Slaughter of the Mercenaries

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 84 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Makes Peace with Mazagaeatan Queen
Mercenaries Allowed to Leave Mazagae in Peace
Truce Betrayed? Alexander Attacks Mercenary Camp
Mercenaries Wiped Out

The Story
As mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post, a lacuna in the manuscript means we have lost a portion of Diodorus’ text.

The Footnotes state that, according to Diodorus’ chronology, we are missing the period from the end of 328/7 to the start of 327/6 B.C. But we know that his dating is incorrect. In actual fact, it is the period from the summer of 329 to Autumn of 327 B.C. that has been lost.

Apologies to anyone who was confused by yesterday’s assertion that the gap lasted to 327/6 only to be told a line later that the text resumed in the autumn of 327! I should have made it clear that the restart date was the corrected one rather than Diodorus’.

With that (hopefully) clarified, let’s move on.

We rejoin Alexander in Assacenia. He has just captured the city of Mazagae (aka Massaga) and concluded terms with its queen. It appears that Alexander treated her most generously because she ‘sent him valuable gifts and promised to follow his orders in everything’.

Under the terms of the truce, the (Indian) mercenaries who had helped defend Mazagae were allowed to leave the city in peace. They did so, and encamped eighty furlongs away.

What happened next?

That depends on who you read.

According to Diodorus, Alexander had no intention of letting the mercenaries go free. He ‘nursed an implacable hostility towards’ the men and followed them to their camping site. There, he gave the order to attack and ‘wrought a great slaughter’.

The mercenaries scrambled to defend themselves. As they did so, they cried out that the assault ‘was in contravention of the treaty’ and called upon the gods to witness Alexander’s transgression.

Alexander was a pious man, of course, but saw no betrayal in his actions. He told the mercenaries that ‘he had granted them the right to leave the city but not that of being friends of the Macedonians forever’ or even, it seems, for a short period of time.

The mercenaries formed themselves into a ring – with their women and children in the centre – so that they could defend themselves from all sides. They did so with a ‘desperate courage’. For their part, the Macedonians were ‘anxious’ not to be outfought by the barbaroi. The battle raged and much blood was spilled. That notwithstanding, I think we should take Diodorus’ statement that ‘every form of death and wounds was to be seen’ with a very big pinch of salt.

Inevitably, given their superior numbers (and the fact that they appear to have been using their sarissas), the Macedonians gained the upper hand. The Indian women were forced to take the place of the dead and dying men. They were, Diodorus says, ‘brave beyond their nature’.

But the women could only delay the inevitable. All those who fought the Macedonians were ‘cut down, winning a glorious death in preference to basely saving their lives at any cost’.

Once the battle was over, Alexander took the surviving women and children prisoner. Perhaps, as he had done previously, they were eventually allowed to settle in one of his cities.

According to Curtius, the queen of Mazagae was called Cleophis. He alleges that Alexander agreed to let her remain as queen on account of her beauty rather than because of his ‘compassionate nature’. ‘And it is a fact,’ he adds, ‘that [Cleophis] subsequently bore a son who was named Alexander, whoever his father was.’

The Footnotes to my Penguin (2004) edition of Curtius tell me that Justin says that Alexander was indeed the boy’s father.

As for Alexander agreeing to let Cleophis remain as queen on account of her beauty – it sounds a very male thing to do! Maybe, then, we should take the allegation seriously. But while Alexander had a romantic side I don’t think he ever let beauty get in the way of a necessary political decision. I think this story is more true to whoever first wrote it down rather than to Alexander himself.

In regards Cleophis’ son, while one can’t rule Alexander’s paternity out, I wonder if Justin has got the wrong end of the stick. She named her son Alexander out of respect for the king who had let her be queen rather than because of sex with him.

What happened next?

That depends on who you read.

… You’ve seen Diodorus’ account. Plutarch shares it. While Curtius doesn’t mention the mercenaries, Arrian says that Alexander massacred them because they intended to desert. The Footnotes say very neatly that this ‘presents historians with a nice dilemma: was Diodorus’ source blackening Alexander’s reputation, or was Arrian’s whitening it?

My immediate reaction is if Diodorus’ story is true why does Curtius not mention it? He wrote a ‘sensational’ account of Alexander’s life, didn’t he? Surely this incident would be just the kind of thing he would want to mention. Now, there may be a good reason for his omission (perhaps he does mention the fight elsewhere in his book) but until I discover I shall side with Arrian. Yes, because of Ptolemy but also because justice demands it.

Famous Greek Jokes
Please please please can I have a little treaty, daddy?
Father Alright, my son; here you are.
Child But you’ve given me nothing!
Father Just be thankful that I haven’t killed you, my son.

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