HHIK06747U HIS 74. Alexander the Great and Alexandria. Political strategies and foundation myths

Volume 2016/2017

Historical core area 2: Academic writing with focus on source analysis (HHIK03741E) [Curriculum for Master´s Programme in History, 2015-Curriculum]

Historical core area 2: Academic writing with focus on source analysis (HHIK03741E) [Curriculum for the Master’s Minor in History, 2015-Curriculum]

History (ONLY BA-elective for BA students of History)
Module T5: Historical elective project (HHIB10511E) [BA-elective studies, 2013-Curriculum]


Alexander the Great and Alexandria. Political strategies and foundation myths
In the winter of 332/331 BCE Alexander the Great’s Macedonian army drew nearer and nearer to the Mediterranean shores of Egypt. At a distance of no more than 50 kilometres westward of the Canopic mouth of the Nile, on the shores of lake Mareotis (Mariut in Modern Egyptian), Alexander paused. Acknowledging the strategic value of the site, he decided to found a city there. While giving orders to his ingenious city-planner, he let his cloak (chlamys) drop to the ground. This was the cause for shaping Alexandria after Alexander the Great’s chlamys. A couple of generations later, Eratosthenes of Kyrene, head librarian at the famous library of Alexandria, conceived of a map of the entire inhabited world (oikoumene) also shaped after a Macedonian chlamys.

This course is closely linked to the European project CHLAMYS exploring the foundation myth of Alexandria, its cartographical expressions and political contexts captured by the Macedonian military cloak typically worn by Alexander the Great and his cavalry. In class we will therefore explore the visual and textual evidence connecting Ancient History, Literature and Myth to the physical urban tissue of Hellenistic Alexandria. The lectures, exercises and discussion in this course will be incorporated into the scientific part of the research project and will potentially also make part of scientific papers and presentations in international conferences. If you are interested, the course will give you the opportunity to write a mock-up scientific paper and present it in class.

Our focus will be on the political strategies that led to the foundation of Alexandria and other cities (some of which were also named Alexandria) by Alexander the Great and his Successors. We will also compare the foundation myth of Alexandria to those of other cities, such as Athens, Kyrene or Rome. Moreover in this course we will examine how historians in the 19th, 20th and 21th have chosen to describe and interpret the historical figure of Alexander the Great and his conquest of Egypt. We will introduce you to the primary sources, epigraphy, papyrology and historical narratives, but also to literary and scientific texts of the period. We will acquaint you with the visual sources, such as coins, statues, frescoes, mosaics. We will also focus on the intellectual history which begins by the founding of the Library of Alexandria. We will take Eratosthenes of Kyrene, third head librarian of the Library of Alexandria, as a case study. This will lead us into the research fields of ancient cartography, mathematical geography, geodesy and cosmology. We will also discuss the important historiographical and methodological problems facing historians and cutting edge research. These class discussions will lead up to a written assignment. We will discuss the validity of the most important primary sources alone and in combination to secondary ones.

This course is taught in English. Discussions in class as well as student presentations and coursework will be in English. We will upload all relevant weekly readings on Absalon. We expect you to read at least a hundred pages of primary and secondary literature (scholarly texts and sources) per week. We will also expect you to give one presentation in class on a topic of your choice. We will assess your performance according to a list of evaluation criteria that are necessary in the craft of scientific work (this list will also be available to you via Absalon). We expect you to attend and participate actively in all classes, since we will work through a substantial part of the syllabus in class. In the week before semester starts we would like to interview you in person about your study plans, skills and ambitions. The interviews will take place at the Centre for Textile Research (CTR). You will receive a personal invitation via Absalon.

During the fall semester we will invite you to two film evenings at the Centre for Textile Research (CTR), where we will watch two contemporary films on the Hellenistic World and its legacy. This will give us the opportunity to discuss Hollywood reception and interpretation of the Ancient world and how the film industry has chosen to visualize Hellenistic Culture.

- Alexander (film) 2004
- Agora (film) 2009

Course objectives (clarification of some of the objectives stipulated in the curriculum):
After the course students will be able to:
• present a geographical and chronological overview of Alexander the Great’s Empire
• present knowledge of the most important primary sources about Alexander the Great and Alexandria and the capacity to work with them critically
• present a clear understanding of the methodologies and difficulties of handling different types of sources, with varying degrees of validity and quality
• have a hands-on approach in the presentations in class of how to assess, select and use different sources
• approach secondary literature from different scholarly traditions and the capacity to contextualize them
• contextualize ancient and modern biographies (e.g. the biography of Alexander the Great) and trace them within the scholarly, socio-political and cultural environment that gave rise to them
• present insight into the seminal theoretical and methodological approaches and debates in the field of Hellenistic History and contemporary historical debates on its reception
• an introduction to the genre of scholarly papers and scholarly presentations and train you in how to produce a scholarly paper and a scholarly presentation of your own
• follow and respond  to in-group discussions in class
• reflect critically and concisely on scholarly literature
• formulate a thesis statement and expand it into a research paper for your end-of-term written assignment

- R. Bagnall: “The date of the foundation of Alexandria,” IN AJAH 4. 1979 (pp. 46-49).
- R. Bagnall & P. Derow: Greek Historical Documents: The Hellenistic Period: Historical Sources in Translation. Malden & Oxford, 2004.
- J. Bingen: Hellenistic Egypt. Monarchy, Society, Economy, Culture. Los Angeles, 2007.
- A. Bosworth: “The  death  of  Alexander  the  Great:  rumour  and  propaganda," IN CQ 21. 1971 (pp. 112-136).
- A. Bosworth: The Legacy of Alexander. Oxford, 2002.
- P. Briant: Alexander the Great: Man of Action, Man of Spirit. New York, 1996.
- Alexander the Great: Reality and Myth. Eds.: J. Carlsen et al. Rome, 1993.
- Cartledge, P. Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past. 2004.
- P. Fraser: Ptolemaic Alexandria I-II. Oxford, 1972.
- P. Fraser: Cities of Alexander the Great. Oxford, 1996.

Group instruction / Seminar
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Exam Preparation
  • 129,5
  • Preparation
  • 203
  • Total
  • 388,5