In This Chapter
Alexander vs Cletius and Glaucias
Having defeated the Getae and declared himself a friend of the Celts Alexander ‘advanced towards the territory of the Agrianians and Paeonians’. He was not intending to attack either of these tribes as they were both allies of Macedon(1). Indeed, Langarus, the king of the Agrianians, was a personal friend of Alexander’s and joined the Macedonian king while he was still on the road.
During his march, Alexander was informed that an Illyrian client king named Cleitus had revolted against him. Cleitus would have been known to Alexander for in 359 BC, Cleitus’ father, Bardylis, killed Philip II’s brother, Perdiccas I, in battle. More bad news followed: Cleitus had been joined in his revolt by King Glaucias of the Taulantians who had, up until now, remained independent of Macedonian control. And furthermore, another independent tribe named the Autariates intended to attack (ambush?) him while he was on the road.
Once or twice in Alexander’s career he was hit by uncertainty over what to do at a critical moment, but no such weakness struck him in the spring/summer of 335 BC. He decided to move at speed towards the troublesome tribes. Langarus did his bit to make things easier by offering to deal with the Autariates for him; Alexander accepted.
Langarus was so successful in his mission that Alexander offered him the hand of his half-sister Cynane in marriage. Unfortunately, Langarus died (of natural causes) before any marriage could take place. Twelve years before the Wars of the Diadochi started, fate worked to destabilise the environment in which they would take place that little bit more.
Back in 335, Alexander marched on the city of Pellium by the Eordaicus river: Cleitus had seized the city. Upon his arrival, Alexander set up camp by the river. He intended to assault the city walls the following day.
But there was a problem, for Cleitus had men hidden in ‘the thickly wooded heights’ that surrounded the city. If Alexander attacked it, they would run down and attack him in the side and rear. Alexander’s only advantage was in numbers for Glaucias had not yet joined Cleitus so the number of men in the woods was limited.
As Alexander advanced on Pellium, the Illyrians performed a human sacrifice, killing ‘three boys [and] two girls’ before joining the fight. They rushed down the slopes and engaged the Macedonians. At some point after – it isn’t clear how long the battle lasted – Alexander forced the Illyrians back; they fled into Pellium. The Macedonians found the dead youngsters in the hills.
Alexander had won the battle but was still at risk of losing the war as Glaucias was close by ‘with a large force’ – in fact he was now in the hills surrounding Pellium. Alexander clearly had spies monitoring Glaucias’ movements because he knew he did not have the numbers to attack both Pellium and Glaucias at the same time.
While he worked out what to do next, Alexander sent Philotas (Parmenion’s son) on a foraging mission. While Philotas was gone, the Macedonian king received word from his spies that Glaucias intended to ambush Philotas. Alexander immediately set out with a small force to rescue him.
Glaucias’ attack was perhaps an opportunistic one, because on hearing of Alexander’s advance, Glaucias backed off. Maybe he just wanted to save his men for the bigger battle ahead. Either way, Philotas returned to the Macedonian camp safely.
With Philotas back in camp, Alexander was back to square one: what was he to do about the threats in front and behind him? He was caught in a pincer movement that, if he made one wrong move, could bring his life to a sudden end. Surely retreat was the only option, but the only way out was through a narrow pass that would take an agonisingly long time to march through and risk the Macedonian rear being ravaged by Cleitus’ and Glaucias’ forces.
I have gone against my practice in the previous posts by inserting some commentary in the first part of this post. One thing remains on my mind now: how did Alexander get himself into such an awkward spot? How did he end up having to worry about Cleitus in front and Glaucias behind him?
He knew about Cleitus and Glaucias coming together before arriving in Pellium. I presume that as soon as he learnt this, he sent spies to report back on their movements and hoped that he would be able to take Pellium before Glaucias and his men arrived. Given that Glaucias arrived on the day he intended to attack the city, however, he was cutting it incredibly fine to the point of given himself an unrealistic target. With this in mind, it could not have been wise to send Philotas foraging in such a dangerous area.
(1) Notes The Landmark Arrian (2010), p.10