Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 100, 101 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Coragus Challenges Dioxippus to Duel
Dioxippus Wins Duel in Record Time
Dioxippus Accused of Theft
Dioxippus Found Dead
Alexander recovered from the arrow shot to his chest. Perhaps in thanksgiving and celebration, he ‘sacrificed to the gods, and held a great banquet for his Friends’. As ever, the wine flowed freely, and that night it caused the downfall of two men.
Coragus (aka Coratas) was a tough Macedonian soldier ‘who had distinguished himself many times in battle’. He also had, it seems, a short temper, which the alcohol ‘sharpened’. And that is as much of an explanation as we get for what happened next – Coragus challenged an Athenian soldier named Dioxippus to a duel.
Dioxippus accepted the challenge. Alexander was informed and set a date for the duel to take place. On the day of the contest, the support of the ‘myriads of men gathered’ who came to watch divided along national lines.
It must have been an awkward occasion for people like Eumenes, though. All his fellow Greeks were supporting Dioxippus; his position in the Macedonian hierarchy, however, required him to be a little more circumspect.
Coragus took to the ‘field of honour… clad in his expensive armour’. By contrast, Dioxippus came naked. And while Coragus carried a javelin, lance and sword, Dioxippus carried only ‘a well balanced club’.
Both duelists were ‘fine to look upon with their magnificent physiques and their ardour for combat’. They seemed as gods to the audience – Coragus inspiring ‘terror as if he were Ares’ and Dioxippus bearing ‘a certain resemblance to Heracles’ because of his club.
The duel began. The two men ‘approached each other’; Coragus threw his javelin only to see it shoot wide as Dioxippus dodged it.
Undeterred, Coragus raised his lance ‘and charged’. But Dioxippus stood firm, and as soon as Coragus came within reach, he ‘struck the spear with his club and shattered it’.
Coragus was now ‘reduced to continuing the battle with his sword’. But before he could unsheathe it, Dioxippus leapt forward and up-ended him. Coragus struck the ground. A second later, he felt Dioxippus’ ‘foot upon his neck’. Looking up, his eyes must have widened at the sight of the Athenian’s club raised and ready to administer the death blow.
Dioxippus did not move. Instead, he paused and ‘looked to the spectators’.
Diodorus says that the ‘crowd was in an uproar because of the stunning quickness and superiority of the man’s skill’. By ‘uproar’ does he mean it was angry or impressed?
Whichever it was, Alexander brought the proceedings to an end. He gave the signal for Dioxippus to let Coragus go. The Athenian obeyed, and that should have been that.
Except, it wasn’t. Alebit, without providing any evidence, Diodorus describes Alexander as being ‘plainly annoyed’ by Dioxippus’ victory. He also alleges that he ‘continued more and more hostile to him’.
This hostility lead unnamed Macedonian members of Alexander’s court to conspire against Dioxippus. They had a servant plant a gold cup underneath the pillow of the Athenian’s couch. At the next symposium, the cup was ‘found’ and Dioxippus promptly accused of stealing it.
Realising ‘that the Macedonians were in league against him’ Dioxippus took his leave from the party. He returned to his quarters, and there wrote a suicide note. In it, he informed Alexander of the conspiracy against him. Then, he killed himself.
Diodorus says that Dioxippus ‘had been ill-advised’ to accept Coragus’ challenge ‘but… much more foolish’ to commit suicide. For that reason, he adds, ‘many of those who reviled him, mocking his folly, said that it was a hard fate to have great strength of body but little sense’.
Alexander’s reaction was quite different. He read Dioxippus’ suicide note ‘and was very angry’ at his death. Thereafter, he ‘often mourned his good qualities’. No mention is made, however, of any attempt to bring those who had caused Dioxippus’ death to justice.
This is the second duel we have seen in Diodorus’ book – the first being Erygius vs Satibarzanes (read here). It becomes the third that I have known to have taken place in Alexander’s lifetime (as per the just linked-to post, the other is Eumenes vs Neoptolemus in 320 B.C.).
Why did Coragus decide to challenge Dioxippus? There may have been animosity between them, but given where Dioxippus was from, I would be surprised if Coragus wasn’t simply jealous at the fact that the Greek had ‘won a crown’ at the Olympic Games (The Footnotes say he won the boxing competition ‘probably in 336 B.C.’) and in his drunkenness wanted to humiliate him before his fellow Macedonians.
It is notable that Coragus was ‘reduced’ to using his sword. In any film you care to watch – or rather, in any film that I have watched – which is set in ancient Greece or Rome the sword is always prominent. In reality, though, it seems it was by no means the primary weapon. And when it was used, soldiers did not engage in the kind of grand duels we see in the Star Wars films (I think I’m right in saying the Roman legionaries used their swords ‘simply’ to stab and slash?)
Speaking of Star Wars, you are entirely forgiven if you started humming Duel of the Fates while reading this post.
What to make of Dioxippus’ suicide? You could say that he should have complained to Alexander about what had happened. But that would have been useless if the king was as hostile to him as Diodorus says. While there is always another way, Dioxippus undoubtedly read the writing on the wall – that the Macedonian conspirators were determined to get rid of him – and ended his own life before they could do it. It is a very depressing moment in Alexander’s story.
As for Alexander himself, once again we find him regretting the loss of someone after – albeit indirectly this time – bringing it about. If the tale of Dioxippus has any truth to it then it is one of those moments that counts as a stain upon the king’s reputation.
Coragus: These are the rules. You go down,
I win. I go down, I win – just a little later on,