Diodorus Siculus

II: Performance Review II (The Macedonian Army)

29th September – Two days until the 2,348th anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela. And not for the first time, but definitely the last, I am writing this a day late. In light of the heading to this post, today’s question will not be a surprise – ‘How did the Macedonian army perform in the battle?’

In answering this question we obviously come up against the same problem as when we looked at the Persian army (here) – our sources’ accounts of the Battle of Gaugamela are incomplete and biased.

There’s not much we can do about that, other than be wary of the texts rather than give all our trust to them. The same, by the way, applies to this post and, indeed, blog as a whole. I hope no one ever takes what I say as gospel. Let it be a springboard to your own research rather than a conclusion.

So, let’s jump in. As ever, I start with Arrian, who offers the best overall account of the battle.

How to rate the Macedonian army? 10/10, surely. It won the battle, after all; what more could we ask for?

A perfect performance, however, would have required a crushing victory; a victory with no setbacks and minimal casualties. Such triumphs only occur in fantasy novels.

Arrian comes close to going there. He presents Alexander’s victory as happening without any serious setbacks. The Persians put up stiff opposition but never for too long.

Thus, if the Scythian and Bactrian cavalry launch a counter-charge after being attacked by Menidas and the mercenary cavalry it only lasts until the arrival of Aretes and the Paeonians (Ar.III.13.3)

And if the Scythians and Bactrians start inflicting a greater number of casualties upon the Macedonians, the latter will stand up to them and ultimately break them (Ar.III.13.4).

And again, if Darius launches his scythed chariots against the Macedonian phalanx, the Agrianians and Balacrus’ javelin men will quickly dispose of them before the the scythes can do too much damage. And any chariot that makes it as far as the phalanx will quickly be dealt with there (Ar.III.13.5-6).

So it continues. Darius tries to envelope the Macedonian right wing (Ar.III.14.1) only for his cavalry to find itself under attack by the resourceful Aretes (Ar.III.14.3). And when the Persians break through the Macedonian phalanx and attack the enemy camp, they soon come under attack from the phalanx’ second line (Ar.III.14.5-6).

Persian Strike – Macedonian Counter-Strike is a common theme of Arrian’s account of the Battle of Gaugamela.

As it happens, Arrian breaks this thematic structure when he mentions how Simmias was forced to help the Macedonian left wing rather than join the pursuit of Darius (Ar.III.14.4). Arrian moves from Simmias straight to the Persian attack on the Macedonian camp, and Simmias isn’t mentioned again until his trial following the downfall of Philotas (Ar.III.27.1-3). If, that is, they are the same man.

However, insofar as Simmias and his battalion are forced to help the under pressure Macedonian left wing we can tie him not only to its near destruction but also to its eventual victory: Persian Strike – Macedonian Counter-Strike.

So, to go back to the question – the Macedonian army performed very well. It soaked up the Persian pressure and then hit back to achieve ultimate success.

A new question – which element of Alexander’s army performed the best of all?

For me, that answer is easy: the Thessalian cavalry. The Macedonian left wing, led by Parmenion, was not only under great pressure, but in serious danger of being destroyed by Mazaeus’ cavalry. The left wing was saved, and the inevitable Macedonian counter-strike was delivered, by the Thessalian cavalry.

The best in Greece proved themselves to be the best in the world by taking on their only rivals and, after the hardest of struggles, defeating them.

In so doing, the Thessalians not only saved the day but saved Alexander’s life, kingship, ambition, reputation and legacy. As a whole, they did what Black Cleitus did as an individual at the Granicus River.

The idea of Persian Strike – Macedonian Counter-Strike is surely a literary one. Real battles do not happen in such a neat fashion. However, because nearly all the sources refer to the Thessalian counter-strike that won the day for the Macedonian left I am confident that it really happened.

Here is what the sources say:

Arrian III.15.1;15.3
‘… the Thessalian cavalry had put up a brilliant fight which matched Alexander’s own success…’
Curtius IV.16.1-6
[Parmenion rallies the fading Thessalians] ‘His words rang true, and fresh hope revived their drooping spirits. At a gallop they charged their enemy, who started to give ground not just gradually but swiftly…’
Diodorus XVII.60
‘At this time Mazaeus, the commander of the Persian right wing, with the most and the best of the cavalry, was pressing hard on those opposing him, but Parmenion with the Thessalian cavalry and the rest of his forces put up a stout resistance. For a time, fighting brilliantly, he even seemed to have the upper hand thanks to the fighting qualities of the Thessalians… [Mazaeus, however, fought back and Parmenion sent messengers to Alexander to ask for help] … Parmenion handled the Thessalian squadrons with the utmost skill and finally, killing many of the enemy, routed the Persians’…
doesn’t mention the left wing
Plutarch Life of Alexander 33
‘[Alexander] learnt on his way [to help Parmenion] that the enemy had been utterly defeated and put to flight.’

As we applaud the Thessalians we should also applaud the one man who, if Curtius and Diodorus are correct, led and inspired them: Parmenion. It’s a shame Arrian doesn’t mention him but as I write these words I can think of no reason to doubt Curtius and Diodorus.

Categories: Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Justin, On Alexander, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: | Leave a comment

VI: The Aftermath of the Battle

25th September – Six days to go until the 2,348th anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela. Today, I am asking ‘What happened in the aftermath of the battle?’

As we saw yesterday, Darius fled from the battlefield. Arrian states that Alexander pursued him only to turn back when he received a message from Parmenion informing him that the Macedonian left wing was in trouble ‘and needed help’ (Ar. III.15.1).

