Shields and Public Shaming

The Global Times frames an article on Europe’s future within the context of Macedon’s and Greece’s past. It writes,

In the 4th century BC Macedonia, a Greek-speaking kingdom of Northern Greece, under the leadership of Phillip II, set out to unify the Mediterranean world. Macedonia’s quest for hegemonic stability brought it into a direct conflict with old established Hellenic powers like Thebes, Sparta and most of all Athens.

The ancient Macedonians did not speak Greek. As I understand it, their tongue was a Greek dialect (which could not be understood by the Greeks).

During Philotas’ trial, Alexander asks Parmenion’s son if he will give his defence using his ‘native language’. When Philotas replies that he will speak Greek, Alexander uses this to score a nationalist point against him (see Curtius VI.9.34-36). Ironically, the reason why Philotas decides to use Greek is because he wants more people to understand him.

Rather than use the word ‘unify’, which for me suggests that Philip wanted to make all peoples equal under his rule, I would say simply that he wanted to conquer them. I have to admit here I am no expert on Philip’s foreign policy so what I say could be wide of the mark; however, I don’t get the impression that Philip was an idealist. He was in the business of winning power. Had he lived longer, maybe that would have changed – we’ll never know.

Macedon never came ‘into direct conflict’ with Sparta. In fact, both Philip II and Alexander left the Spartans alone. Not because they were afraid of the Lacedaemonians but because the latter were militarily and politically irrelevent. There was simply no need to waste time subduing them.

The article concludes

Germany must lead Europe without being hubristic toward other EU states. When Alexander the Great, Phillips’s heir, won his first battle against Persia, he dedicated his triumph to Athens and adorned the Parthenon with the shields of the Persian generals.

The exact truth of this statement depends upon which of the sources you read and trust.

Plutarch (Life of Alexander 16) states that the Macedonian king sent 300 shields (‘captured from the enemy’) to Athens. He writes

… over the rest of the spoils he had this proud inscription engraved: Alexander, the son of Philip, and the Greeks except the Spartans won these spoils of war from the barbarians who dwell in Asia’.

Arrian says that Alexander sent 300 panoplies to Athens as

… an offering to the goddess Athena… with the following inscription: Alexander, son of Philip, and the Greeks (except the Lacedaemonians) dedicate these spoils, taken from the Persians who dwell in Asia

If we follow Plutarch, the article is right to say that shields were sent, though not necessarily from ‘Persian generals’.

Was this a humble gesture on Alexander’s part? It is hard to say as Plutarch doesn’t give the king’s motive for sending them.

The article says that Alexander dedicated his victory at the Granicus to Athens. Plutarch doesn’t say this, and Arrian disagrees. He states that the panoplies were sent as ‘an offering to… Athena’. That makes sense; they were going to the Parthenon, after all.

Sending the panoplies as ‘an offering to… Athena’ sounds like a very humble gesture. However, as the notes to my Penguin Classics edition of Arrian point out, Greeks only played a small part in the Macedonian victory. And note what Alexander says about the Spartans. This inscription – and therefore the spoils – have less to do with humility, therefore, and much to do with propaganda (as my notes suggest) and public shaming. These two things are not evidence of hubris but neither are they good examples of behaviour for Germany or anyone else to follow.

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

To Whom Does This ‘No’ Belong?

The Daily Star of Bangladesh begins a column on the country’s well-being,

War-time British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill ‘mobilised the English language and sent it into battle’, so said American journalist Ed Murrow. Churchill in a major address to the House of Commons quoted Alexander the Great as saying, “Why the Asians were slaves? It is because they have not learnt to say ‘no’.”

Adding, Churchill said, ‘I don’t want that epitaph for Britain.’ He was inspiring the Britons to stand up to the tyrannical Hitlerite blitzkrieg on London at an extremely crucial phase of World War II. Although Alexander’s remark was demeaning to Asia, going back to around 300 B.C when the native rulers were quarrelsome, the Asians were to give a much better account of themselves as history bore out subsequently.

The obvious thing to point out here is that if Alexander did make the remark ascribed to him, he did not say it ‘around 300 B.C.’ unless through a medium. By the turn of the century, he had, of course, been dead for 23 years.

Leaving the issue of the date to one side, is Churchill’s quotation an accurate one?

I certainly cannot think of any occasion when Alexander accused Asians (whether by this we mean those who lived in Asia Minor, India or anywhere in between) of being slaves for any reason let alone the lack of ability to say ‘no’. Certainly, in his own dealings with them, he did not treat them as slaves.

Against that, I have to admit that while I have read the four major histories (plus Justin) on Alexander’s life, I have not read every last reference and fragment. Maybe an author I have not heard of gives those words to him?

Is it worth searching to find out, though? A quick Google search reveals that not only does it appear that Churchill did not mention Alexander in a ‘major address to the House of Commons’ but – contra the Daily Star‘s report – he did not quote him, either.

According to The Churchill Centre, Churchill gave a broadcast speech to ‘the United States and to London’ (presumably the U.K. is meant here) on 16th October 1938. It is during this speech, that he said

Alexander the Great remarked that the people of Asia were slaves because they had not learned to pronounce the word “No.” Let that not be the epitaph of the English-speaking peoples or of Parliamentary democracy, or of France, or of the many surviving liberal States of Europe.

