By the Bye

Catching Up

My last blog post was on 22nd August. Since then, I have been very busy on my Alexander the Great Facebook page.

In an effort to give it purpose, I decided to start writing short daily posts for it. I began in September, and have not missed a day since.

To date, the posts have usually – though not always – been along the following lines:

Monday – ‘Marshal Monday’ in which I use my copy of Waldemar Heckel’s Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great to write three sets of three facts about one of Alexander’s marshals
Tuesday – Random. Could be a quotation, a link to a video, something about one of his generals etc
Wednesday – Art. A work of art either by itself or with a quotation or some of my thoughts added
Thursday – Usually a quotation from one of the Alexander historians and perhaps a few of my thoughts
Friday – ‘The Road to Alexander’ A chronology of dates from the Persian Wars to Alexander using Timothy Venning’s A Chronology of Ancient Greece
Saturday – Humour. One or more funny memes
Sunday – ‘Scholarly Sunday’ a quotation from an Alexander scholar, either by itself or with some of my thoughts added

Writing these posts has been very enjoyable. The downside, of course, is that it has totally distracted me from the blog. So, now I am wondering what its purpose is.

This is not a prelude to me saying I am going to stop writing it. What I would like to do is occasionally or on a regular basis publish some of the Facebook posts here, either as they are, or, adapted. My preference would be to do the latter. Simply copying and pasting them would be rather dull; wouldn’t it be much better to use the original versions as springboards to learning something new and sharing it?

For now, here is a brief outline of what I wrote about last week:

Facebook aside, I have started reading two books about Alexander:

Philip & Alexander by Adrian Goldsworthy. I’m only a few chapters into this so its much too early to offer an opinion of it. I have read one or two of Goldsworthy’s books and liked him so have high hopes for this one.

Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great by A. B. Bosworth. I am reading this for the Alexander the Great Reading Group, which I am a member of on Facebook (check the group out here). Again, I am too early in the book to be able to say much about it.

Any Other Business
I receive daily Google Alerts relating to Alexander. Recently, I received one that linked to yet another online article that states that Alexander was unable to conquer Afghanistan. Apart from the fact that Afghanistan didn’t exist in Alexander’s day, he did conquer the two countries that occupied what is now Afghan territory – Bactria and Sogdia. It was a very difficult conquest, and not a very stable one, but conquer it he did. Something I would like to do soon is write a post or two outlining as clearly as possible what happened between 330-327 BC when he was in the region.

A while ago, I realised that I did not have a clear outline in my mind of Alexander’s Indian campaign – when it started, when he was in particular places, when it ended, etc. To rectify this, I have started putting together a chronology based on the chronologies provided by the Livius website (here) and some of the Alexander books I own.

I have only just started this project and I fear I will not get firm answers to some of my questions. For example, I have seen Alexander’s arrival in India as ranging from Autumn 327 to February 326.

Finally, I am always interested in finding points of connection between contemporary events and Alexander. For example, in respect of the coronavirus, it’s interesting how in the thirteen years of his kingship his army was never once seriously troubled by disease. This despite their lack of knowledge about hygiene. Curtius mentions an outbreak of disease caused by the decomposing bodies on the battlefield of Gaugamela (Curt. V.1.11) but it didn’t cause the Macedonians too much trouble: they dealt with it simply by moving on. He also mentions the fact that some of Alexander’s men were afflicted by a skin disease after entering a salt lake near the Indus River. It was contagious but seems to have been easily treatable (Curt. IX.10.1-2). I’d like to do more of this kind of thing, and dive a little deeper, too, if I can.

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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.

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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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Catching Up: 23rd June 2019

Reporting the arrival of a new book about Alexander will never not be exciting. Therefore, I am delighted to mention the lately published Alexander the Great from Britain to Southeast Asia by Su Fang Ng.

Unfortunately, this is an academic book, so while it is no doubt of the highest quality, it is also of the highest price – £90 (hardback).

I am very lucky in that I am a member of the London Library, which if I ask it would hopefully purchase a copy but otherwise, it’s a shame that Su Fang Ng’s knowledge will be pretty much limited to university students and teachers.

You can read more about the book at the Oxford University Press’s website here

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Popculture reports a rape allegation against President Donald Trump. Author E. Jean Carroll,

… recalled [Trump] talking “about himself like he’s Alexander the Great ready to loot Babylon” as they tried to decide the best gift for the woman Trump was shopping for.

