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)

Friday, October 20, 2017

Damned dams!

After Allianoi (see: My Heart in bleeding for Allianoi), after Zeugma (see: Zeugma, border town along the Euphrates) and after many unchartered dams destroying our historical heritage, it is the turn to the town of Hasankeyf on the Tigris to be flooded and blasted to pieces because of the construction of yet another dam.

[Picture from Archaeology News Network]

The location of the dam on the Tigris River is a very unhappy one for Hasankeyf is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world. From Neolithic caves to the Roman fortress and later Ottoman landmarks, all are soon to disappear forever as crews have already started blasting the surrounding cliffs in preparation for the construction of this dam.

As before in Allianoi and in Zeugma, the Turkish government does not listen to the pleas formulated by local and international communities to preserve the site. Internationally, it does not ring loud bells like when the giant Buddha’s were blown to pieces in Bamyan, Afghanistan, or the more recent dynamiting of the Temple of Bell in Palmyra, Syria, but this heritage is nonetheless very important from the historical point of view.

Of course, officials have their own arguments and as usual they underscore the fact that this dam will enable the irrigation of the surrounding land and generate a substantial amount of energy. They even expect tourists to come for scuba diving in the new reservoir in search of the submerged monuments (as if the average tourists walk around with his diving gear in their backpack!). The price tag for this operation is, however, that nearly 200 settlements will be submerged and some 15,000 people will be resettled in the newly built city of New Hasankeyf on higher grounds.

It is comforting to hear that Ridvan Ayhan, who is a member of the Save Hansakeyf Initiative, confirms my earlier worries about the lifespan of a dam which is only 80 years on average. Nobody is asking the obvious question: and then, what? As I explained earlier when talking about Allianoi, water is of vital importance to our life but dams are not the one and only solution and they are not eternal as governments all over the world want us to believe. What will happen in 80 or 100 years from now when this barrage and so many others give way? No water then, no crops, no dams, nobody to take responsibility and sadly no historical city to be revived from underneath the sediments. How can we explain this to our children and our children’s children?

In December 2016, the HuffPost published a cry for help with large sized photos of the area but as usual, officials turned a blind eye to this kind of plea.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Alinda, the refuge fortress of Queen Ada of Caria

From 545 BC onwards, Caria was part of the Persian Achaemenid Empire and as such was ruled by a satrap (governor). The most famous of them was Mausolus, who proclaimed Halicarnassus as his new capital – clearly a man with ambition and great visions. Mausolos married his sister Artemisia as was customary, and when he died childless in 353 BC, she continued ruling until her death. The power went to Artemisia’s younger brother, Idreus who had married his younger sister Ada. She ruled after her brother/husband died also. But there was still another younger brother, Pixodarus who hungered for the title of satrap and befriended the Persians. He expelled the widowed Ada from Halicarnassus and she sought and found refuge in her stronghold of Alinda, further inland.

Queen Ada managed to keep her independence in her fortress of Alinda but on Alexander’s approach in 334 BC, she decided to offer her surrender to the new conqueror and to adopt him as her own son – much to Alexander’s delight, no doubt. Alexander generously trusted Caria to Queen Ada who ruled over her country once again, except for the military affairs that were in the hands of a Macedonian garrison. She probably died in 323 BC, the same year as Alexander the Great.

Driving up to Alinda, it is quite clear that this is a very strategic location and the city’s defence walls running down into the fertile valley are there to prove it. The first constructions that welcome today’s visitor as he drives up from Karpuzulu are the remains of a Roman aqueduct with four arches still intact and a handful of scattered Carian sarcophagi. The heavily shattered and overgrown Roman theatre from the 2nd century BC lies on the other side of the hill, just above the impressive market building. This is probably the best testimony of Alinda’s importance and was three storeys high. The highest level touches the agora measuring 30x30 meters.

