Alexander and Rome: The Letter Which (Nearly) Ended the Republic

This article is a transcript of the first part of a talk that will be given by Dr. April F. Atua to the Oxford University Alexander the Great Society tonight, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.
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By the time of his death in 323 BC, Alexander the Great died had changed the world. He started locally by cementing Macedonia’s control of Greece before heading east and sweeping away the Persian empire; in so doing, he brought the language and customs of Greece as far east as India. It wasn’t a one-way exchange, for when Alexander returned to Babylon he did so having adopted the customs of his eastern subjects.
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Had he lived but a few months longer, however, Alexander would have changed the world even more, for, as he lay on his deathbed in the royal palace at Babylon, Roman emissaries were on their way from the eternal city to pay homage to him and offer not just their loyalty but Rome itself to the god-king.
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Evidence for this astonishing fact comes from a collection of letters that were excavated in Rome in 1936 only to be suppressed by Benito Mussolini on account of their contents. A subservient Rome was not a narrative that he wanted the world to read of when he was trying to make himself a second Augustus.
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Mussolini ordered the letters to be destroyed. Thankfully (on whose initiative, sadly, we do not know), they were instead stored in the national archive at the bottom of a box, which was otherwise filled with chits dating to the reign of Umberto I (1878-1900). They were discovered by my friend, the writer M. J. Mann, during his research on the king. Like Shakespeare Mr. M. knows only a little Latin and less Greece (I assure you, however, the connexion between him and the bard ends there!) so he passed the tablets onto me – I was at the archive concurrently with him – for my inspection. That was quite a day!
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There are six letters in total – one from the two consuls and five from other important Roman figures. The latter are recapitulations of the consuls’ letters. This is what the relevant section of the consuls’ letter says (my translation):

To the King Alexander

… Rome has watched the mighty ascent of His Lordship in the thirteen years of his reign with unfaltering admiration for the strength of his arm and wisdom of mind… [text damaged] … therefore it is clear to our city that the line of Alexander will be long and that his supremacy over the world, the greater portion of which he now controls, will be eternal… [text damaged] … gods’ approval and it has been obtained. With no other desire than for Rome to thrive under the friendship, protection, and grace of the king of the world, and with the full authority of the Senate, we therefore offer to the king our city and all it contains to dispose of as he wishes… [text damaged] … consuls will remain until the Great King sends word of his intentions, whereupon, if they be to take control of our city, we will resign and submit ourselves to his authority along with all his Roman subjects….

The Roman emisseries were still in Asia Minor when they learnt that Alexander had died. Upon receiving this information, they returned home. The letters were dumped in a rubbish pit near the Palatine Hill where they were discovered in 1936. No Roman writer ever referred to the letters – it is likely they did not even know about them because the consuls and Senate agreed never to talk of them. Given the Roman people’s anti-monarchism, this isn’t a surprise. I am proud, however, that tonight I get to break that silence, to talk about what was, and what might have been, had Alexander the Great taken control of my home city.
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  • If you would like to attend Dr. Atua’s talk it will be taking place in the back room of the Kestrel and Kid pub in St Giles at 8pm. A complimentary glass of wine (to be drunk neat) will be served. All are welcome.
Categories: Of The Moment | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Alexander and Rome: The Letter Which (Nearly) Ended the Republic

  1. Fascinating.>KB

    Like

  2. An April Fool’s joke?

    Like

  3. Totally April Fool joke! Would have loved it to be true, though!

    Like

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