King of Macedon

Justin’s Alexander
Book XI Chapters 1-5

Part One
Other posts in this series

According to Charles Russell Stone in From Tyrant to Philosopher-King, Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus ‘defined Alexander for many writers in England’ (p. 8) during the Mediaeval period. 

According to Stone, Justin’s influence was negative as ‘the first Roman histories to reach medieval England emphasized [Alexander’s] worst qualities and most egregious behaviour’. In this short series of posts, therefore, I thought I would look at this translation of the Epitome to see what exactly Justin said.

Chapter 1
Macedon is in turmoil. Philip II has been assassinated and his twenty year old son, Alexander, has been declared king. What hope does he have to keep his country together? The army, which he needs in order to rule, is divided between those who mourn Philip’s death and those who – having been conscripted into it – now hope that they may win their freedom.

Meanwhile, Philip’s friends are looking nervously over their shoulders. They fear a revengeful Persia, and rebellion by Greeks and barbarians in Europe alike. They believe that if all three turn against Macedon at the same time, their attack will be ‘utterly impossible to resist’.

Enter Alexander. He takes his place before a public assembly, starts to speak, and… not only calms his listeners’ nerves, and not only gives them hope for the future, but fills them with ‘favourable expectations’ for what is to come.

Justin does not quote Alexander’s speech, or put words into his mouth, but we can tell what kind of speech it was from his comments. Firstly, it was humble, for Alexander spoke with ‘modesty’. Secondly, it was restrained, for Alexander ‘reserved the further proofs of his ability for the time of action’. Thirdly, it was manipulative, for in granting ‘Macedonians relief from all burdens’ (i.e. tax breaks?), Alexander put them in mind of Philip, the beloved king they had just lost.

Chapter 2
The first hint of Alexander’s ruthlessness comes at the start of this chapter. After Philip II’s cremation, the new king ordered the murder of anyone connected to his father’s assassination. He also made sure to remove anyone who could rival his claim to the throne. Justin cites Caranus*, the son of Philip’s last wife, Cleopatra Eurydice, as being one such victim. Someone who was allowed to live, however, was Alexander Lyncestes, son of Aeropus**. His brothers (Heromenes and Arrhabaeus) were both executed for conspiracy but Alexander Lyncestes was permitted to live as he had been the first person to acclaim Alexander as king.

* Heckel in Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great asserts that Caranus did not exist

** Not Alexander the Great’s brother as Justin says

Chapter 3
Upon hearing of rebellion in Greece, Alexander marched south. He stopped first in Thessaly and,

exhorted the Thessalians to peace, reminding them of the kindnesses if (sic) shown them by his father Philip, and of his mother’s connexion with them by the family of the Aeacidae

We are used to thinking of Alexander the general but less so of Alexander the diplomat. On numerous occasions, however, he used diplomacy to win the support of his enemies. On this occasion, his plan worked to perfection. The Thessalians made him their ‘captain-General’ and gave him ‘their customs and public revenues’.

Accepting these, Alexander marched on to Athens. They had already submitted to him. Nevertheless, upon meeting their ambassadors, the king ‘severely [reproved] them for their conduct’. Most importantly, as far as Athens was concerned, he did not attack them.

Justin reports that Alexander then marched to Thebes ‘intending to show similar indulgence, if he found similar penitence’. But he did not. Once the city had been taken by force, Alexander asked his Greek allies what should be done to it. This sounds very democratic except that Alexander’s allies had all been mistreated by Thebes in the past. They were only ever going to vote for one course of action now. It’s hard not to imagine Alexander knowing this, and simply using the allies as a way of tearing down the city without getting his own hands dirty.

Chapter 4
During the deliberations, Cleadas, a representative of Thebes was permitted to speak for the survivors. He appealed to Alexander’s sense of history by pointing out that his ancestor, Herakles, had been born there and that his father had spent part of his youth in the city. Justin has nothing to say about the use of Philip but regards the mention of Herakles as an attempt to appeal to Alexander’s superstitious nature.

Neither worked and Thebes was razed. Thereafter, the land was divided up and the survivors sold into slavery. Feeling sorry for them, Athens permitted Thebans to enter their city. But Alexander had prohibited this, and he gave the city an ultimatum: War or hand over a number of generals and orators who had been leading rebels. Not only did Athens persuade Alexander not to open hostilities against them, however, but it also managed to persuade him to withdraw his demand for prisoners.

Again, we could view this as Alexander being clement but in reality it is far more likely that he let the matter go because he wanted to get on with his preparations for the war against Persia.

Chapter 5
Before leaving Macedon, Alexander completed his purge of the royal court to make sure no one rebelled against him while he was gone. Justin says that it was at this point that Attalus (uncle/guardian of Cleopatra Eurydice) was murdered.

Alexander also ‘divided’ all Argead land in Macedon and Greece between his friends, ‘saying, “that for himself Asia was sufficient.”’. On the one hand, this sounds very foolhardy. Or perhaps, brave. Why did he do it? Justin gives no clue but it is possible or likely that Alexander was actually trying to raise much needed money for his expedition.

Having rejected the Cleadas’ appeal to history, Alexander now showed his respect for it. Approaching the shore of Asia Minor, he follow in the footsteps of kings of old by throwing a ‘dart’ (i.e. a javelin) into the sand. In doing so, he symbolically claimed Asia for oneself.

Wading ashore, Alexander then turned to the gods. He sacrificed ‘praying that “those countries might not unwillingly receive him as their king.”’. More sacrifices would be carried out at Troy.

Overall Impression
Positive. It’s true, we’ve seen Alexander act manipulatively and ruthlessly but Justin does not have much to say about these moments. In fact, the first five chapters of his Epitome are largely free of comment by him. If there is a ‘stand-out’ moment it is, for me, in chapter one where he describes the outcome of Alexander’s appearance before the public assembly.

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