Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions

Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions

Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions

Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions


"Frank Holt probably knows more than anyone alive about the mysterious Greek kingdoms in Bactria and on the frontiers of India that were one of the odder legacies of Alexander's Eastern conquests. The literary evidence is sparse, the coins remain ambiguous, the topography defeats all but the toughest. Holt's forays into this world are those of a clever and persistent detective: he loves cracking problems, and the tougher they are, the better. This time--very properly beginning by invoking the name of Sherlock Holmes--he has given us what Conan Doyle would probably have called 'The Adventure of the Elephant Medallions.' Debate has raged over the scene these portray ever since the first was discovered. A cavalryman with a lance confronts an opponent on an elephant. Who are they? What is the occasion? Guesses have ranged from Alexander to the Greco-Bactrian monarch Eucratides, from Porus at the Jhelum to Darius at Gaugamela. Using his numismatic and historical skills like a Holmesian magnifying-glass, Holt takes us through the theories, deftly explodes the fallacies, and comes up with a (for me) entirely cogent and satisfying solution. He has also, somewhere along the way, acquired a really marvelous prose style. Not only is the problem in itself a page-turner; Holt also throws in, by way of introduction, the best short impressionistic account of Alexander's career I have ever read. This is high scholarship at its most exciting."--Peter Green, author of "Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B. C.: A Historical Biography

"[This book] brings to a wider audience one of the few contemporary pieces of evidence for the image and ideology of Alexander the Great. While relatively well known to expertsin the field, the 'elephant medallions' of the title are far less well understood, and have thus played a smaller part, in popular accounts of Alexander than they

probably should. Holt's book offers a well thought out int


I had arrived at this result, for no other hypothesis would meet the facts.

Sherlock Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet

This book aims to solve a great puzzle from the ancient past, like some mystery unlocked by the relentless logic of Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Because it is a real and not imaginary case, all of its strands can never be tidied up as neatly as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might have done; nonetheless, the solution offered here does seem to be the only hypothesis that meets all the facts as we now know them. But let us be fair. While many earlier attempts to resolve this mystery will be examined and found wanting in one way or another, it must be obvious throughout this investigation that progress could never have been made without them. Indeed, the labors of many scholar-sleuths have kept this case moving forward for more than a century. Their names, and sometimes those of their influential peers, will justly echo through the narrative that follows.

Not among them, of course, are the fictional characters Sherlock Holmes and his amiable companion Dr. Watson. Yet, by a strange coincidence of fact and fiction, the mystery pursued in these pages surfaced in the Afghanistan of John Watson and was investigated in the London of Sherlock Holmes. When they were first introduced, Holmes remarked to Watson, “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive. ” That astonishing deduction alerted the unsuspecting doctor to the extraordinary methods of observation and analysis employed by the detective, the . . .

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