Friday, March 21, 2014

The Glory and the Death of Alexander the Great

Funeral procession of Alexander the Great

In his return to Babylon after his military campaigns in India Alexander the Great was suddenly afflicted with a fever after drinking sprees with an officer and a friend. His condition deteriorated as days passed and he later became speechless and in the throes of death. His officers and soldiers anxious to see their king and commander for the last time were granted of their request to file past him at his deathbed. With what remained of his last strength Alexander acknowledged them with nods of his head or movements of his eyes as they passed by him. The king died on the 10th or 11th of June 323 BC after about 10 days of sickness at age 32. 

Egyptians and Chaldean embalmers were brought to the royal palace to treat and preserve the remains of the great king and conqueror. They had to use their skill to make the body sweet smelling and incorruptible. Alexander’s remains was placed in a golden sarcophagus and submerged in vat of honey. 

Alexander the Great had not given clear instruction as to who should succeed him. He only gave a vague statement that after him his throne should go to the strongest. Just before he died, he however, gave his signet ring to Perdiccas, a commander of the cavalry and one of his most trusted generals. That was a gesture that Perdiccas would play a significant role on matters regarding succession and the running of the affairs of the empire after Alexander’s death. 

When Alexander died, his Bactrian wife, Roxanne, was pregnant, and a royal custom had it that Alexander’s male offspring would be his successor. And Roxanne indeed bore a son who was named Alexander IV. Perdiccas, and Antipater acted as guardians and co-regents of the child. However, some of the troops led by Meleager, mutinied since they were not included in the agreement. The conflict was settled when it was agreed upon that Philip III the mentally handicapped half brother of Alexander  the Great and Alexander IV would be joint kings. 

It was decided that the remains of Alexander the Great had to be brought back to Macedonia, the place of his birth. A funeral cart that was adorned with gold and jewelries to carry the body took about two years to complete. When it was ready a funeral procession all the way to Macedonia was started. The well built and beautifully designed funeral cart was drawn by a team of mules and was escorted by an army of honor guards who were commanded by an officer. Road builders smoothed the road ahead of time for the cortege to move along. As it passed by, thousands of people lined up along the roads to witness the greatest funeral procession in all of history.

Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander’s general who was satrap and future king of Egypt brought with him a sizable army and forcibly diverted the remains of Alexander in Syria. He then brought it to Egypt and built a mausoleum in Memphis. Ptolemy’s action was motivated by his desire to be the king of Egypt and its surrounding areas. It was also in reaction to Alexander’s soothsayer named Aristander prophecy that the land where Alexander would be buried would be happy and unconquerable forever. Ptolemy thought that his possession of the remains of Alexander the Great would legitimize his rule of Egypt. 

Perdiccas the regent of joint kings Philip III and Alexander IV was assassinated in 321 BC, and soon thereafter Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, his son Alexander IV, Roxanne, his wife and his half brother Philipp III were murdered during the course of the wars of succession by the generals of Alexander the Great. The empire left by Alexander was partitioned by his generals into four:  Ptolomy- Egypt, Seleucus- Mesopotamia and Syria, Lysimachus- Asia Minor and Thrace, Cassander- Macedonia and Greece.  

The remains of Alexander the Great was transferred to Alexandria, Egypt by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the son and successor of Ptolemy I Soter and it stayed there until late antiquity. Another king of the dynasty, Ptolemy IX Lathyrus removed the golden sarcophagus to be minted into coinage and replaced it with a glass one. Alexander’s mausoleum was visited and viewed by some notable personalities of antiquity who included Roman Emperors such as Pompey, Julius Caesar and Augustus. It was said that Julius Caesar accidentally knocked the nose off Alexander’s face during that Roman Emperor’s visit. Caligula took away Alexander’s breastplate for his own use.  At around 200 AD Roman Emperor Septimus Severos closed Alexander’s tomb to the public. During the role of the Romans the resting place of Alexander was no longer known.

The Ptolemaic dynasty buried its kings and members of the royal family beside the tomb of Alexander which was a shrine that was visited by many people who some of them even considered Alexander as a god. During his lifetime Alexander believed that he was the son of Zeus and even proclaimed himself as god. The power of the Greek/Macedonian kings eventually declined and the mighty Roman Empire took over most of their territories. During the Roman era Jesus Christ founded a religion which spread like wildfire in the Roman Empire after His death. The Egyptians converted to the religion and pagan practices and rituals were gradually discarded. It was probably for that reason why the visit to Alexander’s shrine later lost its importance and the upkeep of his tomb was neglected. A myth had it that the tomb of Alexander lay under an early Christian church dedicated to Saint Athanasius, an early Christian bishop. This church was in turn converted into the mosque of Prophet Daniel during the Arab conquest.                                                                       
In 640 AD the Arabs conquered Egypt, Persia and other neighboring countries. The rise of Islam saw the conversion of Christians, Zoroastrians and pagans to the Islamic faith, and Arabic culture and language were introduced to conquered lands. The Muslim conquest after the fall of the Greek and Roman empires has a profound influence on the culture, religion and demographics of their former possessions which are now Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, among other places today. 

Alexander the Great is one of history’s most famous personalities. He was a legendary king and a military commander par excellence. His daring and recklessness in battles on which he sustained life threatening wounds awed his soldiers. Personally leading his men in his campaigns, he shared with them their pains and hardships in battles and also cherished with them the joys of their victories. As a commander his mere presence was enough inspiration for his men to readily give up their lives in battles. However, like all mortals there were negative sides of him. He was said to be moody and was an excessive drinker. There were even insinuations that he was a homosexual. But undoubtedly Alexander was a very courageous warrior, a charismatic leader and an astute politician. He won all the battles that he engaged in and created the biggest empire known to the ancient world, and united the different peoples in it under his leadership. None of his generals could match his exploits or his ability to hold the empire together as one. When Alexander died his empire quickly fell apart and its territories fought over and divided by his generals.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Amazing Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecies on Alexander the Great

Christians turn to the Bible for moral and spiritual inspirations and guidance. They also refer to it for the study of Biblical histories and of prophecies and their fulfillment especially on Jesus who Christians believe is God’s promised Messiah. Moreover, there are also prophesies on famous persons in history and events that already happened or are expected to come. 

There are chapters and verses in the Bible in the Book of Daniel that some Biblical scholars believe to be prophecies on Alexander the Great, the King of Greece and Macedonia who was born in Pella in 356 BC. The prophet Daniel wrote his book about two centuries before the birth and the reign of Alexander of his empire. Following paragraphs are the Biblical verses (King James Version) and the recorded historical events that fulfilled the prophecies:

Daniel Chapter 8: 1-8

“In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared unto me, even unto me Daniel, after that which appeared unto me at first. And I saw a vision; and it came to pass, when I saw, that I was in Shushan in the palace, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in a vision, and I was by the river of Ulai. Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last. I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great. And as I was considering, behold, a he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing before the river, and ran unto him in the fury of his power. And I saw him come close to the ram, and he was moved with choler against him, and smote the ram, and brake the two horns: and there was no power in the ram, to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground, and he stamped upon him: and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand. Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven.”

Daniel Chapter 8: 19-22 identified the vision’s meaning of the ram and the he goat

And he said, behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end shall be. The ram which thou saw having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power.”

Above verses hinted that the ram with two horns was the Persian and the Medo-Persian Empire. And the he goat was the succession of Greek Kings that would rule empires in Asia and parts of Europe and Africa. The first horn which represented the first king was believed to be Alexander the Great. That the goat came from the west and came not touching the ground was a figurative interpretation of the geographical location of Greece and Macedonia relative to Persia the former being west from Persia and are separated by sea to Asia. At age 20 Alexander quelled rebellions in Greece and unified the forces of Greece and Macedonia under his control as king. He then launched his campaigns beyond Greece and against the Persian Empire which perennially threatened Greece with invasion. Alexander’s forces defeated King Darius III much numerically superior forces in every battle. The fall of the Persian Empire also went with it her dominions such as Persia, Babylonia, Syria, Israel, Egypt and Asia Minor among others. The Persian Empire, the ram, was completely crushed.  Alexander, considered a highly educated man in his time, he being a student of Aristotle, endeavored to introduce the Greek culture, knowledge and language to his subjects in conquered territories. Greek became the lingua franca of the known ancient world. Despite his success, Alexander would not rest on his laurel. He launched more military campaigns to conquer India. However, his troops were pushed to the limits of their endurance. At the river Hyphasis in northern India his battle-weary troops which comprised Greek, Macedonians and other nationalities from his empire mutinied and refused to go any further. Alexander was forced to capitulate, and together with his troops marched back to Babylon through sea and desert routes. The hostile and difficult terrains back to Babylon took a heavy physical and morale toll to the troops and their king. They suffered many casualties in their march because of disease, hunger and thirst. The troops’ oneness with the king, and their willingness to endure hardship with him showed their loyalty and admiration to him despite their previous misunderstandings. The wounds that Alexander had sustained in battles, his exposures to harsh environments in his campaigns, his years of excessive drinking and the death of Hephaestion, his close friend and confidante might have affected his psychological and physical well being. In Babylon, after a drunken spree, Alexander was suddenly afflicted with fever. And not the best physicians at that time could save him from death. He was just 32 years old. This fulfilled the prophecy that when the he goat waxed very great, and was strong its first horn was broken.   
Daniel Chapter 11:3-4

And the mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will. And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven; and not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion which he ruled: for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others beside those.”

