Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Great Alexander's dedication to Athena Polias

In 334 BC Alexander crossed the Hellespont, the narrow strait separating Europe and Asia, and went first to Troy. There he dedicated his armour to Athena and laid a wreath at the tomb of Achilles, the legendary hero and champion of the Greeks in the Trojan War. This act prefigured Alexander's role as a new Achilles liberating the Greek cities of Asia Minor from Persian rule.

Alexander the Great made a more imposing dedication to the goddess Athena, an entire temple at Priene in Asia Minor. The first part of his long journey of conquest took him through Asia Minor, where he liberated the Greek cities from Persian rule. The historian Strabo records that Alexander offered to defray the entire cost of rebuilding the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, which had been burnt down in 356 bc, on condition that the gift should be recorded by an inscription on the Temple.

There was a precedent for this since King Croesus had dedicated many of the columns of the previous temple. The Ephesians, however, declined Alexander's offer on the grounds that it was not fitting for one god to dedicate a temple to another. No ancient historian records that Alexander made a similar offer to the people of Priene, but the dedicatory inscription on the temple indicates that the offer was both made and accepted;
Βασιλεύς Αλέξανδρος \ ανέβηκε τον ναόν \ Άθηναίηι Πολιάδι
King Alexander dedicated the temple to Athena Polias

After the temple was excavated in 1869-70 by the architect-archaeologist Richard Pullan leading an expedition on behalf of the Society of Dilettanti, this block and several others from the adjacent wall were removed to London. Immediately below the dedication was inscribed a letter from Alexander granting Priene various privileges including exemption from taxes, while the rest of the wall was used for other records, forming a kind of perma­nent civic archive.

The inscription located in the British Museum and displayed in Room 78.

B.F. Cook, Greek inscriptions (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)

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