Craterus and Perdiccas

It’s Christmas Eve. If you are reading this on 24th December, I hope you have a good day tomorrow, one that is full of love, as that is the essence of the day whether you are religious or not. If you are reading this on any other day of the year; well, I hope you have an equally love filled day tomorrow as well.

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I started my Christmas holiday last Tuesday so have had lots of time to read and write about Alexander… ha ha… nope. Why does it happen that I have more time when I have less time? To be sure, I have been out a lot since Tuesday. On Thursday, though, I was indoors all day but then I was busy playing the third and final instalment of Life is Strange: Before the Storm. If you haven’t played this and have a console or PC I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is as un-Alexander-like a game as it possible for one to be and, to be honest, is all the better for it. Not everything should be about wine and phalanxes, though most things should.

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Anyway what have I done that has been Alexander related?

Well, I have managed to read Craterus’ and Perdiccas’ entries from The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire by Waldemar Heckel. Heckel gives 57 pages to the two men, reflecting their importance in Alexander’s life and, albeit for the short time they lived, the Successor period (Both Craterus and Perdiccas died in 320 BC).

While I didn’t make many underlinings for Craterus. I was keen to do so when Heckel stated that, in the matter of the Philotas Affair, Craterus’ role was,

… much less complicated and less sinister than that of the unaccomplished Hephaiston.
(p.117)

Three things.

Less complicated? A few lines earlier, Heckel tells us that Craterus ‘sought to ruin Philotas for personal reasons’ as well as out of a desire to protect Alexander, to whom he was devoted. I really doubt that you have to look much further for Hephaestion’s motivation for desiring Philotas’ fall.

Less sinister? How is wanting to bring about the death of an enemy for no more than ‘personal reasons’ not a sinister motivation?

Hephaestion ‘unaccomplished’? Heckel is being ridiculous. This is what I wrote for my 17th December post,

There are no recorded incidents in the sources of Hephaestion failing Alexander in any commission that he was given. Whether it was to build a bridge or a city, choose a king or transfer equipment or food, he got the job done.

I stand by this. Wherein lies Hephaestion’s lack of accomplishment? Is it really because he was not as good a general as Craterus? And/or because he  had an unpleasant character? A man could still be either and still be accomplished, which Hephaestion was. His record is there for all to see.

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Perdiccas was the Gordon Brown of Macedonian politics in the late fourth century B.C.: an extremely capable senior officer but a bad leader. To be fair, Heckel is not wrong when he says that ‘In order to continue Alexander’s work Perdikkas would have to be another Alexander, and this he was not.’ (pp.134-5). Why not? W. W. Tarn gives us some of the reasons in one of the quotation that Heckel uses to open the chapter. Perdiccas, he says, ‘was… unconciliatory and inordinately proud, and probably difficult to work with’. Of course, Alexander could be unconciliatory when he had a mind to be, but unlike Perdiccas he knew how to work with people, how to inspire them, how to get the best out of them.

Heckel states that,

Perdikkas’ career is an unfortunate tale of lofty ideals combined with excessive ambition and political myopia. He showed a determination to keep the empire intact, and for this idealism – though it was motivated by a quest for personal glory – he is to be admired.
(p.151)

I am not so sure the first point is correct. If Perdiccas had been a genuine idealist he would have done everything he could to keep the empire ready for the day when Alexander IV took up his rule. Instead, he quickly set about trying to win the Macedonian throne for himself; for example, by transporting Alexander’s body back to Macedon even though the late king wanted to be buried at Siwah and by marrying Alexander’s (only) full-sister, Cleopatra.

By-and-bye, I don’t blame Perdiccas for this. To survive the Macedonian political scene in the fourth century B.C. one had to be ambitious (something that Craterus wasn’t, and Hephaestion was, by the way) not idealistic.

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Something that occasionally crops up on Social Media are images that portray Alexander as a national icon of Greece. Here is an example.

But was he? I don’t think so. He certainly believed in Hellenic values but Alexander was not a nationalist. He believed in his barbarian subjects, too, but you wouldn’t know this from some of the images I have seen. Like the one above, they play fast and loose with the truth in order to get their message across.

The image we see here is an ironic as well as false one. On the left hand side you can see the Vergina Star, a symbol of the ancient Macedonian kingdom. It has been painted to look like the modern day Greek flag.

Leaving aside the issue of its anachronism, it is an ironic image because the ancient Greeks hated the ancient Macedonians. And the feeling was reciprocated. If ancient Greece had had a flag and someone had placed it within the Vergina Star both Greeks and Macedonians would have been undoubtedly been offended by it.

This brings us to the falsity of the image; it is false because through the veil of its anachronism it tries to make a connection between ancient Greece and Macedon, which wasn’t there. And I mean here, a political connection, as the ancient Macedonians were very likely to be ethnically Greek.

We all have our own Alexander but we should at least try to ground him in historical reality rather than our current day ideology.

Categories: Books | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Craterus and Perdiccas

  1. Hephaestion being underestimated is nothing new, sometimes I think it’s because he’s just disliked, or maybe because certain sources just don’t mention him enough, so even I thought like this once. Hephaestion as a person is also very mysterious, like Alexander, and you can read into him in multiple ways. I still don’t quite know what to make of him, maybe you should write about him.

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    • Thank you for your comment. Yes, I think he is is rather disliked – by some scholars at least. I don’t know why. I don’t think it is because he isn’t mentioned enough, though; he is probably mentioned more than most of the other generals. I have written about him on and off. If you look him up in the search box you’ll see the posts.

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