Previous verses said of four notable horns to replace the first horn that was between the eyes of the he goat. When he died Alexander left no clear will as to who should replace him when he would be gone. With the power vacuum, his generals promptly fought among themselves to secure a territory from the still undivided empire left by Alexander for them to rule as king and establish their own dynasty. This fulfilled the prophecy that four horns would arise to replace the one that was broken. Alexander’s son, Alexander IV, his wife Roxana, and his mother Olympias fall victims to his generals’ ambitions to rise to power. Alexander’s family was murdered by Cassander who then became the king of Greece and Macedonia. This fulfilled the prophecy that none of Alexander’s heirs would inherit his throne or his empire.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Spices, the Food Commodity that Changed the World

Photo credit: Judepics

In ancient times spices and other goods from India, China and Africa passed through the silk routes in Asia into Europe. The conquest of Alexander the Great of the Persian Empire and his military campaigns in India saw the introduction of European Hellenistic language and culture to Asia. This also facilitated the exchange and trade of commodities such as silk, spices among others between Europe and Asia. The Roman Empire which supplanted the Greeks in Asia was also an instrument for the exchange of goods, culture and knowledge throughout the Roman Empire which spanned Europe, Asia and Northern Africa. The conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great facilitated the spread of Christianity throughout the ancient Roman world.

In the mid 7th century AD, Islam a new religion swept across Asia. The Islamic army conquered Persia, Egypt, India, the Levant and other places. and an invasion of Europe was imminent. With the conquest came the introduction of Arab culture to the conquered lands and the conversion of their population to the Islamic faith. At the rise of Islam overland route to Europe for the transport of spices was severely restricted and the Arab merchants had the control of the lucrative spice trade, the spice being an expensive and in demand commodity. The Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad, the seat of the Islamic power grew rich with the situation.

The strategic city of Constantinople, the then Christendom’s second most important city after Rome and a gateway between Europe and Asia fell to the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1453.The city states of Venice and Genoa being in good terms with the Ottoman Empire then gained financial benefits with the rise of power of the Ottomans. While Venice monopolized the spice trade and became fabulously rich with it, the Ottoman Empire imposed heavy taxation on spice and goods that were exported to Western Europe. As a result, spices which were imported from Asia particularly India became more expensive. 

Photo credit: Navy of Brazil
To avoid routes controlled by hostile and non-Christian power, European Kingdoms particularly Spain and Portugal looked for alternative routes to the seas for spice and other commodities. Their competition to dominate the seas for the lucrative spice trade ushered in the Age of Discovery and Exploration. 

Portugal pioneered the endeavor to sail the seas to reach India for the precious spices. An expedition by Bartolomeu Dias crossed the Cape of Good Hope in 1488. King Manuel I of Portugal sponsored four vessels under the command of Vasco da Gama that successfully reached India in 1497. In 1500 Pedro Alvares Cabral in his trip to India was blown westward to what is now Brazil. That incident made the Pacific Coast of the American continents open for explorations by the Europeans. 

Spain to be able to compete with Portugal had to find alternative sea route not controlled by the later. It had to find a westward sea route to reach India since the eastward route was already taken by Portugal. Queen Isabella of Spain sponsored and financed an expedition led by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Sailing westward, his fleet made a landfall on islands that are now called the Bahamas. Believing that he indeed reached India, he called the native there “Indians”. That event was of great significance because it led to the discovery of an unexplored vast track of land, a continent that is called America today.

The unsuccessful attempt of Columbus to reach India via the westward sea route was followed by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520. With a fleet of five ships he sailed from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean for Moluccas where famed Spice Islands were located. However, he was killed in the Philippines before he could reach his destination. Surviving crews commanded by Sebastian Elcano were able to successfully reach Moluccas. After settling conflicts with the Portuguese, the crews with their only remaining ship that was loaded with spices were able to return to Spain taking the Indian Ocean and Cape of Good Hope sea routes. The crews who made the return-home voyage were the first people to circumnavigate the world.

Other European powers such as Britain and Netherlands later joined the exploration of lands across the seas for the expansion of their territories and for search of treasures. The Spice trade resulted to the “discovery” of undeveloped lands in the American continents and other parts of the world. Later, the perilous voyage to the high seas was no longer a necessity since the Europeans were able to plant and propagate spices in many parts of the world that they had settled in. The spice trade emporiums in India and the Spice Islands in the Moluccas have now lost their economic importance. 

The Age of Discovery and Exploration brought about the wide transfer of peoples, plants, animals, knowledge, cultures and even communicable diseases across the world.  New nations were born or created. It also significantly changed the ethnic composition and the spoken languages of the settled lands. People of European and African descents, most of them speaking their mother tongue, are now in community with the natives in what was then called a “New World”.

The Age of Discovery and Exploration also spread the Christian and the Islamic religions in many parts of the world. Christianity spread largely to the American continent and parts of Asia particularly the Philippines. Islam was spread to South East Asia particularly in such countries as Indonesia and Malaysia by the Arab merchants who were trading with spice and other goods.