Death in a Cold Climate

The Nature of Curtius
Book Seven Chapters 1-3
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter One
Old Scores Are Settled
Following Philotas’ execution, Alexander Lyncestes was put on trial and executed. Alexander Lyncestes’ brothers had been killed by Alexander III in the purge following the latter’s accession to the throne. Alexander Lyncestes had saved his skin on that occasion by being ‘the first to salute Alexander as king’. Now, however, stage fright overtook the Lyncestian and rendered him unable to give a defence of himself. Curtius presents his death as little less than a summary execution during the trial.

The chapter continues with the trial of Amyntas and Simmias (the sons of Andromenes) who were charged with being part of Philotas’ conspiracy and as well as with other minor misdemeanours. Despite the fact that a third brother, Polemon, had deserted after hearing about Philotas’ torture, Amyntas was able to put up a very good defence.

As with the trial of Philotas, those of Alexander Lyncestes and Andromenes’ sons all took place indoors.

Chapter Two
Parmenion’s Downfall
The trial of Amyntas and Simmias was halted when guards brought in Polemon who had just been caught. Amyntas took his brother’s arrival in hand and succeeded in winning over not only the Assembly but Alexander, too. As a result, the trial ended with all the brothers’ acquittal.

After the trial, Alexander turned his thoughts to Parmenion. He ordered the general’s friend, Polydamas, to ride to Ecbatana with three letters – two for Parmenion (one in Alexander’s name and one written as if by Philotas*) and one for the other generals there. The latter contained the order to murder his friend.

Knowing how quickly rumour could travel, and how fatal it would be for him if Parmenion were to hear of Philotas’ death, Alexander ordered Polydamas to make haste. When the latter left the Macedonian camp, therefore, he did so on camelback**. In order to shorten their journey, Polydamas and his Arab guides (or guards) rode across ‘stretches of arid desert’. After ten days, they arrived in Ecbatana.

The letters were handed over to their recipients. The next day, Parmenion was stabbed to death in a grove.

* Presumably to make sure that Parmenion was distracted while the generals unsheathed their weapons

** And, Curtius says, dressed as an Arab. As Arabia was not on Polydamas’ route, perhaps this is an example of Curtius not knowing his geography (see below) or of him knowing that Arabs did indeed travel across the desert between Drangiana and Media.

Chapter Three
Mountain Bound
With Parmenion’s death, the Philotas Affair was finally over. Alexander now struck camp and led his army out of Drangiana and into Arimaspia – the land of the Euergetae, the Benefactors, whose kindness had once saved the army of Cyrus the Great.

Four days into his march across Arimaspia, the king learnt that Satibarzanes had returned to Aria. Rather than go back to confront the traitor himself, Alexander sent his friend Erygius along with Caranus, Artabazus and Andronicus to do so for him.

As for Alexander, he stayed in Arimaspia long enough to reward the natives for helping Cyrus, before proceeding to Arachosia. There, he subdued the natives (‘whose territory extends to the Pontic Sea’ Curtius says, inaccurately*) and met Parmenion’s soldiers who had been brought out as reinforcements. There was no backlash between them.

With his army now strengthened, Alexander moved on to the land of the Parapamisadae – ‘a backward tribe, extremely uncivilized even for barbarians’. Their country ‘touches Bactria to the west and extends as far as the Indian Ocean in the south’. In Alexander’s day, Bactria lay due north ( and Aria to the west) while Arachosia and the Oreitae stood between the Parapamisadae and the ocean.

Curtius writes that Paropamisus** is such a cold and barren land few trees grow there, and there is ‘no trace… of birds or any other animal of the wild’. It seems that even the sun rarely comes that way for the ‘overcast daylight, which would be more accurately called a shadow of the sky, resembles night and hangs so close to the earth that near-by objects are barely visible’.

The cold caused the Macedonian army great suffering as it trudged eastwards. Men suffered from frost-bite, snow-blindness and exhaustion; those who stopped to rest became too stiff to get up again.

Alexander did his best to help his men, and he lifted them up and supported them with his own body. ‘At one moment he was at the front, at another at the centre or rear of the column, multiplying for himself the hardships of the march’. That is why, despite all, they loved him so much.

Presently, the army came to ‘a more cultivated area’ where it set up camp.

The soldiers needed to rest – before them lay the Caucausus Mountains (i.e. the Hindu Kush)

In one direction it faces the sea that washes Cilicia, in another the Caspian, the river Araxes and also the desert areas of Scythia. The Taurus range, which is of lesser height, joins the Caucasus, rising in Cappadocia, skirting Cilicia and merging into the mountains of Armenia. Thus interconnected in a series, these ranges form an unbroken chain, which is the source for practically all the rivers of Asia, some flowing into the Red***, some into the Caspian, and others into the Hyrcanian**** and Pontic Seas.

Obviously, Curtius’ geography is inaccurate. What the above quotation shows, however, is how much smaller the world was for him. That’s not something I dwell upon often enough so I record it here as much for my benefit as anyone else’s.

Curtius says that the Macedonian army crossed the Caucasus in seventeen days. Along the way, it passed the ‘rocky crag’ where ‘Prometheus was bound’. At the foot of the Caucasus Alexander decided to build a new city.

* The Pontic Sea is the Caspian. In Alexander’s day, and surely afterwards?, a number of countries separated Arachosia from the Pontic. For example, Drangiana, Aria, Parthia and Hyrcania.

** Curtius doesn’t give us the name of the Parapamisadae’s land; ‘Paropamisus’ is what Diodorus calls it

*** The Persian Gulf

**** The Hyrcanian, Caspian and Pontic Sea are, of course, all one.  The Notes suggest that Curtius is ‘mistakenly’ talking about different parts of the same water

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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