The Marmares’ Folly

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 28 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Macedonian Rear Attacked by Marmares
Alexander Lays Siege to Marmarian Fortress
Marmarians Kill Families; Flee

The Story
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.

Tribal Magazine
Alexander’s First Three Months: What has it meant for Asian Tribes?
Land Available for Settlement – the Marmares’
A Guide to All The Latest tribal feuds and fights

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The Marmares’ Folly

  1. I quite forgot about this story. So much so that when I started to read your post, I thought “Marmares who?…. I don’t remember Alexander returning back to Sea of Marmara after Halicarnassus siege….”

    My confusion was somewhat dispelled after I continued to read, so I vaguely remembered reading this narrative before. It is difficult to find any information about this tribe/settlement outside of Alexander’s story, as a matter of fact I wasn’t able to. I don’t know why, but this story somehow attracted me. Trying to think logically, it seems to me that this incident is a combination of at least two different events because as a single one it doesn’t make sense to me. I will explain. Up to the moment when young Marmares decided to kill their families, their story develops simply – the tribe lives in a fortified (most probably by both nature and people) fortress. Judging by the fact that they attacked Alexander army from the rear and stole some booty, it is most probably what they used to do with all the other passersby, acting as land based pirates. The argument that they fought for the freedom doesn’t make any sense – it seems like Alexander didn’t know anything about their existence until they attacked.

    And now we come to the fact that when the young generation realized they can’t escape and take their families with them – they decided to kill the families and escape? What happened to the noble notion of fighting for the freedom? Couldn’t they take at least some of the women? I think the younger and stronger ones would be able to follow their men. Something in this story doesn’t make sense to me.


    • Delos,

      For me this is a story to forget. The ruthlessness of the Marmares’ actions leaves a very sour taste – and that’s despite having read about a lot of other ruthless actions in Alexander’s day. I think the condensed narrative gives the story a greater force than it would otherwise have had.

      Having said that, I agree that the narrative as presented does not make sense. I know that Diodorus does not always have a good reputation for accuracy; maybe this account is an example of where he falls short.



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