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Alexandria on Oxus


Map of Ai Khanum. Design Jona Lendering.
Alexandria on Oxus: town founded by Alexander the Great, now called Ai Khanum in Afghanistan.

Alexandria on Oxus (or: in Oxiana) was founded, probably by Hephaestion, during Alexander the Great's campaigns in Bactria and Sogdia (329-327). It was a refoundation of an older, Persian city, and was settled with Greek and Iranian veterans, and native serfs. Among these were Thessalian cavalrymen, and this appears to have been confirmed by the following inscription:

These wise words of ancient men are set up,
utterances of famous men, in holy Delphi.
Clearchus copied them carefully and set them up,
shining from afar, in the sanctuary of Cineas:

As a child, be orderly,
As a youth, be self-controlled,
As an adult, be just,
As an old man, be of good counsel,
When dying, be without sorrow.

The Cineas mentioned has a Thessalian name and was the city's founder, who had received a sanctuary (a heroön). 
 
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The ruins of Ai Khanum
The ruins of Ai Khanum (©!!!)

Today, the town is called Ai Khanum, which means "Lady Moon" in Uzbek (an alternative translation is "Face in the Moon", because people over there recognize a female face on the moon). It is about 2 km long and 600 m wide, and was excavated by French archaeologists and looks surprisingly like a Greek city, including temples, a heroön, palace, colonnaded courts, city wall, gymnasium (sport school), houses, Corinthian columns, free-standing statues, and a theater wth 5,000 seats. The citadel, which is on a 60 m high loess-covered natural mound, has not been investigated yet, although it must have had massive walls and high towers.
Cybele dish from Ai Khanum. Photo Marco Prins.
Cybele plate

Among the finds are Greek and Indian coins, several inscriptions, sundials, jewelry, a famous plate showing the Phrygian goddess Cybele, the Greek god Helios, and an Iranian fire altar

Alexandria is situated on the confluence of the mighty Amudar'ya (the ancient Oxus) and the Kokcha. Across the river is a spectacular wall of steep rocks. The city became rich because it controlled the trade in lapis lazuli, but it was also situated on the Silk road. One of the Bactrian kings, Eucratides I (c.170-c.145) honored the city by calling it after himself, Eucratidia. The city's wealth attracted enemies, and it was sacked by Sacae nomads in c.135 BCE, and later by the Yuezhi nomads (who later founded the Kushan empire in the Punjab).

The site was destroyed during the Taliban war.

Photos of artifacts: go here. Satellite photo: go here.

© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2006
Revision: 14 January 2007
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