The Journey to Siwah

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 49 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Order Restored to Gaza
Amyntas Macedon Bound for Reinforcements
Egypt Submits to Alexander
New Pharaoh Undertakes Pilgrimage to Siwah

The Story
Chapter 49 brings us to a new year in Diodorus’ chronology (July 331-June 330 B.C.). Alexander began it by tidying up his affairs in Gaza, and by sending Amyntas son of Andromenes back to Macedon to enlist new troops. Amyntas returned home by sea and rejoined Alexander later in 331. We shall meet his new recruits in Chapter 65 (Diodorus does not mention Amyntas himself).

With everything taken care of in Gaza, Alexander resumed his journey to Egypt. Upon entering the country, he secured its cities ‘without striking a blow’. Why were the Egyptians so friendly? Diodorus provides the answer. The Persians had ‘committed impieties against the temples and governed harshly’.

Having taken possession of Egypt, Alexander did not rest like Julius Caesar would do three hundred years later. Instead, he jumped back onto Bucephalus and, with a group of companions, started the long journey to the oasis of Siwah, where, Diodorus tells us, ‘he wished to consult the oracle of the god’, that is to say, Ammon.

While Alexander was still riding west along the Egyptian coast, envoys from Cyrene met him. They came bearing gifts, including a ‘a crown… three hundred chargers and five handsome four-horse chariots’. A ‘treaty of friendship and alliance’ with the Cyrenaicans duly followed.

At an unspecified point, Alexander turned south and entered the desert. For four days he and his companions rode across it without incident. On the fourth day, however, their water ran out ‘and they suffered from fearful thirst’.

Diodorus says that all of the party ‘fell into despair’. Even Alexander? That appears to be the implication.

We do not know how long the party trudged miserably on, waiting, perhaps, only for death to take them, but upon a moment the clouds overhead began to gather and then, without warning, ‘a great storm of rain burst from the heavens’.

If you can hear cries of joy and laughter in the distance, you aren’t going mad, it’s just the Macedonians’ relief echoing down the centuries. How they must have rejoiced on that day!

Once they had calmed down, Alexander and his men re-filled their water skins from a hollow and continued on their way. Four days later, they finally left the desert.

The empty water skins were not the only crisis to hit Alexander and his men during their march across the desert. Diodorus reports that ‘[a]t one point’ they lost the road due to the (shifting?) sand dunes. On this occasion, they were saved by crows ‘cawing on their right’ who, the guides said, ‘were calling their attention to the route which led to the temple’.

Alexander was a very religious man. He regarded the sudden storm as an act of ‘divine Providence’ and the crows’ cawing as a sign from ‘the god’ (Ammon) that he was pleased with what Alexander’s visit. This inspired the king to push ‘on with speed’.

In short order, the Macedonians passed ‘the so-called Bitter Lake’ and – three hundred furlongs later – ‘the Cities of Ammon’. Diodorus doesn’t say whether Alexander stopped at either. Whether he did or didn’t, one day later, he arrived at Siwah itself.

Diodorus says that one of the Roman consuls for summer 331-330 was called Spurius. Was he for real? (Sorry).

Diodorus’ failure to provide more details about Alexander’s visit to Egypt is really disappointing. The impression I get from Diodorus is that Alexander did no more than receive the submission of Egypt’s cities then move on. Was he not eclared, or crowned, pharaoh? One would be hard placed to think of a more venerable (or ancient) title than that yet Diodorus does not see fit to mention it at all.

Further to the above, I ought to mention that Alexander may not have had the friendly relationship with Egypt’s priests and people that Diodorus suggests. The Footnotes tell us that, according to Arrian and Curtius, his ‘friendliness [was limited] to Mazaces, the Persian satrap’.

I speak under correction but I don’t recall that Egypt rebelled against Alexander during his lifetime. If so, even if Alexander was only ‘friendly’ with Mazaces, he must have done enough to keep the country happy.

By-the-bye, if you would like to read excerpts from Curtius’ account of Alexander’s visit to Siwah, see this this post.

Where are the Bitter Lake and Cities of Ammon? We don’t know. None of the other sources mention them. In regards the cities of Ammon, the Footnotes suggest (and dismiss) a ‘small oasis’ between Mersa Matruh and Siwah as a candidate.


As for the Bitter Lake, the Footnotes suggest that this could be ‘a mistake for the salt lakes at the Wadi Natrun’.


Egypt Proves you Wrong

Jay Z No church in the Wild A temple is the pagan equivalent of a church. Oases by their nature exist in the wild; therefore, Mr Zed, sit down because Egypt has proved you wrong

The Weather Girls It’s Raining Men If it was, Alexander and his friends would have died so as good as your song is, Weather Girls, you need to find a new lyricist because Egypt has proved you wrong

John Lennon Imagine Why would I want to imagine there being no religion? There is because the gods are real. Proof: the sudden storm. As dab as your hand is at music, sir, you need to find another career because Egypt has proved you wrong. Imagine that!

Get Egypt or Get Wrong
(Smiting wrongness since the third millennium B.C.)

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