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.

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

The Road to Marakanda – Spring 328 B.C.

In the Spring of 328 B.C., the Macedonian army campaigned in Bactria and Sogdia. The native people had closed the gates of their forts to Alexander and needed to be reminded who was in charge.

I say ‘the Macedonian army’ quite deliberately for it does not appear as if Alexander himself took part in the operation.

At least, not according to Arrian. He recounts how, after leaving Zariaspa, the Macedonian king put Attalus, Gorgias, Polyperchon and Meleager in charge of subduing Bactria, and Coenus and Artabazus (together), Hephaestion, Perdiccas and Ptolemy in charge of subduing Sogdia.

As for Alexander himself, he

… proceeded with [the rest of the army] in the direction of Marakanda, while the the other four commanders carried out offensive operations.

It is possible that he attacked Sogdian settlements along the way, but the fact that Arrian distinguishes between Alexander’s actions and those of his four commanders suggests to me that Arrian didn’t think so.

This passage has been on my mind for a while for it seems quite strange that Alexander would choose to miss an opportunity to win take part in a military operation.

Did he see the ‘offensive operations’ as no more than a bit of mopping up, and so unworthy of his attention?

The fact that Alexander had to split his army into as many as nine divisions, excluding his own, would suggest that the threat posed by the Bactrians and Sogdians was no small matter, if anything, the reverse.

Perhaps he had business to take care of in Marakanda? Arrian doesn’t mention any. However, the city had been put under siege twice by Spitamenes the previous year (Arrian IV.5,7). I am guessing, therefore, that Alexander wanted to assign new men to the garrison (Curtius VII.10.11*) that had held it over the winter. This, of course, is a job that could have been done by one of the king’s generals – Hephaestion, for example, whom some scholars tell us was not a particularly good soldier.

At first sight, the other sources are not helpful in working out what Alexander was up to in the Spring of 328 B.C. Plutarch covers the period of the Bactria-Sogdia campaign in Chapters 50-58 of his Life but says nothing about the army’s military operations. The same is the case with Justin (who covers the same period in XII.7 of his epitome). Diodorus might have done but unfortunately, the relevant section of his account has been lost.

That leaves us with Curtius. After bringing Alexander out of his winter quarters at Zariaspa (VII.10.13-16), Curtius appears to confuse the early 328 campaign with another set of events** before having Alexander build some cities and move on to the Sogdian Rock.

This most famous siege took place in 327 B.C. It appears, therefore, that Curtius has misdated it. Thus, at the start of Book Eight, he follows in Arrian’s footsteps by describing how Alexander divided his army into three (between himself, Hephaestion and Coenus***) and with his men ‘once more subdued the Sogdians and returned to Maracanda’ (VIII.1.7) (my emphasis]).

So, if Curtius is to be believed, Alexander did take part in the campaign before reaching Marakanda. And, I have to admit, that seems the more believable version of events.

However, if asked to chose who I believe – him or Arrian – I’m not sure that I wouldn’t stick with Arrian. Curtius can be such an unreliable historian.

As already mentioned, he gets the date of the Siege of the Sogdian Rock wrong. After bringing Alexander to Marakanda, Curtius has him speak to Derdas, whom he sent into the territory of the Scythians over the Tanais River the previous year (VII.6.12) as well as ‘a deputation of that people’ (VIII.1.7) who offered him their allegiance and the hand of the king’s daughter. Arrian, by contrast, places these events in Spring, while Alexander was still in Zariaspa (A IV.15).

As can be seen, Curtius appears to have a particular problem with accurate dating. In this light, I wonder if his account of Alexander’s actions in Sogdia at VIII.7 could be a reference to Alexander’s Autumn 329 campaign against the Sogdians, subsequent arrival in Zariaspa and meeting with the Scythians per Arrian.

And yet… and yet… As you can see, I am Hamlet-like in my indecision! The reason for this is that I just can’t think of a convincing reason why Alexander would not have joined the campaign while he was on his way to Marakanda.

Actually, there is one possible reason – injury and/or ill health. The previous year, Alexander’s leg was broken by an arrow (A III.30); he also suffered a slingshot blow to the head and neck (A IV.3) and a severe bout of dysentery but surely he would have recovered from the worst effect of these by Spring 328?

