The Mutilated Greeks

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 69 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Tiridates: First Come, First Served
Alexander’s Benevolence – Help for Mutilated Greeks

The Story
With Ariobarzanes disposed of, the road to Persepolis was now clear. And as Alexander and his men marched towards the city, its gates swung open as well: a messenger arrived bearing a letter from Tiridates, Persepolis’ governor. In it, he told Alexander that if he arrived before an expected Persian defensive force then the city would be handed over to him.

Eager to avoid a siege, Alexander forced marched his men towards the capital of Persia.

After crossing the Araxes River, the Macedonians were met by a distressing sight that reduced Alexander to tears. A group of mostly elderly Greeks approached them – representatives of about eight hundred who had been exiled here from their homes ‘by previous kings of Persia’ – and all were mutilated.

Diodorus tells us that some had had their hands amputated, others their feet; still others had had their noses or ears cut off. It appears that they were craftsmen of various types and that the Persians had cut off the limbs that were not necessary to their work. I can only imagine what those without hands were skilled at.

The mutilated Greeks begged Alexander to help them. Greeting the leaders of the group, he ‘promised to make it a matter of utmost concern that they should be restored to their homes’.

Hearing this, the Greeks held a debate among themselves. Did they really want to return to Greece?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they decided that actually, they didn’t. ‘If they were brought back safely, they would be scattered in small groups, and would find their abuse at the hands of Fortune an object of reproach as they lived on in their cities’.

If they remained together, however, ‘they would find a solace for their mutilation in the similar mutilation of the others’.

The leaders came before Alexander, told him what they had decided and asked for his help to make it a reality. ‘Alexander applauded their decision’ and gave the following,

  • Each man 3,000 drachmae
  • 5 men’s robes
  • 5 women’s robes
  • 2 yoke of oxen
  • 50 sheep
  • 50 bushels of wheat

In addition, the Greeks were exempted from paying ‘royal taxes’. To guard against prejudice, and what I suppose we would call hate-crimes now, Alexander ‘charged his administrative officials to see that they were harmed by no one’.

Tiridates’ letter reminds me of the city of Celaenae in Asia Minor, which offered to surrender to Alexander if the reinforcements that the city was expecting did not arrive. As the city was in a very strong defensive position Alexander agreed.

The Footnotes say that neither Arrian or Plutarch mention the story of the mutilated Greeks (Curtius and Justin do). I’m a little surprised that Plutarch doesn’t. It tells us a lot about Alexander’s character, which is the basis of his narrative.

The other day I mentioned my doubts regarding Curtius’ account of the downfall of Orsines and Diodorus’ account of the throne and its missing footstool (see the comments here). By contrast, I think Diodorus’ description of the mutilated Greeks is psychologically compelling. Even today, if one was in the position of those Greeks, who would choose to live in a wider community with its attendant prejudice rather than with a community of people like oneself?

Persepolis Open Day
Spend the day visiting Persepolis’ fabulous palaces!
Gold in abundance; silver in plentiful supply
Beautiful women; priests ready to sacrifice for you
* Special Deals (Ownership of city incl. its treasury) if you arrive in groups of 20,000 armed Macedonians or more

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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