Finding Alexander: In Philippopolis

I have written a few times already on this blog about Patrick Leigh Fermor, the Englishman who walked across Europe in his teens and led a daring raid to capture a German general in Crete during World War II. After the war, Leigh Fermor returned to travelling but eventually made his home in southern Greece.
In September last year I bought The Broken Road, which is the third and final volume of his account of the walk (I wrote about it here). Of course I intended to start reading it then but a couple of false starts followed before I came back to it properly. And even then… I must stop being distracted and learn to sit down and concentrate!
Anyway, I digress. The reason why I am mentioning the book here is to share with you a reference to Alexander that I found on page 33 (hardback edition). Leigh Fermor has just arrived in the ancient city of Philippopolis which, as you may know, was (re)founded by Philip II of Macedon in 340 BC. Nowadays, it is called Plovdiv. But just as Leigh Fermor calls Istanbul Constantinople, we’ll stick with Philippopolis. Leigh Fermor continues,

I drank in a composite aroma which seemed the substantive essence of the Balkans, compounded of sweat, dust, singeing horn, blood, nargileh-smoke, dung, slivo, wine, roasting mutton, spice and coffee, laced with a drop of attar of roses and a drift of incense, and wondered whether Alexander, as a boy, had ever seen this town which his father fortified on the eastern march of his kingdom against the Thracian tribes.

Leigh Fermor’s question is impossible to answer. We simply do not know enough about Alexander’s childhood to know where he travelled. Having said that, unless the Thracians were allies of Philip’s at any given point I doubt Alexander would have gone there. And even then his only reason for going would be as a hostage, and I am fairly sure that never happened to him.
What about when Alexander was grown up? That is, between 340 when Philip conquered the city (before which, according to Wikipedia, was called Eumolpias) and 334 when he crossed the Hellespont and left Europe forever? Well, Arrian is pretty good as a record of Alexander’s campaigns but to the best of my knowledge he doesn’t mention Alexander visiting the city when he campaigned in Thrace in 334.
Of course, it is quite possible that he may have done and the information was either lost to the historians of antiquity or they just didn’t record it. Unless that is the case, I think that the answer to Patrick Leigh Fermor’s question is probably if not definitely in the negative.

Categories: Finding Alexander, Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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