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PostAlexander, Part IV: The Last Royal Daughter (A. J. Cave, USA, 02/14/16 10:49 am)
Isn't love a many-splendored thing? A golden crown that makes a king a man?
"...high on a windy hill, in the morning mist, two lovers met, and the world stood still."
And that's how, supposedly, the world's most eligible bachelor of the 4th century BCE met the least likely bride-to-be. During the siege of the Sogdian Rock (also called the Rock of Sisimithres, after the owner) in the late winter of 328 (or early spring of 327) BCE, she literally fell out of sky into his hands.
Alexander had successfully avoided the marriage trap after the disastrous attempt to subvert his father and beat his dim-witted half-brother Arrhidaios in marrying the eldest daughter of the Carian dynast Pixodaros, when he was 17. He was now 28 years old and no closer to begetting a legitimate heir. No wonder Macedonian high command was visibly getting nervous over the uncertainty of dynastic succession--all that bloodshed could come to nothing.
Macedonian military monarchy revolved around the person of the king, and historically royal houses had fallen apart without a viable crown prince. Philip (II) himself was the 3rd son of Amyntas (III) and had grabbed the throne from his young nephew when he was his regent. And Alexander had come to the throne of his father under the suspicious cloud of patricide and regicide, and his mother Olympias had literally roasted Philip's infant daughter in the arms of his 7th and last wife Cleopatra Eurydice, to eliminate a hated rival. If, as they say, "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned," Olympias was its spokeswoman. She was not the sort of mother-in-law any king would have wished upon his blushing queen.
From the ashes of Bessus (Artaxerxes V), the cunning and daring Sogdian warlord Spitamenes had been keeping Alexander and his army busy in a bloody game of cat and mouse since the autumn of 329 BCE--we now call that guerilla warfare. While Bessus was a royal son of the house (Persian prince) assigned to the satrapy (royal province) of Bactria by the late Great King Darius (III), Spitamenes was local born and bred and knew every inch of the land like the back of his hand. His name in Avestan, Spitamaneh, indicated that he was not just a Mazdaean, he was a Zoroastrian, since his name was the epithet of the Prophet Zoroaster (Zarathushtra in Avestan).
In Spitamenes, Alexander finally had a worthy opponent he had been itching to fight for years. He finally had the sort of royal army he had always wanted too--not only totally dependent on him, but utterly lost without him. Taking the long roundabout way to Bactria, instead of following the blue brick road, had done its trick, and the rank-and-file soldiers had no idea where on (flat) earth they were and how to get back home to their kith and kin, should anything happen to Alexander--their ticket home.
To fight Spitamenes and his highly fluid army and alliances, Alexander and his men were literally going house to house, door to door, cave to cave, and rock to rock. The imperial Persians had a high tolerance for local autonomy (gaps in governance) as long as the region was peaceful and taxes were paid regularly to the royal treasury, but Alexander was cut from a different cloth and to him, every man, woman, and child had to be yoked into submission.
Maybe rock climbing was just more thrilling than sitting on a throne and attending to the humdrum business of running a working empire and letting the dust of conquest settle. The rural uplands of Macedon were too far from the great cities of the Persian Empire to develop a sophisticated royal administration and a core of boring bureaucrats necessary to run it. Those rocks were massive fortresses on top of high mountain ridges that were inaccessible--save to locals and mountain goats. And Alexander had started to make sports of capturing and razing every one of them, even after Spitamenes had been betrayed and beheaded by his Scythian allies. Apama (Abbamush in Persian), the daughter of Spitamenes, was to later become the honored wife of Seleukos (Seleucus), one of Alexander's capable (or surviving) generals who later carved out the Seleucid kingdom from the remains of the Persian Empire.
Sogdian Rock (or Fortress of Sisimithres, or Rock of Chorienes) was another one of those fortresses (probably somewhere in northern Bactrian-Sogdian border, now probably in Uzbekistan) that local warlords and tribal chiefs had sent their women and children to keep them out of the hands of the godless invaders. One of those warlords was Oxyartes, who had stashed his wife and daughters on the Rock along with at least 2 years of provisions--a sign that Bactrian and Sogdian fighters across the Persian royal provinces were hunkering down for a long and nasty war with the intruders.
In response to the Macedonian demand to surrender unconditionally (with the help of local heralds), the rock-dwellers had said something like "go, grow wings," or "when pigs fly." And the customary 300 volunteers had been rounded and sent up the sheer rock and save 30 who had fallen to their deaths, the rest had made it to the icy overhang above the rock.
At the news, Oxyartes and other warlords rushed over and surprisingly negotiated a bloodless surrender in exchange for the fortress and food. And down came the flood of women and children, among them, one of the daughters of Oxyartes, the barely 16 year-old Roxana, who caught the eyes of the 28 year-old Alexander.
In one of the last official press releases Callisthenes wrote before he fell out of favor couple of months later, he must have described a lavish feast complete with local entertainment--a tribal dance by 30 virgins-sort of house-warming present for the new owners of the rock, where Alexander had picked Roxana from the lineup, had cut a loaf of bread with his sword, and the couple were now ceremoniously man and wife. It sounded like young love at first sight followed by marriage on the rocks, but the marriage-alliance probably took a while to negotiate. Her bride-price (what Alexander agreed to) was general quarters for the Bactrian soldiers (including surviving males members of her own family) and assumption of responsibility for about 30,000 local boys--a mix of war orphans and hostages for the good behavior of their fathers. Her dowry was the fragile peace that her side agreed to, at least until Alexander and his army left the area, guaranteed by 10,000 Foot and 3,500 Horse-13,500 Macedonians and Hellenes mercenaries left in Bactra (capital of Bactria).
Olympias, the Molossian fire-breathing, snake-worshiping queen-mother must have been thrilled at the news that the son she had spilled blood for, had married a barbarian belly-dancer on the farthest edges of the flat world.
After Stateira, the late royal wife of Darius whom Alexander had buried somewhere before the battle at Gaugamela, Roxana was named the winner of the Alexandrian beauty pageant. Unlike his classical headshots, Alexander himself was short and stout--about a head shorter than his officers--with a mass of dirty blonde hair, skin that turned red in sun, and mismatched eyes-one light blue, the other dark brown (now called heterochromia iridum or iridis). The dreamy tilt of his head (to left) was thanks to injuries from stones that had damaged the nerves of his neck, and his body was dotted with marks of honor wounds by just about any weapon used on the battlefield. But when it came to Roxana, some ancient historians were smitten by her beauty--romantically captured in a wedding portrait painted by the contemporary Athenian Aetion and exhibited at the Olympic Games and seen centuries later by the 2nd century Roman writer Lucian (contemporary of Arrian) that inspired Italian Renaissance painters Giovanni Antonio Bazzi and Sandro Botticelli--and called the marriage a love match. Others called it a bribe to bind the warring factions together. So, was it passion or politics?
Before getting to dancing with the (little) stars, who was this Oxyartes and what did he have to offer Alexander to negotiate, where all other fortresses had been captured and razed and rockers crucified?
Bactria was not just breaking Alexander; it was driving his historians to drink. It was driving everyone to drink. Macedonians had always been heavy drinkers, but back home, their wine was watered. In Persia, they drank wine like the Persians--pure--and in one of those binge drinking frat parties, Alexander had skewered Cleitus the Black (Kleitos Melas) for drunken ranting and raving. He was apparently not happy with his recent promotion as the new satrap of Bactria and Sogdiana, replacing old Artabazus--who would have faked his own death to get out of there alive.
Sources were right to be baffled and confused by Roxana. She was one piece of Alexander's puzzle that couldn't just be explained, excused, and spinned away. Why her? Why there? Why then?
Alexander didn't probably fancy a Macedonian bride, since he wasn't interested in sleeping with any of the snake-worshipping disciples of his mother or promoting any of his men to be his father-in-law and potential regent for his (not-yet born) son. But he had his pick of political brides from the daughters of who's who in his new empire--actually he could have had them all to strengthen his ties to them. The beautiful (and impossibly tall) royal daughters of Darius were being groomed in Greek back in Susa, and Bagoas, a savvy young eunuch of Darius, was now his. And there was his childhood friend and lover, Hephaistion (Hephaestion), at his side as always. Fighting in eastern provinces had sure been fierce, but there is no reason to believe that Alexander had any reservations about wiping out the entire region, no matter how long it took. He wouldn't have married a Bactrian dancing girl (no matter how pretty) against his own nature just to end bloody warfare, and if he did, he would have left her by the roadside (like Barsine), once she had served her purpose.