* Curtius says that Alexander left a 3,000 strong garrison in Sogdia. I take it that some even if not all of them stayed in Marakanda
** The Notes in my edition of Curtius say he could be thinking of the rebellion of Arsaces in Aria and Barzanes in Parthia and their capture by Stasanor
*** I don’t count this as an error on Curtius’ part – it could be him ‘telescoping’ the story in order to focus on the principle player(s) in it

Categories: Arrian, Finding Alexander, On Alexander, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Alexander: March/Spring Chronology

337
Spring Philip orders Alexander back to Pella (Peter Green*)

336
Spring Parmenion and Attalus lead the Macedonian advance army into Asia Minor (Livius, Peter Green)

335
Early Spring Alexander campaigns in Thrace and Illyria (Peter Green)
NB The Landmark Arrian** dates this campaign to Spring (as opposed to Early Spring. This applies to all similar references below)

Spring Alexander razes Thebes; Greek cities submit (Landmark Arrian)

334
March – April Alexander crosses into Asia Minor; beginning of his anabasis (Peter Green)
NB
Michael Wood*** dates the crossing of the Hellespont to May
The
Landmark Arrian dates the crossing to Spring

333
March – June Memnon’s naval offensive (Livius)

Early Spring
Memnon dies (Peter Green)

Spring Alexander arrives in Gordion where he undoes the famous knot (Landmark Arrian)

Spring (Possibly late spring?) Alexander passes through the Cilician Gates having taken Pisidia and Cappadocia (Landmark Arrian)

NB With reference to the death of Memnon, referred to above, the Landmark Arrian dates it to ‘Spring’ 333, during the Persian navy’s fight against the Macedonians. Contra Livius (below), it adds that after his death, and in the same year, the ‘Persian naval war falter[ered]’

332
Spring The Persian Fleet disintegrates (Livius)
January – September The Siege of Tyre continues (Michael Wood)

331
March Alexander visits Siwah (Livius)
NB Peter Green dates Alexander’s Siwah visit to ‘Early Spring’

Spring Alexander resumes his march towards Darius (Landmark Arrian)

330
Spring Alexander orders the royal palace in Persepolis to be burnt (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander finds the body of Darius (Landmark Arrian)

329
Spring First crossing of the Hindu Kush (Michael Wood)
NB Peter Green dates the crossing to ‘March – April’

Spring Alexander pursues Bessus across Bactria/Sogdia (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Bessus is betrayed by his officers and handed over to Alexander (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander quells an uprising along the Jaxartes (Tanais) River (Landmark Arrian)

328
Spring Alexander campaigns in Bactria and Sogdia (Michael Wood)
Spring The Sogdian Rock is captured (Michael Wood)

327
Early Spring Alexander marries Roxane (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the wedding to Spring

Early Spring The Pages’ Plot (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the Pages’ plot (and Callisthenes subsequent arrest/possible death) to Spring

Early Spring Callisthenes is executed (Michael Wood)
Spring Pharasmanes and Scythians seek an alliance with Alexander (Landmark Arrian)
Spring
The Sogdian Rock is captured (Livius, Peter Green, Landmark Arrian)
Spring The Rock of Chorienes is captured (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Craterus eliminates the last rebels (following Spitamenes’ death in the Autumn of 328) (Landmark Arrian)
Late Spring Second crossing of the Hindu Kush (Michael Wood)

326
Early Spring The Aornos Rock is captured (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the capture of the Aornos Rock to Spring

Early Spring Alexander meets Hephaestion and Perdiccas at the Indus River, which the reunited army then crosses (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the crossing of the Indus to Spring

Early Spring Alexander reaches Taxila (Michael Wood)

NB
The Landmark Arrian lists the sequence of events following Alexander’s capture of the Aornos Rock slightly differently to Michael Wood:
Wood Siege of Aornos > Alexander meets Hephaestion & Perdicas at the Indus > Macedonians cross the Indus > Alexander arrives in Taxila
Landmark Arrian Siege of Aornos Alexander sails down the Indus to Hephaestion’s and Perdiccas’ bridge > Alexander visits Nysa > Alexander receives Taxiles’ (‘son of the Taxiles he met in the Indian Caucasus’ the previous summer) gifts > Alexander crosses the Indus > Alexander meets Taxiles

Spring Battle of the Hydaspes River (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Bucephalus is buried (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander founds Nicaea and Bucephala (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Abisares submits to Alexander (Landmark Arrian)

325
Spring – Summer Journey down the Indus River (Michael Wood)
Spring Alexander defeats the Brahmins, Musicanus, and Sambus (Landmark Arrian)

324
February – March Alexander’s journey to and arrival in Susa (Peter Green)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates Alexander’s arrival to Spring. It adds that after his arrival he purged the corrupt satraps, held the mass wedding ceremonies,and forgave his soldiers’ debts/awarded ‘gold wreaths to officers'; this did not, howeverm stop tensions rising ‘over Alexander’s moves to integrate the army’
March Alexander meets Nearchus in Susa (Livius)
March Susa Marriages (Livius)
March Alexander issues the Exiles’ Decree (Peter Green)
March Alexander issues the Deification Decree (Peter Green)
Spring Alexander explores lower Tigris and Euphrates (Landmark Arrian)
Spring The 30,000 epigoni arrive in Susa (Peter Green)

323
Spring Alexander returns to Babylon after campaigning against the Cossaeans (Peter Green)
Spring Bad omens foreshadow Alexander’s death (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander sends ‘spoils of war to Greece; he is hailed as a god by Greek envoys
Spring Alexander makes preparations for an Arabian campaign (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander orders ‘extravagant’ honours to be given to Hephaestion (Landmark Arrian)

*Peter Green Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
** The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
***Michael Wood In the Footsteps Of Alexander the Great A Journey from Greece to India (BBC Books 2004)***

Notes

  • This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know!
Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bravery, Insight and Cowardice in India

Warning! In this post I reveal the answers to a quiz I held on The Second Achilles‘ Tumblr page on Monday. If you would like to play the game, visit click here and here as the answers to the quiz are below.

***

Hello to anyone who is visiting this blog from her Tumblr page. Below you will find the answers to Monday’s little quiz plus some extra comments by me.

Before getting to them, I must apologise to anyone reading this who would have liked to have to taken part in the quiz but saw the answers before following the links above. I should have mentioned the quiz on the blog on Monday but didn’t. I will certainly do so in the future.

***

Without further ado, let’s ‘name that officer‘.

The man injured alongside Alexander and then by the Indian chief was, of course, Ptolemy. For two bonus points I asked which Alexander historian(s) I used for the story and what happened next. My source is Arrian. Here is how he describes the incident, and what happened next.

Alexander’s next objective was the territory of the Aspasians, Guraeans, and Assacenians… Attacking the first of [the] towns which lay on his route, [Alexander] had no trouble in driving in the force which was stationed outside, and compelling the men to take refuge within the defences; but during the operation he was wounded in the shoulder by a missile which pierced his corselet. The wound was not serious, as the corselet prevented the missile from going right through his shoulder. Ptolemy, son of Lagus, and Leonnatus were also hurt.

… after a long march [Alexander] reached on the second day the town where the governor of the Aspasians was. The natives were no sooner aware of his approach than they fired the town and made their escape to the hills, with Alexander’s men in hot pursuit all the way. Many were cut down before the rough hill-country enabled them to shake off their pursuers.

During the pursuit, Ptolemy, son of Lagus, actually spotted the chief of the Indians of this district: he had already reached a hill and was trying to get away with some of his guards. Ptolemy, though he had a much inferior force, nevertheless rode for him; but it was too steep and too rough going for his horse, so he dismounted, gave it to a man to lead, and continued to chase the Indian on foot. Seeing him coming, the Indian and his guards turned to face him. They met; and the chief struck Ptolemy in the breast with his long spear, which pierced his corselet but did not penetrate his body. With a blow clean through the Indian’s thigh, Ptolemy laid him flat, and began to strip him, whereupon his guards, seeing that their chief was down, turned and fled. Other Indians, however, on the neighbouring hills, grieved at the sight of their leader’s body being carried off by the enemy, came hurrying down, and a fierce struggle ensued over the corpse. By then Alexander and his cavalrymen, now dismounted, were not far from the hill; they joined in the melee and finally succeeded in driving the Indians into the hills and getting possession of the body.
(Arrian Book IV.23-24)

