Alexander: May / Spring Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

Spring Alexander is recalled to Pella (Peter Green)

Spring Balkan Campaign; Alexander destroys Thebes; Greek cities submit (Landmark Arrian)
Spring (early) Alexander begins his Thracian/Illyrian campaign; Thebes revolts (Peter Green)

Spring Alexander cross the Hellespont and lands in Asia Minor; visit Troy (Landmark Arrian)
May Alexander lands in Asia Minor (Livius, Michael Wood)
May The Battle of the Granicus River (Peter Green)

Spring Alexander arrives in Gordion (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Memnon continues his naval campaign; Memnon dies; Alexander undoes/cuts the Gordion Knot; Alexander passes through the Cilician Gates having subdued Pisidia and Cappadocia (Landmark Arrian)
Spring (early) Memnon dies (Peter Green)

March-June Memnon’s naval offensive continues (Livius)
April-July Alexander in Gordium (Livius)

January – July The Siege of Tyre continues (Michael Wood)
Spring The Persian Fleet collapses (Livius)

Spring Alexander’s new administration takes over Egypt; Alexander crosses Assyria in his pursuit of Darius (Landmark Arrian)
Spring (early) Alexander travels to Siwah (Peter Green)

Spring Alexander has the palace complex at Persepolis burned; continues his pursuit of Darius and finds him dead (Landmark Arrian)

May Alexander leaves Persepolis (Livius)
May(?) Destruction of Persepolis temples etc (Peter Green)
May Persepolis burned (Michael Wood)

Spring Alexander pursues Bessus; Bessus is betrayed by his allies and handed over to Alexander; Alexander quells a native revolt (Landmark Arrian)
Spring [First] crossing of the Hindu Kush via Khawak Pass (Michael Wood)
(April-) May Alexander advances into Bactria; Bessus flees across the Oxus river (Peter Green)

May (late) Alexander crosses the Hindu Kush (Livius)

Spring Scythian embassies and King Pharasmanes try to make an alliance with Alexander (Landmark Arrian)

Spring Alexander campaigns in Bactria and Sogdia; Alexander captures the Sogdian Rock (Michael Wood)

Spring The Sogdian Rock is captured (Livius)(Peter Green)(Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander marries Roxane; Alexander recruits 30,000 Persian soldiers; The Pages’ Conspiracy and Callisthenes’ death (Peter Green)
Spring Pages’ Plot exposed; Conspirators executed; Callisthenes either arrested or executed (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander marries Roxane; Chorienes surrenders (Landmark Arrian)
Spring (early) Alexander marries Roxane; Alexander marries Roxane; Pages’ Plot; Callisthenes executed (Michael Wood)
Spring (late) Alexander crosses the Hindu Kush (via Bamian) for the second time (Michael Wood)

Spring Alexander takes the Aornos Rock; Macedonians cross the Indus on Hephaestion’s and Perdiccas’ bridge; Alexander in Nysa; Alexander receives Taxiles’ gifts; Alexander meets Taxiles; the Battle of the Hydaspes River; death of Bucephalus; foundation of Nicaea and Bucephala; Alexander campaigns in India (Landmark Arrian)
Spring (early) Siege of the Aornos Rock; the Macedonian army reunites at the Indus River and crosses it on a pontoon; Alexander arrives in Taxila (Michael Wood)
May The Battle of the Hydaspes River (Livius, Michael Wood)

Spring The Brahmans are defeated, as are Musicanus and Sambus (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander sails down the Indus River (Michael Wood)

Spring The 30,000 newly trained Persian soldiers arrive in the Macedonian camp; Susa weddings (Peter Green)
Spring Alexander explores the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; Purge of corrupt Satraps; Susa Weddings; Debt relief for Macedonian soldiers; Alexander explores the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Landmark Arrian)

