Author Archives: M J Mann

Alexander in Iran

It isn’t only death and taxes that are certain. So are politicians who try to claim that a defeat is actually a victory.

Enter the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif. A few days ago, in response to threats made by Donald Trump against the very existence of his country, Zarif tweeted,

“Goaded by #B_Team, @realdonaldTrump hopes to achieve what Alexander, Genghis & other aggressors failed to do. Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone. #EconomicTerrorism & genocidal taunts won’t “end Iran”. #NeverThreatenAnIranian. Try respect-it works!”

Full reports: Sky News

Zarif implies that Alexander tried to destroy Iran and the Iranian people only to be repulsed by the latter who ‘have stood tall for millennia’.

To paraphrase Donald Trump, this is fake history.

Firstly, because when he fought the Persian – Archaemenid – Empire (the then predecessor to Iran), Alexander did indeed destroy it. Forever.

Secondly, while it’s true that Alexander did not destroy the Iranian/Persian people, this was not because he tried and failed to do so. He simply never wanted to do so in the first place, either in part or whole. Alexander had a very positive attitude towards the Persian people – too positive for many people in his army. He appointed Persians to important positions, adopted Persian customs and dress, brought Persians into his army, and supported people like Peucestas who was enthusiastically pro-Persian in his role as satrap.

It cannot be stressed enough: Alexander’s quarrel was with Darius III not the Persian people as a whole. By suggesting otherwise, Zarif shows that he knows as much about his country’s history as Donald Trump does about diplomacy.

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Water and the King

On 9th April this year I started the Alexander in Asia Minor series on this blog. You can read the opening post here.

The series ended on 13th May. I hope you enjoyed reading it.

As I mentioned in my post of the 9th, I republished the series (which first appeared on my Alexander Facebook page) to keep the blog active while I walked the Camino in northern Spain.

I am delighted to let you know that I reached Santiago de Compostela on Friday (17th May). Lots happened along the Way but the one thing I would like to mention here is water.

We all know how precious good, clean drinking water is but how often are we consciously grateful for it? Prior to walking the Camino, I can’t say I was at all.

That very quickly changed. On the first day, I walked the Valcarlos route through the valleys at the foot of the Pyrenees. My backpack was too heavy and that, combined with the constant climbs and descents meant that I quickly drank both bottles of water that I was carrying with me.

In my reading before beginning the Camino I had gained the impression that water taps were available for use along the route but on the Valcarlos this turned out not to be the case. It was ironic it as it rained on and off throughout the day. There were streams and rivers, too, but were they drinkable?

In truth, I didn’t help myself. For instance, I walked on at the village of Valcarlos instead of retracing my steps to buy more water.

In the end, I became very thirsty and tired and was rescued, firstly, by a fellow pilgrim who let me have a swig of his water and then a little later by an American woman who gave me one if her water bottles.

Her kindness reminds me of the famous story about Alexander and water. Depending on which source you read, the incident either happened in the Bactrian (Curtius) or Gedrosian (Arrian) desert.

Curtius relates that as it crossed the Bactrian desert the Macedonian army fell prey to extreme thirst. During the journey, Alexander met two officers who were carrying water to their sons. One of the men offered Alexander a share of his water but when the king found out who it was for, he handed the water back, both for the sake of the man’s son and because he could not bring himself to drink alone.

According to Arrian, Alexander was given the water after it was found during the Gedrosian crossing. He rejected it out of hand in solidarity with his men. Tom Lovell captures the moment beautifully in his painting, below.

I was one person so was able to accept the water given to me. Alexander stood at the head of many who could not drink and so didn’t. For all his faults, even in the most trying circumstances, he remained faithful to one of his finest attributes as a king and general; namely, that he never made his men go through anything that he wouldn’t. If they could not drink, neither would he. As for me, I hope I never forget how grateful I was on 11th April to be given that most precious resource of all.

