Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 75, 76 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Alexander Takes Hyrcania
Alexander Issues Ultimatum: Bucephalus or Death
Mardians: Here’s Your Horse. V. Sorry.
After dismissing those of the allied Greeks who wished to return to Greece, Alexander began the journey to Hyrcania. On the third day, he arrived outside a prosperous city called Hecatontapylus.
As well as being wealthy, Hecatontapylus enjoyed a surfeit of ‘everything contributing to pleasure’. What can Diodorus mean? The Macedonians had a good opportunity to find out as Alexander ‘rested [ahem] his army there for some days’.
From Hecatontapylus, the king marched one hundred and fifty furlongs before stopping at a great rock from which issued a river named the Stiboeites.
According to Diodorus, the river ran for three furlongs before dividing into two around ‘a breast-shaped “rock”‘ (I’m sure that brought back some happy memories of Hecatontapylus for the Macedonian men).
The rock appears to have been a cave as underneath it was ‘a vast cavern’ into which the water fell ‘with a great roar’. The subterranean river continued for three hundred furlongs before emerging into the light once more.
Diodorus’ description of the Stiboeites’ path seems to awake a desire in him to explore the countryside a little further, for after quickly telling us that Alexander ‘took possession’ of all Hyrcania’s cities, he goes onto give a sketch of the flora and fauna of the region. We learn that –
- In the Caspian (aka Hyrcanian) Sea live ‘many large serpents and fish… quite different in colour to ours’
- A number of Hyrcanian villages enjoy a particularly rich harvest. These places are called the Fortunate Villages
- Each vine of the Fortunate Villages ‘produces a metretes [four and a half gallons] of wine. Their fig trees ‘produce ten medimni [roughly one and a half bushels] of figs
- The land is so fertile that even unsown grain germinates
- An abundance of honey drips from a tree that is oak-like in appearance
- A bee-like insect called the anthredon makes ‘a liquor of surpassing sweetness’
Between the women of Hecatontapylus and the anthredon’s liquor it is a wonder the Macedonian’s ever left Hyrcania. If Dionysus passed this way during his travels, he must have enjoyed himself very much.
As well as winning Hyrcania and her people, Alexander also received at this time the submission of a number of Persian officers. To cap off an extremely satisfactory period, Alexander accepted the surrender of 1,500 Greek mercenaries. Both Persians and Greeks were treated favourably by the king. The latter were integrated into Alexander’s army ‘on the same pay scale as the rest’.
Things got tougher, though, when Alexander entered Mardia. There, the Mardians not only declined to send any embassies to pay the king homage but decided to hold a pass against him. Eight thousand men stood ready to fight believing that they had what it took to defeat the invader.
They didn’t. Alexander attacked and Alexander won.
That wasn’t the end of the king’s troubles. In fact, they got worse. After seizing the pass, Alexander ordered his men to lay waste to the countryside. While they were dong so, some Mardians kidnapped the royal horses – including Bucephalus. Alexander was enraged. Ordering ‘every tree in the land [to] be felled’, he informed the Mardians that if Bucephalus wasn’t returned the whole country would be laid waste and they would be ‘slaughtered to a man’. He didn’t wait for an answer but began the killing spree straight away. Finally seeing sense, the Mardians returned all the horses along with ‘their costliest gifts’. Fifty men came as well ‘to beg forgiveness’.
I enjoyed reading about the Fortunate Villages and athredon. Although I am most interested in the military aspects of Alexander’s expedition, it is good to receive these little insights into the countries he visited as they remind me that Alexander was not just about weapons but also knowledge.
Bucephalus’ appearance here is, I think, his first appearance in Diodorus’ narrative. The story of his kidnapping is a very dramatic one but I can’t help but feel that it would elicit an even greater emotional response if we had ‘seen’ Bucephalus already. A good story-teller does not simply throw characters into his book as and when they are required. What was Diodorus thinking of? I am, I suppose, speaking from a modern perspective; the way the ancient Greeks and Romans read was, perhaps, different to us?
Welcome to the Heca’ by Swords N Shepherds
Welcome to the Heca’,
We’ve got fun n games;
We got everything you want,
Boys just tell us your names.
We are the people that can find,
A hole for mouth an’ seed;
If you’ve got the money, honey,
She’s got what you need,
In the Heca,
Welcome to the Heca…
Swords N Shepherds are an interesting, if controversial, addition to the Hyrcanian music scene, which has traditionally sung mainly about myths and pastoral life. SnS focus solely on the seedier side of life in Hecatontapylus with a disturbing amount of knowledge for such young men. May the gods help them if they ever move to Babylon.