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’ :-)

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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, falling 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
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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?

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The Road to Gaugamela

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 53-55 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Darius’ Army Arrives Outside Arbela
Offer and Counter-Offer: Kings Reject Each Other’s Terms
Alexander Crosses the Tigris
Persian and Macedonian Armies Camp at Arbela

The Story

Chapter 53
By the time Alexander arrived in Syria, Darius was ready to fight him. As mentioned in Chapter 39 (here) the Great King’s army was eight hundred thousand strong and he had what Diodorus now calls ‘no less than two hundred thousand cavalry’.

As well as great numbers, the new Persian army could also boast new and improved weaponry –  longer swords, and lances, and scythe bearing chariots.

The chariots were two hundred in number and were designed ‘to astonish and terrify the enemy’. Each chariot had scythes attached to its yoke and axle housing. Diodorus doesn’t say how many scythes there were in total but I assume it was four – two on either side – if only for balance purposes.

The scythes attached to the yoke were ‘three spans long’, which the Footnotes say was twenty-seven inches. These scythes, and those attached to the axle housing were straight. If I read Diodorus correctly, the axle-scythes had separate, curved, blades attached to the scythe.

Darius gave his army ‘shining armour’. The regiments of men were led by ‘brilliant commanders’. So far so grand. The Footnotes query both the size of the army and use of scythes, though. They say that Curtius’ figure of two hundred thousand infantry and forty-five thousand horse is more reasonable, and that Diodorus’ positioning of scythes would only be possible if the chariots were pulled by two horses. Trace horses would make them impossible.

Where was Darius when he heard about Alexander’s arrival in Syria? He was already camped outside the village of Arbela in Mesopotamia.

Diodorus explains that after leaving Babylon, Darius marched north between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, through ‘rich country capable of furnishing ample fodder’ for his animals and food for his men.

His aim, according to Diodorus, was to make for ‘the vicinity of Nineveh, as the large plains there were ideally suited for his army. Hence, his arrival outside the village of Arbela.

Once there, Darius drilled his men every day to make sure they were ‘well disciplined’. Diodorus notes that the Great King’s major concern was what confusion might ‘arise in the battle from the numerous peoples assembled who differed in speech’.

Chapter 54
How big a concern was the language issue? As his men drilled, envoys from Darius rode at speed to Alexander bearing a new letter from the Great King. I suspect their journey was occasioned more by Darius’ concern that no matter how good his army was, it would not be able to defeat the Macedonians.

As for the envoys’ letter, it was Darius’ second to Alexander. We met the first in Chapter 39. Diodorus adds a little to his description of the original letter by stating that not only did Darius offer Alexander a peace deal and all Persian territory west of the Halys River (in Asia Minor) but also a ransom of ‘twenty thousand talents of silver’.

The second letter began with a compliment – Darius praised Alexander for the latter’s ‘generous treatment’ of the Queen Mother (Sisygambis) and the other captives. Diodorus says that Darius invited Alexander ‘to become a friend’.

Darius increased his offer to -

  • All territory west of the Euphrates River
  • Thirty Thousand Talents of Silver
  • The hand of one his daughters in marriage

By offering Alexander the chance to become his son-in-law, Darius was also offering to make him his son with, I presume, all that that meant dynastically.

Whereas before, Alexander – so Diodorus claimed – forged Darius’ letter before taking it to his senior officers, this time he took the real thing to his council of Friends for their consideration.

‘He urged each to speak his own mind freely’. Perhaps knowing that Alexander already had a view and to speak – even accidentally – against it would imperil them, his men held back. Except, that is, Parmenion.

‘”If I were Alexander, [Parmenion said,] I should accept what was offered and make a treaty.” Alexander cut in and said: “So should I, if I were Parmenion.” He continued with proud words and refuted the arguments of the Persians, preferring glory to the gifts which were extended to him.”‘

It seems the other officers were wise to keep their opinions to themselves.

Alexander now turned to the envoys. He told them ‘that the earth could not preserve its plan and order if there were two suns nor could the inhabited would remain calm and free from war so long as two kings shared the rule’.

Alexander’s reply to Darius, therefore, was simple. If Darius wanted to reign supreme he had to fight Alexander for that honour. If he wanted to be king under Alexander, however, the son of Philip would grant him that privilege.

With the council concluded and the envoys dismissed, the Macedonians resumed their march to Arbela. ‘At this juncture the wife of Dareius died and Alexander gave her a sumptuous funeral’. The Footnotes state that  (according to Plutarch) Stateira I died in childbirth carrying, I think it is reasonable to assume, Alexander’s child.

Chapter 55
Upon receiving Alexander’s counter-offer, Darius once more ‘gave up any hope of a diplomatic settlement’ and continued to drill his soldiers. He ordered a Friend named Mazaeus to guard a ford on the Tigris River. Other troops were ‘sent out to scorch the earth’ on the Macedonians’ route.

When Mazaeus reached the Tigris, however, he decided not to bother guarding it – the river ran fast and seemed to him uncrossable. Instead, he took his men to join those setting fire to the countryside.

Mazaeus had, of course, acted unwisely. Arriving at the Tigris, Alexander didn’t run away from the problem but did his best to overcome it. Which, neither for the first or last time, he did.

It wasn’t easy, though. When Alexander ordered his men to wade across the river, the current swept many away. So, he told his men to lock arms. A bridge was then made ‘out of the compact union of their persons’.

The bridge enabled the Macedonian army to cross the Tigris but it had been a hard won passage. In acknowledgement of this, Alexander gave his men a day’s rest. The next day, they packed their tents and gear and began the journey to Gaugamela where they ‘pitched camp not far from the Persians’.

Why did Alexander show his officers the real letter this time? Did he know that they would all keep quiet? Probably, but I still suspect that Diodorus is just wrong about the forged letter.

By-the-bye, the Footnotes tell me that by offering Alexander all territory west of the Euphrates, Darius was offering him the same amount of land that would one day became part of the eastern Roman empire.

In Oliver Stone’s Alexander the Persian army is shown as a large and rather loose unit (in comparison to the tight-knit phalanx formation of the Macedonians) I think this has sometimes made me regard it being less well trained as well. Diodorus certainly makes it clear that that was not the case. What he says about the Persian army also speaks against the popular idea (among Greeks) that the Persians were effete etc.

I can’t remember which modern historian says this but I do recall reading once that Mazaeus may – may – have been bribed by Alexander. If that was the case, though, would he have joined the Persians putting the countryside to the torch? Perhaps he was permitted to do so as a cover – the Macedonians had food enough for their journey so it didn’t matter.

We all have our heroes. We must also have Men We Are Glad We Were Not. I’m going to nominate the first man to enter the Tigris either alone or with my arm locked to the chap’s behind me. I hope he got a reward to match the forceful current trying to drown him.

When I first read Diodorus’ account of the making of the Tigris bridge, I imagined a platform being placed on top of the poor men underneath it. I assume that this was not what happened! Rather, they kept the platform steady while engineers either drove pillars into the river bed or secured it on both banks.

The Last Thoughts of Perdiccas
Damn.. how did Alexander get away with it?

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The Foundation of Alexandria

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 52 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Birth of a City: Alexandria-Outside-Egypt

  • Full interview with Dionocrates inside

The Story
Leaving Siwah, Alexander rode north-east to the Egyptian delta where he founded the city that would become Alexandria-Outside-Egypt.

The Footnotes tell me that Curtius, Diodorus and Justin ‘follow the tradition of Aristobulus… in placing the foundation of Alexandria after Alexander’s visit to Siwah’. Arrian and Plutarch follow Ptolemy who says it was founded before the trip.

Whichever way round it was, Alexander planned the city in such a way that the summer winds would run down the streets and cool the air as they blew in from the sea. He also directed that Alexandria’s walls be ‘exceedingly large and marvellously  strong’. As Alexandria was situated between a marsh (Lake Mareotis) and the Mediterranean Sea and was approachable by only two narrow roads this meant that she would be very difficult to attack.

Diodorus says that Alexandria was shaped like a chlamys (cloak) and was ‘bisected’ by a forty furlong avenue. This avenue, which is not named, was a hundred feet wide and ‘bordered throughout its length with rich façades of houses and temples’.

Alexander also ordered a huge palace to be built. There is no mention, however, of the famous Library. Despite his interest in knowledge – evidenced by the presence of surveyors on his expedition – it seems Alexander did not conceive the idea of a significant repository to contain it. That was left to Ptolemy and his son, Ptolemy Philadelphus.

Once he had finished planning Alexandria, Alexander ‘charged certain of his Friends’ with its construction. Chief among them was the utterly rapacious, Cleomenes of Naucratis who would spend the next eight years using all the means at his disposal to swindle Egyptians out of their money. His avaricious reign came to an end in 323 B.C. when Ptolemy arrived to take up his role as satrap. Cleomenes was executed ostensibly in punishment for his corrupt behaviour but really it was because he was an ally of Ptolemy’s rival, Perdiccas.

With Alexandria taken care of, Alexander settled the rest of his affairs in Egypt. Once that was done, he left for Syria to continue his pursuit of Darius.

I wonder how it can be that Aristobulos and Ptolemy disagree on when Alexandria was founded. They were both there surely they must remember? Well, perhaps they did. Perhaps, as with Diodorus and Gaza, they changed the order of events for literary reasons.

I’m very interested in the fact that it was Ptolemy founded the famous Library. We know too little of his character to say what inspired him, although I’m sure power had a lot to do with it.

Another thing on my mind is – was the Library the first of its kind? Or was it proceeded by any other large libraries? I’m sure it was, though I can’t remember who got there first.

Diodorus notes that successive Ptolemaic rulers ‘enlarged’ the palace ‘with lavish additions’. The city also grew so that in Diodorus’ own day (he refers to the fact that he visited the city) three hundred thousand ‘free residents’ lived there. This growth, Diodorus says, has caused many to say that it is ‘the first city of the civilized world, and… is certainly far ahead of all the rest in elegance and extent and riches and luxury’. Take that, Rome!

Residents for a new city
*Seaside view!
*All new-build homes!
*A chance to meet new races (in their own quarters)!
*A chance to live under a governor even more corrupt than the usual shower!

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Oracle of Ammon

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 51 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Visits Temple of Ammon

  • Philip’s Murderers Have Been Punished
  • Your Divinity Will Be Manifested in Your Deeds

The Story
The priests of Ammon lead Alexander into the temple. There, the king spent a little time before a statue of the god. Presently, one of the priests, who was also a prophet, joined him and said

“Rejoice, son; take this form of address as from the god also.”

To which Alexander replied,

“I accept, father; for the future I shall be called thy son.”

Having now been confirmed as the son of Ammon, Alexander had two questions for the god – would Ammon give him rule over the world? And had he punished all those involved in the murder of his father, Philip II?

The priest entered the ‘sacred enclosure’ to receive Ammon’s answer. There, statue-bearers raised a statue of the god on its bier and started to move ‘according to certain prescribed sounds of the voice’. As the Footnotes state, Diodorus doesn’t make it clear whose voice this was. The priest, however, was in no doubts as to what the movements meant: Ammon would give Alexander world domination.

The king’s second question elicited a different response.

“Silence!” the priest cried, “There is no mortal who can plot against the one who begot him. All the murderers of Philip, however, have been punished.”

This good news was immediately followed by another welcome utterance.

“The proof of his [i.e. Alexander's] divine birth will reside in the greatness of his deeds; as formerly he has been undefeated, so now he will be unconquerable for all time.”

Unsurprisingly, ‘Alexander was delighted with these responses’ and he ‘honoured [Ammon] with rich gifts’ before returning to Egypt.

Diodorus’ account of what happened at Siwah seems to make it clear that Ammon regarded Alexander as his son and that the king was, therefore, a god; or, at the very least, a demigod. However,

… over the last century there has been certain tendency among historians and biographers of Alexander to accept, without questioning, that he was deified during his lifetime. Often, these scholars took for granted such divinity, thus narratives were constructed based on this –apparently– settled proposition. However, a rapid survey of the sources seems to indicate that this generally accepted thesis is not as solid, as it is believed. This constitutes the aim of this dissertation, namely, to analyse these modern accounts in the light of the ancient sources, in order to examine whether the deification of Alexander has enough grounds to be stated confidently…
(Matias Leiva The Divinity of Alexander the Great)

To read Leiva’s essay at Academia, click here. I certainly look forward to doing so.

I wish I knew more about the lay-out of the temple as I am wondering how Diodorus knew what happened in the sacred enclosure. I suppose his ultimate source is one of the men who accompanied Alexander to Siwah. But, I would have expected the enclosure to be off-limits to outsiders. Could I be wrong? Or maybe a Siwan told a Macedonian what happened?

Another question on my mind is what Alexander’s companions made of the Siwah expedition. If I remember rightly, the ancient Greeks weren’t in the business of deifying the living. There’s no hint that Alexander kept his reason for visiting Siwah secret, but whether or not he did, once the cat was out the bag, what did his men think of him? Sensible? Lunatic? Risky? If Diodorus covers the proskynesis controversy, we’ll perhaps get a glimpse into their later reaction.

We hope you enjoyed your visit to the temple of Ammon. To help us provide a better service in the future, please complete this questionnaire before your departure.

Name………. Race……….
Being Mortal Divine Semi-Divine Other……….
(circle as appropriate)

Did you find the atmosphere in the temple
Hardly more scary than the Persian army

Did you find the oracle to be
So mystifying as to be Delphic

Was the statue
Like seeing Ammon in person
As divine as a cow pat
Spoiled by unsteady statue-bearers; sort them out

Did the voice
Remind you of Ammon
Sound like a drunk
Both of the above
If ‘both’ please outline your ideal god-like voice…………………………

Would you recommend Siwah to others
Don’t know – what does the oracle say YES

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Siwah Oasis

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 50 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Inside Siwah
Love in a Warm Climate
Magical Marriages – Newlyweds Tell Their Incredible Stories

The Story
Diodorus dedicates Chapter 50 of his narrative to a description of Siwah oasis. It is ‘fifty furlongs in length and breadth’ and has ‘a moderate climate’. There are many springs and various types of tree, including those kinds that are ‘valued for their fruit’.