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32. The Battle of Issus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘… about one hundred thousand [Persian soldiers] were killed (including more than ten thousand cavalry), such large numbers that Ptolemy the son of Lagus, who was with Alexander at the time, says that when the party in pursuit of Darius met a ravine in their path they could cross it over the bodies of the dead.’
(Arrian II.11.8)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

Following his victory at Issus, Alexander left Asia Minor once and for all and entered Phoenicia. I end my series of posts on Alexander in Asia Minor with an image of his route through the region, the famous Naples mosaic, a painting of Sisygambis’ equally famous mistake, and a bust of Ptolemy – one of Arrian’s main sources for his account of Alexander’s expedition. I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts!

Alexander’s Route Through Asia Minor
The famous Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii (now in Naples). In it, we see Darius fleeing, possibly at the Battle of Issus
Sisigambis pays homage to Alexander after mistaking Hephaestion for the king
Ptolemy I Soter

Credit Where It’s Due
Map of Alexander’s route through Asia Minor: University of N. Carolina
The Alexander Mosaic: Livius
Sisigambis mistakes Hephaestion for Alexander: Wikipedia
Ptolemy I Soter: New World Encyclopaedia

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31. The Syrian Gates

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘… at nightfall [Alexander] took his whole army and marched to secure the [Syrian] Gates once more. By about midnight he had re-established control of the pass, and for what remained of the night he rested his army on the rocky outcrop above it, with guard-posts at the critical points.’
(Arrian II.8.1-2)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

The Syrian Gates

Credit Where It’s Due
The Syrian Gates: Flikr

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30. Myriandrus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘… and camped by the city of Myriandrus: during the night a fierce storm blew up, with rain and a violent wind, which kept him confined to camp.’
(Arrian II.6.2)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

With Myriandrus we actually leave Asia Minor and enter Phoenicia. As you can see from the map, Alexander had to march north towards the border of the two regions after realising that Darius was actually behind him.

Map showing the location of Myriandrus (or Alexandretta). Further to yesterday’s post, note the very southern location of the Syrian Gates. I wonder if the whole passage from the Gates to the Pinarus river are regarded as the Syrian Gates? More investigation required

Credit Where It’s Due
Map showing the location of Myriandrus: Wikimedia Commons

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29. The Assyrian Gates

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘[Alexander] led his army out on the march against Darius and the Persians. On the second day he passed through the [Assyrian] Gates…’
(Arrian II.6.2)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

Where are the Assyrian Gates? I’ve not been able to work it out. I think they are just west of the Beilan Pass. This pass, however, is supposed to be the Syrian Gates. In this image, however, the Syrian Gates are further north. Headache!

Credit Where It’s Due
Map showing the road to the Battle of Issus: Wikimedia Commons

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28. Mallus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘Next [Alexander] came to Mallus… [he] made the customary offerings for a hero to Amphilochus. He found the Malians in a state of civil strife, and brought that to an end…’
(Arrian II.5.9)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

An ancient Greek warrior

Credit Where It’s Due
Ancient Greek warrior: EPIGONI

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27. Magarsus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘[Alexander] went to Magarsus with the infantry and the royal squadron of cavalry: there he sacrificed to the Athena of Magarsus.’
(Arrian II.5.9)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

Map of Cilicia. I’ve not been able to find a map that mentions Magarsus; however, as it was Mallus’ port, you can see from Mallus’ location here where Magarsus would have been

Credit Where It’s Due
Map of southern Cilicia: Pinterest

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26. Soli

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘From Anchialus Alexander came to Soli. He installed a garrison there, and imposed a fine of two hundred talents of silver in punishment for the city’s pro-Persian tendency.’
(Arrian II.5.5)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

In the event, Soli paid Alexander 150 talents of silver. Perhaps because he was flush with victory after the Battle of Issus, Alexander waived the final fifty. At the same time, he sent the Solian hostages that he had taken from the city back home (Arr. II.12.2).

Soli, Asia Minor

Credit Where It’s Due
The Ruins of Soli: Wikipedia

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25. Anchialus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘[Alexander] set out from Tarsus, and on the first day reached the city of Anchialus, which legend tells was founded by Sardanapalus the Assyrian.’
(Arrian II.5.2)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

Sardanapalus who lived a very chaste and abstemious life

Credit Where It’s Due
Sardanapalus: Wikipedia

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