Spring Ill omens and portents for Alexander’s future; Spoils of war sent to Grece; Alexander prepares for Arabian expedition; Greek envoys call Alexander a god – he orders Hephaestion to be given great honours; Alexander is struck down by a fever; Alexander dies (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Campaign against Cossaeans (Peter Green)
(April-) May Alexander in Babylon (Livius)
Alexander makes preparations for an invasion of Arabia (Livius)
May Alexander falls ill in Babylon (Michael Wood)
29th/30th May Alexander falls ill (dying on 10th/11th June) (Peter Green)

*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)

Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Leave a comment

Pillai’s Imaginary Invader

Dr. Radhakrishnan Pillai may be an excellent ‘management guru’ but he is no historian. In this article from the Hindu Times he is quoted as saying that,

… the great Indian philosopher Chankaya united the country against the global invader Alexander the Great. “It is because of one man’s intelligence; Alexander showed his back without waging a war against India. This was possible because of the effective communication. He used his good offices and united the princely states to terrify the invader.”

  • Chankaya did not unite India against Alexander.
  • Alexander fought (and won) a number of battles against Indian tribes.
  • Alexander at no point displayed any fear of ‘the princely states’.

Chankaya is not mentioned in any capacity by any of the Greek sources. Are they suppressing his involvement in expelling Alexander from India? Why would they when they are perfectly content to talk about other people who tried to resist the Macedonian king during the course of his career?

All five of the major sources for Alexander’s life (i.e. Arrian, Curtius, Diodorus, Justin and Plutarch) mention the conqueror’s Indian campaign and the battles he led while there. The idea that Alexander ran scared from the sub-continent is simply risible.

Further to the above, I cannot think of any occasion when any of the sources say that Alexander was ‘terrified’ by the Indians. When Alexander decided to quit the country, he did so because his army – mentally exhausted after ten years of fighting – told him it could go no further.

By the way, India is where Alexander displayed one of his most conspicuous acts of courage; that is, when he jumped into the Mallian fortress alone to take on its defenders in a fight to the death (see Arrian VI.9-12). The fact that Peucestas, Leonnatus and Abreas followed him showed that though though the Macedonian army had weakened it had lost none of its bravery.

With all that said, Dr. Pillai makes one very good point. According to the Hindu Times,

The management guru said the most important ingredient of modern business was to understand the local culture and develop a local model. For this one had to imbibe multi-lingual skills and understand many cultures to sustain for many years.

Alexander would have been sympathetic to this advice. Although I doubt he would ever have followed it, he did try to create not just a Macedonian but a world empire by appointing Persians to key political positions, by taking on their customs and dress and through the Susa mass weddings. Sadly, the Macedonians at large never accepted even this, and we know of only one – Peucestas – who did indeed ‘imbibe multi-lingual skills’ by learning Persian. I am quite sure that he also sought to understand the culture of Persia where his satrapy was located.

Categories: By the Bye | Tags: , | 1 Comment

A Glimpse

hephaestions_journalHephaestion’s Journal represents a glimpse into the life of Alexander the Great as he was seen through the eyes of his closest friend.

So begins the introduction to this short (136 page) book, translated by Valentin Numbers and edited by Loren J Herbin.

Except that neither Numbers or Herbin are real; Hephaestion’s journal is a fiction-within-a-fiction, which Saiz uses to draw the reader deeper into the ‘reality’ of the book. For another example of this type of literary conceit see The Lord of the Rings, which purports to be a translation of a book written by Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

But whereas Tolkien’s role as the actual author of his work is highlighted in the Note on the Text, Note on the the 50th Anniversary Edition and Forward to the Second Edition, Saiz keeps herself very firmly in the background. Her name appears only on the spine of the book and its copyright message. It is absent from the brief About the Author note at the back of the book.

As for the book – if I had read Hephaestion’s Journal on I would have have regarded it as a good example of that genre. It is a thoughtful piece of work and has been competently written.

It doesn’t yet work, however, as a novel. The story is under developed – Saiz’s Hephaestion does little more than record key moments in Alexander’s life. He feels hardly more than a royal secretary. Yes, we get insights into the development of his relationship with Alexander but only insights. These two men are at the heart of the story, we should be getting much, much more.