As the king and his men rode back towards the battle, they came across some fleeing Persian cavalry. Arrian tells us that this enemy unit was made up of Parthyaeans, Indians, ‘and the largest and best section of the Persian cavalry’ (Ibid).

The Persians were in flight but they had not lost their heads. Rather than try to flee from Alexander and his men, they engaged them. ‘What ensued was the fiercest cavalry battle of the whole action’ (Ar. III.15.2). We have to give the Persians a lot of credit here. The battle was lost. What were they fighting for? Survival, sure, but I like to think honour as well. Either way – they fought bravely. Who dares say that the Persians were soft?

This cavalry battle saw some significant figures in Alexander’s army wounded. Hephaestion was struck in the arm by a spear (Curtius IV.16.32) and ‘Perdiccas, Coenus and Menidas were almost killed by arrows.’ (Ibid).

The engagement ended when finally the Persians fled. Alexander let them go and returned to Parmenion. By the time he arrived, however, the Thessalian cavalry had shown their quality and turned the battle in Macedon’s favour (see Ar. III.15.3).

Seeing this, Alexander did not decide to relax. Instead, he returned to the pursuit of Darius. It was inevitable that he would do this. For as long as Darius was alive he had the ability to draw support to himself and build another army: he was still a threat. If there was any chance – any chance at all – of capturing/killing him, Alexander had to take it.

The new Lord of Asia made his way to Arbela. On the way, he crossed a river – the Lycus (modern day Great Zab) – where he stopped to give the men and horses a rest (Ar. III.15.4). Behind him, Parmenion took control of the Persian camp.

At midnight, Alexander led his men on. By the next day, he had entered Arbela. There was no sign of Darius, but his treasure and other possessions were still in situ (Ar. III.15.5).

From what Arrian says, it looks like Alexander remained in Arbela until the rest of his army caught up with him. Then, he began the journey to Babylon. He approached the city in battle order – just in case its governor, Mazaeus, who had fled to the city from the battlefield, had decided to resist him – but the Babylonians were not interested in fighting. They greeted Alexander as their new master (Ar. III.16.3).

So, that’s Alexander. As for Darius, he rode east until he came to Ecbatana. Calculating that Alexander would march south to claim the wealth of Babylon and Susa (Ar. III.16.2), he remained there until Alexander came after him having taken not just Babylon and Susa, but Persepolis as well, However, the two kings would never see each other again after the Battle of Gaugamela as Darius was betrayed and murdered by his captains during the flight from Ecbatana to Bactria.

Curtius agrees with Arrian that Alexander rode after Darius (C. IV.15.32) but turned back after receiving Parmenion’s message (C.IV.16.2). He writes that when Darius reached the Lycus river, the Great King considered tearing down the bridge, but despite the risk did not do so for the sake of his fleeing men (C. IV.16.8).

Curtius tells a sorry story of the fleeing Persians drinking muddy water to quench their thirst and drowning in the Lycus river as Alexander rode towards them. He also includes the story of the cavalry attack on Alexander as he returned – not to Parmenion, for in Curtius’ account, the Macedonian king’s deputy has already told him of the left wing’s victory – but to camp (C. IV.16.20-25).

Curtius has Darius arrive in Arbela at about midnight where he paused to hold a conference with his men (C. V.1.3-9). Alexander arrived in Arbela ‘shortly afterwards’ (C.V.1.10). According to Curtius, his camp must have still been near Gaugamela as he states that Alexander moved it quickly due to the outbreak of disease as a result of the decomposing bodies on the battlefield.

Three days after the battle, Alexander arrived at a town or village named Mennis, where – Curtius says – ‘is a cave with a stream that pours forth huge quantities of bitumen’ (C.V.1.16), of which the walls of Babylon are made.

And speaking of Babylon, Curtius agrees with Arrian again that Alexander approached the city in battle formation but that the city – led by Mazaeus – surrendered itself to him without a fight (C.V.1.17-19).

Diodorus has Darius flee and Alexander pursue him (XVII.60). He also has Parmenion struggle against Mazaeus and send for help to Alexander (Ibid). However, Unlike Arrian, Curtius and Plutarch, the messengers do not reach Alexander, who is too far away. It doesn’t matter, though, for Parmenion eventually gains the upper hand and leads his men to victory (Ibid).

The injuries to Hephaestion, Perdiccas, Coenus and Menidas are mentioned (XVII.61). Diodorus then breaks to describe events back in Greece before coming back to Darius. As with Arrian, he makes his way to Ecbatana where he starts collecting men for a new army (XVII.64).

As for Alexander, he buries his dead and makes his way to Arbela where he finds so much Persian treasure. From there, he goes to Babylon where ‘the people received him gladly’ (Ibid). There is no mention of Mennis, or bitumen/naphtha.

As might be expected, Justin’s account of the aftermath is very short. He agrees with Curtius (IV.15.30) that Darius considered killing himself. But whereas Curtius suggests that Darius decided instead to flee, Justin (XI.14) has the Great King’s officers persuade their lord to escape.

During Darius’ flight, Justin brings him to the Cydnus river. Given that the Cydnus is in Cilicia (Asia Minor) this must be a scribal error. Justin also introduces the idea of the bridge being destroyed. But whereas Curtius says that Darius thought about doing it (IV.16.8), Justin has some of his officers recommend that the Great King order its destruction. As with Curtius, however, Darius declines for the sake of his men to carry out the operation (Ibid).

