The Trial and Death of Philotas, son of Parmenion

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 79, 80 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Dimnus Plots To Kill Alexander
Conspiracy Exposed: Philotas Implicated
Philotas Found Guilty of Treachery
Alexander of Lyncestis Executed
Parmenion Assassinated

The Story
Chapter 79
Diodorus describes the death of Philotas as a ‘base action’ that was ‘quite foreign’ to Alexander’s good nature. There is certainly no doubt that we are dealing with an episode in the great king’s life that is every bit as murky as the plot to kill his father.

It started when Dimnus, one of Alexander’s Friends, ‘found fault’ in something the king said or did – we are not told what – and decided to kill him. He told his lover, Nicomachus, of his plan and persuaded him to join the plot.

To conspire against a king’s life is a dreadful undertaking but, so far as Diodorus’ narrative is concerned, however many reservations Nicomachus had I doubt his involvement in the scheme was ever in doubt. He loved Dimnus and was just a boy. His love made him want to please his beloved and his young age made him highly impressionable and open to influence.

It also made him talk – ‘to his brother Cebalinus’, and he told him all about the plot.

We aren’t told Cebalinus’ age but however old (or young) he was, he had more sense than his brother. He resolved to tell Alexander of the plot. And quickly, for he feared that someone else would do so before him, thus laying him open to the risk of being treated as a conspirator.

Cebalinus was, presumably, too junior a person to approach Alexander himself (or maybe could no longer do so as a result of Alexander’s medising?), so went one of his senior officers – Philotas – instead. On hearing what Cebalinus had to say, Parmenion’s son promised to pass the information on to the king.

Except, of course, he didn’t. Not that night, nor the next day. Diodorus says that it ‘may be that Philotas was actually a party to the plot [or] he may merely have been slow to act’.

In the face of Philotas’ inaction, Cebalinus went next to ‘one of the royal pages’, accosting him in his urgency and fear. The Footnotes give the page’s name as Metron and he informed Alexander either immediately or very soon after as to what he had been told.

Diodorus’ account of events now moves quickly. Dimnus was arrested and interrogated, after which he stabbed himself to death. Cebalinus and Philotas were now questioned. Philotas admitted ‘his carelessness’ but denied being part of the a conspiracy. He agreed to let the army decide his fate.

Chapter 80
After ‘many arguments had been heard’ Philotas was found guilty and condemned to death. Diodorus says that the ‘other accused persons’ were condemned as well. They included Parmenion.

After being tortured and confessing to his part in the plot, Philotas was executed ‘in the Macedonian manner with the other condemned persons’. Riders on racing camels, meanwhile, flew to Ecbatana to kill Parmenion before news of Philotas’ death could reach him.

Back in the camp, Alexander took this opportunity to finally dispose of Alexander Lyncestis. You may recall that he was arrested after Alexander received a letter from Olympias in which she warned him about the Lyncestian (Chapter 32, here). Three years later, the Lyncestian was now accused of ‘plotting against the king’.

Why the reason for the delay in charging him? Diodorus says it is because Lyncestian Alexander’s ‘relationship to Antigonus’. The Footnotes think this is a mistake – there is no known relationship between  Lyncestian Alexander and Antigonus while the former was Antipater’s son-in-law, so perhaps that is who Diodorus meant. Either way, Alexander Lyncestis was now a safe distance from his powerful friend(s) and able to be eliminated without fear of consequence.

Chapter 80 ends with Alexander forming a new military unit, one that was comprised of those men who had criticised him in their letters home, or who had admitted distress at Parmenion’s death and, in fact, anyone who had written anything ‘contrary to the king’s interests’ in their letters. The unit was called the Disciplinary Company and was formed ‘so that the rest of the Macedonians might not be corrupted by their improper remarks and criticisms’. An ominous end to a very dark period.

What caused Dimnus to turn against Alexander so utterly that he decided to assassinate him? We’ll never know. As the reason has been lost to time, I would suggest that it wasn’t anything sensational. Perhaps it was a ‘nothing’ reason, simply a slight or a mistake taken too much to heart because Dimnus was mentally unbalanced or simply, and profoundly, fed up.

As the Footnotes show, the other Alexander historians’ accounts of what happened differs slightly to Diodorus’. For example, Curtius and Plutarch say that ‘Nicomachus did not approve of the plot and assisted in exposing it’. So much for my impressionable young man. Meanwhile Curtius says that Dimnus killed himself (as guards came to arrest him) and Plutarch has him dying resisting arrest.

Another question: Why did Philotas not tell Alexander about the plot? If he was a part of it he was taking a huge risk in not silencing Cebalinus on the night that the latter told him about it.

The only reason I can think of is that he felt no need to do so as he envisaged the murder being carried out before Cebalinus could speak to anyone else. But in that case, he must still have known that even though Cebalinus had left the matter in his hands there was a chance – however small – that the man might reveal the plot to someone else at any time. Again, unless the assassination was planned to take place that night, which it evidently wasn’t, he was taking an enormous risk.

Diodorus says that Philotas listened to Cebalinus ‘with indifference’. If so, I think it more likely that he did nothing because he simply didn’t take him or what he was saying seriously. That this was the case is, for me, further indicated by Philotas’ willingness to let himself be judged by the Macedonian army. He must have been confident that the truth would come out and they would find him innocent.

Beyond his opening comments, Diodorus does little to bring this out, but I do rather feel that Philotas was stitched up by his enemies in the Macedonian hierarchy. His actions just aren’t those of a guilty man.

On Philotas’ execution: The Footnotes give two accounts of it. According to Curtius, he was stoned to death. According to Arrian, he was pierced by javelins.

You See A Vegetable Garden

Alexander sees a PLOT

(Photo from Wikipedia)

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “The Trial and Death of Philotas, son of Parmenion

  1. I simply have to start my comment with how you ended your post – loved the humor of vegetable garden/plot!!!!!

    As to so called “Philotas affair” – oh yes, all those questions were asked and given many possible answers many times. Alas, we may never know the truth. From my POV almost all of the explanations are practically possible – except for the one I recently read and you didn’t mention – Philotas was actually set up by Alexander so that the king could have a real reason to get rid of him. Dimnus/Nicomachus plot didn’t originate with those two, but was “suggested” to Dimnus by one of Alexander’s friends (hint at Hephaistion? or maybe Krateros?) and Dimnus took the bait. Are you familiar with this theory?

    The question that I never saw being discussed is why Cebalinus went to Philotas? Did he serve in his unit? Then it makes sense but I don’t think any of our four original sources mention the fact. Otherwise, why Philotas? Sure, he was very high in the command chain but on the other hand there is an information scattered here and there that he wasn’t much liked amount the troops. He was a very talented commander but had poor people skills. Why would Cebalinus go to him?

    As for Philotas himself – my feelings split 50/50 between him being traitor and being stupid. I don’t know what is worse.


    • Delos,

      I am very sorry for the lateness of this reply. Thank you kindly for your comment. I am glad you liked the joke!

      It didn’t occur to me that Philotas might have been set up. I have to admit (and in answer to your question) I don’t recall seeing it mentioned before.

      I am writing this reply a day after writing the Dioxippus vs Coragus post. There, we saw Dioxippus take his own life after falling victim to a conspiracy against him by some of Alexander’s friends. This immediately tells me that conspiracies against people within the army were possible.

      With the above in mind, and with reference to what you say, it would not surprise me if Alexander let it be known that he wanted Philotas out of the way and left it to Hephaestion, Craterus or whoever to make it happen.

      Having said that, I have to ask myself why Alexander would have wanted Philotas out of the way at that moment as opposed to any other time?

      Of course, I may have missed something, but I see nothing in the narrative that suggests Philotas’ continuing presence had become intolerable for the king.

      But perhaps I am looking in the wrong place; perhaps the real target wasn’t him but Parmenion. Alexander – for reasons unknown to us – now feared him, in Ecbatana with all those men and all that money – and decided he had to be eliminated.

      He met his closest friends. At that meeting it was agreed that the ‘discovery’ of Philotas’ treachery would be the means whereby they assassinated Parmenion. It would not do for one of them to uncover his plot. For it to stick, it had to come from someone with no known grudge against him – Cebalinus. Poor Cebalinus was, in effect, a kind of patsy. This would certainly explain why he went to Philotas; he did so because he that was his order.

      If that theory is wrong (and I admit it has holes – what would Alexander had done if Philotas had reported the plot against him?), however, who knows why Cebalinus went to him! Ptolemy was a popular general – why not go to him? Perdiccas was a senior man – why not him? Hephaestion would have been the perfect choice. I think Cebalinus must have known Philotas on some level.



      • Somehow I always had a feeling that death of Parmenion was a simple necessity that Alexander regretted, the main target was always Philotas.

        On the other hand, the opposite is equally possible and then the timing is quite understandable. Nicanor, another son of Parmenion was just recently killed in battle (I think literally days before start of “Philotas’ affair”); with Hector, the youngest, drowned in Nile some years ago, it was a perfect timing to get rid of the one remaining son and the father.


  2. Delos,

    In my reply above I said “Alexander – for reasons unknown to us – now feared [Parmenion],” And then immediately contradicted myself by offering as good a reason as any for Alexander fearing his general!

    I am now wondering maybe Alexander had been wanting to get rid of Parmenion for a while but held off because, while Philotas was unpopular enough to be got rid of without consequences in the camp, Nicanor was a different matter. When Nicanor died that gave Alexander his opening.

    We’ll never know and like you say, either Parmenion or Philotas could have been the principle targets. I have to admit, I quite like my conspiracy-within-a-conspiracy-theory as I have never seen it mentioned anywhere else (probably with good reason) and it is a bit Hollywood or at the least Discovery Channel. If I have time I might try and flesh the idea out a little more and make a post of it, if nothing else as a counter-factual.

    And if I can pin the blame on Perdiccas in return for you having a pop at Ptolemy ( then I will do that, too 😀


    Liked by 1 person

  3. oh, no, not on Perdiccas!…… 🙂

    would love to read your Hollywood style conspiracy.


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