It seems Alinda, as capital of Caria died together with Queen Ada as it was the last stronghold of the Carians. However, the city did not lose its importance entirely for Antiochus III established a garrison there in the mid-3rd century BC but lost it to the Romans in the early 2nd century BC.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A unique way to look at the Roman Roads

The article which I reproduce below and the accompanying map has been published by Sasha Trubetskoy. Clicking on this link will take you to a better view of the map which you can also enlarge. Enjoy!
It’s finally done. A subway-style diagram of the major Roman roads, based on the Empire of ca. 125 AD.
The lines are a combination of actual, named roads (like the Via Appia or Via Militaris) as well as roads that do not have a known historic name (in which case I creatively invented some names). Skip to the “Creative liberties taken” section for specifics.
How long would it actually take to travel this network? That depends a lot on what method of transport you are using, which depends on how much money you have. Another big factor is the season – each time of year poses its own challenges. In the summer, it would take you about two months to walk on foot from Rome to Byzantium. If you had a horse, it would only take you a month.
However, no sane Roman would use only roads where sea travel is available. Sailing was much cheaper and faster – a combination of horse and sailboat would get you from Rome to Byzantium in about 25 days, Rome to Carthage in 4-5 days. Check out ORBIS if you want to play around with a “Google Maps” for Ancient Rome. I decided not to include maritime routes on the map for simplicity’s sake.

Creative liberties taken

The biggest creative element was choosing which roads and cities to include, and which to exclude. There is no way I could include every Roman road, these are only the main ones. I tried to include cities with larger populations, or cities that were provincial capitals around the 2nd century.
Obviously to travel from Petra to Gaza you would take a more or less direct road, rather than going to Damascus and “transferring” to the Via Maris. The way we travel on roads is very different from rail, which is a slight flaw in the concept of the map. But I think it’s still aesthetically pleasing and informative.
Here’s a list of the roads that have authentic names and paths:
  • Via Appia
  • Via Augusta
  • Via Aurelia
  • Via Delapidata
  • Via Domitia
  • Via Egnatia
  • Via Flaminia
  • Via Flavia (I, II, III)
  • Via Julia Augusta
  • Via Lusitanorum
  • Via Militaris
  • Via Popilia
  • Via Portumia
  • Via Salaria
  • Via Tiburtina
  • Via Traiana
  • Via Traiana Nova
Some roads have real names but were modified somewhat:
  • The Via Latina I combined with the Via Popilia. In reality the Popilia ended at Capua, and the Latina went from Capua to Rome.
  • Via Aquitania only referred to the road from Burdigala (Bordeaux) to Narbo (Narbonne).
  • Via Asturica Burdigalam similarly only refers to the Astrurica-Burdigala section.
  • “Via Claudia” is not a real name, but refers to a real continuous road built by Claudius.
  • Via Hadriana was a real road in Egypt, but it refers to a slightly different section than the green route.
  • The name “Via Maris” is considered to be a modern creation, referring to real ancient trade road whose real name has been lost to history.
  • Via Valeria only referred to a section of the yellow Sicilian loop.
  • The roads around Pisae, Luna and Genua had several names for different sections, including Via Aemilia Scauri. Sometimes “Via Aurelia” referred to the entire road from Rome to Arelate.
  • Via Sucinaria is the Latin name for the Amber Road, a trade route from the Baltic region to Italy that carried amber as a valuable good. It probably was not used to refer to a single literal road.
  • Via Gemina and Via Claudia Augusta are real names that referred to small parts of the routes marked on the map.
The other roads have relatively uncreative names that I invented, usually based on a place that they pass through. I have never formally studied Latin and I’ll admit that I am somewhat confused by the distinction between -a and -ensis endings, so there’s a chance I may have messed that up.
As questions come up I will update this section.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

World Heritage Sites in Danger

The war in the Middle-East, especially in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan is a terribly destructive one ( see: The War in Syria, what will happen to its heritage?; Loss of our Cultural Heritage in the Middle-Eastern Conflicts). Millions of people have been displaced and the number of habitations that have been shot down and blown to pieces can no longer be counted. Among the damaged constructions are – inevitably – irreplaceable ancient sites that belong to human heritage. They are pages of our history that are torn and lost forever.

In Syria and Iraq alone, UNESCO lists ten World Heritage Sites and of those ten, they say, nine are presently in danger. ISIS, although not the only destructive factor is definitely the main culprit.

The majority of the sites are located in Syria:

The well-preserved remains of Bosra on Syria’s southern border are less known but contained a great number of ancient buildings. Most famous is probably its Roman theater from the 2nd century AD when Bosra was the capital of the Province of Arabia. Yet there also are many testimonies from the days when the city was ruled by the Nabataeans, the Byzantine Empire, and the Umayyads. Bosra, however, was one of the first cities under siege and suffering from repeated shelling and bombing by ISIS (the theater was a  choice location for the snipers).

