Thursday, October 6, 2011

Alexander the Great and Roxana

Alexander the Great and Roxana

At the age of 22 Alexander the Great started his great eastern campaign "from Hellespont to Hind". It is said he wanted to reach the 'eastern edge of the earth' to create the greatest kingdom in the world.

It took him three years to conquer the lands of Sogdiana and Bactria which are both situated on the territory of present-day Uzbekistan. These three years were, probably, the hardest in Alexander's eastern campaign for here he met stubborn resistance.

By the spring of 327 B. C. the rebellions erupted, centered in the southern hard-to-reach mountainous regions, led by Sogdian nobility who from their unassailable mountain fortresses strongly resisted the invasion.

The first fortress that stood in the way of the Greek-Macedonian army was 'Sogdian Rock' or as it is also known the 'Rock of Oxus'. Alexander with his troops reached the fortress when the mountains were still covered with heavy snow. They faced a steep stone rock; and high above them thousands of helmets of Sogdian warriors shone in the sun. Suddenly the Sogdians rained down a shower of arrows and darts inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy.

The rock was inapproachable and on the demand by Alexander to surrender the Sogdians responded with laughter saying that if the warriors of the king of Hellenes and Macedonians had wings they could try to reach them, otherwise it was better for them to leave because they could never get to the fortress.

Alexander took three hundred of his best warriors skilled in mountaineering and ordered them to climb the rock, promising each great rewards. Equipped with iron spikes and linen ropes his  men waited till the fall of darkness and then started their climb. It was a difficult ascent: some sank into the deep snow, others fell down from the steep rocks. Some thirty warriors died, but the rest reached the top of the rock by dawn. They found themselves above the rebellious fortress and Alexander ordered his heralds to declare that 'winged warriors' were amongst the Macedonians. The defenders of the fortress were stunned by this news and surrendered.

Among the captives there was also a Bactrian noble man, Oxiart and his family. When Alexander, at the head of his army, went up the narrow path and entered Oxiart's yard, he saw a door of the house open and a girl of medium height appear on the threshold. It was Roxana his daughter; her luxuriant hair was glittering with gold, her beautiful eyes were sparkling; it seemed to him that she was the goddess of beauty "Aphrodite" herself standing right in front of the young King.

It is said their looks met and Alexander at first sight fell in love with the beautiful Roxana. And though she was a captive, he decided to marry her, the action which his officer Arrianes praised and another Curcius reproached him for. One can imagine what a beautiful couple they were: strong warrior in his prime, King and commander, and a golden-haired girl in the full bloom of her youth.

In the famous picture by Greek artist Rotari 'Wedding of Alexander and Roxana', which was made to decorate the interior of the palace of Catherine II in Orienbaum, the master, guided by the works of Plutarch, depicted an episode of Alexander and Roxana's encounter. The Princess, surrounded by crying maidservants, is standing decently before the astonished commander. However the artist depicted a Greek girl instead of the daughter of Bactrian noble man. In reality Roxana was 'a true Oriental rose', and today we can only imagine her incomparable beauty.

The ancient wedding ceremony was simple: a loaf of bread was split with a sword and given to the bride and bridegroom to taste (still the ceremony of 'splitting flat bread' is popular as a sign of engagement in Uzbekistan). But the wedding party was arranged with great grandeur especially since on that very day along with Alexander some ten thousand of his warriors also got married to local girls. Until then mounted troops hired by Alexander from amongst the Parthians, Sogdians, Bactrians and other Central Asian nations acted as independent military units. Such mass weddings between the local and Hellenic people enabled these units to join the Graeco-Macedonian army on equal terms. Moreover, eminent Sogdian citizens, among them Roxana's brother and the sons of other satraps, formed the privileged units - Agema.

By introducing such a policy Alexander reckoned for certain results. He realized that by the sword one could create a huge empire but the 'sword' was not enough to keep it from disintegration. He wanted as far as possible to mix all the tribes and nations subjected to him in order to create a common eastern nation.

Thus the love of Alexander and Roxana contributed to the alliance between Greece and the Orient, which has had a beneficial and sustained impact on the development of science, culture and art of Central Asia and the world civilization as a whole.

As to Roxana's father Alexander rendered homage to him. Oxiart was a 'noble satrap' and controlled a large territory that, according to Hellenic chronicles stretched from the foothills and south-eastern slopes of the Gissar Range to the north-east from the Iron Gates (Darband) and up to the upper reaches of the Surkhandarya river.

Oxiart got back his family estate and in addition he gained power over the Parapamisads. Oxiart's position became even stronger after Alexander's death, when Oxiart, the first among the Central Asian rulers, began to mint his own gold coins - the fact that testifies to the sovereignty of his reign. He eventually ruled over a huge territory that comprised a part of Northern and Southern Bactria as far as the Hindukush.

Recently there has been published a book by Edward Rtveladze, member of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences titled Alexander the Great in Bactria and Sogdiana. Historic and geographic sketches.

For many years the author studied the ancient paths, along which the army of Alexander the Great had pushed its way through steppes and mountain ravines towards Central Asian Transoxiana. Rtveladze came to the conclusion that 'Sogdian Rock', an asylum for Oxiart's family, was located on the boundary between Bactria and Sogdiana near the famous Iron Gates. The researcher believes that the most appropriate place for it could be Buzgala-Khana gorge and Shurob-Sai valley that borders the gorge on the south and is limited in its southern and northern parts by Sar-i Mask and Susiztag cuestas*1.

In structural geology and geomorphology, a cuesta (from Spanish: "slope") is a ridge formed by gently tilted sedimentary rock strata in a homoclinal structure.

The mountain-dwellers of Boysun are most likely the descendants of the Greeks and Macedonians, whose colonies were spread along the Oxus (Amu Darya) and its tributaries. It is known that sixty years after the death of Alexander the Great on the banks of the Oxus there was formed a Graeco-Bactrian kingdom, which existed for one hundred and twenty years.

Some researchers believe that Greek name of the river Oxus originates from Ok-su, meaning 'white, sacred water'. The name Oxiart (Ox-Iart) however is probably a derivative from the word 'Ox' and can mean 'owner of the river Ox'. Professor K. Trever in his book 'Alexander the Great in Sogd' claims the name Oxiart to be the Greek variant of local name Vakhshunvarta.

According to another historian Robin Lane Fox, Roxana, whom warriors of Alexander the Great called the most beautiful woman in Central Asia, rightfully deserved this fame.

Some researchers, associating this name with the modern Tajik language, are of opinion that Roxana is the Greek interpretation of the local name of Roushanak, which means 'shining', 'bright'. In farsi her name means little star.

Others believe that her name derives from 'Ox' (Oxus is the Greek interpretation of the Bactrian word 'Vakhsh' in Bactrian Oaxapo, the name of the Bactrian beauty most likely sounded like 'Vakhsh-ona'. Probably the name meant 'the beauty of the Oxus', or 'owner of the Oxus'.

Roxana was born in an area located to the south of Samakand either in Kashkadarya or Surkhandarya provinces of present-day Uzbekistan.

Alexander the Great lived with Roxana for the last four years of his life. They led by no means quiet and dull life. His uncontrollable aspiration for subjugating the whole world was driving to despair even his commanders. The young King wanted to take the lead in everything - in campaigns, in battles, and in feasts. At that time military leaders preferred to be in the front line of the battlefield rather than to watch the course of action from a the rear.

And at last there came the year of 323 B. C., the last year in the life of Alexander the Great. Behind was left the conquest of Central Asia, including Bactria and Sogdiana, where he had stayed for two years suppressing insurrections. He had just began his great campaign to take over Hindustan, which started successfully and then ended unexpectedly. For the first time in his ten-year 'advance to the Orient' when the conqueror reached the Indus, his army showed disobedience and refused to go further into the unknown lands. After a lapse of two days, Alexander had to order his troops to leave Hindustan.

