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Self-Definition of Alexander the Great

F. S. Naiden

A bilingual inscription on a recently rediscovered pedestal from Alexander the Great’s shrine at Bahariya, in the Western Desert of Egypt, has been analyzed for its Egyptian text, which contains the only complete titulary for Alexander as pharaoh (F. Bosch-Puche, “L’ ‘autel’ du temple d’Alexandre le Grand à Bahariya retrouvé,” BIFAO 2008, followed by his “The Egyptian Royal Titulary of Alexander the Great, I: Horus, Two Ladies, Golden Horus, and Throne Names,” JEA 2013). Remaining unanalyzed is the Greek text that accompanies the Egyptian one. It reads,  

ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ ΑΜΜΩΝΙ Τ[Ω]Ι ΠΑΤΡΙ 

This text appears on the left face of the pedestal, and the Egyptian text, which includes a dedicatory inscription by a priest, appears on the front. The other two faces are blank. Where the pedestal stood (and what was on it) is unknown, but the two texts evidently refer to the shrine, which was for Ammon as an oracular god.

            This paper addresses a unique aspect of this inscription, which is that it is the only bilingual document attributable to Alexander. The Greek text and the two-part Egyptian text are regarded as functional duplicates, and thus read in tandem. The Greek text refers to an act of dedication, as does the Egyptian, and it refers to the same god, and the same relation between this god and the Pharaoh. At the same time, these texts should be regarded as cultural alternatives, and thus should be read in contrast to one another. The gap between basileus and the Egyptian protocol for Alexander is enormous. The gap is even greater than it would have been had Alexander’s Egyptian protocol been entirely conventional. This protocol, however, is partly unconventional, for it attributes to Alexander qualities appropriate for a god, especially a sky god, and not a pharaoh or Greek king. The overall effect is chiastic. A Greek dedicatory formula has been Egyptianized, and the pharaonic titulature has been somewhat Hellenized.

            The paper closes with suggestions about how to use this inscription to understand the events at the shrine of oracular Ammon at Siwa, where Alexander again was the son of this god, but no relevant inscription is extant.  In the light of the Bahariya text, the events at Siwa formed part of a campaign to assimiliate Alexander the basileus to Alexander the son of Horus, a campaign that in Egypt was appended to the ceremonial and architectural program that any pharaoh, but espeically a foreigner, was expected to undertake.  As part of this program, Alexander likely visited Bahariya on his way  back from Siwa. As pharaonic dedications were usually made at the time work on a shrine began, he likely erected the inscription during this visit. He then returned to the Nile valley by going due east. A visit to Amon's shrine at Thebes is likely. He then would have visited Amon in Amon's Theban home, at a frontier site, Siwa, and in-between, at Bahariya.

             At the same time, the bilingual character of the Bahariya inscription suggests that Alexander might export this local, Egyptian program to the Greek world, including Greek-speaking colonies that he would found. The means for accomplishing this ideological export was the Macedonian army, which, crucially, was largely absent at Siwa and Bahariya. They only heard about these encounters, which we can now visualize.  It was correspondingly difficult for them to endorse Alexander's efforts.

Session/Panel Title:

Architecture and Self-Definition

Session/Paper Number

34.3

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