Apart from Ptolemy’s heroism and very traditional action of stripping the Indian chief of his armour, what made a strong impression on me when I read this passage was the similarity between his and Alexander’s injury. The Macedonian king was struck by a missile, which pierced his corselet but which did not go through his body. If there was a chance of that happening, I presume the missile was a spear of some description. Well, fast forward and we find Ptolemy also being struck by a spear, which also pierced his corselet, but which did not enter his body. This one, however, did not penetrate his flesh. Was Ptolemy using an injury he received on this occasion to create a(nother) link between himself and the late king, and perhaps even to prove himself in a sense greater than him by saying ‘he was injured but I wasn’t’?

***

That’s Ptolemy, now let’s ‘name that nationality‘.

Firstly, in case you are wondering why I didn’t ask readers for the woman’s actual name, it’s because Arrian doesn’t provide it.

As for her nationality, the woman was Syrian. The bonus questions asked the reader to name Arrian’s source for the story and, again, to say what happened next. The source is Aristobulus. As for what happened next – the simple answer is that the young men’s plot unravelled. Here is how Arrian described all that happened.

… on the night in question Alexander sat up drinking until dawn. This may have been pure chance, though Aristobulus has a different explanation. According to him, there was a certain Syrian woman with the gift of second sight, who kept following Alexander about. He and his friends used to laugh at her; but, as time went on and everything she foretold in her trances turned out to be true, Alexander began to feel differently. He no longer found her a figure of fun, but let her come to him whenever she wished, by day or night, and on many occasions allowed her to watch over him while he slept.

This woman, in one of her prophetic trances, met him as he was coming away from his potations. She begged him to go back and drink the night out, and Alexander, convinced that there was something more than human in the warning, took her advice. So the boys’ plot fell through.

Epimenes, one of the guilty ones,  also, like Hermolaus, had a bosom friend, Charicles, son of Menander; and to him, on the following day, he told the whole story. Charicles told Epimenes’ brother, Eurylochus, who went to Alexander’s tent and passed everything on to Ptolemy son of Lagus, of the King’s Guard, who, in his turn, told Alexander. Alexander ordered the arrest of all the boys whose names were given him by Eurylochus. Questioned under torture, they admitted their guilt, and at the same time implicated certain others as well.
(Arrian Book IV.13-14)

There are two things I would like to highlight here. Firstly, Alexander’s trust in the woman. She was not only permitted to enter into his presence whenever she wished, but even to watch over him while he slept. He really must have trusted her very deeply indeed. Secondly, notice how Ptolemy informed Alexander of what Eurylochus told him straight away. Compare that to Philotas’ vacillation. This story takes place after Philotas’ downfall so it would not surprise me if Ptolemy had Parmenion’s son in mind when he went to see Alexander.

Categories: Quiz | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Torture in Curtius (2)

Continuing my look at Curtius’ use of the word ‘torture’ in his history of Alexander. In this post, I focus on its usage in the narrative of the the Philotas Affair.

Read other posts in this series here

  • Book VI contains 14 references to torture
  • Book VII contains 3 references to torture

Book VI.8.15
They spoke with one voice, but was their motive good or bad?

… the decision was unanimous that Philotas should be interrogated under torture to force him to name his accomplices in the crime.

Book VI.9.9
Alexander speaks to the assembly during Philotas’ trial

When the matter was still uncorroborated, Cebalinus reported it, undeterred by fear of torture…

Book VI.9.31
Coenus challenges our perception of what makes for an act of mercy

[Coenus] picked up a stone which happened to be lying before his feet to throw at Philotas – from a wish to save him from torture, many thought…

Book VI.10.29
Philotas speaks in his own defence at his trial

[Philotas said] ‘If you think torture to be more reliable than oracles, I do not refuse even this method of exposing the truth.’

Book VI.11.9
The trial is delayed

The king returned to the assembly and adjourned the hearing to the following day, either to subject Philotas to further torture in prison or to conduct a more thorough investigation of the entire episode…

Book VI.11.10
Justice or revenge?

The general feeling was that Philotas should be stoned to death according to Macedonian custom, but Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus declared that torture should be employed to force the truth out of him, and those who advocated other punishment went over to their view.

