Monday, February 7, 2011


That Deinocrates was Macedonian is important. Alexandria was not developed on the analogy of the independent city-states of southern Greece, nor was it planned strictly on the example of the Ionian cities (though doubtless there was an indirect Ionian influence). The immediate precedent is a Macedonian one, and Alexandria conforms more to a pattern already established in Macedon itself. Arrian, writing in the second century AD, records a story ‘that is told’ (without quoting a specific source) that the builders did not have the means to mark out the lines of its proposed fortifications, but improvised by using meal which the soldiers had with them. This is an unlikely explanation, since presumably Deinocrates and the specialist surveyors would have had all the necessary equipment. It is more likely that the use of meal to mark a boundary had a religious significance. No account doubts, however, that the limits marked out by Alexander were those that served the city throughout its history, and given the nature of the site, between the sea and Lake Mareotis, it is difficult to see any sensible line falling short of the full extent. This means that Alexandria was to be laid out on a most generous scale. The shape of the land enclosed within the walls is described by Strabo as like a cloak, extending about 5 km from east to west, and generally about 2 km from north to south. This compares with Athens which measures no more than 1.5 by 1.5 km. It was bisected by a main east-west street, which is said by both Diodorus and Strabo to have been 100 ft in width, although this has not been confirmed by excavation. This suggests a street less than 20 m in width, though the exact width (either 19–85 or 14 m.) is uncertain. Even so, the least of these dimensions is considerably more than the usual width of streets in Greek cities, and demonstrates the abnormal scale of Alexandria. There was also a main north-south street of comparable dimensions.

The immediate model seems to have been the new towns of Macedonia itself, and in particular, Pella. This, too, covered a large area, though not as large as Alexandria, and was laid out to a grid of substantial streets, including one extra-wide street running east-west, which has been excavated in the vicinity of the agora. This measures 15 m in width, compared with the normal width of the east-west streets, which is about 10 m. This may confirm the lower of the dimensions for the main street at Alexandria, and demonstrates the probability of popular exaggeration behind both Strabo and Diodorus. The point is that the concept of a generous scale both for the total area of the city and for its streets already existed at Pella, which was where Alexander was born, and where he had lived. I do not think we have to look elsewhere for the model on which Alexandria was based.

There are other parallels. Part of the considerable area of Pella was devoted to the palace of the Macedonian kings, which is now in the course of excavation. So far, evidence for a substantial but essentially unified structure with two rectangular courtyards has been discovered, though this probably does not represent the whole of the royal quarter. Similarly, Alexandria had an area set aside for the royal palace. It was located in the north-west part of the town and was adjacent to the sea, by the projecting Cape Lochias. Like the town itself, it was conceived on a generous scale, occupying probably one-quarter or even one-third of the total area available within the city walls.

In addition to the royal buildings, Alexandria is known to have had an agora. Its location is unknown, although the usual guess is that it was in the centre, and it may well have been across the line of the broad east-west street, as is the case at Pella. It is probably to be identified with the ‘square stoa’ of the literary descriptions, an identification which would also seem to be confirmed by the discoveries at Pella, where the agora was totally enclosed by a continuous stoa on all four sides, virtually square in plan (200.15 by 180.50 m). The Pella agora is in the main area of the city, well away from the palace to the north, and would suggest for Alexandria a position to the east of the palace and set back from the sea, rather than adjacent to it. Alexandria is known to have been divided into five klimata, and these would in turn have been subdivided into blocks by the grid of the street plan. The blocks are likely to have been rectangular and elongated, rather than square, as at both Pella and Olynthus, and to have been aligned north south, although most of the published conjectural plans of Alexandria make them almost square and aligned east-west. We may deduce further that the klimata were strips across the width of the city, rather than ‘quarters’, and presumably labelled from west to east, since Delta, the eventual Jewish part, was near the palace area but beyond the harbour. Fraser (see note 1) puts this immediately to the east of Lochias; this would just leave room for Epsilon in the extreme eastern part of the city, and would confirm my suggested position for the agora. The main wide street would then run through all the divisions in succession, though there is no need to suggest that it was at the exact centre, of them. The main north-south street may have separated two klimata, and could have provided a useful ceremonial way from the palace to the centre of the town.

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