Alexander Crosses The Hellespont

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 17, 18 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Crosses The Hellespont: War Inevitable
Macedonian Army: Is It Strong Enough?
Alexander Pays Homage to Achilles
Satrapal Commanders Debate Tactics
Scorched Earth Policy and Invasion of Greece Rejected

The Story
With Chapter 17, Alexander’s war of revenge begins. As Philip II had intended to do, he crossed the Hellespont at the head of a fleet of ‘sixty fighting ships’. Upon reaching the Troad, the Macedonian king threw his spear into the beach and leapt into the surf – the first of the invaders to do so. The spear throw was a ritualistic gesture which signified that Alexander ‘received Asia from the gods as a spear-won prize’.

After wading ashore, Alexander and his army marched to ‘the tombs of the heroes Achilles, Ajax, and the rest’ making offerings ‘and other appropriate marks of respect’ to the Achaians.

According to Diodorus, it was once he had worshipped Achilles et al that Alexander took a count of his armed forces:

      • Macedonian Infantry 12,000
      • Allied Infantry 7,000
      • Mercenaries 5,000 (under Parmenion’s command)
      • Odrysian, Triballian, Illyrian soldiers 7,000
      • Agrianian/other arches 1,000
      • Total 32,000
      • Macedonian cavalry 1,800 (under Philotas’ command)
      • Thessalian cavalry 1,800 (under Calas’ command)
      • Allied Greek cavalry 600 (under Erygius’ command)
      • Thracian/Paeonian Scouts 900 (under Cassander’s command)
      • Total 4,500

Diodorus states that Alexander left 12,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry behind in Macedon.

We are now told that upon leaving the Troad, Alexander marched to Ilium where he stopped at the sanctuary of Athena. A ‘sacrificant’, also named Alexander, noticed a statue of ‘a former satrap of Phrygia’ named Ariobarzanes lying on the ground. There were other ‘favourable omens’ too and so, no doubt with a glad heart, the seer went to his royal namesake and interpreted them thus – Alexander ‘would be victor in a great cavalry battle’ especially if he fought it ‘within the confines of Phrygia’. Alexander the seer added that the king would ‘with his own hands… slay in battle a distinguished general of the enemy’.

By way of clarification, Phrygia was in west-central Asia Minor. Contrary to what Diodorus says, Alexander was still in the Troad when he received the prophecy. Here is a map of Asia Minor on Wikipedia that you may find helpful (Unfortunately, the file type won’t let me save it and post it here).

Alexander the seer gave special credit for the good omens to Athena who, he said, would help Alexander the king achieve his victory. Chapter 18 begins, therefore, with the king making ‘a splendid sacrifice’, and dedicating his armour to, her – taking in return ‘the finest of the panoplies [i.e. a complete suit of armour]’ from her sanctuary.

Diodorus says that Alexander wore this armour ‘in his first battle’ (i.e. at the Granicus River). It would still be with him nine years and many thousands of miles later when Alexander got impatient with his men and stormed the Mallian fortress by himself.

It is at this point that Diodorus takes his leave of Alexander and takes us to the Persian camp. Having failed to stop the Macedonians entering Asia Minor they were discussing how to stop his advance through the Great King’s territory.

Memnon of Rhodes proposed the same scorched earth policy that we saw him put in place after failing in his siege of Cyzicus. As I mentioned in that post, however, the Persian satraps in charge of the effort to stop Alexander refused to countenance destroying their crops.

For his part, Memnon not only proposed laying waste to the land but invading Greece, thus forcing Alexander to return home lest he not only fail in his war of revenge but also be deprived of his throne. This idea was also rejected by the Persians – they regarded Memnon’s twin-pronged approach as being below their dignity, if you please.

The satraps determined ‘to fight it out’ and duly assembled their army. They advanced west, across Hellespontine Phrygia, and pitched camp by the river Granicus, using the bed of the river as a line of defence’.

We’ll see tomorrow how Diodorus covered the first major battle of Alexander’s kingship.

Comments
After throwing his spear into the sand, Alexander’s decision to be the first Macedonian ashore was a tremendous act of faith. He was, after all, following in the footsteps of Protesilaos who was not only the first Archaian to jump ashore after the arrival of the Hellenic force outside Troy but also the first to die. What Diodorus doesn’t tell us is that before leaving Europe, Alexander sacrificed to the gods at Protesilaos’ tomb ‘to ensure’ Arrian says ‘better luck for himself than Protesilaus had’. His prayer was heard and then some.

According to the Footnotes, Diodorus ‘is our only source for the detailed [Macedonian] troop list’ at the start of the expedition. Here (according to the Footnotes) are the figures given by the other Alexander historians:

  • Justin ‘gives simply’ 32,000 foot and 4,500 horse
  • Plutarch: the Macedonians were 30,000 – 40,000 foot and 4,000 – 5,000 horse
  • Arrian – there were “not much more than” 30,000 foot and 5,000 horse

Quoting Plutarch, the Footnotes give Aristobulos as saying there were 30,000 foot and 4,000 horse; Ptolemy: 30,000 foot and 5,000 horse; Anaximenes 43,000 foot and 5,500 horse

Further to Alexander’s nine day party, which we read about in the last post, the Footnotes (again quoting Plutarch) say that – according to Aristobulos – the king arrived in Asia Minor with just 70 talents and – according to Duris – 30 days’ worth of provisions. On the other hand, Onesicritus claims that he was actually 200 talents in debt.

The Footnotes are also helpful in highlighting Diodorus’ inaccuracies.

  • Erygius did not command the allied cavalry until winter 334/3
  • Cassander (if by Cassander is meant the son of Antipater) ‘is a mistake’ – he did not join Alexander until his return to Babylon in 324. The scouts commander ‘at the Granicus and later’ was a man named Ariston
  • Diodorus says there were 4,500 cavalry but his figures add up to 5,100

My first thought after reading these figures is that why did Alexander wait until he had crossed into Asia Minor before assessing the size of his fighting force? Wouldn’t it be wiser to get something like that done before heading into enemy territory? Perhaps there is a literary reason why Diodorus made the change. I can’t see it, though. Maybe it really did just happen like that.

As for the figures themselves – the historians are in rough agreement regarding how many men crossed the Hellespont. It’s a real shame that the beginning of Curtius’ history has been lost so that we can’t see how many many men his chief source, Cleitarchus, said were in the army at this time.

The numbers are all very impressive but I have to admit I am more taken by a couple of the names attached to them, especially Anaximenes and Duris. They are not familiar to me so I shall be sure to look them up later to see if I can learn more about them.

One final point. Looking back, it is easy to condemn the Persian satraps for not listening to Memnon. At the time, however, given that no one knew how good a general Alexander would be, and how much destroying their crops would cost, deciding to fight him must have seemed the only sensible decision. In a way I feel quite sorry for them.

Noted

  • Diodorus makes no mention of Alexander and Hephaestion running round the tombs of Achilles and Patroclus. Is this due to Roman reservations regarding their relationship? For the matter of that, who was Diodorus’ audience? I better stop before the questions start to flood out!
Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Alexander Crosses The Hellespont

  1. The more we learn the more we have questions, eh? 🙂 Part of what makes it all so interesting.

    Agree about the decision to fight Alexander.

    Thanks for the wonderful detailed work you do. I can’t visit often as I’d like but when I do I thoroghly enjoy myself ….

    Write on …

    Like

  2. Hallo Jamie,

    Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right about what makes history so interesting. Thank you for for your support – it is always very much appreciated.

    AOS

    Like

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