I appreciate that while Churchill doesn’t quote Alexander directly he does say that the Macedonian king said the words that the Daily Star now puts into his mouth; however, the Daily Star has still inaccurately recorded both Churchill’s speech and, I believe (along with Churchill), Alexander’s opinion of Asian/barbarian history.

***

By-the-bye, I could only smile wryly when I read the column’s dismissal of Alexander as belonging to the ‘hoary past’ but then end with a reference to the Gordian Knot. That’s life in the old king’s example, yet.

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The Shadow Story

I am currently reading The Hunt for Zerzura by Saul Kelly, which tells the story of the interwar desert explorers who criss-crossed the Egyptian desert in search of the lost oasis of Zerzura.

They never found Zerzura but did manage to map a great deal of previously unknown territory. These maps eventually ended up in the hands of both the Axis Powers and British armies after the outbreak of the Second World War.

***

There is much I could say about the book and the people involved in the exploration, but in this post I just wanted to highlight a comment made by ‘The Director of Military Intelligence, Brigadier Freddie de Guingand’ (p.187) regarding the contribution made to the desert war on behalf of Britain and her allies by the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG).

The LRDG was founded by one of the desert explorers, Ralph Bagnold, with orders ‘to make trouble for the Italians, and later the Germans, anywhere in Libya’ (p.136).

As the war progressed, the LRDG’s role also developed so that its commanding officer, Guy Prendergast could say that it

… found itself more and more in the position of ‘universal aunts’ to anyone who has business in the desert behind the enemy lines. An increasing stream of Commandos (European and Arab), L. Detachment, I.S.L.D., G(R)., bogus Germans (BUCK), lost travellers, ‘escape scheme’ promoters, stranded aviators, etc., has continued to arrive at SIWA needing petrol, rations, maintenance, information, training, accommodation, and supplies of all kinds.
(p.188)

***

In 1942, spying was at the top of the LRDG’s list of priorities as a 24-hour watch was kept on the Via Balbia, ‘Rommel’s main line of communication’ (p.187). Every vehicle and man that passed this way was noted and a report sent back to Cairo. The information sent by the LRDG’s observers was important as it

… enabled Military Intelligence in Cairo to check the Axis vehicle figures it was getting from Enigma so as to arrive at a reasonably accurate figure, in particular of the number of serviceable tanks, which Rommel could put in the field.
(p.187)

I’m sure I don’t need to say why it was important for the British army to know how many tanks the Desert Fox had at his disposal. And, indeed, this information was not just important but absolutely critical to the British war effort. So much so that de Guingand

… later maintained that the road watch was the LRDG’s most valuable contribution in the fight against the Axis in North Africa.
(ibid)

The raids behind enemy lines, the harassment of enemy forces, the soldiers ferried about, aviators rescued – no doubt all were valuable works but the most important thing that the LRDG did was lie down on the ground for hours on end and jot down names and numbers. That’s quite a thought.

***

Reading the above passage made a deep impression on me as it brought home once again how an army simply does not win its battles only on the battlefield. That may be where the greatest amount of glory is won but clearly, without the efforts of those behind the (battle) scenes, the ultimate outcome of any clash of arms has the potential to be a lot less certain.

Over the last few months, this thought has lead me to consider Hephaestion’s role as Alexander’s chief-logistics officer. I might now also consider who else served him in an equally unglamorous but perhaps vital way.

One person does immediately spring to mind: Eumenes, his chief war secretary. I might also mention Perdiccas who worked with Hephaestion on the logistics side. And then there is Chares, Alexander’s Royal Usher when the king was taking on Persian dress and customs and so a link between the traditional and progressive factions at court. Also, Leonidas and Lysimachus, the king’s tutors. Leonidas is well known but Lysimachus (not to be confused with the general of that name) perhaps less so. Alexander considered him important enough to rescue at great risk to his own life when the old man’s strength failed him during a brief campaign against arabs in Anti-Lebanon (Plutarch Life 24).

I’m sure I could go on but, hopefully, you already see my point – the chief story of Alexander’s life is definitely the battles, sieges and brave deeds he did, but there is definitely another – even if more shadowy – story to tell alongside that one. I must thank Saul Kelly (and, ultimately, Brigadier Freddie de Guingand) or reminding me of this in his excellent book.

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Bad News from Greece: Amphipolis Tomb to be sold?

Bad news from Greece. The following article appeared in yesterday’s print edition of Kathimerini. The translation is my own.

Alexis Tsipras could be about to face his first crisis as leader of the Hellenic Republic after suggesting that Greece might sell the site of the Kasta Tomb in Amphipolis, Macedonia.

The revelation came when Tsipras answered questions during a dinner at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, the Prime Minister’s official seat, in honour of Thanos Anoitos, the founder of Greece’s largest technology company, FutureTech.

The Prime Minister was asked what future he saw for the tomb. “Actually, none.” he told startled guests, “That place represents a Greece that died 2,000 years ago. Who cares about that? I don’t. My eyes are set firmly forward, to the world – I must say – of brilliant organisations like FutureTech.”

