Friday, April 15, 2005

Where Alex once stood 

Here's one for all you ancient history buffs: reporter Bartle Bull, with some help from the locals and the Americans, discovers the site of Alexander the Great's victory at Gaugamela:

"I have a photograph from Iraqi Kurdistan that I sometimes hope might appear in my memoirs above the caption, 'Birth of the Iraqi tourist industry.' It shows two men, Kanan Mufti and Ken Herwehe, looking over the plain of Gaugamela, where, 2,336 years ago, Alexander won his third and decisive victory against Darius. Gaugamela, with its turreted elephants and scythed chariots, had always been one of my favorites among Alexander's battles. It was the first great clash of East and West in Mesopotamia. Kanan is head of antiquities in Iraq's Arbil governorate, and Lieutenant Colonel Herwehe was at the time one of the senior U.S. commanders in the region. I had introduced them at Herwehe's headquarters in Arbil, hoping that together we could find the site of the battle. Kanan provided 11 sources, ancient and modern, rolled up in scrolls or pressed flat in large folios, to help us. Herwehe contributed a large table and a U.S. military aviation ground escape map.

"A couple of hours of gluey tarmac and jolting riverbeds and back roads took us to the base of the Jabal Maqlub, where Alexander had camped overlooking the huge plain Darius needed to accommodate his army of hundreds of thousands. Features described by the ancients—mountain passes, hill flanks, and the great plain—stood suddenly revealed before us, all in their proper places, as the Mesopotamian geography yielded its secrets like a dusty cuneiform. I wanted to visit the ridge from which Darius had lost an empire. But Herwehe said it looked like land mine country. 'Saddam's officers were good at reading the terrain,' he said. 'War hasn't changed so much since Alexander's day'."
Oliver Stone, eat your heart out.


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