Arrian

Where Did Darius Die?

I’m not sure if this is a post that will interest many people but I thought I would mention it, anyway, just in case.

In my last post, I referred to how Alexander caught up with Darius in Media and said that I thought the last Archaemenid king died in Hyrcania or Parthia. I added I would double check this – i.e. by looking at the sources rather than the Notes or on the Internet.

In Chapter 73 of his Library of History, Diodorus describes how Alexander found Darius dead but doesn’t say specifically where this happened. Alexander then sets out on his first, unsuccessful, pursuit of Bessus. Realising that the regicide has got too far away, ‘Alexander suspended the chase and returned’.

To where? Again, Diodorus doesn’t tell us. After a short digression in which we are told about the aftermath of the Battle of Megalopolis and Bessus’ arrival in Bactria, Diodorus returns to Alexander who now has to deal with his troops who think that with Darius’ death the campaign is over and that they can return home. He persuades his men to follow him, pays off his allies and then, from wherever he is, sets ‘out for Hyrcania’ (Chapter 75).

So much for Darius dying in Hyrcania, then. And as Parthia is east of Hyrcania, it is unlikely he set out for Hyrcania from there.

West of Hyrcania, however, are Persia… and Media.

Arrian is a little clearer on where Darius died, although he doesn’t give the specific location. After dismissing his allies in Ecbatana, in Media (III.19-20), Alexander sets out in pursuit of Darius (III.20). Eleven days later, he arrives in Rhagae, one day away from the Caspian Gates (III.21). After passing through the Caspian Gates, Alexander meets two Persian deserters, Bagistanes and Antibelus, who inform him that the Great King has been arrested. The Macedonian king immediately resumes the pursuit (Ibid).

Using Arrian, here is a day-by-day account of Alexander’s pursuit from the point he arrives at the Caspian Gates:

Day 1
Alexander camps close by the Caspian Gates
Day 2
He passes through Caspian Gates
Alexander stops at an unspecified location on ‘the limit of cultivated land’
Bagistanes and Antibelus bring news of Darius’ arrest
Alexander immediately starts riding again; he marches all night…
Day 3
… ‘and half the following day’, stopping at midday. Alexander keep riding through the afternoon and through the night
Day 4
… reaching a deserted Persian camp at daybreak
After receiving confirmation of Darius’ arrest, Alexander immediately sets out again
He rides all day, night…
Day 5
… and the next morning, reaching an unidentified village at midday
He leaves the village at dusk, and rides (50 miles) through the night
Day 6
Alexander reaches the fleeing Persians at dawn the next day
The Persian line is very drawn out. Seeing Alexander approach, Nabarzanes and Barsaentes are able to kill Darius and flee.

So, Arrian is very good in terms of recording how long the stages of the march took but not really with where specifically Alexander was.

To be honest, I could have said this without taking the time to write the day-by-day account. I’m glad I did, though, as it has given me a much better idea of how hard Alexander pushed himself, his men and their horses in order to capture Darius. It is easy to understand why. For as long as Darius remained alive, and free, he was a potential rival around which resistance to Alexander’s authority could form. Alexander could be a generous man, but he never, ever permitted his authority to be challenged.

What it means, though, is that I have run out of time to look at Curtius, Plutarch and Justin. I’ll come to them in my next post.

Categories: Arrian, Diodorus Siculus | Tags: | 1 Comment

Why Did Spitamenes Fail To Defeat Alexander?

A few days ago I attended a talk by Dr. Neil Faulkner on the theme of Lawrence of Arabia’s War, which he gave in support of his new book on this subject.

Several times during the talk, Faulkner made points about T. E. Lawrence that immediately connected the latter to Alexander. For example, both had dominant mothers and both were inspired by heroic figures of the past (for Lawrence it was the Crusaders, for Alexander, Achilles).

To them I would add that both benefitted from deep friendships; that neither held the natives of the countries they were in with contempt, and both were not just fighters but explorers.

However, it was one other statement of Faulkner’s that really stuck out, and that is that one reason why the Arab Revolt succeeded when many insurgency movements of the past had failed, was because they had guns. Guns allowed them to do greater damage from a safer distance before escaping.

In the past, Faulkner said, if you wanted to kill someone, you had – generally speaking – to get up close to them so that you could jab them with your spear or slash with your sword.

