Decay Sets In

Justin’s Alexander
Book XI Chapters 10-15
Part Three
Other posts in this series

For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus

Chapter Ten
We ended the last post on a high, with Alexander showing his respect for the Persian royal women.

Unfortunately, we begin this post on a low as Justin pinpoints the aftermath of the Battle of Issus as the moment when Alexander first allowed himself to be seduced by Eastern riches and beauty. The Macedonian king was ‘seized with admiration’ of Darius’ ‘wealth and display’. As a result ‘… he… began to indulge in luxurious and splendid banquets’.

Justin also says that it was at this time that Alexander ‘fell in love with his captive Barsine* for her beauty’. In 327/6 she would give him a son, Hercules. If this sounds very romantic, Justin’s reference to Barsine indicates that he considered Alexander’s love for her to be part of his degeneration.

Justin gives a more positive view of Alexander when he describes how the latter appointed Abdolonymus as king of Sidon. He says that Alexander put Abdolonymus, rather than a Sidonian nobleman, on the throne ‘lest they should regard his favour as shown to their birth, and not as proceeding from the kindness of the giver’.

* Daughter of Artabazus

Chapter Eleven
We can’t have too much of a good thing, though, and it is Alexander the manipulator who now returns. In some style, too. Justin relates how his mother, Olympias, ‘confessed to her husband Philip, that “she had conceived Alexander, not by him, but by a serpent of extraordinary size” and that, in consequence of this, Philip had disowned Alexander and divorced her. Alexander visited Siwah, therefore, ‘anxious to obtain the honour of divine paternity, and to clear his mother from infamy’.

To make sure both his wishes were satisfied, the king sent messengers ahead of him to tell the priests ‘what answers he wished to receive’. Upon his arrival, they duly hailed Alexander as the son of Ammon and, for good measure, told his friends ‘that “they should reverence [him] as a god, and not as a king.”‘

Justin says that the announcement of his divinity increased Alexander’s ‘haughtiness’ and brought about ‘a strange arrogance… in his mind, the agreeableness of demeanour, which he had contracted from the philosophy of the Greeks and the habits of the Macedonians, being entirely laid aside.’

Chapter Twelve
In the period that followed, Darius tried to buy Alexander off by offering him money, territory and ‘one of his daughters” (perhaps Stateira II as she was the oldest of the two) hand in marriage. Alexander rejected these overtures. He didn’t want money, he wanted the whole Persian empire. And it was no use offering part of the empire and Stateira II to him as he already possessed both. Alexander told Darius ‘”to come to him as a suppliant, and to leave the disposal of his kingdom to his conqueror.”’

Clearly, Alexander had no time for Darius. I would hesitate to say that this was due to his post-Siwah haughtiness, however; he would certainly have given the same reply at any other point of his life – but this did not influence his treatment of Darius’ family. Thus, when the Great King was informed (by an escaped eunuch) that ‘“his wife [Stateira I] had died of a miscarriage’ he was also told ‘that Alexander had mourned for her death, and attended her funeral’. Importantly, given who Stateira I was, the eunuch gave Alexander’s motive for his behaviour as ‘kindness of feeling’ rather than love, for ‘Darius’s wife had been visited by him but once, though he had often gone to console his mother and her little daughters’.

Following the events of Siwah, this is a very welcome return to nobility for Alexander. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. When Darius thanked him for his kindness towards Stateira I, and made an offer of more money, land and a daughter’s hand in marriage in order to end hostilities between them, Alexander rather proudly – as it seems to me – replied that he had no need of the Great King’s thanks. Nothing,

“had been done by him to flatter Darius, or to gain the means of mollifying him, with a view either to the doubtful results of war, or to conditions of peace; but that he had acted from a certain greatness of mind, by which he had learned to fight against the forces of his enemies, not to take advantage of their misfortunes…”

I find it impossible to read ‘from a certain greatness of mind’ without imagining Alexander looking down his nose at Darius.

Chapter Thirteen
As the Macedonian and Persian armies lined up to fight the Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander gave his men another inspirational speech. Unsurprisingly, and wisely, he met the issue of superior Persian numbers head-on. Don’t be alarmed that the Persian army is greater in size than our own, he told them, Darius is only fighting with more human beings. We are fighting with more men. If nothing else, that is a neat turn of phrase.

Chapter Fourteen
This chapter covers the Battle of Gaugamela, its aftermath and Alexander’s subsequent march to Susa and Persepolis. Justin’s treatment of the new Great King is limited to a comment about how bravely he fought at Gaugamela,

Alexander… made the most hazardous efforts; where he saw the enemy thickest, and fighting most desperately, there he always threw himself, desiring that the peril should be his, and not his soldiers’.

and an acknowledgement of his kindness towards the mutilated Greeks to whom he gave permission to return home from their Persian exile.

