Diodorus Siculus

Dangerous Roads: Lamia to Babylon

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 111, 112 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Origin of the Lamian War
Alexander Campaigns Against the Cossaeans
* “It won’t bring Hephaestion back” say critics
Alexander Marches to Babyon
Chaldaeans Warn: Avoid Babylon or Die
Alexander Enters Babylon

The Story
Chapter 111
As Hephaestion’s cortege makes its solemn journey to Babylon, Diodorus returns to Greece to describe the origin of the Lamian War.

The Lamian War (323 – 322 B.C.) was the first major battle to take place after Alexander’s death in June 323. It pitted Antipater and Craterus against a joint Aetolian-Athenian army. If you would like to know more about the battle itself, I wrote about it in my read-through of Robin Waterfield’s excellent book Dividing the Spoils here.

For Diodorus the origin of the Lamian War lies in the ‘disturbances and revolutionary movements’ that were taking place across Greece around this time.

These, he says, were caused by the unemployed mercenaries and rogue satraps and military officials who, after being sacked on Alexander’s orders, or having absconded from their governorships, had congregated in Taenarum and formed an army under an Athenian general named Leosthenes to oppose the Macedonian king.

Leosthenes carried out secret negotiations with Athens and gained its support to the tune of 50 talents ‘and a stock of weapons’. He also sought an alliance with Aetolia. The next step would be war.

As Leosthenes made his preparations in Greece, Alexander launched a winter campaign against the Cossaean tribe in Media. The Cossaeans were a mountain people who were ‘outstanding in valour’. That, and ‘the ruggedness of their country’ meant that they had never been conquered by the Persians.

But that record was about to come to an end. While the Cossaeans were still ignorant of the threat approaching, Alexander took control of all the roads into their country. He then launched a lightning strike against the people. Diodorus says that he ‘was superior in every engagement’. Many Cossaeans were killed and many more captured.

The Cossaean campaign took around forty days to complete. The survivors swore fealty to Alexander, and he ‘founded strong cities at strategic points and rested his army’.

Another lacuna in the manuscript appears at this point. As the beginning of the next chapter shows, however, we don’t appear to miss too much.

Chapter 112
Once his army was ready, Alexander began his march to Babylon. He walked slowly, stopping regularly. I can’t remember him doing this before. Was he trying to delay his arrival – and Hephaestion’s funeral – for as long as possible?

Diodorus says that Alexander ‘was still three hundred furlongs’ away from Babylon when Chaldaean astrologers there appointed one of their number – ‘the eldest and most experienced’ of them – to warn the king that if he entered the city, he would die. They had seen his death in ‘the configuration of the stars’. His life could be saved, however, ‘if he re-erected the tomb of Belus [Bel]’ but on no account should he enter Babylon.

Diodorus names the Chaldaean envoy as Belephantes. Either out of humility or nerves, Belephantes did not seek Alexander himself out but delivered the warning to Nearchus. He, in turn, spoke to the king.

Alexander, understandably, ‘was alarmed and more and more disturbed’ by the astrologers’ warnings. Nevertheless, it was only after ‘some hesitation’ – that he passed Babylon by (?) and set up camp two hundred furlongs away.

Alexander’s actions did not meet with Greek approval. Amongst those who tried to talk him about of his self-imposed exile was the philosopher Anaxarchus. They ‘plied [the king] with arguments drawn from philosophy’ and were so successful that not only did Alexander decide to enter Babylon after all but came to hate the all ‘prophetic arts’, especially the Chaldaeans’.

One can only imagine what the Chaldaeans thought as they watched Alexander ride towards the royal palace. The population, however, were very happy at the return of the king. They received the Macedonian troops ‘hospitably’. Woes were forgotten and ‘all turned their attention to relaxation and pleasure’.

Citing Plutarch, the Footnotes state that Alexander’s Cossaean campaign ‘was intended to solace Alexander’s grief for the death of Hephaestion’. To us, this seems very odd. In a warrior culture, however, it would have made perfect sense.

