Posts Tagged With: Egypt

Catching Up: 23rd June 2019

Reporting the arrival of a new book about Alexander will never not be exciting. Therefore, I am delighted to mention the lately published Alexander the Great from Britain to Southeast Asia by Su Fang Ng.

Unfortunately, this is an academic book, so while it is no doubt of the highest quality, it is also of the highest price – £90 (hardback).

I am very lucky in that I am a member of the London Library, which if I ask it would hopefully purchase a copy but otherwise, it’s a shame that Su Fang Ng’s knowledge will be pretty much limited to university students and teachers.

You can read more about the book at the Oxford University Press’s website here


Popculture reports a rape allegation against President Donald Trump. Author E. Jean Carroll,

… recalled [Trump] talking “about himself like he’s Alexander the Great ready to loot Babylon” as they tried to decide the best gift for the woman Trump was shopping for.

Caitlynn Hitt, Popculture

Alexander visited Babylon twice – once in late 331 BC, following the Battle of Gaugamela, and then again in May-June 323. In 331, the Macedonian king gave his soldiers leave to enjoy themselves but not to loot the city. That would come when they arrived in Persepolis at the end of the January 330.

In 323, the army returned to Babylon in an orderly fashion (in contrast to its ‘march’ across Carmania) and kept its discipline until Alexander’s death on 10th/11th June. Without an established heir to take over command, order started to break down. But this did not lead the Macedonians to turn on the city, however, only each other. The situation was eventually rescued by the ruthless actions of Perdiccas.


The Conversation has a long and fascinating article on how ‘Neoliberalism has tricked us into believing a fairytale about where money comes from’. You can read it, here. The writer mentions Alexander several times, most notably when she says that he,

… is said to have used half a ton of silver a day to fund his largely mercenary army rather than a share of the spoils (the traditional payment). 

Mary Mellor, The Conversation

Alexander certainly used mercenaries but to the best of my knowledge they were never in a majority in his army. I don’t have any figures to hand but I am quite intrigued by the question of how many mercenaries he did use so will commit myself to seeing if I can find out this week.

In regards the use of spoils – of course, Alexander did use spoils to pay his men but certainly not as often as some other generals would have done.


An interesting article in The National Herald looking at the history of the antagonism between the West and Iran. The writer observes,

The Macedonian conqueror of Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan and Punjab was called Alexander the Great not because of his military achievements, because he took the title of Great from Darius III the Great.

Aakar Patel, The National Herald

To the best of my knowledge, no one calls Darius III the Great. Given his record, why would they. The writer is surely thinking of Darius I. On that point, I have never seen anyone compare Alexander to Darius I. I can only wonder where he got the idea that Alexander’s sobriquet is lifted from Darius rather than his success in battle from.

The first known person to call Alexander the Great was a Roman playwright named Titus Maccius Plautus (254 – 184 BC) in a play named Mostellaria. From what I know of the play, Alexander is given the sobriquet on account of his deeds but I will try and find out more and report back.

Categories: By the Bye | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Having settled the affairs of Egypt…

… Alexander went off to the Temple of Ammon, where he wished to consult the oracle of the god… At one point, when their road could not be traced because of the sand dunes, the guide pointed out to the king that crows cawing on their right were calling their attention to the route which led to the temple. Alexander took this for an omen, and thinking that the god was pleased by his visit pushed on with speed.’
(Diodorus XVII.49)

I found this image on Pinterest this week and it immediately reminded me of the above passage from Diodorus. I initially thought the passage came from Arrian but he refers to Alexander being led by snakes (III.3.5).

Arrian specifically identifies Ptolemy as his source for this. If any animals ‘helped’ Alexander to find Siwah, it would be easy to understand why Ptolemy made them snakes. Creatures of evil in the Judeao-Christian tradition, they were symbols of royal authority in pharaonic Egypt.

Looking at the picture, I’m not at all sure that the photographer isn’t looking at a snowy landscape but if so, the snow is so smooth as to look – with a little imagination – like sand, especially with that yellow filter.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a credit for the photograph. It came, though, from a Tumblr blog called 7 Crows a Journey, which gives the source as a Tumblr blog called La Sombra.

