Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 77 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
The Amazons march out of legend and into history – and back again
Thallestris to Alexander: I want your child
How Alexander Medised: Special Report
Today, the Amazonians are regarded as being figures of legend rather than history. The Footnotes for Chapter 77 tell me that the Alexander historians could be equally sceptical – though only that Thallestris, the Amazonian queen, met Alexander. For his part, Diodorus simply recounts the story, offering no opinion one way or another regarding its veracity. Here is what he says.
Once Bucephalus had been safely returned to him, Alexander left Mardia and made his way back to Hyrcania. There, a party of three hundred Amazon warriors entered the Macedonian camp. They were led by Thallestris who, Diodorus says, ‘was remarkable for [her] beauty and… bodily strength’. The women arrived in full armour, impressing Alexander with their dignity.
Recovering himself, Alexander asked Thallestris the reason for her visit. She ‘replied that it was for the purpose of getting a child’.
Any man could have done that for her; why had she chosen Alexander? Simple. ‘He had shown himself the greatest of all men in his achievements, and she was superior to all women in strength and courage’. Their offspring, therefore, would surely ‘surpass all other mortals in excellence’.
According to Diodorus, Alexander was ‘delighted’ with this request and into his bed chamber they went.
And there they remained for thirteen days until Thallestris rode home – out of history and into legend carrying Alexander’s child?
In the second half of this chapter, Diodorus describes how Alexander easternised his court. He,
- appointed Asian ushers
- appointed ‘the most distinguished persons to act as his guards’
- wore the ‘Persian diadem’, dressed in the Great King’s (?) white robe and wore the Persian sash
- distributed purple bordered cloaks to his companions
- ‘dressed the horses in Persian harness’
- ‘added concubines to his retinue’ – one for each day of the year
These measures seem very ‘in-your-face’ so far as the Macedonians are concerned. Diodorus does add, however, that Alexander ’employed these customs… sparingly’ so as not to offend his men.
Here is what I wrote about Plutarch’s reference to Thallestris’ visit.
What to make of the Amazons? A matriarchal society is one thing but a society comprised of women only? That is surely another. I’ve never heard of it anywhere else, although I must admit I haven’t looked. I might do so now. It is interesting that the sources do not dismiss the possibility of the Amazons existing outright but I wonder if that’s because they tended to build their work on authority rather than challenge it like historians today do. But here, I am simply thinking and about something I know nothing about.
It is a shame that Diodorus isn’t a little more critical of his sources as his straight bat leads him to say quite contrary things. For example, we are told that Alexander was careful about which Persian customs he took on, but only after we learnt that the Macedonian king allowed his concubines to parade in front of him every night so that he could choose which one to sleep with. That does not speak of a sparing attitude. I can see why Diodorus is accused of a copy-and-paste attitude.
By-the-bye, the Footnotes state that scholars today do not accept that this really happened. The fact that it is not mentioned elsewhere makes me inclined to agree with them.
Pity the poor concubine whose day was 29th February