And that’s that. Justin doesn’t cover Alexander’s pursuit of Darius or his march on Babylon.

Plutarch’s account of the aftermath of the battle is much truncated. Nevertheless, we see Darius fleeing and Alexander being forced to end his pursuit after Parmenion’s men come to him for help. By the time Alexander arrives on the Macedonian left wing, however, Parmenion has led his men to victory (Life 33).

Plutarch does not cover Alexander’s arrival in Babylon. He does, however, seem to tell a different version of Curtius’ Mennis story. Instead of Mennis, however, Plutarch has Alexander march through Babylonia until he arrives in Ecbatana. As this is in Media a later scribe has surely mixed the names up – just like one of Justin’s scribes.

Anyway, in ‘Ecbatana’, Alexander is ‘impressed by the fissure in the earth… from which fire continually poured fourth’ (Life 35). The cause of the fire is naphtha. What follows is the rather amazing story of one of Alexander’s attendants, an ‘ugly’ man named Stephanos, who agrees to be coated in naphtha in order to demonstrate how flammable the liquid is. Needless to say, the story does not end well, although Stephanos appears to survive.

One Final Point
The Times today ran an interesting story about the discovery of a ‘lost city’ of Alexander’s. You can read the report here.

The connection to Alexander is flimsy at best. It appears to be based upon the idea that he founded the city during his pursuit of Darius after the Battle of Gaugamela.

Well, it took Alexander nearly a month after the battle to reach Babylon so perhaps he did found a fort that then became a city later on but no source mentions this and I don’t get a sense from reading the texts that he tarried long enough anywhere to found a settlement during the journey.

That is just a thought. I await further details of the archaeological dig with interest. Maybe the archaeologists know more about the Alexander connection than the report let’s on.

Categories: Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Justin, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: | Leave a comment

IX: The Kings’ Speeches

22nd September – Nine days to go until the 2,348th anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela (glossing over the fact that I am writing this a day late). In this post, I am asking ‘what kind of speech did Alexander and Darius give to their men before the battle?’

The answer to this question is to a greater or lesser degree unknowable. The speeches that our five sources give us are either their interpretation of what Alexander and Darius said or simple fictions.

So, let’s ask instead, ‘what speech do the sources put into Alexander’s and Darius’ mouths?’

Arrian (III.9.5-10)
The evening before the battle, Alexander reconnoitred the battlefield with some light armed troops and Companion Cavalry. Upon his return to camp, he spoke to his officers. Arrian doesn’t quote what Alexander said but gives a brief outline of his words, instead. The king’s speech can be broken down into three sections: Inspiration, Reminder and Instruction.

Alexander inspired his men by assuring them that, actually, ‘they had no need from him of encouragement’ – their past bravery and success had shown they were ready for the battle.

Alexander then asked the officers to ‘fire up’ the men underneath them. He asked them to do this in a very particular way, that is, by reminding their men ‘that in this battle they would not be fighting simply for Hollow Syria, for Phoenicia, or for Egypt, as before, but at issue this time was who should rule the whole of Asia’.

After briefly complimenting the the officers’ men, Alexander asked his officers to ’emphasize the importance of individual discipline’ so that the men knew when to be silent and when to issue the Macedonians’ terrible war cry, and so forth. The king concluded this part of his speech with another reminder – ‘that the whole outcome depended on individual performance’.

Arrian concludes by adding that Alexander addressed ‘a few more words of similar encouragement’ to his officers.

Alexander’s speech, as Arrian gives it, is a very practical one – first encouraging the officers so as to get them ready for the hard task ahead before diving into the why of the battle and then what needed to be done. If I was leading an army, I would definitely follow Arrian’s model for Alexander’s speech. It can be no surprise that Arrian’s probable source for this speech is Ptolemy, who would have heard it himself or from someone who was present.

What about Darius? Well, just as Arrian does not tell us what Alexander said to his men immediately before the battle (you’ll have noticed that the speech that I outlined above was given the night before) he does not mention whether Darius spoke to his men or not.

Curtius (IV.14.1-7) – Alexander
Curtius’ version of Alexander’s speech can be broken down into three categories, which are almost the same as Arrian’s: Inspiration, Contempt and Realistic.

Alexander inspires his men by reminding them of their previous successes and of how far they have come. Curtius has him flat out lying by telling them that ‘The Persians had been overtaken while running away, and would now fight only because escape was impossible.’ and cleverly turns Darius’ scorched earth policy against the Great King by saying that it was proof ‘that anything they did not spoil belonged to their foes’ – that’s a lot of land.

Alexander accuses the Persians of being disorganised. There must have been a fair amount of truth to this. Darius had pulled together an army from across his Empire but would not have had time to train every soldier adequately. Curtius adds to this by having the Macedonian king say that there ‘were more men standing on the Persian side, but more were going to be fighting on the Macedonian’ (italics in translation). That’s a great line.

This portion of Alexander’s speech is rather interesting as it is involves an acknowledgement that inspirational language only goes so far. A great fight is about to start and it will involve great suffering. How to ameliorate that? Perhaps wisely, Alexander avoids tackling the issue head on. Instead, he encourages the men to fight because they are such a huge distance from home and, well, have no choice if they ever want to go back there. Alexander must have been very confident that neither now or later his men would reply, ‘Well, whose fault is it that we are in such a precarious position to begin with?’.

Curtius (IV.14.8-26) – Darius
The Great King’s speech is twice as long as Alexander’s. I have broken it down into four categories: Realistic, Self-Justification and Contempt, Inspiration/Contempt/Philosophical, Pleading.

