Category: Alexander The Great

ALEXANDER THE GREAT & THE BURNING OF PERSEPOLIS: 

IN the year 330 BCE Alexander the Great (l. 356-323 BCE) conquered the Achaemenid Persian Empire following his victory over the Persian Emperor Darius III (r. 336-330 BCE) at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE. After Darius III’s defeat, Alexander marched to the Persian capital city of Persepolis and, after looting its treasures, burned the great palace and surrounding city to the ground, destroying hundreds of years’ worth of religious writings and art along with the magnificent palaces and audience halls which had made Persepolis the jewel of the empire.

Persepolis was known to the Persians as Parsa (‘The City of the Persians’), and the name ‘Persepolis’ meant the same in Greek. Construction on the palace and city was initiated between 518-515 BCE by Darius I the Great (r. 522-486 BCE) who made it the capital of the Persian Empire (replacing the old capital, Pasargadae) and began to house there the greatest treasures, literary works, and works of art from across the Achaemenid Empire. The palace was greatly enhanced (as was the rest of the city) by Xerxes I (r. 486-465 BCE, son of Darius, and would be expanded upon by Xerxes I’s successors, especially his son Artaxerxes I (r. 465-424 BCE), although later Persian kings would add their own embellishments.

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AMASTRIS:

AMASTRIS (c. 340/39-285 BCE) was a niece of the Persian king Darius III (r. 336-330 BCE) through her father Oxyathres. She was married in succession to Alexander’s general Craterus, the tyrant Dionysius of Heraclea, and finally to Lysimachus of Thrace. She founded an eponymous city in Paphlagonia and was the first queen to issue coins in her own name. 

Amastris was the mother of four children, was supposedly divorced so that Lysimachus could marry Arsinoe II, and was allegedly murdered by her sons for interfering in their affairs. Despite their divorce, Lysimachus still avenged her death by killing her sons. Scholars have mostly ignored Amastris and left the few known details of her life as contradictory as the ancient sources present them. Yet, the little-known queen is arguably the first true Hellenistic queen as she embodies the entanglement of Persian and Greco-Macedonian traditions.

As the daughter of prince Oxyathres, the brother of the last Persian king Darius III Codomannus, Amastris was in effect the last surviving Achaemenid princess. Although her mother is unknown, the only woman associated with her father is an Egyptian concubine called Timosa. After the Battle of Issus (333 BCE), Alexander the Great found Amastris among the other royal and noble women left by Darius at Damascus. During the grand wedding ceremony at Susa almost a decade later (324 BCE), when the Macedonian high commanders were married to Persian and Median women, Alexander gave Amastris to his general Craterus – the only companion besides Hephaestion to wed a Persian princess. Historians maintain that Craterus, famously devoted to Macedonian tradition, repudiated Amastris in order to marry Phila, the daughter of the Macedonian regent Antipater. As Macedonian royalty and nobility practiced polygamy, Craterus did not have to separate from one wife to marry another. Craterus, at any rate, would soon fall in battle (321 BCE).

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ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT: 

ALEXANDRIA is a port city located on the Mediterranean Sea in northern Egypt founded in 331 BCE by Alexander the Great. It is most famous in antiquity as the site of the Pharos, the great lighthouse, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, for the Temple of Serapis, the Serapion, which was part of the legendary library at Alexandria, as a seat of learning and, once, the largest and most prosperous city in the world. It also became infamous for the religious strife which resulted in the martyrdom of the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria in 415 CE. The city grew from a small port town to become the grandest and most important metropolis in ancient Egypt.

After conquering Syria in 332 BCE, Alexander the Great swept down into Egypt with his army. He founded Alexandria in the small port town of Rhakotis by the sea and set about the task of turning it into a great capital.

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The exact date of the founding of Persepolis is not known. It is assumed that Darius I began work on the platform and its structures between 518 and 516 BCE. He wanted his new city of Persepolis to be an international showpiece, and the seat of his vast Achaemenian Empire.

We know this because Darius I boasted about building Persepolis – at Persepolis. There is an excavated foundation inscription that reads, “And Ahuramazda was of such a mind, together with all the other gods, that this fortress (should) be built. And (so) I built it. And I built it secure and beautiful and adequate, just as I was intending to.” He was boasting a little – Persepolis was not actually completed for a hundred years.

But the security and splendor of Persepolis lasted only two centuries. One of which, remember, was when it was being built. So the security and splendor of Persepolis really only lasted one century. Its majestic audience halls and residential palaces perished in flames when Alexander the Great conquered and looted Persepolis in 330 B.C. and, according to Plutarch, carried away its treasures on 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels.

This beautiful depiction of a preaching Buddha was sculpted in Gandhara, a kingdom in northwestern Pakistan, around the 200s CE. After the Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment, he decided to teach others his path to spiritual freedom. The gesture that this Buddha makes refers to the Buddha’s first sermon and more generally to the Buddhist teachings, or “dharma”.

This is not a purely Indian sculpture, however. The Buddha’s wavy hair, his toned arm, and the folds of his cloak show influences of Greco-Roman sculptural conventions. Gandhara had been conquered by Alexander the Great in the 300s BCE, and continued to have trading ties with the Mediterranean through the time this particular sculpture was made.

HYPASPIST: 

THE hypaspists were a type of infantry soldier who served as a vital part of the Macedonian armies of both Philip II and his son and heir Alexander III, better known to most as Alexander the Great. They became an invaluable piece of an infantry that helped conquer Greece and defeat the Persian forces of Darius III, aiding in the establishment of an empire that stretched from the Peloponnesian peninsula northward through Macedon and Thrace, across the Hellespont into Asia Minor, and southward into Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt.

Although they are credited for their valiant role in the conquest of Asia, many modern historians are unsure on the evolution and exact role of the hypaspists – even their equipment is in question. This confusion was also evident in the writings of early historians who could not agree on something as simple as whether or not they carried the eighteen-foot sarissa of the phalangites, a much shorter double-edged sword (the xiphos) or a javelin. Most agree, however, that they were hand-picked not only for their speed and endurance but also for their strength and courage.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Rise of the Seleukid Empire by John Grainger 

THE day Alexander the Great died, his empire began to fall apart. With no clear succession plan and only an infant son’s tenuous claim to Alexander’s legacy, his generals were no longer united by common devotion to their leader. And so, their personal motivations became the political manoeuvring that split the empire into ever-shifting pieces.

John Grainger’s The Rise of the Seleukid Empire deals primarily with the political and military exploits of one of those generals, Seleukos (aka Seleucos I), and the first century of his resulting empire. Seleukos was not one of Alexander’s star generals: the Macedonian came to command later during the campaign and was neither terrible nor a superstar. Upon their leader’s death, the generals wasted no time forming alliances and plans to continue the Empire, under the guise of holding it for Alexander’s heir.

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LATE PERIOD OF ANCIENT EGYPT: 

THE Late Period of Egypt (525-332 BCE) is the era following the Third Intermediate Period (1069-525) and preceding the brief Hellenistic Period (332-323 BCE) when Egypt was ruled by the Argead officials installed by Alexander the Great prior to the rise of the Greek Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE). 

This era is often ignored or sometimes combined with the Third Intermediate Period because, as with that period, it is interpreted as the final decline of Egyptian culture following the first Persian invasion of 525 BCE. While it is true that Persians ruled Egypt during the 27th and 31st dynasties, Egyptian culture was kept very much alive, and the 30th Dynasty of Egyptian rulers gave Egypt back a brief time of its former glory before the Persians came again.

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Article by Joshua J. Mark || Photos by Osama S.M. Amin, Dennis Jarvis & Shadowgate on AHE