Thursday, June 17, 2004
CHATTER: Alexander the Great
AskMen.com (what a silly name for a website) has a nice little background piece on Alexander (who seems to have quite a bit of attention webwise today ... the hype she is building):
Legends about heroes can be interesting but it doesn't get any better than when the hero is a historical figure. Alexander the Great was such a person.
Portrayed on the big screen by such notable actors as Richard Burton, Colin Farrell, and Leonardo DiCaprio, Alexander III of Macedon proved to be one of the greatest military geniuses the world has ever known.
Let's learn more about the ambitious young man who conquered much of the known civilized world.
Alexander was born in late July of 356 B.C., in the Macedonian city of Pella. His father was King Philip II of Macedon, a truly gifted strategist and monarch. His mother was Olympias, princess of Epirus. A deeply religious woman, she loved her son very much, even though she was often jealous and possessive.
Rumors spread in the region that Philip II was a descendant of the mythical figure Hercules, and that Olympias had for ancestor Achilles from Homer's Iliad, the Greek hero of the Trojan War. [more]
ARTICLE: River Crossing Imperiled: Battle of the Hydaspes River
Harry J. Maihafer, River Crossing Imperiled: Battle of the Hydaspes River ... another Alexander article from Military History:
In 326 BC, at age 3, Alexander the Great was at the height of his powers, intellectually, physically and militarily. He had marched more than 11,000 miles; had conquered Persia, Syria and Egypt; had pushed through the Caspian Gates to range southward and eastward while subduing every province in his path. As he advanced, he had left in his wake various rulers pledging him allegiance, part of his grand scheme for a world-wide Grecian hegemony.
And now he led his men south through the Khyber Pass and into the great Indian subcontinent. Since the additional conquest of India would mean mastery of the known world, perhaps he could finally practice what he had heard from his tutor Aristotle, that "the goal of war is peace."
Ahead of him, however, lay one more great battle. in it, he would be faced with a major problem of three parts: how to deal with a hostile environment, a superior enemy force and a formidable river obstacle. the ensuing battle of the Hydaspes stands even today as a classic. In the words of one West Point text: "It is the basis of our modern doctrine for the attack of a river line."
Is it possible to survive as modern doctrine after 23 centuries? Small wonder the reader of history wishes he could lift the veil of time and somehow see it as it happened: hear the shouts of the infantry phalanxes, the blare of trumpets, the thunder of hooves.
The campaign began at Taxila, the first great Indian city Alexander had seen, a place famous alike for its commerce and its learning. Here Alexander met the Brahmans, learned men who had long ago come out of the northwest mountains to teach their doctrines. Here he also rested his army and found time to hold athletic contests and cavalry games. [more]
ARTICLE: Alexander the Great's Most Heroic Moment
Peter G. Tsouras, Alexander the Great's Most Historic Moment ... from Military History magazine:
What a battle! Sheets of heavy arrows from long Indian bows arced over the war elephants that surged forward to meet the Macedonian phalanx's bristling hedge of sarissas. The Macedonian paean rang out as the great beasts crashed into the long spears, impaling themselves. Other elephants brushed aside the sharp points and waded into the Macedonian ranks, trampling men or flinging them across the field with their trunks. The Macedonians did not flinch but stabbed and thrust at the monsters, while their swarms of javelins and arrows killed the mahouts and fighting men on the howdahs atop the beasts. Other Macedonians rushed forward to hack at the elephants' legs or underbellies. Finally, as the Macedonian phalanx surged forward with a roar, the beasts backed away and then fled trumpeting through the ranks of their own infantry. For the Indians, it was all coming apart. King Porus, himself wounded, surrendered, and Alexander III, king of Macedon, lord of Greece, Persia, Egypt and all the lesser lands within their conquered empires, added the Battle of the Hydaspes River to his long litany of victories.
It was May of 326 BC, and Alexander did not realize that this was the golden apex of his life. His spirits buoyed at having just won the most adroit and subtle of all his battles in fabled India, he confidently led his army eastward toward the kingdoms of the Ganges. Chandragupta, the future first empire-builder of India, was a child when he first saw Alexander and would later remark that success was assured because the Gangic kingdoms were rotten. Alexander may or may not have had that advance knowledge of the Indian political structure, but his men had fallen prey to an entirely different appreciation of the situation.
Alexander's energy was superhuman by any standard. Victory and adventure fueled that energy, as did his sense of pothos, or yearning to discover new things, new challenges and new worlds to conquer. His men were far more mortal. The Macedonian and Greek core of his army, in particular, had been with him since he had crossed the Hellespont in 334 BC. After eight years of fighting, their numbers were dwindling and they were exhausted, yet on they marched behind the Invincible One.
UPDATE: That Etruscan Road
A while back we mentioned the discovery of an Etruscan road, but all the coverage was in Italian. It's now beginning to seep into English-language sources such as Discovery.com, whence comes this report:
A plain in Tuscany destined to become a dump has turned out to be an archaeologist's dream, revealing the biggest Etruscan road ever found.
Digging in Capannori, near Lucca, archaeologist Michelangelo Zecchini has uncovered startling evidence of an Etruscan "highway" which presumably linked Etruscan Pisa, on the Tyrrhenian coast, to the Adriatic port of Spina.
Passing through Bologna, the ancient "two-sea highway" runs just a few meters away from today's modern highway which links Florence to the Tyrrhenian coast.
"It all started with the discovery of four big stones. I realized they could not lie in an alluvial plain by chance. As we dug a sample area, we found a large road still bearing the ruts left by chariots 2,500 years ago," Zecchini told Discovery News.
Dating to the end of the 6th century B.C., the seven-meter-wide (23-foot) road supported intense chariot traffic towards Spina, an Etruscan-controlled trading emporium where Etruscan and Greeks lived and worked together, and through which were imported great quantities of Greek goods.
"A great amount of information, including tombs, monuments and villages, lie hidden along this road," Zecchini said.
The ancient highway was also mentioned by Greek geographer Skylax, who in the 4th century B.C. wrote that a great road linked Pisa with Spina by a three-day journey.
Zecchini and his team have so far brought to light a 200-meter-long (656-foot) section. The discovery took place in an area that, from the 6th century A.D. until 1850, contained a large and rather deep lake.
The lake gave birth to the legend of Sextum, a rich and powerful city that disappeared under a terrible flood.
Sixteenth-century texts found in Lucca's archives recount fishermen who could see the remains of a submerged city on the bottom of the lake. They even used the city's streets and square as reference points for their fishing.
"Our archeological survey has shown that the remains do not belong to the legendary Sextum, but to innumerable ancient Roman farms. Indeed the area has been dubbed 'the plain of the 100 farms.' But nobody would have ever imagined that this plain could hide such an imposing road," Zecchini said. [more]
There's a photo of "chariot wheel ruts" (why not wagons? well duh, chariots are sexier ...) ... they're kind of difficult to see, but they run from left to right in the photo. [wading through my email, I note that a rogueclassicism/Explorator reader has passed this one along to me as well ... thanks TE!]
NUNTII: Fake Roman Coin
The Croydon Guardian reports:
A New Addington grandmother who believed she had been in possession of a Roman coin for the past 25 years has been told her artefact is a "very clever fake" by a local archaeologist.
Despite Iris Slocombe's coin having near-perfect detail on one side, the other side was factually incorrect and gave it away as a copy.
An expert from Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society said Mrs Slocombe's suspected prehistoric fossilised sea urchin was authenticated as a genuine artefact.
Wow ... and I thought rogueclassicism had slow news days ...
CHATTER: Roman Wedding in Boston
A rogueclassicism reader sent this one in (thanks LC!) ... a couple in Maine with a penchant for ancient history recently celebrated a Roman style wedding. The Boston Globe has given it a bit of coverage, including a useful slide showish thing on the various stages of the wedding, what was Roman and what was not. Not sure that a priestess type would preside over such a celebration in ancient times, or whether they'd be 'bound' to each other, but worth a look nonetheless!
ARTICLE: Basil Gildersleeve in Athens
This one was on the Classics list yesterday ... among Atlantic Monthly's online archives is an article by Basil Gildersleeve (heck, even if you didn't know he wrote Greek grammars and the like, you'd pretty much suspect it with a name like that) recounting the couple of months he spent in Athens back at the 1896 Olympic Games. Here's the intro, which will, no doubt, draw you in:
When it was reported that, after many years of hope deferred, I was at last to visit Greece, the local newspapers had it that the prime object of my trip was to witness the Olympic games at Athens. Now that the Olympic games at Athens have proved a brilliant success, nothing could seem more natural than that a professor of Greek and an editor of Pindar should speed across the water to behold the wonderful revival. But at the time those who believed most in the old Olympic games were not the most enthusiastic about the new. Private letters seemed to indicate that the celebration would be a failure, perhaps deserved to be a failure. The stadium was there, and that was a great point. It had been called into being again for the purpose, but no one who had not seen it could have imagined how it would stand out in its unique beauty among the great theatres of the modern world. There was to be running,—nothing more antique than running. There was to be leaping, throwing the discus, the long-distance race, and wrestling. But the latter part of the programme was very modern. Boxing was to be banished as too brutal, and the bicycle was to take the place of the four-horse chariot. The swimming-match was not Olympic. The fencing-match was too Roman. Your genuine Greek abhorred the sports of the amphitheatre. Lawn-tennis was really too airy a pastime for the Olympic games, and there was mention in one newspaper of croquet. Croquet is an estimable game, but hardly a sport to lure one across the Atlantic, though one would vault over the "salt, unplumb’d, estranging sea" to witness a match game of kottabos, say, between Theramenes and Kritias; nay, your true pedant would almost have himself ferried over the Styx for that. However, "croquet" was a misprint for "cricket."
Then the press began to teem with extemporized erudition about the old Olympic games. Krause's learned work was dusted and disemboweled, and the very emphasis repelled the classical scholar. Besides, the writers nearly all overlooked what seemed to be the religious significance of the games, and as a devout Hellenist, who belonged to the church of which Pindar was pastor, I was shocked at the flippancy with which the whole matter was handled; and being called on for a deliverance on the subject, I freed my mind by a discourse addressed to a small congregation of the faithful. I will not give my sermon in full. An outline will be a sufficient trial to the reader's patience. [more]
There were writers in those days ...