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

The Good Way, The Bad Way, The Macedonian Way

Hello from London, UK. Well, this chest bug is still with me. I had a bad time of it yesterday but overnight it weakened, and so things haven’t been so bad today. I really hope it behaves (or, well, why not, goes) as I am attending a Christmas drinks event tomorrow. Christmas drinks in November; I know, I know. Anyway, let’s talk about Alexander the Great.

***

I am still reading Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose. I have to be honest and say that nothing about the book has really grabbed me in the last couple of days; however, I am appreciating still – and perhaps a little more the deeper into the book I go – his business insights. The one that sticks in my mind tonight is the example of Lou Gerstner who became CEO of IBM in the early 90s when it was in decline. By careful management of the company’s divisions, actually listening to the staff (what an idea!), stopping meetings where people talked and nothing happened, and no doubt more, he turned its fortunes around. The Macedonian equivalent of this would be Philip II’s restoration of Macedon’s fortunes after he became king in 360/59. When he took the throne, the country was in danger of being torn to pieces by its various enemies. By reforming and re-arming the army and the clever use of diplomacy he turned it into a porto-imperial power. Alexander, of course, finished the job.

***

One of the members of the Alexander the Great Reading Group on Facebook is currently posting a series of lectures by Robin Lane Fox. I have listened to the first four and cannot recommend them highly enough. Here is Part One:


Notwithstanding the fact that he is a great Alexander scholar, Lane-Fox is also a total Alexander fanboy. This is evident from the start – Alexander was the greatest conqueror… the great king… of antiquity… ever! – and whenever he talks about his involvement with Oliver Stone’s film. It’s wonderful. The lectures have some lovely titbits of information and are very insightful; for example, on the vexed question of whether the Macedonians were Greeks or barbarians or somewhere inbetween.

If you are not a member of the Reading Group, do join. You can find the group here.

***

I had a lovely conversation with @MichaelBagatti on Twitter yesterday that reminded me I need to learn more about the Hellenistic Age. By and bye, he also recommended James Romm’s Ghost on the Throne. I bought that book a while ago and am looking at it even as I type these words. (Looking at the screen again) Once I have finished with Bose, that will be my next read. I don’t have time to dive into the Hellenistic Age at the moment, but I am thinking about ways I can dip my toes in. Watch this space.

***

And that’s all for now. I have nearly finished my mug of tea. I wonder if I might open a bottle of brandy and take a sip of that later. What would Alexander do? I expect he would have finished the brandy already, chest bug or not.

Categories: Books | Tags: | Leave a comment

From Dionysos to Pixodarus

26.II.17

Last Thursday in Alexanderland (see the last post) was a bit of a wash-out thanks to my cold. Fortunately, it turned out to be a 24 hour illness and so on Friday I was feeling a bit better. Once this chest bug goes I’ll be really happy.

As Friday is the closest thing I have to an ‘off-day’, when I make no arrangement to do anything after I get home from work I didn’t do anything Alexander related until yesterday. Then, I opened my e-mail and looked through my outstanding Alexander related Google Alerts. Some of the links were of interest and so I will be posting them on the Facebook page from midnight GMT tomorrow (Monday, 26th November) until the same time on 4th December.

Here is a sneak-peak of what is upcoming.

  • 27/11 Dionysos in India On the Dionysiaca, one poem equal to The Iliad and Odyssey in length written about the ancient gods just as Christianity became the dominant religion in the west.
  • 28/11 A review of Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This game has been getting a lot of positive reviews. Reading this one was quite bittersweet for me. I loved AC 2 but lost faith in the franchise over its glitchiness and the yearly release schedule. I’m happy that Origins has been a return to form but sadly still feel no inclination to play it.
  • 29/11 A letter writer claims that Alexander tried to invade Ethiopia but was forced to turn back when he saw his opponent’s army. Uh-huh.
  • 30/11 A call for more Philippics and jeremiads. Don’t we already get them on Twitter?!
  • 1/12 Happy Advent! The Downfall of the Seleucid Empire. I wondered whether to post this article because it addresses current political concerns, which is not really what the Fb Alexander page is about. I wonder how Fbers will react?
  • 2/12  A re-telling of the famous anecdote about Alexander and Diogenes; this one, with a slightly different ending to their exchange (or, at least, an ending that I had not read before)
  • 3/12 A repeat of the claim that Alexander suffered from epilepsy. Did he? I could tell you to wait until this post goes up before seeing my response but that would be click baity and horrible. I’ll tell you now, No, he didn’t. It’s a misunderstand of what happened at the Cydnus river
  • 4/12 Circadian clocks and Alexander’s army. The link is to an article on the Sputnik News website. I had not heard of this website before so looked it up; apparently, it is a pro-Russian site that publishes suspect stories. In light of that, I might not have bothered with this article but have decided to post it anyway as it isn’t about politics (although it has just occurred to me that the Nobel Prize is rather political. Let’s see what the Fb readers say)

If Google Alerts provides more interesting articles, they will appear after the 4th.

***

This morning, I reached the 88th page of Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose so must now decide whether to continue with it. I am still more-or-less enjoying it so will do so. I am, also, however, still bothered by his approach to the book.

I mentioned in my last post how Bose makes assumptions about Alexander’s life in order to draw lessons from them. He also plain makes up details. For example, at the start of Chapter 3 The Men Who Could Be King he has Philip II being assassinated as he falls over while some climbing steps leading into a temple. Diodorus (XVI.92-94), however, is quite clear that Philip II was assassinated as he walked into the theatre  – Oliver Stone gets this spot on in his film.

He gets other details wrong. In describing how Alexander was almost removed from the Macedonian political scene, Bose refers to the Pixodarus affair (Plutarch Life of Alexander 10). In his version of the story, however, it is not Pixodarus of Caria in south-western Asia Minor who offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to Arrhidaeos but an unnamed satrap ‘of the Persian part of Thrace’. Thrace was under Philip II’s control.

There is also a case of what might be called sinning by omission. In Bose’s retelling of the Pixodarus affair, Alexander prevents the marriage by having the actor Thessalus go to Thrace to use his acting skill to dissuade the satrap from proceeding with his offer. As a result, the ‘next day the satrap quietly withdrew the marriage proposal’. Bose’s account of the affair ends there.

According to Plutarch, however, Alexander not only sent Thessalus (to Caria) but gave him orders to tell Pixodarus that he, Alexander, was willing to marry the Carian’s daughter instead. Did Bose forget this or did he omit it because it was an wholly amateurish move that was bound to be discovered by Philip to Alexander’s and Bose’s embarrassment. For, surely, what Alexander did was not the action of a role model for CEOs and Chairmen.

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

22.II.17 A Birth, A General & On Alexander’s Mental Health

Welcome to my midweek post. I hope this post finds you well. I am writing this with a slight cold and chest bug. I have drunk my Lemsip Max and have put on a nice, cozy jumper – bought today because I didn’t have one already and gosh I need it. Rather ironically, perhaps, I also have my fan on because I dislike still air.

What’s going on in Alexanderland, i.e. my Alexander reading and writing?

***

In the last few days, someone has found the blog by asking if Alexander was born of rape. The answer to this is ‘no’. For more information, read Chapter One and Two of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. There is no suggestion there that Philip raped his wife. I suspect that whoever asked this question had Oliver Stone’s film in mind. If I recall correctly, Philip very nearly does rape Olympias but backs away after seeing her snakes. Alexander, at that point, is a young boy.

***

Earlier this week, a commenter on the Facebook challenged the fact that in my introduction post I referred to Alexander as ‘the greatest general ever to live’, and not king. You can find their comment and our subsequent conversation here.

My reference to Alexander as a great general rather than king was deliberate. For me – and I was speaking from my point of view – a great king is one who is not only successful in war but who rules wisely and justly as well. I wouldn’t say that Alexander was, on the whole, unwise or unjust, though he had his moments, but neither would I say that he was a Solomonic figure. In my view, to be a great king, he needed to move east much more slowly – only after consolidating his military gains and bringing peace to the affected region – and been much more of a diplomat (like his father). Further to this, a great king would have given more time and care to the administration of their kingdom than Alexander did. He didn’t neglect it, at least not wholly, but he was too bent on conquest to give his possessions the time they required.

***

I am still reading Partha Bose’s Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy: The Timeless Lessons of History’s Greatest Empire Builder. I am now up to page 53 of the 88 I committed myself to on Sunday, and contrary to my expectations, am enjoying it. I like how Bose brings in the example of other military (and business) people to make his point.