The story of the Chaldaeans forecasting Alexander’s death is a very intriguing one.

On the one hand, it has every appearance of a tale inserted into a narrative after the event in order to give meaning to it.

On the other, even if one doesn’t believe that it is possible to tell the future using astrology, maybe the story did happen just not in the way that it is presented. In other words, the priests got lucky. Astrology doesn’t work, but by pure coincidence, the stars arranged themselves in such a way as to fit the Chaldaeans’ criteria for the death of a monarch.

Dangerous Roads
Gentle Friendships

Alexander & Hephaestion: Mieza to Elysium

This picture is from the Folio Society’s illustrated edition of Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy

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Death of a Friend

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 109, 110 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander: Greek Exiles May Return Home
The New Ten Thousand
* King retires 10,000 Macedonians from his army
* Retirees owe 10,000 talents; king settles the debt
Persians Promoted; Macedonians Revolt
* Alexander Faces Revolt Down
Peucestas arrives with more Persian Soldiers
Alexander Goes Sight Seeing
Hephaestion Dies

The Story
Chapter 109
In the summer of 324 B.C., the Olympic Games were held at Olympia, and Alexander had it announced there that all Greek exiles ‘except those who had been charged with sacrilege or murder’ could return home.

Perhaps at the same time, he also released ten thousand of his oldest soldiers from service, and, upon learning that many were in debt, paid their creditors out of the royal treasury.

Diodorus mentioned in the last chapter (yesterday’s post here) how the Macedonian army became ‘frequently unruly when called into an assembly’.

One day, the men harangued the king again. This time, he responded in kind. Leaping down from the platform, Alexander ‘seized the ring-leaders of the tumult with his own hands, and handed them over to his attendants for punishment’.

Unsurprisingly, this increased the tension between the king and his army. But rather than conciliate, Alexander simply appointed Persians to ‘positions of responsibility’. This cut the Macedonians to the quick and they begged Alexander to forgive them. He did but not quickly or easily.

Chapter 110
We enter a new year. During it, ‘Alexander secured replacements from the Persians equal to the number of these soldiers whom he had released’. 1,000 of the new recruits were assigned to the bodyguard at court.

This year, too, Peucestes arrived out of the east (After and/or as a result of (?) saving Alexander’s life at the Mallian city – read here – he had been made satrap of Persia) with 20,000 ‘Persian bowmen and slingers’. These were integrated into the army.

By 324, there were now ‘sons of the Macedonians born of captive women’. How many? Diodorus says about 10,000. This figure is appearing a little too often for my liking. Anyway, Alexander set aside sufficient money so that the children could be given ‘an upbringing proper for freeborn children’. This included a suitable education.

Alexander now left Susa. Crossing the Tigris river, he came to a village called Carae. From there, ‘he marched through Sittacenê until he arrived at a city (?) called Sambana. After resting for a week there, he set out for ‘the Celones’ reaching them three days later.

It is not clear to me what exactly the Celones is – a group of settlements? A region? Neither Diodorus nor the Footnotes make it clear. What is clear is that Alexander met a people descended from Boeotians who had been deported there by Xerxes I. Despite never having been back to Greece, they had ‘not forgotten their ancestral customs’ still keeping Greek as one of their languages and continuing ‘Greek practices’.

After spending several days in the Celones, Alexander set off once more. His purpose now was ‘sight-seeing’ and he left ‘the main road’ so that he could enter Bagistanê, a country ‘covered with fruit trees and rich in everything which makes for good living’.

Next on the itinerary was a land of wild horses. In days of old, Diodorus says, 160,000 horses grazed here. In 324 B.C., however, they only numbered 60,000. I wonder if, as he looked out on the horses, Alexander thought about Bucephalus. I expect so.

Alexander stayed amidst the horses for thirty days. Finally, however, it was time to leave. And now, he came to Ecbatana in Media. Citing unnamed sources, Diodorus gives Ecbatana’s ‘circuit’ as being 250 stades. As the capital of Media, its storehouses were ‘filled with great wealth’. But was there also something else there, something rather less pleasant to the king? Namely, Parmenion’s tomb. If it was, I wonder if he acknowledged it.