There is very little about Roxana in the historical accounts. She not only survived Alexander and produced a royal son and heir at the eleventh hour (Alexander IV), she was always protected by the inner circle of Alexander. There were court rumors that she conspired with Perdiccas (Perdikkas, son of Orontes and possibly a member of Argead royal house), the Macedonian general who had grabbed Alexander's signet ring on his death bed, to eliminate the royal daughter(s) of Darius (III) and possibly Artaxerses (III) who had married Alexander at the opulent Susa weddings. She was even protected by Antipatros and Olympias on Macedonian soil, when the rest were dead and dying.
Pieces of the famous love birds fall into place with a spoon full of sugar and a twist of romance--more fiction than fact--what could have been and probably was, but impossible to prove or disprove.
Hellenic writers, dating back to Herodotus, were obsessive about genealogy. When they didn't know the real bloodlines, they invented them. But there is strangely nothing about the family of Bessus, other than he himself was related to Darius--possibly a cousin. When Persians and Macedonians eliminated a political threat, they routinely eliminated all the male members of their families who could have taken up a blood feud against the crown. Classical sources would have relished in the (factual or fictional) details of elimination of family of Bessus by Alexander, but there is nothing. Bessus surely had a large family like the rest of the Persians, so what happened to them?
Oxyartes, a minor Bactrian warlord (possibly confused at time by Oxyathres, as brother of Darius), had been closely connected with Bessus, Spitamenes, and other resistance fighters, and the last man to expect quarter from Alexander. So, what was the winning card he was holding?
The clues were in the nature of the imperial Achaemenid structure and the character of Alexander himself. Roxana (or Rhoxana), Greek for Rauxshana (pronounced rokh-shaana, probably the root of modern Roshanak, meaning luminous, or small light) was the name of other known Persian royal women. The name of her father, Oxyartes (Uxshiyarta), and her brother, Itanes (or Istanes) (Persian Utana or Wistana), were also Persian (not Bactrian or Sogdian) names. Names by themselves were not an irrefutable mark of identity. Parents did give Persian names to their children, just as Persians named their children by Babylonian (and other ethnic regional) names. Here, based on circumstantial evidence, Bessus and Oxyartes could have been related by blood or by marriage. Bessus could have taken a Bactrian wife who had tied the two clans. With Bessus dead, the care of his family might have fallen to Oxyartes--among them, a young daughter, named Roxana, making her the last royal daughter of Artaxerxes (V), or Bessus.
Without acknowledging Bessus as the (last) heir to Darius, the unique position of Roxana was well understood at the time within the complex and elaborate Achaemenid imperial court which Alexander had continued to maintain. As a "Great King," he almost had to marry the daughter of the last Achaemenid King, just as all the previous Great Kings, starting with Darius the Great, had married and absorbed all the royal women of previous kings into their royal households. Oxyartes was perfect as the nominal father-in-law. He was given the command over a mountainous satrapy and left behind.
In a little over a month after marrying Roxana, with all the royal women of the Great Kings now in his grasp, Alexander ventured to consolidate his fragmented court (Macedonian and Persian) into one and implement sophisticated Persian royal court protocols in his new court--among them the Persian court custom of paying respect to the Great King--called proskynesis in Greek. It was simply bowing slightly, blowing a kiss by the tips of the fingers and holding them in front of the mouth while speaking to the Great King. Like the Hellenes and Spartans before them, the Macedonians didn't like this polite gesture--among them Callisthenes, the court press secretary. What Alexander's men didn't like and his historians called "Orientalizing" or going native, was simply stretching into his new role as (the heir to) the Great King. He would have worn the Persian upright crown, if he could have held his head straight, so instead he wore a diadem--a thin ribbon around his forehead. And Roxana was seen as a part and parcel of that "Persianization" of Alexander. Callisthenes was summarily sacked and hanged (or caged until he died of disease) for displeasing the king on charges of conspiring with the royal pages (elite Macedonian boys) to kill Alexander.