Categories: Art | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

19.II.17 Reading, Egypt, and Learning

I have started reading a book titled Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy: The Timeless Lessons of History’s Greatest Empire Builder by Partha Bose. I’m only a few pages in but the book appears to be part-biography, part-management manual. For that reason, I don’t know if I will finish it as I am not sure how interested I am in applying the lessons of Alexander’s kingship to modern-day businesses (I took the book out of the library because I wanted to read about about Alexander the general). Well, it is 264 pages; I’ll commit myself to reading a third – 88 pages – of it and see how I feel then.

If you would like to read more about the book, it’s page is here.


I spend a fair amount of time on my Alexander Facebook page these days, and I am extremely proud that in the last few months it has crossed the 10,000 mark for both Likes and Follows. It shows how relevant Alexander remains today.

On 14th November, I noted that it was – according to Peter Green – the 2,349th anniversary of Alexander’s coronation as pharaoh of Egypt. The qualification according to is very important as Green is the only historian I know who even says that Alexander was made pharaoh let alone gives a date for it.

I am very happy to celebrate ‘Coronation Day’ on 14th Nov. because it is good to celebrate positive events, but I have to admit, I do not know where Green gets his confidence from: none of the five major sources into Alexander’s life mention his being crowned pharaoh. Indeed, they hardly even mention (his first visit to) Memphis. Only Arrian tells us anything of substance. He says that Alexander sacrificed to sundry gods, including Apis, then held athletic and literary contests before leaving again. Curtius states that Alexander went to Memphis and that’s it.

So, is it likely that Alexander was crowned? This is a question that it might be better for me to come back to, as at the moment, over on the Facebook page, I am writing a series of Alexander in Egypt posts. It is a location-by-location account of the various places he went to according to the sources. I have just left Memphis. In case you would like to read them, here are the posts:

  1. Coronation Day post
  2. Pelusium
  3. Heliopolis
  4. Memphis

Don’t worry about clicking on the links, though: I intend to reblog the posts here when I am finished. What I really wanted to say is that Alexander spent seven months in Egypt. As mentioned above, he visited Memphis at the start of his trip, and at the end. Unfortunately, neither Arrian nor Curtius – who are the only two to mention the first visit to Memphis – say how long he spent there before moving on. This is is a shame because if the coronation of a new pharaoh required a lot of preparation, and he was there for only a short while, then we could rule November out as the coronation date. But perhaps the Egyptian authorities would have been ready by the following April? What I am hoping is that as I continue reading the Egypt chapter of the sources I will come upon a passage that sheds more light on how long Alexander spent in particular places. I fear it won’t happen but we’ll see.


I enjoy updating the Facebook page even though there are times when I have to delete disagreeable posts. These tend to be any that even hint at the current dispute between Greece and FYROM and – thankfully very rare – homophobic posts. The annoyance of those kinds of post is more than made up for by the supportive ones and insights that readers share. Recently, I have benefitted from two in particular:

  1. That Alexander’s battle strategy was based on a ‘hammer and anvil’ approach. i.e. The phalanx acted as an anvil on which the enemy was placed while the Companion Cavalry beat it like a hammer. This strategy can be seen most clearly at the Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela. The analogy is not a perfect one but has been really helpful in helping me ‘see’ the battles more clearly than I did before.
  2. Heliopolis: When I wrote the above linked post I suggested that Alexander sacrificed there. A commenter stated, however, that by his day, the city was a ruin. It’s more likely, therefore, that Alexander simply used it as a place to cross the Nile before continuing on to Memphis.
Categories: Arrian, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

David Hogarth “A Wandering Scholar in the Levant”

I have just finished David Hogarth’s A Wandering Scholar in the Levant (John Murray 1896). It was a delightful account of his travels through the near east in search of the ‘Remains of Distant Times’ (p.7).

A few of passages made a strong impression on me. I covered one of them in this post and thought I would record the others here.

The first quotation really made me sit up. Ten renaissances! Egypt must certainly have been a powerhouse of cultural brilliance. The second, however, floored me. What’s going on? I wondered, One minute Hogarth is saying how excellent Egypt was the next he is deriding it.

I should have re-read the renaissance passage again. When I did, I realised that for Hogarth, Egypt’s renaissances were not the same as Europe’s. The were not a time of rediscovery and flowering anew. Rather, as the first sentence below shows, they were a time simply of restarting. This takes some of the gloss off Egypt’s past but one still has to admire a country that no less than ten times was able to pick itself up again.