Of course, one could use a javelin or sling but the former could only be thrown once and the latter had a slow rate of fire in comparison to a gun. Plus, the use of these weapons greatly increased your chance of being killed before being able to make your escape. And that was vital to the Arabs’ success. Not only because they lacked numbers but because they were in the fight as much for the loot as the promise of their own nation. Killing was no good if they died and could not take booty home with them.

When Faulkner started talking about the role of the gun, I immediately wondered if that was a reason why Spitamenes’ insurgency against Alexander failed. Thinking about it now, I would say it is one reason, but not the only one.

Spitamenes had another problem – he lacked the necessary tactics. When I read him in Arrian, he comes across as an insurgent trying to fight in a traditional manner. For example, he puts Maracanda under siege (IV.4), he captures a Macedonian fort (IV.16); he fights Andromachus’ and Caranus’ detachment in a set-piece battle (IV.5-6), takes on Craterus directly (IV.17), and fights another set-piece battle against Coenus (IV.18).

On all these occasions, he only comes off best when his opponents are either incompetent (the Macedonian detachment) or after using guile instead of brute force (the Macedonian fort). When he tries to fight in the traditional manner, he loses. And in the end, this cost him his life.

Spitamenes was not an incompetent commander – his decision not to fight a close-quarters battle against the Macedonian detachment but instead make use of his horses shows that, and he was adept at melting into the countryside when required to; however, his tactical ability had not caught up with the exigencies of his insurgent operation. And for me, this is the key thing; had Spitamenes superior weaponry he would still have needed to improve his strategy in order to use it effectively. If he didn’t, all the guns in the world wouldn’t make a difference. For Alexander would have had them and he certainly knew how to adapt.

 

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On 31st August last year…

… I started my ‘Fb Arrian’ project over on my Alexander Facebook page: a quote and some comments from Arrian’s Anabasis, one chapter a day. Rather to my surprise, I have managed to keep it going ever since.

I haven’t written a post every day – I did for a few weeks then started writing in advance so that there would be something to publish on the days when I couldn’t write anything. At best, I have been two weeks ahead of schedule; at ‘worst’ just one day.

Today, 29th February, my post for Book 7 Chapter 12 went up and I wrote my post for VII.19, which means I have just eleven more to write and then – ? A rest, I think. And then, I hope I can come back to the blog as the Fb Arrian work has caused me to neglect it woefully.

In the meantime, here is a link to all my posts over the seven books. If you would like to learn more about Alexander, I could not recommend a project like this enough. It has taken a lot of work but has allowed me to dive much more deeply into Arrian than I have ever done before and learn things that I am sure I will carry with me for a long time to come.

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The Council at Zeleia

The Battle of the Granicus pt. 1
The Persian Commanders Meet
Arrian I.13

Alexander crossed into Asia Minor in May 334 BC. Later that month, or in early June, he fought his first great battle of the expedition against a Persian satrapal army at the Granicus River.

While the Macedonian king was busy claiming Arisbe and the other cities in the area, the local Persian commanders met in Zeleia, a city to the east of the Grancius.

There, they held a council. The one question on their lips was this: how was Alexander to be opposed? The commanders all advocated war.

Only one person, Memnon of Rhodes advised against this. We cannot fight him, Memnon said, for two factors are against us.
Firstly, the Macedonian infantry is significantly larger than ours.
Secondly, Alexander himself is riding at the head of his army, whereas Darius is absent from ours.

Instead of fighting, he said, we should destroy the land: force Alexander to return to Macedon on pain of starvation.

Memnon’s opinion carried weight. He was a military commander of proven ability having halted Parmenion’s advance into Asia Minor two years earlier*.

Despite this, the satraps refused to countenance his scorched earth policy. Arrian says that the Persians were suspicious of him. They thought he wanted to avoid a battle because he feared ‘losing the position he held from Darius, if fighing started too soon’.

The Notes to my Penguin Classics edition of Arrian’s Anabasis say that the satraps ‘were (perhaps) actuated partly by jealousy in rejecting his plan’. Jealousy, no doubt, because he was a successful military commander, and they weren’t.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that the satraps were wrong to reject Memnon’s plan.

But of course, if we were peasants living in western Asia Minor at that time, peasants whose lives depended on our ability to till the land and sell its fruits in order to feed ourselves and our families, we would have breathed a great sigh of relief at the satraps’ decision. Even if we knew it wasn’t out of concern for us that they took it.

The peasantry were prisoners of their age, jailed by the nobility’s deafness to their voices. In a sense, the nobility were in a similar if not worse position. For while they had voices that could be heard, their very thoughts were defined by accepted modes of thinking that could only do harm rather than good.

I believe that these two modes are represented by Persian power politics and racism.

Persian power politics did not permit the satraps to agree with Memnon even if they thought he was right. For if his plan came off, it would be he rather than they who would gain in power thereby; and in a competitive court, that would be intolerable.

As for racism, the Persian nobility rejected sound advice from Greeks too often for it not to be a consideration. Other examples of them rejecting such advice may be found in their reaction to Charidemus’ advice (Diodorus XVII.30), which even led to his execution, and the rejection of the Greek mercenaries wise advice (Curtius III.8.2-7) which, if the nobility had their way, would have led to their massacre.

Thus, I call the satraps ‘jailed’.

All of this, of course, is a marked difference to Alexander who, even though he held very firm beliefs, still had a mind that was open to accepting new thinking if it could prove itself to him.

*Diodorus XVI.91 and Heckel Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great p. 190

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Impressions of Arrian I-II

At the end of August this year, I started a little series on my Alexander Facebook page.

It is called ‘A Quote and a Comment’ and is based on a chapter-by-chapter read through of Arrian’s Anabasis. I hope the title explains clearly enough what the series is about!

As of today, I have managed to publish a new post every day. This record will continue for at least another week as I am currently writing the posts a week ahead of schedule.

If you would like to visit the Fb page, just click on the link above. For links to each post, click here. I am in the process of putting the earlier posts into a PDF document; if you would like to read them in that format, send me an e-mail (thesecondachilles[at]gmail.com) and I will post it to you when it is done.

In this post, however, I thought I would mention four things about Arrian and his work that have impressed themselves upon me since I started writing.

  1. Arrian is the most un-character led author I have ever read. In contrast to, say, Plutarch, he spends no time at all discussing Alexander the man. Only the Macedonian king’s deeds seem to interest him. This is not to say that his Alexander is a cypher. Alexander the man can be found (see below) but only through his deeds.
  2. Arrian’s Alexander is a master of psychological warfare. On several occasions he uses these tactics to gain a vital advantage over his foes. For example, when he used silence, discipline, noise and speed to scare the Taulantians (I.6); his deliberately slow advance towards the Persian army at Issus (II.10), which I think was conducted at least in part to unnerve the enemy soldiers; and his decision to have ships surround and attack Tyre whenever possible (II.24) during the final assault. The immediate aim of this was to keep the defenders wherever they were busy but it must also have had the intended effect of damaging their morale by placing Alexander, as it were, everywhere.
  3. Arrian does not dwell on the battles. I first became aware of this when I read the Siege of Tyre. The whole episode is quite long – II.1624 covers it – but the final assault lasts just one chapter. I have looked back to the Battle of the Granicus (I.15-16) and Issus (II.10-12) and found that they are covered equally quickly. I have a theory that Arrian knew what an awful thing war could be and although he admires Alexander he was not minded to make the battles seem glorious events.
  4. Beware Translatations! I may have blogged about this before but can’t remember. The reason I mention this is as follows. In II.13, we see Sisygambis make her famous mistake – thinking that Hephaestion is Alexander.

    Alexander merely remarked that her error was of no account, for Hephaestion, too, was an Alexander – a ‘protector of men’.

    When I wrote about this, I said that the line “a ‘protector of men'” made it seem that Arrian was not identifying Hephaestion with Alexander the person but with his office. However, that line – which appears in my Penguin Classics edition of the Anabasis – does not appear in the Landmark Arrian; it says

    But Alexander declared that she had not erred, since Hephaistion, too, was Alexander.
    (II.12.7)

    So it would appear that “a ‘protector of men'” is the translator’s interjection rather than Arrian’s; is it what he understood Alexander to mean when he called Hephaestion another Alexander, though, or what he believed Arrian to mean?

    By-the-bye you’ll note that the reference for the two translations is different. The Penguin Classics text was published, I suppose for a general audience and so they were happy to play slightly fast and loose with the start and end point of each chapter in order to make them cover a page length each time.

Have you read Arrian’s Anabasis? If so, what did you make of it? I would love to read your comments. In the meantime, as I have written this after finishing the first two books I will write a follow-up post at the end of Book IV to see if my thoughts about Arrian and his work have developed any further.

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Quoting and Commenting Upon Arrian

For the last two weeks I have been reading a chapter of Arrian’s Campaigns of Alexander every day, picking a quotation from it and writing a short post based upon both it and the wider chapter.

I am publishing the posts to my Alexander Facebook page. If you would like to read any of the first fourteen posts, then just click here. If you are someone who is already reading the posts and ‘Liking’ them, Thank You! It means a lot that people are taking the time to do both.

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The Thracian Campaign

A few days ago I read the opening pages of Arrian’s Campaigns of Alexander. While doing so, I was struck by his account of Alexander’s Thracian campaign, and what it told me about the Macedonian king’s quality of generalship, even at the young age of 20.

***

As you may know, the Thracian campaign took place in the Spring of 335 B.C. Alexander undertook it in order to secure Macedon’s northern borders before he began his expedition to overthrow the Persian Empire.

In the course of a few weeks, the king defeated various tribal armies and armed forces in head-to-head battles, forcing numerous tribes to make peace with him. The campaign came to abrupt end when Alexander heard about Thebes’ revolt.

***

The first incident to jump out at me was the famous cart manoeuvre. As Arrian (I.1-2) relates, Alexander took his army into a ‘narrow defile’ below Mount Haemus only to find a Thracian armed force blocking the upper slopes with carts. They pushed the carts over the edge of the slope intending no doubt not only to cause serious injury to the Macedonian soldiers but put the phalanx into disorder (thus making a counter-attack easier).

Alexander, however, avoided any casualties, firstly by ordering those men who could to step out of the carts’ way or, when that wasn’t possible, ordering them to lie on the ground with their shields on their backs so that the carts rode over them.

I have to admit, his response to the threat of the carts is so simple that it is hard to imagine anyone doing anything else. But while I could imagine any general ordering his men to step out of their way, it surely takes a very creative mind to realise that we could make the carts go over us.

***

The next incident that stood out was Alexander’s crossing of the Ister (Danube) river. It seems that what he should have done was built a bridge. But, he didn’t. Instead, and as Arrian (I.4) relates, he ordered his men to sew up their tents and stuff them with hay. These were then used as floats during a crossing that took place at night.

This was a very daring plan. Prior to crossing the river, Alexander had assaulted those Triballians and Thracians who were hiding on a mid-river island. He tried to land on it but without success; one reason for this is because the current was too fast. Now, while the water in the open river would have been slower I assume it must have still been flowing at a fair speed in order to become unmanageable ‘through the narrows’ between island and land. If so, that must have made guiding the floats a difficult job. Especially at night time.

***

The next example of Alexander’s superior generalship that stood out at me was his response to being caught between Cleitus son of Bardylis in the fortified town of Pelium next to the Eordaicus River and troops belonging to Cleitus and Glaucias who held positions in the ‘commanding heights’ above the town.

Had Alexander made a wrong move here, he could have been killed and his army wiped out. So, how did he even the odds? Not by brute force but by employing psychological warfare.

This sounds very grand but as Arrian (I.6) tells us, Alexander simply drilled his men. Simply? He had them ‘execute various intricate movements’ and had them do so silently.

Glaucias’ and Cleitus’ armies – much larger than Alexander’s – were scared to death by the Macedonians’ discipline. As they watched the enemy soldiers go through their paces the silence must have deafened them. When, finally, Alexander ‘called on his men to raise the war-cry’, well, you can imagine what that must have done to the tribal armies frayed nerves. Unsurprisingly, it lead to those on the heights withdrawing from their positions.

To be fair to the tribesmen, not all fell back. One group stayed on a hill that Alexander needed to cross. When he approached it, however, the enemy fled.

With the hill secured, Alexander made his way to the Eordaicus. Crossing it would bring him to safety. As the Macedonians waded through the water, Glaucias’ men attacked them in the rear. The tribesmen didn’t have the guts for a fight, though, for they were careful to keep out of range of the Macedonian archers. Alexander’s shock-and-awe tactic was an on-going success.

***

Of the three events that I  have mentioned in this post, it is the third that impresses me most. It not only required Alexander to make the right decision in a seemingly impossible situation but his army to hold firm as well. This highlights the fact that a great general, even one of genius, as Alexander was, needs a good army in order to display his talents. In the Macedonian army, Alexander was fortunate to have one of the finest ever to march across the earth.