Caitlynn Hitt, Popculture

Alexander visited Babylon twice – once in late 331 BC, following the Battle of Gaugamela, and then again in May-June 323. In 331, the Macedonian king gave his soldiers leave to enjoy themselves but not to loot the city. That would come when they arrived in Persepolis at the end of the January 330.

In 323, the army returned to Babylon in an orderly fashion (in contrast to its ‘march’ across Carmania) and kept its discipline until Alexander’s death on 10th/11th June. Without an established heir to take over command, order started to break down. But this did not lead the Macedonians to turn on the city, however, only each other. The situation was eventually rescued by the ruthless actions of Perdiccas.

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The Conversation has a long and fascinating article on how ‘Neoliberalism has tricked us into believing a fairytale about where money comes from’. You can read it, here. The writer mentions Alexander several times, most notably when she says that he,

… is said to have used half a ton of silver a day to fund his largely mercenary army rather than a share of the spoils (the traditional payment). 

Mary Mellor, The Conversation

Alexander certainly used mercenaries but to the best of my knowledge they were never in a majority in his army. I don’t have any figures to hand but I am quite intrigued by the question of how many mercenaries he did use so will commit myself to seeing if I can find out this week.

In regards the use of spoils – of course, Alexander did use spoils to pay his men but certainly not as often as some other generals would have done.

***

An interesting article in The National Herald looking at the history of the antagonism between the West and Iran. The writer observes,

The Macedonian conqueror of Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan and Punjab was called Alexander the Great not because of his military achievements, because he took the title of Great from Darius III the Great.

Aakar Patel, The National Herald

To the best of my knowledge, no one calls Darius III the Great. Given his record, why would they. The writer is surely thinking of Darius I. On that point, I have never seen anyone compare Alexander to Darius I. I can only wonder where he got the idea that Alexander’s sobriquet is lifted from Darius rather than his success in battle from.

The first known person to call Alexander the Great was a Roman playwright named Titus Maccius Plautus (254 – 184 BC) in a play named Mostellaria. From what I know of the play, Alexander is given the sobriquet on account of his deeds but I will try and find out more and report back.

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Catching Up: 29th May 2019

If you are a new visitor to The Second Achilles, welcome to the blog. I hope you enjoy what you read here. If you are an occasional or regular reader, welcome back!

In today’s post: a novel, a Commentary and Donations

Dancing With The Lion: Becoming and Rise
by Jeanne Reames

Reames is a scholar of Alexander and now a novelist. Volume I: Becoming is published on 1st July this year and Volume II: Rise on 21st October. Just in time for my birthday a few days later.

Jeanne Reames’ website can be found here, and her page dedicated to Dancing with the Lion, here. There’s a lot to read so definitely take a look. I particularly liked the Homeric quotation – ‘Always to excel and claim renown over others’ – and hearing it in ancient Greek. Alexander’s music play list, though, was a nice bonus, though will no doubt prove controversial!

***

A Historical Commentary on Arrian’s History of Alexander, Vol I
A. B. Bosworth

I took my copy of the OUP 2013 translation of Arrian with me to Spain to read while on the Camino. Unfortunately, I had to get rid of it after just a few days as part of a drive to reduce the weight of my backpack. And as I spent so much money on the Camino I can’t yet afford to buy another copy. As it is such an important book to me, I went to my library yesterday and took out their copy.

While there, I came across a copy of A. B. Bosworth’s Historical Commentary Vol I (covering books I-III). I took it out straight away. Now, obviously I am going to read it, but I’m not sure how. I think I might just dip in and out of it; if I have time, I’ll make a note of any comments that stand out and mention them here.

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Donations
I have added a Donate to the Blog page at the top of the blog. As soon as I can work out how to do it, I’ll add a Paypal button to the sidebar as well. In doing so, I feel all the awkwardness associated with talking about money so please feel free to ignore this and get on with doing what I would most like you to do – enjoy reading the blog. The reason for the donate option is practical – the blog and life in general costs money. There are a million good causes in the world that all deserve money more than me so I don’t know if the Donate option will be used but after eight years of writing The Second Achilles, nine of updating the Facebook page and ten writing the Twitter Macedonians I hope I have proved myself to be serious about him.

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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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Some Weekend Reads

An article on the Ekathimerini website looks to the past in order to make sense of the present. If you would like to know about Alexander, fake news, and the end of ancient Athenian democracy then click here.

I have no comment to make about the current situation vis-a-vis North Macedonia, Greece, Russia et al but I will say that I did not like the description of Philip II as a ‘a Trump-level warlord’. Donald Trump is not a warlord, and you can be sure that if he was, he would not be one of the same level as Philip.

Philip II was as skilled a diplomat as he was a general. He deserves better than to be compared to Trump.

Also, I am still trying to work out how the writer can blame Alexander for an example of fake news that happened after he died and as a result of the actions of another person. Stratocles used Alexander to achieve his aim.

So Alexander is an eerie symbol in the name conflict. Hopefully, the Macedonian kings’ disdain for democracy will not prevail in the region.

As above, it’s Stratocles’ name that should appear here but it has to be said, Alexander did engage in fakery when it suited his interests – think of how he forged one of Darius’ letters to him.

***

Alexander and Hephaestion make a list of National Geographic‘s Top 10, Red-Hot (no less), Power Couples here. Our lack of knowledge regarding what we know of their relationship means that you can take Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s inclusion in this list as seriously or not according to your preference. That aside, the caption provided with the image of the two contains a couple of interesting statements:

  1. ‘Many historians believe the two were lovers but ended the amorous side of their relationship when it was time to marry and start a family.’ I have never read a historian who believed that this was the case. If it is true, though, why did no one tell Bagoas?
  2. Hephaestion and Alexander ‘were said to look so much alike, that some couldn’t tell them apart.’ Some needed to open their eyes – just like Sisygambis did when she mistook Hephaestion for Alexander because he was the taller of the two and better looking.

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Read a very short history of the Vergina Star at Neos Kosmos here.

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Who is to blame for the conflict between North Macedonia (formerly the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and Greece? Philip II and Alexander III, apparently:

The ultimate source of the problem – or at least the justification for the problem from the Greek perspective – has to be laid at the feet of Philip II of Macedon and, even more squarely, at those of his son Alexander the Great. If father and son hadn’t literally put Macedon on the map, modern day Greeks wouldn’t have been able to claim copyright over the place name. (my emphasis)

If I read this correctly, the writer is saying that Macedon did not exist before Philip and Alexander’s time, that they created it. Well, he said with a sigh, it’s an argument. At first glance, it also looks like a lunatic assertion but let’s not assume that the writer has lost his senses. What is he really saying? For me, the rest of the article does not shed any further light on the matter so it’ll have to remain an open question for now. If you would like to read the full article (at the History News Network website) you can do so here.

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Greek Reporter‘s list of the Top 10 archaeological finds in Greece over the last decade puts the Amphipolis tomb at Number One. You can read the complete list here. One quibble: Alexander died in Babylon, not Baghdad; the two are separate places.

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Hello to anyone visiting this blog from my Alexander Facebook page. If you have any comments regarding the North Macedonia links, please leave them here, not on Fb. Because the Greece-North Macedonia dispute can inflame tempers and lead to unpleasant ‘discussions’, I delete any comments relating to it there.

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Some Weekend Reads

IFL Science reports on the find of 50 mummies on the west bank of the Nile. You can read the article here. They may come from the Ptolemaic era. Reading the article, I was taken by the fact that they were found thirty feet below ground. Does this mean Ptolemy I’s Alexandria is now that far below ground as well?

“In 334 BCE, Alexander the Great set out to conquer the world.” We don’t actually know for sure that he did but this article on the Bookriot website is a nice little run down of facts about the Great Library of Alexandria, which either he or Ptolemy I Soter – not Demetrius of Phaleron as the article states – founded.

A neat little biography of Alexander can be found here at the National Geographic website. It contains a couple of interesting statements that I wouldn’t mind exploring in the future – that Alexander was not ‘much of a diplomat’ and that the Macedonian army became ‘mutinous’ in India.

The Ten Best Generals of All Time – According to Ethan Arsht. You can read the short version at Business Insider‘s website here, or Mr Arsht’s article here. Warning: it involves maths! This warning is really for me as I am useless at numbers but I will try to read Mr. Arsht’s article even though – shock, horror – he does not put Alexander at No. 1.

Book Review: The Land of the Elephant Kings: Space, Territory, and Ideology in the Seleucid Empire by Paul J. Kosmin. This is a short review at the StrategyPage website of a book that will be of interest to anyone who is serious about the Seleucids.

Could you be the next Seleucus I Nikator? Antigonus Monophthalmus? Scipio Africanus? Gamasutra and the makers of the ‘grand strategy’ game Imperator: Rome look forward to its release in late April here.

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Some Weekend Reads

Happy February! If you would like to read about what Alexander got up to around this time of year, read this blog post.

CoinWeek has started a series based on coins of the Seleucid dynasty (c.305/304-64 BC). It’s well worth a read if you are interested in Hellenistic coinage or would like an overview of the Seleucid kings. The link will take you to part one in the series.

Who can be surprised at this? Inquisitor reports that a Graeco-Roman winery has been discovered on the banks of the Nile. It was probably founded by Ptolemy I for his Macedonian friends as they sailed up and down the river!

If you are looking for a short biography of Alexander, then Greek Reporter has your back. If you are already familiar with Alexander’s life, the article is still worth reading to see if the writer’s understanding of Alexander matches your own. For instance, do you think this statement correct: ‘What are now the modern-day countries of Turkey, Syria, Israel, Egypt, and the entirety of the modern-day Arab world, became Greek in less than ten years’ time.’ (emphasis mine)?

This story has appeared all over the internet over the last few days: ‘Otago academic offers new explanation for Alexander the Great’s death‘. This headline comes from Voxy. It’s a creepy, painful and fascinating story. I’m very grateful to the person on my Alexander Facebook page who said that they had spoken to Dr. Hall who told them that she thought Alexander would have lost his higher functions by the time he was mummified; he wouldn’t have felt anything.

Are you in Liverpool (U.K.) at 6pm on 21st February this year? If you are, you could attend this adventurously titled lecture The Further Adventures of Alexander the Great – Boyfriend, Gay Warrior, Porn King. More details can be found on Liverpool University’s website here.

Your occasional reminder that (a) Afghanistan didn’t exist in Alexander the Great’s day and (b) he defeated its predecessor people – the Bactrians and Sogdians – during the course of his eastward march. His victory was not a lasting one but it was still a victory. Why am I mentioning this? Read this article at We Are The Mighty.

Finally, could the dispute between Greece and the Former Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) regarding the use of the name ‘Macedonia’ by the latter finally be over? The BBC reports here that the Greek Parliament has approved FYROM’s name change to North Macedonia. I have to admit that I don’t understand how ‘North Macedonia’ can be a more satisfactory name than the ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ so am very glad that this blog is focused on Alexander rather than modern Balkan politics.

BTW If you have come to this post from my Alexander Facebook page and would like to comment on the Greece/FYROM story, please do so on the blog; if you do so on the Fb page I will have to delete it. It’s not that I don’t want to hear from you, but the issue is so controversial that any mention of it will quickly lead to insults and barbs.

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The Carving of the World

The headline reads ‘Vandals paste ‘butcher’ sign on Alexander the Great statue’. You can read the full report here.

Was Alexander the Great a butcher? In answering this question we have to be careful that we don’t do so with a twenty-first century mindset.

The reason for this is simple. If we impose our morality on Alexander we learn nothing about him and only a little – that is not good – about ourselves. Alexander lived, after all, in the fourth century B.C. not the twenty-first A.D.

So what about in terms of fourth century B.C. morality? Was he a butcher? I don’t have a firm answer to this yet, but at the moment I am leaning towards yes. There was no international law that stated what was and wasn’t acceptable in combat back then but there were definitely times when Alexander and his men went too far (e.g. the destruction of Thebes and terrorising of the civilian population in India) in the prosecution of campaign war aims.

No one should be insulted by Alexander being called a butcher. He was a king and a general. That was always going to involve bloodshed. Always. And sometimes, he would go too far. If one wishes to know the real Alexander, one has to accept that this happened.

But also that more happened, or rather, didn’t happen because on other occasions Alexander reigned his men in; prevented blood from being spilt. For example, which was the last city to be sacked before Persepolis? Gaza. Between them, Alexander passed through Pelusium, Memphis, Babylon and Susa without allowing the cities or their citizens to be harmed. He could easily have put any or all of these cities to the sword. His men would have been delighted if he had.

And by-and-bye, though our focus is always naturally on Alexander the conqueror, it is also worthwhile remembering that his life involved more than fighting. We get a glimpse of it in the sources – for example, his love of medicine, of literature, and of philosophy. You may call Alexander a butcher if you like, and in a way, you would not be wrong, but if you do, or if you insist upon its primacy as a way of understanding him you run the very real risk of missing out on the other facets of his character instead revealing only your own prejudices.

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