When questioned further about his surprising response, Tsipras replied, “Let me tell you something. One month ago I received a letter. It was from the Historical Society of America. They are big people. Super rich businessmen run it; the President of America is its patron.

“The HSA wrote to say that it wants to buy the Kasta Tomb and either make it the centre of a theme park based on ancient Macedonia – just like Disney World – or dig the whole thing up and take it to America like they did with London Bridge so many years ago.

“And you know what? I’m happy for them to do either – I just want it out of the way. Even as I speak we are in negotiations with the HSA and I hope to have good news for the country within a few weeks.”

Gasps of astonishment went round the hall as Tsipras spoke and he was asked if he seriously intended to let sell such an important site, but the Prime Minister was unrepentant.

“To whom is the tomb important? Greece? I said a moment ago that it represents a Greece that died 2,000 years ago. Actually, that is nonsense! Macedonia was never part of Greece! Greeks hated Alexander the Great. If the people of his own lifetime hated him why should I – a proud Greek – like him now? No, if we get a good enough offer for the Tomb, it will enter foreign hands and – maybe – foreign territory. Good riddance, I say. Let us build a FutureTech phone mast on the site instead. Goodbye imperialist junk, good day to a tower that will help empower all Greek people.”

It is rumoured that several people at the dinner left in disgust at the Prime Minister’s words but this has not been confirmed.

That, however, may be the least of Tsipras’ problems. Senior officials in his Syriza party as well as opposition leaders have condemned the Prime Minister’s words and there have been calls for a vote of confidence to be held in Parliament. If this were to go against Tsipras he could be forced from office only months after winning the election.

We wait to see what happens next. Hopefully, sense will prevail.

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The Man Who Conquered A Land That Wasn’t There

1280px-Herodotus_World_Map

The world as Herodotus knew it.

The Russian Machine Never Breaks is a ‘relentlessly fun Washington Capitals blog hopelessly devoted to Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, and Evgeny Kuznetsov’, which sounds splendid if a little tiring.

For anyone who doesn’t know – and until I came across the blog a few days ago, I’m afraid I didn’t – the Washington Capitals are an ice hockey team in the American National Hockey League. According to Wikipedia, Ovechkin is one of their ‘star players’.

The reason I mention RMNB is because of an article it has lately published, titled Here’s Alex Ovechkin as Alexander the Great. In it, the writer states,

Alexander of Macedonia (a.k.a. Alexander the Great) was a Greek leader who ruled a vast empire– including Russia– in the fourth century BCE. He’s been a hero in Russian culture ever since. (I may or may not have read the entire Wikipedia article last night.)

In fact, Alexander never conquered Russia. He could not have done so as it did not exist until the ninth century A.D.

Neither did Alexander conquer what became Russian territory. The closest he came to doing so was when he conquered Sogdia. It’s lands are now part of  Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which were both part of the Soviet Union.

I can’t speak to how well Alexander is liked in Russia today – though I am delighted to read that he is well regarded – but as there is no reference to the country in  the Wikipedia article on Alexander, if the writer did indeed read it, he might have done so a little too quickly; maybe he reads at the same fast pace as ice hockey is played.

***

The two maps that accompany this post show how Herodotus and the Greeks in the fifth century B.C. and Strabo, along with the Greeks and Romans in the first century A.D., understood the world to look. As can be seen, the land that would one day become the state of Russia did not figure on their horizon.

Strabo_Map_of_the_World

The world as Strabo knew it.

***

While we are on the subject of Russia, it has been reported that Irbis, a Cossack group, is making a bronze bust of Russian President to honour his achievements as President.

Andrey Polyakov, leader of Irbis, is quoted in The Independent as saying that “This is the man who brought order and to stop wars in the Caucasus, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria…”.

The bust (below) may be inspired by those of Roman Emperors but there is definitely a touch of Alexander in Putin’s faraway gaze. As for Polyakov’s words, they reminded me of what Curtius said about Tyre.

After experiencing many disasters and rising again after its destruction, now at last, with long peace completely restoring its prosperity, Tyre enjoys tranquility under the merciful protection of Rome.
(Curtius IV.4.21)

Emperor Putin?

Emperor Putin?

Picture Credits
‘Herodotus’ Map: Wikipedia
‘Strabo’ Map: Wikimedia Commons
Bust of Putin: New York Post

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander | Leave a comment

Torture in Curtius (3)

Concluding my look at Curtius’ use of the word ‘torture’ in his history of Alexander. In this post, I look at its usage in the context of the Pages’ Plot.

Read other posts in this series here

  • Book VIII contains 2 references to torture
  • Book IX contains 1 reference to torture

Book VIII.8.20
The fate of the conspirators in the Pages’ Plot

… Alexander closed the meeting and had the condemned men transferred to members of their own unit. The latter tortured them to death so that they would gain the king’s approval by their cruelty. Callisthenes also died under torture.

Book VIII.8.22
Callisthenes’ fate

Callisthenes was a man of the finest character and accomplishments who had restored Alexander to life when he was determined to die after the murder of Clitus. Alexander had not merely executed him but had tortured him as well – and without trial.