For the record – I spaced Hogarth’s text out as you see it below to make it easier to read.

Each new agency has all to do over again; each new agency advances sometimes as far as the last, sometimes less far, never farther.

Egypt has seen not one Renaissance but ten –

the Renaissance of the Twelfth Dynasty(1), when the sculptures of Beni-Hassan and the gold-work of Dahshur recalled the standard of the Tomb of Ti:

the Renaissance of the Eighteenth(2), labouring up again to an inferior delicacy in relief sculpture in the eastern halls of Karnak, at Der el Bahari, in the monuments of Amenhotep III(3) at Luxor, and of Seti I(4) at Abydos:

the Renaissance again of the Saitic Pharaohs(5), to whose period belong three-fourths of the more exquisite trifles sold now in Egypt,

and the Renaissance of the Sebennytics (6), this last a conscious effort to throw back.

There was a Renaissance of the Ptolemies(7), another of early Christianity(8), another of the Fatimites(9), another of Saladin(10), another of the Mamluks(11), a last of Mehemet Ali(12).

And the impulse of one and all, almost beyond doubt, came from without Egypt, the Amenemhats and Usertasens(13) being foreigners as truly as the founder of the Dynasty that is reigning now(14).
(A Wandering Scholar, p.156)

‘Each new agency…’ In Hogarth’s opinion, it sounds like the Ptolemies went backwards.

Ptolemaic art is worse every way than Pharaonic – bad relatively and bad absolutely, corruptio optima pessima(15)!
A Wandering Scholar, p.165)

1. 1991-1803 B.C.
2. 1549-1292 B.C.
3. 1391–1353 or 1388–1351 B.C.
4. 1290–1279 B.C.
5. i.e. The Twenty-Sixth Dynasty 685–525 B.C.
6. i.e. The Thirtieth Dynasty 380 BC–343 B.C.
7. 305-30 B.C.
8. A.D.33-c4th Cent (I’m following Wikipedia here in dating the beginning of ‘Christian Egypt’ from St Mark’s arrival there)
9. A.D.909–1171
10. A.D. 1137/1138-1193
11. A.D. 1250-1517
12. A.D. 1805-1953
13. Amenemhat and Usertasen (aka Useresen, Senusret) were the names of seven pharaohs of the Twelfth Dynasty. The only ruler not to have that name was the eighth and last of that line, Queen Sobekneferu
14. i.e. Mehemet [Muhammad] Ali
The above dates and information was taken from Wikipedia
15. ‘The corruption of the best is the worst’ (from here)


But lest we think that Hogarth has no time for the Ptolemies at all:

… the only monarchs of the Nile valley that approach to absolute greatness are Ptolemy Philadelphus I., Saladin, certain of the Mamluks, and Mehemet Ali;

for these held as their own what the vainglorious raiders of the Twelfth and Nineteenth Dynasties but touched and left;

and I know no prettier irony than that among all those inscriptions of Pharaohs who “smite the Asiatics” on temple walls and temple pylons, there should occur no record of the prowess of the one King of Egypt who really smote Asiatics hip and thigh – Alexander, son of Philip.
(A Wandering Scholar, p.169)

I am very interested in Egypt’s history but I have to admit, when I read those last words about Alexander, I did smile.

Categories: Books | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Alexander: December and Winter Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

Nov-Dec Alexander wins Greek support for war against Persia (Livius)

Nov-Dec Alexander holds festivals in Dion and Aegae (Livius)

Winter Alexander conquers Caria, Lycia, Pamphylia and Phrygia (Landmark Arrian*, Livius)
Winter Alexander son of Aeropos is arrested (Landmark Arrian)
Winter The Pisidians harass Macedonian army but are subdued (Landmark Arrian)

Dec (?) Darius tries to negotiate with Alexander (Livius)

Winter Alexander asks Tyrians if he can enter the city to sacrifice to Herakles; he is denied access (Landmark Arrian)
Winter The Siege of Tyre begins (Landmark Arrian)


Winter Alexander enters Egypt (Landmark Arrian, Michael Wood**)
Winter Alexander founds Alexandria (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander visits Siwah (Landmark Arrian)
Green suggests that the foundation of Alexandria could have taken place in April
Winter Alexander is informed of the Persian navy’s defeat in the Aegean (Landmark Arrian)
Mid-winter Alexander visits Siwah (Wood)
Green has Alexander’s visit take place in early Spring

