Alexander the Great at Aornos (Mount Pir-Sar), District Shangla, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan: Report on Historical and Archaeological Field Investigations (2017 -2018)

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The epic of Alexander the Great is one of the most fascinating aspects of human history and it has transpired historians for the last two millennia to try to create a picture of him and his exploits, using patchy historical references, in the greater
  Alexander the Great at Aornos (Mount Pir-Sar), District Shangla, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan: Report on Historical and Archaeological Field Investigations (2017 – 2018) K IMOTOSHI  M ORITANI   AND  M UHAMMAD  Z AHIR Abstract The epic of Alexander the Great is one of the most fascinating aspects of human history and it has transpired historians for the last two millennia to try to create a picture of him and his exploits, using patchy historical references, in the greater part of Asia Minor, Persia and South Asia. The present paper, based upon historical literature and two seasons of eldworks in northern Pakistan, is an attempt to investigate the exact location and battle of Aornos. The eldworks were carried out in 2017 and 2018 in the Districts Swat, Lower Dir,  Buner and Shangla of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan. Alexander invaded these regions of northern Pakistan in 327 BCE and had major battles and killing sprees at the ancient towns of Massaga (a still unidentied site), Bazira (modern Barikot or Barikot-ghwandai) and Ora (modern Odigram). Fearing the onslaught of Alexander and the imminent massacre, the inhabitants of the towns of Bazira, Ora and other regions of upper Swat valley ed to the legendry mount Aornos. Alexander followed and massacred them there. Using the accounts of historians Arrian, Plutarch, Diodorus, Curtius and Justin and archaeology of the region, Aornos have been identied with two dierent mountains that are Mount Illum in District  Buner and Mount Pir-Sar in District Shangla. Using these sources and data from the current eldwork, the authors identied, following Sir Aural Stein, Mount Pir-Sar as the Aornos of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Keywords : Alexander the Great; Aornos; Bazira; Mount Illum; Mount Pir-Sar; Archaeology of Northern PakistanLiterature and Sources about Alexander the Great161 Introduction This paper is a report on historical research and archaeological eldwork in Swat, Buner, Lower Dir and Shangla districts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan in 2017~2018, for the purpose of investigating the expedition of Alexander the Great in 327~326 BCE (Fig. 1). The historical literature regarding Alexander the Great is represented by ve extant sources: Arrian, Plutarch, Diodorus (written in Greek), Curtius, and Justin (written in Latin). All of these authors lived under the Roman Empire, and they wrote several hundred years after the death of Alexander. Their works present dierent images of Alexander, and their reliability depends on the srcinal sources that they used. These include various narratives on Alexander that were widely read in the Hellenistic Age, but most of them srcinated from histories written by contemporaries of Alexander who had participated in the expedition  (1) . As the focus of this paper is on the site and battle of Pir-Sar, we refer to three authors, namely Arrian, Diodorus, and Curtius, as they had described the battle at Pir-Sar in detail. Arrian was a Greek from Asia Minor and he was a distinguished governor of the province and a general who commanded the expedition in the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire in the age of Trajan of the 2 nd  century CE. Arrian mainly used the works of Aristobulus, a Greek engineer, and Ptolemy, a Macedonian general and founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, who might have retained the  K IMOTOSHI  M ORITANI   AND  M UHAMMAD  Z AHIR 162 P  AKISTAN   H   ERITAGE   10 (2018) documents of Alexander’s army. Thus, Arrian’s work narrates the battles of the Macedonians in detail, and many scholars consider it the most credible source for Alexander’s expedition. Indeed, Arrian often tends to depict Alexander as a superhuman hero, while Ptolemy, his main source, has recently been found defective in several aspects; we should be careful in recognizing that Ptolemy often exaggerated his own accomplishments  (2) . Diodorus was a Greek historian from Sicily in the 1st   century BCE, who wrote a 40 volume universal history from the mythical age to his own time, of which 15 volumes survive; the17th volume is assigned to Alexander’s reign. He is often careless in how he treats facts, and his history tends to be regarded as almost a patchwork compiled from various authors who are not always reliable  (3) . Curtius, supposedly a Roman senator of the 1st century CE, depicted Alexander as an Oriental despot, almost a tyrant whose model was either Emperor Caligula or Nero, who executed many senators of his own age. Indeed, his work is full of rhetorical narratives but preserves many traditions from the side of the Persians (4) . Therefore, we must estimate the reliability of the extant works in terms of each historian’s inclinations, the purpose for writing Alexander’s history, and the characteristics of their srcinal sources. Alexander’s invasion of Swat In late autumn 327 BCE, starting from Bactra, the capital of the province of Bactria, Alexander invaded the mountainous region of the northern areas of Ancient India (the modern-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan (or formerly the North-Western Frontier Province of Pakistan) (5) . After reaching the Copen (modern-day Kabul) River, he divided his army and sent Hephaestion and Perdiccas to the Indus River through the territory of Peucelaotis (modern-day Charsadda), with orders to take all towns on their march and to prepare for the crossing of the Indus River. Alexander himself, after marching along the Cohes (modern-day Alingar or Kunar) River, advanced to the districts of the Aspasians and Guraeans and forced them into submission. Then Alexander crossed the Guraeus (modern-day Panjkora) River into the territory of the Assacenians. In Massaga, the largest city of the region, he encountered erce resistance from seven thousand Indian mercenaries, but on the fourth day the Indians lost their leader and capitulated. In the spring of 326 BCE, Alexander dispatched a section of his army from Massaga to Bazira (modern-day Barikot or Birkot-ghwandai archaeological site), and another to Ora (modern-day Udegram). The attack at Bazira was not successful, where the inhabitants gave no signs of surrendering on terms, since they were condent about the strength of the region which was very high and fortied carefully all round (Arrian 4.27.6). Our eld survey coincides with this narrative. The top of the rock fort at Barikot (N.34 °40”51’, E.72°12”48’) , situated along the Swat River, is 944 meters above mean sea level and about 150 meters above the modern-day road   (Plates 1–2). We could easily perceive the diculty of the siege attack from the plain.Alexander advanced rst against Ora and easily seized the city at the rst attempt. Then, the inhabitants of the upper Swat valley abandoned their cities and took refuge in an enormous rock- like region, called Aornos (modern Mount Pir-  A LEXANDER   THE  G REAT   AT  A ORNOS  (M OUNT  P IR -S AR ), D ISTRICT  S HANGLA , K HYBER  P AKHTUNKHWA  P ROVINCE , P AKISTAN : ..... 163 Sar). However, confronted with erce attacks by the Macedonians, they were forced to surrender. This is the most impressive episode of the battles of Alexander in the northern areas of Pakistan. We made two eld surveys at Pir-Sar, on September 7, 2017 and on May 2, 2018, and tried to recreate this battle in detail through historical and archaeological evidence. The identication of Aornos Arrian describes Aornos as follows (translations of the classical texts are from Loeb Classical Library): The circumference of the rock, it is said, about two hundred stades[approximately 36 km], its height at its lowest part eleven stades[approximately 2000 m], with only one way up, made by hand and rough. On the top of the rock there is said to be plenty of pure water which comes from a perennial spring, from which water actually pours out, as well as wood and good arable land which would be enough for a thousand men to cultivate (4.28.3). The descriptions by other historians of its steepness and the level top are similar. Diodorus writes, ‘the circumference of the “rock” was one hundred stades [approximately 18 km], and its height sixteen [approximately 2900 m.]