Alexander remained in Ecbatana ‘for some time’. While there, he held ‘a dramatic festival’ and ‘constant drinking parties’. During the course of one of these, Hephaestion took ill; not long later, he died.

Diodorus describes Alexander as being ‘intensely grieved’ by his friend’s death. I don’t think you will read a bigger understatement than that this month let alone today. Presently, however, he recovered enough to order Perdiccas – Hephaestion’s replacement as chiliarch – to transport Hephaestion’s remains to Babylon where Alexander intended to ‘celebrate a magnificent funeral for him’.

Diodorus states that the Macedonian soldiers who were in debt owed ‘little short of ten thousand talents’. That’s on average, one talent each. The Footnotes refer to Curtius’ ‘astonishment’ at this figure, and I have to share it. I can’t believe that during the course of the expedition they would have had the opportunity to spend so much money.

The Footnotes also state that the mutiny described in Chapter 109 is the Opis Mutiny ‘continued from chap. 108’ although the way it is described there, it is as if Diodorus is talking about the Macedonian army’s behaviour in general rather than a mutiny that took place in a specific place and on a particular date. (Note also that Diodorus has the mutiny take place in Susa rather than Opis).

It seems rather surprising that Alexander is able to bring his men to heel by doing something that on the face of it should disillusion them further. I can only imagine that the Macedonians did not look at the matter as a case of ‘they are taking our jobs, we want them back’ but as ‘this race is usurping ours in the king’s affections; we must show him we love him in order to win him back to our side’.

An interesting note – the Footnotes say that of ‘all Alexander’s generals [Peucestas] showed the greatest willingness to conciliate the Persians’

The ‘main road’ to which Diodorus refers is – according to the Footnotes – the main Baghdad-Hamadan route which connects Mesopotamia to Iran.

The Footnotes also confirm the name of the horse country – Nysa (from Arrian). Can we say that it is an indication of Alexander’s love of horses that he stayed so long there?

If Didorus is to be believed, Hephaestion died a Macedonian’s death – as a result drinking too much. I am sure, though, that the alcohol simply weakened his resistance to whatever illness did kill him. Otherwise, I must resist the temptation to complain about the brevity with which Diodorus treats the death of such an important figure.

Here’s to all the Macedonians who died
after a little much of the glorious red stuff

ancient_greek_amphora(Except Black Cleitus. Still not polite to mention him)

This picture comes from Warwick University’s article on Drinking in Ancient Greece


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The Fall of Harpalus

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 108 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Army Camps Outside Susa: War to Follow?
New Army is Loyal
* Alexander’s Persian Masterplan
Harpalus: A life Soaked in Blood, Money and Bodily Fluids
Harpalus Flees, Thibron Sees, the Satrap Dies in Crete

The Story
Alexander was still in Susa when an army comprising of 30,000 Persians arrived outside the city. They were not a rebel force but new recruits, the next generation of Alexander’s army.

Did Alexander want to create the largest army the world had ever seen? Not quite. Diodorus recalls how the Macedonian army mutinied at the Hyphasis River (see Comments below). He also tells us that the army was ‘frequently unruly when called into an Assembly and ridiculed Alexander’s pretence that Ammon was his father’.

The Persian recruits were, therefore, Alexander’s attempt to create a new unit of men, one which would serve ‘as a counter-balance to the Macedonian phalanx’. A more loyal counter-balance, one might say.

The new unit wore Macedonian armour and carried the same weaponry. Alexander met his new soldiers outside the city and watched with satisfaction as they demonstrated ‘their skill and discipline in the use of their weapons’.

From the new to the old – Diodorus cuts to an account of the fall of Alexander’s lifelong friend, Harpalus.

After capturing Babylon, Alexander appointed Harpalus satrap of the region. When the king entered India, Harpalus assumed he would never return, and so ‘gave himself up to comfortable living’. Does this mean that to begin with Harpalus governed Babylonia wisely (even if just out of fear of the consequences if he didn’t)?

