Posts Tagged With: Alexandria Eschate

Alexandria Eschate the Early City and other Suspect Statements

someone+wrong+on+the+internetIt might be me, but I think it’s them
Let’s find out.

We begin with what is probably less an error and more a typo in “Viewpoint: The UN Silk Road Exhibition and the Byzantine-Roman Influence” which appears on the Greek Reporter – USA website here. The article looks at an exhibition, which has just concluded at the United Nations in New York City. Of interest to us is the following,

“After Alexander The Great conquered the Persians, he established the city of Alexandria Eschate in 339 BCE in the Fergana Valley of Neb (modern Tajikistan)…”

As the quotation marks show, this passage is not the writer’s own; in fact (and as they indicate) it comes from the Ancient History Encyclopedia’s article on the Silk Road. Unfortunately, the AHE has got a bit ahead of itself here – in 339 BC, Alexander wasn’t even king of Macedon yet let alone founding a city in northern Sogdia. They, of course, meant 329.

My Source
The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010), p.xlvi


Moving on, we come to “Humans are killing machine [sic] with or without religion“, which appears on the TwoCircles website here. The article concerns the recent terrorist attack in Paris, France and contains the following statement.

Alexander, the great, conquered almost the whole world in his lifetime of 30 years. He could have lived in Greece with peace among his people. But he chose to go for war one after another with countries who were never his enemy. Millions of people were killed in the process of conquering the world, his own soldiers had lost desire to fight anymore and wanted to go back home but Alexander was adamant to move forward.

Was all that bloodshed for religion? No. Alexander wanted to be known as world conqueror in the history, his self-ego, greediness to rule over world were the reason for his madness. What did he get after so much bloodshed? He was killed by his own people. Why? Because they wanted the power and territory, which Alexander had won so far! Thus again for power to rule and self-pride.

These two paragraphs contain one straight forward inaccuracy and a number of very debatable points

Plain Wrong
… in his lifetime of 30 years Alexander died at the age of 32, shortly before his 33rd birthday

My Source
Arrian The Campaigns of Alexander (Penguin Books 1971) p.395

He could have lived in Greece with peace among his people My answer to this depends on what the writer means by ‘with peace’.

If he means Alexander could simply have chosen to live within his own borders and let the Greek city-states be for the duration of his reign, I would disagree. In my opinion – and if you think I am wrong, feel very free to tell me – Alexander had to subjugate the Greek city-states if for no other reason than not to do so would allow them to grow in power and risk them threatening Macedon’s borders, something they would want to do in order to take away from Macedon the power she cultivated under Philip.

If, however, the writer means Alexander could have lived in peace after subjugating Greece then I would agree with that. The only problem with that, though, is that kind of peace is not really worth the name.

… countries who were never his enemy It would be a bold man who said that none of the Greek city-states or Persian Empire were Alexander’s enemy. We could argue that individual countries within the Persian Empire were not Alexander’s enemy and indeed there were rulers who sought to avoid war with him. And when they did, on some if not all occasions, he settled things peacefully with them. The writer’s picture of Alexander as a man who fought continual wars for supremacy over the world is simply not accurate.

Millions of people were killed I wasn’t going to include this as I don’t have a list of figures regarding how many people died as a result of Alexander’s actions to hand. However, I thought I would do so a. As a means of publicising this fact in case anyone could refer me to a source which does give the numbers b. Because I am very suspicious of the writer’s claim. I have read all the main sources for Alexander’s life now and get no impression that Alexander’s kill-count was one million let alone ‘millions’. The writer seems to me to be afflicted with the same propensity to exaggerate as the ancient sources.

his madness If the writer is judging Alexander according to his own understanding of what constitutes madness then he is not judging the historical person of Alexander but his own, imaginary version, of the man. If, however, he has attempted to understand how the ancient Macedonians/Greeks defined madness and written accordingly then that would be a different matter. On that subject, I found this article at Psychology Today to be very helpful in terms of understanding how the Macedonians and Greeks saw madness.

He was killed by his own people Taken literally this statement is wrong. The Macedonians either in part or as a whole did not rise up against Alexander. If we take the writer to mean the people who are alleged to have assassinated him – Antipater, Cassander and Iolaus – then it is simply debatable. They could have murdered the king, they had a motive to do so (Antipater’s fear that Alexander intended to kill him), but it is surely significant that the first person to make the allegation was Alexander’s mother, Olympias, who was at that time locked in battle with Cassander, the last of the aforementioned three to survive.

they wanted the power and territory I was tempted to put this in the plain wrong category. If Alexander was assassinated by Antipater et al then it appears to have been for the sake of self-preservation rather than for ‘power and territory’.