One thing I am not sure I like so much is how many assumptions he seems to make about Alexander’s life. For example, we know next to nothing about Alexander’s time at Meiza, where he was tutored by Aristotle, but Bose doesn’t let that stop him from saying they probably did this or that or the other before going on to suggest that this is how Alexander became such a good warrior later.

To be fair, he does in one or two places acknowledge the limited amount of information that we have, but if he really believed in this limitation then surely he shouldn’t go on to try and draw lessons from assumptions that he must know may well not be true. This has happened so much I have started to wonder if he is using a source that I don’t know about.

Having said all that, I didn’t stop to note examples of where Bose writes in the manner I have suggested. I will try to do this between now and Sunday. Maybe I will find that it isn’t as bad as I think tonight.

***

For a long time now, I have had it in my mind that Alexander was in bad mental health at the end of his life. A while ago, I re-read Arrian and Curtius to see how they described Alexander’s last days. Yesterday and earlier today I re-read Diodorus and Plutarch.

If memory serves, Arrian says nothing that would indicate Alexander suffered from mental ill health. What Curtius says, we don’t know, due to gaps in the text. Both Diodorus and Plutarch do talk of Alexander being scared, deeply so, by ill omens but I have to admit, they are not convincing me of their validity. Partly, this is the rationalist in me speaking but I am also put out by the fact that Diodorus and Plutarch turn Alexander into a superstitious simpleton in order to make the point that the bad omens terrified him. It is reminiscent of Curtius’ account of the Orsines Affair and I don’t believe for a minute Alexander was ever like that. I think this is an issue I will come back to in the future as it troubles me.

***

Finally, I would like to end this post by acknowledging the 54th anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis. Lewis is one of my intellectual and spiritual heroes; actually, the greatest. While I am not writing about Alexander directly because of him, I am sure that reading his books gave me the intellectual capacity to do so. More importantly than that, he was a wise, humble, and good man. Requiescat in Pace, Jack.

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

19.II.17 Reading, Egypt, and Learning

I have started reading a book titled Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy: The Timeless Lessons of History’s Greatest Empire Builder by Partha Bose. I’m only a few pages in but the book appears to be part-biography, part-management manual. For that reason, I don’t know if I will finish it as I am not sure how interested I am in applying the lessons of Alexander’s kingship to modern-day businesses (I took the book out of the library because I wanted to read about about Alexander the general). Well, it is 264 pages; I’ll commit myself to reading a third – 88 pages – of it and see how I feel then.

If you would like to read more about the book, it’s Amazon.com page is here.

***

I spend a fair amount of time on my Alexander Facebook page these days, and I am extremely proud that in the last few months it has crossed the 10,000 mark for both Likes and Follows. It shows how relevant Alexander remains today.

On 14th November, I noted that it was – according to Peter Green – the 2,349th anniversary of Alexander’s coronation as pharaoh of Egypt. The qualification according to is very important as Green is the only historian I know who even says that Alexander was made pharaoh let alone gives a date for it.

I am very happy to celebrate ‘Coronation Day’ on 14th Nov. because it is good to celebrate positive events, but I have to admit, I do not know where Green gets his confidence from: none of the five major sources into Alexander’s life mention his being crowned pharaoh. Indeed, they hardly even mention (his first visit to) Memphis. Only Arrian tells us anything of substance. He says that Alexander sacrificed to sundry gods, including Apis, then held athletic and literary contests before leaving again. Curtius states that Alexander went to Memphis and that’s it.

So, is it likely that Alexander was crowned? This is a question that it might be better for me to come back to, as at the moment, over on the Facebook page, I am writing a series of Alexander in Egypt posts. It is a location-by-location account of the various places he went to according to the sources. I have just left Memphis. In case you would like to read them, here are the posts:

  1. Coronation Day post
  2. Pelusium
  3. Heliopolis
  4. Memphis

Don’t worry about clicking on the links, though: I intend to reblog the posts here when I am finished. What I really wanted to say is that Alexander spent seven months in Egypt. As mentioned above, he visited Memphis at the start of his trip, and at the end. Unfortunately, neither Arrian nor Curtius – who are the only two to mention the first visit to Memphis – say how long he spent there before moving on. This is is a shame because if the coronation of a new pharaoh required a lot of preparation, and he was there for only a short while, then we could rule November out as the coronation date. But perhaps the Egyptian authorities would have been ready by the following April? What I am hoping is that as I continue reading the Egypt chapter of the sources I will come upon a passage that sheds more light on how long Alexander spent in particular places. I fear it won’t happen but we’ll see.

***

I enjoy updating the Facebook page even though there are times when I have to delete disagreeable posts. These tend to be any that even hint at the current dispute between Greece and FYROM and – thankfully very rare – homophobic posts. The annoyance of those kinds of post is more than made up for by the supportive ones and insights that readers share. Recently, I have benefitted from two in particular:

  1. That Alexander’s battle strategy was based on a ‘hammer and anvil’ approach. i.e. The phalanx acted as an anvil on which the enemy was placed while the Companion Cavalry beat it like a hammer. This strategy can be seen most clearly at the Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela. The analogy is not a perfect one but has been really helpful in helping me ‘see’ the battles more clearly than I did before.
  2. Heliopolis: When I wrote the above linked post I suggested that Alexander sacrificed there. A commenter stated, however, that by his day, the city was a ruin. It’s more likely, therefore, that Alexander simply used it as a place to cross the Nile before continuing on to Memphis.
Categories: Arrian, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Opportunists

After Alexander died, his generals met to discuss the succession.
 
(all references from Curtius)
 
Perdiccas suggested that they wait to see if Roxane gave birth to a son (X.6.9), while Nearchus said that Heracles, Alexander’s son by Barsine, should be made king (X.6.11). Ptolemy, however, dismissed both ideas. He said that the generals should rule together with decisions taken by majority vote (X.6.15). Aristonus spoke next – Alexander had given Perdiccas his ring so it is Perdiccas who should lead them (X.6.17).
 
The Assembly agreed with Aristonus but before the meeting could be concluded, Meleager spoke up. Perdiccas should not be allowed to rule them as he will seize power! he said, No, authority should be given to the people – i.e. the infantry (X.6.23). 
After this interjection, Meleager stormed off – to start looting the royal palace with his supporters. He had not got far, however, when an unnamed member of the rank and file changed history by suggesting that Arrhidaeos, Alexander’s brother, should be made king. The Assembly approved this idea and the order to bring Arrhidaeos was given (X.6.24; 7.1.-6).
 
Foiled in his plan, Meleager acted quickly to do the next best thing – to spite Perdiccas – and brought Arrhidaeos to the Assembly (X.7.7).
 
Opportunists all… almost
  • Perdiccas voted for Roxane because as the most senior officer in the army he had control of her.
  • Nearchus voted for Heracles because he had married Barsine’s daughter, and so was Heracles’ brother-in-law.
  • Ptolemy wanted the generals to rule because he knew no one man could rule the empire and because he himself was very popular with the men – very useful if the generals could not reach a consensus and needed a ‘nudge’ in the right direction.
  • I don’t know enough about Aristonus to know why he chose to support Perdiccas. It may be that he genuinely thought that Perdiccas should be their leader on account of Alexander giving him his ring or maybe Perdiccas had promised him a reward for his loyalty. In 321/0, Aristonus was given command of a mission to defeat the kings of Cyprus who had allied themselves with Ptolemy.
  • Meleager’s suggestion that the phalanx was Alexander’s successor was an irresponsible and ridiculous one; it was surely no more than a brazen attempt to grab power by Meleager himself. If this is correct, it is ironic that his plan was undone by a member of the infantry. But if we can fault Meleager for his lack of subtlety, we can’t fault his persistence. Though if he really turned to Arrhidaeos just to spite Perdiccas, he was a shallow and mean minded man.
Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

I: The Music of Gaugamela

30th September – One day until the 2,348th anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela. I have a question to ask myself but I don’t yet have an answer for it so let’s have a little music instead. Thank you Oliver Stone, and thank you Vangelis for The Drums of Gaugamela. And thank you reader for reading these blog posts over the last twelve days. You deserve a rest!

Album Version: heroic all the way

Unreleased Version: Includes audio from the battle which gives it a tough, tough edge

Categories: On Alexander | Tags: | Leave a comment

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