Another sore spot is the ancient city of Aleppo, which like Palmyra was situated on antique trading routes (see: Tracking Alexander from Tyre to the Euphrates) and remained a major city in Syria. Since 2012, it has been divided alternately between rebels and government troops. Among the destroyed and damaged buildings is the Mosque of Aleppo and its Minaret from the 11th century AD (see: Desperation of the Archaeologists).

Less known but certainly as important are the so-called Dead Cities with their precious villages and churches that flourished between the 1st and the 7th centuries ranging from antiquity to the end of the Byzantine era. Fighters and refugees alike sought shelter among these ruins, trying to accommodate the fragile remains to their needs.

From another time-frame are the many Crusader Castles, the most renown being the Crac-des-Chevaliers. They are unique because of their mixed architecture of European and Eastern influences. Here too, the Syrian army and the rebels occupied the premises in turn without any respect or consideration for the patrimony.

Last but not least, there is the damage done in Damascus, one of the most ancient cities in the world. Damascus already was a problem child because of a population decrease and people moving from older building to newer housing facilities. This left big gaps in some of the city’s neighborhoods. The fighting inside the Old City started as early as 2012 and caused more damage. UNESCO has counted as many as 125 protected monuments in Damascus, among which the famous Umayyad Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world.

UNESCO also lists a number of precious buildings in Iraq. Unfortunately, these are less known by the general public simply because traveling into Iraq was and is problematic.

The city of Hatra was one of the best surviving examples of a Parthian city founded in the 3rd or 2nd century BC. Most of its city walls and towers, as well as the sacred temenos of the Temple of Mrn, were still standing when ISIS arrived. As they did in nearby Nimrud a few days before, they hacked down the magnificent figures that decorated the arches and vaulted passages. The Great Temple was a rare example of combined Greek, Roman, Persian and Arabian architectural styles.

The Assyrian city of Assur on the western bank of the River Tigris is another precious site as it was the first capital of the Assyrian Empire. Assur existed for nearly four thousand years and was finally destroyed by the great Tamerlane. However, the stately Parthian Palace and Temple have survived into our 21st century until they fell under threat of ISIS. The fate of Assur remains uncertain for if the city is not destroyed by terrorists it may become victim to the dam project on the Tigris which will flood whatever walls that are still standing.

Finally, there is the old Abbasid capital of Samarra which is the only surviving Islamic capital to show its original layout, architecture, and decorations (including mosaics and carvings). It is home to the Great Shiite Mosque that was in danger when the city was taken by ISIS and was caught up in the war between Shiites and Sunnites. It seems that the Iraqi government was able to push the invaders back.

Not very uplifting altogether. As to Afghanistan where the situation is far more complicated, there is the Valley of Bamiyan where the giant Buddha’s were blown up in 2001 and the Minaret of Jam (see: The Minaret of Djam, an Excursion in Afghanistan by Freya Stark). Meanwhile, UNESCO has put the cities of Herat, the city founded by Alexander as Alexandria-in-Areia and Balkh or, as it was called in antiquity Bactra or Zariaspa (see: Alexander’s Prison?) on a tentative list.

[Picture of the Bamyan Valley is from Ancient Origins]

Although this is only a corner of our planet, there is more than enough to worry about!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Another legacy of Alexander in Gadara

Archaeological excavations in Gadara (modern Umm Qais) have exposed a “first of its kind” Hellenistic temple in the region. As discussed in an earlier blog (see: Pella and Gadara, two more settlements for Alexander’s veterans), Gadara emerged in the wake of Alexander the Great together with Pella and Gerasa, and shares most of their history. Gadara was coveted by both the Ptolemies and the Seleucids who captured and recaptured it time and again confirming the role it played on the trade routes with the east.

Pottery shards will have to narrow down the construction date of the temple but so far it has been revealed that it was built in the Ionic order. The ground plan has enabled to recognize the pronaos, a podium and a naos, the holiest part. As so often, the building has been reused later on by the Romans, Byzantines and Muslims.

In the center of Gadara, a network of water tunnels has also been discovered consisting of a number of Hellenistic wells and Roman tunnels that led to one of the central Baths.

It is always a great pleasure to hear that new buildings and artifacts will be added to the already existing rich remains of this once so proud city.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Greco-Roman Temple in Armenia

Finding a good-looking Greco-Roman temple in Armenia is quite a surprise for it is the only remaining such building in that country.

