The War That Couldn’t Be Won On The Hydaspes

I talked about drinking brandy a few posts ago and I am now finally getting round to it. At 40% it is going to take some getting used to but I am determined to give it my best shot.

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Since Sunday, I have been reading Partha Bose’s Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy. It isn’t at all easy reading two books at once. At least, not Bose’s and Weckel’s The Marshals. I seem not to be able to read a little of both in the same evening but instead spend a few days with one then a few more with the other. I almost feel like I am two-timing whichever book I am not reading. I better keep them well apart.

Anyway, I am now on p.141 – just over halfway through. Bose is still inventing scenes to suit his thesis but is at least doing so in an enjoyable way. There is one passage that I would like to quote here, It comes on p.137 when Bose talks about how mountains are ‘no defence against armies that are resolute in their purpose’. Bose continues,

The French military strategist Jomini wrote, ‘It has long been debated whether the possession of the mountains makes one the master of the valleys or vice versa’.

The Thracians who thought they could uses the slopes of Mount Haemus to crash carts into the Macedonian army (Arrian I.1.6-13), Ariobarzanes as he defended the Persian Gates (Ar. III.18.2-9) must both have thought that they were the masters only to be freed of their delusion by Alexander’s inventiveness and luck.

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You might have read my Tumblr post about how my Twitter Macedonians’ story intersects with the sources. If you haven’t you can do so here. Today, Alexander’s story arrived at the events related in Plutarch Life of Alexander 47

I would have left this for Tumblr but I am too excited by what happened to consider waiting until I get time to update that blog.

Excited is probably not the right word as it is quite a positive one. The confrontation between Alexander’s most senior generals and the two men who loved him most was a near disaster for the king. If either Hephaestion or Craterus had killed the other it would have done deep, deep damage either to Alexander or the army. Undoubtedly, a deep psychological wound would have been inflicted on one side or the other or both.

But what makes the incident really stand out for me – above and beyond the fact that it involved two men who given their rank and experience really, really should have known better – is that it showed how even after eight years of unparalleled success under Alexander and attempts by the conqueror to diminish their influence, the Old Guard – Philip’s men, so’s to speak, were still so powerful. And we know this because as Plutarch relates, after stopping the confrontation, Alexander rebuked Hephaestion in public and Craterus in private.

Alexander’s close relationship with Hephaestion makes a public rebuke incomprehensible. Alexander’s real motive for doing it, therefore, could not have been to humiliate his friend, but to show the veterans that he was still, in a sense, one of them. For that reason, when he rebuked Craterus, as had to be done, he did so behind closed doors. Out of sight, and, to a point, out of mind.

Now, as I say, Alexander did not rebuke Hephaestion in public to humiliate him but the fact is, he was humiliated. That, unfortunately, was the price that had to be paid in order to keep the army from fracturing any more deeply thanks to the Old Guard’s thoroughly recalcitrant attitude.

Categories: Arrian, Plutarch | Tags: | 1 Comment

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One thought on “The War That Couldn’t Be Won On The Hydaspes

  1. terrioak

    It was hard to read your Twitter stream today. Damn your Alexander anyway. I get it, but he just reinforced what so many people already think about Hephaestion. The damage is done, and not repairable.

    Like

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