Curtius presents this portion of Darius’ speech as a kind-of mirror image of Alexander’s. The latter reminded his men of their past successes. Darius, in a manner of speaking, reminds his of their failures. “‘Recently,'” he says, “‘you were the masters of lands washed by the ocean on one side and bounded by the Hellespont on the other. But now it is not glory for which you must fight but for survival.'” Of course, it is actually just Darius who is fighting for survival but as we have already seen with Alexander’s speech, the truth is not an essential element of pre-battle exhortations.

Self-Justification and Contempt
Here, Darius pretty much says, I’ve done my bit (in gathering you all together and arming you), now you have to do yours. He then denigrates the Macedonians. Their ‘bravery is mere recklessness’, they are few in number (as compared to the Persians, of course, this was true), ‘their centre [is] weak and depleted’, the ‘rearmost ranks’ have turned away from the Persians as if ‘already starting their flight’ (another neat bit of rhetoric) and so forth.

Inspiration, Contempt, Philosophical
In a clever bit of role reversal, Darius tells his men that they are now what the Macedonians were. Once, therefore, the enemy was mobile but now has now grown heavy with loot and we – the Persians – are the mobile army. However, having compared his army to the Macedonian he then makes a second attempt to break through the latter’s reputation for being courageous. He does this by pointing out that though ‘Macedonian weapons are over there’, due to the amount of blood spilt in this war, ‘Macedonian bodies’ are not. Darius accuses Alexander of being ‘a headstrong and crazy’ person.

Finally, Darius muses that perhaps the reason the Persian Empire is in this position is because the gods want ‘to give it a good shock rather than to shatter it, in order to remind us of human frailty which is too often forgotten in times of prosperity’. I really can’t imagine any king diving into philosophy just before a fight. This portion of Darius’ speech, more than any other, feels like Curtius thinking aloud to his audience.

Darius concludes his speech in a rather desperate fashion, by pleading with his men to save the lives of the royal family. He has a legitimate concern here but would he really have used them to motivate his soldiers? Of course, he would not have been speaking to everyone but perhaps those closest physically to him, and they were his kinsmen, so perhaps they would have been motivated to help save the royal family’s lives.

Diodorus (XVII.56)
Diodorus records only that ‘Alexander summoned his officers and encouraged them for the battle which they faced with suitable words’. He says nothing about what Darius might have said. In XVII.57 we do see him give instructions to the phalanx on how to deal with the scythed chariots but this is not presented as part of his pre-battle speech.

Justin (XI.9)
According to Justin/Pompeius Trogus, Alexander spoke to each nationality in turn in order to motivate them. Justin gives us some examples. Thus, Alexander ‘excited the Illyrians and Thracians by describing the enemy’s wealth and treasures’. And encouraged the Greeks by reminding them ‘of their wars of old, and their deadly hatred towards the Persians’. As for the Macedonians, they were reminded of their conquests and their desire to ‘subdue Asia’. Justin records that Alexander told his fellow countrymen that ‘this battle would put an end to their labours and crown their glory.’ Could he have really meant that?

Justin says just a few words about what Darius told his men. Like Alexander, he encouraged them; he did so by putting ‘them in mind of the ancient glory of the Persians, and the perpetual possession of empire vouchsafed them by the immortal gods.’

Plutarch (Life of Alexander 33)
So, whereas Justin has Alexander speaking to all the nationalities of his army, Plutarch states that Alexander ‘gave a long address to the Thessalians and the other Greeks’. They liked what they heard, he says, and urged the king to lead them into battle. Upon hearing this, Alexander raised his right hand and prayed to the gods ‘if he were really the son of Zeus, they should protect and encourage the Greeks’.

The idea that Alexander would speak only to his Greek Allies is not convincing, yet Plutarch names his source for this – Callisthenes. He would have known the truth, of course, but as court historian/propagandist he would also have known what to tell the Greeks to make Alexander look as good as possible. And in this case, that was the king speaking only, or at least first and foremost, to their fellow Greeks.

Plutarch doesn’t record what Darius said to his men.

Categories: Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Justin, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: | 1 Comment

XI: Size Doesn’t Matter

20th September – Eleven days to go until the 2,348th anniversary of the Battle of Guagamela. But wait; I am publishing this on the 21st. Why so? Read on. Yesterday’s question was, ‘What was the size of the Macedonian and Persian army?’

Here is what the sources say:

Macedonian army (A.III.12.5)
– Cavalry 7,000
– Infantry c.40,000

Persian army (A.III.8.6)
– Cavalry 40,000
– Infantry 1,000,000
in addition (Ibid)
Scythed chariots 200
Elephants c.15

Macedonian army
– Cavalry not given
– Infantry not given

Persian army (IV.12.13)
– Cavalry 45,000
– Infantry 200,000

Macedonian army
– Cavalry not given
– Infantry  not given

Persian army (D. XVII.53)
– Cavalry 200,000
– Infantry 800,000
in addition (Ibid)
Scythed chariots 200

Macedonian army
– Cavalry not given
– Infantry not given

Persian army (J.XI.12)
– Cavalry 100,000
– Infantry 400,000

Macedonian army
– Cavalry not given
– Infantry not given

Persian army (Life 31)
– Cavalry not given
– Infantry 1,000,000

Yesterday, when I compiled these figures, one thing about them struck me, and it became the reason why I am publishing this post a day late. Namely, only Arrian gives the number of Macedonian cavalry and infantry.

A confession: To find the figures, I opened my copy of Arrian et al and skim read the relevant section until I found them.

After I had finished, I was so surprised that none of the others gave the size of the Macedonian army that I feared that actually, they had done so, and in my haste I had passed them by.

Today, I had to take a day off work to go to the dentist, so I used some of the spare time to properly read each source’s account of Alexander’s journey from Egypt to Babylon just to make sure that I didn’t miss their account of his army’s size given perhaps early, perhaps later than the battle itself in the text.

In case you are wondering which sections of the books I covered:-

  • [Arrian III.6.1-16.4]
  • Curtius IV.9.1-V.1.23
  • Diodorus XVII.53-64
  • Justin XI.12-14
  • Plutarch Life of Alexander 31-35

The outcome of this exercise was that I discovered that, no, I had not missed anything out; it is indeed only Arrian who tells us the size of the Macedonian army. I am at a loss to say why.

Given that nearly all the sources – Curtius, of all people, being an honourable exception? – over inflate the size of Darius’ army, I wonder if the writers somehow wanted us to focus on the Persians as a horde, as the ineluctable wave, the seemingly invincible force that Alexander somehow managed to overcome in order to achieve glory.

Perhaps. But I have to admit, it’s not a feeling I get from the texts.

That aside, one thing can be said with certainty – or as much as history ever allows: the Macedonian army was greatly outnumbered at the Battle of Gaugamela. Despite this, it managed to achieve a stunning victory. The question of how this happened will be the focus of an upcoming post.

Categories: Alexander Scholars, Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Justin, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: | Leave a comment

Did the Wars of the Successors need to happen?

After Alexander died, the Macedonian phalanx and cavalry divided over who should succeed him. The phalanx wanted Alexander’s half-brother, Arrhidaeos, to do so. The cavalry, however, which included Alexander’s most senior officers, were opposed to this. The two sides nearly came to blows before reaching a compromise: Arrhidaeos would become king and Perdiccas, leader of the cavalry faction, his regent (See Diodorus XVIII.2). A few months later, when Alexander’s son, Alexander IV, was born, he was made co-king (See Justin XIII.4).

The peace that this arrangement brought about held for virtually no time at all. After dividing the satrapies of the empire among Alexander’s senior officers, Perdiccas sent Peithon to quell a revolt of Greek settlers in Bactria and Sogdia (Diodorus XVIII.4; see also Dio. XVII.99). Peithon accepted the commission but he did not intend to fight the rebellious settlers; rather, he intended to win them over to his side and take power in Bactria and Sogdia (Diodorus XVIII.7). As it happens, Peithon was foiled in his plan but his was the first act of rebellion by one of Alexander’s commanders, and it set the stage for the conflict that would continue for forty years.

So, that is what happened. But did it need to?

Well, the cavalry could have sent Roxane home and accepted Arrhidaeos as their king, allowing him to rule under the aegis of a regent. In the summer of 323 this didn’t happen because the cavalry knew that Arrhidaeos was unfit to rule: he had a physical or mental impediment that made it impossible. Of course, they did eventually allow it to happen, but when it did, the Wars of the Successors started.

An alternative would have been for Arrhidaeos to be sent home and Roxane’s child, if a boy, to be elevated to the throne, instead. Of course, he too would have required a regent, but only until he came of age.

Or, Alexander’s illegitimate son Heracles could have been made king, instead (Curtius X.6.10-12).

These were the options. Why did the Successors not take them? Or, when they did, why did they not adhere to them?

A mixture of reasons. Arrhidaeos’ mental/physical impediment denied him the authority that he needed to rule. Moreover, it meant that he could never lead from the front, which is what a Macedonian king had to be able to do.

As for Alexander IV, I believe he was rejected out of fear; the Successors feared that when he came of age, Alexander might strip them of the power they had enjoyed for the previous eighteen years, and have them killed.

Why would Alexander IV do this? After all, he would have known that he owed his empire to the Successors. This is true, but the Macedonian political situation in the late fourth century BC was too unstable to permit Alexander IV to trust anyone. He would know full well that as long as the generals lived they would be rivals to his throne. He would not be safe until men of his generation, and therefore men with less authority than him, were in the key positions of power. This is why Alexander the Great removed Philtoas and Parmenion, and I believe it is why Cassander assassinated Alexander IV, and why none of the other Successors so much as said a word about it let alone protested or made war on him. They might not have liked what Cassander had done but they liked the idea of being killed even less.

Heracles was rejected because of old fashioned Macedonian (and Greek) racism: he was seen as a barbarian (Curt.X.6.13-14). Had Ptolemy Lagides got his way, Alexander IV would have been rejected for the same reason.

So, back to the headline question: did the Wars of the Successors need to happen?

When Ptolemy rejected Alexander IV and Heracles, he suggested that the generals should rule the empire together (Curt. X.6.15). I suppose this is why Ptolemy is regarded as a separatist. His idea, though, made sense. It would have lead to a kind-of government of all the talents, just what the diverse empire needed.

The only problem was – fear; the same fear that made Cassander kill Alexander IV. Fear is what drove Macedonian politics. It is the reason why, upon his accession in 336 BC, Alexander the Great killed anyone with a rival claim to the throne; it is the reason he had Philotas and Parmenion killed. I think it is one of the reasons why Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus colluded in the judicial murder of Philotas (Curt. VI.11.10). In the Macedonian royal court, one was either in favour or out, and one had to do what was necessary to stay in. Co-operation happened but one had to be prepared to betray friends and allies as necessary. After all, they might do the same to you – as necessary.

So, no, the Wars of the Successors didn’t need to happen, but I think that the prejudices of the Successors, allied to their legitimate fears, made the conflict inevitable. The only thing that might have stopped it is if Alexander III had died twenty or more years later and if his son had been as strong and determined a person as his father. But even then, all it would have taken is one cup laced with poison…

Categories: Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Justin, On Alexander, Plutarch, Ptolemy I Soter, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: | 2 Comments

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

The Wars of the Diadochi: The Macedonian Army Divides

Diodorus XVIII.2

In the Summer of 329 B.C., Alexander was shot in the leg by an arrow during offensive operations against a 20,000 strong native armed force (Curtius VII.6.2-3) in Sogdia.

The dart broke his fibula (Arrian III.30) leaving him unable to walk. Afterwards, members of the Macedonian cavalry and infantry argued over who should be given the honour of carrying their king in his litter (Curtius VII.6.8-9).

Both felt it was their right to do so. In the end, Alexander defused the increasingly tense situation by declaring that both cavalry and infantry would be permitted to carry him – on alternate days (ibid).

This dispute highlighted both how deeply the mounted and foot soldiers loved their king and the rights that they believed they had in relation to him. It also portended the first struggle after Alexander’s death.

(Wikimedia Commons)

On 11th June 323 B.C. Alexander died without an heir. Roxane was pregnant but, for all anyone knew, her child might turn out to be a girl. In the hours and days that followed, the phalanx – the most senior members of the infantry – took the logical but controversial step of declaring Alexander’s half-brother, Arrhidaeus, as king.

The reason why their declaration was controversial was two-fold. Firstly, they had acted unilaterally. The army had the right to elect its king but my understanding is that this meant the whole army. Secondly, Arrhidaeus suffered from a mental or physical disability, which was serious enough to render him unfit to be king. Had it been otherwise, Alexander would have had him killed in 336.

The reason why the phalanx still chose Arrhidaeus is because they wanted –needed – to be ruled by an Argead whoever it was. Arrhidaeus’ disability was inconvenient but the thought of there being no king – or that the crown might pass to a non-Argead was inconceivable.

Alexander’s most senior Friends and Bodyguards met to discuss the phalanx’s decision. Unsurprisingly, they decided to reject the choice of Arrhidaeus. They knew that a disabled king was, in a sense, twice as dangerous as an able-bodied one. If the latter made a bad decision, he alone was responsible – and could be made to answer – for it (keep Perdiccas in mind for an example of this). A disabled king like Arrhidaeus, however, was not only capable of making bad decisions but might be forced to do so by other people who would then hide behind his authority in order to avoid being called to account.

Stater of Philip III Arrhidaeus (Wikipedia)

Having rejected Arrhidaeus, the Friends and Bodyguards decided to bring the phalanx to heel. To ensure that this happened, they formed an alliance with the Companion Cavalry. A senior office named Meleager was sent to the phalanx to order it to submit.

What followed was the first of many turns and treacheries that would take place over the next forty years and, indeed, bring the Wars of the Diadochi to a close when Ptolemy Keraunos assassinated Seleucus.

Meleager, instead of delivering the senior officers’ ultimatum ‘praised’ the phalanx

… for the resolution that they had taken and sharpened their anger against their opponents.

As a reward for this, the phalanx made Meleager its leader and ‘advanced under arms’ against the senior officers.

Had the latter remained in Babylon, perhaps they would all have been killed and the bloodshed that followed avoided. But Meleager’s betrayal had been discovered and the men fled from the city.

Outside, they recovered themselves and made ready to fight the phalanx for the future. Battle was averted, however, when the doves on both sides persuaded the hawks to reconcile. As a result of this, Arrhidaeus was declared king and renamed Philip III. Perdiccas, Alexander’s deputy, and the man to whom he had given his ring – the symbol of his authority as king – was made Philip III’s regent. Finally, it was decided that

… the most important of the Friends and of the Bodyguard should take over the satrapies and obey the king and Perdiccas.

In his Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great Waldemar Heckel explains which Successors were in the first and second rank at Babylon.

First Rank

  • Perdiccas
  • Leonnatus
  • Ptolemy

Second Rank

  • Lysimachus
  • Aristonus
  • Peithon
  • Seleucus
  • Eumenes

Had Antipater and Craterus been present they would undoubtedly have been in the first rank; I am not so sure about Antigonus. Did their absence matter? And who got where? We’ll find out in the next post.

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The Wars of The Successors: Funeral Games

Nota Bene I started this series on my Tumblr page and wrote just over twenty chapters before stopping last summer. I’d really like to continue it to give myself a reason to read Diodorus’ account of the Wars of the Successors in full so will re-publish the Tumblr chapters (edited as necessary) over the next few weeks before picking the series up thereafter.

Diodorus XVIII.1

When he was quitting life in Babylon and at his last breath [Alexander] was asked by his friend to whom he was leaving the kingdom, he said, “To the best man; for I foresee that a great combat of my friends will be my funeral games.”
(Diodorus XVIII.1)

In this series, I’ll be looking at Diodorus Siculus’ account of the Wars of the Diadochi (Successors), which he covers in Books 18-20 of his Library of History.

Alexander’s ‘funeral games’ stretched from east to west and two, even three, generations of men. It sucked in all of the great conquerors generals, leading to the fall of some whom you might have expected to survive, and the rise of others who in Alexander’s time were of minor account.

Three years ago I wrote a read through of Robin Waterfield’s excellent Dividing the Spoils for the blog. Up till now, however, I have not read Diodorus’ account itself all the way through so doing so now will be a new experience for me.

Whether or not you are familiar with Diodorus’ history of the Successors, I hope you enjoy what you read.

If you would like to know which Successors died when, where and how just click here


Ptolemy son of Lagus
For several years he was a minor officer in Alexander’s army. In 330 B.C. Alexander appointed him to the Royal Bodyguards. From then on, Ptolemy never looked back. Important commands followed. By the time of Alexander’s death, he had established himself as one of the king’s most senior officers.

Seleucus I Nicator
Seleucus only comes to any kind of prominence fairly late on in Alexander’s campaign. His first appearance in Arrian, for example, is at the crossing of the Hydaspes River (V.13). There, Seleucus is named as the commander of the ‘Royal Regiment of Guards’ (Penguin Classics text). After Alexander’s death, Seleucus was not given a satrapy indicating that he was not yet a senior officer.


The Death of Alexander
The event that kicked off the Successor Wars. Was he poisoned? Or did he die of natural causes? We’ll never know, but over the next forty years many people would come to wish that he hadn’t died at all, as his generals fought each other to the death to claim their part, or the whole, of Alexander’s kingdom.

Pictures Sources
The Korinthischer Krater (showing funeral games) – Wikimedia Commons
Ptolemy – Wikipedia
Seleucus – Wikipedia
Death of Alexander – Wikipedia

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: | 2 Comments

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 Death of Alexander

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 116-118 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Mystery in Palace as Prisoner Sits on Royal Throne
Alexander Lost in Swamps
King Found: Diadem Worn By Oarsman
* Inside: A round up of all recent omens
King Falls Ill Following Party
Alexander Dies

The Story
Chapter 116
Hephaestion’s funeral was now over. For relief, Alexander ‘turned to amusements and festivals’. To the world it looked like ‘he was at the peak of his power and good fortune’ but Fate had other ideas and immediately that the festivities began ‘heaven… began to foretell [Alexander’s] death’.

Diodorus gives the example of two omens that portended this. The first involved a native who was kept in chains. One day, as Alexander was receiving a massage, those chains suddenly fell off. The native – presumably a prisoner of some sort – ran away from his guards and entered throne room. There, he took Alexander’s clothes and diadem and put them on before sitting down on the throne itself.

Upon being told what had happened, Alexander ‘was terrified’. He went to the native and asked him what he was about. The man made no reply. Alexander turned to his seers and asked them to interpret what had happened.

Diodorus doesn’t give their response but it was clearly negative to Alexander as it made him order the native’s execution in the hope ‘that the trouble which was forecast by his act might light upon the man’s own head’.

Once the native had been taken away, Alexander retrieved his clothing ‘and sacrificed to the gods who avert evil’. This pious act, however, was not enough to remove his worry about what the incident portended.

We have seen once or twice before how Alexander could have his mind changed with absurd ease by those underneath him. Diodorus gives an example of this when he described how the king decided to stay outside Babylon (Chapter 112 here). Curtius gives another when he tells how Bagoas poisoned Alexander’s mind against Orsines (10:1:24-38).

It now happens again. Diodorus says that Alexander ‘recalled the predictions of the Chaldaeans’ and became angry ‘with the philosophers who had persuaded him to enter Babylon’. In consequence, he renewed his respect for the Chaldaeans and argued ‘railed’ at anyone ‘who used specious reasoning to argue away the power of Fate’.

Diodorus’ second omen came when Alexander was exploring the swamps around Babylon. His skiff became separated from the royal party. Upon a moment, it passed underneath some tall reeds, which caught Alexander’s diadem and threw it into the water. One of the oarsmen ‘swam after it’. Upon retrieving the ribbon, the oarsman placed it on his head for safe keeping.

Alexander was lost for three days and nights. Presently, he put his diadem on again. When he did so, the skiff came out of the swamp. What did it all mean? Alexander went straight to his soothsayers to find out.

Chapter 117
The seers told Alexander to ‘sacrifice to the gods on a grand scale’ and quickly. Before he could do so, however, the king was ‘called away by Medius… to take part in a comus’.

At the party, Alexander ‘drank much unmixed wine in commemoration of the death of Heracles’. He filled ‘a huge beaker’ and drank it in one go; suddenly, ‘he shrieked aloud as if smitten by a violent blow’. The king’s Friends came forward and took Alexander back to his quarters.

The royal physicians ‘were summoned’ but they could do nothing to take away the pain. Alexander ‘continued in great discomfort and acute suffering’.

After a while, he realised that he was dying. Alexander removed his ring of office and gave it to his chiliarch – Perdiccas. ‘His Friends asked: “To whom do you leave the kingdom?”‘ Alexander replied, simply, ‘”To the strongest.”‘ He then prophesied ‘that all of his leading Friends would stage a vast contest in honour of his funeral’.

At an unspecified point after speaking these words, Alexander died. He had reigned for ‘twelve years and seven months’ and ‘accomplished greater deeds than any… who had lived before him [or] who were to come later’.

Diodorus concludes the chapter with an acknowledgement that some historians believe that Alexander was poisoned. As this is so, ‘it seems necessary for us to mention their account also’.

Chapter 118
This chapter, therefore, is a coda of sorts to the main story, which is now finished.

Diodorus turns to Antipater. He served as Alexander’s ‘viceroy’ in Macedon while the king was abroad. During this time, he ‘was at variance with… Olympias’. That seems a very polite way of putting it.

To begin with, Antipater didn’t take Olympias seriously because Alexander ignored ‘her complaints against him’. Later, however, ‘as their enmity kept growing’ and Alexander ‘showed an anxiety to gratify [Olympias] in everything out of piety’ Antipater became worried.

When Alexander killed Parmenion and Philotas ‘terror’ entered Antipater’s heart. But not only his, also ‘all of Alexander’s Friends’. Antipater’s son, Iolaus, was Alexander’s wine-pourer. The viceroy gave him a poison to administer to the king.

If Alexander was poisoned, how come nobody wrote about it afterwards? Diodorus doesn’t ask this question out loud but clearly has it in mind. He that, following Alexander’s death, Antipater ‘held… supreme authority in Europe’ and after him, ‘his son Cassander’. Their power, therefore, was why ‘many historians did not dare write about the drug’.

Diodorus has no doubt, however, that Cassander is guilty; he cites the murder of of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes as proof of his hostility to Alexander.

Finally, Diodorus turns to Sisygambis – whom he calls Sisyngambris. She mourned Alexander’s death deeply. In fact, her grief was so profound that she stopped eating. Five days later, she died ‘painfully but not ingloriously’.

Why did the native run to the throne and take Alexander’s clothing and diadem? In Chapter 66 (which I covered here) we saw how Alexander upset a eunuch when he used one of Darius’ tables as a footstool. In the Footnotes for this incident, we are told ‘that the throne was a symbol of divinity in the Orient, and that a king’s clothing, bed, and throne were affected with royal and divine mana’. Thus, in the Footnotes for Chapter 116, it is said that the man ‘may have regarded [the throne] as a sanctuary, or at least as a place of refuge’. Obviously, he saw the clothes and diadem as having similar protective powers.

By-the-bye the Footnotes also state that it is possible that the native may have simply held the clothes rather than put them on. Either way, the story echoes that of the woman with the haemorrhage who knew that if she could only touch Jesus’ clothing she would be healed (This story features in all three synoptic gospels – Lk 8:40-56, Mk 5:21-43, and Matt 9:18-26).

In regards the story of the diadem, I recall reading elsewhere that by placing it on his head, the man was, according to tradition (?), declaring himself king. Well, of course he wasn’t in reality – he was just trying to stop the ribbon from getting wet – but Alexander’s religious belief did not permit him to believe that interpretation alone. Not without divine confirmation, anyway.

I speak under correction, but I am sure that the man who went after the diadem is elsewhere identified as Seleucus – perhaps as a result of his own later assertion that he rescued it. His reason for doing so? It added legitimacy to his kingship.

In Chapter 116, Diodorus says that Alexander was ‘terrified’ by the implications of the native man’s actions. And that, even after sacrificing, he remained troubled. After escaping the swamp, the king returned to his seers for their interpretation of the diadem incident. We are clearly dealing with a very religiously motivated man, here. And yet, no sooner has Alexander been told what to do by the seers, he allows himself to be distracted by Medius. Is that really likely? Did Alexander’s religious beliefs weigh no more than an invitation to join a drinking party?

I would certainly like to believe that Alexander’s last words – including his answer to the question of to whom he left his empire – were really spoken by him. I question his response ‘to the strongest’, though, as in the circumstances it just seems a little too Homeric an answer – if that is possible – for him. I know that the Macedonians did not practice primogeniture but why would he not say ‘to my son’?

As for his prophecy, isn’t it too eerily accurate to be true? Perhaps Alexander was just thinking of the funeral games – as normally understood – that he knew would be held for him.

All this is moot, however, if he was unable to speak as Arrian states. But Alexander could have spoken before he lost his voice. Or, perhaps, afterwards if only in whispering rasps?

I don’t think I can say anything here that does justice to the question of whether or not Alexander was poisoned but here are my thoughts, anyway.

In case you are wondering how Antipater – in Macedon – was able to give Iolaus – in Babylon – the poison: As I understand it, Cassander travelled from Macedon to Babylon around this time. In this scenario, he just took the poison with him.

It is very interesting that Diodorus says that all of Alexander’s Friends were terrified by the demise of Parmenion and Philotas. This is not the impression I get from Curtius who has Craterus speaking out very harshly against Philotas. Neither does Curtius have Craterus being in a party of one – others supported him in his hostility. Were they speaking out of fright? Far more likely that it was out of the knowledge that they were doing away with a rival.

Having said that, I am sure some were worried by what had happened; I think, though, that Diodorus is simply exaggerating.

I would like to test Diodorus’ explanation of why historians did not write about Antipater and Cassander being responsible for Alexander’s death. For example, I can understand why Cleitarchus might suppress the information. He lived in Alexandria and Ptolemy, Egypt’s ruler, was Cassander’s ally during the Successor Wars.

I think Olympias is the source of the allegation that the Antipatrids killed her son? If so (or even if not) I wonder who was the first person to write it down after her.

I accept that Cassander was anti-Argead, but I wonder if we could equally say that his murder of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes were less to do with his hatred of Alexander and more about carving out a place for an Antipatrid dynasty in the new world that Alexander’s death had created.

Finally, one would have to be a very heartless man not to be affected by Sisygambis’ end. She had every reason to hate Alexander but came to love him more dearly than life itself.

The king died. Clouds [were in the sky]image


  • The above photograph of the Babylon Astronomical Diary that refers to Alexander’s death comes from the British Museum
  • The translation of the text is from Livius
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