Book IX.7.8-9
Rebellion among Greek settlers is quelled

[The Greek guards] decided that Boxus should be executed immediately, but that Biton should be tortured to death. As the torture-irons were already being applied to his body, the Greeks for some unknown reason rushed to arms like madmen and, when those who had been ordered to torture Biton heard the uproar, they abandoned their task, fearing that the cries of the rioters were intended to stop them.

Here are my observations based on the above quotations. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section

  • In the first six books of Curtius’ history (stopping just before the Philotas affair) the word ‘torture’ is used eight times and in seven different ways. The Philotas affair adds seven more contexts for its use. The Pages’ Plot, however, adds just one (being the reference to an aborted attempt to torture someone):
    • 2 reference to torture being carried out (VIII.8.20, VIII.8.22)
    • 1 reference to torture having been carried out (VIII.8.20)
    • 1 reference to individual motives for torturing during the act (VIII.8.20)
    • 1 reference to an aborted attempt to torture someone (IX.7.8-9)
  • VIII.8.20 On the one hand, returning traitors to their units for punishment makes perfect sense. Of all the soldiers in the army, their fellow unit members would have been the ones most let down by their actions. Let them, therefore, carry out the punishment due. On the other, it also seems to be a very cunning and manipulative action by Alexander: By having the men execute the condemned, he ensures that if there are any more among them who are having second thoughts about his leadership, they are now part of his ‘tyranny’ in a way they weren’t before having taken part in the execution of the rebels. In this light, the return of the traitors and their executions becomes a kind of psychological warfare carried out against anyone still against him.
  • VIII.8.22 Curtius has a very idealistic view of Callisthenes that was not shared by everyone. I would see his description of the historian as another example of his propensity to exaggerate.
  • IX.7.8-9 Biton certainly had a lucky escape. Why did the Greeks rush ‘to arms like madmen’? As I see it, there were two factions in Zariaspa, where this action took place, at the time – the loyalists (those for Alexander) and the rebels (who wanted to return to Greece). The rebels were led by a man named Athenodorus and were the dominant force. Biton was also a member of the rebels. He had a ‘personal rivalry’ with Athendorus and this led him to kill him. Afterwards, Biton tried to persuade ‘most of the people’ that he acted in self-defence but they weren’t convinced. Nevertheless, when ‘Greek soldiers’ tried to kill him, Biton was saved by a mob – surely inspired by his supporters. Biton then bit the hand that fed him by conspiring ‘against those responsible for saving him’. This time, he was arrested, and about to be tortured when the Greeks rose up in arms. I would have suggested that they were inspired by Biton’s supporters (which is what the torturers thought) again except for the evidence of what happened next. We know this because Biton was taken away from the torturers and brought before the people. Curtius says that the sight of him ‘brought about a sudden transformation of their feelings’. Prior to that moment, then, they had been happy for him to be tortured and, no doubt, executed. Having been twice saved from death, Biton finally took the hint and left the city. As for the people, I can only imagine that their actions were informed by the general unrest of that time. It is not hard to imagine members of either party being inspired to take up arms to fight their rivals. Blood had already been spilt, after all, with soldiers from the rebel party killing loyalists in the initial uprising.

As I come to the end of this little survey of Curtius’ use of the word ‘torture’ I now ask myself what I have learnt from it.

The first thing is that Curtius uses the word much more broadly than I would have guessed without reading his text. In the first six books of his history, he makes 8 references to torture using it in 7 different ways. The Philotas Affair contains 17 references overall with the word being used in 11 different ways – 7 of which are new. The Pages’ Plot contains just 3 references but 4 different contexts. Of course, only 1 of those is new. However, that is still 15 different ways in which he uses the word throughout his book. I would love to be able to make some searingly original and profound insight into Curtius’ literary method but I’m afraid what is most in my mind at the moment is a simply appreciation of how flexible the English language is! Curtius will have to wait.

The second thing I have learnt from this exercise is that Curtius is certainly not shy when it comes to discussing torture. Unlike Arrian and Plutarch, he mentions it a lot (specifically with reference to Philotas) and graphically. In contrast to Arrian who omit any reference to Philotas being tortured and Plutarch who passes quickly over it, we find in Curtius Philotas being ‘racked with the most cruel tortures… fire and beatings’ his body swellling ‘with weals’ and Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus not only interrogating him but striking their former colleague ‘in the face and eyes’ with their spears.

Is there a need for Curtius to be so graphic? It’s hard to say. My instinctive reaction would be to reply ‘no, he is simply being sensationalistic’ but this is not a judgement I can readily make as I don’t enough about Curtius’ society to know where he was coming from. For all I know, in comparison to other writers of his time, he was writing in a restrained manner.

The third lesson I take away is simply how bloody (literally) dangerous it was to fall into the hands of your enemies. From the Greek captives tortured by the Persians (V.5.5-6) to Philotas’ fate after receiving Alexander’s right hand and what can only be described as Alexander Lyncestes’ (and Callisthenes’ – according to Curtius, anyway) judicial murder.

