The Gordian Knot

  • Following in Alexander’s footsteps thanks to Google Maps!
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In antiquity Gordium was the capital of Phrygia. Now, it is is the village of Yassıhüyük in Turkey

In antiquity Gordium was the capital of Phrygia. Now, it is is the village of Yassıhüyük in Turkey

Gordium is in Hellespontine Phrygia; the town stands on the river Sangarius, which rises in Phrygia and runs through Bithynian Thrace into the Black Sea.
(Arrian I. 29)

Upon reaching this place [Alexander] was irresistibly impelled to visit the palace of Gordius and his son Midas high up on the acropolis, in order to inspect the famous Wagon of Gordius and the Knot with which its yoke was fixed.
(Arrian II. 3)



[According to tradition] the man who undid the knot which fixed its yoke was destined to be the lord of Asia.

The cord was made from the bark of the cornel tree, and so cunningly was the knot tied that no one could see where it began or where it ended.
(Arrian II. 3)



For Alexander, then, how to undo it was indeed a puzzle, though he was none the less unwilling to leave it as it was, as his failure might possibly lead to public disturbances. Accounts of what followed differ: some say that Alexander cut the knot with a stroke of his sword and exclaimed, ‘I have undone it!’, but Aristobulus thinks that he took out the pin – a sort of wooden peg which was driven right through the shaft of the wagon and held the knot together – and thus pulled the yoke away from the shaft… In any case, when he and his attendants left the place where the wagon stood, the general feeling was that the oracle about the untying of the knot had been fulfilled.

Categories: Mapping Alexander | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “The Gordian Knot

  1. This just arrived on my Israel 365 blog. At first, I thought you sent it. It is nice to be reminded that the first Emperor of the World respected and left the Jews to their own land in peace:

    Today’s Israel Inspiration
    Alexander, originally a Greek name, is one of the few names that has origins outside the Jewish faith, but has been made an official Hebrew name and widely adopted by many Jews on account of a fascinating story that occurred over two thousand years ago. During his conquest of the region, Alexander the Great met the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, dismounted from his horse and bowed to the ground. Alexander explained that he had seen the High Priest in a dream who had assured him victory and prosperity. In appreciation to the Jews, Alexander peacefully absorbed the Land of Israel into his growing empire and the Jewish community responded by naming all baby boys born that year Alexander.


    • Penina,

      That story bears the hallmarks to me of a pius legend. While Alexander was very respectful of other religions would he have bowed to the priest of any? I’m not so sure. Mind you, I am not speaking from a position of knowledge here. At any rate, if it is the case that Alexander has become a Jewish name on account of Alexander III, that certainly says something significant about his relationship to the Jews and maybe points to an encounter between them.



  2. delos13

    Hi Penina and AOS, if I may chip on the story above. I think the info in “Today’s Israel inspiration” combines two different accounts. The story of Alexander going to Jerusalem and bowing to the High Priest (his name was Jaddua) is taken from the works of Josephus Flavius, first century AD Romano-Jewish scholar, the author of the famous “Jewish War” and “Antiquities of the Jews”. The story of ATG going to Jerusalem is from “Antiquities”.

    Another apocryphal story (not from Josephus) says that Alexander demanded from the High Priest to denounce his god and bow to the Olympians. The High Priest said he couldn’t do it and instead suggested that all the boys born in Israel within one year of Alexander’s visit will be named Alexander. ATG liked the idea. In additions, the name Alexander was added to the official list of Jewish names and this is how it became so popular with Jews.

    I always wondered why among all the numerous conquerors who went through the land of Israel, Alexander was the only one looked favorably upon. Quite possibly, one of the main reasons must be that he left Jews alone and let them practice their religion as is. But who knows, may be there are some other reasons, now lost to history forever….

    And, admitting to the shameless self promotion, if you are interested in the literary interpretation of the story, I wrote my own version of the event, you can read it here


    • Hello Delos,

      Thank you for your comment. I didn’t know Josephus mentioned Alexander. I must try to remember that for a future ‘Finding Alexander’ post. Thank you for your link. Shameless acts of self-promotion are never a problem if the writer has made an effort to engage with what they have just read, which you have more than done. I read your story. I enjoyed seeing Hephaestion’s little act of manipulation. At the end, though, I would have liked to have seen Alexander’s reaction to the naming of all Jewish children after him.



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