The last great ambition of Alexander

The Arab geographer al-ldrisi, in the twelfth century, mentioned the remains of a supposed path cobbled, which the Arabs called «reefs», ordered to do by the Greek king
Great Alexander to unite in the strait the European continent with the African. According to the Ceuta geographer, the work of the Greek sovereign had been very ambitious and included the subsequent opening of the channel of the Strait of Gibraltar.

Las_Columnas_de_Hercules_portada

The historical content of the myth of the formation of the Strait of Gibraltar by Hercules has been analyzed on many occasions in the present century. For example, it has been pointed out that the myth would reflect the tradition of Phoenician colonization and its navigations in the area of ​​the Strait. More recently Raquel López Melero has demonstrated the existence of diverse and successive layers of expansion of the Herculean myth; thus the one of its participation in the fracture of the Strait of Gibraltar would be relatively delayed and derived from previous ones. The third classic myth in which rests the belief of the inhabitants of this coast, which reflects Idrisi, is that of the existence of a submarine path in the Strait. This opinion already existed in antiquity although the construction of this road was also attributed to Hercules. In particular, the road would have been built by the Greek hero to transport the oxen of Geryon to Africa. The one who mentions in a more express way the existence of this supposed submarine road is the Latin poet Avieno. In the story of Avieno, which gathers in its maritime Prayer a journey of great antiquity, they call it the Hercules causeway because
it is said that Hercules had covered the seas in order to have an easy way open for cattle (Or, Mar. 326-328). This description of Avieno about the coast of the Strait indicates that already in antiquity some believed that the mountain range or underwater elevation that extends from Tarifa to Tangier was a flooded path. A text from the 4th century BC of C., the Periplo de Scylax, mentions the multiple reefs although it does not offer the version of way: from the promontory of Heremez big reefs extend from Libya to Europe, that do not appear above the sea, although in some points the waters collide against them (Periplo de Scylax, 112). And the encyclopedist Cayo Plinio (N.H. III, 4) affirmed that the miracle does not diminish its shallow depth, since the sailors are terrified seeing under their keels the rocks that line up like whitish tapes. All the above indicates that in the memory of the inhabitants of the coast of Tarifa and Algeciras, in the Middle Ages, there was a certain assimilation or confusion of the mythical character of Hercules with the real one of Alexander the Great. It can not be strange either, because even his performances were assimilated with those of Moses (opening of the waters of the Red Sea). In spite of everything, it is no less true that there must also have been some classic, somewhat surprising reminder about the performances of Alexander the Great and his plans regarding the West. There is not only a certain syncretism that identifies Alexander the Great with Hercules. The tradition derives from a more or less real episode in the life of the Greek monarch. Alexander the Great was never in the West. However, his figure was well known and admired in the area. In fact, in Gades, in the famous temple of Hercules, there was a statue of Alexander the Great before which Julius Caesar would have a peculiar reaction: having reached Gades, contemplating the temple of Hercules
a statue of Alexander the Great, burst into tears and, as if ashamed of his inactivity, had not yet done anything worthy of memory at an age when Alexander had already conquered the earth (Suetonius, Caesar, VII). In a somewhat shorter way, but with very similar data, this same episode is documented by the historian Dion Cassio (37, 52, 2). The curious thing is that the supposed path, attributed by the ancients to Hercules, and the medieval to Alexander the Great, rest in a real project that at one time caressed the Hellenistic monarch. Indeed, Alexander projected in the year 323, in which he died precisely, the derivation of his oriental expedition, which led him to the borders of India, in a later Western expedition. The objective of the same was none other than subdue to Carthage, and to dominate until the western end in its plans included to construct a great way that united all the African continent until the zone of the Columns of Heracles. This surprising plan could not even be initiated due to the precipitate death of Alexander the Great himself. But apparently these plans were meticulously collected in writing in a series of notes from his known archives after his death. Who gives us all these details in detail is Diodoro of Sicily (XVIII, 4, 3-4), writer of the first century BC. Of C. Very shortly after his death some notes were found in his secret files that revealed that the expedition to Arabia should be the prelude to greater operations. These official notes seem to have reports and calculations regarding the technical realization of these last projects, and the military and financial means that would be needed. We have only a brief recapitulation; He mentioned that in Phenicia, Syria, Cilicia and Cyprus thousands of warships, of a model slightly larger than the triremes, had to be built to carry out an expedition against the Carthaginians and the other peoples who they inhabit the coasts of Africa, Iberia and the neighboring regions until Sicily. He also said that a roadway must be built along the African coast to the Columns of Hercules and that, in the appropriate places, ports and naval arsenals that would be essential for this great maritime company be located. The information about the projected path is novel in Diodoro of Sicily. Fifth Curcio alludes to the project of this expedition, although explicitly not to the opening of this road, although it can be deduced from the military operation that was planned: to bring down the pride of Carthage that it regarded as an enemy, and from it, going through the deserts of Munidia, take the direction of Gades, where it was famous that they were the Columns of Hercules, then go to Hispania, which the Greeks called Iberia (Quinto Curcio, Alex, X, 1, 17-18). Other classical sources speak to us, at this point, of another somewhat different project. In this case too, it was an attempt to impose dominion over Carthage. But the plan on these occasions, which included that a well-armed armada departed from the Arabian gulf and performed the circumnavigation of the African continent, to enter through the Pillars of Hercules in the Mediterranean. We are undoubtedly faced with a very risky plan that included the acceptance that the African continent was circumnavigable (something that others in ancient times were not so clear). The first aspect to carry out the expedition was to control the Arabian and Persian gulf. The preparations were in progress when the monarch died. This project by Alexander, also attributed to twilight moments of his life, is mentioned in other classic authors. So Arrian attributed a harangue to the commanders of his army: from the Persian Gulf our navy can sail along the coasts of Africa to the Columns of Hercules. From the Pillars of Hercules, the entire interior of Africa will be ours as complete as Asia, so that the ends of this empire will be the limits assigned by the divinity to the earth (Amano, Anabasis V, 25-26). Plutarch (Alex., LXVIII) also refers to this same project of Alexander: he embarked himself with the intention of traveling with a great armed, starting from the Euphrates, Arabia and Africa, and penetrating into the interior sea by the Columns of Hercules, for which all kinds of ships were built. And in a poetic way, the Hispanic-Latin Lucano (Phars. X, 36-37) affirmed that he was preparing to Take your fleets to the ocean by the outer sea. What credit should we give to the supposed intentions of Alexander the Great? Contemporary historians have tiptoed over this question. And when we know perfectly well, and the mention of the Greek geographer Estrabon (1,3,3) is clarifying, in the time of Alexander the Great, and in the immediately following ones, the geographical knowledge advanced to a great extent. The contemporary historian who has most defended the veracity of the Alexandrian project has been the French Roger Dion. For Dion, Alexander the Great’s project was perfectly suited to the breadth of his ambitions. Driven by an insurmountable desire, he intended to introduce into his domains the limits of the entire known world. Consequently, following the account of his ambitions, and his psychology, it is not surprising that, once the Eastern expedition was over, he wanted to take his Empire to the western limits of the earth then. known Although we are not explicitly reflected, the people of Cadiz believed in the veracity of the project, the statue of Alexander the Great in the Herakleion of Cadiz is an indication of this. And the stay of Julio Cesar in front of her, in the year 69 a. C. meditating on the banks of the Oceano in Cádiz is another good sign. Much more surprising is that a thousand years later, in Tarifa and Algeciras, at the confluence of Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the tradition of Alexander’s plans was maintained, in one way or another, among the inhabitants.

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