Only Saiz can tell us what that ‘more’ should be but I found the way she portrayed Hephaestion as being antagonistic towards Alexander during their childhood and then, in the later years of the expedition east, of the opinion that Alexander had gone mad as being intriguing ideas that have a lot of potential for further exploration.

The same could be said for some of the other characters. Saiz’s Perdiccas is licentious and a sadist, Ptolemy ‘solid’ and Craterus bent on power. So much could be done with people like them. I really hope that Saiz comes back to this subject in the future to do them justice.

Saiz’s main source for Hephaestion’s Journal is Arrian, although she also uses Plutarch and Curtius. Aristotle and Xenophon are also referenced as is Alexander scholar Elizabeth Carney. In that Saiz places Cassander (and Antipater) in Alexander’s army she may be taking inspiration from Oliver Stone’s Alexander film as well.

All-in-all Hephaestion’s Journal has the feel of a work written at leisure and then published at the writer’s ease. If Hannah Saiz was to take it back and develop it further I am confident that she would then have a book that any publisher would be interested in taking on.


  • Thank you to my friend Jen who sent me her copy of Hephaestion’s Journal to read. You can read her review of the book here.

Photo Credit
Front cover of Hephaestion’s Journal Booksamillion

Categories: Books | Tags: | 1 Comment

The Club of Lethal Trades

Last Saturday, 30th July, I took part in a 27 mile walk from Kensington to Beaconsfield in honour of G. K. Chesterton.

Chesterton (1874-1936) was born in the former and is buried in the latter. He was baptised at St. GKCThomas’ C of E church at Campden Hill, where we started our walk, and prior to his death, lived at two homes in Beaconsfield – Overroads and Top Meadow. He was by trade (or profession?) a journalist but also engaged in Catholic apologetics, writing many books and taking part in debates with his friend Hilaire Belloc in one corner and George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells in the other. Belloc and Wells couldn’t stand each other but Chesterton could make friends with a brick wall.

Our walk took just over twelve hours – breaks included – and by the end although I was in good spirits I was very footsore. This got me to thinking about the Macedonian army.

Between 336 – 323 Alexander took his men on numerous forced marches. for example, from Thrace to Thebes (Arrian I.7), which he accomplished in a fortnight. On other occasions, the men – and women – had to walk for extended periods through very difficult territory on pain of death; I am thinking here particularly of the Gedrosian desert crossing (Arrian VI.24-27).

What must these walks have done to their feet? I had plasters to cover my blisters; cuts can be covered with ointment. How did the Macedonians dress their injuries? And how strong mentally they must have been to endure these long walks day-after-day: I was done for at the end of Day One!

Anyway, I wish I knew more about ancient Macedonian feet and how they cared for them. Walking on tender feet is horrible but they made a career out of it. As usual, I am in awe. Not so much of Alexander this time, but his very faithful soldiers and camp followers.


In the photo below: this author on a pontoon bridge somewhere between Ealing and Uxbridge. As can be seen, this bridge doesn’t cross the canal but runs alongside the path while it is being resurfaced. Hephaestion and Perdiccas could not have done a better job.


Photo Credits
Chesterton Way of Wonder
The picture of me S. McCullough

Categories: By the Bye, Of The Moment | Tags: | 1 Comment

And the Loser Is…

If there was such a thing as the Bad Luck, Old Chap award and it had a category for antiquity, I would definitely nominate –

Serves Alexander with distinction,
Could have been the man to whom Alexander left his empire,
Falls under his horse and dies early in the Wars of the Successors (Diodorus XVIII.30).

Serves Alexander loyally,
Forms an effective team with Hephaestion in India,
Is deserted by his friends after failing to clear a disused canal (a canal!) (Diodorus XVIII.33)
And is assassinated after failing – wait for it – to cross a river (Diodorus XVIII.36).

Sometimes, it’s just not meant to be.