As an adjunct to the above, I might add I now have a new appreciation of the importance of rhetoric and the right appearance in the ancient world. I’m now sure that Alexander didn’t want Amyntas and his brothers to be acquitted anyway but they certainly didn’t do their chances any harm by the way they spoke and the way Polemon wept before speaking. The same goes for Biton who ended not having to speak at all. What this reminds me of is the importance of meaning in antiquity. The world was full of it – much more so than today. It’s easy to forget that.

Insofar as one can enjoy reading and writing about torture writing the posts in this series has been enjoyable as well as eye opening. I’d be lying though if I said that it wasn’t a aspect of ancient life that I am also happy to close the book on as well.

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Alexander the Hungover Conqueror?

In an article for The Sydney Morning Herald, on how we can say and do things that we regret while hungover as well as drunk, columnist Sam de Brito states that

Alexander the Great (who died of alcoholism) conquered most of the known world, putting endless cities to the sword while hungover.

You can read it here.

First of all, I should say that I don’t know the background to the article: it doesn’t reference any particular event and the heading – ‘Victoria Bitterly divorced’ – appears as no more than a pun on the name of an Australian brewer. Perhaps a high ranking member of the family or company that owns it is going through a messy divorce case.

So far as this blog post is concerned, however, that is by-the-bye as I am going to focus solely on de Brito’s statement regarding Alexander.

***

Firstly, he states as fact that Alexander ‘died of alcoholism’. Actually, the cause of Alexander’s death is not known with any certainty. The Macedonian king might have died of alcoholism but he also might have died of malaria, typhoid or been poisoned. The ultimate cause of his death might just have been natural causes – his body worn out by the damage done to it during thirteen plus years of campaigning. In short, though, De Brito has no grounds to assert that alcohol was the killer.

Secondly, he states that Alexander ‘conquered most of the known world, putting endless cities to the sword while hungover.’

This is the kind of statement that seems reasonable until you actually think about it. Yes, Alexander ‘conquered most of the known world’ but is it very likely that a person could conduct a successful thirteen year military campaign in an inebriated state?

I personally doubt it but let’s say – for the sake of argument – that it is, what of Alexander specifically? de Brito’s charge finds no favour with Plutarch. In Chapter 23 of his Life of Alexander, he states

Alexander was also more moderate in his drinking than was generally supposed. The impression that he was a heavy drinker arose because when he had nothing else to do, he liked to linger over each cup, but in fact he was usually talking rather than drinking: he enjoyed holding long conversations, but only when he had plenty of leisure. Whenever there was urgent business to attend to, neither wine, nor sleep, nor sport, nor sex, nor spectacle could ever distract his attention, as they did for other generals. The proof of this is his life, which although so short was filled to overflowing with the most prodigious achievements.

I am sure Sam de Brito researched his article before filing it so it is unfortunate that he missed this.

***

But perhaps de Brito only had a limited amount of time to write his article and happened to use Curtius instead. If anyone is going to present a picture of a warrior-king slaughtering his way across the world while being slaughtered, it is surely him. Curtius writes,

Alexander had some great natural gifts: a noble disposition surpassing that of all other monarchs; resolution in the face of danger; speed in undertaking and completing projects; integrity in dealing with those who surrendered and mercy towards prisoners; restraint even in those pleasures which are generally acceptable and widely indulged. But all these were marred by his inexcusable fondness for drink.
(Curtius 5.7:1)

de Brito’s article gives the impression that he has read the last sentence in the quotation above and used it as the lens through which he sees Alexander, either in ignorance or dismissal of Plutarch’s words.

***

To be honest, I doubt de Brito has read any of the sources – his allegation comes across as the kind of thing someone who-got-it-from-his-mate-who-was-told-it-by-his-old-man-(probably-while-hungover)-who-knew-all-that-old-stuff would say use.

However, let’s take de Brito seriously and ask what does Curtius have to say about the role of alcohol during the course of Alexander’s career? After all, the above quotation certainly speaks of a man whose life was coloured by it. Does Curtius present Alexander as being hung over during his conquests? Let’s find out.

***

de Brito talks about Alexander being hungover while ‘putting endless cities to the sword’. To get a more representative look at what role alcohol might have played in his career, I have picked ten major military actions that Alexander took part in. Obviously, as Books I and II of Curtius’ have been lost, I am starting with Book III.

The Siege of the Celaenaeans’ Citadel
(III.1.1-8)
After entering Celaenae without any difficulty, Alexander laid siege to its citadel. At first, the Celaenaeans were defiant, but as the days passed, and – presumably – their food and water ran low they offered to surrender if Darius did not send a relieving force within the next sixty days. Alexander agreed, and when no Persians arrived, the Celaenaeans duly surrendered. Two months is plenty of time for Alexander to have got drunk once, twice or maybe sixty times. However, not only does Curtius make no mention of any drinking taking place in the Royal Tent, he says that Alexander left Celaeanae after just ten days. He was a man with a mission and didn’t have time to mess around with alcohol.

The Battle of Issus
(III.7-10)
In the lead up to Alexander’s first confrontation with Darius, we see him stopping in Soli and enjoying a holiday. No doubt he enjoyed a drink there but Curtius does not mention it – neither does he record Alexander drinking at any other point before the start of the battle.

