Changing the Past: In Antiquity and Today

New Year is well and truly over and I am back at work. When is my next holiday?

***

This week I read Come, Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie Mallowan. Don’t be confused by the last name, she is that Agatha Christie. Mallowan was her married name. The reason for its use here is because Come, Tell Me is not a crime novel but an account of the archaeological trips to the Near East that she undertook with her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, in the 1930s.

In Chapter One, Christie and her husband make their way to Syria on the Orient Express. They witness no murders, fortunately, but do pass the Sea of Marmora and Cilician Gates in Turkey.

As soon as I saw these names, my mind went back to Alexander. Christie’s Marmora became Diodorus’ Marmarens. The Marmarens (who, I should say, lived in Lycia rather than around the Sea of Marmara) attacked the Macedonian army as it marched past, killing no few soldiers, kidnapping others and stealing booty. Alexander, unsurprisingly, was rather displeased by this, and lay siege to the Marmarens’ fort.

For two days, Alexander attacked it. However, although he failed to break its defences, he did enough to persuade the Marmaren elders that he would stay until he had done so. Upon realising this, the elders,

… advised their younger countrymen to end their resistance and make peace with the king on whatever terms were possible.
(Diodorus XVII.28)

Interestingly, the younger Marmarens refused to do this. Diodorus tells us that they ‘were eager to die together simultaneously’ (Ibid) for the sake of their freedom. Now, at this point, you might have thought that the elders would have knocked their children’s heads together, remind them of who was in charge and lead the surrender before the youngsters came out with another tom fool idea. But no, they acquiesced to this, and came out with a tom fool idea of their own. The elders told the young men If you are determined to die, kill your wives, children and elderly relatives then break out of the fort and hide yourselves in the mountains.

The young men liked this idea and went away to have a last meal with their families. That evening, however, some of them reneged on the plan. But they didn’t run away with their loved ones. Instead of killing their families ‘with their own hands’ (Ibid) as the elders had suggested, they set fire to their homes and burned them alive. Six hundred men did this, and having done so, they should have had the decency to die with their loved ones. But no. They duly broke out of the fort and headed to the mountains.

This story has stuck with me since I read it. I am fascinated by the apparent equality of power between the young and old Marmarens. I have not heard of any other society in antiquity, or since, for that matter, where a similar situation has existed.

But… Did it exist? It may not have. The above quotations from Diodorus comes from my Loeb edition. The notes there state that ‘Appian… tells the same story of Xanthus, traditionally destroyed in this way three times… it was something of a literary topos’ (Diodorus XVII.28 n.5). Indeed, as the notes say, Diodorus repeats the story in Book XVIII.22 of his Library. There, it is the Isaurians in Pisidia who, seeing that they have no chance of breaking Perdiccas’ siege, burn their families alive in their homes. The Isaurians, however, do not try to flee afterwards. Instead, they destroy their possessions in the fire and, after defending the city for a little while longer, jump into the flames themselves.

Diodorus calls the Isaurians’ actions ‘a heroic and memorable deed’ (Dio.XVIII.22). I can only wonder if he changed the original account of what happened to the Marmarens and Isaurians to highlight their perceived heroism or if his sources did so.

***

Only Diodorus mentions the Marmarens. In contrast, both Arrian (II.4.3-6) and Curtius (III.4.11-14) refer to Alexander’s passage through the Cilician Gates on his way to Tarsus. There, their similarity ends.

Curtius states that Alexander looked at the narrow path ahead of him and,

… they say [was] never more surprised at his good fortune. For, he observed, he could have been crushed just by rocks, if there had been anyone there to hurl them down on his approaching troops.
(Curtius III.4.11)

According to Arrian, however, the Cilician Gates were heavily defended when Alexander arrived, but when the Persian soldiers realised ‘that Alexander was leading the attack in person’ (Ar.II.4.4), they fled. This sounds altogether a more likely version of events than Curtius’ as it would make no sense for the local satrap, Arsames, to leave the pass undefended.

***

One of the things that makes Alexander such an interesting figure to study is the fact that he defies our expectations. I was reflecting on this the other day and contemplating writing a blog post titled ‘Alexander the (Social Justice) Warrior’ focusing on how he pardoned Timoclea after she killed the Thracian soldier who raped her (Plutarch Life of Alexander 12), his treatment of the Persian queen and princesses (Pl. Life 21) and the conquered Persians (e.g. in the way he tried to integrate them into his imperial hierarchy as satraps). These were all very progressive social actions.

Alexander was not just about the fighting; and when he did fight he did not do so just to make Greece look good. Like any social justice warrior he wanted to change the world for the better. Hence, the above mentioned actions and the fact that he took surveyors and scientists on his expedition.

Of course, the name ‘social justice warrior’ has a pejorative meaning as well. And guess what. Alexander can be found there as well.

Thus, taking the Urban Dictionary’s definition (here),

… an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation.

Having been taught by Aristotle, Alexander could hold his own in an argument. However, he was undeniably concerned with his reputation. That was the whole reason for the expedition.

Social Justice Warriors or SJWs are: People with paper thin skin who always find something to be offended about. They generally have no concept of humour.

As Black Cleitus (Curtius VIII.1.22-52), Callisthenes (Pl. Life 53) and Cassander (Pl. Life 74) found out to their collective cost Alexander could be very easily offended sometimes, with fatal consequences.

[SJWs] aggressively call for the downfall of the person who carelessly offended them.

Philotas (Curtius VI.7.1-11.40), anyone?

But as I said above, Alexander defies our expectations. He is not only a progressive but also very conservative. Perhaps I will come back to that in my next or a future post.

***

The BBC and Netflix are producing a new drama based on the Trojan War. Controversy is following in the series’ wake, however, due to the fact that some of the characters, including Achilles, are being played by black actors. For more, see the Greek Reporter here.

If I had been the casting director, I would have chosen a white actor to play Achilles. That’s what he was. However, the more I think about it, the less I think that the casting director is obliged to hire a white person.

