CITIES OF ALEXANDER’S WORLD: EPHESUS

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The city of Ephesus, an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia, was built in the 10th century BC by Attic and Ionian Greek colonists. During the Classical Greek period it was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League. The city was most famous for the Temple of Artemis, completed around 550 BC.

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Temple of Artemis

Antipater of Sidon, who compiled a list of the Seven Wonders of the World, described the Temple: “I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus: but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ”Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.”  (from Wikipedia)

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In July, 356 BC the Temple of Artemis was set ablaze by an arsonist and burned to the ground. Co-incidentally, this occurred on exactly the same night that Alexander the Great was born and was considered by the Macedonian royalty to be an omen. Plutarch remarked in his histories that Artemis was too preoccupied with Alexander’s birth to save her burning temple.

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At that time, the whole of Ionia was under Persian rule. When Philip II was assassinated in 336 BC  his son, Alexander, took over the throne. Two years later he followed his father’s plan to march on Asia Minor and take back the Greek lands from the Persians. He appointed his father’s experienced general, Antipater, as regent in his absence and in the spring of 334 BC he crossed the Hellespont with an army of 13,000 infantry and 5,100 cavalry.

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He defeated the Persian forces at the Battle of Granicus in 334 BC and routed the Persians into a retreat. The Persians suffered the loss of about 1,000 cavalry and 3,000 infantry. The Greek mercenaries who fought for Persia under the command of Memnon of Rhodes , were abandoned and attempted to broker a peace with Alexander but were slaughtered or enslaved. Memnon escaped but later died on an island in the Aegean. Alexander liberated the Greek cities of Asia Minor, executing the pro-Persian tyrant and his family and rode triumphantly into Ephesus.

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The Granicus River

Ephesus was one of the wealthiest cities in the Mediterranean world, an important trading center and a center of learning, a city where women enjoyed rights and privileges equal to men. Alexander remembered that the Temple of Artemis had burned on the night of his birth and offered to pay for it to be restored. The Ephesians tactfully declined. The temple wasn’t rebuilt, at their own expense, until after Alexander’s death in 323 BC.

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Ruins of the Temple of Artemis

After Alexander’s death one of his generals, Lysimachus, took over as satrap of the city and began new development of the city, changing its name to Arsineia after his wife Arsinoe. He constructed a new harbour, built defensive walls and moved the city farther south but the Ephesians refused to leave their homes until Lysimachus had the city’s sewage system blocked during a storm rending their houses uninhabitable. It was refounded in 281 BC under the old name of Ephesus and once again became known as one of the most important commercial seaports in the Mediterranean.

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Persian Woman

In Book One of SHADOW OF THE LION,  GENERAL PERDIKKAS and the army, escorting the joint-kings back to Macedon, arrive in Ephesus. Here we meet BARSINE, a Persian woman who had known Alexander from childhood when her father was an ambassador to Macedonia. After Alexander defeated Shah Darius and captured his harem, Barsine was among the royal women because she was the widow of Memnon of Rhodes. Later she became Alexander’s mistress. Accompanying Barsine in Ephesus is her young son, HERAKLES, the illegitimate son of Alexander. Although they are minor characters in the novel, they are important and appear in both Book 1 “Blood on the Moon”, and Book 2 “The Fields of Hades”.

 

 

ALEXANDER IN EGYPT

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LUXOR

As I step into the narrow room, dimly lit by a shaft of light, my Egyptologist guide, Hanan Eldeeb, beckons me forward.

“Here, on this wall in hieroglyphics, is the story of Alexander the Great’s visit to Luxor.” She points out the ancient drawings on the wall. “Here he is dressed as a pharaoh making sacrifices to the gods Ammon Re and Ammon Min. And here is his cartouche.”

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Cartouche showing Alexander’s name

I can hardly believe what I am looking at. After all my years of research and writing, I am finally in Egypt visiting some of the sites where Alexander once had been.

From the moment of his birth in 356 BC Alexander was connected in a mystical way to Egypt.   At that time, Egypt was occupied by the Persians who had dealt a deadly blow to the Egyptian people in their religious life by inaugurating Persian rules and plundering their temples. The last pharaoh, Nectenabo II, had been expelled and had made his way to Macedonia where he appealed to King Philip to send aid to his besieged country.