The Temple of Garni dates probably from 77 AD and based on the Greek inscription that has been recovered, it was supposedly built by King Tiridates I of Armenia. Originally, it was dedicated to the sun god Mihr (from the Zoroastrian mythology and related to Mithra) and in the early days of Christianity in the fourth century, it became the summer residence of Khosrovidukht, the sister of Tiridates III – not bad!

Unfortunately, the construction collapsed in 1679 when the region was hit by a severe earthquake and it was only about one hundred years ago that the ruins were discovered. Between 1969 and 1975, the remains were sorted out and put back together to become the tourist attraction we see today.

The Temple of Garni was mentioned by Tacitus as belonging to a fortress overlooking the valley of the Azat River. The location was strategically very important as it was part of the defence of the Ararat Plain. Beside the temple, there are remains of a Roman bath including a mosaic floor with Greek inscription and a royal summer palace.

As to the Greek inscription belonging to the temple, scholars do not agree on the exact translation as the text has been damaged (for details, see Wikipedia).

There is, however, an other theory stating that this was not a temple but a mausoleum built around 175 AD. This idea is based on similar Greco-Roman constructions in Asia Minor like the Nereid Monument in Xanthus and the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos; and also the fact that it is surrounded by several tombs from that same period. When Armenia converted to Christianity, pagan temples were systematically destroyed and it would be odd to find this Temple of Garni as the sole survivor. As a grave, the construction was more plausible to have survived.

Whatever the theory or the origins of this Temple of Garni, it is a very pleasant sanctuary to look at and still makes you wonder about the Hellenistic influence in that part of the world.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Alexander the Great by Robin Lane Fox

For several years, I used Robin Lane Fox’s Alexander the Great (ISBN 0-141-02076-8) as a reference book but it is not until now that I really read it cover to cover. It turned out to be a most captivating experience.

Before writing down my own impressions on this book, I looked at previous comments made by other purchasers on Amazon and I am truly appalled to see it qualified as “very badly written” and “hard to understand”. This is not a novel and cannot be compared to Manfredi’s tales. On the contrary, this is a serious work in which Robin Lane Fox put his entire heart and soul, together with his thorough knowledge of one of the most enigmatic persons who ever lived.

The book is not a quick history of Alexander’s life and conquests but an in-depth study of his actions set against the background of the world he lived in and to which he had to adapt time and again as he met other civilizations and foreign tribes during his march east.

While the author follows Alexander’s steps, he often stops to analyze the whole context and to place the story against the background which the king encountered. It is so easy to judge Alexander based on our own experiences but to judge him in the frame of so many new elements and circumstances is a totally different matter.

For instance, Robin Lane Fox takes the time to explain the Macedonian military machine and armory as put into place by Philip, Alexander’s father. He does the same for Persia where he highlights the court system and the complexity of its government – most of it not unknown to Alexander but an aspect that is more often than not skipped in our western literature. He explains Persian customs and court protocol, including the meaning of being the “King of kings”. He also reminds us of the fact that Alexander had no maps and no more directions to guide him than what Herodotus had written in his Histories (something like the maps of the stars used by the first astronauts flying to the moon in the 1960s).

Although some parts of Alexander’s march east are passed by quickly, the author certainly takes the time to discuss the main events. There is, for instance, Siwah, where he not only describes the voyage and Alexander’s reception by the priests but also the significance of the god Amon and the idea behind the title “son of Amon”. Lane Fox also analyses the battles of Issus and Gaugamela including Alexander’s preparations but also looks at the tactics from Darius point of view. The Philotas’ Affair implicating his father, Parmenion, as well as the conspiracy of the Pages and the murder of Cleitus are discussed extensively and weighed up against the circumstances and the irrefutable evidence with which Alexander was confronted. Other battles and sieges, especially the attack of the Aornos Rock, the decisive Battle on the Hydaspes and the Mallian fight in which Alexander is deadly wounded are clearly explained with all pros and cons. And let us not forget the mutiny of Alexander’s Macedonians at the Hyphasis and at Opis – how masterly the king addressed his men in both cases.

It is clear that Robin Lane Fox has a great admiration for Alexander and it shows but he also approaches this great king without prejudice and with a great effort to merely analyzing the facts. Considering that Alexander covered almost 20,000 kilometers in eight years coping with battles and sieges, crossing the widest rivers and the highest mountains, taking the responsibility to feed and care for one hundred thousand of people if we include the baggage train, Robin Lane Fox did an extremely good job to present Alexander as a human being, king, general and faithful friend.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Ancient Mycenaeans and Minoans genetically related

A serious hint in that direction was described by Maitland Edey in his book “The Lost World of the Aegean” in the mid-1970’s and thanks to a recent study we are most fortunate to obtain a confirmation of his theory through modern DNA analysis.

Over the centuries many theories have been elaborated and we are now able to establish that both Minoan and Mycenaean populations originated in Anatolia and moved west prior to the Bronze Age. The Minoans settled in Crete as early as five thousand years ago while the Mycenaeans reached mainland Greece a thousand years later. 

DNA samples were taken from the teeth of 19 remains that were positively identified as Minoans from Crete, Mycenaeans from mainland Greece and from people who lived in southwestern Anatolia. Thorough analysis and study show that the Minoans and the Mycenaeans are genetically very similar, although not identical and in the end, today’s Greeks are descendants of these Anatolian populations.

Researchers were even able to establish that the Minoans, Mycenaeans and modern Greeks are related to the ancient people living in the Caucasus, Iran and Armenia. The Mycenaeans have an additional though minor component in their genes linking them to Eastern Europe and northern Eurasia, whereas the Minoans are missing this genetic part.

Greeks on the mainland are somehow related to the ancient North Eurasians and the people from the Eastern European steppe before and after the time of the Minoans and the Mycenaeans. What’s more, modern Europeans also partially belong to the ancient North Eurasians.

All this means, that the Mycenaeans do not descend from a foreign population in the Aegean and that today’s Greeks do indeed descend from the Mycenaeans. The peoples of the Greek mainland possess all the ingredients of mixed ancient North Eurasians and Eastern Europe genes both before and after the appearance of the Minoans and the Mycenaeans. This may explain the relation of Greek speakers with their linguistic relatives elsewhere in Europe and Asia. We are all one big family! 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Looting of antiquities in Egypt

In recent years, we have been made aware of the widespread looting in war zones, especially in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq but looting in other countries has not subsided either and Egypt is no exception.

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities started with the good news that they were working on inventorying some 5,000 artifacts from their Alexandria seaside warehouses. Until now, countless antiquities were simply stored away in Egyptian warehouses but the artifacts never were studied or documented. What a shame! How on earth can they keep track of what they have and what is being stolen or displaced?

The problem is not new for the Archaeological Museum of Cairo started not so long ago with the inspection and sorting of their basement! Incredible but true. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has revealed that there are no less than 72 archaeological warehouses, 35 of which belong to a museum, 20 are labeled as expedition warehouses and another 17 are small on-site warehouses spread all over the country. So far, only 14 of these warehouses have been “inspected” – whatever that means.

It seems that a mere fraction of Egypt’s antiquities made it to a museum, all the other treasures resulting from decennia of excavations have simply been stored awaiting registration and restoration. Some speak of hundreds of thousands of neglected artifacts about which nothing is known and are making an easy target for thieves. This means that there is much more to see and to learn from these artifacts than there is in any museum. Who knows, there still may be some Alexander statue or cartouche hidden somewhere?

Of course, these warehouses are guarded but these people are unarmed and often they are unable to prevent theft. How authorities are still able to establish how many artifacts are being stolen from the different locations is quite amazing. The following is only a short list:
On September 12, 2013, 238 items were stolen from the Mit Rahina at Giza
On December 31, 2013, 96 small and rare antiquities disappeared from Aswan
On May 27, 2015, three fake lanterns replaced originals that were removed from Old Cairo
On December 23, 2015, nine antiquities from Pharaonic era disappeared from Buto
On February 11, 2016, 157 artifacts from the Saqqara era were stolen in Giza.
On April 30, 2016, a statue from the Middle Kingdom was replaced by a fake one at Mit Rahina in Giza

A decent security with modern means like camera surveillance has to be implemented, especially when you realize that some of these many warehouses have never been inspected. So it is no surprise to see treasures disappear to the black market. It is no news that when artifacts are documented in international libraries, it becomes much easier to recover them. 

One of the main problems, however, is the limited financial resources of the responsible ministries and the decline in tourism combined with the difficult economic situation is not helping either.