Thunder in the East

The Nature of Curtius
Book Eight Chapter 1-5
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter One
The Hunt
Rather unfairly, in my opinion, ‘Alexander gained more notoriety than credit from reducing the rock’. Curtius doesn’t say why this was so – did Alexander’s use of deception break a rule of combat? Was it the fact that the siege was not stricly necessary? We can only guess.

Before continuing his counter-insurgency operations, Alexander divided his army into three, naming Hephaestion and Coenus as the commanders of the other two divisions.

As these men took up their commands, a Macedonian ‘regional commander’ named Attinas was on the hunt for Bactrian exiles and Massagetae tribesmen who had destroyed some villages in his area.

Upon a moment, Attinas saw some shepherds ahead of him. They appeared to be driving their livestock into some woods. The rebels could wait – here was an opportunity for easy plunder.

The shepherds disappeared into the woods. The Macedonians followed ‘out of regular formation’ in their desire to grab the livestock. Suddenly, they came under attack, and for the second time, a Macedonian force was wiped out in woodland.

Craterus was in the vicinity but arrived in the wood too late. Nevertheless, he set about massacring the Dahae tribe – killing a thousand in all – thus bringing an end to the insurgency in the area. By-the-bye, Curtius doesn’t name the Dahae as being part of the ambush against Attinas but they had helped Spitamenes kill Menedemus and his men so they were not innocent bystanders.

After subduing the Sogdians once again, Alexander returned to Maracanda where he met Derdas, freshly returned from his expedition ‘to the Scythians beyond the Bosphorus’. Derdas came with promises of allegiance from Scythian kings, and a request that Alexander marry the daughter of one. She would turn out to be Roxane, the eventual mother of Alexander’s only legitimate heir*.

Once Hephaestion had returned to Maracanda, Alexander set off for a royal park in a place called Bazaira. There he reversed the Macedonians recent misfortunes in woods by successfully hunting a lion. Curtius notes the interesting fact that the Macedonian people had the right to ban their king from hunting on foot or alone. Health and Safety in the ancient world?

The latter half of the chapter is taken up with Alexander’s drunken argument with Black Cleitus, which ended with the latter’s death.

Of interest to us here is the the insight that the quarrel gives to how successful Alexander’s counter-insurgency operations had been.

The argument between king and officer began over Alexander’s bad-mouthing of his father. But Cleitus had a second grievance, “‘You assign to me the province of Sogdiana, which has often rebelled and, so far from being pacified, cannot even be reduced to subjection. I am being sent against wild animals with bloodthirsty natures.’

* According to Curtius, Alexander met Roxane for the first time after subduing the Sacae (Chapter 4, below)

Chapter Two
Another Day, Another Defile
In the days and weeks following Black Cleitus’ death, Alexander resumed operations against Bactrian exiles. As part of this, he came to a defile in an area called Nautaca where the local satrap, a man named Sisimithres, had set up a defensive blockade. Alexander met it head-on and smashed his way through it.

Sisimthres and his men retreated to ‘a rocky outcrop’ at the end (?) of the valley, which the defile opened out into. Entering the valley, Alexander found that his way to the outcrop was blocked by a torrent*. He decided to reach the outcrop by creating a mound, and so ‘issued orders for trees to be felled and rocks piled together’.

Alarmed by the sight of the Macedonian earthwork, Sisimithres eventually surrendered. As Alexander continues his operations, we learn another little detail about life in antiquity – it appears the Macedonian horses did not have horse shoes for Curtius describes how their hooves became ‘worn’ on the rocky roads.

* Curtius says that the the Nautacans had tunnelled through the outcrop to create a pathway into their country but that only they knew about it.

Chapter Three
Till Death Do Us Part
This chapter covers the end of Spitamenes’ rebellion against Alexander. In an episode reminiscent of Judith’s assassination of Holofernes, his wife cut off his head. She had become weary of being constantly on the run.

Chapter Four
Fire in the Rain
Alexander now led his men into a region called Gazaba. There, the army was scattered by a fierce thunderstorm. The cold froze men to death in the woods – once more a dangerous place for Macedonians to be – even freezing some to the tree trunks against which they were resting.

Just as he had done on the way to the Caucasus, Alexander went back and forth encouraging and helping his men. Rallied by their desire not to let their king down, the men chopped down trees to make bonfires. There would be so many that one ‘might have thought the wood was one uninterrupted blaze’.

Matters improved on the army’s second day in Gazaba when Sisimithres arrived with pack-animals, 2,000 camels, flocks of sheep, and herds of cattle. ‘Alexander divided these evenly among the men’. In return, once he had ‘ravaged’ the land of the Sacae, the king sent ‘a gift of 30,000 head of cattle’ back to the satrap.

Chapter Five
A New Division
For the briefest moment, Curtius turns towards India. It ‘was thought to be a land rich in gems and pearls as well as in gold’. But the chapter is otherwise given over to an account of the Proskynesis Crisis.

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