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Greek Graffiti

At the time, Philip was newlywed to his fifth wife, a beautiful young Epirote princess, Olympias. She was a devoted Bacchant, a worshipper of Dionysos who kept a pet snake and indulged in cult practices. It was said that when Nectenabo went to Pella, he convinced Olympias that she would be visited by the ‘golden snake of Ammon’ and give birth to a remarkable son. Rumours abounded later that in fact he had persuaded Olympias to make love to him, impressing her with his skill of astrology, and disguising himself in the robes of Ammon so as to seem like Alexander’s divine father. The story goes that the night Alexander was born, the great temple of the goddess Artemis at Ephesus burned down. This was taken as an omen denoting the child’s divinity.  Olympias brought Alexander up believing he was god-blessed and divine and this caused a rift between the boy and his father. Philip even stated once that Alexander was not his son.  All his life Alexander clung to this mystic belief that he was the son of Zeus Ammon and dismissed Philip as merely his ‘earthly’ father.

Philip was assassinated in 336 BC just before he was to set off on a campaign to oust the Persians from Asia Minor. The young king, Alexander, took up his father’s quest a year later, at the age of 20.  After crossing the Hellespont and routing the Persians from the Greek colonies in Asia Minor, he marched south and besieged the city of Tyre.  Because the Persians occupied Egypt, he then marched south and met with resistance at the Philistine city of Gaza, the last great coastal town before the Egyptian frontier. Using heavy siege engines brought from Tyre, they took the city after a two month battle. Alexander was wounded in the shoulder during this time. The people of Gaza were killed or enslaved and the city was made into a Macedonian fortress.

From Gaza Alexander marched along the coast to the frontier of Egypt where his fleet waited. It was necessary to occupy Egypt before launching into his campaign to penetrate the interior of Asia because of hostile elements who were established there. Egypt fell without fighting. The Persian satrap, Mazaces surrendered at the citadel of Memphis and the Egyptian people welcomed Alexander with joy. Since their last pharaoh, Nectanabo, had been expelled, they had lived under the yoke of the Persians and they looked to Alexander as a redeemer from this oppression. Alexander had complete tolerance for their gods and for the Egyptian people. Greeks had always identified foreign divinities with their own gods. In Egypt in particular, the principal gods of the Greeks were equal: Ammon with Zeus, Osiris with Dionysus, Isis with Demeter, Horus with Apollo, so it was natural for Alexander to show his reverence to the Egyptian gods.  His special obligation was to recognize the Egyptian priesthood and he offered royal sacrifices to their gods. At Memphis he was placed on the throne in the temple of Ptah and invested as pharaoh.

As the Egyptologist explained to me, these hieroglyphics carved on the wall at Luxor testify to the royal titles given to him: “Horus, the strong prince” and “the protector of Egypt.”  As King of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt Alexander was called “beloved of Ammon” and finally “son of Ra”.  To the Egyptians, Alexander became their special king.  As part of his religious obligations, Alexander ordered the rebuilding of both the sanctuary in the Temple of Thothmes III at Karnak and the Temple of Amenhotep III at Luxor. From that time on, Alexander chose to adorn his helmet with the horns of Ammon.

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Memphis

Since the 7th century, Greeks had been enlisted as mercenaries in the service of the Egyptian rulers and some had settled in the country. There was a Greek polis, Naucrates, in the Nile Delta, a Greco-Egyptian trade centre. Even in Memphis there was a Greek community, Politeuma. While the Naucratites were legally barred from marrying native wives in order to keep their race pure, in Memphis mixed marriages existed. When Alexander entered their city, it marked a new era of Greek influence in Egypt.

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There’s not much left of Memphis today but it was interesting to wander the avenue and imagine how it might have been back in the days of Egypt’s ancient glory when Alexander came to visit.

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Statue of Alexander at Alexandria

Alexander never intended to change the Egyptian cultures, but introduced the culture of the Greeks in order to make a future home in Egypt.  His greatest contribution was the founding of Alexandria. At the beginning of 331 BC Alexander started out from Memphis down the Nile and stopped on the strip of ground between Lake Mareotis and the island of Pharos where he laid out a city that to this day bears his name. Alexander meant it to be a trade centre and no better place could be found on the whole of the Mediterranean coast.