Citing an unnamed source (or sources), Diodorus says that Siwah’s sanctuary was built by Danaüs the Egyptian and that it is (as you’d expect) sacred to Ammon.

Different peoples live at Siwah: Ethiopians in the south and west, Libyans to the north, nomads and Nasamonians in the interior.

These peoples live in villages. In the middle of the oasis is a fortress, which is protected by three walls. The innermost part contains ‘the palace of the ancient rulers’. The middle section is where ‘the women’s court, the dwellings of the children, women, and relatives, and the guardrooms of the scouts’ can be found. Also here is the sanctuary of Ammon and the sacred spring. The king’s guards have their barracks in the outer section of the fortress. The guardrooms of his bodyguard are also located here.

Diodorus reports that there is a second temple dedicated to Ammon at Siwah. Nearby is a spring, known as the Spring of the Sun. Diodorus pauses for a moment to tell us a rather extraordinary fact about this spring. At daybreak, its waters are warm. As the sun rises, rather than heat up, the water actually cools until – at the sun’s peak – ‘it reaches its extreme degree of cold’. In the afternoon, as the sun dips, the water heats up until midnight when it is at its hottest. As the night progresses, the heat of the water decreases again.

This story is not unique to Diodorus. It appears in Herodotus. What are we to make of it? We’ll find out in a moment.

The chapter concludes with an description of a statue of Ammon. It ‘is encrusted with emeralds and other precious stones’. Eighty priests carry it about ‘upon a golden boat’. The priests do not follow a planned route but go where Ammon tells them. They are followed by a ‘multitude of girls and women’ who sing paeans and praise Ammon.

This is the first chapter I have covered where nothing actually happens. As I wasn’t sure how interesting writing (or reading) edited highlights of Diodorus’ description of Siwah would be, I thought it would be nice to include an up-to-date view of Siwah. To that end, I opened up a copy of Justin Marozzi’s The Man Who Invented History. In the early 2000s, Marozzi decided to take a walk in the footsteps of Herodotus. This book is his account of his journey. Marozzi has a couple of very interesting things to say about Siwah. They involve homosexuality and magic.

Marozzi states that ‘Siwa has a reputation as a bastion of illicit homosexuality’. This came about because of the rule that the city’s zaggalah (lit. ‘club-bearers’ – Young men at the bottom of Siwah’s social order who guarded the city at night from Bedouin raids), who were prohibited from marrying before the age of 40, were also prohibited from entering the city lest they fall in love with a (married) woman.

‘With time on their hands, no girls to party with and nowhere to go, the zaggalah had to make their own fun’. For some, that meant liaisons with other men – and boys. These love affairs became so part of zaggalah culture that they led to what Marozzi calls ‘gay marriage contracts’ being drawn up.

The practice continued until 1928 when the Egyptian king, Farouk, visited the oasis and berated the elders for permitting it. As a result of this, the contracts were outlawed.

At this point, I am not clear whether Marozzi says next that homosexuality or the drawing up of gay marriage contracts continued until the 50s. Perhaps it is the latter, as he also quotes GayEgypt as saying Siwah is ‘one of the best cruising places in the world’. I have not been able to find this quotation on GayEgypt’s blog. It does, however, appear on Rainbow Egypt‘s website. Perhaps the former were quoting the latter somewhere. To read about Siwah’s gay history, scroll down the page – ignoring as you go the writer’s speculations on Alexander and his burial place – and make sure you take heed of the closing comment,

If invited to dinner you should read Shane Money’s useful advice in his book “Useless Sexual Trivia” in which he warns readers that traditional belief holds that if a Siwan man mixes semen in your food you will find him irresistible.

You’ve been warned.

King Farouk’s admonition to the Siwan elders was born of his Islamic faith. As with homosexuality so with magic. Despite this, Siwans have ‘an enduring belief’ in it. For how much longer? Marozzi’s source notes that it is less popular today, due to people being better educated.

Nevertheless, come the moment, people still turn to magic to cure their ills. Or rather, cause problems for others. Marozzi mentions various curses: to stop girls marrying other men, to stop couples from having children, even to prevent the consummation of a marriage by turning the husband’s penis into a vagina.

The ‘most common spells’ aim to ‘bring about divorce, illness, infertility and love’. But they are not all-powerful. Marozzi learns that the poor newlywed husband can preserve his manhood by sprinkling holy water from Mecca around the bedroom before bedtime. Rather vexingly, his wife has to wear a ‘hijab veil to protect her from Satan’.

Marozzi also mentions the Spring of the Sun. Incredibly, he finds it just as Diodorus and Herodotus describe it. How can this be so? It’s simple. The feeling that the water is changing temperature is not derived from the water itself but the changing temperature of the air. Never dismiss a tall story. It may just tell the truth from a different perspective.

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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