Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 70-72 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Persepolis Looted
Macedonians Turn On Each Other During Gold Rush
Alexander Secures Citadel Treasury
Courtesan Incites Destruction of Royal Palace

The Story

Chapter 70
Persepolis was the capital of Persia and Alexander described it to his men, perhaps for that reason, ‘as the most hateful of the cities of Asia’ before handing it to them to plunder.

For a day, the Macedonian soldiery ran riot through the city, stripping every home of its riches. By Alexander’s command, only the royal palaces were exempt from looting. The native men were slaughtered and women taken as slaves.

The Macedonians’ avarice was so great that they turned on each other in order to gain more wealth. Fights broke out, Macedonians were killed; some had their hands cut off as they grasped for the gold and silver before them, others cut valuables in half rather than give them all up to a rival. Diodorus describes a people ‘driven mad by their passions’.

Chapter 71
While his men devastated Persepolis, Alexander went to its citadel o take ‘possession of the treasure there’. Two hundred years of treasure was stored inside. Its total value was 120,000 talents. Alexander kept some of the money ‘to meet the costs of the war’, and had the rest sent back to Susa.

For the rest of this chapter, Diodorus tells us about the royal palace precinct.

The citadel

  • ‘[S]urrounded by a triple wall’
  • Outer (?) wall – 16 cubits high, ‘topped by battlements’
  • Middle wall – 32 cubits high
  • Inner (?) wall – Rectangular & made of stone; 60 cubits high
  • Bronze doors in each wall
  • Bronze poles stand next to each door; 20 cubits high

Citadel Terrace

  • To the East on ‘the so-called royal hill’ are the royal tombs
  • ‘Scattered About’ the terrace – royal quarters, homes of nobility, guard houses

Chapter 72
In the days following his arrival in Persepolis, Alexander ‘held games in honour of his victories’ and ‘performed costly sacrifices to the gods’. He entertained his friends with lavish feasts where copious amounts of alcohol as well as food were consumed.

One night, when the festivities were well advanced, ‘a madness took possession of the minds of the intoxicated guests’. A woman stood up and declared that ‘it would be the finest of all [Alexander's] feats in Asia’ if he were to set the royal palace ablaze and permit her to share in the destruction of ‘the famed accomplishments of the Persians’.

The woman was Thaïs of Athens and had she no special connection to the king he might just have laughed off her request. But Thaïs – who was a courtesan – had once been his close companion, possibly even his lover, and now lived with Alexander’s friend, Ptolemy Lagides. Her voice carried weight.

It also captured the vengeful mood of the Macedonians that night, a mood that was, it seems, as yet unsated by the day-long plundering of the city; for no sooner had Thaïs spoken than her call was taken up by the other guests.

The Loeb translation says that Alexander ‘caught fire at their words’. I can’t decide if this is a singularly appropriate or inappropriate metaphor to use given the circumstances. Anyway, Alexander leapt to his feet. A ‘victory procession in honour of Dionysus’ was formed and torches lit. Female musicians provided the soundtrack to this momentous moment. Alexander threw his torch into the palace first. Thaïs was permitted to do so second. Everyone else followed thereafter.

The fire took hold and the royal palace went up in flames. Athens was finally avenged; how remarkable, says Diodorus, ‘that the impious act of Xerxes… against the acropolis at Athens should have been repaid in kind… by one woman, a citizen of the land which suffered it, and in sport’.

Alexander’s expedition was – at least ostensibly – carried out to avenge the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 B.C. so the destruction of the Persepolis, the capital of Persia, marks its natural conclusion. I guess that is why Alexander went to the effort of calling the city the most hated in Asia, which he did not do – for example – in the imperial capital of Babylon.

Further to this, Diodorus is also at pains to personalise Alexander’s hatred towards Persepoleans. ‘He felt bitter enmity to the inhabitants. He did not trust them, and he meant to destroy Persepolis utterly’. Actually, thinking about it, I would suggest that Alexander saw the Persepoleans as icons of the hated empire rather than truly as individuals.

Diodorus paints a lurid picture of Macedonian avarice. There was an ‘orgy of plunder’, ‘boundless greed’, and ‘exceeding lust’. The funny thing is, though (funny peculiar, that is), so far as I can tell, the Macedonians  were acting within accepted boundaries. The only thing that they did differently was go after the valuables before killing/enslaving the native population because Persepolis was such a rich place.

By the way, the reason I have put question marks next to the inner and outer wall bullet points is that it isn’t clear to me which Diodorus is describing. I might have it the wrong way round.

In describing the events leading to the destruction of the royal palaces, I have missed out one occurrence. Some of the guests who urged Alexander to set fire to the palaces, said that to do so would be ‘a deed worthy of [him] alone’.

imagine the guests were thinking in terms of Alexander’s leadership of the Hellenic League. However, so far Thaïs is concerned, their words do seem to have a slight hint of rebuke about them – either a personal one, or one that is founded on the fact that she was an Athenian not Macedonian.

We don’t know enough about Thaïs to know whether or not she was a popular person within Alexander’s court (practically speaking it didn’t matter on account of her past and present patrons) but we do know from the unhappy example of Eumenes in the successor period that Macedonians did not take to other Greeks very well. I would be very surprised if prejudice wasn’t somewhere in the drunken guests’ minds.

If there was hostility to Thaïs in the court, it is interesting that Alexander permitted her to throw her torch into the palace after him. If nothing else, it shows that he appreciated the symbolism of their act.

One final point about Thaïs – I am sure her motive to burn the royal palaces was to avenge her home city but I can’t help but note that Diodorus represents her as only wanting to destroy the Persians ‘famed accomplishments’. His Thaïs is rather a nihilist. The issue of vengeance is raised by an unknown person a moment later.