The Iliad is not history. Homer’s Achilles did not exist. He might be based on a real person but he is not them. Homer’s Achilles is a myth. He is a meaning. And in that capacity, he can be reinterpreted by every age as it sees fit. Indeed, it is only by being reinterpreted that he remains relevant to us.

If a law was made that permitted only one, single version of Achilles, we would bound him to the meaning of a specific time and place, and one day, he would become strange and unknowable to us. I would a thousand thousand times over rather have a black Achilles, a female Achilles, an Achilles who loves Hector rather than Patroclus or a pacifist Achilles rather than an irrelevant Achilles.

Categories: Alexander in Film, Arrian, Books, Diodorus Siculus, Homer, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Of Ghosts and Footprints

Happy New Year! I hope you have a happy and fruitful 2018. Have you made any resolutions? I have two Alexander related ones:-

  1. Read Diodorus’ account of Philip II’s life (Book XVI of his Library)
  2. Read The Iliad again

Philip II
I have never read a full account of Philip’s life. All that I know about him comes from books about Alexander. He deserves better than that so Diodorus XVI will, I hope, be a first step in doing justice to the man without whom Alexander would not, could not, have conquered most of the known world.

The Iliad
I am going to read the World’s Classic translation. I have owned this edition since my university days in the ’90s. The poem, of course, has been translated more recently but I am keen to read the World’s Classic version because I am looking for a particular quotation:

Men will know the difference now that I have come.

In my memory, these words are spoken by Achilles. When, though, I can’t remember. I presume it is after he leaves his tent following Patroclus’ death. I have to admit, though, it is only the quotation that I can remember (Though do I have it right…?). For all I know, I actually read it somewhere else and over time I have attached it to The Iliad because it is the kind of thing Achilles would say. Well, in 2018 I hope I can find out whether or not this is true.

***

Straight after finishing Partha Bose’s Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy, I started Ghost on the Throne by James Romm. Ghost is his account of the Wars of the Successors.

The last book length treatment of these wars that I read was Robin Waterfield’s Dividing the Spoils, which I enjoyed tremendously. Ghost on the Throne has, therefore, big boots to fill.

So far, I have only read the six page introduction but it begins very excitingly with Manolis Andronikos’ discovery of the royal tombs at Vergina. The introduction includes photographs of four ivory heads found in the tomb. They are identified as ‘Alexander’s Companions’. Before opening this book, I had only heard of the Alexander and Philip busts so it was a revelation to discover that there was more.

… though having said that, doesn’t Michael Wood see these heads in his In the Footsteps of Alexander documentary?

***

This morning, I read Plutarch’s 23 page Life of Eumenes. I wasn’t expecting to read this but yesterday I received a message from ‘anonymous’ via my Alexander Tumblr page asking for my thoughts about Alexander’s war secretary who went on to become one of the most skilled generals in the Wars of the Successors so before replying I decided to take the opportunity to refresh my memory concerning him.

Eumenes does not appear in the major sources of Alexander’s life very often. Arrian mentions him all but four times, Curtius twice; Plutarch (in his Life of Alexander) and Diodorus do not mention him at all. The reason for this is no doubt because for most of Alexander’s expedition, Eumenes served ‘only’ as the king’s war secretary. His only recorded military action was in India. There, Alexander gave him 300 cavalrymen and orders to notify two rebellious towns that a third, Sangala, had been captured but that if they submitted then they would have nothing to fear from him. In the event, Eumenes was unable to deliver this news as the residents of both towns had already heard about Sangala’s fall and fled.

Having given Eumenes only 300 cavalrymen Alexander clearly did not intend him to do anything more than deliver his message. If the Indians had resisted, Eumenes would undoubtedly have backed off and called to Alexander for help. As it was, this is pretty much what happened, anyway. Eumenes sent word to Alexander that the towns were empty. Thereafter, the king chased after the Indians. They had got a head start, though, and so most escaped.

It is interesting that we don’t hear of Eumenes chasing the Indians, either before or after Alexander’s arrival. He could have done but it wouldn’t surprise me if Alexander had told him ‘stay where you are’ on account of his inexperience.

But could he have been so inexperienced? It is astonishing to see how he went from administrator to one of the most competent generals of the early Successor Wars (Eumenes died in 316 BC). Where, though, might that experience have come from?

Alexander could have used Eumenes in a military capacity at any time during the expedition. But if he had, is it very likely that he would have given him this really minor responsibility now? I can’t see it. Sangala was destroyed in the summer of 326 BC. I wonder if Alexander gave Eumenes further military responsibilities as the Macedonian army, first, made its way to the Hyphasis river, and then, as it marched and sailed to the Indian ocean. The army did not reach the Gedrosian desert until September 325 so Eumenes would have had nearly a year’s experience as a general (perhaps a little more if he took part in the Cossaean campaign) to take into the Successor period. That’s still not much time, but perhaps men of genius don’t really need it.

By the way, if you would like to read Arrian’s and Curtius’ account of Eumenes’ sole known military command under Alexander, you can do so at Arrian V.24.6-7 and Curtius IX.1.19.

***

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading Caesar’s Footprint’s: Journeys to Roman Gaul by Bijan Omrani. When I saw it in the bookshop, I had to buy it. I love travelogues, and especially ones where the writer walks in the footsteps of famous historical people.

Having said that Caesar’s Footprints is not quite Omrani’s In the Footsteps of Alexander; his scope is far broader. He begins with Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul but moves on to look at the impact that Rome had on the territory from the time of Caesar through to the end of the Roman age five hundred years later.

The book is a great read, being in turn informative, descriptive, and evocative. I’m always happy to spend time in Julius Caesar’s company but was especially happy to learn about Gallo-Roman citizens such as Ausonius, who wrote a beautiful love poem to his new wife; a Gallic goddess named Sequana, and early Christian bishops like St Martin of Tours who did 25 years in the army before becoming a priest. He did several tours before becoming of Tour (sorry).

Of course, I knew about St Martin already but not the details of his life. I was sad to read that he wanted to deal with paganism using the same violent methods that Rome did in respect of Christians. I suppose he and Rome regarded their enemies as an existential threat but I still wish that he could have employed something other than violence to do away with pagan temples (There’s no mention of St Martin authorising acts of violence against people but we know that other Christian leaders though time have done so).

Anyway, I would not have mentioned the book here except that there does appear to be an Alexander reference. Sidonius sent a book to his relative, Apollinaris; with it, he sent a poem, addressed to the book, in which he ‘describes the route it must take to reach its destination’ (B Omrani Caesar Footprints 2017 p.212). Upon its arrival, Sidonius says it will ‘probably encounter Apollinaris walking in his secluded gardens’ (Ibid),

And if he were not to be found among the flowers, he would be cooling himself in his imitation grotto on the slope of a neighbouring hill, a ‘cavern’ formed by the branches of trees arching together to create a natural portico – better even than the ancient orchards of the Indian King Porus, which he decorated with golden vines heavy with clusters of gems.
(Ibid)

Is this Alexander’s Porus? I don’t recall the sources talking about his wealth but I don’t know of any other important kings of that name. Then again, I don’t know much ancient Indian history apart from Alexander. It would be great to get some background to this.

Categories: Arrian, Books, Diodorus Siculus, Philip II, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Started With Callixeina?

Let’s start today’s update post with the question (no doubt inspired by Oliver Stone’s Alexander) that brought someone to The Second Achilles: Did Olympias and Alexander ever have sex? Answer: No, they didn’t.

This is not to say, however, that Olympias had no interest in her son’s sexual development. There is a story (referred to by Peter Green in the Alexander the Great, Relationship with Hephaestion video embedded in this post) that when Alexander was growing up, Olympias and Philip II were so concerned by their son’s lack of interest in sex that they hired a courtesan named Callixeina to sleep with him. At first, Alexander showed no interested in her and his mother had to continuously beg him to sleep with her.

This anecdote comes from Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae X.435 (here) Is it true? I don’t know. Alexander had no problem forming sexual relationships later on (e.g. with Roxane and Bagoas and probably others of both sexes) but when I read about him, I never get the impression that sex was high on his agenda so I would put Athenaeus’ story in the ‘perhaps’ category.

***

I have finally finished Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose.

I read nearly 100 pages yesterday to bring the book to a close. My final opinion of it is that it is a consistently interesting read – I never stopped enjoying how Bose relates the events of Alexander’s life to contemporary businesses. Unfortunately, it is also a consistently unreliable history of the Macedonian king. Bose’s bibliography is seven pages long. He may have read all those books but he has not read them very well. If you are interested in a history of Alexander I cannot recommend this book to you. If you are a manager looking to be inspired, however, Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy maybe of use to you. Be mindful, however, that it’s foundations can be a little shaky (though see below).

***

Three passages from my reading have stuck with me. The first comes from the start of ‘Chapter 8 ‘Teeth Versus Tail’ – Logistics Strategy’.

A popular military maxim says that amateurs talk about strategy and professionals discuss logistics.
(p.197)

I really like the word choice here. Talk implies an endless conversation which can sum up amateurs very well. Discuss, on the other hand, has a more definitive feel about it – we discuss in order to reach a decision, which we then act upon.

I was very critical of Bose’s accuracy, above, but let me give him credit for getting one thing right that many, many other writers get wrong. Namely, that,

… Alexander was the last person to successfully conquer Afghanistan…
(p.203)

YES. How many times have I read articles that claim that Alexander, like Britain, the USSR, America etc failed to conquer Afghanistan? No, he conquered it (or rather, its predecessor countries) alright. What he didn’t do was settle the region properly. He won the war and, if you like, lost the peace. Unfortunately, Bose opens the above passage by saying ‘It is generally believed…’. As you may surmise, in my experience it is certainly not generally believed but I’ve given Bose a hard enough time already so we’ll let that go.

Finally, after discussing the Macedonian army’s refusal at the Hyphasis river to march any further east, Bose states that Alexander,

… went into his tent and pouted for three days. After that he came out and agreed to head home, but not before making a General MacArthur-like promise about returning some day.
(p.233)

This is the second time I have heard the claim that Alexander intended to return to India (See my comments underneath the What if Alexander the Great had lived? video embedded in this post) and I am still ignorant of its veracity. I shall look up the sources’ accounts of the Hyphasis ‘mutiny’ to see if I missed it and report back.

So, that’s Partha Bose. I have already started my next book – James Romm’s Ghost on the Throne.

Categories: Books | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Craterus and Perdiccas

It’s Christmas Eve. If you are reading this on 24th December, I hope you have a good day tomorrow, one that is full of love, as that is the essence of the day whether you are religious or not. If you are reading this on any other day of the year; well, I hope you have an equally love filled day tomorrow as well.

***

I started my Christmas holiday last Tuesday so have had lots of time to read and write about Alexander… ha ha… nope. Why does it happen that I have more time when I have less time? To be sure, I have been out a lot since Tuesday. On Thursday, though, I was indoors all day but then I was busy playing the third and final instalment of Life is Strange: Before the Storm. If you haven’t played this and have a console or PC I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is as un-Alexander-like a game as it possible for one to be and, to be honest, is all the better for it. Not everything should be about wine and phalanxes, though most things should.

***

Anyway what have I done that has been Alexander related?

Well, I have managed to read Craterus’ and Perdiccas’ entries from The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire by Waldemar Heckel. Heckel gives 57 pages to the two men, reflecting their importance in Alexander’s life and, albeit for the short time they lived, the Successor period (Both Craterus and Perdiccas died in 320 BC).

While I didn’t make many underlinings for Craterus. I was keen to do so when Heckel stated that, in the matter of the Philotas Affair, Craterus’ role was,

… much less complicated and less sinister than that of the unaccomplished Hephaiston.
(p.117)

Three things.

Less complicated? A few lines earlier, Heckel tells us that Craterus ‘sought to ruin Philotas for personal reasons’ as well as out of a desire to protect Alexander, to whom he was devoted. I really doubt that you have to look much further for Hephaestion’s motivation for desiring Philotas’ fall.

Less sinister? How is wanting to bring about the death of an enemy for no more than ‘personal reasons’ not a sinister motivation?

Hephaestion ‘unaccomplished’? Heckel is being ridiculous. This is what I wrote for my 17th December post,

There are no recorded incidents in the sources of Hephaestion failing Alexander in any commission that he was given. Whether it was to build a bridge or a city, choose a king or transfer equipment or food, he got the job done.

I stand by this. Wherein lies Hephaestion’s lack of accomplishment? Is it really because he was not as good a general as Craterus? And/or because he  had an unpleasant character? A man could still be either and still be accomplished, which Hephaestion was. His record is there for all to see.

***

Perdiccas was the Gordon Brown of Macedonian politics in the late fourth century B.C.: an extremely capable senior officer but a bad leader. To be fair, Heckel is not wrong when he says that ‘In order to continue Alexander’s work Perdikkas would have to be another Alexander, and this he was not.’ (pp.134-5). Why not? W. W. Tarn gives us some of the reasons in one of the quotation that Heckel uses to open the chapter. Perdiccas, he says, ‘was… unconciliatory and inordinately proud, and probably difficult to work with’. Of course, Alexander could be unconciliatory when he had a mind to be, but unlike Perdiccas he knew how to work with people, how to inspire them, how to get the best out of them.

Heckel states that,

Perdikkas’ career is an unfortunate tale of lofty ideals combined with excessive ambition and political myopia. He showed a determination to keep the empire intact, and for this idealism – though it was motivated by a quest for personal glory – he is to be admired.
(p.151)

I am not so sure the first point is correct. If Perdiccas had been a genuine idealist he would have done everything he could to keep the empire ready for the day when Alexander IV took up his rule. Instead, he quickly set about trying to win the Macedonian throne for himself; for example, by transporting Alexander’s body back to Macedon even though the late king wanted to be buried at Siwah and by marrying Alexander’s (only) full-sister, Cleopatra.

By-and-bye, I don’t blame Perdiccas for this. To survive the Macedonian political scene in the fourth century B.C. one had to be ambitious (something that Craterus wasn’t, and Hephaestion was, by the way) not idealistic.

***

Something that occasionally crops up on Social Media are images that portray Alexander as a national icon of Greece. Here is an example.

But was he? I don’t think so. He certainly believed in Hellenic values but Alexander was not a nationalist. He believed in his barbarian subjects, too, but you wouldn’t know this from some of the images I have seen. Like the one above, they play fast and loose with the truth in order to get their message across.

The image we see here is an ironic as well as false one. On the left hand side you can see the Vergina Star, a symbol of the ancient Macedonian kingdom. It has been painted to look like the modern day Greek flag.

Leaving aside the issue of its anachronism, it is an ironic image because the ancient Greeks hated the ancient Macedonians. And the feeling was reciprocated. If ancient Greece had had a flag and someone had placed it within the Vergina Star both Greeks and Macedonians would have been undoubtedly been offended by it.

This brings us to the falsity of the image; it is false because through the veil of its anachronism it tries to make a connection between ancient Greece and Macedon, which wasn’t there. And I mean here, a political connection, as the ancient Macedonians were very likely to be ethnically Greek.

We all have our own Alexander but we should at least try to ground him in historical reality rather than our current day ideology.

Categories: Books | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Strategy, Leonnatus, and Selective Sourcing

This week’s Alexanderland post is a day late. That’s because yesterday, I spent a bit of time on Tumblr answering an enquiry about Alexander’s relationship with his mother, Olympias; did he love or hate her? If you would like to read the Q & A, you can do so by clicking here.

***

For the second half-week in a row I have managed to read a little more of Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose and The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire by Waldemar Heckel.

In the sub-chapter ‘Defenders Are Toast’, Bose states,

Napoleon, too, believed in the principle ‘When possible, always attack’. The function of strategy, according to generals like Napoleon and Alexander, was to make decisive contact with the enemy as soon as possible; everything would fall into place once that was done.
(Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy, p.151)

There are two senses in which this statement can be understood – once the armies meet on the battlefield and as a general military principle. I am not quite certain which sense Bose has in mind. If he means ‘on the battlefield’, I agree with him. In his four major battles, Alexander never waited for either the satraps, Darius’, or Porus’ armies to come to him. He went to them. In doing so he took the initiative and never lost it. To give Porus his due, he at least managed to neutralise the advantage that taking the initiative gave Alexander, as may be seen by the scrum that developed between the two armies following the opening movements.

However, if Bose’s statement applies to Alexander’s general strategy, I disagree. After Issus, Darius fled east and Alexander headed south to Tyre and Egypt. After Gaugamela, both kings repeated this move. After the battles at Issus and Gaugamela, Alexander knew that Darius was in no position to fight him so he had time to pursue his other expedition aims – it was not all about fighting – namely, the securing of the Mediterranean seaboard, the taking of Egypt after Issus, and the securing of Babylon, Susa and Persepolis after Gaugamela.

***

In the sub-section titled ‘The Killing of Cleitus’, and in the context of a discussion of Black Cleitus’ murder, Bose says that Alexander,

… was now suffering from the powerful man’s conceit that he had seen engulf his father, according to which anyone who disagreed with him must be morally flawed.
(Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy, p.163)

I haven’t read nearly enough about Philip II to confidently dispute this statement, but I have read enough to feel uncomfortable with this statement. As I sit here and write these words, the only time that I can recall Philip ‘suffering from the powerful man’s conceit’ is in the placement of a statue of himself alongside those of the Olympian gods (Diodorus XVI.95). I don’t know of any occasion when he regarded those who held different views as ‘morally flawed’.

***

Moving on to The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire. I am still in ‘Chapter ii: The ‘New Men”. Earlier today, I read about Leonnatus. I have to admit, not much really jumped out at me while I read this; with that said, two statements did make an impression on me.

Firstly, that after Alexander’s death, Leonnatus was nominated along with Perdiccas as joint-regent for Roxane’s (hoped for) son. I had forgotten this. Why so? Because when I read about the succession crisis, I always turn to Diodorus, and he does not mention Leonnatus at the Babylonian conference (see Diodorus XVIII.2). However, Curtius also mentions the conference, and he says,

Pithon began to follow Perdiccas’ strategy, designating Perdiccas and Leonnatus, both of royal birth, as guardians for Roxane’s future son.
(Curtius X.7.8)

This passage is, therefore, a reminder to me never to limit myself to just one of the sources. If I can I always need to look up what the others say.

As for Leonnatus at Babylon, Weckel says that the reason Peithon nominated Leonnatus was to keep Perdiccas’ ambitions ‘in check’ (p.104), which sounds about right.

***

Heckel quotes Helmut Berve in his summary of Leonnatus. According to the latter, he ‘was a potential unfulfilled’ (p.106). He was a late comer, too, not being promoted into the senior ranks of the Macedonian army until 332/1 when he became a somatophylake and did not receive his first ‘military command’ (p.98) until early 327 when Alexander put him in charge of the night crew as the Macedonian army worked round the clock to bridge the rock of Chorienes. Leonnatus reminds me of Ptolemy, whose rise through the ranks was also delayed – for the son of Lagus, it did not begin until late 330 when he, too, became a royal bodyguard.

However, though Ptolemy joined the senior ranks later than Leonnatus, he enjoyed his first solo command earlier – the pick up of Bessus in 329. Both Ptolemy and Leonnatus had blue blood in them, although I believe Ptolemy was minor nobility. Leonnatus was a member of the Lyncestian royal house and related to Alexander through the latter’s grandmother. Ptolemy’s and Leonnatus’ paths definitively diverged in the Wars of the Successors. Leonnatus died at the start after falling in battle against the Athenian general Antiphilos in 322 B.C. while Ptolemy secured himself in Egypt and very nearly outlived the wars, dying in 283 B.C.

***

My continued thanks go to Shiralyn Mayon who linked to the following two videos on my Alexander Facebook page. The first is a short clip from a History Channel documentary about Alexander. It focuses on his relationship with Hephaestion.

The video claims that Alexander met Hephaestion in early adulthood. To the best of my knowledge, we do not know when they met. They could have been boyhood friends. The rest of the video is is concerned, firstly, with how Philip II and Olympias feared that their son was a ‘femme (?) homosexual’ and so introduced him to ‘call girls’ to man him up some. And secondly, Peter Green wonders what do you do if you are a ‘feminine youth’ and your father is an ‘ultra masculine, heavily bearded, militarily successful, hard drinking, dominant alpha-male’. The answer, of course, is you never stop being slightly feminine, nor reject the one you love but play the same military game as your father and beat him at it.

Plaudits go to the commenter who tries to convince us that Alexander was anti-homosexual when the Macedonian king’s sexual relationship with the eunuch Bagoas is a matter of record. That’s what you get when you quote your sources selectively,

The second video is an advert for a 2012 exhibition based on Alexander. I don’t have much to say about it except that it does a great job of making the exhibition worth going to see.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

New Men and Old Problems

I hate realising after the event that something doesn’t work. Case in point, the title of last Wednesday’s post, The War That Couldn’t Be Won On The Hydaspes. The title is much too long. I should have deleted the last three words.

Well, no use crying over spilt milk; let’s look at what I have been doing in Alexanderland since then.

***

As it happens, I have managed to read a little more of both Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy and The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire.

Partha Bose continues to create his own history. On p.142, he refers to Xenophon who ‘defeated the King of Persia’. But the reason why the 10,000 had to make their heroic journey back towards Greece is precisely because they lost the war against the Great King. Their paymaster, Cyrus the Younger, who was trying to overthrow Artaxerxes II, was killed in battle against him and so the Greeks had no choice but to flee.

In a section titled ‘Connective Style’, Bose refers to the fact that Alexander gave his generals the space to carry out their orders. He never,

… intervened or second-guessed the generals once battle had commenced. They came to each other’s aid, but they had gone over the battle plans and strategies so  many times that implementing them would come naturally to them.

This is a really good point. Alexander was blessed to have some extremely talented men serving under him. Of course, there were failures along the way (see the breakdown in command that lead to the deaths of Andromachus, Caranus, Menedemus, and Pharnuches et al – Arrian IV.5.3-6.2) but they are very much the exceptions that prove the rule. Philip II said that in all his life he had found only one general – Parmenion. He was exaggerating, of course, but had he lived longer, he would have found many more in men like Perdiccas, Craterus, Coenus, Lysimachus and Nearchus.

In the next section, ‘Getting Himself Over’ Bose talks about Alexander’s ability to connect with his troops.

Alexander had that admirable quality of being able to ‘get himself over’ to his troops, what British field marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein referred to as a pivotal skill in military leadership.

Alexander was not only good at this but a genius. How did he do it? Undoubtedly he would have learnt how to inspire his men but for the most part he was surely using his natural magnetism and charisma. I don’t think you can learn your way to inspiring your men to do the impossible. For some modern examples of intensely charismatic men, see Barack Obama, Tony Blair and – perhaps most of all of recent American Presidents? – Ronald Reagan. I would be willing to bet that they learnt to fine hone their powers of persuasion but that none of them started off being dull.

Apropos of nothing, I like the phrase ‘getting himself over’. I have heard it once before – in the context of American (WWE) wrestling. There, a wrestler behaves in a particular way to get over – become accepted – as either a goodie (babyface) or baddie (heel). It has been a while since I watched the WWE so feel free to correct me on this but if I am right, Alexander was behaving in basically the same fashion. The stakes were rather higher for him, though, so he didn’t want to get over simply as a goodie but as a figure of authority and power and munificence. If he could do it, he knew his men would follow him to the ends of the earth, which is nearly what happened.

***

In Waldemar Heckel’s The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire, I have moved on to The New Man and have now read about Koinos (Coenus) and Hephaistion. The New Men were the generals of Alexander’s generation and Hephaestion was, of course, pre-eminent among them.

As I found out when I bought Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great, Heckel does not have much time for the son of Amyntor. He regards him as a man of limited military ability and ‘an unpleasant, jealous individual’ (p.83).

Limited Military Ability?
Heckel states that,

What we learn of Hephaistion’s later career as a cavalry-officer confirms our suspicions that his promotion to hipparch was owed to his friendship with Alexander rather than to military genius.
(p.76)

and in his dispute with Craterus, the latter ‘was equally ambitious but more capable’ (p.83).

On the one hand, I am sure that Hephaestion’s friendship with Alexander did him no harm whatsoever. And maybe it did help him to rise through the ranks. However, I am also sure that Craterus also benefitted from the loyalty he had to Alexander the king as well.

On the other, what does it mean that Craterus was the more capable man? There are no recorded incidents in the sources of Hephaestion failing Alexander in any commission that he was given. Whether it was to build a bridge or a city, choose a king or transfer equipment or food, he got the job done. But perhaps Heckel is talking about on the battlefield. Granted, Hephaestion could not be considered to be in the first division of generals, but neither could Craterus be considered to be in the first division of logistical experts. In their respective spheres of influence, both Hephaestion and Craterus were extremely capable. I might add that when they entered into each other’s sphere – when Hephaestion fought in a set piece battle or when Craterus was asked to forage – neither failed in their orders.

An ‘unpleasant, jealous individual’?
Heckel reaches this conclusion in the context of the Philotas Affair. The affair in which Craterus took a leading part as well, by the way. For it wasn’t only Hephaestion who called for Philotas to be tortured (Curtius VI.11.10). He also blames Hephaestion for his dispute with Eumenes (p.85) citing Plutarch’s Life of Eumenes 2. Plutarch, though, does not tell us who started that dispute. For all we know, Eumenes started it and Hephaestion, knowing full well that he could not afford to let the Carian be seen to put one over him, retaliated so that matters went downhill to the discredit of both from there.

I agree with Heckel that Hephaestion had a dark side but so did Craterus, so did Eumenes and, I would wager, so did every other Macedonian general. We all have failings. Hephaestion was just unlucky to have his remembered and recorded because he was so close to the king.

***

I have been watching more of Shiralyn Mayon’s videos from my Alexander Facebook page. The first is this one on the Battle of Issus,

This video is fairly straight forward and not particularly spectacular. Unfortunately, the graphical quality isn’t great but it does have an actor playing Alexander whose lips reminded me very much of the British Museum Alexander bust. Also, Peter Green – author of Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography – appears in it, and he has a lovely accent.

The second video that I have been able to watch is this one,

If you have time for only one of the above, I would say watch Macedonian Battle Tactics. The visual quality is better and it gives a good overview of what made Alexander’s army so successful. It also includes a reference to the Hammer and Anvil strategy, which I found very useful.

Categories: Arrian, Books, Plutarch | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The War That Couldn’t Be Won On The Hydaspes

I talked about drinking brandy a few posts ago and I am now finally getting round to it. At 40% it is going to take some getting used to but I am determined to give it my best shot.

***

Since Sunday, I have been reading Partha Bose’s Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy. It isn’t at all easy reading two books at once. At least, not Bose’s and Weckel’s The Marshals. I seem not to be able to read a little of both in the same evening but instead spend a few days with one then a few more with the other. I almost feel like I am two-timing whichever book I am not reading. I better keep them well apart.

Anyway, I am now on p.141 – just over halfway through. Bose is still inventing scenes to suit his thesis but is at least doing so in an enjoyable way. There is one passage that I would like to quote here, It comes on p.137 when Bose talks about how mountains are ‘no defence against armies that are resolute in their purpose’. Bose continues,

The French military strategist Jomini wrote, ‘It has long been debated whether the possession of the mountains makes one the master of the valleys or vice versa’.

The Thracians who thought they could uses the slopes of Mount Haemus to crash carts into the Macedonian army (Arrian I.1.6-13), Ariobarzanes as he defended the Persian Gates (Ar. III.18.2-9) must both have thought that they were the masters only to be freed of their delusion by Alexander’s inventiveness and luck.

***

You might have read my Tumblr post about how my Twitter Macedonians’ story intersects with the sources. If you haven’t you can do so here. Today, Alexander’s story arrived at the events related in Plutarch Life of Alexander 47

I would have left this for Tumblr but I am too excited by what happened to consider waiting until I get time to update that blog.

Excited is probably not the right word as it is quite a positive one. The confrontation between Alexander’s most senior generals and the two men who loved him most was a near disaster for the king. If either Hephaestion or Craterus had killed the other it would have done deep, deep damage either to Alexander or the army. Undoubtedly, a deep psychological wound would have been inflicted on one side or the other or both.

But what makes the incident really stand out for me – above and beyond the fact that it involved two men who given their rank and experience really, really should have known better – is that it showed how even after eight years of unparalleled success under Alexander and attempts by the conqueror to diminish their influence, the Old Guard – Philip’s men, so’s to speak, were still so powerful. And we know this because as Plutarch relates, after stopping the confrontation, Alexander rebuked Hephaestion in public and Craterus in private.

Alexander’s close relationship with Hephaestion makes a public rebuke incomprehensible. Alexander’s real motive for doing it, therefore, could not have been to humiliate his friend, but to show the veterans that he was still, in a sense, one of them. For that reason, when he rebuked Craterus, as had to be done, he did so behind closed doors. Out of sight, and, to a point, out of mind.

Now, as I say, Alexander did not rebuke Hephaestion in public to humiliate him but the fact is, he was humiliated. That, unfortunately, was the price that had to be paid in order to keep the army from fracturing any more deeply thanks to the Old Guard’s thoroughly recalcitrant attitude.

Categories: Arrian, Plutarch | Tags: | 1 Comment

A Lion in Winter

We have snow in London today! And not just the usual two flake job that we sometimes get. Okay, I am not exactly snowed in right now but the snow has made my neighbourhood look quite pretty. Unfortunately, it is of the crystalline sort so as soon as the temperature goes up a notch it will all melt away.

Did Alexander ever have to deal with snow? Of course, he did. He no doubt had to trudge through it during his crossing of the Parapamisus (Hindu Kush aka Indian Caucasus) in 329 B.C., though both Diodorus (XVII.82) and Curtius (VII.3.6-18) focus on the difficulties that the conqueror faced when he marched through the territory of the Parapamisadae.

Curtius shows Alexander at his best as the Macedonians toiled in this primitive tribe’s inhospitable land. He describes how,

The king made the round of his troops on foot, raising up some who were on the ground and using his body to lend support to others when they had difficulty keeping up. At one moment he was at the front, at another at the centre or rear of the column, multiplying for himself the hardships of the march.
(Curtius VII.3.17)

If you only had time to give someone just one example of why the Macedonian army followed Alexander to India the above passage would be worth quoting. His selflessness here is absolute. Not only was he doing something very kind but he was doing at great personal risk. Of course, if he had collapsed, he would have been carried; but in his weakened state, would he have survived? That would not have been guaranteed.

***

In the last few days, I have finished reading The Old Guard section of Waldemar Heckel’s The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire. Along the way, I have learnt a few new words. E.g. synotrophos – a close councillor. Heckel calls Parmenion’s son Philotas the synotrophos of Amyntas Perdikka; philotimia – one who loves to be superior and philarchia – one who loves power. Antigonus Monophthalmus is described as being both of these. I should say that I got the meanings for all of these words from a Google search so if you know ancient Greek and disagree with the meanings described, do leave a note in the comments.

By the way, the Amyntas mentioned above was Amyntas III son of Perdiccas who became king of Macedon at the age of five or six in 360/59 B.C. Because of his extreme youth, Philip II either served as his regent before replacing him as king, or just took over as king from the outset. It was a necessary move, not least because of the threats that Macedon was facing at the time. Philip gave Amyntas III his daughter, Cynnane’s, hand in marriage and the couple lived in peace during Philip’s lifetime. Amyntas, however, was killed on Alexander orders in the dynastic purge following his own accession to the throne.

That was unfortunate, but in terms of Macedonian realpolitik, Amyntas’ death was necessary for he was a rival claimant to the throne. Indeed, his claim was stronger than Alexander’s, so he had to be killed lest either he create a rival power base or somehow else do so using him as its figurehead in order to overthrew Alexander.

On the theme of necessary killings, let’s jump forward to the Battle of Granicus in 334 B.C. After defeating the Persian cavalry and main body of the infantry, Alexander surrounded the Greek mercenaries who had been held back by the satraps and proceeded to massacre them. Not all the mercenaries were killed but those who survived were taken in chains back to Macedon to be worked as slaves until Athens successfully sued for their release (see Arrian III.6.2) in 332/1.

What should Alexander have done after surrounding the mercenaries? I suspect most people would say ‘accept their surrender’ and perhaps they wouldn’t be wrong. But The Marshals contains a passage which reminds us that allowing one’s enemies to live came at a potentially high cost. In the entry on Antipatros (Antipater), Heckel describes how King Agis of Sparta’s army at the Battle of Megalopolis in 331 contained 20,000 infantry, with ‘as many as 8,000 mercenaries who had escaped from Issos’ (p.41). From a strictly pragmatic point of view, Alexander should have hunted down those mercenaries and exterminated them. By allowing them to live, he put Antipater under threat and therefore his kingdom. Of course, he did something similar when he banned his satraps from using mercenaries in 324. The now unemployed soldiers returned to Greece, eventually joining Leosthenes’ army and fighting in the war against Antipater (See Dividing the Spoils, p.37). To be sure, it wasn’t Alexander’s kingdom that was placed under threat but that of Alexander IV, Philip III, and, more to the point, the Successors.

***

In his entry on Black Kleitos, Heckel makes a very interesting point about how Alexander treated the old guard: he got rid of them whenever he could. But not by murder. Heckel cites Kalas, Asandros, Antigonos, Balakros, and Parmenion – all of whom were given commands in this place or that – but importantly, away from the royal court. The same would have happened to Cleitus had he not died.

***

I am a big fan of Formula 1 racing. For many years, it was run by Bernie Ecclestone who employed a divide-and-conquer strategy in order to keep the power hungry teams in their place and make them do his bidding. The more things change the more they stay the same. Go back to the Lamian Wars in 322 B.C. After losing the Battle of Krannon, the Greek allies sued for peace. But,

… Antipatros refused to deal with the Greeks collectively, demanding instead separate peace terms with each state.
(pp.45-6)

A simple and clever move, and potentially devastating for any of the allies who didn’t play ball.

***

For this section of the post, I owe Shiralyn Mayon much thanks as she has kindly shared some You Tube videos relating to Alexander and Greek history on the Facebook page. She asked me my thoughts on them.

The first is this one,

As you can tell by the title, this video is not actually about Alexander. That notwithstanding, I enjoyed it. I learnt a little about Greek history and came away with a smile. The channel which made it is called Overly Sarcastic Productions and so, yes, the narrator is pretty sarcastic, but amusingly so.

The problem with sarcasm, however, is that it works by distorting the truth of whatever it is talking about. So, did Thebes have a ‘hissy fit’ at a peace conference? This brings me to my complaint: the video contains no dates! Which peace conference is the video talking about? I am still learning my pre-Alexander history so need all the help I can get with stuff like this. I was wondering if the video might be referring to the Peace of Antalcidas in 386 B.C. but the entry in my copy of A Chronology of Ancient Greece doesn’t really match the video’s account of what happened.

The second video is this one,

It was interesting to watch but even though it is less than five minutes long it quickly tailed off into not much, really. It starts with a claim: that ‘Alexander expressed an interest in widening his grip on India’. I would be interested to know the source for this as I have never heard it before. The other thing that jumped out at me was the statement that Alexander would probably have died in his 50s as life expectancy in antiquity ‘wouldn’t have gone past the 60s’. Tell that to Ptolemy, Seleucus and Lysimachus who all died in their 70s-80s. For me, this video is a start. The creator could profitably go back and update it when he knows more about the Wars of the Successors.

Categories: Arrian, Books, Diodorus Siculus, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Parmenion and Thaïs

My tea is cooking, I am drinking a rapidly cooling cup of coffee, but I cannot not write about Alexander.

***

Since Sunday, I have only had time to read Parmenion’s entry in The House of Parmenion, Part Two of Waldemar Heckel’s The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire. And I have to admit, I did not underline any of it with my green pen. Nothing stood out enough. I feel that I have done Parmenion a disservice.

Sadly for him, that’s nothing new. His execution, brought about by the execution (some might say judicial murder) of his son Philotas, in 330 B.C., was a terrific fall from grace for someone who had been such an important figure in the Macedonian court for many years. In the years following his death, his reputation was besmirched either by Callisthenes or others in Alexander’s court whose mission it was to justify his death. They couldn’t do it directly because he had done nothing wrong, so they told stories about him – that he was an incompetent soldier, that he gave bad advice etc.

***

I have a Second Achilles Tumblr page, which I confess I do not update nearly as often as I would like; I have, however, updated it twice today. If you would like to know what contemporary song Thaïs of Athens would like, click here; if learning a little about my Twitter Macedonians takes your fancy, click here.

I have to admit, though, I wrote both posts with a bit of trepidation. I mentioned Thaïs’ song on the Facebook page the other day and I am not used to effectively re-publishing posts. Will people feel short changed? On the other hand, perhaps not everyone who uses Tumblr uses Facebook or has Liked/Followed my page there.

In regards the Twitter Macedonians, I am always wary about talking about that side of my work because I often feel it will distract from the story that I am telling on Twitter. I don’t want people to read Alexander and co’s tweets and be thinking of me. But, you know, when I read The Lord of the Rings I don’t think about Tolkien so maybe I am overthinking the matter and worrying too much. If you have any thoughts about either matter, do let me know.

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

The Macedonian Supremacy

Today’s post is being powered by a glass of St. Chinian’s wine. It is a French red that, I am disappointed to say, tastes rather bland. Before you ask, this isn’t going to stop me from finishing the bottle. Red wine is too important for that. Anyway, let’s talk about Alexander.

***

Since last Wednesday, I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to anymore of Robin Lane Fox’s lecture. In fact, I am going to listen to Nos.1-4 again as I’d really like to share some of his insights.

***

What I have done, however, is started reading The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire by Waldemar Heckel. Heckel is the author of Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great which is undoubtedly the most useful reference book about Alexander that I have ever bought. If you are studying Alexander, or writing about him in any capacity, Who’s Who is an absolutely brilliant work.

But what about The Marshals? Well, I suppose this is an expanded version of Who’s Who, focusing – as the title suggests – on the most important men in Alexander’s life and army. The book is more of an academic one; you can tell this by the fact that whereas Who’s Who talks about Antipater, Craterus and Perdiccas, The Marshals has Antipatros, Krateros and Perdikkas. Scholars always mean business when they use the directly transliterated version of Greek names.

As I write this post I have only read the opening chapter of The Marshals: The Old Guard: Introduction and The House of Attalos. My green underlining pen has been busy, though. Here are some quotes.

The army that crossed the Hellespont in 334 B.C. was still very much that of Philip II…

… a purge, whether in the name of justice or filial piety, could extend only so far…

… the new King lacked the authority to reform but slightly the command structure of the expeditionary force.

All these come from the very first page. That the army was still Philip’s is, of course, a truism but also a fact that is easy to forget if we focus on Alexander too much and so worth recalling all the same. The second, and especially third, quotations are ones that are surely more difficult to remember. Alexander was king, surely he could do whatever he wanted! No, not at all. Of the latter two quotes, the third strikes me the hardest. It builds upon what I have heard other authors say about how the Greeks viewed Alexander at his accession – they did not think very much of him. It’s probably why Darius III let a satrapal army fight him at the Granicus (Graneikos if you are Weckel): Why should I waste my time with this upstart? Let the satraps give him a spanking and send him home.

One more quote,

When Alexander set out for Asia, he left many enemies, potentially dangerous, alive, both in Makedonia and within the army: witness the series of intrigues and conspiracies that followed the death of Philip II.
(The Marshals of Alexander, p.11)

This statement alone really brings home how vulnerable Alexander was in all aspects of his life. He must have had such a strong will to not succumb to paranoia from his earliest days. In light of statements like the above, it’s worth remembering that not only did Alexander not become paranoid from the start but he maintained his friendships. And had an exceptionally close one with Hephaestion. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for him not to trust Amyntor’s son, and yet ~.

I do find myself in awe of his ability to be so close to Hephaestion despite having every reason to stay aloof from him and everyone.

***

Over on the Facebook page, I am coming to the end of my run of links. Tomorrow’s is the last and is about Circadian rhythms. This is your body clock – that part of you that tells you when to go to sleep and, unless you own a cat, when to wake up. The article that I link to (Shh – don’t tell anyone but it is this one. I don’t mind mentioning it here as I know not everyone on Facebook will click the link when I link to this blog post there). The scientist being interviewed states that it was,

… one of Alexander the Great’s soldiers [who] noticed circadian rhythms in the way that plants hold their flowers up towards the sun during the day, and drop during the night.

But doesn’t say which soldier. Fortunately, since I scheduled the above mentioned post, Google Alerts has told me about another article on the same subject It is this one; and here, we are told the soldier’s name: Androsthenes. Who was he? According to Weckel in Who’s Who he was a trierach in Alexander’s Indian fleet and served under Nearchus on his Indian Ocean expedition. Weckel says that Androsthenes wrote an account of that voyage – the original is lost now, but was cited by Strabo. Perhaps, therefore, Strabo is the source for Androsthenes observing the leaves of the tamarind tree?

***

Last night, I watched Jason Bourne for the first time since seeing it in the cinema. Narratively speaking, it is a rather tired film, but I still enjoyed it far more than I expected. Perhaps part of the reason for that was because I found a point of connection between Bourne and Alexander. Jason Bourne is a force of nature. He can never be stopped. When he turns his mind to something, he will see it through – all very Alexandrian traits.

Categories: Alexander in Film, Books | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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