The Death of Darius III

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 73 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Subdues Persia
Darius Murdered
Did Alexander meet Darius before the Great King died? We investigate
Spartan Envoys Begin Mercy March

The Story
The destruction of the royal palaces at Persepolis may have satisfied Greek pride but Alexander had no intention of resting on his laurels. Leaving the city, he set about pacifying Persia. Some of her cities were taken ‘by storm’, others by more peaceful means. Once the country had been subdued, Alexander returned to the pursuit of Darius.

The deposed Great King was on his way to Bactria where he hoped to raise another army (although if I read Diodorus correctly, he was travelling there with 30,000 men) when one of his senior lieutenants, Bessus, seized him.

What happened next depends on who you read (and believe).

Diodorus is of the opinion that Bessus murdered Darius. Arriving at the scene of the crime not long later, Alexander found the Great King and ‘gave him a royal funeral’.

According to other writers, however – referred to but left unnamed by Diodorus – Darius was still alive when Alexander found him. He ‘commiserated with [Darius] on his disasters’ and agreed to the dying man’s request that he ‘avenge his death’. Alexander set off in pursuit of Bessus only to call it off after Bessus escaped (over the Hindu Kush and) into Bactria.

Rather randomly, the chapter ends with the conclusion to the Battle of Megalopolis (which I covered here). Having lost the battle to Antipater’s army, Sparta asked for terms. Antipater referred the request to the Hellenic League. Was he acting out of deference to the Hellenic League or fear of Alexander (as Curtius – mentioned by the Footnotes – suggests)?

The League’s council met in Corinth and had a ‘long discussion’ over what to do before deciding on ‘nothing’. Instead, they forwarded the matter to Alexander for his judgement. Deference again, or fear? I agree with Curtius.

Back in Macedon, Antipater took possession of fifty Spartan hostages. As for Sparta itself, perhaps fed up of waiting for someone to make a decision – or, more likely, wanting to influence Alexander’s decision – it ‘sent envoys to Asia asking forgiveness for their mistakes’.

Comments
From the way Diodorus writes, it is as if he thinks Alexander found and buried Darius at the same time. As it happens, though, there is a little bit of disagreement among the Alexander historians as to what happened at this time.

  • Arrian says that Darius died after being killed by Nabarzanes and Barsaentes. Alexander did not arrive in time to speak to him. After finding Darius’ body, he sent it to Persepolis to be buried in the royal tombs.
  • Curtius says that Darius was killed by ‘Bessus and his fellow-conspirators’. Unfortunately, there is a break in the text so we do not know whether he lived long enough to meet Alexander or where his body was sent.
  • Justin As I write this, I don’t have access to a copy of Justin but from the portion of his text quoted in the end notes of my edition of Curtius, I see that he has Darius being found by an unnamed man (for whose name see Plutarch below) and living long enough to talk to him (through an interpreter) but not Alexander. Justin adds that Alexander sent Darius’ body to be buried in the ‘tombs of his ancestors’, which presumably means Persepolis.
  • Plutarch says Bessus murdered Darius, who was found alive by a Macedonian named Polystratus and that he lived long enough to accept some water from him. According to Plutarch, Darius died before Alexander arrived. Thereafter, Alexander sent his body to Sisygambis – in Susa? Plutarch does not tell us her whereabouts.

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