. Its surface was even and circular on all sides’ (17.85.3). Curtius also mentions, ‘the rock did not, like many others, rise by moderate and gentle slopes to a lofty summit, but elevated itself very much in the manner of a turning-block, of which the lower parts are wider, but become narrower as they rise higher and force the highest parts into a sharp point’ (8.11.6). Many scholars have tried to identify Aornos, but Stein’s identication of Aornos with Mount Pir-Sar has been widely accepted as conclusive. British - Hungarian historian and explorer Sir Aurel Stein conducted explorations in the Swat region during March - April 1926. He rst climbed Una-sar by the northwestern route and reached Pir-Sar through the Burimar ravine (the locals now call it Gaurimar – horse killer pass). He found that the features of its terrain coincided perfectly with the descriptions by the historians of Alexander. In his report, On Alexander’s Track to the Indus , Stein describes the following (6) . Owing to its greater height and the depth of the valleys on either side Pir-Sar forms a dominating position; overlooking all the other spurs [ranges] it oers an exceptionally wide and impressive view (p. 129).It only remains to describe briey the summit of the Pir-Sar spur. This presents itself for a distance of a little over a mile and a half as an almost level plateau, occupied along particularly its whole length by elds of wheat. The width of the cultivated ground on the top varies from about 100 to 200 yards, with strips available for grazing by the side of the elds (p. 131). I may briey sum up the essential features that necessarily invested it with exceptional advantages as a place of safety and natural stronghold for the ancient inhabitants of this region. Its great elevation, more than 5000 feet above the Indus, would alone make attack dicult. The extent of level space on the top would permit of the assembly of large numbers both for safety and for defense (p. 133). We conducted our rst research at Pir-Sar on September 7. 2017 (Fig. 2). We hired two cars with local drivers, starting at about 550 meters  K IMOTOSHI  M ORITANI   AND  M UHAMMAD  Z AHIR 164 P  AKISTAN   H   ERITAGE   10 (2018) elevation, near the Thakot bridge over the Indus River. We drove along a zigzaging and stony mountain path and arrived at a halting place some 1759 meters above sea level, from where we looked upon the ridge running from north to south (Plate 3). We then climbed by foot to the top at about 2200 meters and found an area of level plateau. Looking all around, we could easily perceive the summit perfectly isolated from the surrounding mountains. Walking toward the hill at the northern end, called Bar-sar, we found level ground with a cultivated eld, a vast pond, and pasture for cattle (Plate 4~7), which would have provided thousands of native inhabitants with an ideal shelter and the location of a fort. After reaching the point at about 2294 meters on the northern area of the summit, confronted with forest, we returned. Thus, our observation conrms Stein’s descriptions and we are condent that Aornos should be identied as Pir-Sar. Mount Illam and Bazira Some of the local people and researchers in northern Pakistan identify Aornos with Mount Illam in District Bunir. This idea is described in a map at the Swat Museum, Saidu Shareef, developed by the Italian Archaeological Mission working in the Swat region since 1950s, identifying/suggesting Aornos with Mount Illam (or Ellum Ghar) (Plate 8). The identication and the representation on the map is the result of the Professor Giuseppe Tucci identication of Aornos with Mount Illam; Tucci primarily tried to identify Aornos with Mount Illam due to the historic religious importance of Illam and not due to its proximity to the Indus River (7) . Using the Tucci identication as the base, Luca M. Olivieri of the Itlalian Archaeological Mission tried to identify Aornos with Mount Illam through ancient Greek, Indian and Persian sources and geographical contextualization  (7) . However, this identication by Tucci and Olivieri does not seem to be correct as our source, Diodorus, clearly says that the southern side of Aornos was washed by the Indus River (17.85.3), and Curtius also writes that the Indus River comes close to its base (8.11.7). Moreover, Arrian’s narrative indicates that Alexander moved towards the Indus River and subjugated several towns before turning to the assault upon Aornos. These preliminaries do not coincide with an attack on Mount Illam, some 40 km west in a straight line from the Indus River. We are of the opinion that Mount Illam might be related to the route taken by the native inhabitants of Bazira when they sought refuge in Pir-Sar. To conrm this, we tried to climb Mt. Illam, starting from the White Palace Hotel, 1300 meters above mean sea