias, Aristotle sought refuge in Macedonia with his friend King Philip II. This exile eventually led to his appointment as tutor for the king’s son, young Alexander. In 334 BC Alexander drove out the Persians from Anatolia and after his death, Assos was ruled by the kings of Pergamon till the Romans took over in 133 BC.

Based on an inscription from the end of the fourth century BC, the Bouleuterion of Assos was built by Ladomos and his wife, a leading family no doubt. Unlike other council halls which are generally entirely made of stone, the seats here in Assos were made of wood. Apparently it was built in the wake of Alexander’s invasion of Asia Minor as the people of Assos put the doctrines of Plato into practice – making it the first Bouleuterion in Anatolia.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A closer look at Illyria

So little is known about Illyria and so little is mentioned in history that it hardly appears on a map, but it was the northwestern neighbor of Macedonia that made life difficult for Alexander and before that for his father, Philip II. Today most of the northern territory is occupied by Serbia while the south is in hands of Albania.

[Map from Wikipedia]

The Illyrians envied the good agricultural land and lush grasslands of the Macedonian floodplains and invaded that country on a more or less regular basis. It was during such an attack in 360/359 BC by the Illyrian King Bardylis that King Perdiccas III of Macedon was killed and with him 4,000 brave Macedonian soldiers. This incursion left the door open for further invasions for not only could the Illyrians push all the way down to the Thermaic Gulf but neighboring tribes like the Paeonians (in the buffer zone between Illyria and Macedonia) and the Thracians from the east could also seize this opportunity. With the death of Perdiccas III Macedonia is exposed to more attacks by its neighbors. Besides, there also was the matter of succession to the throne since the dead king’s son Amyntas was still a youngster. Given all these threats, the Macedonian Assembly unexpectedly proclaimed Philip as king in 359 BC, and the people swore their oath of allegiance to him. The most urgent enemies were evidently the Illyrians who had just defeated his brother, and it seems that King Philip II managed to sign some treaty which may have included his marriage with Audata (his second wife), King Bardylis granddaughter. One year later with a stronger army, Philip was completely confident to march into Illyria and bluntly refused to accept old king Bardylis’ terms. Consequently, both armies met near today’s Lake Ochrid, maybe close to the town of Heraklea Lyncestis. Philip was victorious and demanded that the Illyrians pulled out of Upper Macedonia all the way north to Lake Lychnitis including the tribes of Orestis which until then were controlled by the Molossian King of Epirus – no small achievement for a young king.

Illyria again comes in the news in 337 BC at King Philip’s wedding to Cleopatra, the niece of Attalus. Purposely or by accident, Attalus brings a toast to a lawful successor to the Macedonian throne which implied that he looked at Alexander as a bastard. We know how insulted Alexander felt, more so when his father was siding with Attalus. Alexander then leaves the court taking his mother Olympia with him and after placing her in the hands of her brother, the King of Epirus, he himself retires to Illyria. It is not known what he did or didn’t do there except spending the winter. All that is being reported is that Alexander returns to his father’s palace thanks to the diplomatic intervention of Demaratus, a mutual friend and actor.

The news of Philip’s murder in October 336 BC runs fast and practically all his new allies start revolting. The following summer, Alexander, who meanwhile succeeded to his father as king of Macedonia marches north towards the Danube and defeats the Illyrians on his way back to subdue Thebes. Obviously, no deep ties of friendship had been forged during his earlier stay.

This long introduction now brings me to recent excavations carried out at Kale-Krševica in southeastern Serbia, exposing significant remains of what appears to be a city from the late fourth/early third century BC built according to the Greek model in the days of Philip and Alexander! The settlement covers an area of about five hectares and was located on an important through-road from Greece to Central Europe. Archeology in Serbia is still in infancy and only about 6% of the site has been investigated so far, raising more questions than providing answers. But based on the type of architecture, the shreds of pottery and amphorae, the coins and jewelry, tools, and the overall organizational system of the area, clearly establish a Greek presence that might lead to locating the city of Damastion, which is still elusive as well as its precious silver mines mentioned by Strabo.  This would, of course, boost further research. So far, it has been established that most of the settlement was located on the slopes of the hill towards the Krševica River where several remains were uncovered like a rampart, a larger building, undefined walls, ovens, etc.

It is interesting however to mention that a wide range of coins has been found with the effigy of Philip, silver drachmae showing Alexander the Great and bronze coins of Cassander, Uranopolis, and Demetrios Poliorketes – all of them showing close ties with Macedonia in any case. On top of these specimens, one tetradrachma of early Damastion was discovered (hence the possible theory that this settlement might be the very city) and one tetradrachma of Aduleon, King of Paeonia.

Yet one of the greatest discoveries made so far is the arched vault used for water storage and supply, a highly sophisticated and modern installation for its time. It shows that because of the rising water level by the end of the fourth century BC the entire appearance and function of the original structure had to be adapted resulting is this 10 meters long and 6 meters wide cistern, built from large ashlars to a height of at least six meters. The fact is that it must have held enough water for a population of several thousands. More intensive investigation had to be abandoned however as archeologists were seriously hampered by the high water table and the cistern has been buried again pending more advanced technologies.

Well, this is just a tiny corner of Illyria that surfaced lately but it would be extremely interesting to see these excavations and others bring proof of closer contacts with Macedonia from the days of King Philip II and Alexander the Great.

[Last two pictures from Kale-Krševica]