In the medieval Persian poetic traditions, the fictional Dara (as historical Darius) had become the last Achaemenid (thanks to classical sources) and the fictional Roshanak (as historical Rauxshana) had married the fictional Eskandar (as historical Alexander) and long-lost younger brother of Dara, making for a smooth transition of power within the same royal house. Instead of Roshanak, it was not difficult to use the fictional Setareh (as historical Stateira), the real daughter of Darius, if her memory had survived in ancient texts. Setareh (meaning star in modern Persian), might have been the root of the biblical Esther--the Judaean girl who had presumably married Xerxes.
Even Marco Polo, the famous Venetian world traveler and trader of the Middle Ages, crossing Bactria on the Silk Road on his way to China, recorded in his il Milione, The Travels of Marco Polo--published in 1298--that according to the Bactrians, Alexander the Great married the daughter of the Persian King Darius in Bactria.
Kings, ancient or modern, who marry for love are a rarity in any culture.
Alexander's curse or good fortune was that he fell in love with Roxana, the last Achaemenid Royal Daughter--a love that was returned in kind.
[Coming next and last: Alexander and the Great Jade Emperor.]
JE comments: A. J. Cave has sent the perfect present for Valentines Day! Enjoy.
So Alexander was short, lobster-toned, and had a crooked head? A. J.--you're destroying our mental image! My vision of Alexander looks rather like Colin Farrell.
Alexander, Part V: The Great Jade Emperor
(A. J. Cave, USA
02/21/16 12:48 PM)
And how does the son of a god die?
Babylonian star-watchers didn't care much about how the Lord of Asia was going to die. They didn't care much about where he was going to die either, as long as it wasn't in Babylon--even though it had already been foretold by the heavenly bodies. When the barbaric king had entered the holy city through the northerly Gate of Ishtar nearly eight years before, they had given him the old red carpet treatment [typical Babylonian royal entry] by the order of the Persian satrap. They had strewn the path with flower petals and had burned precious Arabian incense in silver altars along the processional way. The old Kidinnu, the master star-watcher the king had taken along with him on his way to grab the rest of the Persian Empire, had told the young king how to appease the great gods, and instead of gold and gratitude, the king had shown him the blade of a sword for not recanting his words.
Now the Persians and pageantry were all gone, and instead of a welcoming party, the road to Babylon was blocked by a small army of gloomy Chaldeans in white robes, trying to prevent Alexander from entering the old city, with a few dead black crows scattered around the plains for special effects.
The watchers warned the king that he shouldn't enter the city through the eastern gate [Bel/Marduk or Zababa gates] facing the setting sun. And that the lands around the western gates [Adad and King's Gate] facing the rising sun were covered with flood waters and muddy marshes and unpassable that time of the year. [It is a mystery why no one talked about a royal entry through the ceremonial Ishtar Gate in the north.] They told him there was going to be an eclipse of the sun on the day 29 of the month and that meant the king would die within a year. They told him Nergal, god of the Netherworld, was sitting on his shoulders.
But there were no other royal cities that suited Alexander. The pregnant Roxana was already on her way from the royal city of Ecbatana with the main royal army under Perdikkas, carrying the casket of Hephaestion. Egypt was half a world away. Susa was hotter than hell with two hostile royal wives who had learned Greek just to curse him in his own tongue for killing their kinsmen. Persepolis was burned, and Ecbatana--well, he was never ever going to go back to Ecbatana where the vengeful shade of Parmenion had stolen the breath of his Hephaestion. Babylon had eight giant gates. So, after trying the western gates first, the king and his entourage had circled back and had made their way in through the eastern gates to the dismay of the Babylonian star-watchers (astronomers). By then, Alexander was not a king; he was [and remains] an industry, complete with thousands of singing and dancing minions who had come from all over Greece to make their fame and fortunes from flattering Alexander. Someone said, "Your father, Zeus-Ammon, will shield you from any evil within the walls of these doom-worshipers." And that was that.
A substitute king to take the evil upon himself was marked by the reluctant temple priests (called erib-bet-ili, meaning: temple enterers, a separate group from tupshar enuma anu enlil, meaning: scribes of the celestial omens, or the star-watchers), but he was killed after wearing the royal diadem and sitting on the throne for only a day, by the order of the king (instead of waiting for the traditional 100 days). The eclipse of the sun came and went as forecasted. Alexander entered, exited and reentered Babylon and wasn't stricken by lighting, so he thought he had cheated death just as he had cheated the Gordian knot. He had survived the fearsome Bactrian, Sogdian and Scythian resistant fighters, Macedonian conspirators, disloyal satraps, deadly war elephants in India (Indus Valley), the arrow with the jagged head [that had pierced his lung in the town of Malava (now Multan in Pakistan)], the fatal trek through the Desert of Death (Gedrosian, now Baluchistan), and the deadlier mass weddings at Susa.