What a thrill it was for me to be allowed the privilege of a visit to this magnificent city! I spent two days there, shown around the sites by a knowledgeable young tourist guide, Sarah.  Alexander is very much remembered in his city. As we drove in, I spotted a beautiful statue of him riding his famous horse, Bucephalus. And throughout the city there are posters and monuments in Alexander’s honour. It is easy to see, with its long vista of coastline, how Alexander was impressed with the site and made it an important port city.

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My first visit was to the Roman theatre ruins.  From there Sarah took me to see the site of where the famous lighthouse used to stand. Since the 1400 it has been an Arab fortress, but some of the original lighthouse bricks were said to have been used in its construction.

Lighthouse of Alexandria

Lighthouse of Alexandria

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Arab fortress built on site of ancient lighthouse

On my second day there we visited the Museum and viewed many of the artifacts taken from the sea, relics of the original city and palaces.  Then we visited the magnificent new library of Alexandria.  In the courtyard there was a bust of Alexander, and just outside the entrance gate a mega statue of Ptolemy rescued from the ocean floor. It was Ptolemy, Alexander’s illegitimate half-brother and companion, who supervised the building of this great city after Alexander’s death in Babylon in 323 BC. He became the first Ptolemaic pharaoh of Egypt and his lineage carried on until the reign of Cleopatra.

Ancient Library of Alexandria

Ancient Library of Alexandria

Bust of Alexander, Library of Alexandria

Bust of Alexander, Library of Alexandria

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While still on the coast Alexander had decided to consult the oracle in the oasis of Ammon at Siwa. This mysterious excursion was one of the most remarkable in his life. He made the pilgrimage because the oracle of Ammon was regarded as infallible in the Greek world. According to his court scribe Callisthenes, Alexander went to Ammon because he had an ambition to rival Perseus and Herakles who had also consulted the god. But it is also suggested he went there to consult the oracle about his birthright.

He marched along the coast then went south west on an old caravan road. A sand storm obliterated the road and for some time the party was lost in the desert until two ravens began to caw and fly overhead. Alexander was sure the god had sent them to lead the way. Ptolemy also reported that snakes had slithered ahead of them as guides. Finally they reached the oasis, lush with groves of date palms, olives and abundant springs and lakes of water.

Callisthenes described the visit which included ritual offerings and ceremonies. As pharaoh, Alexander was allowed to enter the temple where he was greeted as ‘son of Ammon”.

When asked by his friends what the oracle told him, he replied only that he would speak of it to his mother when he returned home. He kept the oracle to himself and treated it as a secret, but he wrote Olympias afterwards and told her that he had received secret details which he would impart to her when he returned to Macedon. This never happened. He took the secret with him to his grave.

 

The Noble Persians

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The Persian Empire from about 500 BC

Persia was one of the highest civilized regions from the earliest antiquity. The world of ancient Persia extended far beyond the current border of Iran. The region over which Persian influence was spread was contained within the four rivers of ancient mythology: The Tigris and the Euphrates in the west, and the Oxus and the Indus in the east. The south is bordered by the Persian Gulf and the north by a line from the Caspian Sea as far as the Aral Sea. It encompassed the mountains of Azerbaijan, the Zagros Mountains and the Elburgy range and in the southeast adjoins the folds of Baluchistan and the awesome heights of the Hindu Kush.

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Cyrus II

During the reign of Cyrus II  (Kurash) the Persians came into world prominence when, in 550 BC, they rebelled against the Median King Astyages. From 546 Cyrus II attacked the powerful kingdom of Lydia, capturing Sardis before going on to subdue the rich Greek cities of Ionia. This made Cyrus master of all Asia Minor. Then he turned his attention on the eastern frontier, crossing the Oxus and the Jaxartes rivers, building fortresses to keep out the nomads of Central Asia.

In 539 BC he attacked the capital city of Mesopotamia and was welcomed as a liberator by the Jewish exiles. The respect he showed for the religions of others earned him respect and homage.  He was called the “Father of all Persians”. The Greeks thought of him as a worthy leader. The Jews regarded him as “God’s anointed”. Cyrus was a genius, diplomat, leader of men, strategist. He conquered Babylonia and convinced the Babylonians that Marduk, their supreme deity, had led him to Babylon.

In the space of 20 years he held sway over all the kingdoms of the Near and Middle East, assembling the greatest empire the world had ever seen. He had his sights set on Egypt when he was killed in battle in 530 BC. He was buried at Pasargadae and when Alexander the Great came to Persia, he paid homage at Cyrus’s grave.

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After Cyrus II’s death the Achaemenian Empire was established.  When Darius I (Daryavush, The Great King) was defeated by Greece in the first Persian War at the Battle of Marathon, 490 BC, it was only a minor upset for the master of this gigantic empire, but this incited the hostility of the Greek city states and the Ionians who mounted a revolt against Persia.

In 481 Xerxes, son of Darius, set out to expunge the Persian defeat at Marathon. He built a pontoon bridge in order to get his troops across the Hellespont, seized Macedonia and marched toward Attika. The Greeks and Spartans put up a heroic resistance at Thermopylae but were defeated. Athens was taken and pillaged, the Parthenon burned. The Persian victory was short lived however when their fleet was defeated at Salamis and their army routed.

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These defeats marked the end of the Persian expansion and rebellions grew more frequent. Under Artaxexes, the satrap of Bactria seceded, then Syria, and Egypt. By 370 the satraps revolted. Finally the great grandson of Darius II mounted the throne under the name Darius Codomannus. Years later, defeated by Alexander’s army and betrayed by his troops, Darius would be murdered by his own men.

Meanwhile, Philip II of Macedon succeeded uniting the various city states after the battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC. He founded the League of Corinth and proposed they should go to war against Persin. However, in 33t BC he was assassinated and his son, Alexander was declared king.

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Philip had already sent troops to Asia Minor, so Alexander, at the age of 20, took over his father’s mission of revenge and set out to conquer the Persian Empire. He followed a policy of integration between the Greeks and Persians encouraging marriages and applying the same magnanimity and generosity which had formerly brought success to Cyrus II.  In 13 years of fighting, the Greek forces subjugated the largest empire that had ever been known to the world of antiquity.

The Persians were mystics and concerned with the meaning and objectives of life. Rooted in tolerance, flexibility, devotion to truth and other lofty principles on which their empire was based. Their system of education was comparable with Greece. Boys underwent a rigorous course of training which was chivalrous with great stress on valour, physical accomplishment. Based on the tenets of Zoroasterism, it was geared to a concept of pride, an essential element of Persian character. The Persians regarded themselves as “by far the best of men” (according to Herodotes) emphasising virtue, and love of truth.

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The traditional religion was Zoroasterism. He was a native of Media. His message: the existence of two principles: The Truth (good, light) and the Lie (evil, darkness). The first Persian texts going back to the 7th century BC refer to the god Ahuramazda, the Wise Lord, creator of all things. This ancient divinity, preached by Zoraster, was a monotheistic religion worshipped in a way that was completely spiritual. It was prohibited to raise statues to Ahura Mazda was depicted as a bearded man crowned ith a tiara encircled in a winged solar disc. Religious prayers were offered in front of a lit fire altar in the open air, symbolizing the uino with the solar godhead, represented wy a winged disc. When he set up his capital at Pasargadaea, Cyrus II had creaeted a high terrace so fire ceremonies could be held on top of it.  The Avesta, the sacred book of Zoroaster was said to have been destroyed by Alexander when his army occupied Persepolis and burned the temple there.

The Magi (priests) were a hereditary caste who was not only holy men but star seers. Without a Magus, the Persians could not sacrifice.

In SHADOW OF THE LION, two of the fictional characters who play important roles in the story are the old Chaldean Magus and the Persian court advisor, Nabarzanes, who become like a surrogate father to the young son of Alexander the Great. While researching for the novel I did extensive research on the ancient Persians and found it one of the most fascinating aspects of writing this story. I wanted the Persians to have a strong voice in the story and leave a lasting impression on the reader. These two fiction characters soon became ‘real’ to me and I based their characters on two real people I know: one was my father, a spiritual man and preacher; the other an artist from Baghdad who became my friend.

There are several historical Persians included in the cast of SHADOW.  The tragic princesses, Stateira and Drypetis, daughters of Darius III; Barsine, widow of Memnon of Rhodes, daughter of a Persian satrap who becomes Alexander’s mistress and gives birth to his eldest (illegitimate ) son, Herakles; and Roxana, who was from Soghdiana, part of the Persian Empire, and Alexander’s wife, mother of his only legal heir who she calls by his Persian name, Iskander.

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