Early Dec Alexander takes Susa unopposed (Peter Green***)
15th Dec Abulites surrenders Susa to Alexander (Livius)
22nd Dec Alexander leaves Susa (Livius)

Winter Alexander reaches Persia (Wood)
Winter Alexander takes the Susian Gates (Green)
Winter Alexander takes Susa (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander subdues the Ouxioi (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander passes the Persian Gates and enters Persepolis (Landmark Arrian)

Winter Spitamenes’ second revolt is put down (Landmark Arrian)


Winter Alexander at Zariaspa (Green, Livius, Wood)
Winter Bessus is mutilated ahead of being executed (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Bessus is executed (Green)

December Spitamenes is captured (Livius)

Winter Alexander in Maracanda and Nautaca (Livius, Wood)
Winter Alexander captures the Rock of Sisimithres (Wood)
Winter Alexander returns to Zariaspa (Wood)
Winter Callisthenes objects to Alexander’s attempt to introduce proskynesis (Landmark Arrian)
Winter In Nautaca, Alexander appoints new satraps (Landmark Arrian)


Winter Hephaestion to the Indus River via the Khyber Pass (Wood)
Winter Alexander enters the Swat Valley (Wood)
Winter Alexander at Nysa (Wood)
Winter ‘The Dionysus episode’ (Green) i.e. Macedonian army gets drunk en masse
Winter Alexander attacks the Massaga (Wood)
Winter Alexander campaign in the Swat Valley (Wood)


December Alexander campaigns against the Mallians (Wood)
December Siege of the Mallian city  (Wood)
The Landmark Arrian gives the Mallian campaign as happening during the winter of 326/5

December Satraps punished for wrong-doing (Green, Livius)
December Alexander joins up with Craterus in Carmania (Livius)
December Macedonian army reaches Hormuz (Wood)

Winter Alexander joins up with Craterus and Nearchus (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander orders the restoration of Cyrus the Great’s Tomb (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Orxines is executed (Landmark Arrian)

Winter Alexander requests divine honours for Hephaestion (Livius)
Winter Alexander campaigns against Cossaeans (Landmark Arrian, Livius)


* The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
** Wood In the Footsteps Of Alexander the Great A Journey from Greece to India (BBC Books 2004)
*** Green Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)



  • This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know.
  • As can be seen, I have noted where The Landmark Arrian, Livius, Michael Wood and Peter Green have disagreed on the dates; these notes, however, are not comprehensive. My focus has been on recording what each author has said rather than comparing it to the others.


Modern Names
The Mallian city – Multan
Nysa – Jelalabad
Zariaspa aka Bactra – Balkh

Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Macedonian Mole Approaches Tyre

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 40, 41 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Requests Permission To Enter Tyre
Tyre Refuses To Let Alexander In
Construction of Mole Begins
Sea-Monster: What Are The Gods Saying?

The Story
Chapter 40 begins a new year in Diodorus’ chronology but takes us back to the Macedonian camp immediately after the Battle of Issus. After burying his dead, and ‘those of the Persians who had distinguished themselves by courage’, Alexander sacrificed to the gods and gave rewards to those of his men ‘who had borne themselves well in battle’. Once these tasks were over, he let the army rest for a few days before beginning the southward journey to Egypt.

In southern Phoenicia, Alexander came to the island city of Tyre. There, he told the Tyrians that he ‘wished to sacrifice to the Tyrian Heracles’ only to be refused permission to enter the city. Angered by this, Alexander threatened to take the city by force ‘but the Tyrians cheerfully faced the prospect of a siege’.

Diodorus explains that the Tyrians’ decision to bar Alexander was motivated by a desire to ‘gratify Darius’. They also thought that by this show of loyalty ‘they would receive great gifts from the king’.

As he prepared to lay siege to the city, Alexander saw that Tyre would be impossible to take by sea ‘because of the engines mounted along its walls and the fleet that it possessed’. Neither was taking it by land an option as Tyre lay four furlongs away from the coast.

The obvious answer to this dilemma was simply to leave Tyre where it was and continue on to Egypt. But in Alexander’s eyes, this would cause his army to be ‘held in contempt by a single undistinguished [!] city’ and he could not allow that.

