A Letter to Arrian (4) Life, Death, and Bragging

roman_writerMy dear Arrian,
War is a horrible business but let no man say that it cannot be conducted honourably. Thank God for the generosity of the human spirit, and determination of men to not be reduced to the state of demons even when crowded by violence and under the threat of imminent death.
Further to the above, I thank God also for Alexander’s kindness towards the Greek mercenaries as they prepared to fight him to the death on the unnamed islet just off Miletus. He would have been within his rights to launch an assault on them but, on seeing ‘their courage and loyalty’, was ‘moved to pity’. What does this mean? Did he cry? Did he retreat to his tent to contemplate the meaning of what he had seen? Or did he simply gaze sadly upon the soldiers? I don’t know, and I don’t suppose it really matters; what does, is that for a moment, the war had a happy end for lives were spared.
Back at Thebes, you related how Perdiccas launched an unauthorised and altogether impetuous attack on the city, very nearly paying for it with his life. It was with a wry smile, therefore, that I read about the two soldiers from his battalion whose silly, drunken bragging contest lead them to confront the defenders of the wall of Mylasa all by themselves; what a ‘foolish pair’ indeed! But I wonder, how much of it was their own foolishness? Perhaps at least some of it was ‘covered’ by the licence they believed they had been given by their commander on account of his own propensity for bragging and maverick behaviour.
In the thirty-sixth year of Augustus’ reign, Rome lost a great battle in the Teutoberg Forest. “Varus!” Augustus cried, slamming his head against the wall, “Give me back my legions!”. At the siege of Halicarnassus, Alexander lost forty men in taking the city, but among them were some senior commanders – Ptolemy of the Royal Bodyguard, Addaeus, a chiliarch, and Clearchus, commander of the archers, ‘and other well-known Macedonians’. I know Ptolemy downplays Macedonian losses but this seems to me to have been her worst day in the field to date. I wonder how the men felt that night. I don’t suppose they were demoralised, for their king, and many other senior men, still lived, but I can’t help but feel that even allowing for the major battle of the Granicus, perhaps – just perhaps – this was the day they realised that defeating the Persians would not be a walk over, and anyone could be killed.
Your friend,

The above picture is from Ancient History
An index of all the letters can be found here

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