20. Alexander the Great and his forerunners


Semiramis was, acc. to Ktesias ap. Diodor, exposed in the desert after being born by Derceto in Ashkalon. In the desert she was nourished by pigeons who brought her milk and cheese from the herd of the king. The leader of the shepherds gets news about this marvel and adopts her. She grows up as a shepherdess.

As the Queen of Ninive she erects stelai of triumph at the end of the inhabited earth in inner Scytia, where Alexander, much later, saw them and read the inscription. In this her androgynous nature is described: nature had prepared a female´s body for her, but her deeds were like the greatest among men. She provides water in the wildernes: “I have made the unfruitful earth fruit-bearing by watering it with my rivers…I have made an even road with instruments of iron through inaccessible mountains. I have opened a road for my chariots, where even the wild animals have never trodden … And among all this labour I also found time for pleasure and joy”. (The sun hero clears a road through inaccessible chaos-land.) 

She even conquers Ethiopia and reaches India with her army, and is the founder of cities like Ecbatana, Babylon and Semiramokarta in Armenia. Finally she is taken up to heaven. In the Ugarit texts this mythical campaign is carried out by Baal: ”He marched from town to town, turned from city to city. Sixty-six towns he seized, seventy-seven cities, Ba´lu struck eighty, Ba´lu expelled ninety…”[1]. He makes his voice heard right through to “the people in the east”[2], and his enemies have to take shelter in the forests and mountain caves (areas in the periphery of the cosmos created by Baal).

Acc to Gudea of Lagash, his god, Ningirsu, “has opened the road for him from the Upper to the Nether Sea” and “in Amanus, the cedar mountain” he was able to cut down giant cedar trees. The Assyrian god, Assur, is shown as a bowman in the burning disc of the sun. He is obviously a god of the Resheph type. The king is closely linked to Assur, and often shown as the great hunter hunting lions and wild bulls. Sargon boasts of his pushing forward to the far west, where he “forced the western countries into submission, and conquered the four parts of the world.”[3]. He even crossed over the “Western Sea” and erected his stelai in the west[4]. Salmanasser II (860-25) erected a “picture of his rule, bearing his name for the eternity… by the sea”, and he also ascended and cut down cedars on the Hamani (Amanus) mountain[5].

The most important Assyrian god was Assur, often pictured as an archer, and one with the mystical fire-bird. The king is often seen standing by the tree of life grasping one of the snake-tails hanging down from the fire-bird hovering over the top of the sacred tree. (N.W.palace in Nimrod). A seal impression[6] shows a man in “Knielauf” (= running very fast), grasping both tails of the double snake hanging down from the bird, here shown as uniting the light of the sun and the moon. The running man is the sun hero followed by his two Dioscuric helpers. A relief from Kuyundjik shows king Sancherib as an archer clad in the star spangled cloak of the sky, and sitting on a kind of cosmic throne picturing the three heavens held up by three rows of Atlas-like figures. The king is macr´anthropos. In the same palace dug out by H.Rassam was pictured the magnificent lion-hunt performed by the king: he is seen driving round in a kind of arena fenced in by tent-canvas, shooting lions which are brought to the arena in cages and let loose. He is obviously hailed as the great hunter, and he openly boasts of his cruelty and the atrocities performed by his troops. The Sumerian king is more human: “As Utu (the sun) in the evening has haste to reach his house, so I completed a journey of 15 doublehours…with Utu…my brother and friend …I was drinking in the palace founded by An (“Heaven”, i.e. the highgod)… I was sitting with my bride, the virgin Inanna (the goddess)… with food and drink… on a shining throne…”[7] The sun hero type boasts more of his travels or military campaigns right to the end of the world, and his opening roads in the wilderness: ”As I was able to enjoy my power, I moved my foot, and hurried along the roads of the country, and made firm the highways”[8]. The very special hat only worn by the Assyrian king has a big rosette as a third eye on the forehead:



Later it is Alexander who is described as Gilgamesh[9].

To understand the sacred kingship ideology used by Alexander we have to look at the coins that were issued. Below is shown the tetradrachme from Byblos: on the adverse Alexander as Heracles with the hide of the lion as a helmet on his head, and on the reverse Zeus Olympios with an eagle in his hand and the inscription ALEXANDROU, a pattern already well-known from the Persian period in Tarsus: on the adverse the young, active god, Sandan-Heracles (standing naked behind an incense-burner) and on the reverse the older high god Baal Tarz sitting in the same posture as Zeus Olympios, but with an ear of corn in his hand.[10]

Ammianus Marcellinus[11] calls Sandan “ex Aethio profectus”. Eyssenhardt makes the correction “ex Aethiopia profectus”. Alexander wants to go to the land of the rising of the sun (India, in some Greek traditions Aethiopia: on his journey to Aethiopia Dionysos erected the two gigantic pillars in Mabbug). He wants to visit Siwa because Heracles was said to have visited it, and he calls his son with Barsine Heracles, and seems even on certain occasions to have dressed out as Ammon with a ram´s horns on his head, as Heracles with a lion's hide and a club, as Artemis (as the great hunter Melqart is androgynous), and as Hermes, the Divine Angel or Messenger[12].



The oracle of Siwa also honoured a younger god identified with Dionysos, and Alexander was also identified with this god. A coin from Cyrene shows Alexander as the young Dionysos from Siwa[13]. Both Heracles and Dionysos were honoured as leaders of a mythical campaign towards India, probably taking over this role from a Near Eastern Baal. Alexander´s return from India was made into a Dionysiac procession: the king himself was lying on a big platform on a wagon together with some close friends feasting and drinking, and all along the route jars of wine were put up. When he arrived at his home at big drinking contest was held, and the winner died happily after taking in no less than 13 litres of wine. The king himself seems to have consumed a considerable amount of alcohol, and this could have contributed to his sudden death by fever. His attempt to cross through the Gedrosian desert was against every good reason and mounted to a military catastrophe. But it was part of the ideology: the sun hero passing through the terrible wilderness, the world in its untouched chaotic stage digging wells along the road or providing water.

The foundation myth of the oracle of Siwa tells that Dionysos was leading his army through Libya, and the army was near to dying from thirst when a ram suddenly showed up and guided the army to a place with water, and in honour of this ram-god the temple was built[14]. Diodor has preserved some traditions connected with the name Thymoites, son of Thymoites. This can only be the Near Eastern god, Thammuz/Dumuzi (Berossos mentions two Dumuzis, the shepherd and the fisherman). In Diodor  the miltary campaign is led by both Dionysos and Athene (Baal and Anat, like Anat killing the bitch, “Fire”, so Athene has killed a female monster setting the woods on fire from Phrygia over Libanon to North Africa.) Dionysos is leading his army forward in “waterless land infested with wild animals” III, 72,2, that is chaos. 

A Hittite motif shows the king as sun hero assisted by the winged disc, fighting his way marked out by the snake coils, clearing the route of wild animals. In his fight with the lion-monster he is assisted by the Heracles-like young hunter, naked except for the kilt, armed with a primitive axe. He is hitting the lion in its third eye, thereby laming its magical force.



       The tradition preserved by Diodor is structured as the usual struggle for the kingdom of heaven motif: Ammon has to flee to Crete because of his affair with Amaltheia, being unfaithful to his wife, Rhea. She calls in her brother Saturn, who takes over the kingdom, but, when defeated, burns his residence (cf. the same thing done by Sardanapal). The background is the usual feast of Saturnalia or Sacaeans, where the queen is taken over by the king of chaos. The interregnum of Saturn is meant to serve the promotion of fertility: Ammon had to abdicate because of lack of grain[15]. 

Dionysos is the year and cosmic order reborn: it is stressed that his army went forward with order, fighting all rascals. The child Dionysos is begotten in the Ceraunian mountains at the Horn of Hesperos III 68,2 – presumably the Punic city of Cerne (from the Semitic word for “horn”). He grows up on an island, Nysa, situated in the Tritonos river (in inner Libya). The island had high cliffs all along its coast and could only be visited through a valley leading from the coast inward and forming a gate called the “Nysaean Gate”. Here we find the typical inaccessible paradise mountain, which can also be a paradise island, and the gate of the sun. On the island the climate was such that people would live very long, and the whole island was full of fruit trees and wild grapes, and there were wellsprings all along the valley, and at its end a big cave. Surrounding the cave were rocks in all kinds of colours known from art, and in front of the cave fruit trees and evergreen trees full of nests. A wonderful harmony of birds singing would fill the air, a music surpassing all artistic play.

As it can be seen from this description, the paradise island is the perfect model for all art, for all that is felt as beautiful and moving on earth.

The dark-skinned Prince, Memnon, was coming from the land of Cissia in the sunrise to help Priam. The Phrygians still show the straight road, with campsites every fifteen miles or so, by which Memnon, after he had subjugated all the intervening nations, marched to Troy[16].

Krt in the Ugarit texts moves forward with an army of 3 million men and demands a wife by whose help the graces can be born, the grace and fruitfulness of nature reborn.

Heracles´s moving forward the whole way to India is also described as the advancing of the sun hero´s army. “He cleanses the land and sea from evil animals”[17], and installs his many sons as kings. His daughter is given 365 villages, which is a tribute for every day[18]: the fruitfulness of the whole year is secured. She is only 8 years old as she gives birth to her father´s son (cf the young virgin, Anat, and Semiramis too young to be married to Ninos), and is given a mighty army by her father, Arrian Ind.8. Heracles comes from west and moves toward east. It is even more typical that a sun warrior moves towards the west like Nebucadnezar, who, acc to a Babylonian tradition, led his weapons even to the pillars of Hercules (by the Gibraltar[19]), where he conquered great parts of Iberia and Libya[20].

In 2.Kings19,23f. the Assyrian king is described as a sun warrior: with his countless number of war chariots he is mounting the paradisegardens of Lebanon, digging out wells and crossing the streams in the far west.

Diodor of Sicily seems rather well informed about the Siwa oasis. The inhabitants of the oasis were living in villages, but had in their midst an acropolis surrounded by a triple wall. There is a second temple for the god standing somewhat outside the acropolis in the shade of many trees, and not far from it a well called “Well of the Sun”. An old drawing taken from Maspero, Histoire Ancienne, III, p.552 shows right in front of us the well (today Ain el Hamman), a little farther back the characteristic high walls of the city, and in the background a mountain, presumably the old acropolis.

Herodot was told in Thebes that the foundation of the oracle was due to two women abducted from Thebes by Phoenicians, one of them sold to Hellas, the other to Libya. A great search was conducted for the two, but in vain, and only several years later they learned about their destiny, II 54.

Exactly the same is told about Europa in Tyre: she was abducted, and the citizens of Tyre each year celebrated the memory of her abduction and called the evening it happened Kaké Opsiné (“Evil dusk”). Also Jo is searched for once a year in Anthioch by Orontes, where people at the time of the year when she disappeared go from door to door knocking[21]. The abduction of the female goddess is, as we have seen, a very important motif in Phoenician religion.

That Phonician slavetraders should have organised abductions of women as deep in the southern part of Egypt as Thebes seems a little unlikely, and the prophetesses of Dodona, who confirmed that the two oracles were founded at the same time, gave another story: two black pigeons were sent out from Thebes. One came to Libya, the other to Dodona, where is rested in an oak tree and ordered in a human voice that an oracle for Zeus should be established on this spot. The same thing happened in Libya, II 55. The pigeon is an important symbol of the Syrian goddess, but most decisive is the way the idol took part in a method of divination: the idol[22] was carried in a golden boat by 80 priests, and they would take the direction the god urged them to take. Exactly the same is told about the divination  guided by the god in Mabbug. He drives his bearers round in every possible direction untill the high priest starts asking him questions. If he wants to answer “Yes”, the bearers are driven forward, if “Nay” he makes them move back, Lucian 36. It seems pretty certain that Ammon is the West Semitic Baal Hammon. Regular contact between Siwa and Egypt was first established in the 15th cent. B.C.

On coins struck in Cyrene 430-285 B.C. there are not only pictures of Zeus Ammon with wild hair and beard, but also a younger god with smaller horns and without a beard. L.Müller[23] was the first to see that this had to be combined with the tradition by Diodor of Ammon´s son, Dionysos.

We have here the typical Phoenician highgod splitting up in a young and an old god. And when the two pigions are sent out from Thebes it could be a misunderstanding of the West Semitic word for “ark” (tebah). Just as in Mabbug we have then a tradition about the flood. But most important is the characteristic omphalos shaped “fetish”[24], also typical of the Syrian area. When we look at the picture, we are at once struck by the dimensions of the distant acropolis-mountain. What could be more impressive than this mountain lying in the middle of the vast desert, and with the oasis and the “Well of the Sun” at its feet? For some prehistoric traveller going west in what was felt as the footsteps of the sun it was a revelation of the mythical mountain of paradise.

Ptolomaeos I told that Alexander was led through the desert by two snakes most likely Agathodaemon and Agathe Tyché identified with Serapis and Isis whose cult Pt. sought to promote[25] they are here seen in typical late-Egyptian style like a pair of Indian Nagas.

A strange sign was seen by Alexander's father at his son's birth: he saw an egg break, and out of the egg came a snake that coiled around the shell and finally attempted to reenter to where it had emerged, but, having got its head inside, it died. A god-inspired interpreter explains that the king will have a son who will go round the whole world, bringing everyone under his sway. But when turning back, he will die young[26]. But the snake coiling around the egg is an old symbol of the kundalini-force: its ascent is an inner journey, identical with the journey in the orbit of the sun around the world. Cf. Job 3,8 about the magicians raising Leviathan: mystic vision gives magic force. Hermes, the psychopomp, has the caduceus (the two coiling snakes) as the symbol of his ability to travel fast in the orbit of the sun. (The planet Mercury is a close follower of the sun).

On the island of Pharos Alexander finds the "pillars of Helion" and the tomb of Proteus "over which presides Time... turning the boundless world on his five-peaked ridges"[27] – that is the mythical primordial island in the centre of the universe with the pillars of the sun, here one for each of the 5 elements, not only fire & vegetation.

      Arrian V, 26 conveys a speech by Alexander where he reveals his plan to move forward to the Oceanos-stream, and then sail around Africa and in through the pillars of Heracles (following the path of the sun). He speaks repeatedly about his and the army´s “labours”. Alexander found it important that Lysippos gave full expression to “the lion-like” look of the king[28] with the long hair that stood up in his forehead in an anastolê[29].

Acc. to S.Weinstock[30] it was only the Syrian-Seleucidian dynasty that used the Nicator-terminology, the terminology of the victorious sun. (Until it was taken over by the Roman emperors. A single exception is Attalos I of Pergamon, who called himself Galatonicés.) Seleukos I is called Nicator, and the Zeus temple in Daphne, perhaps buildt by him, shows a Zeus with a small Nike-statue on the palm of his hand; his memorial is called Nicatoreion, and several of his successors use the Heracles epithet, Kallinicos (“He who has beautiful victory”). The son, Antiochos I, strikes a coin showing himself as Apollo sitting on the omphalos, and on the reverse an old man with a bull´s horns and features of Seleukos[31]. Demetrios II Nicator (139-25 B.C.) is shown as Sandan on the pyre.


But already after the battle at Gaugamela a mountain was called Nicatorion Oros by Alexander, cf. the Mons Victorialis of the Magi[32]. G.Widengren treats this as a very important tradition linked to the birth of the Divine Child, the earthly birth of Mithra as Rex Magnus[33]. “The mountain of Victory” also seems to play a role in the Ugarit texts: after giving birth to a bull calf, the young heifer, Anat ascends to “the Mountain of Victory”, Saphon also called Arr, cf. CTA 3, III, 27ff., where Anat is invited to visit Baal on “the heights of victory”. After Alexander´s victory over Poros the city Nicaea is founded, and when he, after his return from India, demands to be honoured as a god, it is suggested that a statue with the inscription, “King Alexander Anicetos Theos” is put up[34].

[1] J.de Moor, Anthology…, pp.61f.

[2] CTA 4, VII, 33f.

[3] Keilinschriftliche  Bibl. III, 1, p.103

[4] ibd., 105)

[5] ibd. I, 159, 161

[6] 1000-500 B.C. Photo Mus. Louvre

[7] Sumerische Hymnen v. A. Falkenstein & von Soden, pp.117f.

[8] p. 116

[9] M.Lidzbarski in ZAW 7, pp. 104ff.

[10] Cook, Zeus I, fig.455.On this motif: the young god and the older, H.Böhlig, Die Geisteskultur von Tarsus, 1913

[11] Rerum gestarum XIV, 8,3 (ed. Fr.Eyssenhardt)

[12] J.Tondriau, “Alexandre le Gr. assimilé a différentes divinités”, Revue de Philologie, LXXV, 1949, pp.41ff.

[13] Cook, Zeus I, fig.283

[14] Nigidius Figulus, sphaera graecani & Hygin, astronom. II, 20 ad. aries

[15] III 71, 2

[16] Diod. II, 22

[17] Diod. III, 68, 38

[18] Polyaen.Strateg. I, 3, 4

[19] Strabo XV, I, 6

[20] Megasthenes ap. Josephos Ant. Jud. X, 2, 1

[21] John Malala 2, pp.28ff. Dindorf

[22] An omphalos stone adorned with precious stones, acc. to Curtius 4, 7, 23f.

[23] In: Falbe-Lindberg-Müller

[24] Meltzer, “Der Fetisch im Heiligtum des Zeus Ammon”, Philologus 63, pp.186f.

[25] W.W.Tarn, “The Hellenistic Ruler-cult”, JHS 48, 1928, pp.218f.

[26] Pseudo-Callisthenes I, 11

[27] Ps.Callist. I, 33

[28] Plut. Alex. 2, 2

[29] Plut. Pomp. 2, Ael. Var Hist 12, 14)

[30] “Victor and Invictus”, HR 50, 1957, pp.211ff.

[31] E.Babelon, Les Rois de Syrie, pp.LXXIV & XVI

[32] Zoroastr. fr. S 12, Bidez-Cumont, Les Mages hellénisés 2, p.119

[33] Die Religionen Irans, pp.207ff.

[34] Hyperid. or. I, col. 32,5; Cassius Dio 43, 45, 2