Book XII Chapters 1-4
Other posts in this series
For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus
For the Greeks, burying the dead was a matter of religious necessity. If they were not laid to rest in the proper fashion, their souls could never pass through ‘the gates of Hades’ (Iliad 23:71*) and have peace.
Justin states that Alexander lost a number of his men ‘in the pursuit of Darius’. Being religiously devout, he made sure to bury them before resuming his eastward march.
But though Alexander was a pious man, he was also, as we have seen, an expert manipulator of people. Thus, he not only buried his men, but did so ‘at great expense’.
This reminds me of the burial of those who died in the Battle of the Granicus River. In 11:6, Justin states that they were buried,
… sumptuously as an encouragement to the rest, honouring them also with equestrian statues, and granting privileges to their relatives.
I am sure the men deserved the special care and honour given to them. But I am equally sure that Alexander was keen to forestall any disquiet in his army occasioned by losses** so early on in the expedition. This, of course, was no longer an issue after Darius’ death, but Alexander was surely keen to keep his men’s morale up so that he could keep pushing east. Lavish funerals were one way to achieve that (as, no doubt, were the 13,000 talents he distributed to the survivors, afterwards).
Following the death of Darius, Justin reports that Alexander was given news of King Agis’ failed revolt back in Greece, King Alexander of Epirus’ failed war in italy, and the death of Zopyrion, the ‘lieutenant-general’ of Scythia (Thrace, according to Curtius – see Chapter One). Alexander cried for Zopyrion’s loss; but, lest we get too dewy-eyed about his empathy, Justin says that the king,
…was affected with various emotions but felt more joy at learning the deaths of two rival kings, than sorrow at the loss of Zopyrion and his army.
It seems to me that here we either have proof of where Alexander’s ultimate priorities lay or an attempt by Justin to blacken his character.
Staying with Justin, he clearly liked Agis as he dedicates the next paragraph of his short work to an account of the king of Sparta’s fall. Agis kept fighting even as his men fled the battlefield. He wanted the world to know that if he was ‘inferior to Alexander [it was] in fortune only, not in valour’. Justin was convinced. When Agis died, he did so ‘overpowered by numbers… superior to all in glory.’
‘Superior to all’. Even, one must assume, to Alexander the Great.
* The Iliad tr. by Stephen Mitchell (Wiedenfeld & Nicholson 2012)
** Admittedly, Justin says that only 129 Macedonians died at the Granicus River. I am presuming that this is an under-exaggeration (is that a real phrase?)
This chapter is given over to an account of Alexander of Epirus’ actions and death in Italy and of Zopyrion’s death.
Justin now confuses me a little. As mentioned above, he states that Alexander ‘felt… joy at learning the deaths of two rival kings’. I.e. Agis and Alexander of Epirus. Now, however, he reports that,
…he [Alexander of Macedon] assumed a show of grief on account of his relationship to Alexander [of Epirus], and caused the army to mourn for three days.
By saying that Alexander ‘assumed a show of grief’, is he suggesting that it was not real?
Whatever the answer, Justin doesn’t dwell on it. Instead, he gives us another example of Alexander the manipulator. With Darius dead, his men think they will be going home. In a general assembly, the king tells them Not so. We did not come for Darius’ body but his throne. If we return west now, our victories in previous battles will count for nothing.
The barbarians of the east had to be subjected, and – perhaps more to the point for Alexander, – those who had killed Darius had to be punished. Now that Alexander was Great King, he had to avenge his predecessor.
At this point, Justin pauses long enough to tell the story of Alexander’s thirteen day tryst with Thalestris (aka Thallestris), whom he also calls Minithya. Once that is over, he states that,
Alexander assumed the attire of the Persian monarchs, as well as the diadem, which was unknown to the kings of Macedonia, as if he gave himself up to the customs of those whom be had conquered.
At the same time, and in emulation of the Persian kings, he began holding extravagant feasts, games alongside them, and sleeping ‘among troops of the king’s concubines of eminent beauty and birth.’. To forestall criticism of this medising, Justin says that Alexander ‘desired his friends also to wear the long robe of gold and purple.’
Justin himself has no time for this behaviour, and he accuses Alexander of ‘being utterly unmindful that power is accustomed to be lost, not gained, by such practices’. This is the most critical Justin has been of Alexander since 11:10.
Alexander’s army was equally unimpressed. According to Justin, there was,
… a general indignation that he had so degenerated from his father Philip as to abjure the very name of his country, and to adopt the manners of the Persians, whom, from the effect of such manners, he had overcome.
But Alexander was undeterred, and just as he had asked his friends to adopt Persian dress, he encouraged the rank and file to marry barbarian women. This policy had a duel purpose. Firstly, to make the Macedonians accept Alexander’s behaviour, and secondly, to make the men think of home – Macedon – less often, for if their wives were here, their home would now be the camp. Thirdly, the marriages would produce sons who would grow up to succeed their fathers in the army. We can argue about the morality of Alexander’s actions, but there’s no denying the cleverness of this policy, one which was – Justin says – continued by the Successors.
The gathering clouds are definitely getting very dark now. It’s true, we see him being pious but perhaps also fake (in his supposed grief for Alexander of Epirus) and definitely effete according to the Macedonians. Alexander’s adoption of Persian dress and customs, and his attempt to draw his men into that lifestyle, is driving a wedge between him and his army.
I find Justin’s version fascinating. The 13 day tryst intrigues me.
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Thallestris is a firm part of the tradition. Diodorus, Plutarch, Curtius and Arrian all mention her.
I didn’t mention her when I read Arrian, but if you would like to read what I wrote about…
… Diodorus’ account: https://thesecondachilles.com/2014/08/02/thallestris/
… Plutarch’s (longest blog post heading you’ll see anywhere): https://thesecondachilles.com/2014/04/24/plutarchs-women-the-persian-royal-family-barbarian-women-amazonians-general-ref-roxane/
… And Curtius’ (but only very briefly): https://thesecondachilles.com/2014/09/20/sex-and-the-country/
Plutarch (Para 46) is a great place to go to if you would like to read a list of which historians believed that Thallestris and Alexander met, and which didn’t.
If they didn’t, we may still wonder as to the origin and purpose of the story.