Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 35, 36 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Macedonian Army Loots Persian Camp
Alexander Pursues Darius
Once Darius’ army had been routed, Persian soldiers fled for their lives. Macedonian soldiers chased them until nightfall whereupon they gave up their pursuit ‘and turned to plunder’.
Their target was, of course, the Persian camp. Diodorus tells us that the Macedonians were ‘particularly attracted by the royal pavilions because of the mass of wealth that was there’.
The pavillions contained ‘much silver, no little gold and vast numbers of rich dresses… and likewise a great store of wealth belonging to the King’s Friends, Relatives, and military commanders’.
There were also the ‘gilded chariots’ of Darius’ Relatives and Friends and ‘ladies of the royal house’ who had travelled with ‘a store of rich furniture and feminine adornment, in keeping with their vast wealth and luxury’.
Some of these ladies now ‘burst wailing out of the tents’. Diodorus describes them as being dressed only ‘in a single chiton’, a humiliation in a culture where women covered up their bodies. The women tore their clothes and cried out to their gods. Tearing off their jewellery, they attempted to flee.
Perhaps some escaped. Others, however, were dragged off by their new masters. The ‘lucky’ women were simply dragged by the hair – presumably to the soldiers’ tents – while the (even) less fortunate had their clothing torn off and were punched and struck with spear-butts ‘thus outraging the dearest and proudest of the Persian possessions’.
Not all Macedonians behaved so ruthlessly. Diodorus says that ‘the most prudent… looked on this reversal of fortune with compassion and felt pity’ for the women.
In a world that worshipped authority it is not surprising to read that what ‘particularly moved to tears of pity those who saw it’ was the Persian royal family’s suffering. ‘In their case, the change in fortune and the magnitude of their loss of position, incredible as it was, was a spectacle that might well inspire compassion’.
As the royal family wondered what had happened to Darius, Macedonian soldiers broke into their tent to loot it. They would not have done so had they known who the women and young boy cowering in front of them was but at that point they were still ignorant.
Meanwhile, Alexander’s pages entered Darius’ tent to prepare a bath and dinner for their king. He had not yet entered the Persian camp, leading the pursuit of Darius after the battle.
Diodorus concludes the chapter with the casualty figures that I mentioned in the last post.
By our standards the Macedonians’ behaviour in (a) looting the Persian camp, and (b) their treatment of the Persian women is lamentable. Looting, however, was regarded then as an acceptable practice. I imagine it was one of the reasons why the Macedonians’ went to war. Alexander may have had high-blown ideas about spreading Hellenism but his men were more interested in getting rich. As for the Persian women – they didn’t have too many rights, anyway; now, though, I guess they were seen as a living plunder that could be dealt with (within reason?) as their new owners wished.
I wonder why it was the ‘most prudent’ Macedonians who felt pity for the Persian women. Could they have been aware that what had happened to the women might easily have happened, or still could, to Macedonian women?
Booty Call – Macedonian Dictionary
To break into the enemy’s camp and steal one or more of his women for sex or sale
“Hey, Amyntas! The Persian camp is undefended. It’s time for a booty call.”
“I’m with you. Unity of Mankind? I just want to have fun and get rich.”