But the Lord of Asia didn't know much about Asia. When Hephaetion had died in Ecbatana a few months earlier, the grief-stricken Alexander had ordered all the royal fires at Mazdaean fire altars to be extinguished as a mark of honor. Smothering those fires was signaling the death of the reigning king, and the Mazdaean priests still smarting from the burning of Persepolis had gleefully obliged. And now Alexander had pulled down a part of the outer walls of Babylon for a massive funeral pyre for Hephaestion and was contemplating building a memorial for him right in the middle of the city next to the half-ruins of the holy temple of e-sag-ila (Esagil). Moreover, he had threatened the Babylonian priesthood that if they didn't release the sacred land for the temple of a divine hero (Hephaestion, according to those Egyptian priests at Siwah), he would put all of them to the sword. The only man who could have told Alexander that he had completely gone mad and still kept his head was Hephaestian himself.
To bend the powerful Babylonian priesthood to his will, Alexander did what he had always done to the prickly Macedonian army with amazing success--he made himself inaccessible and flatly refused to attend the Babylonian spring festival of the New Year (Akitu Festival) and other duties expected of a pious king of the lands (Babylon).
Worldly priests, however, were not ignorant soldiers. Their kind had dealt with all sorts of kings going back to the time before the great flood. When all the begging and pleading fell on deaf royal ears, the priests of Bel [Marduk, chief god of Babylon] hurled powerful curses at the Lord of Asia for intending to desecrate the sacred temple grounds of the great gods. They called him "Bel la ilim", meaning: a man without [god] Bel. The old Kidinnu had warned the temple priests that when the young king returned to Babylon, they had to choose between the wrath of the great gods and the wrath of the conquering king. It was the price of betraying the King of the Lands (Darius) and surrendering Babylon without a battle. He had told them Babylon would fall and fade from being the center of the world, and they had laughed at him. Their dismal, half-hearted attempt at the ancient substitute king ritual was more to save Babylon from the brutal foreign army who killed at the drop of a [Macedonian] hat, than to save the king himself.
The Mazdaean priests had cursed the king after the burning of Persepolis and raping and killing of their flocks, and the Babylonian priests now cursed him for desecrating the sacred Esagila temple grounds.
The fever that had started like a flickering candle, had turned into a towering inferno, as Persepolis was consumed by fire, Alexander was being devoured by fever. It was not the wine that was killing him, it was the waters of Babylon, filled with spits of the great gods and tears of the temple priests, to give him a dying disease. And those priests flatly refused to pray for the sick king in light of his sins against the great gods. When the weary Macedonian high command finally gave ground and asked the priests, if they should bring the feverish king to the temple to be healed, they had told the commanders to leave him where he was. Let that Zeus-Ammon care for his dying son. Unlike the Hellenes and Macedonians, the Babylonians had no regards for the hartibu (Egyptian priests) who crawled into the belly of the shifting sands to seek answers that only heavenly bodies were meant to reveal to mortal men. They called the Oracle of Ammon at Siwah a golden tub that clicked and clacked like a dancing girl.
Whether Alexander himself believed in his own immortality and invincibility, this was not the first time he had been that sick. For ten years, he had endured over twenty battle wounds and sicknesses that would have killed a mere mortal many times over. But just in case, while he could still manage to force a few words out of his lips, he had told Perdikkas (chiliarchos and de facto second-in-command after the death of Hephaestion) to stay close and take his signet ring, should he fall into a death-sleep in a broken body that no longer obeyed his royal commands. Perdikkas was the only man among the seven bodyguards (Somatophylakes) and companions Alexander trusted to protect Roxana and his unborn child (due in a month or so), come hell or high water.
Some say, Alexander deserved a warrior's death--flaming out in a blaze of glory on a battlefield somewhere, or vanishing into a brilliant sunset riding his favorite horse, Boukephalos. Others say, "When the days of a king are numbered and counted, it does not matter to the great gods if he dies in battle or in bed."