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Perdiccas: The Great Betrayer?

Over on my Tumblr page I am currently writing a read-through of the eighteenth book of Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History – his account of the wars of Alexander’s successors. Today’s post covers the twenty-fourth and fifth chapters of the Library. You can read it here.

While writing the post I was very struck by the fact that Antipater and Craterus were not only surprised but ‘dumbfounded’ when Antigonus Monophthalmus informed them that Perdiccas intended to marry Alexander’s sister, Cleopatra, as a means to make himself king of her brother’s empire.

I’m not surprised by their shock. Perdiccas, after all, was the man to whom Alexander gave his ring of office on his deathbed (Diodorus XVII.117; Curtius X.5.4). The dying king must, therefore, have trusted Perdiccas to ensure that if it were possible for an Argead (e.g. his as yet unborn son) to inherit the throne his deputy – Hephaestion’s successor – would be able to make it happen. And if Alexander thought that, then surely the other generals did, too. It seems that Antipater and Craterus certainly did. Yet here Perdiccas was, all of a sudden, aiming to make himself king.

The title of my post is ‘Perdiccas’ Betrayal’. If there is an ounce of truth in Diodorus’ words I can’t think of how anyone could have betrayed Alexander more. For he betrayed him not only personally but surely by encouraging those other generals who were not so loyal to the idea of an Argead succession but who, had Perdiccas remained faithful to the late king, might have swallowed their ambitions all the same.

***

Of course, there is an objection to my dim view of Perdiccas, and it is sourced in the texts. According to Diodorus, Alexander was asked to whom he left his kingdom. He did not say ‘his son’ but ‘to the strongest’ (D. XVII.117) or ‘to the best man’ (Curtius X.5.5). My objection to this is that a. Arrian(VII.26) – taking his cue from Ptolemy and Aristobulos – says that Alexander could not speak at the end of his life and b. It would make no sense for Antipater or Craterus to be surprised by Perdiccas’ betrayal if they knew that Alexander wanted ‘simply’ the strongest or greatest man to inherit his throne rather than his son.

  • As visitors to this blog may have noticed, I have been very remiss in updating The Second Achilles for a while now. For this, I apologise; I am in a busy stage of life but have to admit I haven’t used my time as well as I could have to publish posts here. Within the time that I have I would like to change that. I’m not sure how I will yet, but one idea is to write short posts like this one giving my thoughts on Diodorus as I write the read through. If you find short posts like this one helpful, or not so, do feel free to let me know in the comments box or via e-mail thesecondachilles@gmail.com
Categories: Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Quintus Curtius Rufus, The Wars of the Successors | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

The Road to Marakanda – Spring 328 B.C.

In the Spring of 328 B.C., the Macedonian army campaigned in Bactria and Sogdia. The native people had closed the gates of their forts to Alexander and needed to be reminded who was in charge.

I say ‘the Macedonian army’ quite deliberately for it does not appear as if Alexander himself took part in the operation.

At least, not according to Arrian. He recounts how, after leaving Zariaspa, the Macedonian king put Attalus, Gorgias, Polyperchon and Meleager in charge of subduing Bactria, and Coenus and Artabazus (together), Hephaestion, Perdiccas and Ptolemy in charge of subduing Sogdia.

As for Alexander himself, he

… proceeded with [the rest of the army] in the direction of Marakanda, while the the other four commanders carried out offensive operations.

It is possible that he attacked Sogdian settlements along the way, but the fact that Arrian distinguishes between Alexander’s actions and those of his four commanders suggests to me that Arrian didn’t think so.

This passage has been on my mind for a while for it seems quite strange that Alexander would choose to miss an opportunity to win take part in a military operation.

Did he see the ‘offensive operations’ as no more than a bit of mopping up, and so unworthy of his attention?

The fact that Alexander had to split his army into as many as nine divisions, excluding his own, would suggest that the threat posed by the Bactrians and Sogdians was no small matter, if anything, the reverse.

Perhaps he had business to take care of in Marakanda? Arrian doesn’t mention any. However, the city had been put under siege twice by Spitamenes the previous year (Arrian IV.5,7). I am guessing, therefore, that Alexander wanted to assign new men to the garrison (Curtius VII.10.11*) that had held it over the winter. This, of course, is a job that could have been done by one of the king’s generals – Hephaestion, for example, whom some scholars tell us was not a particularly good soldier.

