Alexander the Great and Chorasmia

Publication type Article
Status Published
Occupation: Leading Research Fellow
Affiliation: Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Address: Moscow, Moscow, Russia
Occupation: Senior Research Fellow
Affiliation: The State Museum of Oriental Art
Address: Moscow, Russia
Journal nameVostok. Afro-Aziatskie obshchestva: istoriia i sovremennost
EditionIssue 6

The article discusses E.V. Rtveladze’ idea about two kingdoms in the ancient Chorasmia in the time of Alexander the Great. E.V. Rtveladze after analyzing the reports of Arrian and Curtius Rufus about the Chorasmian embassy to Alexander, came to the conclusion that the sources dealt with two different embassies: the first was headed by Pharasmanes, the king of the western (left bank) Chorasmia, and arrived in Bactria in winter or early spring of 328 BC; and the second was sent by Phrataphernes, the king of the eastern (right bank) Chorasmia, and visited Alexander in Marakanda in summer of the same year. The authors suggest this conclusion was wrong and different royal names can be best explained by the assumption that by the time the embassy was sent, the ruler of the unified Chorasmia was Phrataphernes, who died while his son (and possibly co-ruler) Pharasmanes was in Marakanda, and after that Alexander recognized the right of Pharasmanes to the title of king. The long-term existence of Chorasmia – it became independent to the end of the 5th century BC – played the main role in Alexander’s decision. Besides, material culture of Chorasmia does not give any reasons to suppose the existence of two different states there. In our opinion, these facts indicate the formation of a single centralized economic system throughout Chorasmia.

KeywordsChorasmia, Alexander, Pharasmanes, Phrataphernes
Publication date11.12.2020
Number of characters14335
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1 In 2016 E.V. Rtveladze [Rtveladze, 2016, p. 343–349], after analyzing the reports of Arrian and Curtius Rufus about the Chorasmian embassy to Alexander the Great, came to the conclusion that the sources dealt with two different embassies: the first was headed by Pharasmanes, the king of the western (left bank) Chorasmia, this embassy arrived in Bactra in winter or early spring of 328 BC [Arr. Anab. IV. 15. 4, 7]; and the second was sent by Phrataphernes, the king of the eastern (right bank) Chorasmia, and visited Alexander in Marakanda in summer of the same year [Curt. VIII. 1. 8]. However, we suggest that this conclusion was wrong.




4 Firstly, to assess the accurasy of Arrian’s data concerning the time and place of the arrival of the Chorasmian embassy to Alexander, the following facts must be taken into account. As A. Bosworth wrote, Arrian divides his narration about military events in Sogdia in 329 and 328 BC into two parts inserting between them a timeless excursus consecrated to Alexander’s orientalism [Arr. Anab. IV. 7–14]. Arrian begins with the punishment of Bessus (winter of 329/8 BC), then jumps to the Cleitus affair (late summer of 328 BC) and ends with the Pages’ Conspiracy (spring of 327 BC). Because of these rearrangements in the Arrian’s narrative about the campaigns of Alexander in 328 BC there is a six months lacuna in which the summer of 328 BC almost disappeared, they also caused numerous doublets and inconsistencies [Bosworth, 1981, p. 29, 33].
5 Secondly, Arrian [Arr. Anab. IV. 15. 1–3, 5] and Curtius [Curt. VIII. 1. 7, 9–10] unanimously testify that at the same time when the Chorasmian mission arrived, Alexander was also visited by the second embassy of the European Scythians with his own envoys sent in summer of 329 BC. This allows us to conclude that both historians of Alexander reported about the same event.
6 Thirdly, it is unlikely that Chorasmia (especially, the left-bank one) felt an urgent need to send ambassadors to Alexander in winter of 329/8 BC when a significant part of Bactria and Sogdia was up in revolt. Also, Alexander said to Pharasmanes that his mind was on India [Arr. Anab. IV. 15. 6], and these words could not be uttered at that time. The mission of Pharasmanes and Alexander’s words correlate much better with the situation of the late summer of 328 BC, when the main centres of revolt were suppressed and Alexander himself after the capture of rock of Arimazes returned to Marakanda [Curt. VII. 11; VIII. 1. 7]. Exactly at that time Chorasmia could try to appease the victor as well as to use the Macedonian army against the Colchians1, while Alexander was already plotting an invasion of India. Judging by the fact that Alexander entrusted Pharasmanes to the satrap of Bactria Artabazus [Arr. Anab. IV. 15. 5], the embassy arrived before the resignation of the latter and the slaying of Cleitus, that is in august of 328 BC. 1. One note about the Colchians. In our opinion, the Pharasmanes’ words along with the archaeological sources indicate the existence of the Caspian waterway, linking Chorasmia and Colchis on Oxus-Uzböi, Kura and Phasis-Rioni [Balakhvantsev, 2017, p. 129].

Fig. 1

8 Fourthly, in the 4th–2nd centuries BC the ancient Chorasmian archeological complex which is characterized by the surprising uniformity of material culture was forming in the region of the lower reaches of the Amu Darya. It was the most evident in the standard modules used for manufacturing ceramics, as well as in the organization of handicraft industry: both were common to the entire region. At this period, certain objects and categories of artifacts that don’t have even distant analogues in other regions of Central Asia appear on the territory of the whole Chorasmia. Such objects and artifacts included hemispherical flasks with reliefs on the flat side, household and package vessels with paintings on the external surface, certain types of diminutive vessels with characteristic décor [Bolelov, 2004, fig. 3/27], certain types of ceramic rhytons, etc. (fig. 1).
9 There is precise standardization of ceramics and uniformity of ceramic complex that attracts attention. Every vessel, such as table or household ceramics is characterized by specific set of discrete parametric and morphological indications that are distinctive only to this type of ceramics, and regardless from the area of the region where this vessel was found, and therefore manufactured. E.g., big jug-like vessels without handle, which were used as shipping containers, were manufactured using the specific modulus of volume, which, as it comes from the analysis of ceramic complex, was a constant for the whole territory of Chorasmia [Bolelov, 2004, p. 108–109].
10 In course of archeological research the data on organization of handicraft production on the territory of the whole region were also collected. In Chorasmia there can be distinguished several types of handicraft that are varying in level of organization. On the area of rural settlements it is fixed communal handicraft production – small workshops where a master worked to meet the daily needs of the inhabitants of the settlement. In the area of small oases – irrigation microdistricts – there were specialized craft workshops that functioned and most probably accomplished some orders during a specific period of time, e.g. during the harvest, and met needs in handicraft ceramics of several settlements’ population within the oasis. In these centres apparently worked associations of artisans, including masters, apprentices and laborers [Bolelov, 2013, p. 29–44].

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1. Balakhvantsev A.S. Political History of Early Parthia. Moscow: Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 2017 (in Russian).

2. Bolelov S.B. Ceramics. Kalaly-Gyr 2: A Cult Center in Ancient Chorasmia in the 4th–2nd Centuries BC. Moscow: Vostochnaia Literatura, 2004. Pp. 93–147 (in Russian).

3. Bolelov S.B. The Craft of Chorasmia in the 2nd Half of the 1st Millennium BC (Experience of Paleoeconomic Research). Steppe Culture of Eurasia and Their Interaction with the Steppe Civilizations: Materials of the International Scientific Conference Devoted to 110-Anniversary from Birthday of the Outstanding Russian Archaeologist Mikhail Petrovich Gryaznov. Issue 2. St. Petersburg: Periferia, 2012. Pp. 483–488 (in Russian).

4. Bolelov S.B. The Craft of Ancient Chorasmia in the Early Stages of Statehood Development. Sogdians, Their Precursors, Contemporaries and Heirs. Proceedings of the State Hermitage Museum. 2013. Vol. LXII. Pp. 29–44 (in Russian).

5. Bolelov S.B. Oasis among the Sands (Ancient Chorasmia in the System of Transcontinental and Trade Relations in the Second Half of the 1st Millennium BC). Civilization of the Great Silk Road. From the Past to the Future: Perspectives of Natural, Social, Humanitarian Sciences. Ed. Sh.M. Mustafaev. Samarkand, 2017. Pp. 77– 93 (in Russian).

6. Bosworth A.B. A Missing Year in the History of Alexander the Great. The Journal of Hellenic Studies. 1981. Vol. 101. Pp. 17–39.

7. Rtveladze E.V. The Embassies to Alexander the Great in Bactria and Marakanda from the Kings of Western and Eastern Chorasmia, Pharasmanes and Phrataphernes. Stratum plus. 2016. No. 3. Pp. 343–349 (in Russian).

8. Vainberg B.I. Cattle-breeding Tribes in Ancient Chorasmia. Culture and Art of Ancient Chorasmia. Moscow: Nauka, 1981. Pp. 121–130 (in Russian).

9. Vainberg B.I., Bolelov S.B. Nurum Oasis in the West of Chorasmia. Cultural Values. International Yearbook 1997–1998. Saint Petersburg, 1999. Pp. 46–61.

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