So died Alexander, son of Philip. His flanks--both right and left--were finally turned by Hades, the Unseen One, and the center had fallen too. He had a collection of royal titles: King of Macedon, Mery-amun Setep-en-re (Beloved of Amun, Chosen by Re/Ra), and Lord of Asia--or simply, Basileos Alexandros. The one royal title that eluded him was the Persian title of the King of Kings and the Great King--Xshayathiya vazarka, or simply Khashayatiya. He couldn't have pronounced it anyway.
A goodly amount of ink has been spilled on when and how he died. But no one really knows.
One of the scribes of the astronomical diaries (clay fragments now at the British Museum) consolidated all the daily and nightly observations for the 2nd month in the Babylonian calendar (April/May):
year [...unreadable, probably 8] of a-lek-sa-an-dar, month 2, ayyaru
Day 29: The king died. Clouds [were in the sky].
That fateful day was the last calendar entry followed by some commodity prices and celestial observations. Starting with day 21, every night (and probably day) had been cloudy, making reading the skies (will of the great gods) nearly impossible. That day has now been calculated as 11 June 323 BCE. Some Alexander historians insist on 10 June. Others use 13 June. A Babylonian "day," however, was sundown to sundown, so that 11 June was half and half--from sundown on 10 June to sundown on 11 June.
The dying Alexander had been surrounded by his beleaguered bodyguards and a number of his companions during his last days. Sorting out the dynastic succession while keeping the Macedonian army from going crazy again and killing everything in sight were the top-of-the-mind concerns of the high command, so the Babylonian scribes who were responsible for court records must have found out the news of king's death from palace eunuchs (probably via Chare the chamberlain). Their terse entry means that they had heard the news between the early morning hours up to sundown--before the start of a "new" day in Babylon.
Alexander could have died before the midnight (10 June) with the scribes recording the day of death when they heard about it (11 June). Either way, it was about a month short of his 33rd birthday.
When the Macedonian high command had returned to the death chamber days later, Alexander's body was still warm (unusual even in the unbearable heat of Babylon), which means he could have still been barely alive, but in deep coma. So, in reality, the time of his actual death is lost.
As to the cause of death, if there was any foul play (other than the curses by the temple priests), nothing was known by the Babylonian scribes. They would have mentioned something, if poisoning was suspected at the time--meaning the rumors were more than likely fabricated later for political reasons. According to the now vanished Royal Journals (Ephemerides) that was kept by Eumenes, the royal secretary, the fever had started on Day 17 of the Macedonian month Daisios and had ebbed and flowed for eleven days, without mentioning anything suspicious either.
When Alexander was looking at the blood-soaked body of Darius, he didn't know how their fates mirrored each other's. They had both come to power in the same year (336 BCE) under a cloud--Alexander under the cloud of suspicion for patricide and regicide, Darius from a secondary line of Achaemenids, when the rest had died or killed each other in dynastic disputes. The pomp of Susa mass weddings and the opulent lineup of Persian brides and Macedonian grooms (spring 324 BCE) had obscured the death decree of the royal son and heir of Darius (around 13 or 14 years old by then), who had been a hostage at Susa since the battle at Issus. The Peace of Dynasts (in 311 BCE) signed by a handful of Alexander's men, some present at his deathbed (Lysimacus, Ptolemy and Seleucus), was the death decree of his own royal son and heir (around 12 or 13 at the time of death). The body of Darius had disappeared after his wretched death, supposedly on the way to Persepolis. The body of Alexander, contrary to historical accounts, could not have been properly mummified--the only embalmers who could have mummified the royal body (removing the internal organs, cracking the skull and sucking out the brain through the nose, and drying out the body on a bed of natron salt for 40 to 70 days and then wrapping it a million times with linen) were in Egypt and by the time they could have reached Babylon, the body would have been too decomposed for mummification.
Instead, it was probably originally placed in a golden coffin, covered with a customary layer of wax and then preserved in honey. It was hijacked two years later on the way to be buried in the ancestral Argead burial grounds in Aigae (Aegae, now Vergina) by Ptolemy under the pretense that Alexander wanted to be buried in the Oasis of Siwah, and was first deposited in Memphis, and was eventually put on display in a glass casket for the private viewing of the Hellene-Macedonian and Roman tourists in the royal mausoleum (called Sema or Soma) in Alexandria. It eventually disappeared in the 2nd or 3rd century CE--but later sightings were reported. Most of the Hellenistic Alexandria in now under water, including the royal mausoleum. But that hasn't stopped the enterprising tomb-hunters to find the famed tomb at least once a year in various spots around the world.
Regardless of when and how, death was not the end of Alexandrian (hi)story. But it was the end of the road for many with a casual interest in history of that period. Compared to the glorious accounts of the perfect domino fall of the Persian Empire at the hands of a twenty-something western wonder magician and tactician, the messy and murderous post-Alexandrian period that was later enthusiastically called "Hellenistic" by the 19th century German historian Johann Gustav Droysen (as the precursor to the wave of Christianity that swept Europe later) was exactly that: messy and murderous--even more so than the popular Game of Thrones--save the dragons, unless the founding fathers of Hellenistic kingdoms count.
When the curtain was coming down on the illustrious career of Alexander, it was going up on the ambitious careers of the men around him. When they finally pulled out of Alexander's shadow, they were extraordinary in their ordinariness. Most of them died within a few years in dynastic squabbles, siding with various members of the Argead royal family and paying the price with their lives. No combination of royals and generals was powerful enough to rise above the rest.
What was eventually forgotten under the dust of history in the famous phrase "to the glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome," in Edgar Allan Poe's poem "To Helen" (1845), was the peace that was [Achaemenid] Persia--sort of an (imperfect) Pax Persica or Pax Persiana.
The empire that the Achaemenid Great Kings had forged and held for 220 years, and Alexander had conquered in 10 years, was broken and destroyed in never-ending wars between the Diadochi (Diadokhoi, Successors of Alexander) and the Hellenistic kingdoms that came to a fragile balance of power in roughly 50 years--the longest and toughest funeral games ever. Their claim to legitimate rule (even in Macedon) was solely based on military muscle, and their baked-in hostilities came to set the pattern of fighting in western Asia. Imperial Romans were just too happy to pull those petty warring Hellenistic kingdoms under their servitude and call it peace.
There is a lot that can be said about Alexander and the impact of the Macedonian conquest.
It was a decade that changed the world. It is now fashionable to evaluate Alexander with the politically correct scales of the 21st century. But whether what Alexander did was for better or for worse, can't be tweeted in 140 characters or less. First, it is very complicated, and second, it is not the task of writers (like me) to pass moral judgment on the subjects of their interest. That is best left to moralists. But the question can be unpacked on the historical side based on surviving evidence.
There is finally some interest among Classicists and Alexandrian scholars to tackle the mostly ignored post-Alexandrian power struggles and Hellenistic kingdoms and season their classical cheerleading with a pinch of archival and archaeological data. Arrian himself wrote a 10-volume account of the first four years after Alexander's death (now vanished). By his time, all those Macedonian kingdoms that had inherited Alexander's gold and had divided his glory among themselves were long parts of the Roman Empire, and in case of Egypt, mostly the private property of the Roman emperors.
Lagids (or Ptolemies) and Seleucids made Greek the primary language of their administrations, which eventually made Greek the lingua franca (common language) of their kingdoms. Among the two, Ptolemies are the best known and equally the most bizarre. They successfully divided Egypt between a handful of Hellenistic cities (polis) as the playgrounds of the Mediterranean's ruling elite, and the rest for the lowly second-class natives. The silver lining was the love of arts and letters that flourished under their royal patronage. The famous Library of Alexandria collected remarkable scholars and precious manuscripts; the Hebrew Bible was translated to Greek (Septuagint); and the "Decree of Priests of Memphis," dated to 196 BCE, became the famous key [as in the Rosetta Stone] to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs in 1822 by the brilliant Frenchman Jean-Francois Champollion--father of modern Egyptology. Next to Alexandria, the best known Egyptian temples at Dendera, Edfu and Philae, were building projects of Ptolemies, as well as Pharos (colossal lighthouse) now vanished--counted as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. But Ptolemies are now mostly famous for the last of them--Cleopatra VII , immortalized by Elizabeth Taylor, the most beautiful actress of the 20th century, in the epic movie Cleopatra (20th Century Fox, 1963). One of her Horus names was weret-tut-en-it-es, meaning: the great one, sacred image of her father, and that she was-a chip off the old Ptolemy block. Product of generations of pharaonic brother-sister marriages, she was probably olive-skinned, smallish with bulging eyes, a hooked nose, a strong chin, and a thick neck (as in her minted coin). She was the very first Ptolemy to learn Egyptian (and a few other languages) and was educated, charming, witty and wise. She was also mostly unknown in Egyptian records, and her fame is thanks to the classical biographer Plutarch.
There is always a cost to conquest, and that cost is measured in human life. Everyone pays to play. There are no freebies. Before the narrative history, there is plenty of evidence in ancient archives (in various ancient languages, some now successfully deciphered) and biblical accounts that there was hardly ever a bloodless conquest anywhere in Asia--no matter how we break down the pieces. Before the invention of writing, we can find archaeological footprints.
In the ground-breaking TV documentary for BBC, In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great: A Journey from Greece to Asia (1997) and its companion book, the British journalist Michael Wood, with a camera in one hand and stacks of classical books in the other, traced the most likely path Alexander had taken trekking through Asia and visited the places that were on his path--save some of the places like Babylon that couldn't be visited safely at the time of the brutal Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. Actually walking in the footsteps of Alexander perfectly showed that he didn't really go anywhere the Persians hadn't gone before. If he had just gone a little further than Alexandria-the-farthermost (eschate), he might have just met the Chinese and the Great Jade Emperor.
Even with better research and bigger budget, something like that documentary can't be attempted now, since some of the same areas in Iraq and Syria are now under the feet of ISIS--the new conquering idiots on the block. So, instead, we can just take a cursory mental survey of what happened to the world Alexander left behind.
In reality "Alexandrian Empire" became his grave-goods. Leaving his conquest to "the strongest" or "the best" was pure Diadochi propaganda, but it was also true. That "best" or "strongest" was Alexander himself [proven by Diadochi], who never considered any man equal to himself or his deeds--although he reportedly admired Cyrus the Great. When Alexander died, he literally took his prized trophy with him.
And whatever happened to all that looted gold and silver? Those, Alexander left to his inner circle, and they gleefully spent almost every bitcoin on armies and wars to kill each other. It generously financed the warring Houses of Lagids, Seleucids, and Antigonids, founded by Ptolemy, Seleucus and Antigonos "one-eyed."
Primary members of Alexander's royal house: mother, sister and half-sisters, half-brother, wives and children (legitimate and illegitimate) were all killed in a little over a decade.
Classical Hellenes turned into legends. Their descendants were deprived of that cherished democracy and freedom of theirs by a string of admiring Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans until the Treaty of Constantinople in 1832. Their pagan language became the language of Septuagint, philosophy, and the Greek Orthodox Church (Eastern Orthodox Christianity).
So, what happened to the Persians?
If it wasn't for the Hellenes and their obsession with the Persians, this brief narrative sketch might not have been possible at all. So, let the Greeks have the last words here.
The 20th century Greek poet Konstantine Kavaphes (or Constantine Cavafy), born in Alexandria, Egypt, wrote a great poem "Waiting for the Barbarians" (1904, various translations). He was as proud of being Greek, as I am proud of being Persian.
Barbarian (barbaroi) was a Greek word that originally meant those who didn't speak Greek. It eventually came to specifically mean the Persians. So, I have substituted "Persians" for "barbarians" in my abridged adaptation of his poem:
Waiting for the Persians
Greeks: What are we waiting for?
Chorus: The Persians are coming.
Greeks: Why is the king sitting by the gate, wearing his crown?
Chorus: Because the Persians are coming.
Greeks: Why is everyone wearing their fineries?
Chorus: Because the Persians are coming.
Greeks: Why is everyone so worried?
Chorus: Because the Persians haven't come.
Greeks: Why not?
Chorus: Because there are no Persians left.
Greeks: Who are we going to blame for everything now?
Chorus: Who else? The Persians, of course...
And this is a good place to rest.
JE comments: "Waiting for the Barbarians"--a prophecy for every age?
A. J. Cave's five-part Alexander saga will become a WAIS classic. In the not-too-distant future, I'll assemble the installments and post the whole text on the WAIS "publications" page.