A Letter to Arrian (13) Possible Regrets and Looking to the Future

roman_writerMy dear Arrian,
I had so many things to say to you after today’s thirty minute reading that I had no chance of fitting it all into one 500 word letter. So, here is this one. As it is, this letter – just like the first – is  over its limit. Forgive me.
At the end of my last letter, I suggested that Alexander sometimes turned a blind eye to his men’s excesses in order to retain their loyalty. Not long after the event that occasioned this thought, the Macedonians came to Farah in Aria. There, Philotas was implicated in a plot against Alexander’s life, and was executed.
Afterwards, Alexander split command of the Companion Cavalry between Hephaestion and Black Cleitus. You say,

The reason for this step was that he did not think it advisable that one man – even a personal friend – should have control of so large a body of cavalry

No doubt Alexander was feeling sore about Philotas’s ‘betrayal’. And by ‘sore’ I mean extremely suspicious of who might turn against him next. I can think of no other reason why he would not trust – of all people – Hephaestion with sole command of the cavalry. I can see them together in the Royal Tent; Alexander ill-at-ease, Hephaestion soothing as ever. They are talking, talking about anything but that decision. Hephaestion might have felt upset at the implied lack of trust in him; Alexander might have been embarrassed by his fear; either way, it was done now and they loved each other enough to knew that the best thing – the only thing – left to do was for them to be friends so that that friendship might repair any damage Alexander’s actions had caused.
The Philotas affair was a mess. I think it highly unlikely that he was guilty of anything except a lack of wisdom in not taking Cebalinus to Alexander. Between that and the splitting of the Companion Cavalry I rather get the impression that things were starting to go downhill for Alexander now. With that in mind, it was a relief to read about Bessus laying waste to the crops* in the foothills of the Indian Caucasus** and Alexander’s repeat of an old trick in order to cross the Oxus*** as they reminded me of better times – the first flourish of Alexander’s reign as king and the victory at the Granicus.
Finally, we come to a beginning and an end. Alexander orders Ptolemy to collect Bessus. This is Ptolemy’s first solo command. After years of taking orders, he is now giving them. And he won’t stop doing so until he becomes no less than Pharaoh of Egypt. Egypt! The end to which I refer comes with Bessus’ capture and death; for now, finally, the Persian War is over. You could say it ended at Gaugamela, or with Alexander’s entry into Babylon, or even with Darius’ death, but I think here is the better point. The empire was won but the last king still lived. He was found dead but then a pretender rose to challenge Alexander’s claim. Now, he had been caught and would soon be dead. Alexander’s triumph over the Persians was complete. The war was properly over.
Your friend,
The above picture is from Ancient History
An index of all the letters can be found here
* I should, perhaps, say that I took no joy in reading about the destruction of the crops, which would have been a great hardship for the local populace; I am only thinking about this episode in terms of how it reminded me of the earlier event, which was brought about by the satraps’ failure to follow Memnon’s advice to burn the crops in Asia Minor
** The Hindu Kush
*** At the Oxus, just as he had done at the Danube in 335 BC, Alexander had his men stuff the tents – with hay on the former occasion, ‘with chips and other dry rubbish on the latter – before being sewn up to make inflatables.

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