level (Fig. 3). We reached a point 1895 meters above sea level (N.34 °37”58’, E.72°20”56’) , but we did not have enough time to go over the pass in front of us (Plate 9). According to the locals, on the other side of the pass is a plain where a village called Ellam Kalay is situated. The mount in front of us is called Jogiano-Sar (or mount of the Yogis), which was until 2007 (when Taliban militancy broke out in the Swat region) a place of pilgrimage for Hindus, living in Pakistan. The locals point to a large water body and a cavern, where the Hindu Yogis meditated and pilgrims paid visits to. On April 30, 2018, we tried to reach the Ellam Kalay or village through the southern route of Mount Illam. We found Ellam Kalay, a quiet village on a fertile highland, about 1800 meters above sea level (N.34 °36”58’, E.72°22”04’)  and had a distant view of that pass that we had not been able to cross the previous year (Plate 10).  A LEXANDER   THE  G REAT   AT  A ORNOS  (M OUNT  P IR -S AR ), D ISTRICT  S HANGLA , K HYBER  P AKHTUNKHWA  P ROVINCE , P AKISTAN : ..... 165The locals, including our police escort, informed us that there were several passes between Swat and Buner, and the local people could choose any pass when they wanted to travel to Pir-Sar. Therefore, we are of the opinion that there were several routes available to the inhabitants of Bazira to escape the onslaught of Alexander and that one such route passed through Ellam Kalay. However, Arrian’s narrative suggests another possibility. Just after Alexander captured Ora, when the inhabitants of Bazira learnt this, they despaired of their position, and about the midnight deserted the city and ed to the rock, as did the other barbarians; leaving their cities they all ed to the rock in this neighborhood called Aornos (4.28.1).Arrian mentions two rocks, one to which the inhabitants of Bazira ed, and one to which all other people ed. Are these rocks dierent or the same? Bosworth comments that the people of Bazira ed to their   rock (italics in the srcinal text), while the rest of the population of the upper Swat valley ed to the rock named Aornos (8) . This is persuasive, because, as Bosworth says, Mount Illam is the best and the only rock that served the refugees from Bazira. While the people of the upper Swat valleys did not have such direct access to Mount Illam, they could access Pir-Sar after crossing the watershed into the Ghorband valley and marching down the Indus River. The distance from Barikot to Pir-Sar is about 60 kilometers as the crow ies. Was it possible for the native people to move such a long distance in a short time? When visiting a friend on the way to Besham on September 6, 2017, an old man told us that he had walked from Mount Illam to Pir-Sar in one day. Another man said that it took two or three days. We shall remember that mountain people are strong walkers, so the inhabitants in the age of Alexander would have had no diculty in walking this distance in a few days together with their families. The use of horses and mules would have made it much more easier for them to move around this mountainous region. Nevertheless, it is apparent that Mount Illam was the most convenient refuge for the people of Bazira, and Arrian clearly makes a distinction between the inhabitants of Bazira who ed to the rock   and other people who left their cities  and ed to the rock   Aornos. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that the people of Bazira ed to Mount Illam, and the people of the upper Swat valley ed to Pir-Sar. At the centre of the Ellum Killey, at the foot of Mount Illum, there is evidence of large standing walls of a Buddhist monastery, constructed in the ashler masonry (Plates 18–19). Similar ashler masonry monasteries have been dated to 3 rd  century CE in Taxila Valley. Alexander’s Motivation to Capture Aornos Why did Alexander wish to capture a rock that was so dicult to attack? He clearly did not want to leave the inhabitants of Swat not subjected to his rule, and it was essential for him to fully subjugate the northern mountainous region before crossing the Indus River and advancing toward Taxila. Apart from such strategic reasons, we can add his desire to emulate a mythical hero. Arrian says that ‘the prevalent story about it [Aornos] is that even Heracles son of Zeus was unable to capture it’ (4.28.1). ‘As soon as Alexander heard this, he was seized with a longing to capture this mountain too, not least because of the legend
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