The Siege of Tyre
(IV.2-4)
This siege lasted for six months so Alexander undoubtedly enjoyed a few drinks along the way. And indeed, Curtius does state that ‘excessive drinking’ took place – but by the Tyrians. It occurred after ‘a sea-creature of extraordinary size’ beached itself on the Macedonian mole before slipping back into the sea. The Tyrians interpreted this as a sign of Neptune’s* anger with the Macedonians and the sure failure of their siege so started to celebrate.

* Curtius was a Roman

The Siege of Gaza
(IV.6.7-31)
Part of Curtius’ manuscript is missing here but in the portion we have there is no reference to Alexander drinking at any time during the siege.

The Battle of Gaugamela
(IV.11-14)
From the arrival of the ten ambassadors to the start of the battle at Gaugamela there is once again no mention of Alexander drinking. The night before the battle he stayed up late (IV.13.16) but not to drink – his mind was completely occupied by the fight to come.

The Susian Gates
(V.3.16-4.34)
Neither on the way to the Gates, not despite the humiliation of having to withdraw from them after the Persian boulder ambush, did Alexander turn to drink. Instead, he regrouped, found a new route, and took the fight to his enemy – winning.

The Sogdian Rock
(VII.11.1-27)
Upon his arrival at the Rock, Alexander examined ‘the difficulties of the terrain’ before him. The Sogdian Rock seemed too well protected to be taken and the Macedonian king ‘decided to…’ drink his frustration away? No. ‘leave, but then… was overcome by a desire to bring even nature to her knees’. During the siege, Alexander spent the whole day watching for any sign that his men had successfully completed their ascent. Curtius describes how, when night came and darkness fell, Alexander ‘withdrew to take refreshment’. Perhaps this included a little wine? I expect so but no so much as the king was up before daybreak the next morning to continue his watch.

The Aornos* Rock
(VIII.11.2-25)
At first, Alexander was baffled as to how this outcrop might be taken but soon found help – not from wine but a local guide. When the time came to launch an attack, Alexander was the first to clamber over the makeshift ramp that the Macedonians had built to cover the gap between the rock and surrounding land. The fight was hard fought and when mounting casualties forced Alexander to order a retreat it looked like the Indians had won. But, though forced back, the Macedonians had unnerved them and, two nights later, the Indians tried to flee from the rock. Alexander was sufficiently clear headed to order them to be pursued and cut down.

* Curtius calls it the Aornis Rock

The Battle of the Hydaspes River
(VIII.13.5-27)
When Alexander arrived at the Hydaspes he did not know how to cross its broad expanse without being cut down by Porus’ army, which was waiting for him on the other side. At the Aornos Rock, a guide had shown him the way. This time, he used his own guile – his own clear-headed, no reference to alcohol once again, guile.

The Mallian City
(IX.4.15-33)
Before carrying out what must surely rank as one of the most famous jumps in military history, Alexander had to quell a potential mutiny in the Macedonian ranks. His army had thought that after turning west at the Hyphasis River, they were ‘quit of danger’. Realising that this was not so, they ‘were suddenly terror-stricken’. Alexander met his men’s fear head on and inspired them to follow him into battle once more. Could he have done this while hungover? I doubt it. By now it can go without saying that, there is – yet again – no reference to Alexander drinking at this time.

***

Ten military actions ranging from Asia Minor to India. No direct references to Alexander drinking alcohol let alone being hungover during operations. Curtius accuses Alexander of marring his talents ‘by his inexcusable fondness for drink’, I accuse him (once again) of resorting to sensationalism and exaggeration.

As for Sam de Brito, I am sure he is an excellent journalist, but on this occasion, I can’t help but feel that he trusted to his historical knowledge more than was perhaps wise. Maybe he wrote his article while hungover.

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

David George Hogarth

David_HogarthAUCTOR. David George Hogarth (left) is not an instantly recognisable personality.

In fact, unless you have read a biography of T E Lawrence, or about the Arab Revolt during World War I, you might never have heard of him.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might recall that I have mentioned him a few times, but are forgiven if you don’t as despite the fact that Hogarth wrote a book about Alexander he was not a scholar of the Macedonian king.

LECTOR. So, what was he?
AUCTOR. Well, Hogarth was a scholar – being a Fellow at Oxford University – an archaeologist, antiquarian, intelligence officer during the Great War, writer, and President of the Royal Geographical Society.

LECTOR. He certainly got around
AUCTOR. Quite literally so – From what I have read so far, Hogarth appears to have travelled very widely in the Near and Middle East.

LECTOR. What is about him that interests you?
AUCTOR. As soon as I know, I’ll tell you. All I can say at the moment is that there is something in his person and writing that keeps inspiring me to read more of his books. Thus, having read Philip and Alexander of Macedon: two essays in biography, The Wandering Scholar in the Levant, and The Life of Charles M. Doughty, I am currently engaged on Accidents of an antiquary’s life.