Book VI.11.13-19
Philotas is tortured

The torturers laid out before Philotas’ eyes all the instruments used to inflict pain. Philotas, on an impulse, asked: ‘Why hesitate to execute your king’s enemy, a confessed assassin? What need is there for interrogation under torture? I planned the crime; I wanted it to succeed.’ Craterus insisted that he also make his confession under torture. Philotas was seized, blindfolded and his clothes stripped from him, while all the time he invoked the gods of his country and the laws of humanity – to no avail, for their ears were deaf. He was racked with the most cruel tortures: not only was he a condemned man but his torturers were personal enemies trying to please the king. Though subjected both to fire and beatings – no longer to make him talk but as punishment – he managed at first to keep not only from screaming but even groaning. But his body began to swell with weals and he could not bear the blows that cut to the bone. He promised to tell them what they wished to know if they put an end to the torture, but he wanted them to swear on Alexander’s life that the interrogation would be terminated and the torturers removed. On being granted both those terms Philotas said: ‘Craterus, say what you want me to say.’ Craterus was annoyed that Philotas was mocking him and he recalled the torturers. But Philotas began to beg for time to get his breath back, after which he was prepared to tell all he knew.

Book VI.11.20
Under Macedonian law, the family of an accused could also be executed

In the meantime word of the torture of Philotas had got around, and this spread panic among the cavalry, the men from the best families and especially those closely related to Parmenion.

Book VI.11.21
Curtius states a fact we still need to remember today

Whether Philotas told the truth or whether he lied from a wish to deliver himself from torture is debatable, for the end in view of both those who confess the truth and those who lie is termination of the pain.

Book VI.11.31
the crime referred to below is that of leading Dymnus’ conspiracy

Once again they applied the instruments of torture, now themselves also using their spears to strike him in the face and eyes, and they extracted from him a confession to this crime as well.

Book VI.11.33
Philotas tries to save his father’s life

[Philotas said he] made haste to execute the plan while he still had the prize in his hands. If they did not believe his father took no part in it, he did not refuse further torture, even though he could no longer endure it.

Book VI.11.35
Demetrius brazens it out

With vigorous protestations and with the confidence which he felt showing in his expression, [Demetrius] denied any plot against the king, going so far as to demand torture for himself.

Book VI.11.36-38
More conspirators revealed

… Philotas’ eyes shifted round, falling eventually on one Calis who stood close by. Philotas told him to come closer and, when Calis showed agitation and refused to come over to him, he said, ‘Are you going to permit Demetrius to lie and me to be tortured again?’ Calis was left speechless and pale. The Macedonians began to suspect that Philotas wished to incriminate the innocent, for the young man had been named neither by Nicomachus nor by Philotas himself under torture but, when he saw the king’s officers around him, Calis confessed that he and Demetrius had planned the crime. Thereupon all those named by Nicomachus, when the signal was given, were stoned to death in the traditional Macedonian manner.

Book VI.11.40
What price truthfulness

While Philotas denied the crime his torture was thought cruel, but after his confession he no longer won pity even from his friends.

Book VII.1.10
Alexander uses the Philotas Affair to eliminate past enemies (Alexander Lyncestes) as well as present, supposed, ones (Amyntas etc were close friends of Philotas)

After Lyncestes’ body was removed, the king had Amyntas and Simmias brought in. (The youngest of the brothers, Polemon, had fled on hearing of the torture of Philotas.)

Book VII.2.4
What happened to Polemon

[Polemon] was a young man in the early bloom of youth, and when the cavalry had been alarmed at Philotas’ torture, he had been carried away by the spreading panic.

Book VII.2.33-34
Curtius on Parmenion and Philotas

At the age of seventy [Parmenion] performed the duties of a young commander, often even those of a common soldier. He was a shrewd tactician and a good fighter, well-liked by his officers and more popular still with the rank and file. Whether such qualities made him covet royal power or only brought him under suspicion of doing so is debatable, for even when the affair lay in the recent past and a verdict was more attainable, it was uncertain whether Philotas, broken by the cruellest tortures, actually told the truth about matters which could not be verified or simply resorted to lies to end his torment. 

