Alexandria the Great: On the Mediterranean at the Western Edge of the Nile Delta Stands the Most Important and Enduring of All the Many Cities Founded by Alexander. Though Much of Its Material Past Has Been Destroyed or Lies Underwater, Alexandria's Reputation as the Intellectual Powerhouse of the Classical World, Fusing Greek, Egyptian and Roman Culture, Lives On
Cartledge, Paul, History Today
For historians of ancient Greece agora is the term for a place of gathering, a market perhaps or political assembly, one of the most basic distinguishing markers of ancient Greek culture and civilisation. In Athens, for example, hard by the Acropolis you can visit the Greek Agora, still being excavated by the American School, and its nearby successor, the Roman Agora, an eloquent jumble of ruins. But, for cinemagoers, Agora may come to mean something else, as it is the title of a new film starring Rachel Weisz set not in ancient, pagan Athens but in early Christian Alexandria around AD 400.
Alexandria numbers among the greatest of the city-states founded by the Greeks, though it was far from the crucible of Greek culture. Strictly, there was no such thing as 'ancient Greece'. The term 'Greece' comes to us from the Romans. The Greeks themselves spoke not of Graecia but of Hellas, 'the Hellenic world', a cultural rather than a political or geographical concept. And there were at any one time around 1,000 very different cities making up Hellas, stretching from near the Pillars of Heracles (Gibraltar) in the west to Phasis in Colchis (modern Georgia) in the far north-east. This distribution was the outcome of a series of waves of Greek emigration and settlement, starting in the late Bronze Age (14th-12th centuries BC), renewed greatly in the early historical period (especially the eighth to sixth centuries) and taken up again in the wake of Alexander the Great's conquest of the Persian empire (334-323 BC). This Hellenic diaspora was an essential ingredient of the latter epoch-making process during which Alexandria was founded.
Alexander III, posthumously labelled 'the Great', was born in 356 BC to Philip II of Macedon and his Greek wife Olympias (one of seven wives in all). He came to the throne of Macedon in 336 BC, aged just 20, in highly dubious circumstances. A shadow of suspicion hangs over him to this day for his possible role in his father's assassination. This can never be proved and there is at least as much reason to suspect the hand of the estranged Olympias. But Philip himself was a pretty hale 46 years of age and there arose a severe danger that Alexander would be passed over for the succession due to Philip's marriage to Cleopatra Eurydice and the chance that she might bear him a son and heir: hence, arguably, Alexander's role in the assassination, carried out by one of Philip's bodyguards in full public view as he was celebrating the wedding of his daughter to her uncle, Olympias's own royal brother, at the Macedonian ceremonial capital of Aegae.
Whoever was behind the murder, Alexander profited the most from it. Winning the support, crucially, of the formidable Macedonian army, he was quick to assume his father's role as champion of Hellenism against the Persian empire. Philip's campaign had been dressed up as a long-delayed act of revenge on the Persians for their sacrilegious destruction of sacred sites and property in Greece in 480-479 BC and as a project for the liberation of the Greek cities in Asia from their political subjection or 'barbarian slavery'.
The revolts in Greece that followed Philip's assassination delayed Alexander assuming the command of the advance force sent across the Hellespont (Dardanelles) to north-west Asia Minor in 336 BC. But, before he joined his army, in 335 BC Alexander felt obliged to annihilate the major Greek city of Thebes for daring to question the legitimacy of his oriental project. All he spared of the city's fabric, apart from the religious sanctuaries, was the house that Pindar the praise-poet (died c. 446 BC) had lived in, since he was seen as an emblematic spokesman for the sort of cultural Panhellenism Alexander was claiming to promote. All the same, destroying the city of one of his most important Greek allies was hardly an auspicious omen for the coming …
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Publication information: Article title: Alexandria the Great: On the Mediterranean at the Western Edge of the Nile Delta Stands the Most Important and Enduring of All the Many Cities Founded by Alexander. Though Much of Its Material Past Has Been Destroyed or Lies Underwater, Alexandria's Reputation as the Intellectual Powerhouse of the Classical World, Fusing Greek, Egyptian and Roman Culture, Lives On. Contributors: Cartledge, Paul - Author. Magazine title: History Today. Volume: 59. Issue: 10 Publication date: October 2009. Page number: 20+. © 2009 History Today Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.