The Siege of Miletus

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 22, 23 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Persian Army Encamps In City
Macedonians Batter City Walls
Persians Flee
Miletan Leaders to Alexander: Mercy!
Alexander Offers Hand of Friendship

The Story
As Alexander made his way through Lydia, Memnon led the Persian survivors of the Battle of the Granicus to Miletus. Upon his arrival at the city, Alexander immediately laid siege to it.

The Macedonians attacked the walls in waves. But this strategy met with little success. Not only were there now many soldiers in the city, Miletus also had a large horde of missiles and other throwable objects with which to repel the attackers.

Eventually, Alexander ‘brought up siege engines and rocked the walls and pressed the siege very actively both by land and by sea’. The walls began to crumble and the Macedonians forced their way inside. Fighting broke out; some Persians were killed, while others were captured. The rest, including Memnon, fled.

The Milesians, meanwhile, with nowhere to go, prostrated themselves before Alexander and ‘put themselves and their city into his hands’.

Alexander forgave the Milesians ‘but sold all the rest’ – which I take to mean his (Persian) prisoners – into slavery. Once that was done, he broke up his fleet, retaining only enough ships to carry his siege engines.

Diodorus begins Chapter 23 with a brief discussion regarding Alexander’s fleet. ‘There are those who say that [its dismissal] was sound’. The reason for this is that Alexander knew that his soldiers ‘would fight more desperately if he deprived them of all hope of escape by flight’. This, ‘they say’, is what he did at the Granicus River ‘where he placed the stream at his rear, for no one could think of flight when destruction of any who were followed into the bed of the river was a certainty’.

Diodorus also notes that a contemporary of Alexander’s, Agathocles of Syracuse, also employed a similar tactic to great success. You can read more about it in Chapter 6 of Justin’s Epitome at the corpus scriptorium latinorum here. Note that he burnt his ships with the army’s consent.

After fleeing from Miletus, the remaining Persians made their way to the home city of the great Herodotus – Halicarnassus (this city is still standing today though it is now called Bodrum). It was a good place for them to be; not only was it a large city but it also contained a number of fortresses.

Around this time, Memnon sought to secure the safe keeping of his family and ensure that he was placed in ‘supreme command’ of the Persian army. He did this by sending his wife, Barsine – who was destined to become Alexander’s mistress – and his children to Darius. Memnon’s hope was that the Great King would treat them as hostages and thus be willing to give him control of the satrapal army.

The ploy worked and Memnon began preparing Halicarnassus for the inevitable siege.

Diodorus’ account of the siege of Halicarnassus is very brief. That’s just as well as I am still catching my breath after the Battle of the Granicus. I wonder, though, if Diodorus was giving us a break in preparation for his much fuller account of the Siege of Halicarnassus, which we will come to tomorrow.

There is something quite laissez-faire about Alexander’s siege of Miletus. Being a great general you would expect him to be on his game at all times. Instead, upon arriving at the city, he seems rather lazily to say, “Alright men, there are the walls, knock ’em down.” and sit back. Finally, however, he sees that more needs to be done, and that’s when he does what he should have done at the start and bring the siege engines in. I’m sure it wasn’t like that really but I do wonder why he didn’t go all-out right from the start.

Miletus gives us a glimpse into the absolutely fragile nature of life in antiquity. One minute they are are going about their daily business, the next an army is occupying the city, then they are under siege before finally they are begging for their lives. And if Alexander had decided to enslave or kill them all there is nothing at all they could have done about it.

While I don’t feel any need to go along with the idea that Alexander kept the Granicus in his rear in order to ensure that his men fought harder the ease with which ancient armies could collapse when the fight went agains them is noticeable. As we approach the hundredth anniversary of the start of the Great War it would be fascinating to read a comparison of discipline, how it was lost/kept in antiquity and the First World War.

Barsine, who we see here ever so briefly, is destined to become an important figure in Alexander’s story. A woman of great beauty, she is allegedly the only one he slept with before marrying Roxane. I think you can take that story with a handful of salt: it probably wasn’t a Macedonian private who got Stateira I pregnant over nine months after Alexander captured her.


These walls are made for falling, and that’s just what they’ll do
one of these days these bricks are gonna tumble all over you.

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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