Categories: By the Bye, Humour, Of The Moment, Random Posts | Tags: , | Leave a comment

More A Catalyst Than A Creator

E.M.AnsonI didn’t mean to buy Alexander the Great: Themes and Issues by Edward M. Anson (Bloomsbury 2014).

I was in the bookshop to attend the launch of The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton, and you know how it is. You attend a book launch and get your book signed. You should be happy with that, but are you? Are you really? No, book lovers can always do with one more book; even when they have no room for them.

By the time I left the bookshop, one book had become four. I read The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare first and thoroughly enjoyed it. I am biased because I have met Milton (he is a very friendly man!) but I can say with absolute honesty that he really knows how to tell a tale. And when the tale is as good as how Britain fought a ‘dirty war’ against the Nazis during the Second World War then you are in for a rollicking good ride. I thoroughly recommend The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare to you.Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

I do not know Edward M. Anson but I am going to be even more effusive in my praise of Alexander the Great: Themes and Issues. For two reasons,

1/ Anson cites his sources in his text. I love Peter Green’s and Robin Lane Fox’s biographies of Alexander. I think they’ll always be my modern ur-texts but I really appreciate having a book where the author goes to the effort of telling me there and then his source for the statement he has just made. Well, I’m being unfair to Green, Lane Fox and others like them: they are writing popular histories and including sources would break the story up so really Anson’s book is a compliment to theirs rather than being better.

2/ The whole of Themes and Issues is a conversation with the five major sources of Alexander’s life and – especially this – modern day historians. On one page we find Anson disagreeing with Ernst Badian over this, and then on the next agreeing over that. Reading this book was like being in a lecture theatre again, and it was very exciting.

In light of the above, I am really grateful to have found this book just three years after its publication as it means I now own an up-to-date scholarly work. At least, I hope so. That’s a problem with living outside academe and not being an independent scholar: with no access to the academy you are always likely to be ten steps behind whatever the professionals are saying. I don’t even know of any academically minded Alexander blogs.

Alexander the Great: Themes and Issues isn’t perfect. There are mistakes within the text and I didn’t find the book to be a visually easy read. Anson’s text is by no means impenetrably dense but is just heavy enough for me to wish that Bloomsbury had printed the book in a slightly larger format with the text more widely spaced.

Because Themes and Issues is a more academic work I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone wanting to read about Alexander for the first time. Green, Lane Fox and the other popular historians are the perfect place to start. But once you have polished them off, Edward M. Anson’s book absolutely deserves to be in your hands and on your shelf. It has sources and good insights; it doesn’t just talk about but discusses. It is a very rewarding read.


Picture Credits
Alexander The Great: Themes and Issues – Goodreads
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare – The Times

Categories: Alexander Scholars, Books | Tags: | 2 Comments

An engaging historical mystery

The Lost Book of Alexander the GreatAlexander died in June 323 B.C. At the time of his death, his wife Roxane was pregnant. Hoping that the child would be a boy, Alexander’s generals divided the late king’s empire between themselves to run until Alexander’s son (please Zeus) came of age.

As it turned out, Roxane did indeed give birth to a boy. Despite this, the generals divided once more between those who supported the newly named Alexander IV, and those who wanted to rule the territory as independent states. Perdiccas, Alexander’s deputy at the time of his death, led the loyalist faction. Ptolemy, governor of Egypt, was a splitter.

In 320 B.C., Perdiccas went to war against Ptolemy. He lost and was assassinated by his own men.

After arriving in Egypt, Ptolemy began writing his memoirs. Some scholars believe he wrote them soon after his arrival because he takes a couple of jabs at Perdiccas – what would have been the point of doing so years after his enemy had died? Others, however, believe that the memoirs belong to a much later date, one no earlier than 310/09, as Ptolemy corrects another historian who did not write his account until then.

I wonder if Ptolemy wrote and rewrote his book over the course of years thus giving it the appearance of belonging to distinct periods. Either way, his memoirs were eventually lost. Happily, this did not before before Arrian, in the second century A.D., used them as one of the major sources of his account of Alexander’s expedition.

Which brings us to The Lost Book of Alexander the Great by Andrew Young. It is a very brave attempt to find Ptolemy’s lost memoir in Arrian’s Anabasis. I say brave but maybe it is just foolhardy, for how does one find a lost text inside another?

Young is completely upfront about this problem. He isn’t scared to say maybe and perhaps. The book, therefore, is written honestly. But what use are too many of them to readers? For my part, I enjoyed The Lost Book because I enjoy reading about Alexander. I’d read his shopping list if it was available. Ptolemy is my favourite of his generals so that was a bonus.

I have to admit, though, I didn’t come away from The Lost Book thinking that it added much to my understanding of Alexander or Ptolemy. There are certainly no revelatory insights in it. The book joins dots where it can but is forced to imagine a fair number of others.

Despite this, I am not inclined to say that The Lost Book is a waste of time. In my opinion, it does have a value, and that is in the simple fact that it is bold enough to confront the question of whether it is possible to find Ptolemy in Arrian.

Maybe it would have been better for the question to be answered in an essay or monograph but that’s by-the-bye, the fact is that it is a reasonable question to ask and Andrew Young has had the guts to stick his neck above the parapet and give an answer. The question is a difficult one, actually, an impossible one, but it still deserves answering. I applaud Young for daring to do so and recommend the book to you.


Picture Credit
Front Cover of The Lost Book: Tower Books

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

The Air He Breathes Is The Complexity Of Life

The Mighty DeadThe Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicholson is an intense and enlightening read.

The book is also a deeply personal one as Nicholson grounds Homer’s story – which for him begins not in the eighth century B.C. when Homer is supposed to have lived, nor even in c.1250 when the events that inspired The Iliad are believed to have taken place, but centuries earlier – in the journey of his own life.

Thus, we find him ruminating on Homer while sailing in the Atlantic, and searching for the gates of Hades in southern Spain. This might have been just a nice literary conceit had Nicholson not included an account of how he was raped at Palmyra in Syria.

It is very brave of him to tell such a story and it elevates the personal aspect of this book from potentially being just a means to an end to being part of the end; Palmyra connects his life to that of the Trojans and Greeks whose story Homer told in a way that writing from a study or even boat never could.

Even at the best of times, The Mighty Dead is not an easy going read – there’s too much going on, both in the past and present – for that to be the case, but what it loses in casualness it makes up for in insight. I cannot stress that enough. Therefore, if you are interested in Homer or even just want to read a really well-written book, I recommend The Mighty Dead to you. I am sure you will not be disappointed.


Picture Credit
Front cover of The Mighty Dead: Waterstones

Categories: Alexander Scholars, Books | Tags: | 1 Comment

The British Museum’s Alexander Bust: A Different Angle

In his Second Oration Concerning the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander the Great, Plutarch describes Alexander as having a ‘slightly bent’ neck (see here). What may have been a physical deformity became in Alexander’s own lifetime part of his iconography with his court artist Lysippus making no attempt to disguise it.

During the Hellenistic period, various kings imitated the crook, occasionally with a little too much effort, as Mithridates VI (135-63 BC) shows here.

Mithridates VI

There are numerous examples of Alexander with his neck ‘slightly bent’. Here is one:

Head of

One famous bust of Alexander, however, where he is not shown with a bent neck is the British Museum’s. This is how it is displayed to visitors:


As you can see, his head is quite straight. But notice that his neck on your left is angled outwards. A week or two ago I noticed this and it got me wondering – is the British Museum displaying the bust as it was originally intended to appear or have they ‘straightened’ it?

I don’t know the answer to this question. One thing I am certain of, though, is that if the bust was attached to a body and Alexander’s head was conceived of as being, and carved, straight then the body would have to be angled, as if in motion. I’m sure of this because I have tried to replicate the position of the bust in my bathroom mirror and it can only be done by sloping one shoulder and raising the other, as if running.