Dragon’s Den
Coming Soon to an amphitheatre near you. Watch contestants try to persuade Thaïs that their home, palace or city should not be destroyed. The winners get to live. The loser will hear the immortal words – “You’re fired”.

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The Mutilated Greeks

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 69 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Tiridates: First Come, First Served
Alexander’s Benevolence – Help for Mutilated Greeks

The Story
With Ariobarzanes disposed of, the road to Persepolis was now clear. And as Alexander and his men marched towards the city, its gates swung open as well: a messenger arrived bearing a letter from Tiridates, Persepolis’ governor. In it, he told Alexander that if he arrived before an expected Persian defensive force then the city would be handed over to him.

Eager to avoid a siege, Alexander forced marched his men towards the capital of Persia.

After crossing the Araxes River, the Macedonians were met by a distressing sight that reduced Alexander to tears. A group of mostly elderly Greeks approached them – representatives of about eight hundred who had been exiled here from their homes ‘by previous kings of Persia’ – and all were mutilated.

Diodorus tells us that some had had their hands amputated, others their feet; still others had had their noses or ears cut off. It appears that they were craftsmen of various types and that the Persians had cut off the limbs that were not necessary to their work. I can only imagine what those without hands were skilled at.

The mutilated Greeks begged Alexander to help them. Greeting the leaders of the group, he ‘promised to make it a matter of utmost concern that they should be restored to their homes’.

Hearing this, the Greeks held a debate among themselves. Did they really want to return to Greece?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they decided that actually, they didn’t. ‘If they were brought back safely, they would be scattered in small groups, and would find their abuse at the hands of Fortune an object of reproach as they lived on in their cities’.

If they remained together, however, ‘they would find a solace for their mutilation in the similar mutilation of the others’.

The leaders came before Alexander, told him what they had decided and asked for his help to make it a reality. ‘Alexander applauded their decision’ and gave the following,

  • Each man 3,000 drachmae
  • 5 men’s robes
  • 5 women’s robes
  • 2 yoke of oxen
  • 50 sheep
  • 50 bushels of wheat

In addition, the Greeks were exempted from paying ‘royal taxes’. To guard against prejudice, and what I suppose we would call hate-crimes now, Alexander ‘charged his administrative officials to see that they were harmed by no one’.

Tiridates’ letter reminds me of the city of Celaenae in Asia Minor, which offered to surrender to Alexander if the reinforcements that the city was expecting did not arrive. As the city was in a very strong defensive position Alexander agreed.

The Footnotes say that neither Arrian or Plutarch mention the story of the mutilated Greeks (Curtius and Justin do). I’m a little surprised that Plutarch doesn’t. It tells us a lot about Alexander’s character, which is the basis of his narrative.

The other day I mentioned my doubts regarding Curtius’ account of the downfall of Orsines and Diodorus’ account of the throne and its missing footstool (see the comments here). By contrast, I think Diodorus’ description of the mutilated Greeks is psychologically compelling. Even today, if one was in the position of those Greeks, who would choose to live in a wider community with its attendant prejudice rather than with a community of people like oneself?

Persepolis Open Day
Spend the day visiting Persepolis’ fabulous palaces!
Gold in abundance; silver in plentiful supply
Beautiful women; priests ready to sacrifice for you
* Special Deals (Ownership of city incl. its treasury) if you arrive in groups of 20,000 armed Macedonians or more

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The Susian Rocks

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 68 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Enters Persia
Does Fortune Really Favour the Brave? An Enquiry
Macedonian Surprise Attack Destroys Ariobarzanes’ Army

The Story
If Fortune had smiled on Alexander when he came to Uxian pass, she was in a less indulgent mood five days later when he came to the Susian Rocks. Before, she had not only allowed the king to perceive how difficult it would be to defeat Madetes and his men, but given him a guide whose knowledge of the pass ensured that the Macedonians won an easy victory against the rebels. Now, the Macedonian king was made to suffer before Fortune would look kindly on him once more.

The Susian Rocks lay at the top (?) of a pass that cut through the Zagros Mountains and were being defended by Ariobarzanes ‘with a force of twenty-five thousand infantry and three hundred cavalry’. At first, Alexander’s advance went well. But only because Ariobarzanes’ men were waiting high above for the moment to attack. It came when the Macedonians had reached the half-way mark. Then, the Persians set boulders rolling down the cliff walls. They crashed into the Macedonian soldiers. Javelins and stones followed. Unable to take the fight to the Persians, Alexander ordered his men on.

Diodorus reports that no Persians were killed or injured in this ambush – not even, it seems, the stone-throwers who threw their missiles at ‘close-quarters’ to the Macedonians. By contrast, ‘many’ of Alexander’s men were killed and ‘not a few’ injured. To compound things, Diodorus states that ‘practically all the [Macedonian] attacking force [was] disabled’.

With his army badly compromised, Alexander had no choice but to sound the retreat. The army turned round and made camp 300 furlongs away.

After setting up camp, Alexander interviewed Persian natives (he was now in Persia aka Persis) to see if they knew of any alternate routes through the Zagros Mountains. They didn’t. The best suggestion was that he simply go round them.

This idea did not appeal to Alexander as it would, in his eyes, be ‘discreditable to abandon his dead’. Neither did he wish to to ask Ariobarzanes’ permission to retrieve their bodies before going on his way as that would have been an admission of defeat in their brief engagement.

Alexander started interviewing his prisoners. And now, Fortune began to smile once more. She brought a Lycian into the king’s presence. He told Alexander he ‘had been brought [to Persia] as a captive’ years ago and was now a goat shepherd. ‘He [knew] the country well and could lead a force of men’ along a secret path that he knew of, one that would bring the Macedonians into the Persian rear.

