Alexander in Egypt

Between the years 343 b.C. and 332 b.C. Egypt was under the so-called Second Persian Domination, ruled by the monarchs of Dynasty XXXI, if we follow Manetho: Artaxerxes III (343-338 b.C.), Arses (338-336 b.C.) and Darius III. Egypt was, therefore, an orphanage or Persian province.

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In the year 336 b.C. Persian throne Darius III, who had to face Alexander of Macedonia (the epithet of Great was the Romans «Magnus») when he invaded Persia in 334 b.C. In the battle of Issos (in present-day Turkey), which took place in 333 BC, Alexander was the victor.

Alexander decided then not to follow Darío, that was fought in retreat, and it was proposed to conquer Egypt. The Macedonian conqueror, who had to use all his military means to subdue the cities of Palestine – especially Tire and Gaza – entered the Nile country without resistance. In the border fortress of Pelusio, the satrap or Persian governor, Masaces, came out to meet him to give him the power and treasure of his coffers, some 800 talents. The occupation of Egypt by Alexander occurred between the autumn of 332 b.C. and the spring of 331 b.C. He was only physically in Egypt during that time, about six months.

Alexander continued his advance at the head of his army to the city of Memphis, the traditional capital of Lower Egypt, where he made his triumphal entry acclaimed by the people. For a large part of the Egyptians, Alexander appeared as a liberator. Since the conquest of Egypt by Cambyses in 526 BC, Persian rule had caused great resentment, especially for its fiscal exactions and its disregard for Egyptian national beliefs. The rebellions were constant and, in fact, from 404 b.C. three Egyptian dynasties were formed successively that fought against the Persians, until in 343 b.C., just ten years before the arrival of Alexander, the last independent pharaoh of Egypt, Nectanebo II, was expelled by Artaxerxes.

In Memphis, Alexander was careful to show his veneration to the Egyptian gods, paying homage to Apis, the sacred bull. In return he was recognized as a legitimate pharaoh and enthroned according to the traditional rite with the support of the people and the priests. But the new pharaoh did not stay many days in Memphis. From the capital he headed north following the western arm of the Nile to the port of Canopo, and from there he progressed along the Mediterranean coast to the village of Rakotis, an old border post between Egypt and Libya. It was a small town located on a tongue of land between the lagoon of Mareotis and the marine coast, in front of which the island of Faros was located, on which, the Odyssey had counted, Menelaus and Helena had come back from Troy. In that strip of land, Alexander decided to build a city that would bear his name and that very soon would become the great Mediterranean port of Egypt and the largest Hellenistic metropolis: Alexandria. It is said that he drew the plans of the city and commissioned its construction. But then, while the workers were busy building the first buildings in the city, Alexander decided to go west to visit the sanctuary of the god Amon in the oasis of Siwa and consult his oracle. It was a disconcerting initiative, as Siwa had no military interest and the visit was a long delay in the final confrontation with the Persian King Darius III, who was recruiting a large army in Asia to avenge his defeat in Issos. It was also a dangerous expedition, as it entailed penetrating a large desert area until reaching the oasis, which was almost five hundred kilometers away from the Nile valley. In fact, it was said that in the attempt to reach it, the great The Persian king Cambyses army had been lost, buried under the relentless sands. In addition, many wondered what was the purpose of consulting the remote oracle of a Libyan and Egyptian god like Amun.

The outward journey was made along the coast from Alexandria to Paraetonium, the current Marsa Matruh. From there, they went south, through the desert, about 300 kilometers to reach Siwa. The road is deserted, and most of it is sand, devoid of water. But heavy rains fell for Alexander, which was attributed to the influence of the divinity; as well as the next event. Whenever a south wind blows in that region, it piles sand along the length and breadth of the route, making the path invisible, so that it is impossible to discern which direction to take in the sand, as if one were in the sea; for there are no milestones on the road, no mountains for any place, no trees, no stable hills that remain erect, for which travelers must be able to intuit the correct path, as sailors do with stars. As a result, Alexander’s army was lost, because even the guides doubted the direction to follow. Ptolemy, son of Lagus, says that two serpents went before the army, uttering voices, and Alexander ordered the guides to follow them, trusting in the divine portent. He also says that they showed them the way of the oracle and the way of to return. But Aristobulus, whose information is generally accepted as correct, says that two crows flew before the army, and that they acted as guides for Alexander. I can affirm with certainty that some divine assistance was offered to him, since the probability also coincides with the supposition. The oasis of Siwa is a green region in the middle of the desert of more than 100 kilometers in length and about 20-30 kilometers wide, with a huge palm grove in the center of which there is a hill called Aghurmi Hill. In it, a temple dedicated to the god Amun or the god Zeus-Amón is located. We do not know precisely what Alejandro asked or heard inside the sanctuary. There he penetrated alone, in his capacity as king or pharaoh of Egypt. Then he was very satisfied with his visit, but kept a total silence about what was revealed to him. They did not take in running diverse versions on the consultation. It was said that he had asked if he would reign over the whole earth and if the murderers of his father, victim of a palace conspiracy, had received his just punishment. The priest replied that he would reign over an empire and that Philip had been avenged. But the most important thing was the statement of the oracle that Alexander was not the son of Philip, but of the great god Amun, the one whom the Greeks identified with Zeus. Since then, the Macedonian monarch presented himself as the son of the great god and maintained a special veneration for Amun over the years, to which he dedicated many sacrifices. Here we must mention the version of Plutarch when Alexander was received by the main priest of the temple. According to his version, the priest greeted him in Greek as «or paidion», that is to say «my son». Calling him a son, he was recognized as king. This greeting in Greek, perhaps badly pronounced by an Egyptian, could be confused with «pa theos», that is, «son of god». This may have been what led Alexander to believe that he was the son of the god, all according to Plutarch. Alejandro asked the oracle questions. According to Clitarco there were two: if he would be sovereign of the world and if Philip (his father) had been avenged. Although this is considered an invention of Clitarco, since Arriano, considered as the official historian, does not mention anything about it. The return to Memphis could be along the coast or through the desert. If it was through the desert, it is likely that the next stop was the oasis of Bahariya, where the only temple dedicated to Alexander as king of Egypt was erected. During the reign of Alexander as Pharaoh of Egypt, cults of sacred animals, paralyzed during the Second Persian Dominance, were reactivated and normalized. In particular, the worship of the Apis bull, venerated in Egypt since the Dynasty I, resumed. This stage had a great constructive activity, with numerous extensions and restorations. In the Precinct of Amun in Karnak, the door of the IV Pilono was restored and the antechamber of the VI Pilono was restored. In the Khonsu temple in Karnak, the entrance pylon and the Khonsu chapel were restored. In the Luxor Precinct, in the third antechamber of the Chapel of La Barca, a series of four columns was replaced by a new building. In the Temple of Thot in Hermópolis Magna there are isolated fragments of a variant of the epítetos of Alexander. On the roof of the Temple of Ukh el-Qaramus there is a graphite in demotic that speaks of year 4 of Alexander’s reign. And in the Temple of Bahariya, the only monument erected for Alexander in all of Egypt, was found a pedestal of one meter in height, a fundamental piece, which is preserved in the Archaeological Museum of Cairo and which contains the complete title of Alexander, the five titles as king of Egypt. The pharaonic title consisted of five names. In the case of Alexander these are: Name of Horus: Hrw qn (Horus the brave) or Hrw TmA-a (Horus the strong arm) Name of the Two Ladies: xwi bAqt (the one that protects Egypt) Name of Horus of Gold: Hrw nbw kA (nxt) Hwi bAq (t) (the mighty bull that protects Egypt, the ruler of the Great Green Sea and the sun that surrounds it) Enthronement name: stp-n-ra mr (y) -Imn (the beloved of Ra, chosen from Amun) or mry-ra stp-n-Imn (the beloved of Amun, chosen from Ra) Personal name: Alksindrs (Alexandros)

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