Alexander the Great, the spoiled child of fortune, was destined to die young, before he reached the age of 33. The fatal illness started rather trivially: the King had ordered his commanders to arrange celebrations to mark their impending western campaign. For several days Alexander was feasting with his friends. All researches connect the death of the great commander with these feasts which lasted days and nights. Having drunk a big bowl of Heracles at one of such feasts all at once Alexander screamed and groaned from a pang. His friends picked him up and put him in bed. The sickness progressed and none of the healers could help him. The pain he suffered from was so strong that sometimes Alexander begged his subjects to give him a sword to kill himself. It was his loving wife Roxana who kept him from committing suicide. On the tenth day after the beginning of the sickness Alexander the Great died in the arms of his young wife who was in her last month of pregnancy. Roxana closed his eyes and kissed him to 'catch his parting soul'.

Alexander neither named the successor to his throne nor did he leave directions as regards governance order in his empire and in Macedonia in particular. This vagueness of his will inevitably resulted in the strife between his commanders who began struggling for power shortly after Alexander's death. Roxana was induced to participate in these plots.

Nearchus nominated Heracles, Alexander's illegitimate child born from Barsine who was the widow of Memnon from Pergamum. Perdiccas, on the contrary, protected the interests of the yet unborn son of Alexander the Great; however Ptolemy Lagus ultimately denied Alexander's sons the right to succeed to the throne as their mothers were eastern women and Macedonian captives. Roxana's son was probably born several days after Alexander's death because in some ancient chronicles it is mentioned that the distribution of ranks and satrapies took place before the burial of the Macedonian commander.

In order to avoid aggravation of the difficult situation and possible bloodshed it was decided to crown two men: Alexander's imbecile brother Arrideus, who began to rule under the name of Philippe III, and Alexander IV, a new-born son of Roxana, with Perdiccas being the regent.

Indeed, the son of Roxana and Alexander the Great was half-Bactrian. All the Seleucid kings who ruled more than two hundred years in the Middle East had in their veins Sogdian blood.

In 317 B. C. the power in Macedonia was usurped by Olympiad, mother of Alexander III. By her order, Arrideus was killed and her grandson, Roxana's son, was proclaimed the King, with Olympiad herself ruling on his behalf. Her rule nevertheless was short; being a revengeful woman, one by one she executed all the prominent men in the state thus incurring people's hatred towards her. In 316, having learnt about the approach of Commander Cassandr, Olympiad, who could not trust the Macedonians, left with her grandson and Roxana for the city of Pydna.

Cassandar immediately sieged the city. Suffering from hunger, tired out because of long siege, Olympiad gave herself up in exchange for her life. However, Cassandar gave her fate into the hands of the Macedonians, presumably having first done his best to harden their hearts. Olympiad was sentenced to death and executed. After that Cassandar married Phessalonica, sister of Alexander III, and exiled Roxana and her son to the fortress where they were placed under guard. (Justin: 14; 5 - 6). One of the Cassandar's men, Glaucus, who was extremely loyal to Cassandar, was entrusted to keep an eye on the captives. Moreover he ordered that Roxana's son was to be stripped of his pages and to treat him as if he were not the king of Macedonia, but an ordinary boy (Diodorus: 19).

In 311 B. C., Cassandar, poisoned the young Alexander, and his mother Roxana. Their bodies were committed to the earth without performing any funeral ceremony in order to avoid possible suspicions with regards to their violent death. (Justin: 75, 2). The death of Alexander IV put an end to the whole dynasty of Temeids who had been ruling in Macedonia since antiquity. The strongest elements within the army came to power creating three new mighty empires: Egypt under the reign of the Ptolemy dynasty; the Syrian empire, that embraced the whole Persian kingdom and where the Seleucids dynasty ruled; and, finally, Macedonia, which kept the hegemony over Greece, where Antigonus Gonatus founded a new dynasty. All of them - Ptolemy, Seleucid and Antigonus Gonatus - were previous military commanders in the army of Alexander the Great.

The age of Hellenism had started. Greek dominion reigned over much of the Middle East and Central Asia and the first great interaction between Western and Eastern civilization was underway.

Note: During the period of Achaemenids and Alexander, Khoresm kept its independence. The Khwarezm Shars skilfully managed to avoid invasion during Alexander the Great's eastern campaign and managed to keep at bay the Greco Macedonian kings who subsequently ruled much of Central Asia after his death in 323BC.


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