Promising the man great wealth, Alexander had him lead the way. He did, and the Macedonian army crossed ‘the mountain at night struggling through deep snow’. Presently, it arrived at Ariobarzanes’ first line of defence, which itwas destroyed. The second line was captured, and the third ‘routed’.

If the ‘Susian Rocks’ sounds an unfamiliar name (it did to me) that is because they are otherwise – and more popularly? – known as the Persian Gates.

The other Alexander historians give more detail regarding what happened. For example, (and this from the Footnotes), Arrian states that ‘Alexander… sent… his main body of troops toward Persis along the royal road, and only undertook this pass with a  flying column’.

Since I started this series of posts a month ago, a handful of events/incidents have for one reason or another made a deep impression on me. One of them was the Siege of Halicarnassus (which I wrote about here) where Alexander came closer to defeat than anywhere else (that I can currently remember. Please feel free to remind me of anywhere else in the comments box!). Alexander wasn’t in battle when the Persians forced him to retreat but the fact that he had to still makes an impression because it happened so rarely. In fact, I think this is the first occasion in Diodorus’ narrative that he has had to do so. As above, let me know if I am wrong.

As I said above, Alexander promised a big reward to the Lycian – Curtius says that he gave him no less than thirty talents! I suppose his goat herding days were over after that.

From “Persia: An Economic History 559 B.C. – A.D. 651″ by Walter Turnip III

… records discovered during an archaeological dig in Persepolis in 1972  reveal that in early 329 B.C. goat prices across Persia sky rocketed. By autumn, the price of a single, healthy goat had entered the millions of dollars. Not long later, a man could not buy a goat for love nor money.
…..For forty years, historians wondered what could have caused this extraordinary activity. Had disease almost wiped Persia’s goat population out, dramatically raising the price of the survivors?
…..Recently discovered records – also unearthed at Persepolis – give the answer, for they refer to the fact that at the start of the year, one man (unnamed) bought the country’s entire herd.
Who was this man?
…..It is believed that he is none other than the Lycian goat herder who helped Alexander the Great cross the Zagros Mountains in the winter of 329 B.C. and thus defeat the Persian marshal Ariobarzanes at the Persian Gates. In return for his help, Alexander gave the man thirty talents. Historians believe that rather than spend his money elsewhere, the man stuck to what he knew: goats. No one else had the money; no one else had the motive. Or, I think, the compulsion. As one of my esteemed colleagues said to me, recently, “A man’s goat to do what a man’s goat to do.”

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Across the Pasitigris and into the land of the Uxii

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 67 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Leaves Susa
Royal Family Left Behind – Will Learn Greek
Madetes Puts Up Brief Fight in Uxiane

The Story
We are not told when exactly Alexander left Susa (just that it happened ‘after’ the throne incident) but he must have done so in a timely fashion as Diodorus makes no mention of the king having been distracted by Susa’s riches. So much for Darius’ plan.

Something that Diodorus does mention, however, is that when the Macedonians left Susa, the Persian royal family stayed behind. Alexander may have thought that the road ahead would be too difficult and too dangerous for them. At the same time, he certainly had an eye on the family’s political future as he appointed teachers to teach the family Greek.

Upon leaving Susa, the Macedonian army marched towards the Tigris River, reaching it four days later. By crossing it, the army came into the territory of the Uxii. There, Alexander was confronted by ‘passages guarded by Madetes, a cousin of Dareius’.

As the cliffs were sheer, it appeared that Alexander had no choice but to attack Madetes directly. Just then, a ‘Uxian native’ – perhaps a guide who had been hired/forced to take them through Uxiane – stepped forward and said he knew a way up the cliff ‘to a position above the enemy’.

Alexander sent a detachment with the guide while he lead a direct assault on Madetes’ position. The Macedonians attacked in waves and the battle was in full flow when, to the Persians’ surprise, they saw the ‘flying column of Macedonians’ above them. Rather than wait to be attacked on two fronts, the Persians fled. The pass was taken and the cities of Uxiane soon followed.

As the title of this post indicates, for Tigris we should read Pasitigris, which today is the Karun River. That information comes from the Footnotes and Livius. Wikipedia also adds that the Pasitigris – under its older name of Pishon – was also one of the four rivers that flowed through the Biblical paradise of Eden, which, whether one takes the story of Adam and Eve literally or not, is quite a thought.

There seems no question to me that the assault on Madetes’ pass was a battle well won. I have to admit, though, I have little enthusiasm for the episode. I think that is one part the result of Diodorus not spending much time on the incident and one part the fact that Madetes runs away really quickly. At least Darius stood and fought for a while.

Persian Royal Family’s End of Term Report Card

‘Tries hard in her language studies. One day, I hope to persuade her to stop saying ‘Alpha is for Alexandros’ in a wistful fashion and move on to beta…’
Stateira II
‘Spends too much time arguing with her sister as to whether Alexander is better than Hephaestion.’
‘Winds her sister up by saying ‘if Alexander and Hephaestion are one person then so are we and you can’t disagree with yourself’. A one woman logic free zone.’
‘Refuses to leant Lambda until Sparta joins Alexander’s Hellenic League. Like the Spartans, must try harder.’

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Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 65, 66 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Fresh Troops Reach Macedonian Army
Alexander Enters Susa
EXPOSED: Darius’ Secret Order
POLL Should Alexander Have Used Darius’ Table?

The Story

Chapter 65
Leaving Babylon, Alexander started marching east towards the royal city of Susa. He was still in Babylonia when fresh troops from Macedon arrived at the camp. Here are their numbers as Diodorus gives them.


