A Letter to Arrian (12) A Dangerous Road

roman_writerMy dear Arrian,
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In Hyrcania, Alexander travelled along a road that was bounded by plains on one side and hills on the other. He was marching with only a detachment of the Macedonian army and so, was vulnerable to attack by Persian forces hiding in the hills. To protect the soldiers coming up behind him, Alexander left a number of men at potential flash points along the way. It is probably a vain exercise to imagine how nervous the Macedonians must have been as they passed under the shadow of the hills but I shall try anyway, for I recall walks I took a few years ago, in a place called Cornwall, on tight roads with high hedgerows on either side, and a night time journey along a country road in Dorset, and I remember how wary – nervous – I was of vehicles coming in the opposite direction and not seeing me, and in Dorset, of ne’er do wells hiding in the bushes. My heart raced, and I imagine that’s how it was for the Macedonians as they went on their way.
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One thing I certainly can’t relate to, though, is the way Alexander (and victors in general in those days?) treated his defeated opponents. For example, he permitted Artabazus and his sons to stay in ‘close attendance upon his person’ on account of their rank and loyalty to Darius. Perhaps it says something bad for the world that I live in that our leaders would never, ever permit someone who had been their military enemy to go anywhere near them. At least, not while the war was still going on.
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Ironically enough, Alexander’s act of friendship towards Artabazus took place at the same time as he refused to grant the Greek delegates’ request that the Greek mercenaries be given terms. Related to that, you note that Andronicus was appointed to bring the mercenaries to Alexander. Once he had done so he,

… was made their commander: it was he who had brought them to Alexander, and he had made it clear that he considered the safety of his men a matter of the first importance.

I am unclear as to who ‘made it clear’. I feel it ought to be Alexander, but the context seems to suggest Andronicus. But what right would Andronicus have had to, firstly, regard the mercenaries as ‘his men’, and secondly, to make any demands of Alexander regarding the mercenaries safety?
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As we all know, Alexander’s men had a deep love for their king. On the day that they told him they would go no further it wasn’t because they had lost faith in him so much as it was because their bodies and spirits had finally been broken by all the years of war and hard living. It is interesting, therefore, that at Susia, Alexander was obliged to send ‘forty mounted javelin-men’ to protect ‘the people of Aria from molestation at the hands of the troops passing through’.
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Perhaps turning a blind eye to his men’s occasional excesses was part of the deal for retaining their loyalty. I would say that this cheapens the Macedonians’ love for Alexander but doesn’t loving and being loved involve accepting the need to compromise? But this one, though, was as ugly a compromise as any I have ever seen. Who is more at fault for it? Alexander for giving in to his men’s excesses or the men for wanting to impose themselves on the people in the first place? They would reply that they had fought for the right to do so. It isn’t much of an argument, and it does not reflect well on Alexander, either way.
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Your friend,
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φιλέλλην

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

Categories: Letters to Arrian | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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