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Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai Khanum)

Alexandria on Oxus: town founded by Alexander the Great, now called Ai Khanum in Afghanistan.

The ruins from Ai Khanum
The ruins from Ai Khanum
Alexandria on the 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, together with native serfs. Among the Greek settlers were Thessalian cavalrymen, which appears to be 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:

Inscription from Cineas' monument
Inscription from Cineas' monument
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. As the city's official founder (ktistes), he received a sanctuary on the market (a heroön). 

Today, the place 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). The site is about 2 km long and 600 m wide and was excavated by French archaeologists

Ai Khanum looks surprisingly like a Greek city, including temples, a heroön, an administrative palace, colonnaded courts, a main street, a city wall, a gymnasium (sport school), houses, Corinthian columns, several free-standing statues, and a theater with 5,000 seats. The citadel in the south, 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.

Ai Khanum, map
Ai Khanum, map
Among the finds are Greek and Indian coins, several inscriptions, sundials, jewelry, a famous silver disk 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 rivers. Across the valley 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).

This page was created in 2006; last modified on 16 September 2014.