His first action was to demolish Old Tyre and start the construction of a mole (a causeway), two hundred feet wide, to bridge the gap between shoreline and city. This kind of project was going to need a large workforce to complete, and Diodorus says that Alexander ‘drafted into service the entire population of the neighbouring cities’ in order to get it done. Which in due course, they did, with some speed.

Chapter 41
At first, though, the Tyrians did not take the mole seriously. They sailed up to it ‘and mocked the king, asking if he thought that he would get the better of Poseidon’. This contempt only lasted as long as it took for the Tyrians to realise that the mole was approaching their city with ‘unexpected rapidity’. An assembly was held and a vote taken. It was decided to

  • Transport all women, children and ‘old men’ (not old women?) to Carthage
  • Post ‘the young and able-bodied to the defence of the walls’
  • Prepare the navy – eighty triremes strong – for battle

Diodorus reports that some women and children – and presumably old men – were removed to Carthage but that the rest were forced to stay in the city by the rapid advance of of the mole.

As you can see by the map below (from Wikipedia’s page dedicated to the siege), Tyre’s two ports were land-facing. Perhaps as the mole progressed this put the ships within range of Alexander’s catapults making their movement impossible.


Having said that, as the Footnotes point out, in Chapter 46 Diodorus says that ‘most of the non-combatants’ were taken out of the city.

Whether or not the women and children got away, the men in the city set about constructing catapults and other anti-siege engines. Work went well ‘because of the [number of] engineers and artisans… who were in the city’.

Strange events now interrupted the siege and caused confusion among the Macedonians and Tyrians alike. As the mole ‘came within [firing] range’ of the Tyrians, a tidal wave caused ‘a sea-monster of incredible size’ to crash into the mole. Neither were harmed and after a while the monster (a whale?) swam back into the sea. But what did it mean? Was it a good or bad omen? Both sides asked themselves this question. And both sides decided it was a sign that Poseidon was on their side.

Around the same time, the Macedonians reported that their rations of bread ‘had a bloody look’. And in Tyre, a man claimed to have had a vision ‘in which Apollo told him that he would leave the city’. He was accused of wanting to ‘curry favour with Alexander, and some of the younger citizens set out to stone him’. The man was rescued by the city magistrates; he hid in the temple of Heracles.

So not everyone believed the man’s vision but enough were convinced, and they tied golden cords round their statue of Apollo to prevent the god from deserting them.

Why did Alexander really lay siege to Tyre? Out of anger, as Diodorus suggests? I agree with anyone who says that his request was a either a ploy to get into the city, whereupon he would take control of it, or a pretext to lay siege to it. Tyre was pro-Persian. That made it too dangerous to leave unconquered. Had Alexander bypassed the city he would have handed the Persians a sea and land base from which to attack him.

No city is an island – even when it is. Notwithstanding the Tyrians’ trust in their strength, it is interesting to note that Tyre hoped Carthage, a colony, would help them out. Diodorus says that part of the Tyrian objective was to hold Alexander up and give Darius time to assemble his army. A Carthaginian attack would surely, though, have allowed Tyre to take the fight to Alexander.

I like the fact that Alexander justified the siege in terms of his army’s honour. Very crafty – even though I think he had sound military reasons for destroying Tyre, telling the men they were going to build the mole to save them from contempt could only have appealed to their pride.

Diodorus doesn’t mention the possibility that Alexander’s ships – he still had some after dismissing his fleet following the siege of Miletus (Ch. 22) – had an influence on Tyre’s inability to evacuate its women and children though they must have been present.

Young men are really not coming off well in Diodorus’ history. First we saw how they failed to break Ephialtes’ army during the siege of Halicarnassus – and had to be saved by the Macedonian veterans; then there was the case of the young men of Marmares who killed their families and fled their city despite resolving to die for its freedom; now, the young Tyrians nearly lynched the visionary. Is there a lesson to be drawn from this? I’ll let you decide.

There is no joke at the end of this post
as I am too tired to make one

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Egypt: A Modern Gordian Knot

In antiquity, Greeks did not completely accept Macedonians as being one of them. Herodotus (V. 22) tells us that Alexander I (reigned 498-454 B.C.) was permitted to take part in the Olympic Games, but only after proving his Greek descent.
Today, of course, the country has no doubt and is rightly proud of the achievement of Macedon’s most famous son, Alexander the Great. In proof of this, here is the first paragraph of an article on the Al Arabiya News website.