At first sight, the other sources are not helpful in working out what Alexander was up to in the Spring of 328 B.C. Plutarch covers the period of the Bactria-Sogdia campaign in Chapters 50-58 of his Life but says nothing about the army’s military operations. The same is the case with Justin (who covers the same period in XII.7 of his epitome). Diodorus might have done but unfortunately, the relevant section of his account has been lost.

That leaves us with Curtius. After bringing Alexander out of his winter quarters at Zariaspa (VII.10.13-16), Curtius appears to confuse the early 328 campaign with another set of events** before having Alexander build some cities and move on to the Sogdian Rock.

This most famous siege took place in 327 B.C. It appears, therefore, that Curtius has misdated it. Thus, at the start of Book Eight, he follows in Arrian’s footsteps by describing how Alexander divided his army into three (between himself, Hephaestion and Coenus***) and with his men ‘once more subdued the Sogdians and returned to Maracanda’ (VIII.1.7) (my emphasis]).

So, if Curtius is to be believed, Alexander did take part in the campaign before reaching Marakanda. And, I have to admit, that seems the more believable version of events.

However, if asked to chose who I believe – him or Arrian – I’m not sure that I wouldn’t stick with Arrian. Curtius can be such an unreliable historian.

As already mentioned, he gets the date of the Siege of the Sogdian Rock wrong. After bringing Alexander to Marakanda, Curtius has him speak to Derdas, whom he sent into the territory of the Scythians over the Tanais River the previous year (VII.6.12) as well as ‘a deputation of that people’ (VIII.1.7) who offered him their allegiance and the hand of the king’s daughter. Arrian, by contrast, places these events in Spring, while Alexander was still in Zariaspa (A IV.15).

As can be seen, Curtius appears to have a particular problem with accurate dating. In this light, I wonder if his account of Alexander’s actions in Sogdia at VIII.7 could be a reference to Alexander’s Autumn 329 campaign against the Sogdians, subsequent arrival in Zariaspa and meeting with the Scythians per Arrian.

And yet… and yet… As you can see, I am Hamlet-like in my indecision! The reason for this is that I just can’t think of a convincing reason why Alexander would not have joined the campaign while he was on his way to Marakanda.

Actually, there is one possible reason – injury and/or ill health. The previous year, Alexander’s leg was broken by an arrow (A III.30); he also suffered a slingshot blow to the head and neck (A IV.3) and a severe bout of dysentery but surely he would have recovered from the worst effect of these by Spring 328?

* Curtius says that Alexander left a 3,000 strong garrison in Sogdia. I take it that some even if not all of them stayed in Marakanda
** The Notes in my edition of Curtius say he could be thinking of the rebellion of Arsaces in Aria and Barzanes in Parthia and their capture by Stasanor
*** I don’t count this as an error on Curtius’ part – it could be him ‘telescoping’ the story in order to focus on the principle player(s) in it

Categories: Arrian, Finding Alexander, On Alexander, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Torture in Arrian and Plutarch

Part 2 Torture in Curtius (I)

This week, the American Senate published a report into the use of torture by the CIA following the 11th September attacks in 2001. You can read about it at The Daily Telegraph here.

The report got me thinking about how often torture is mentioned by the Alexander historians and in what context. As I have Arrian’s, Curtius’ and Plutarch’s books in e-book format I typed ‘torture’ in to the search field to see what came back. Here is what I found.

Arrian
Arrian only mentions torture twice, and both times in connection with the same incident (in VI.30). In the winter of 325 B.C., Alexander reached Pasargadae, on his way back to Babylon from the Hyphasis River. There, he stopped to visit the tomb of Cyrus the Great.
CyrustheGreatTombMuch to his distress, Alexander found that the tomb had been ‘broken into and robbed’. Aristobulos was given orders to restore it.

The desecration of the tomb was all the more vexing for Alexander as it was supposed to be under permanent guard by the Magi. Alexander

… had the Magi who guarded the monument arrested and put to the torture, hoping to extort from them the names of the culprits; but even under torture they were silent, neither confessing their own guilt nor accusing anybody else.

In consequence of this, Alexander was obliged to release the prisoner.

What comes out most strongly when reading this passage is the matter-of-factness of it all. Alexander suspected the guard of wrong-doing, had him arrested and tortured, then released him. End of story.