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

  • Curtius continues to use the word ‘torture’ and its variants in a variety of ways. My break down:
    • 3 references to a desire for someone to be tortured (VI.8.15, VI.11.10, VI.11.13-19)
    • 1 reference to individual motives for torturing during the act (VI.11.13-19)
    • 1 reference to someone acting without fear of torture (VI.9.9)
    • 2 references to someone wanting to save another person from torture (VI.9.31, VI.11.33)
    • 3 references to a willingness to undergo torture to prove a point (VI.10.29, VI.11.33, VI.11.35)
    • 1 reference to the possibility of torture being carried out (VI.11.9)
    • 2 references to torture being carried out (VI.11.13-19, VI.11.31)
    • 3 references to the fear of torture (VI.11.20, VII.1.10, VII.2.4)
    • 1 authorial statement on the value or otherwise of torture (VI.11.21 see also VII.2.33-34)
    • 2 references to torture having been carried out (VI.11.36-38, VII.2.33-34)
    • 1 reference to how the Macedonians viewed torture (VI.11.40)
  • In the last post I noted that Curtius uses the word ‘torture’ eight times in the first six books of his history (up to the Philotas Affair), and that he does so in a variety of ways. As you can see above, this continues to be the case. Of the eleven different contexts in which he uses the word during his account of Philotas’ downfall, seven are new. The ones we saw before are the references to a. someone being willing to undergo torture to prove a cause/point, b. to torture being carried out, c. to the fear of torture and d. to torture having been carried out
  • VI.8.15, VI.10.29VI.11.10VI.11.13-19VI.11.31 are all  indicative of torture being an established part of the Macedonian legal process
  • VI.9.31 At first glance, Coenus’ actions appear to be very merciful. Cruelly, Alexander refuses to let him throw the stone. But this is because he wants Philotas to be able to give his defence. Parmenion’s son does so. Afterwards, Coenus’ attitude has changed.
    At VI.11.10 we se him teaming up with Hephaestion and Craterus to declare that Philotas should be tortured into revealing the truth of his treachery. Whose side is Coenus really on?
    Well, immediately before describing how Coenus picked up the stone, Curtius writes that ‘although [Coenus] had married a sister of Philotas, he attacked him more fiercely than anyone’.
    Where Curtius writes ‘although’ I would say ‘because’. Coenus knew very well, just as the fleeing cavalrymen did, that his close ties to Philotas might put him under suspicion of treachery as well. That’s why he attacked him, and that’s why he spoke up with Hephaestion and Craterus. The suggestion that Coenues wanted to stone Philotas ‘to save him from torture’ seems to me mere wish fulfilment.
  • As I mentioned above, we see in VI.11.10 how Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus all call for Philotas to be tortured into confessing to plotting to overthrow Alexander. Theirs was something of an unholy alliance: in Chapter 47 of his Life of Alexander, Plutarch talks about how Hephaestion and Craterus ‘often came into open conflict’ (as a result of a, frankly, petty jealousy towards each other’s friendship with Alexander).
    The saying is ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ but clearly not applicable here. I don’t think either Hephaestion or Craterus had anything to fear from their connection to Philotas – it was strictly professional. Their actions may, therefore, be attributed either to a genuine desire to see justice done, to take revenge on Philotas for his crime out of love for Alexander or simply to impress the king. Curtius believes the latter reason to be the case. I think both men were too close to want or need to impress him. I suspect they acted out of malevolence (see how they strike him with their spears) but also a desire to justice to be done. Their love for Alexander would have demanded that.
  • VI.11.21 represents an unexpectedly sober moment for Curtius. It’s the kind of thing I expect Arrian to say! Which is the case with Philotas? Personally, I think he was innocent of the charges against him. He died because of his character rather than actions. And though Alexander bears the chief responsibility for Philotas’ unfair death, Philotas’ enemies within the army – especially Hephaestion, Craterus and (if to a lesser extent) Coenus – also share in his guilt.
  • VI.11.40 is an example of how quickly Macedonian minds could be changed (See also VII.2.3,7 and how quickly the assembly turns in favour of Amyntas, Simmias, and Polemon). Given the fact that prisoners could be executed on the spot (poor Alexander Lyncestes’ fate [VII.1.9]) even before their trial had finished, appearing before the supposedly formal assembly must have been more like facing a mob, sometimes.
Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com. The Adventure Journal Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 142 other followers

%d bloggers like this: