Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 29, 30 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Memnon Appointed Supreme Commander of Persian Army
Memnon Sweeps Across Aegean: Chios & Lesbos Fall
Mitylene Taken After Fierce Struggle
Memnon Dies After Brief Illness
Darius To Take Command of Persian Army
Chapter 29 could be titled ‘The Deeds of Memnon’ as it focuses exclusively on his actions after the Siege of Halicarnassus (and in the year between July 333 – 332 B.C.).
The chapter begins with Darius appointing Memnon ‘commanding general of the whole war’ against Alexander. I have to admit, I thought that Darius had already appointed Memnon to this role (in Chapter 23). Perhaps Diodorus is just repeating himself.
Either way, Memnon now ‘gathered a force of mercenaries, manned three hundred ships, and pursued the conflict vigorously’. He ‘secured Chios’ and landed on Lesbos. There, he took the cities of Antissa, Methymna, Pyrrha and Eressus.
Memnon also laid siege to Mitylene. A few posts ago (here), we saw how he tried and failed to take Cyzicus. Perhaps siege warfare was not Memnon’s strong point. He eventually took Mitylene but only ‘with difficulty… after a siege of many days and with the loss of many of his soldiers’.
To the distress of her inhabitants, Memnon now prepared to sail for Euboea. Not all Greeks were so alarmed, however; Diodorus reports that those ‘who were friendly to Persia… began to have high hopes of a change in the political situation’.
Memnon did not use force alone to win the Greek cities to his side. Bribes were also liberally handed out. In the end, though, it all came to nothing. Memnon died suddenly and – as it seems to me – all Persian army activity stopped while Darius held ‘a session of his Council of Friends’ to decide what to do next.
It wasn’t so much Memnon’s death that made his activity in the Aegean a waste of time but Darius’ decision not to pursue the war in Greece. When he met his Friends, his two proposals were to either send a general to fight Alexander or lead the Persian army himself.
In the debate that followed, the Great King’s Friends were divided over the best course of action.
Among Darius’ Friends was an Athenian named Charidemus. According to the Footnotes, he was one of the ten Athenians whom Alexander demanded when he approached the city (see here). Diodorus says that Charidemus was ‘a man generally admired for his bravery and skill’ and ‘had been a comrade-in-arms of King Philip and had led or counselled all his successes’. The Footnotes dispute this.
Now, though, Charidemus advised Darius to send a general against Alexander. He had a good idea who that general should be, as well. You can probably guess that he meant himself.
Darius agreed with Charidemus. His other Friends, though, were less convinced. They even accused Charidemus of wanting to gain control of an army so that he could betray the Great King. Why would they condemn him in this way? I should think racism was certainly a factor. It certainly was in Charidemus’ response. He angrily accused the Persians of a ‘lack of manliness’.
Darius was insulted by Charidemus’ outburst and ordered him to be taken away and executed. Charidemus was dragged off, but not before ‘he shouted that the king would soon change his mind and… receive a prompt requital for this unjust punishment, becoming the witness of the overthrow of the kingdom’.
Diodorus says that Darius soon regretted his hasty decision. In the meantime, he searched for a general to take Memnon’s place. Finding none, Darius made the fateful decision to lead his army into battle himself.
In this post I said that Black Cleitus saved the future of hellenism across the world. Given Memnon’s success in his Greek campaign I wonder if we can’t say that his death both robbed the Archaemenid empire of its future and proved to be final nail in the coffin of classical Greece. I am thinking that had he successfully turned Greece to Darius’ side and defeated Alexander in battle (a big if, I know) then that would have restored Greece and Persia to the political situation it was in before the rise of Macedonia.
I am guessing that the reason Darius did not pursue operations in Greece following Memnon’s death was because he knew or thought that the Greeks would only listen to another Greek. His decision not to continue what had been a very successful campaign is otherwise inexplicable to me.
The dispute between Charidemus and the other Friends is a moment of farce. With the former’s execution it becomes the blackest of black comedies. It tells us something interesting about Darius’ character, though; namely, that he was capable of being as impetuous as Alexander. I wonder how he reconciled this aspect of his character to being part of a social structure as strict as the Persian one?
I was talking to a friend a night or two ago about Formula 1. I love F1 racing, and have done for many years, but – as I was telling my friend, it really is the most venal sport in the world. Money rules all. Exchange money for personal interest and you have the most venal city states that I have ever met – those of ancient Greece. Diodorus names Sparta as being one of those who were friendly to Persia. It never ceases to amaze me how they were prepared to support their enemy in order to win one over their Greek enemies.