  • Cavalry 500
  • Infantry 6,000


  • Cavalry 600


  • [infantry?] 3,500


  • Cavalry ‘little less than’ 1,000
  • Infantry 4,000

Along with the soldiers ‘came fifty sons of the king’s Friends sent by their fathers to serve as bodyguards’. The fact that these men are identified as their fathers’ sons makes me wonder if they weren’t actually pages come to serve Alexander and be hostages to their fathers’ good behaviour.

Six days after leaving Babylon, Alexander entered Sittacene, which lay between Babylonia and Susiana. The country was a rich one ‘abounding in provisions of all sorts’ so Alexander let his men rest for a few days to allow them to recover from the excursions of their march.

While his men caught their breath, Alexander set about reviewing his army’s organisation. ‘He wanted to advance some officers and to strengthen the forces by the number and the ability of the commanders’. Officers who had proven their worth were promoted. He also made changes to the ‘situation of… individual soldiers’ in order to improve their lot.

Diodorus tells us that Alexander’s promotions and improvements increased his army’s devotion and obedience to himself. No doubt that was an intention of the reform, but the Footnotes suggest that he may also have been adapting the army for ‘impending mountain and steppe warfare’, a type of fighting that the traditional phalanx was not suited for.

Upon resuming its march, the Macedonian army made its way through Sittacene and into Susiana and hence to the capital, Susa, which he took ‘without opposition’. Indeed, Diodorus says that Abuleutes (Footnotes: Abulites according to Arrian and Curtius) the satrap had been told by a Darius to let Alexander take the city. Why? Darius thought Alexander would be distracted by Susa’s wealth and glamour thus allowing him more time to raise his third army.

Chapter 66
Susa had no shortage of wealth. It gave Alexander’s coffers 40,000 ‘talents of gold and silver bullion’ and 9,000 ‘talents of minted gold in the form of darics’.

During his tour of the royal palace, Alexander lifted himself onto the Great King’s royal throne. The dais upon which it stood was so high off the ground that Alexander’s feet were unable to reach the footstool and were left dangling.

A quick-thinking page placed a nearby table under his feet. Alexander approved of this solution. One of a Darius’ eunuchs, however, started to cry. When asked what was wrong, he explained that he was ‘grieved’ to see an object that was so highly regarded by Darius be used in such a base manner by Alexander.

Alexander sympathised. Believing that he had acted arrogantly he ordered the page to take the table away. At this point, Philotas interjected. You did not act arrogantly, he told the king, for your action ‘”… occurred through the providence and design of a good spirit.'”

Who would Alexander side with – the eunuch or Philotas? He chose the latter, justifying his decision by regarding Philotas’ words as an omen, and the table stayed where it was.

The new Macedonian and allied cavalry and infantry were brought by Amyntas son of Andromenes, who we saw leave for home in Chapter 49 (here).

When I read Chapter 65, I found myself wondering who the Trallians were. The Footnotes helpfully state that they were a Thracian tribe.

If the Footnotes are right that Alexander’s re-organisation of his army was carried out in order to adapt to the new forms of warfare that lay ahead then we can take it as an example of his genius as a general, able to not only adapt to new conditions but develop new forms of military organisation as well.

Diodorus’ anecdote regarding the satrap of Susa’s orders are not, the Footnotes say, mentioned by any other Alexander historian. The idea that Darius thought the Macedonians would be distracted by Susa’s wealth made me smile, though, as it presumably means that he thought the Greeks were decadent in the same way that the latter thought the Persians were. I had not considered this before.

The story of the throne reminds me of Curtius’ account of Orsines’ downfall at the hands of Bagoas. I have my doubts regarding the truth of that story (certainly as Curtius writes it) because it portrays Alexander in far too simplistic a manner: Bagoas has a word in his ear, the next thing you know, Orsines is dead. The same happens here: Alexander sits on the throne, the eunuch complains so he pacifies him, then Philotas has a word so Alexander does what he says. It’s all too neat (rather like the two Gordian knot traditions, which I wrote about here)

The Crying Eunuch would make a great name for a pub
“We deliver service with a smile… unless you move the tables, in which case the resident eunuch will start to bawl”

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The Gordian Knot

There are two traditions regarding how Alexander cut the Gordian knot.

In the first, Alexander undoes the knot by cutting through it with his sword. In the second, he undoes it by removing the pin that holds the knot together.

Arrian reports both traditions. He doesn’t give a source for the sword tradition, writing only ‘some say that…’ but he does give Aristobulos as the source for the pin tradition.

Plutarch follows Arrian’s example: he mentions both sword and pin, doesn’t give a source for the sword tradition, and cites Aristobulos as the source for the pin tradition.

Curtius only mentions the sword tradition while Diodorus doesn’t even mention Alexander’s visit to Gordium let alone the knot. I don’t have a copy of Justin to hand but I understand that like Curtius he only mentions the sword tradition.

So, which tradition is the correct one?

I would like to suggest that both are.

What I think happened is that when presented with the knot, Alexander attempted to unpick it first. Unable to do so he then resorted to using his sword. At that point, he either cut through the whole knot, or cut through it far enough to be able to unpick the ends that had now appeared and thus remove the pin.

My rationale for saying this is as follows:

I find it very hard to believe that no one thought of pulling the pin out before Alexander. If it really was that simple a solution, someone would surely have tried it already. Aristobulos’ account is too neat to be true.

On the other hand, while Alexander could behave very rashly sometimes, I find it equally hard to believe that he would not have made at least some attempt to undo the knot in the most perfect manner, i.e. by unpicking it, before resorting to his sword. He did like to do things in the best way.

If Alexander used both methods, then, why do we have two traditions that give part of the story rather than one that gives the whole story?

That, I think, is down to bias. Aristobulos’ is very biased towards Alexander. He always puts a positive spin on the king’s actions. Cleitus’ death? That was his fault not Alexander’s. It makes sense, therefore, that he should say Alexander simply removed the pin and omit all reference to his use of the sword.