For his part, Arrian makes no judgement regarding whether he thinks the torture justified or not*. Given that he is not afraid to criticise Alexander on other occasions when he thinks him in the wrong I take Arrian’s silence to be acceptance of what happened. It’s possible he doesn’t care to make a comment but would that be his style?

* I note the use of the word ‘extort’ which is a pejorative one but as I don’t know the original Greek word used it is hard to comment on it

Plutarch
The word ‘torture’ appears three times in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander, and in connection with two separate incidents – the Philotas Affair and Pages’ Plot.

Chapter 49

… Philotas’ enemies brought innumerable accusations against him. He was arrested, interrogated and tortured in the presence of the king’s companions, while Alexander himself listened to the examination from behind a curtain.

Plutarch spends hardly any more time on what happened to Philotas than Arrian did on the Magus but does reveal something of Philotas’ suffering and who at least one of the companions mentioned above was. As he hid behind the curtain, Alexander

… heard Philotas uttering broken and pitiful cries and pleas for mercy to Hephaestion…

This is the reality of torture that Arrian omits. For his part, Alexander is unmoved. In fact, Plutarch has him criticise his old friend.

… [Alexander] exclaimed, ‘Ah, Philotas, if you are so weak and unmanly as this, how could you involve yourself in such a dangerous business?’

I suppose from Alexander’s point-of-view it is a fair question. Whether or not Philotas was really guilty, though, is entirely another matter. That, however, is an issue for another post. To go back to Chapter 49, Plutarch notes that Philotas’ execution and his father, Parmenion’s murder, by Alexander caused the king to become ‘dreaded by many of his friends, above all by Antipater’.

The viceroy had particular reason to worry – not so much because of Parmenion’s and Philotas’ death – but because Alexander also took this opportunity to finally execute Alexander Lyncestis, whom he had held under arrest for the last three years on suspicion of treachery.

This Alexander was Antipater’s son-in-law and had been arrested in Asia Minor but I think Alexander did not want to risk executing him there in case doing so caused a confrontation with Antipater. Now, the viceroy approached the city of Aetolia to make an alliance with them.

Chapter 55
Plutarch does not tell the full story of the Pages’ Plot. As Curtius does, and we’ll come to him in the next post, I won’t go into the details here. In Plutarch’s version, it appears that after the Pages’ conspiracy was discovered Alexander’s agents learnt that (its leader) Hermolaus had asked the court historian, Callisthenes, ‘how he might become the most famous of men’ to which Callisthenes had replied ‘By killing the most famous of men’.

Callsithenes spoke most unwisely. He may have been Alexander’s historian but was not liked in the court. He was proud and vain. This had lead him to refuse to do obsequience to the king when he had demanded it*. That in turn gave his enemies the opportunity to slander him.

If Callisthenes had gone no further with Hermolaus perhaps he might have got away with his loose tongue. Instead, Plutarch says that Callisthenes encouraged Hermolaus to assassinate the king. This, too, came to the agents’ attention.

The conspirators were tortured to see if more evidence against Callisthenes could be uncovered. However,

… not one of Hermolaus’ accomplices, even under the stress of torture, denounced Callisthenes. Indeed, Alexander himself, in the letters which he immediately wrote to Craterus, Attalus and Alcetas, says that the youths had confessed under torture that the conspiracy was entirely their own and that nobody else knew of it.

This was not enough to save Callisthenes’ life. The conspirators were executed and Callisthenes arrested. His eventual fate depends on who you read but the different accounts all end one way – with his death. For the record, Plutarch doesn’t say that he was tortured.

As for the Pages, though, Plutarch gives no further details regarding their torture.

* This was especially damaging as he had apparently promised Hephaestion of all people that he would bow to the king. If this is true, he had made Alexander’s best friend look stupid in front of Alexander – an intolerable insult

***

So, there we are, and I have to say that I was quite surprised by the scarcity of references to torture in Arrian and Plutarch.

Luckily for me, although that is probably not the right word to use, I know that the word crops up quite a few times in Curtius. Well, he is supposed to be interested in the lurid side of Alexander’s life.

Another surprise was that Arrian does not mention it with reference to Philotas at all. Philotas’ supposed treachery is mentioned but Ptolemy – Arrian’s named source for the story – says that Parmenion’s son was put on trial, accused with ‘irrefutable proofs’, and then shot. I wonder if he glossed over what happened out of embarrassment over Philotas’ and Parmenion’s treatment.

Categories: Arrian, Plutarch | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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