LECTOR. Ah. Philip and Alexander!
AUCTOR. Indeed! As a result of starting Accidents, I have learnt that Hogarth’s career as a wandering scholar was inspired by a desire to follow in Alexander’s footsteps. Naturally, I’m delighted to have discovered this, but I don’t think it is the reason why I have become so interested in him.

T.E._Lawrence;_D.G._Hogarth;_Lt._Col._Dawnay

T E Lawrence (left), Hogarth (Middle), Lt. Col. Alan Dawnay (right)

LECTOR. So, does this mean you are quitting Alexander?
AUCTOR. Don’t be silly! No, my interest in Hogarth is, for now, a side project. I’m not going to set up a new blog. If I read something that is relevant to Alexander, I’ll mention it here. If it isn’t, it’ll go onto my general literary blog here. Or…

LECTOR. Typical writer, enjoys keeping people in suspense. Come on. The weekend is almost here.
AUCTOR. Well, all I was going to say is that if you – or anyone who reads this – are interested in Hogarth, I have created a Facebook page dedicated to him here. I am using it to file progress reports on my reading, quotes, titbits of information, etc. The page is – as far as I can tell – the only Fb specific page dedicated to Hogarth, which is a shame but also an opportunity.

So, if you are interested in a late Victorian/early twentieth century English scholar feel free to visit my Facebook page!

LECTOR. If only your blog posts were as short as that.
AUCTOR. Oh, be quiet; it’s your round.

(apologies to Hilaire Belloc for stealing his format)

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

The History That Never Was

Yesterday, I looked at an article published on the Patna Daily website that accused Alexander of lacking empathy. You can read my post here.

There is no doubt that the Macedonian king was (as we would say) egocentric, but to suggest that he lacked empathy demonstrates in my view a risible ignorance of more than the basic facts of Alexander’s life.

Despite this, the writer of that article still possesses more understanding of Alexander than the person who wrote “Iran: the land of political midgets” for the Iranian.com website. In a post that looks at how Iran has civilised both foreigners and natives, the writer tells us that

Alexander (Known as the Alexander the Great, that Iranians call him “Alexander, the Impure”, Eskandareh Ghojastak or Ghojasteh), was so fascinated by the Iranian culture and civilization that he accepted many governmental arrangements of Iran. His reaction to what he saw in Iran of that day was like a peasant from medieval ages walking the streets of present day New York.

I will not argue with the assertion that Iranians call Alexander ‘the Impure’ if only because my knowledge of contemporary Iran is limited to whatever appears on the news, and it rarely talks about anything other than the political situation there.

I will, however, take issue with the assertion that Alexander was ‘fascinated by… Iranian culture and civilization’. My objection here is based on the word ‘Iranian’. Alexander would not have recognised it. The country we now call Iran was in his day called Persia (i.e. Persis). It was Persian culture and civilisation that entranced him.

This may seem like a quibble – Iran and Persia are the same place after all – but actually it is vitally important that we make the distinction. By saying that Alexander was ‘fascinated by… Iranian culture and civilization’ the writer is creating an illusory link between the modern state of Iran and the ancient state of Persia. They are manipulating history in order to suit their nationalist agenda. That is a very serious matter.

This, of course, is nothing new when it comes to Alexander. He is called a ‘gay’ icon despite the fact that the word ‘gay’ in its current meaning is hardly older than the twentieth century. Greece claims him as one of her own when in his own lifetime, many of the Greek city states reviled him. On that point, at least Alexander was, in a sense, Greek as well as Macedonian. One thing he wasn’t was Slavic. That, however, has not stopped FYROM from trying to claim him as their ancestor.

Of course, this is not to say that Alexander is off-limits to gay people*, Greeks or, for that matter, Slavs, but there’s no use anyone at all talking about him if they are going to do so in a way that fogs the truth of who he was and the world he lived in.

Which brings me to the risible aspect of the Iranian.com article.

… [Alexander’s] reaction to what he saw in Iran of that day was like a peasant from medieval ages walking the streets of present day New York.

This is simple nonsense. Not a manipulation of history but an exaggerated, absurd falsification. If a peasant from the Middle Ages was dropped into New York today he would surely be overwhelmed by what he saw. He might suspect magic to be behind some of the gadgets in the Apple store, or that giants built the Empire State building**. Poor people would appear wealthy to him, and even a mere pistol such a weapon as he could take over the world with.

When the peasant returned home, if he ever recovered from the mental shock of his experience, all that he saw in the future would surely find a place in stories and soon become figures of legend and myth.

For this post, I took a quick look at two moments in Alexander’s life as told by Arrian, Curtius, Diodorus and Plutarch to see how they matched up to the peasant in New York. I chose the king’s entry into the Persian camp after the Battle of Issus and into Babylon. The former was his first experience of how the Great King lived, the latter his first experience of the grandeur of the Persian empire. Unsurprisingly, on neither occasion was Alexander overwhelmed. Plutarch records that after entering Darius’ tent and seeing its luxurious appointments, he

… turned to his companions and remarked, ‘So this, it seems, is what it is to be a king.’