By the same token, I imagine that the sword tradition comes from Macedonian soldiers who either gave the full story and were then selectively quoted by historians like Cleitarchus, or from their comrades who were less favourably disposed towards the late king. In the case of the latter, unable or unwilling to lie when asked if Alexander undid the knot, they resorted instead to emphasising the ‘negative’ aspect of the story – Yes, he undid it, but only by using his sword.

I say ‘Macedonian soldiers’ deliberately as I believe Callisthenes, the court historian, would have written that Alexander pulled the pin out. Whereas Aristobulos probably wrote out of love for Alexander, Callisthenes had to put a positive spin on the king’s actions out of necessity. Undoubtedly, though, the full story disseminated through the rank and file and it is thanks to them that we have the sword tradition.

This post was inspired by a couple of tweets that I saw. I don’t know if the people concerned would want to be named here so I won’t but if they read this – thank you from Alexander’s ‘scribe’ :-)

Categories: By the Bye | Tags: | Leave a comment


Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 64 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Darius Makes for Ecbatana
Alexander Enters Babylon
Marvellous Macedonians Make Merry!
Alexander’s New Appointments: Full Details Inside

The Story
After fleeing from Gaugamela, Darius made his way to the upper satrapies – just as he had done following his defeat at Issus. On that occasion, his final destination had been Babylon. This time, however, knowing that Alexander would be heading there, he rode for Ecbatana in Media.

Darius’ strategy was just the same as after Issus – to bring together and re-equip the survivors of his latest defeat, and enlist men for a new army. To that end, he ordered the neighbouring tribes to send men. No doubt mindful of the precariousness of his position, he also sent couriers to the ‘satraps and generals’ of the upper satrapies and Bactria, asking them to stay loyal to him.

As Darius rode towards Ecbatana, Alexander buried the Macedonian dead and made his way to the village of Arbela. There, he found ‘abundant stores of food, no little barbaric dress and treasure, and three thousand talents of silver’.

Having taken possession of these riches, Alexander left for Babylon straight away – he did not want his men to get ill from the polluted air caused by the unburied Persian dead on the battlefield. Leaving the bodies for the natives to dispose of he began the journey south.

Alexander entered Babylon unopposed. Indeed, the Babylonians were very happy to see him. The new Lord of Asia remained in the city for ‘more than thirty days’. During that time, the locals helped the army to party hard (If you would like to know more about what happened, the Footnotes state that Curtius ‘gives a lurid description’ of the entertainment), and Alexander made the following appointments.

  • Agathon of Pydna guard of  Babylon’s citadel (with a force of 700 soldiers)
  • Apollodorus of Amphipolis and Menes of Pella Joint military governors of Babylon and all satrapies between there and Cilicia. They were given 1,000 silver talents and orders to enlist as many men as possible.
  • Mithrines Satrap of Armenia

He also gave the following rewards. To each

  • [Macedonian] cavalryman 6 minas
  • allied cavalryman 5 minas
  • Macedonian member of the phalanx 2 minas
  • mercenary 2 months pay

The Footnotes say that 1 mina ‘contained’ 100 hundred drachmae and was equal to a sixtieth of a talent.

I once read that Bactria was the homeland of the Persian Great Kings (I think from Darius I onwards?). If this is correct, it shows how precarious Darius’ position had become that he felt the need to ask for the Bactrian satrap’s loyalty.

I said, above, that Alexander left the Persian dead for the natives to bury. Would they have done so? I need to find out more about Persian funerary rites.

Mithrines in Armenia appears to be one of Diodorus’ errors. The Footnotes point out that Armenia had not been conquered (by Alexander) at this time.

Babylon Facts
If you remember being in Babylon… YOU WERE NEVER THERE

‘The Hanging Gardens’ was originally a sexual position

Popular Sayings: “Your secret is safe on the ziggurat”

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Sparta’s Rebellion

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 62, 63 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Memnon Leads Thracian Uprising
King Agis Leads Greek Rebellion
Antipater Settles With Memnon
Battle of Megalopolis: Macedonians Victorious
Agis Dies Heroically

The Story

Chapter 62
With hindsight, we can call the Battle of Gaugamela the decisive encounter between Alexander and Darius. Even though Darius escaped, his defeat brought about the death of the Archaemenid Empire and birth of its Argead successor.

At the time, however, Gaugemala was not seen in such terms. At least, not by the Greeks. Diodorus states that when the Greek cities heard about Alexander’s victory at Gaugamela they ‘became alarmed at the growth of Macedonian power and decided that they should strike for their freedom while the Persian cause was still alive’. For them, Darius was down but not out. Indeed, the Greeks had an expectation that he would send money ‘so that [the Greeks] could gather great armies of mercenaries.’

The first Greek rebellion came from Memnon, governor-general of Thrace. Memnon was ‘a man of spirit’. He ‘stirred up the tribesmen’ of Thrace so well that Antipater was obliged to send the entire Macedonian army north to quell the insurrection.

At some point during the Thracian campaign, Sparta issued a call to arms in defence of Greek freedom. Athens, which ‘had been favoured beyond all the other Greeks by Alexander’ remained still. ‘Most of the Peloponnesians, however, and some of the northern Greeks’ came over to Sparta’s side.

The allied Geek army numbered ‘not less than’ 20,000 infantry and around 2,000 cavalry. It was led by Sparta with King Agis at the head.

Chapter 63
Upon hearing about Sparta’s revolt, Antipater hurriedly came to terms with Memnon and headed south. Along the way he added men to the Macedonian army’s numbers from those cities that ‘were still loyal’. By this means, he brought the army’s strength to ‘not less than’ 40,000.