Finally, good old Wikipedia. In its list of Achaemenid Kings it lists ‘Artaxerxes IV’ he being Bessus. Only a very creative definition of what makes someone a king can justify his inclusion. As all the sources show, Bessus was only ever a pretender – and, frankly, not a particularly good one at that. If Bessus is going to be included, the list of regents who looked after Alexander IV and Philip III Arrhidaeus really ought to mention Peithon and Arrhidaeus who held office between Perdiccas’ death and the council at Triparadeisus in 320 B.C.

* Full marks to anyone who noticed that the URL to this post reads ‘Alexander Eschate’ and not Alexandria Eschate! We live together, we love together, and we make mistakes together too.

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From Zin to Scythia

Last Thursday, I visited the British Museum to hear Dr Sam Moorhead speak about the The Wilderness of Zin, which was published by the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) in 1915.

It’s authors were T E Lawrence and his (second, after D G Hogarth) boss at Carchemish, C L Woolley. The book’s purpose was to discuss the men’s search for evidence of the Israelites’ forty year sojourn in the wilderness of Zin (the Negev desert) after their flight from Egypt.

As it happened, Woolley and Lawrence found no proof of the Israelites’ presence there. To the best of my knowledge, no archaeologist ever has. Maybe the events depicted in the Old Testament are mythical or archaeologists are just digging in the wrong places or even the right places but wrong depth.

Whatever the answer, Woolley and Lawrence were not greatly incommoded by their failure. This is because their work was in fact a smokescreen. The real purpose of the expedition was to survey the desert on behalf of the War Office. This work was done by the third member of the party, Captain S F Newcombe.

The wilderness of Zin was in Ottoman territory, so had never been mapped before by the British. The reason why the War Office wanted – needed – it to be surveyed was because war was looming and Britain feared that the Ottoman empire might take up arms on the side of Germany.

If it did, Britain would need to know the lay of the land in order to defend her territory in Palestine (and, I should think, be able to attack the Ottoman’s?)


The PEF mission recalls to mind Derdas’ mission into Scythia in the summer of 329 B.C.

That year, Alexander reached the Tanais (aka Jaxartes) river in Sogdia. He was not in the best of health having suffered a broken leg fighting a Sogdian armed force that had massacred Macedonian foragers.

While he recovered from his injury, Alexander received a deputation of Scythians from the far side of the Tanais. Arrian calls them European Scythians as the country on that side of the river was believed to be part of Europe.

The Scythians came in peace, and Alexander made peace with them… for now. Once the meeting was over, he gave instructions to one of his Companions – Derdas – to accompany the Scythians back to their homes and, once there, to ‘conclude formally a pact of friendship’ with them.

This sounds all very reasonable and in keeping with Alexander’s policy of using diplomacy where possible in order to fulfil his objectives (recall how he tried to reach a diplomatic solution after Thebes’ rebellion in 335 B.C.).

However, Derdas also had a secret mission:

… to gather information about Scythia – its geographical peculiarities, the customs of its people, their numbers and military equipment.

Now why would Alexander want to know all that? I’m sure you’ve already guessed. Arrian spells it out. Alexander, he says, intended

… to found a city [i.e. Alexandria Eschate] on the Tanais… The site, he considered, was a good one; a settlement there would be likely to increase in size and importance, and would also serve both as an excellent base for a possible invasion of Scythia [as well as] a defensive position against raiding tribes from across the river. (my emphasis)
(Arrian IV.1)


Curtius repeats Arrian’s claim that Alexander founded Alexandria Eschate with a view to using it as both a barrier and springboard to invade Scythia (VII.6.13).

However, his account of Derdas’ mission is a little more aggressive than Arrian’s. According to Curtius, Derdas wasn’t sent over the river to conclude any pacts of friendship. Rather, he was sent to ‘warn [the European Scythians] not to cross the river Tanais without the king’s order’ (VII.6.12).


Derdas’ mission took nearly a year and he returned to Alexander in Spring 328 B.C. This reflects the length of time it took for Lawrence and Woolley to publish their report on their expedition to Zin.

After returning from Palestine, they had to work fast to write their report – the man in charge (?) of the expedition, Lord Kitchener, wanted it to be published ASAP in order to maintain the fiction that the expedition had been about the search for the Israelites.

Lawrence completed his contribution to the text before the end of 1914. By the end of the year he was working for the Arab Bureau in Cairo (under David Hogarth). As I understand it, Woolley completed the report and saw the book to the press before following in Lawrence’s footsteps to Egypt.

  • The Wilderness of Zin is online here
  • The PEF’s new edition can be found here
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Striking out from the Tanais

The Nature of Curtius
Book Seven Chapter 6-9
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Six
War in the Mountains
While Alexander was dealing with Bessus, some Macedonian soldiers went off to forage. They were ambushed by natives ‘who came rushing down on them from the neighbouring mountains’.

Hearing about the attack, Alexander responded by laying siege to the natives. During his assault, the king was struck in the leg by an arrow.

