Alexander on the Web

Skeletons Found in Persepolis

The headline reads 13 Skeletons discovered in hidden layers of Persepolis. Below it is a video report. You can watch it on the Mehr News Agency website, here.

Intriguingly, the article that accompanies the video explains that ‘the discovered skeletons, probably murdered, may belong to Achaemenids [sic] era and the time Persepolis was raided by the Alexander the Great and his army.’

Alexander arrived in Persepolis at the end of January 330 BC. There, ‘cruelty as well as avarice ran amok in the captured city’ (Curt. V.6.6).

According to Curtius, Alexander held a meeting with his generals prior to entering the city. He told them that ‘no city was more hateful to the Greeks than Persepolis’ (C. V.6.1), because from it came the soldiers who had made war on Greece 160 years earlier. ‘To appease the spirits of their forefathers’ (C. V.6.2) Alexander allowed his men to loot and destroy the city.

Many Persians fled the city before the Macedonians arrival. Of those who remained, some were murdered by the invaders while others chose to kill themselves and their families. No one was granted mercy. The Macedonians appear to have used rape as part of their vengeance because Curtius adds that Alexander had to issue an order ‘for his men to keep their hands off the women and their dress’ (C. V.6.8).

Curtius states that Alexander ‘eventually’ issued this order, so presumably he permitted his men to rape Persian women for an amount of time before then. This puts a limit on how much we can say he respected women, though it is surely significant that he issued the order at all. It would surely have been far easier for him to let the men do as they wished until he was ready to bring a halt to the rampage.

The Macedonian Assault on Persepolis
Arrian III.18.10
Curtius V.6.1-8
Diodorus XVII.70
Justin XI.14.10
Plutarch Life of Alexander 37

Arrian does not mention the Macedonians’ assault at all. He states simply that they arrived ‘before the garrison had plundered the treasury’. So not only does he not mention what the Macedonians did, he makes the Persian garrison look like the bad guys. Whitewashing of the first order (having said that, a few lines further on he does freely criticise Alexander for burning Xerxes’ palace down).

Diodorus‘ account of the Macedonian assault is so similar to Curtius that you can see they were using the same sources (Cleitarchus and eye-witness testimony). Like Curtius (C. V.6.4), Diodorus mentions that the Macedonians turned on each other in their greed. He doesn’t, however, mention Alexander’s order to leave the Persian women alone. He notes only that women were taken into slavery. Diodorus tells us that the Macedonian rampage lasted for a day, at the end of which, they were still greedy for more.

Unsurprisingly, given the brevity of his whole account, Justin says very little about Persepolis – simply that Alexander captured it.

Unfortunately, Alexander’s arrival at Persepolis is missing from Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. It covers the period immediately after the attack on the Persian Gates to the end of his account of the Macedonian assault on Persepolis. All that remains is a reference to a ‘terrible massacre of prisoners’ that occurred.

The destruction of Persepolis, rape and murder of her people is one of the darkest moments of Alexander and the Macedonian army’s career. Having said that, we cannot be surprised that Alexander let his men loose on the city: this was one of the perks of their jobs. What is a surprise is that he permitted it relatively rarely. If memory serves, the last time he cut his men loose was in Tyre two years earlier, although that was in the context of the siege of the city. After Persepolis, nothing like it occurs until – ? I need to look this up, as I’m not sure. India? Outside of battles, I don’t think Alexander put any Bactrian or Sogdian cities to the sword. I’m happy to be corrected on this.

One final point – can we trust Curtius’ account? He is not always very trustable. Unfortunately. Arrian’s silence and Justin’s brevity make it difficult to assess Curtius’ case. Diodorus backs him up but then he would as he was surely using the same sources.


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Boris and the Boy Band Singer

Today (31st January 2020) is ‘Brexit’ Day in the U.K. At 11pm tonight, Great Britain will formally cease to be a member of the European Union.

The referendum to decide whether we should remain a member of the EU, or leave, took place three and a half years ago in the summer of 2016.

The fight over what would happen next, however, was only ended last December, when the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson won a decisive victory in the General Election.

Prior to that, the Conservative Party’s lack of Parliamentary majority meant that it was not inconceivable that Brexit might not happen at all.

Tonight, however, it will, and a few days ago Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, leader of the House of Commons, raised the tone of public discourse regarding Brexit (not a difficult job, admittedly) in what can only be described as a very interesting manner by comparing Boris Johnson to Alexander the Great.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Rees-Mogg said

“our current Prime Minister is a great cutter of Gordian knots, and where there is administrative inefficiency, the Alexander the Great of our time will be cutting these Gordian knots”…

The Daily Telegraph

Well, to his credit, Johnson certainly did that but there the similarity ends. Alexander was a soldier and king not a democrat; he created an empire rather than leave it, and faced danger rather than run away from it (I am thinking here of the way in which Johnson refused to be interviewed by Andrew Neill). You knew where you stood with Alexander. With Boris Johnson I am not at all so sure. I hope, therefore, and trust that Rees-Mogg had his tongue in his cheek when he made that comparison.

***

From The Mail Online

After spending hours researching portraits and statues of famous historical figures, graphic designer Becca Saladin has painstakingly recreated them to give them a makeover for the 21st century.

The Mail Online

Here is her Alexander,

Well, the image makes sense, but I do rather think she has made a mistake with his hair. It looks good on top but Alexander would never have it so short on the sides. He is the descendent of Herakles, after all.

Of course, Ms Saladin has made him look like a boy band singer but isn’t there a sense in which that’s the modern equivalent of what he was – young, handsome, talented, charismatic etc.

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Antigenes Deserves Better

Bitter ending of Macedonia’s Silver Shields
The Dong a Ilbo

It was a pleasant surprise to see an article mentioning Alexander’s Silver Shields but annoying that it was only to support a hackneyed conclusion.

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