The two armies met ‘near Megalopolis’, according to the Footnotes. During the battle, King Agis was killed. In contrast to the Persians at Gaugamela, the Spartans kept fighting. The battle only ended when Sparta’s allies fell out of position. At that point (to avoid a rout?), the Spartan army retreated and returned home.

Casualty figures according to Diodorus

  • Spartans + allies ‘more than’ 5,300
  • Macedonians + allies 3,500

The figures above are for deaths only – Diodorus doesn’t give any figures for the numbers of wounded on either side.

Diodorus ends the chapter with an account of Agis’ death. After fighting ‘gloriously’ and receiving ‘many frontal wounds’ the king was escorted away from the battlefield, only to be surrounded by Macedonians. Concerned that his men should live to fight another day, Agis sent them away. As for himself, he gripped his sword, lifted himself up, and began fighting once more.

Upon hearing of the battle, Alexander was less than complimentary to both Antipater and Agis, calling the war a battle of mice, but he must surely have appreciated the nobility of the Spartan king’s demise.

Chapter 62 begins a new year in Diodorus’ chronology (July 330 – June 329 B.C.). The Battle of Gaugamela, however, took place at the start of October in 331 B.C. Further to this, the Footnotes state that the Battle of Megalopolis ‘probably’ took place before that of Gaugamela rather than afterwards as Diodorus suggests.

Memnon, the governor-general of Thrace is obviously not the same Memnon who fought Alexander at the Granicus River. That Memnon died not long afterwards (see Chapter 29).

Antipater is mentioned in Chapter 62 for the first time since Alexander left Macedon. Alexander left him there to govern the country, and in the king’s absence, to keep an eye on Greece.

If King Agis’ name seems familiar, that is because we saw him in Chapter 48 when he campaigned in Crete. It will be noted that whereas in Ch. 48 Diodorus described Agis as wanting ‘to change the political situation in Greece in favour of Dareius’, his objective was now simply to win freedom from Macedonian rule. Persia’s hoped-for role, it seems, was simply to provide the money for the mercenaries.

Further to the above, the Footnotes also state that no other source mentions Memnon’s revolt. Not only that but Memnon later brought reinforcements to the king ‘and took part in his later operations in the East’.

Spartan Q & A
Why did Sparta lose the Battle of Megalopolis?
It didn’t lose, it defied victory.

Do you wish you could have fought without the help of allies?
Sparta had no allies at Megalopolis, only subordinates.

How great a blow was Agis’ death?
It was a deadly one – for him.

Did it hurt having to seek Persian help?
We never sought, only found.

There is nothing like Spartan pride.
And never will be.

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The Battle of Gaugamela

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 58-61 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Persian and Macedonian Armies Clash At Gaugamela
Alexander Narrowly Misses Killing Darius
Parmenion Defeats Mazaeus
Darius Flees; Persians Routed

The Story

Chapter 58
As we saw in the last post, Diodorus dedicates the whole of Chapter 57 to the formation of the Macedonian army. At the start of this chapter, he restricts his description of the Persian army’s formation to saying that that it was based ‘on the characteristics of its national contingents’. I take this to mean that like the Macedonians, each battalion was formed of men from a particular region.

The only other detail that we are given is Darius’ position. Diodorus places him opposite Alexander, on the Persian left wing. The Footnotes, however, state that he actually  fought in the centre.

Darius and Alexander ordered their men forward. As the two sides came up to each other, their trumpeters gave the signal to attack. Diodorus says that ‘the troops charged each other’ although if the Macedonians were carrying their sarissae, I find that unlikely. Be that as it may, the Battle of Gaugamela now begun.

One The Persians’ scythed chariots leapt forward. At first, and just as Darius intended, they ‘created great alarm and terror among the Macedonians’, all the more so since Mazaeus, who was ‘in command of the cavalry’, sent them forward with ‘dense squadrons of horse’.
1A After the initial shock, however, the Macedonians remembered Alexander’s instructions and they began beating their shields loudly. The tactic worked. Most of the Persian horses were unsettled and turned back. Some, however, continued forward. Again, just as Alexander ordered, the phalanx divided so that the chariots could pass harmlessly through.
1B This tactic was only partially successful. It is true that some chariots passed straight down the newly created channels while others were stopped when the driver was killed with a javelin. But other chariot drivers ‘wrought death’ upon the Macedonians, with their scythes slashing the enemy from neck to leg.

Chapter 59
Two The Macedonian phalanx and Persian infantry now came within shooting distance of each other. Arrows, slingshot and javelins flew threw the air

Three Hand-to-hand combat between the cavalry began. In Chapter 57 I got the impression that the Macedonian cavalry ran from the right to left wing – just as it had at the Granicus River and Issus. From what Diodorus now says, however, it appears that, actually, it was on the right wing only. As this was so, Diodorus continues, Darius himself ‘led his kinsman cavalry against them’. These were the Royal Relatives, whose flight presaged the Persian defeat at the Granicus River.

Four The Persian cavalry was supported in its attack by a unit known as the ‘Apple Bearers’, so-called because of the apple-shaped butt on their spears, the Mardi and Cossaei, household troops and ‘the best fighters among the indians’. They enjoyed a superiority of numbers over the Macedonians and pressed hard against them.

Five Diodorus now tells us that Mazaeus was in charge of the Persian right wing. Either his horse had swift feet or this is a mistake as a moment ago Mazaeus was somewhere in the centre or left wing overseeing the scythed chariots’ attack. My uncertainty on this point comes from the fact that Diodorus doesn’t say where exactly the chariots were while the Footnotes suggest they were situated on the left wing – they must be referencing another historian.
5A Mazaeus had ‘the best of the [Persian] cavalry under him’, and with it he wreaked havoc on the Macedonians killing ‘not a few of his opponents at the first onslaught’.
5B As the Persian cavalry drove at the Macedonians, Mazaeus ordered ‘two thousand Cadusii and a thousand picked Scythian horsemen’ to sweep round the Macedonian flank and hit the baggage train. Their orders were to capture the Macedonian baggage, people as well as objects. The Footnotes suggest that this may have been, effectively, a rescue operation to free the Persian women (e.g. the royal family).