When Greek Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos met with presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on April 28, he presented him with the Sword of Alexander in appreciation of Sisi’s status and efforts. Some, however, have questioned the sword’s significance and why it was given to him.

You can read the full article here. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is a Field Marshal in the Egyptian army, and the leading candidate to become the country’s next president following the downfall of Mohamed Morsi last summer.
The BBC website has an article about Sisi here. As I don’t know a great deal about Egyptian politicians I can’t vouch for its fairness but I trust that the BBC – while not being a perfect organisation – would not publish anything hopelessly bad.
One thing that jumped out at me as I read the BBC article was this quotation from Sisi regarding a dream he had had,

I saw President Sadat, and he told me that he knew he would be president of Egypt, so I responded that I knew I would be president too.

It immediately reminded me of the way Alexander’s Successors claimed to see/speak to Alexander in their dreams as part of their political strategy.  By-the-bye I can just about remember seeing the footage of Anwar Sadat being assassinated in 1981; it is interesting to see that his memory has not been forgotten in the last thirty or so years.
To go back to the article, though, the gift of the sword is a dramatically two-sided one. The article explains that it was given to Sisi as a symbol of his bravery for standing,

…by the Egyptian people on June 30 last year [upon the fall of Morsi]. He struck a knot and took a brave stance. This is what Egypt needs, and what Sisi needs to do.

But, of course, swords are not instruments of peace and one might also say that Dimitris Avramopoulos’s gift also alludes not only to Sisi’s military background but the ability that the Field Marshal will have – if he becomes president – to orchestrate violent actions in defence of his rule. I know it could be said that as a high ranking military official he already has that ability. But either way, whoever wins the election, I hope and pray that peace is restored to Egypt and her people.

Categories: Modern Politics | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Explorers of the Egyptian Desert


I have just finished reading The Secret Life of Laszlo Almasy by John Bierman. It is an excellent read and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Almásy’s life.
Laszlo Ede Almásy is a controversial figure. Depending on who you read, he was pro-Nazi, a Soviet spy, helped saved Jews during the War, a German agent, and British agent. There are not enough documents publicly available to pin him down to one side or another.
One thing we can be certain of, though, is that he loved the Western or Libyan Desert (so named even though part of it is in Egypt), and he spent numerous years exploring it. Almásy’s abiding desire – his pothos – was to find the lost oasis of Zerzura and Cambyses’ lost army, which was wiped out by a sandstorm after leaving the Siwah Oasis (Herodotus 3:26). Thank goodness Alexander did not encounter such a menace when he visited it.

Unfortunately, Almásy achieved neither aim (unless Zerzura is to be found in the Gilf Kebir, which Almásy did explore – see below), but his exploration was by no means in vain. Along the way, for example, he found some superb examples of pre-historic cave art. His knowledge of the desert also came in useful during World War II; albeit for Rommel’s Afrika Korp. The Allies were very fortunate that, despite this, Rommel was not very interested in it.
Almasy wrote his own book about his travels – Récentes Explorations dans Le Désert Libyque (1932 – 1936) – which, as you can tell from the title, was written in French. This is bad news for me as it means I can’t read it. However, after finding the book in the library I thought I would share here some pictures that I took of it.
CaveOfSwimmersThe above watercolour must be one of the most famous images to come out of the Gilf Kebir (Wadi Sura). As you can see, it shows men swimming. Once upon a time the desert was a fertile land.
Domestic_Animals If you have heard of Laszlo Almásy these days you are either an Egyptologist or, like me, a fan of The English Patient film and/or book.  Both, however, are inspired rather than based on his life. The real Almásy did not have an affair with a woman named Katherine Clifton; neither did he bring about her death or that of her husband, Geoffrey. In fact, the Cliftons were based on a young couple named Sir Robert and Dorothy Clayton-East-Clayton. Sir Robert accompanied Almásy into the desert in April 1932 but, sadly, died of an illness picked up there in September of the same year. As for Dorothy, not only did she not sleep with Almásy but appears to have actively disliked him. More could be said about that, but not here. For the remainder of this post, I would like to share with you Sir Robert Clayton-East-Clayton’s report on his trip into the desert. It was published by The Times newspaper on 6th July 1932.












The report reads:




Cairo messages on the attempt to discover the lost oasis in the Libyan Desert have appeared in our columns within the last two months. The following article tells the full story. Photographs by members of the expedition from their aeroplane tend to confirm the opinion that the Wadi which was discovered is identical with the lost oasis.

By Sir Robert A. Clayton East Clayton

The object of the expedition organized by Count L. E. de Almasy and myself was to explore the unknown area of the Libyan Desert north of the Gilf Kebir, and to find the legendary lost oasis called Zerzura. We had three motor-cars and one light aeroplane. Though aeroplanes had not before been used for exploration in this part of the world, we thought our machine would help us by increasing the range of vision and enabling us to examine mountain-tops. It fully bore out our expectations. At Heliopolis the Royal Air Force gave us much assistance in our preparations; and there I met Squadron Leader Penderel, who got leave to join the expedition and contributed his valuable knowledge of aeronautical matters. The Egyptian Government lent Mr. P. A. Clayton, of the Desert Survey Department; he had been most of the way in previous expeditions, and naturally became our guide and navigator.
…..From Kharga Oasis on April 12 we went in the cars to make a dump, and that night camped about 110 kilometres away. Next morning we marked out a landing-ground on a stretch of flat sand. This was done by skidding a car in a small circle to mark the centre, and driving it three times round the limits to make a boundary. Then and afterwards the method proved serviceable, for the marks lasted for a long time. But on open stretches of sand, with no stones or inequalities, it was always difficult to spot a landing-ground; the glare and complete absence of shadow made it hard to focus one’s eyes where the sand, even at no great distance below the machine, seemed like a yellow mist.
On April 15, finding ourselves near Bir Messalia, we packed camp and drove over to it. Bir Messalia means “Survey Well.” Lying in a slight hollow in the middle of a vast, featureless sand plain, it consists of one small wooden hut containing the winch, the scaffolding over the well and a wooden beacon. It looked an impossible place to find from the air, as it would hardly be visible a mile away. After winding up some water, Clayton and Almasy took the lorry and dumped petrol about 80 kilometres further on in a line of crescent dunes. Penderel and I marked out a landing-ground near the well. As there were practically no landmarks, we made corner marks of empty benzine tins in addition to our usual circle and boundary. We also prepared a smoke fire in case the machine was seen searching for the camp.
…..When we left Bir Messalia to go back to Kharga for the aeroplane and more petrol, Almasy stayed behind to see what it felt like to be alone in the desert for a few days. At Kharga Penderel and I took up the aeroplane to practice following tracks, and dropped a message in a weighted towel on Clayton, who had gone on with the three cars. The return to Bir Messalia, during which we encountered a flock of plover migrating northwards, was the worst flight I have ever experienced. As the sun got higher the tracks became invisible. I had to keep my eyes glued on the ground the whole time; lifting them for only a second would have meant losing the tracks for good. What with the terrible glare and the intense concentration needed I lost all idea of height, position, and speed. My head began to swim, and I had an almost unbearable longing to dive the machine into the ground and end it all. The worst of it all was that, as Penderel’s goggles did not fit, he could not take over to give me a rest. However, after what seemed to me an age we arrived at Messalia to find Almasy had laid out a landing. It was terribly hot, with no wind, so we just lay in the winch hut and sweated till Clayton arrived.
On April 20 we set off by car for some point south-west of the Gilf Kebir, our real objective, and finally camped under two large hills which we called Peter and Paul. Next morning Penderel and I left with three Arabs and two cars; and the Arabs, upon whom we had depended for guidance, took us out of the way. The visibility was bad, and no landmarks were to be seen. Moreover, we encountered a small sandstorm. It became necessary to ration both petrol and water. We realized that Clayton and Almasy would have very little chance of finding us with one car, and would be in a dangerous position, having to trust their lives to that car in those vast spaces. Accordingly it was up to us to get out of our own mess. So, early on the following day, we sent the Arabs on foot to see if they could discover anything. We ourselves spotted a small hill to the north which, if our map and estimates were correct, should have had a small cairn of it. But the Arabs, returning after several hours, said there was nothing on the hill. We began to think of all the stories we had ever heard about death from thirst.
