A Letter to Arrian (27) The 114th Olympiad, in the archonship of Hegesias at Athens

a_roman_writerMy dear Arrian,

Alexander the Great Administrator. Well, no-one will ever call him that but I must say I am impressed by the attention he paid to the construction of a sluice between the Euphrates river and Pallacopas canal.
As you note, the reason why the then current sluice needed to be replaced was that it was built into weak ground – ‘soft, wet clay’ which soaked up the Euphrates’ water thus defeating the purpose of having the sluice in the first place.
You also say that the reason for Alexander’s interest is that he wanted to ‘improve Assyria’s prospects’. Could I add that he probably wanted a free flowing river for his warships as well?
Even if that is also the case, Alexander could easily have left this work for one of his officers to do. That he took it on himself suggests a future area of study for me – ‘Alexander as administrator. Does the Euphrates-Pallacopas show he was better at it than I have hitherto given him credit for?’
Something else I shall surely be looking into is the authenticity of Alexander’s letter to Cleomenes. The king never acted upon sentimental desire in matters of government. It seems inconceivable to me, therefore, that he would be prepared to offer Cleomenes a pardon for any future criminal acts just as long as the latter carried out Alexander’s instructions in regards the shrines in Alexandria and on Pharos.
We now come to Alexander’s last days.
What strikes me most about Alexander’s dying is not so much the rapidity of it – though I suppose that is notable – but the way it happened – how shall I say it? – in a single, flowing movement: Alexander fell ill, the illness got worse, he became gravely ill, and then – without his decline having been arrested or reversed once along the way; without him suffering any sharp declines as he lay on his bed – he died.
Leaving aside the question of whether he was assassinated, Alexander died as gentle and straight forward a death as I can think of. It was almost tender. Given how he lived, I find this extraordinary.
Something that I find inspiring is the way that even though Alexander was dying – and must after a point have known he was dying – ‘he still refused to neglect his religious duties’ and his military ones. This is a measure of the man, both of his faith (is that the right word?) in the gods, and determination to see his will done. Alexander the Religious is perhaps another aspect of his character that I might look into.
With Alexander’ death, I come to the end of my last letter to you. I have enjoyed writing it, immensely. You will never read it, but I hope that one day I will meet you in those Elysian fields and that we may talk about Alexander together. And who knows who we might meet as we walk across that blessèd land in conversation – maybe the king himself? That would be good.

Until that day, dear Lucius, I remain

Your friend,


The above picture is from Ancient History

An index of all the letters can be found here

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