Chapter Fifteen
Alexander comes to the fore in an indirect manner here. Justin recounts how Darius was found mortally wounded after being attacked by ‘his relatives*’. Before dying, he commended Alexander once again for his kindness to his ‘mother and children’. He had proved himself ‘a prince, not… a foe’.

Upon reaching Darius’ body, Alexander,

… contemplated with tears a death so unsuitable to his dignity. He also directed his corpse to be buried as that of a king, and his relics to be conveyed to the sepulchres of his ancestors.

So, after the blows done to Alexander’s reputation during the course of these chapters – specifically, the beginning of his medising after Issus and the arrogance that came from being declared son of Ammon – we are able to end on a positive note, one which reminds us of what we have known since the first post in this series – Alexander’s respect for history, and adds something new – his respect for Persian religious practices and fallen enemies.

* i.e. Bessus

Impressions
The clouds are definitely gathering around Justin’s Alexander. If it doesn’t seem like it that is only because Justin prioritises telling Alexander’s story rather than dwelling on the on-going impact of the latter’s decision to adopt a Persian lifestyle. It is interesting, though, that Justin still finds time to give an account of some of Alexander’s more positive actions – it would have been very easy for him to exclude them – think of the way Ptolemy is supposed to have suppressed the role of Thaïs’, his mistress, in the destruction of the royal palace at Persepolis – but no, there they are for us to see and appreciate. Can we say that this is proof that Justin was not wholly antagonistic towards Alexander?

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7 thoughts on “Decay Sets In

  1. Are there any more details about Barsine and her son? What happened to them?

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    • Penina,

      Yes, Plutarch mentions Barsine in his Life of Alexander (Para. 21) where he gives a few biographical details and Life of Eumenes (Para 1). Arrian also mentions her (Book 7:5) in the context of the Susa weddings. One needs to be careful with Arrian – Stateira II is also referred to as Barsine! Diodorus doesn’t mention her at all, but Curtius does (Book 10:11-13) in the context of the debate about who should succeed Alexander. Nearchus (who married Herakles’ half-sister at Susa) proposed that Herakles, be made king but was shouted down on the grounds of Barsine being non-Macedonian.

      As for what happened to them – Unfortunately, both Barsine and Herakles fell victim to the politics of the Successor Wars. As far as I am aware, they lived in peace until 310/9 when they were ordered to come to Greece by Polyperchon who then took them to Macedon with the intention of having Herakles (who would have been 17 or 18 by then) proclaimed king. However, once he got there, Cassander made a deal with him that involved Polyperchon’s loyalty in return for power in the Peloponnese. Polyperchon accepted it. He had no use for Barsine or Herakles now so had them murdered.

      In case you are interested, I wrote about their deaths when I did my read-through of Robin Waterfield’s excellent Dividing the Spoils book. Here is the link: https://thesecondachilles.com/2013/08/07/the-wars-of-the-successors-the-end-of-the-argead-dynasty/

      MJM

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  2. Always enjoy your posts. Sometimes they really read like adventure stories and I appreciate the links.

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    • Hi Jamie,

      Thank you very much indeed for your kind comment and support. I have to admit I don’t often think of myself as writing an adventure story as such but that is exactly what the life of Alexander is. I think I might keep in mind what you say and perhaps write posts in the future that consciously read like that. I’m always looking for new ways to make writing about him interesting for people to read.

      Thank you again and keep up the good work on your blog. I know it’s only October, but I can’t wait for January to be on the wane and spring to approach!

      MJM

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  3. Janet Fauble

    Very interesting story told by Justin. I especially love the story about Barsine.😊

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    • Janet,

      Barsine certainly holds an interesting place in the narratives of Alexander’s life. Firstly, Plutarch (Para 21; Life of Eumenes Para 1) claims she is the only woman Alexander slept with before marrying Roxane.

      Secondly, Alexander never married her to any of his generals at the Susa Weddings. Both/Two of her sisters, Artacama and Artonis, were married to Ptolemy and Eumenes respectively while Nearchus was given one of her daughters. Barsine, however, was kept to one side.

      I don’t know if Plutarch’s story is true – Curtius reports (10:36) that Alexander slept, and had a son, with Cleophis, Queen of Mazagae, though this may be a Roman invention – but Barsine’s absence from the Susa Weddings seems to suggest that Alexander liked/loved her enough to keep her for himself.

      Perhaps if Alexander had lived longer we would have seen Barsine return to Babylon to be his mistress (in the way that I think Thaïs was for Ptolemy).

      MJM

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