But I defy anyone to interpret those as the words of someone overawed rather than simply making a drily humorous aside. As I say, I only looked at a couple of scenes from Alexander’s life. If anyone knows of any other incidents which they feel stand up to the Iranian.com writer’s description, do leave a comment. For now, though, and in my view, their absurdly exaggerated description does not help their main point – that Iran has lifted up foreigners and natives alike – but rather, detracts from it.

* I’m using ‘gay people’ here as shorthand for the LGBT community as not all who identify as being LGBT are fortunate enough to live in a recognisable ‘community’ (or, perhaps, do not desire to)

** The Anglo-Saxons thought giants built some of the Roman ruins that they found after invading England

Categories: By the Bye, Finding Alexander | Tags: , | 4 Comments

An Empathetic Leader

“Risible” isn’t a word that should be used lightly, but the Indian online newspaper Patna Daily and Iranian.com have come perilously close to it in the last few days in statements that their columnists have made about Alexander.

To take the Patna Daily first, in a column titled A Vainglorious Leader, the writer states the following

Born in 356 B.C. at Pella, the capital of ancient kingdom of Macedon (now Macedonia), and a student of Aristotle, Alexander the Great was narcissist. He was twenty when his father was murdered; and he became king of Macedon after eliminating several of his rivals out of his way.

But the kingdom proved tiny for Alexander the Great, so he set out to conquer more nations. In next 13 years, and before his death at 33, he and his army captured Greece, Persian Empire (now Iran), Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and penetrated into that part of India that we now call Punjab.

Alexander the Great’s victories came at the expense of his soldiers’ lives – but he had no empathy for them. He issued coins with his images on them. He got his statues unveiled. And he named many cities after him, the most famous being Alexandria in Egypt.

No one can have any complaint with the assertion that Alexander was born in 356 B.C. in Pella, was a student of Aristotle and was twenty years of age when he became king.

If the first paragraph parenthesis refers to FYROM, however, then the writer is plain wrong. If he means what is now the Greek province of Macedonia then he has created a false distinction. As I understand it, ‘Macedon’ is just the French form of ‘Macedonia’. There was never a point when Macedon changed its name to Macedonia. If I am wrong, do feel free to say so in the comments section (explaining why, of course).

Further to the above, the writer gets his chronology mixed up when he says that Alexander became king after eliminating his rivals. Diorodus XVII.2 and Plutarch in Chapter 11 of his Life of Alexander are quite clear that Alexander became king first then eliminated his rivals.

In the second paragraph, Alexander’s motive for invading the Persian empire is erroneously reported. He went east to win glory (see Plutarch Chapter 5). The writer, I think, has been taken in by the propaganda at the end of Chapter 6 which has Philip tell Alexander – after the latter’s taming of Bucephalus, “My boy, you must find a kingdom which is your equal. Macedonia is too small for you.”.

The writer gets his dates at the start of the third paragraph right – just about. Alexander’s reign was about 13 years in length but he was actually 32 when he died. To be sure, he was within a month or so of his 33rd birthday so we can let that one go.

Alexander conquered so many countries in the east that it would be hard for any writer to name one that never fell under his sway. I presume, however, that this one was just a bit sleepy when he confused the Persian empire with Iran the country. Ancient Persia corresponds to modern day Iran. The Persian Empire was a rather bigger realm comprising of many countries. As for the writer’s claim that Alexander entered ‘that part of India that we now call Punjab’ (my emphasis) – we should probably skirt over it as it has probably caused enough offence already.

Up till now, the writer has demonstrated a certain if not quite perfect knowledge of Alexander’s life. His mistakes are a great shame but not the worst. That comes in the third paragraph. There, he makes the extraordinary and – here it is – risible claim that Alexander ‘had no empathy’ for his soldiers.

I would suggest that not only did Alexander build his career as a conquerer on his ability to empathise with his men but maintained that empathy even in his later, more disturbed days.

Alexander’s empathic nature can be seen in the way he shared his men’s travails. Look at how he refused the water during his march against Darius (Plutarch 42), in Sogdia (Curtius VII.5.10-12) or the Gedrosian desert (Arrian VI.26). Look at how he burned his own possessions before asking the men to burn theirs (Curtius VI.6.14-17), or at the respect he gave to women (Plutarch 21) and former enemies (Arrian V.19). Look at the nature of his relationship with Hephaestion (Arrian II.13, Diodorus XVII.37). Someone who lacked empathy could not have done any of these things.

The writer cites the examples of Alexander’s coins, statues and self-named cities as if they are proof that Alexander lacked empathy or indeed was, as he claims in the first paragraph, was a narcissist. I would argue that these acts of Alexander (except in respect of the coins with his image on them as I am not sure that he did issue any such coinage. Can anyone confirm that this happened?) took place alongside the respect he had for his men, not in oppressive opposition to them.

I alluded to the writer’s claim that Alexander was a narcissist. I hesitate to get involved with that allegation as I have no psychological training. If I may turn to Wikipedia’s Traits and Signs I would say that while it seems to me that Alexander certainly did meet some of the criteria for being a narcissist, he does not meet them all – and not only in the fact that contra Patna Daily he was a very empathetic person.

In the next post, I’ll turn to Iranian.com.

Categories: Finding Alexander, Of The Moment | Tags: , | 9 Comments

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