Alexander the Great (Photo @ Michael Papandronis)
ALEXANDER ALONG THE SILK ROAD: Alexander made conscious efforts to hellinize the world
Alexander is considered one of the most powerful and successful commanders of all the times. Alexander conquered the Persian Empire, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Central Asia, and India. He integrated foreigners in his army and followed the policy of fusion. With Alexander conquests, the frontiers of Europe were extended to the entire known world. As a result, the Greeks were exposed to different kind of culture and civilization and it happened at a time, when Greek civilization and literature were at the zenith. The people of Asia were quick to adopt the culture of the conquerors. This situation set the stage to integrate Greek culture in the conquered territories. The artists, painters, musicians and writers flocked to these Modern Greek cities in Persia, Egypt, China and Central Asia. All of these cities followed classical Greek style huge temples and public meeting places.
It is a well-known fact that changes in cultures is the direct consequence of sweeping conquests. When Alexander’s armies subjugated the known world through his military prowess, the result was Hellinization of the cultures in the centuries to come. The impact of this conquest was equally felt from Europe to Middle East and Central Asia. By 323 BC Alexander Empire was stretched from Greece to Egypt, Iran and India. In every conquered territory, Alexander setup a strategic military installations along with Greek style town, such influence can even be observed even in today in Central Asian art and architecture. Despite the enormous distance between the Asia and Europe, the two continents were in contact via Silk Road, which was famous and well-known route for travelers, merchants and pilgrims spreading trade and culture from Rome to Central Asia.
Alexander made conscious efforts to hellinize the world, which can be seen by his marriage to Persian princess, the daughter of Darius III .He also asked 80 of his officers to marry local women. During 324 B.C in a feast he offered 10000 of his men foreign women. Other than that he also built about thirty Greek style cities along the route of his conquest, an extension of Hellenistic empire, which continued long after his death. These cities in later years even though separated from Greek rule remained enclaves of Greek culture. The elite of these cities not only spoke Greek language, but also adopted Greek customs and traditions, including taking part in Greek athletics.
Alexander conquests provided the chance for Hellenism to flourish with much greater force among these territories. Alexander used different techniques to consolidate these conquests. For example Alexander founded the colonial installations, even though some were mere military installations, mainly occupied by army to control the city; but the important aspect of these cities and town was to acquire the status of Greek cities and imitate the Greek style of government. Greco- Macedonians, who lived like Greeks formed part of the local population, ruled these cities. Being conquered, it was natural for these conquered territories to follow the Greek culture and language. One of Alexander’s general Peukestas learned Persian language and became familiar with Persian culture and language.
It was the Central Asia where the Greek foundation can be truly seen flourishing. After the destruction of Bactres in 150 and 120 BC; the new Bactres was a true Greek style city under the name of Eucratidea. The buildings were made of unbaked bricks according to the local tradations, but the city like all Greek cities, it had a theatre, a gymnasium and many fountains. The palace was built on the plain with the courtyard in Greek style. Even the Corinthian decoration and pebble mosaic covered the floor, added with many statues made of stone and clay. The city dwellers even used to speak Greek language as many Delphic maxims were found during excavation. The Greek influences can also be found in Kushan Empire in Central Asia, which was founded around the mid first century C.E. At the time the nomadic tribes accepted the Greek influence, which can be seen in the coins and use of Greek script. The Greek influence also continued to flourish in arts works, even in later Buddhist art and the Gandhara art (Taxila, Pakistan) which carries visible influence of Greco-Roman influences.
Sogdiane region, present day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan was located along the silk route region was enormously influenced by Greek culture. The Greek colonists also laid the foundation of the Samarkand. Even though in the mid second century, the region broke away from the Greek empire, but Hellenism continued to flourish, which in later centuries became an important part of Chinese, Indian and Buddhist cultures. During the first three centuries after Alexander conquest, the Parthian language was heavily influenced by Greek language. And the presence of Greek norms and language was used to communicate with the Greek communities within the kingdom. The Greek artists were also employed to inscribe in Greek language, the evidence of which can be found in the inscriptions on the coins. Many arts objects such as marble, clay sculptures follow Greek ideas. These first Parthian rulers had artists who were familiar with Greek art and style especially casting in ivory, which also includes Dionysian scenes, female poets, and representations of major Greek gods, all of which reflect the highly Greek ideas and influence in their culture.
There is a controversy regarding the view that new civilization was born out of Greek and Oriental cultural interaction. Even though the above discussion makes it clear that eastern cultures were highly influenced by the invasion of Alexander for many centuries and continued to practice Greek norms and cultural practices, but these practices were amalgamated with the local traditions and culture. Some critics mention that both cultures existed independently, which is far from truth, as it is not possible that any culture can live in isolation. Even, if there is no invasion, cultural practices are borrowed and imported. In the case of Alexander, it was the speedy adaptation of Greek culture to become part of Greek elite, which is normal practice followed in all conquered nation. The rule of British in India and French in Africa are vivid examples in present times. The colonial rule has been over decades ago, the language and norms and even the system of government is still colonial, which amply shows that conquerors do influence the ways of a nation.
The foundations of the East West contact were channeled along the Silk route, which were laid in pre-Christian era giving rise to many Asian states. The quest for profit on the Silk Road not only exchanged money and wealth, but also led to exchange of ideas and culture. Alexander was the embodiment of cultural intermingling and during his time and after his death, Greek ideas flowed in poetry, technology and integrated into local culture and traditions. Even though, Silk Road was present before Alexander, but his conquests paved the way for exchange of ideas. After Alexander’s death his empire disintegrated, but this fragmentation did not prevent the movements of goods and ideas across the silk route along the trade. The ruins of monasteries and temples provide the clue to the spread of Greek culture in the Central Asia. These intensive activities of ideas in later centuries gave rise to many movements and religions, such as Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Manicheans and other eastern religions. However, Greek culture was not merely imported and implanted in host culture, but it rather evolved and grew richer in contact with local culture leading to much more dynamic culture in the later centuries.
by Tanvir Orakzai
Tanvir Orakzai is the Editor in Chief of “The Pakthun Post”. Tanvir is holding Masters in Literature, IT and doing Doctorate in E-Commerce in Singapore. He has been working as a freelance writer since 1996. Tanvir has been writing on various issues, such as current affairs, foreign policy and economic reviews in various magazines and newspapers. Tanvir is a keen observer of life and like to depict life from a different perspective to his readers.
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