Alexander’s head, however, does not look like the head of a man in a hurry. I suspect, therefore, that whoever carved this bust meant for his head to be angled as a result of his crooked neck. During a quiet moment at my office the other day, I used the Photos App on my mobile ‘phone to see if I could recreate the crook. Here’s a second version that I did on my tablet for this post:


I apologise for the close-up nature of the photograph – I could not get the iPad to save it in any other way. That aside, what do you think of the picture? When I first saw it on my mobile ‘phone, I thought it made Alexander look much more tender, almost feminine, than when his head was straight (or, dare I say, erect). I have to admit, though, I really like the bust this way. It is still familiar yet in a way completely new. The leonine toughness of Alexander remains yet the tilt makes him so much softer. I must be honest – this version of the bust makes me love Alexander in a way that I didn’t before.

I could be completely wrong about whether the bust was meant to tilt or not but if it was why would the British Museum show it straight? I wonder if it was indeed because whoever decided on its position wanted to emphasise the tougher Alexander over the gentler one. What do you think? I would be very interested to hear your thoughts.

Photo Credits
Mithridates: Alchetron
Alexander (black and white): Emaze
British Museum Bust of Alexander: Wikipedia

Categories: Art | Tags: | 2 Comments

Why Did Spitamenes Fail To Defeat Alexander?

A few days ago I attended a talk by Dr. Neil Faulkner on the theme of Lawrence of Arabia’s War, which he gave in support of his new book on this subject.

Several times during the talk, Faulkner made points about T. E. Lawrence that immediately connected the latter to Alexander. For example, both had dominant mothers and both were inspired by heroic figures of the past (for Lawrence it was the Crusaders, for Alexander, Achilles).

To them I would add that both benefitted from deep friendships; that neither held the natives of the countries they were in with contempt, and both were not just fighters but explorers.

However, it was one other statement of Faulkner’s that really stuck out, and that is that one reason why the Arab Revolt succeeded when many insurgency movements of the past had failed, was because they had guns. Guns allowed them to do greater damage from a safer distance before escaping.

In the past, Faulkner said, if you wanted to kill someone, you had – generally speaking – to get up close to them so that you could jab them with your spear or slash with your sword.

Of course, one could use a javelin or sling but the former could only be thrown once and the latter had a slow rate of fire in comparison to a gun. Plus, the use of these weapons greatly increased your chance of being killed before being able to make your escape. And that was vital to the Arabs’ success. Not only because they lacked numbers but because they were in the fight as much for the loot as the promise of their own nation. Killing was no good if they died and could not take booty home with them.

When Faulkner started talking about the role of the gun, I immediately wondered if that was a reason why Spitamenes’ insurgency against Alexander failed. Thinking about it now, I would say it is one reason, but not the only one.

Spitamenes had another problem – he lacked the necessary tactics. When I read him in Arrian, he comes across as an insurgent trying to fight in a traditional manner. For example, he puts Maracanda under siege (IV.4), he captures a Macedonian fort (IV.16); he fights Andromachus’ and Caranus’ detachment in a set-piece battle (IV.5-6), takes on Craterus directly (IV.17), and fights another set-piece battle against Coenus (IV.18).

On all these occasions, he only comes off best when his opponents are either incompetent (the Macedonian detachment) or after using guile instead of brute force (the Macedonian fort). When he tries to fight in the traditional manner, he loses. And in the end, this cost him his life.

Spitamenes was not an incompetent commander – his decision not to fight a close-quarters battle against the Macedonian detachment but instead make use of his horses shows that, and he was adept at melting into the countryside when required to; however, his tactical ability had not caught up with the exigencies of his insurgent operation. And for me, this is the key thing; had Spitamenes superior weaponry he would still have needed to improve his strategy in order to use it effectively. If he didn’t, all the guns in the world wouldn’t make a difference. For Alexander would have had them and he certainly knew how to adapt.


Categories: Arrian | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: