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Spread Of Greek Cities Over Alexander's Empire Notes

Classics Notes > Alexander the Great and his early Successors (336 BC – 302 BC) Notes

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How and why did the Greek city spread all over Alexander's empire?
The defeat of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander opened up the far reaches of Asia and India to the Greeks in a way that had never been thought possible before and his relentlessly enterprising nature restarted the process of city colonisation which had been lying relatively dormant for many years. There are different ideas of how many cities he actually founded but of the seventy cities that bore the name Alexandria it is reckoned 1that thirteen to twenty of these were built by him; these covered a vast expanse of land, ranging from Bactria and Iran to India and, of course, Egypt. This precedent for city foundation was followed by all of his immediate successors who each founded at least one city named after themselves; Seleucus was especially prolific, perhaps even more so than Alexander himself. The reasons why these Greek cities spread so quickly and so numerously to even the furthest reaches of Alexander's recently conquered empire are much clearer when one considers its scale, the number of potentially troublesome peoples within it and the vast wealth of the continent. Cities, therefore, were required for military security, for reaping the multitude of economic advantages and for political and administrative reasons. It is also important to consider the concept of the spreading of Hellenism, how much was this a reason for the foundation of cities in this period and how much did it actually occur. Firstly and perhaps most importantly, are the military considerations of city foundation. Multiple cities were needed, by Alexander, in this capacity because of the speed and vast scale of his conquests in a land where the previous power structure, the Achaemenid kingship, had been utterly destroyed. The importance of this latter issue is shown by the fact that he only began founding cities in earnest in 333 BC, after the final defeat of Darius at Issus. It would not have been desirable for his army to be doubling back constantly to quell uprisings in areas which had very recently been conquered, nor would this have been feasible given the vast distances involved and the lack of resources in some areas. Therefore military garrisons were needed in all areas, which obviously could only be relatively small so as not to deplete the fighting strength of the main army; this means that the most effective way of garrisoning an area and deterring rebellion was to build a strong city with an imposing citadel and large walls and then filling it with either mercenaries or retired veterans. Alexander was rich on material resources and native populations to build such defences and probably always unwilling to lose large numbers of fit, young Macedonian soldiers, all this made city foundation the best option for defending new territories. Military camps, as opposed to cities, would almost certainly have required more men and would have been more vulnerable to enemy attack. In terms of specific examples there are many from all parts of the new empire; in late 330 Alexandria Areia and Alexandria Arachosia were founded in order to quell the unrest provoked by Bessus after he had murdered Darius and claimed the throne of Asia for himself. These cities were very important because Bessus was 1

Avi-Yonah, Hellenism and the East, chapter 8 (1978)

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