The Council at Zeleia

The Battle of the Granicus pt. 1
The Persian Commanders Meet
Arrian I.13

Alexander crossed into Asia Minor in May 334 BC. Later that month, or in early June, he fought his first great battle of the expedition against a Persian satrapal army at the Granicus River.

While the Macedonian king was busy claiming Arisbe and the other cities in the area, the local Persian commanders met in Zeleia, a city to the east of the Grancius.

There, they held a council. The one question on their lips was this: how was Alexander to be opposed? The commanders all advocated war.

Only one person, Memnon of Rhodes advised against this. We cannot fight him, Memnon said, for two factors are against us.
Firstly, the Macedonian infantry is significantly larger than ours.
Secondly, Alexander himself is riding at the head of his army, whereas Darius is absent from ours.

Instead of fighting, he said, we should destroy the land: force Alexander to return to Macedon on pain of starvation.

Memnon’s opinion carried weight. He was a military commander of proven ability having halted Parmenion’s advance into Asia Minor two years earlier*.

Despite this, the satraps refused to countenance his scorched earth policy. Arrian says that the Persians were suspicious of him. They thought he wanted to avoid a battle because he feared ‘losing the position he held from Darius, if fighing started too soon’.

The Notes to my Penguin Classics edition of Arrian’s Anabasis say that the satraps ‘were (perhaps) actuated partly by jealousy in rejecting his plan’. Jealousy, no doubt, because he was a successful military commander, and they weren’t.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that the satraps were wrong to reject Memnon’s plan.

But of course, if we were peasants living in western Asia Minor at that time, peasants whose lives depended on our ability to till the land and sell its fruits in order to feed ourselves and our families, we would have breathed a great sigh of relief at the satraps’ decision. Even if we knew it wasn’t out of concern for us that they took it.

The peasantry were prisoners of their age, jailed by the nobility’s deafness to their voices. In a sense, the nobility were in a similar if not worse position. For while they had voices that could be heard, their very thoughts were defined by accepted modes of thinking that could only do harm rather than good.

I believe that these two modes are represented by Persian power politics and racism.

Persian power politics did not permit the satraps to agree with Memnon even if they thought he was right. For if his plan came off, it would be he rather than they who would gain in power thereby; and in a competitive court, that would be intolerable.

As for racism, the Persian nobility rejected sound advice from Greeks too often for it not to be a consideration. Other examples of them rejecting such advice may be found in their reaction to Charidemus’ advice (Diodorus XVII.30), which even led to his execution, and the rejection of the Greek mercenaries wise advice (Curtius III.8.2-7) which, if the nobility had their way, would have led to their massacre.

Thus, I call the satraps ‘jailed’.

All of this, of course, is a marked difference to Alexander who, even though he held very firm beliefs, still had a mind that was open to accepting new thinking if it could prove itself to him.

*Diodorus XVI.91 and Heckel Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great p. 190

Categories: Arrian | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Post navigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: