Bessus takes up the fight against Alexander

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 74 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Bessus Reaches Bactria
Bessus Proclaims Himself King
Allie Greek Soldiers Dismissed

The Story
With Chapter 74 Diodorus enters a new year in his chronology (July 329 B.C. – June 328 B.C.). This year, Bessus arrived in Bactria with his fellow rebels, including Nabarnes and Barxaës. There, he issued a rallying cry to the Bactrians, urging them to defend their freedom.

Perhaps to waylay the fears of those who wondered how they could oppose the man who had overthrown the Great King, Bessus reminded the people that Bactria ‘was hard for an enemy to penetrate’.

Bessus’ next step inevitably followed his call to arms, for he could hardly tell his subjects to defend themselves without committing himself to that struggle as well. Thus, Bessus ‘proclaimed that he would take personal command of the war’.

But that wasn’t all. With ‘the approval of the people’ – Bessus declared himself Darius III’s successor. Wikipedia says he gave himself the regnal name of Artaxerxes V. He must have felt he now had one foot in Babylon already.

Before the other could join it, though, Bessus had some hard grafting to do. So, just as Darius did after his defeats at Issus and Gaugamela, Bessus set about enlisting men into his new army and equipping them with new weapons.

Alexander would come and there would be a reckoning. Bessus intended to make sure that on that day he would not be the man to be struck dead.

A couple of posts ago (here) I said that the destruction of the royal palaces at Persepolis marked the natural conclusion to Alexander’s expedition. Diodorus now explains that as far as the Macedonian army was concerned, that point came when Darius died. As a result, they were ‘impatient to go home’.

Alexander called his men together and ‘addressing them with effective arguments’ and, I am sure, the most honeyed words, convinced them to continue east with him.

Some men, however, would now leave. The allied Greek troops were paid the outstanding portion of their wages with a one talent bonus (in the case of the cavalry) or ten minas (the infantry) on top. They were sent on their way with praise and a little more cash to cover the journey.

Alexander had been very generous, but he was even more so to those allies who chose to re-enlist. They were given the princely sum of three talents.

Diodorus closes the chapter by explaining that Alexander gave generously partly because he was a generous person but also because he could afford to. His war of revenge against Darius had yielded 8,000 talents. But that’s not all – the total cost of the money ‘distributed to the soldiers’ (does he mean the allies or Macedonians in general? I’m not sure), ‘including clothing and goblets’ came to 13,000 talents. And there there was the loot and plunder, which ‘was thought to be even more still’.

The one thing that I would really like to know is the one thing that Diodorus doesn’t mention: How did Bessus explain his part in the murder of Darius? Did he lie and say someone else killed him? Perhaps he told a half-truth – always more effective than an out-and-ot lie. Or maybe he just glossed over it in some way or other.

In the first draft of this post, I wrote in paragraph two that Bessus told the Bactrians that Bactria was a hard country to conquer. When editing I changed it to the quotation as what I had said didn’t feel quite accurate. In the end, of course, Alexander did conquer Bactria – just, but the country was never really pacified. This has been the story of Afghanistan (of which Bactria forms the northern part) right down to the present.

When referring to Alexander’s meeting with his men, Diodorus says that the king ‘made them willing to follow him in the part of the war which remained’. This implies continuity with the war of revenge. Yet, I wonder if we cannot say that by dismissing the allied soldiers, Alexander was implicitly agreeing that the original war was now over.

Would Alexander Have used The Nuclear Bomb?
No. In our age, he would have been an awful general on account of his determination to win glory. He would have eschewed easy-wins and been undone thereby.

The idea that Hephaestion was Alexander’s lover rests on the latter’s identification of himself as Achilles and Hephaestion as Patroclus, and the belief at that time that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. Athenaeus, meanwhile, says that Alexander liked to “keep Thais with him” (Wikipedia), which could mean that she and the king were lovers. Who’s for annoying the Ptollelians by advertising this possibility more?


Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Post navigation

2 thoughts on “Bessus takes up the fight against Alexander

  1. To say Hephaistion was Alexander’s lover isn’t to say he was his *only* lover. In the film ‘King David’ (1985) Richard Gere ( David) says to his wife Michal he loves her, but he loves best Jonathan (brother of Michal): this fact is attested even by the Bible (2 Sam 1,26).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: