Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 28 (Loeb Classical Library)
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Macedonian Rear Attacked by Marmares
Alexander Lays Siege to Marmarian Fortress
Marmarians Kill Families; Flee
After razing Halicarnassus, Alexander marched along a road near the border of Lycia. There, the rear of his army was attacked by a tribe called the Marmares.
The Marmares lived in a ‘rock fortress of unusual strength’. After killing ‘many’ Macedonians they fled back there with their booty.
Alexander was ‘enraged’ by the Marmares’ actions and laid siege to the fortress. Such was his anger, he ‘exerted every effort to take the place by force’.
The siege lasted for two days. As the Macedonians pounded the fortress’ walls, the Marmarian elders advised the defenders to make peace with Alexander.
The defenders rejected this suggestion out of hand; they ‘were eager to die together simultaneously with the end of the freedom of their state’.
Why were they so determined to die? The above quotation seems to leave little doubt that patriotism is the answer. Diodorus suggests that the defenders were young Marmarians. Could youthful idealism – the kind that a hundred years ago inspired so many young men in Britain to sign up to fight the hun – have been a factor as well? I think so.
Either way, the elders did not attempt to reason with their younger countrymen. This is because they lost theirs: Their next suggestion was that the defenders kill their families before attempting to break out of the fortress and ‘take refuge’ in a nearby mountain.
The young Marmarians agreed to this plan. Orders were given for each man to return home and enjoy ‘the best of food and drink’ with his family before killing them. Diodorus reports that about six hundred of the men did not kill their families by hand but by setting fire to their home.
Thus, as their relatives either bled or burned to death the young men of the tribe slipped out of the fortress during the night and successfully evaded the Macedonian camp.
Diodorus ends Chapter 28 here. We do not know from him, therefore, what happened next to the Marmares. The Footnotes state that the story of the Marmares is not reported by anyone else so their ultimate fate must remain a mystery.
Well, what can one say about the Marmares? I suppose the only worthwhile thing to do is to try and understand why they thought killing their families was a good idea.
It seems to me that their families died because the young men gave in to despair: Their freedom was compromised therefore life was no longer worth living. It didn’t matter that Alexander had acted clemently towards other people: independence was the sine qua non of their lives. Without that, life no longer mattered.
And what about the families. What was their reaction to the men’s orders?
I am sure there were wives and mothers and fathers who did not want to die. Perhaps some did so bitterly and after protest, but it would not surprise me to learn that others offered their throats or lay down proudly as the timbers of their homes fell about them in flames.
As for Alexander, his anger with the Marmares is not a surprise: an unprovoked attack on his rear must have seemed very cowardly action.
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