From ‘their high position on the mountain’, the barbarians saw Alexander being carried away. But this did not embolden them to continue the defence of their lives let alone go on the offensive.

Instead, envoys came to Alexander in his tent and told him how ‘saddened’ they were by his injury and that ‘if they had found the culprit, they would already have surrendered him’. There is a context for this surprising attitude, for in the view of this tribe, ‘it was only the sacrilegious who fought against gods’.

After making peace with the tribe, Alexander was carried (on alternate days by cavalry and infantry in order to satisfy the honour of both) to Maracanda. From there, he set about pillaging and burning ‘the neighbouring villages’.

Back in Maracanda, he received a visit from a friendly Scythian tribe from the far side of the Tanais (Jaxartes) River. Curtius says that after ‘addressing the deputation courteously’ Alexander sent one of his Friends, a man named Derdas, over the river to warn the Scythian tribes there not to cross it ‘without the king’s order’ (permission?).

Derdas was also given orders ‘to explore the terrain and make an expedition… to those Scythians who live beyond the Bosphorus’. That would be some expedition indeed if Derdas was being told to go all the way back to the Hellespont.

What the above shows again is how much smaller Curtius’/Alexander’s conception of the world was. This is further seen in the fact that the Scythians on the far side of the Tanais were regarded as living on ‘European soil’.

Alexander now intended to build a new city on the banks of the Tanais – Alexandria Eschate (the Furthest). First, however, he had to deal with a revolt among the Sogdians and Bactrians, which had been set off by Spitamenes and Catanes.

Craterus was sent to lay siege to the city of Cyropolis while Alexander did the same to the city of the Memaceni. Both cities fell but not before Alexander lost some of his best men fighting the Memaceni and was himself knocked unconscious by a slingshot.

Once the two cities had fallen, Alexander sent a detachment to Maracanda, where Spitamenes had taken refuge, while he returned to the Tanais  to build Alexandria Eschate in just seventeen days.

Chapter Seven
At the start of the chapter, Curtius reiterates that Scythia north-of-the-Tanais is part of Europe, while south of the river, it is on Asian soil. He says, that the Scythians who live near Thrace belong to the Sarmatian tribe, while those who live ‘directly beyond the Ister’ (i.e. the Danube) are spread out as far as Bactra.

The Scythian people also live ‘quite far north, beyond which the land is covered with deep forests and endless wilderness’.

The reason for Curtius’ brief overview is that the Scythian king had decided Alexandria Eschate was too close for comfort and had sent his brother, Carthasis, to make war on the Macedonians. This was awkward for Alexander because he still had the revolt in the south to deal with.

There was no question of the Scythians not being confronted. If they weren’t, he told his officers during a war council, they – the Macedonians – would lose face to the Sogdians and Bactrians. If they did, and defeated the Scythian force ‘who then will hesitate to submit to us when we are also the conquerors of Europe?’

The meeting was not yet over when bad news came from Maracanda – Menedemus had been ambushed by Spitamenes and his detachment wiped out in a wood. The first Teutoburg.

Chapter Eight
God of the World
That night, Alexander pondered how best to conduct his assault against the Scythians. He had placed the royal tent on the banks of the Tanais so that he could open the flaps and observe the enemy on the other side of the river to make a count of their numbers. He did this through the night.

The next day, Scythian ambassadors arrived in the camp to try and dissuade Alexander from attacking them.

‘Had the gods willed that your stature should match your greed the world could not hold you. You would touch the east with one hand and the west with the other, and reaching the west you would want to know where the mighty god’s light lay hidden.’

This sums up Alexander. He was very greedy – for glory – and had he had his way he would certainly have carried on fighting to the east and westernmost points of the world.

Chapter Nine
Dionysus Outdone
The ambassadors failed to persuade Alexander to desist. Once they had departed, the crossing of the Tanais began.

Despite the current of the river which made steering the rafts difficult, and the archers on the far side, the Macedonians made it to the banks where they engaged the Scythians.

As for the battle, the Scythians were put into disorder as soon as the Macedonians landed. They tried to flee only to be pursued. At some point, the Macedonian cavalry ‘crossed the bounds of Father Liber’ – Dionysus/Bacchus – ‘marked by stones set out at frequent intervals and by tall trees with ivy-covered trunks’. It seems Alexander was able to stay with the pursuit long enough to see the boundary stones before he was forced to turn back to camp by his recent injuries.

Back in camp, good news came from the south – the Sogdian and Bactrian revolt had collapsed. Victory over the Scythians had made the rebels see ‘that no race was a match for Macedonian arms’.

No doubt feeling well pleased with how things had turned out, Alexander thereafter made for Maracanda. There, he buried Menedemus and his men before going on to lay waste to the countryside and executing all ‘men of military age’ in the usual fashion.

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