Is ‘The Lost City of Alexander the Great’ Actually Alexander’s?

Author: Department of Classics

An ancient city was recently discovered in the Qalatga Darband settlement in Iraq and is thought by some to be a "Lost City of Alexander the Great." Professor Christopher Baron weighs in on the controversy in this excerpt from an article in the Daily Beast, written by Professor Candida Moss, Edward J Cadbury Professor of Theology in the Program of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham (UK):

"Dr. Christopher Baron, associate professor of Classics at the University of Notre Dame, told The Daily Beast that there is no evidence linking Alexander to the site. The city is located about 60 miles east of the present Kurdish capital Erbil (ancient Arbela), near where Alexander and his Macedonian army defeated the forces of the last Persian king Darius III on October 1, 331 BCE (the Battle of Gaugamela). So far so good, says Baron.

This is where things get tricky. Baron told The Daily Beast that after the battle, according to our ancient sources, Darius fled first to Arbela, then east through the mountains toward Ecbatana (modern Hamadan, Iran). “This would have taken Darius through the pass where Qalatga Darband sits. But Alexander, rather than pursue Darius, marched south along the Tigris River in order to capture the magnificently rich cities of Babylon and Susa.”

From then Alexander moved on to Southern and, later, Northern Iran. “Just about every report on the new find gets this wrong,” says Baron, “they have Alexander pursuing Darius through the pass between Erbil and Hamadan, where Qalatga Darband sits. But Alexander did not go further east from Arbela/Erbil… So, most likely, Alexander himself never set foot in Qalatga Darband.” Add to this the fact that the only datable archeological evidence that we know about from the site (the Parthian coin) is first century BCE and the connection with Alexander weakens. As Baron puts it, “As far as I can see, the only direct connection with Alexander is that he won his most important battle nearby.”

The problem, Baron notes, may be an issue of reporting. The archaeological project’s website does not mention Alexander the Great at all, and original analysis of the site dated it to the second or first century BCE to the Seleucid or Parthia empires. McGinnis himself, a highly talented archaeologist, has remarked that it is “early days” for research into the site and does not seem to have made the connection with Alexander himself.

Whatever the origins of the site, its location and what Baron calls the “magnetic” connection with Alexander the Great may help raise public interest in the conservation of heritage sites in general, and in neglected regions like this one, in particular."

For more information about the archaeological site and the controversies surrounding it, see Professor Moss's original article in the Daily Beast: "Is ‘The Lost City of Alexander the Great’ Actually Alexander’s?"