Six The Cadusii and Scythian horsemen entered the Macedonian camp. Persian prisoners-of-war rose up to join them.’Most of the female captives rushed off to welcome the Persians’. But not Sisygambis. She ‘neither trusted the uncertain turns of Fortune nor would sully her gratitude toward Alexander’.

Seven The Persian horsemen returned to Mazaeus ‘to report their success’.

Eight Meanwhile, Darius’ cavalry continued to press against their Macedonian opposites, forcing them ‘to give ground’.

Chapter 60
Nine Seeing the Persian cavalry force his men back, Alexander decided it was time to intervene. Leading the ‘royal squadron and the rest of the elite horse guards’ he ‘rode hard against Darius’.

Ten The Persians defended themselves by flinging javelins at Alexander and his men. Dodging the missiles, Alexander returned fire – throwing a javelin at Darius himself. It missed – but only just; instead, it struck Darius’ chariot driver, knocking him to the ground.

Eleven The driver’s fall was the turning point of the battle. The Persians around Darius cried out at this near-miss. Their concern was misinterpreted by soldiers further away, who thought it meant that Darius had been killed.

Twelve Fearing the worst, the soldiers further away began to flee from the battlefield. The men fighting next to them followed. ‘[S]teadily, little by little, the solid ranks of Dareius’s guard disintegrated’.

Thirteen One can imagine Darius’ frustration as he saw his men fleeing from the battlefield. Nevertheless, he fought on until ‘both flanks [of his guard?] became exposed’. Then, filled with alarm, he retreated.

Fourteen Seeing Darius’ chariot flee, the Persian army began a general collapse. Alexander and his men searched for Darius but in the swirl of dust, thrown up by the Persian cavalry, it was impossible to find him.

Fifteen Despite Darius’ departure, the battle was not yet over. Mazaeus was pushing the Thessalian cavalry hard on the Persian right (/Macedonian left). He might have routed lesser foes, but the Thessalians were the finest horsemen of their time and ‘put up a stout resistance’. Under Parmenion’s leadership, they were even able to take the upper hand.

Sixteen Mazaeus, however, had superior ‘weight and numbers’ and took control of the fight. There was a ‘great slaughter’ and Parmenion feared his men would be defeated. He sent horsemen to ask Alexander for help but they were unable to catch up with him – his pursuit of Darius had taken him a ‘great distance from the battlefield’.

Seventeen The horsemen returned to Parmenion. Despite what must have been a bitter disappointment, Parmenion did not give in. And what happens when you don’t give in? You win. That’s what Parmenion did. He routed Mazaeus’ cavalry. The Battle of Gaugamela was now over.

Chapter 61
Eighteen As he rode away from the battlefield, Darius took advantage of the dust cloud hiding him and swung round to the Macedonian rear. In doing so, he escaped his pursuers.

Nineteen Following the Persian army’s defeat on the battlefield and the route that followed here are the casualty figures as Diodorus gives them.

  • Persian Cavalry and Infantry ‘more than ninety thousand’
  • Macedonian Cavalry and Infantry ‘[a]bout five hundred’ + ‘very many wounded’

Twenty Some high-profile Macedonians were injured during the battle. Hepahestion was wounded in the arm by a spear thrust. Perdiccas and Coenus were also injured. Diodorus also mentions a cavalry officer named Menidas (‘and others of the higher commanders’) who I am not familiar with being hurt.

In Chapter 58, Diodorus describes how the Persian scythed chariots ‘cut through necks and sent heads tumbling to the ground with the eyes still open and the expression of the countenance unchanged’. This is obviously an indication of how quickly the scythes killed their man but it also reminded me of the story (I don’t know if it is true) of how, after she was guillotined, Charlotte Corday’s head was lifted up and slapped to see if it was possible for someone to survive decapitation even if only for a few seconds. Corday is said to have looked indignantly back at the man who assaulted her. There is more on this gruesome story on her Wikipedia page.

The Footnotes state that Diodorus’ mention of the Cossaei in Four (one of the units that supported the Persian cavalry on the left wing) is an error ‘since they were not subjects of the king’

At the start of Chapter 60, Diodorus says ‘The Persian king… hurled javelins against his opponents’. In Ten, above, I have limited myself to saying that the Persians flung javelins as I can’t bring myself to believe that Darius himself did so. What do you think? Is it likely that he would have himself?

Still in Chapter 60 – in Eleven I described how the fall of Darius’ driver led to the Persians around the royal chariot anxiously crying out. Their dismay at how close Alexander had come to killing the Great King was misinterpreted by Persians further away who thought it meant that Darius had been killed. They began fleeing the battlefield, thus initiating the end of the battle. How far away were these Persians? The reason I wonder this is because Darius was supposed to be quite tall, was he not? Were these Persians too far away to see him standing up? Was Darius, at that moment, leaning down to tend to his driver? Was he cowering in his chariot?

With reference to Sixteen, the Footnotes are very interesting regarding Parmenion’s message to Alexander. The historians are divided as to what happened.

  • Arrian ‘Alexander received the message and returned’
  • Curtius and Plutarch ‘Alexander received the message but did not turn back’
  • Diodorus Alexander did not receive the message and did not return

The Footnotes give the casualty figures according to the other historians.


  • Persian Dead Three Hundred Thousand
  • Macedonian Dead One Hundred


  • Persian Dead Forty Thousand
  • Macedonian Dead Three Hundred

Writer of P. Oxyrhynchus 1798

  • Persian Dead Fifty Three Thousand
  • Macedonian Dead One Thousand Foot + Two Hundred Horse
Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Macedonian Army’s Formation

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 56, 57 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Oversleeps
Macedonian Army Forms Up Against Persians

The Story

Chapter 56
That night, Alexander lay in his bed pondering the size of the Persian army and the ‘decisive nature of the impending battle’. Whichever army was the strongest would win the day, and win everything. But which would triumph? Alexander didn’t know and this uncertainty kept him awake until the early hours of the next day when his concern finally gave way to sleep.

Dawn came and went and Alexander slept on. This pleased his Friends who thought ‘that the king would be all the keener for the battle’ if he woke up well rested.

However, as the sun continued its rise in the east, Alexander continued to sleep. Parmenion used his authority as Alexander’s second-in-command to order the Macedonian army ‘to make ready for the battle’. The other Friends, meanwhile, entered Alexander’s bed chamber to try and rouse him. After some effort, it seems, they succeeded.

The Friends were astonished at Alexander’s ability to rest for so long. How could he be so unconcerned? Alexander replied that Darius ‘had freed him from all anxiety by assembling all his forces into one place’. This day would decide everything, ‘and they would be saved toils and dangers extending over a long period of time’.

No doubt after completing his toilette and eating, Alexander called his officers together and gave a rousing speech. By now his army was ready to move. He lead it towards the Persian line. As at the Granicus River and Issus, the cavalry rode ahead of the infantry.

Chapter 57
Diodorus dedicates this chapter to giving an account of the formation of the Macedonian army and a brief explanation of how it approached the Persian force.

Cavalry from Right to Left

  • Royal Squadron under Black Cleitus
  • Friends under Philotas son of Parmenion
  • Seven squadrons also under Philotas son of Parmenion
  • Peloponnesians and Achaeans under Erygius of Mitylene
  • Phthiotes and Malians also under Erygius of Mitylene
  • Locrians and Phocians also under Erygius of Mitylene
  • Thessalians under Philip

Diodorus states that Alexander placed Cretan archers and Achaian archers ‘next’ to the Thessalians.

Infantry from Right to Left

  • Silver Shields under Nicanor son of Parmenion (behind the Royal Squadron, Friends and seven squadrons)

Diodorus classes the following as battalions

  • Elimiotes under Coenus
  • Orestae and Lyncestae under Perdiccas
  • Unidentified battalion under Meleager
  • Stymphaeans under Polyperchon
  • Unidentified battalion under Philip son of Balacrus
  • Unidentified battalion under Craterus

The Persian army was much larger than the Macedonian; to prevent the enemy from outflanking him, Alexander ‘kept his wings back’ from the front line. His response to the threat posed by the scythed chariots was to order the infantry to clash their shields when the chariots approached in order to scare their horses into turning back.

If that didn’t work, the men were told to simply move to one side and allow the chariots to pass through the gap. The horses and their riders would then be sitting ducks (my phrase not Alexander’s!) for Macedonian sling and spear.

As usual for the king, Alexander himself rode on the right wing with the royal squadron.

Finally, Diodorus says that Alexander moved the army forward in an oblique (i.e. slanted) line – he wanted to get to the Persians first and ‘settle the issue of the battle by his own actions’.

First of all – I have had to guess at one or two of the proper nouns above. Apologies if you see any incorrect ones (let me know in the comments if you do and I’ll amend the post).

The story of Alexander oversleeping is a very good one. The fact that he couldn’t sleep for worry shows his humanity in a very simple and perfect way.

For me, Chapter 57 is notable for who it omits to mention for as much as who it does. For example, where is Hephaestion? He may have been Alexander’s closest friend but it seems that – according to Diodorus – at Guagamela he was not yet senior enough to command a battalion of the Macedonian army.

I was a little surprised that Diodorus didn’t give Parmenion’s location. It appears from Chapter 60, however, that he was fighting on the left wing next to the Thessalian cavalry. Being Alexander’s deputy he was probably in overall charge of the left wing.

Those of you who know Alexander’s army well will have noticed an anachronism in Diodorus’ desciption of it. According to the Footnotes, ‘Silver Shields’ only came into use as a term to describe the hypaspistae (Shield Bearers) during the diadoch period. It originated from the ‘introduction of silver and gold trappings in 327′ presumably on the soldiers’ shields.

From Alexander’s Crusade by Professor Tufton Frobisher-Smythe (OUP 1902)
The Battle of Gaugamela is sometimes referred to as The Battle of Arbela in deference to the village of that name, near which Alexander and Darius III clashed. However, Gaugamela is the more accurate name as that is where the two armies actually were.

That the battle should be called The Battle of Gaugamela is highlighted in certain early manuscripts of Arrian’s history where he refers to an another battle that really did take place at Arbela even as Alexander and Darius were fighting one another a few miles away. The combatants were a number of Macedonians and Persians. Arrian writes,

“The men on both sides were stragglers. Messengers had previously come from the main army of both kings and told them to make for Arbela ‘as that is where all would be decided’. So they did. Of course, the messengers meant Gaugamela but the men did not realise this. Thus, when they arrived outside Arbela and saw each other both assumed that the enemy in front of them were the sole survivors of a mighty battle that had already taken place. That there were no bodies nearby did not occur to anyone as reason to doubt this assumption. As a result of this mistake, the stragglers decided to fight each other for the honour of their late kings and country. The Macedonians won and claimed the Persian Empire for themselves. They were very disappointed when messengers from the main army reappeared to tell them what had happened at Gaugamela.”

An undeniably curious episode that no other ancient historian mentions. Did it really happen? Or was Ptolemy (or Arrian for that matter) drunk when he wrote it?

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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