Charax Spasinu

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Spasinu Charax /spæsɨn æræks/, or Charax Spasinu, Charax Pasinu, Charax Spasinou (Ancient Greek: Σπασίνου Χάραξ), Alexandria (Greek: Ἀλεξάνδρεια), and Antiochia in Susiana (Greek: Ἀντιόχεια τῆς Σουσιανῆς) was an ancient port at the head of the Persian Gulf, and the capital of the ancient kingdom of Characene. The city of Charax was originally on the coast of the Persian Gulf in what is now Kuwait.[1]

Hyspaosines (209-124 BC), founder and king of Characene, had his capital in Charax.

Etymology[edit]

The name Charax, probably from Greek Χάραξ,[citation needed] literally means "palisaded fort", and was applied to several fortified Seleucid towns. Charax was originally named Alexandria, after Alexander the Great, and was perhaps even personally founded by him. After destruction by floods, it was rebuilt by Antiochus IV (175-164 BC) and renamed Antiochia. It was at this time provided with a massive antiflood embankment almost 4½ km long by Antiochus's governor, Hyspaosines, and renamed "Charax of Hyspaosines."

There is a theory that Charax derives from the Aramaic word Karkâ meaning 'castle', but Charax often attested at several other Seleucid towns with the meaning palisade.

Location of Charax[edit]

According to Pliny the Elder:

"The town of Charax is situated in the innermost recess of the Persian Gulf, from which projects the country called Arabia Felix. It stands on an artificial elevation between the Tigris on the right and the Karún on the left, at the point where these two rivers unite, and the site measures two [Roman] miles [3 km] in breadth... It was originally at a distance of 1 14 miles (2.0 km) from the coast, and had a harbour of its own, but when Juba [Juba II, c. 50 BC—c. AD 24] published his work it was 50 miles (80 km) inland; its present distance from the coast is stated by Arab envoys and our own traders who have come from the place to be 120 miles (190 km). There is no part of the world where earth carried down by rivers has encroached on the sea further or more rapidly..."[2]

The location of Charax was originally in the coast of the Persian Gulf in modern-day Kuwait.[1] Another possible site is a large mound known as Jabal Khuyabir or Naysan near the confluence of the Eulaios/Karkheh and the Tigris Rivers as recorded by Pliny[3] Naysān could be a colloquial Arabic corruption of Maysān, the name of the Characene region during the early Islamic era.[4]

History[edit]

A history of the Charax can be distilled primarily from ancient texts and numismatic sources, as the city has never been excavated.

The city was established by Alexander the Great in 324 replacing a small Persian settlement Durine.[5] This was one of Alexander's last cities before his death in 323 BC. Here he established a quarter (dēmē) of the port called Pella named after Alexander’s own town of birth where he settled Macedonian veterans.[6] The city passed to the Seleucid empire and Alexander's death until it was destroyed at some point by flooding.[7]

The city was rebuilt about 166 BC by order of Antiochus VI who appointed Hyspaosines as satrap to over see the work.[8] The political instability that followed the Parthian conquest of most of the Seleucid Empire allowed Hyspaosines to establish an independent state, Characene, 127 BC. He renamed the city after himself.

Charax remained the capital of the small state for 282 years, with the numismatic evidence suggesting it was a multi-ethnic Hellenised city with extensive trading links. The Romans under Trajan annexed the city in AD 116[9] Characene independence was re-established 15 years latter under the rule of Mithridates, a son of the Parthian King Pacoros, during his a civil war for the Parthian throne. From this time the coinage from Charax indicates a more Parthian culture.

In AD 221-22, an ethnic Persian, Ardašēr who was satrap of Fars, led a revolt against the Parthians, establishing the Sassanid Empire. According to later Arab histories he defeated Characene forces, killed its last ruler, rebuilt the town and renamed it Astarābād-Ardašīr[10] The area around Charax that had been the Characene state was thereon known by the Aramaic/Syriac name, Maysān, which was later adapted by the Arab conquerors.[11]

Charax continued, under the name Maysan, with Persian texts making various mention of governors through the fifth century and there is mention of a Nestorian Church here in the sixth century. The Charax mint appears to have continued through the Sassanid empire and into the Umayyad empire, minting coin as late as AD 715.[12]

Charax was finally abandoned during the 9th century because of persistent flooding and a dramatic decrease in trade with the west.

Economy[edit]

The original Greek town was enlarged by an Arabian chieftain, Spasines, and afterward named Spasines and Charax Spasinou after him.[13] It was a major trading center of late antiquity as evidenced by the hoards of Greek coins recovered during excavations there.[14]

Although it was nominally a vassal of the Seleucids and, later, the Arsacids, it seemed to have retained a considerable degree of autonomy at times. It became a centre for Arab trade, largely controlled by the Nabataeans, at least until they became assimilated by the Romans in AD 106.

Charax was a rich port with ships arriving regularly from Gerrha, Egypt, India, and beyond. Trajan observed the ships bound for India during his visit while Strabo calls the city an emporium[15] and Pliny notes that the city was a centre of trade for rare perfumes[16] and was also a centre for pearl diving. It was also the beginning of the overland trade route from the Persian Gulf to Petra and Palmyra and also into the Parthian Empire[17]

Notable persons[edit]

It was visited in AD 97 by the Chinese envoy, Gan Ying 甘英, who referred to it as 于羅 (Pinyin: Yuluo; reconstructed ancient pronunciation *ka-ra), who was trying to reach the Roman Empire via Egypt but, after reaching the Persian Gulf was convinced to turn back by the Parthians.[18]

In AD 116, the Roman Emperor Trajan visited Charax Spasinu – his most recent, easternmost and shortest-lived possession. He saw the many ships setting sail for India, and wished he were younger, like Alexander had been, so that he could go there himself.

Isidore of Charax, a 1st-century geographer, came from Charax Spasinu.

Robert Eisenman contends that it was this city, and not the better-known Antioch in which Paul established his first church.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b The Legacy of Iranian Imperialism and the Individual: With ..., Volumes 1-3. 2001. p. 67. "The city Charax was originally, before silting from the two great rivers stranded it inland, on the coast of the Persian Gulf NE of what is now Kuwait." 
  2. ^ Pliny the Elder (AD 77). Natural History. Book VI. xxxi. 138-140. Translation by W. H. S. Jones, Loeb Classical Library, London/Cambridge, Mass. (1961).
  3. ^ Pliny VI 39
  4. ^ Characene and Charax,Characene and Charax Encyclopaedia Iranica
  5. ^ Jona Lendering, Charax at Livis.org
  6. ^ Pliny, 6.31.138
  7. ^ Pliny, 6.31.138
  8. ^ Pliny, 6.31.139
  9. ^ Dio Cassius, 78.28
  10. ^ Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Ṭabarī I
  11. ^ Yāqūt, Kitab mu'jam al-buldan IV and III
  12. ^ Characene and Charax,Characene and Charax Encyclopaedia Iranica
  13. ^ http://www.ancientlibrary.com/gazetteer/0108.html
  14. ^ http://www.parthia.com/webreport_37.htm
  15. ^ Strabo - Geography Book XV, Chapter 3
  16. ^ Pliny Nat. Hist.12:80
  17. ^ Isidore of Charax, The Parthian Stations.
  18. ^ Hill (2009), pp. 5, 23, 240-242.

References[edit]

  • Casson, Lionel. 1989. The Periplus Maris Erythraei. (Translation by H. Frisk, 1927, with updates and improvements and detailed notes). Princeton, Princeton University Press.
  • Hill, John E. (2009) Through the Jade Gate to Rome: A Study of the Silk Routes during the Later Han Dynasty, 1st to 2nd Centuries CE. John E. Hill. BookSurge, Charleston, South Carolina. ISBN 978-1-4392-2134-1.
  • Nodelman, S. A. 1960. "A preliminary history of Characene." S. A. Nodelman. Berytus 13 (1960), pp. 83–123.
  • Potts, D. J. 1988. "Arabia and the Kingdom of Characene." In: Araby the Blest: Studies in Arabian Archaeology. Edited by D. T. Potts. The Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Ancient Near Eastern Studies, University of Copenhagen. 1988. Museum Tusculanum Press, pp. 137–167.
  • O. Mørkholm, "A Greek coin hoard from Susiana", in Acta Archæologica, 1965, vol. 36, p. 127-156.

Coordinates: 30°53′41″N 47°34′41″E / 30.894692°N 47.578031°E / 30.894692; 47.578031