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Gates of Alexander

Dhul-Qarnayn, with the help of some jinn, building the Iron Wall to keep the barbarian
Gog and Magog from civilized peoples. (16th-century Persian miniature)
The Gates of Alexander was a legendary barrier supposedly built by Alexander the
Great in the Caucasus to keep the uncivilized barbarians of the north (typically associated
with Gog and Magog[1]) from invading the land to the south. The gates were a popular
subject in medieval travel literature, starting with the Alexander Romance in a version
from perhaps the 6th century.
The wall, also known as the Caspian Gates, has been identified with two locations: the
Pass of Derbent, Russia or with the Pass of Dariel, west of the Caspian Sea. Tradition
also connects it to the Great Wall of Gorgan (Red Snake) on its south-eastern shore.
Historically, these fortifications were part of the defence lines built by Sasanians of
Persia. The Great Wall of Gorgan may have been built by the Parthians.
The name Caspian Gates originally applied to the narrow region at the southeast corner
of the Caspian Sea, through which Alexander actually marched in the pursuit of Bessus,
although he did not stop to fortify it. It was transferred to the passes through the
Caucasus, on the other side of the Caspian, by the more fanciful historians of Alexander.
Josephus, a Jewish historian in the 1st century, is known to have written of Alexander's
gates, designed to be a barrier against the Scythians. According to this historian, the
people whom the Greeks called Scythians were known (among the Jews) as Magogites,
descendants of Magog in the Hebrew Bible. These references occur in two different
works. The Jewish War states that the iron gates Alexander erected were controlled by
the king of Hyrcania (on the south edge of the Caspian), and allowing passage of the
gates to the Alans(whom Josephus considered a Scythic tribe) resulted in the sack
of Media. Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews contains two relevant passages, one giving
the ancestry of Scythians as descendants of Magog son of Japheth, and another that
refers to the Caspian Gates being breached by Scythians allied to Tiberius during
the Armenian War.
The Gates occur in later versions of the Alexander Romance of Pseudo-Callisthenes, in
the interpolated chapter on the "Unclean Nations" (8th century). This version locates the
gates between two mountains called the "Breasts of the North". The mountains are initially
18 feet apart and the pass is rather wide, but Alexander's prayers to God causes the
mountains to draw nearer, thus narrowing the pass. There he builds the Caspian Gates
out of bronze, coating it with fast-sticking oil. The gates enclosed twenty-two nations and
their monarchs, including Goth and Magoth (Gog and Magog). The geographic location
of these mountains is rather vague, described as a 50-day march away northwards after
Alexander put to flight his Belsyrian enemies (the Bebrykes, of Bithynia in modern-day
North Turkey).
A somewhat similar story also appears in the Qur'an, Surat al-Kahf 83-98 with key
differences. Rather than the builder being a conquering emperor like Alexander, the
Qur'an describes a liberating hero predating Alexander, known as Dhul Qarnayn. Also
the structure is a huge iron wall rather than a gate and its purpose is to defend people at
the foot of two mountains from Gog and Magog.
During the Middle Ages, the Gates of Alexander story was included in travel literature
such as the Travels of Marco Polo and the Travels of Sir John Mandeville.
Geographical identifications

Caspian Gates: Darial Gorge, Derbent, Rhaegae, Wall of Gorgan.

( Iberia or ancient Georgia); Hyrcania).
It is not clear which precise location Josephus meant when he described the Caspian
gates. It may have been the Gates of Derbent (lying due east, nearer to Persia), or it may
have been the Darial Gorge, (lying west, bordering Iberia or Georgia proper. Both are
situated in present-day Dagistan.
However, neither these were within Hyrcania, but lay to the north and west of its
boundaries. Another suggestion is some mountain pass in the Taurus-Zagros Mountains,
somewhere near Rhaegae, Iran, in the heart of Hyrcania