…..After calculating our position, we decided to drive north. The petrol ran out at the foot of the little hill we had seen and depended upon. What was our joy on climbing to the top to find that there was a cairn! The wretched Arabs had tired before reaching the hill and reported wrongly. We now knew the camp was only 25 kilometres away, and accordingly sent the men off to collect a tin of petrol. It was getting dark by this time, so we did not expect them back till afternoon next day. Then we brewed a cup of tea from radiator water. Although the water was darker than the tea, I have never tasted a drink nearly so good. The mixture of oil, rust, and dirt only made it nicer. Having also eaten some biscuits, the first food for 36 hours, we felt better and went to bed.
The men came back next afternoon, and we were enabled to make for the camp. From this incident we learnt several lessons: Never trust an Arab guide, however good, but do your own navigation; always carry enough petrol to get back to your starting-place; keep notes of every journey and never forget that the desert will hit you a blow below the belt if you give it the slightest chance.
…..On the morning of April 26 Almasy, who had a pass from the Italian embassy, started for Kufra with two cars to get water. On April 27 Penderel and I took off for a flight over the Gilf. Soon after crossing its edge we found the beginning of a large wadi running the same course as ourselves. This broadened out and trees appeared, a bit scattered at first but thickening after a short distance. Unfortunately visibility was bad and we could not see the end of the wadi distinctly. It seemed to be about 30 or 40 kilometres long, and, as far as we could see, well filled with trees. This was intensely interesting. We would have liked to fly right to the end, but the thought of a forced landing in that broken, rocky country was too much for us. On our telling Clayton of our find he confirmed the opinion that it was quite possibly Zerzura.
Almasy returned that evening after a successful trip to Kufra. He had been received with the greatest cordiality by the Italian officers; he was apparently the first tripper there since the Expeditionary Force left. Among other things he brought 12 bottles of Chianti, which, apart from other considerations, helped to save our water.
…..Another exploratory trip up several wadis drew a blank, except for a solitary saizal tree and the spoor of one grazing camel about two or three years old. The country was terribly rocky and broken, giving ample evidence of the floods in the past. There was a little dried-up grass in one or two wadis, but nothing more. The greatest difficulty was to know which was the main scarp of the Gilf.
…..The time when we had expected to start back was now at hand, and petrol was running short. On April 20 Clayton and Penderel climbed to the top of the Gilf and found an Arab road, very old, marked with cairns. As far as they could see it led to a large wadi a bit to the south. While they were up on top, a swallow, very exhausted, came down quite close to Almasy and myself. Although we offered it water in a plate it would not drink. We took some photographs of it.
When Penderel and Clayton came down we made for the wadi they had seen from aloft. It had quite a lot of trees in it and some mountain sheep skeletons under them. However, it ended about five kilometres further on in a sidd, or dry waterfall, which showed it could not be our wadi. In the evening Penderel took up Almasy, and I took up Clayton, for a look at the wadi. Seeing it again we altered our ideas a bit, and after working out the petrol to about seven places of decimals, we decided that, if we went straight to where we now felt certain the entrance to the wadi was, we should have just enough petrol to get back to our dump at Peter and Paul.
…..Accordingly we had a try again next day, but the wadi beat us again. No wonder it is called a lost oasis. This was our last possible effort. It was disappointing not to have entered the promised land, although we had seen it several times from the air.
…..The journey home to Kharga was uneventful. Luckily we arrived the day before the weekly train for Cairo, so Clayton and Almasy did not have to wait. Penderel and I flew back to Heliopolis without incident. Clayton and Almasy had the only mechanical breakdown of the trip when the train broke down in the middle of the desert.

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Alexander in Memphis

Alexander at the Temple of Apis in Memphis (Andre Castaigne 1861-1929)

Alexander at the Temple of Apis in Memphis (Andre Castaigne 1861-1929). Picture: Wikipedia.

From Heliopolis, [Alexander] crossed the river to Memphis, where, among the other gods, he offered a special sacrifice to Apis and held Games with both athletic and literary contests.
(Arrian The Campaigns of Alexander)
Alexander was deeply impressed by Egypt, and it is generally supposed that the potential strength of the country, which was greater than he expected, induced him to divide the control of it among a number of officers, as he judged it to be unsafe to put it all into the hands of one man.
(Arrian Ibid)

Ptolemy I Soter as Pharaoh (British Museum). Photo:

Ptolemy I Soter as pharaoh (Photo:

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