Boukephala and Nikaia is located in Pakistan

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Boukephala and Nikaia , Pakistan

Balochistan is a historically significant region located in the far southeast of the Iranian plateau, in Western and South Asia. This region is characterized by its arid landscapes, featuring deserts and mountains, and is primarily inhabited by the ethnic Baloch people.

The name “Balochistan” is widely believed to have originated from the Baloch people themselves. It is worth noting that historical records before the advent of Islam do not mention the Baloch people. It is presumed that they might have been known by a different name in their place of origin, adopting the name “Baloch” after settling in Balochistan, which is estimated to have occurred around the 10th century.

Balochistan is geographically divided among three different countries: Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. From an administrative perspective, it encompasses the Pakistani province of Balochistan, the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan, and southern regions of Afghanistan, including provinces like Nimruz, Helmand, and Kandahar. It shares borders with the Khyber Paktunkhwa region to the north, while its eastern boundaries adjoin the regions of Sindh and Punjab in Pakistan. To the west, Balochistan shares its borders with Iranian territories. The southern coastline of Balochistan, which includes the Makran Coast, meets the waters of the Arabian Sea, particularly the western part known as the Gulf of Oman.

Boukephala and Nikaia

Country

Founded

Periods

Coordinates

Builder

Pakistan

326 BC

Hellenistic, Mauryan

32°39′34″N 73°24′19″E

Craterus, on the order of Alexander the Great

Historical

Alexander's Conquests and the Battle of the Hydaspes

Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king who reigned from 336 to 323 BC, launched an invasion of the Persian Achaemenid Empire in 334 BC. He achieved significant victories over the Persian king Darius III during the battles of Issus in 333 BC and Gaugamela in 331 BC, thereby gaining control over a substantial portion of West Asia. Following these triumphs, Alexander pursued Bessus, the satrap of Bactria, who had killed Darius and declared himself Artaxerxes V of Persia. After capturing and executing Bessus, Alexander turned his attention southward toward the Indus River, aiming to subdue local rulers.

In April 326 BC, Alexander captured the fortress of Aornos, located in present-day northern Pakistan, and subsequently crossed the Indus River to initiate his campaign in northern India. He orchestrated a series of maneuvers to traverse the Hydaspes River (modern-day Jhelum River) and engage in a pivotal battle against the Indian king Porus, known as the Battle of the Hydaspes.

Accounts of Alexander’s establishment of two cities following the Battle of the Hydaspes are documented in the writings of five major sources: Arrian, Plutarch, Diodorus, Curtius Rufus, and Justin. All five agree that Alexander founded two cities, one on each side of the Indus River, naming one Nikaia and the other Boukephala. The responsibility of constructing and fortifying these new cities was entrusted to Craterus, a prominent general in Alexander’s army.

Purpose and Challenges of the Cities

After celebrating his victory and the foundation of these cities with athletic and equestrian competitions near the western city, Alexander continued his Indian campaign. He returned to the cities a few months later, prompted by a mutiny among his troops at the Hyphasis (modern-day Beas River) that forced him to alter his plans. Scholars have debated whether Alexander intended for these foundations to become rapidly developing cities or military garrisons to control the conquered territory. Some historians, like N. G. L. Hammond, have proposed that Boukephala and Nikaia, strategically located along a major river, were established with an eye toward facilitating trade routes.

The historical sources provide limited clarity regarding the specifics of the cities’ foundation and nomenclature. Arrian separates the clauses describing the cities’ locations and names, leaving it uncertain which name corresponds to each city.There is also ambiguity regarding the timing of the death of Bucephalus, Alexander’s horse after which Boukephala was named. Justin suggests that Bucephalus fell at the outset of the Battle of the Hydaspes, while Plutarch mentions that the horse died either from injuries or old age, but not immediately, “but some time afterwards.”

Later history

Boukephala seems to have endured for several centuries, likely falling under the rule of the Mauryan Empire (approximately 320–185 BC). The subsequent presence of the Indo-Greek kingdom (around 170 BC–10 AD) in the region probably contributed to its continued existence. However, in the twentieth century, British classicist William Woodthorpe Tarn advanced a theory suggesting that the settlement served as the capital of the 1st-century BC Indo-Greek king Hippostratus. Tarn’s theory was based on the presence of a symbol on Hippostratus’ coins, which he believed could only have been minted at a Greek city. However, this theory is now regarded as flawed due to the absence of such coins near the Hydaspes. Furthermore, Indian historian A. K. Narain questioned whether Boukephala still thrived during the time of Menander I (circa 150 BC). Still, the city’s presence in the 1st-century AD Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a guide for Roman merchants, dispels this uncertainty.

Boukephala is mentioned in numerous Greco-Roman texts, including various versions of the Alexander Romance, the works of Ptolemy, and Pliny the Elder’s writings. Pliny identifies the city as the foremost among three controlled by the Asini tribe. References to Boukephala also appear on the Tabula Peutingeriana and in the writings of Yaqut al-Hamawi, a 13th-century AD Islamic scholar. In contrast, Nikaia is less frequently cited in ancient sources. There is a possibility that the frequent mention of “Alexandria” for Porus may actually pertain to Nikaia.

Ancient sources consistently use the name “Boukephala,” although it occasionally appears as “Boukephalia” or “Alexandria Boukephalos” during the Byzantine period. Alexander, known for founding cities following his military triumphs, had recently established another settlement named “Nikaia” to the east of Paropamisadae. Tarn proposed that all of Alexander’s foundations were designated as “Alexandria,” with any other names serving as nicknames. However, this conclusion is generally considered unsubstantiated.

Location

Historian Getzel Cohen noted that even in antiquity, the precise locations of Boukephala and Nikaia were subjects of debate. Over time, the course of the Jhelum River has shifted, creating marshlands to the east. The Indian monsoon, which damaged the cities during Alexander’s era, further complicates their preservation prospects. It is unlikely that significant remains of either city exist today, even at considerable depths. While some scholars have suggested locations for Boukephala, such as the town of Jhelum or a tell near Dilawar, the prevailing view, proposed by archaeologist Aurel Stein in 1932, places it beneath the modern town of Jalalpur Sharif. A monument commemorating Alexander’s life was constructed near Jalalpur Sharif between 1998 and 2011, funded by the Government of Pakistan, the Greek embassy in Islamabad, and private donations. However, by 2023, it had fallen into disrepair.

If Boukephala indeed stood at Jalalpur, then the most likely site for Nikaia is the town of Mong, located 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to the east on the opposite side of the river. Alexander Cunningham, during the first Archaeological Survey of India, suggested this hypothesis. Some propose that Nikaia could be situated near the present-day village of Sukchainpur. However, Stein concluded that pinpointing the site of Nikaia was impossible.

A possible reference to these two cities appears in the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya, a text belonging to an early Buddhist school and likely dating from the time of Kushan emperor Kanishka (circa 127–150 AD). The vinaya, recounting one of Buddha’s journeys, mentions two cities named Ādirājya (“Place of the First Kingship”) and Bhadrāśva (“Place of the Good Horse”) along the Vitastā (Hydaspes) River, on the road from Gandhara to Mathura. While the Buddha connected these cities to the legendary king Mahāsammata, it is conceivable that they were, in reality, Boukephala and Nikaia. Additionally, an ancient Hindu tradition at a shrine to Mangla Devi in the Garjak site above Jalalpur includes a story involving the death of a magical horse, possibly linked to the history of these cities.

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