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The Death of Alexander the Great: One of History’s Great Unsolved Mysteries

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Update: See also Alexander the Great and West Nile Virus Encephalitis  /update

Anthony Everitt writes at Literary Hub:

Alexander the Great’s death is an unsolved mystery. Was he a victim of natural causes, felled by some kind of fever, or did his marshals assas­sinate him, angered by his tyrannical ways? An autopsy would decide the question, but it is too late for that.

The trail is long cold. All who recalled the terrible fortnight of his dying had their own reputations to protect and they were not under oath when publishing their memoirs. The secret of Alexander’s end will not be discovered by poring over disputed narratives, but by as­sessing his interaction with others. Who were the men and women he knew, and who his friends and enemies? What did they think of him and he of them? Where lay their loyalties, and where the imperatives of self-interest?

In the year 323 BC, Alexander enjoyed an overdue vacation in the deluxe metropolis of Babylon in Mesopotamia. This was one of the great cities of the Persian empire and over the centuries had grown ac­customed to looking after the needs of invaders. Its Hanging Gardens were one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. A few weeks there of uninterrupted leisure and pleasure were just what Alexander and his careworn soldiers needed.

The youthful Macedonian monarch had spent a good ten years fighting his way nonstop through the Per­sian empire to its Indian frontier, deposing the Great King and seizing power himself. After winning victories in the Punjab and along the Indus River, he marched back to civilization through a searing desert, losing thousands of his men for lack of water before reaching the safety and the comforts of Mesopotamia.

Alexander was still a handsome man in his prime whose triumphant past augured a shining future. His next and imminent project was to establish commercially viable townships along the Arabian coast. A port had been specially built near Babylon to house a new fleet. Mean­while the army prepared to march south by land. Victory was taken for granted, but after that, who knew what?

For now, in late May, as the unrelenting heat of summer ap­proached, he needed a good rest. Babylon had all the necessary facili­ties. There was water everywhere; the river Euphrates on its way to the Persian Gulf passed through the center of the city and poured into the moats that lay alongside the lofty defensive walls of baked mud brick. And beyond the walls lay swamps and lagoons bursting with wildlife, irrigation channels, and reservoirs.

Two colossal palaces stood in the north of Babylon, with offices and workshops. One of them functioned, at least in part, as among the world’s earliest museums, housing treasured artifacts from earlier times, and was probably where kings and their families lived in grand but private seclusion. The other, which modern archaeologists have named the Southern Palace, was set aside mainly for administration and for ceremonial functions. Offices and workshops surrounded five courtyards, one of which opened onto a vast throne room whose walls were glazed in blue and yellow tiles and decorated with floral reliefs, lions, and fan-shaped designs suggesting the fronds of a palm tree.

On the river’s edge beside the palace, the Hanging Gardens as­tounded visitors. A set of ascending terraces, angled back one above the other, rested on great brick vaults. Each terrace contained a deep bed of earth and was planted with trees and shrubs. The effect was of a wooded hillside. A staircase led up to all the floors, and water drawn from the river by mechanical pumps irrigated each tier. The story was told that Babylon’s most successful king, Nebuchadnezzar II, con­structed the Hanging Gardens for his wife, who missed the mountains of her childhood.

In principle, there was nothing so very unusual about them, for they were a condensed urban version of the large walled garden or park much favored by the wealthy and the powerful, who sought refreshing green relief from the parched landscapes of the east. The Greek word for such a garden was paradeisos, from which we derive our “paradise.”

As the design of the Hanging Gardens goes to show, the people of Babylon and other Mesopotamians were skillful managers of water. They built canals and irrigation systems, and just to the north of the Southern Palace they constructed what seems to have been a large res­ervoir.

On the eastern side of Babylon, an outer wall formed . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2019 at 5:06 pm

Posted in Daily life

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