This ‘comfortable living’ involved

  • ‘the abuse of women’
  • ‘illegitimate amours with the natives’
  • Squandering ‘much of the treasure under his control on incontinent pleasure’

By way of an example, Diodorus cites the occasion that Harpalus had ‘a great quantity of fish’ brought to him ‘all the long way from the Red Sea’. He pursued ‘an extravagant way of life’ that led many people to criticise him.

Harpalus responded to this criticism in the only way he knew how – he brought to Babylon ‘the most dazzling courtesan of the day’, a woman named Pythonicê. While she lived, he treated her like a queen. When she died, ‘he gave her a magnificent funeral and erected over her grave a costly monument’.

Perhaps the knowledge of grief would mellow Harpalus? Not a bit of it. Out with the old and in with the new. Pythonicê was replaced by another courtesan named Glycera.

Harpalus was licentious, violent and a thief but he was not stupid. Although he did not expect Alexander to return from the east, he knew how fickle fortune could be. With that in mind, ‘he established himself a place of refuge by benefactions to the Athenians’.

One day, bad news came. Alexander was on his way. Worse yet, he was executing ‘many of the satraps’ who had abused their power.

Harpalus stole 5,000 silver talents from the treasury, ‘enrolled six thousand mercenaries’ in his own private army and set off for Attica.

Things took a further turn for the worst, however, when the Attic cities refused to let him in. Harpalus now sent his troops to Taenarum (southern Sparta), while he made his way to Athens. Surely his past generosity would oblige them to help him in his hour of need?

Unfortunately, Harpalus’ corrupt behaviour had made him two very powerful enemies and even inspired them – for perhaps the first and only time in their lives – to work together in order to bring him to justice. ‘Antipater and Olympias demanded [Harpalus’] surrender’. It seems that some Athenians spoke up for him but it was no good. Harpalus was forced to flee lest he be turned over to the viceroy and queen mother. He came to Taenarum’ where he rejoined his troops.

From Taenarum, Harpalus and his men sailed to Crete. And there, Thibron, ‘one of his Friends’, killed him.

Back in Athens, an audit of Harpalus’ money (I presume the money that he gave to the city?) was carried out. Several leading figures, including Demosthenes, were found guilty of having accepted it. Diodorus does not reveal what happened to them after their conviction.

I have made a silent correction in the second paragraph. Diodorus actually says that the ‘Macedonians… mutinied when ordered to cross the Ganges River’ but we know from the other Alexander historians that the mutiny took place at the Hyphasis River.

Diodorus is a bit free and easy with his river names (just as he is with the location of the rivers). For example, in Chapter 93 he says that Alexander ‘advanced to the Hyphasis River’. A few lines later, he has the king ask Phegus what lies ‘beyond the Indus River’.

As the Indus River lies some distance behind the Hyphasis the reference to it here is plainly a mistake. The same applies to the Ganges, which is ‘some distance’ ahead of the Hyphasis.

I’m sure ‘incontinent pleasure’ does not mean what I imagine it to mean but the translator/Diodorus could have chosen a better phrase to describe Harpalus’ dissolute lifestyle.

If nothing else, Harpalus must be congratulated for being the only man to ever bring Antipater and Olympias together. The Footnotes call their alliance ‘odd’ but I think it makes perfect sense. Olympias would want Harpalus’ head because he had betrayed her son. Antipater would want it (a) because, yes, Harpalus had betrayed the king but particularly (b) because if Olympias demanded Harpalus’ surrender, he could hardly stay quiet without his own loyalty being questioned.

In a way, this reminds me of the way Philotas failed to report the conspiracy against Alexander. He didn’t because he didn’t take it seriously. If Antipater had given the same reason for not demanding Harpalus’ surrender he would have made Greece a haven for any satrap who disobeyed Alexander and thus run the risk of having his loyalty called into question. Unlike Philotas, Antipater did what needed to be done.

Macedonian Film Festival

We Need To Talk About Harpalus
A boy turns into a sociopath and ruins many lives before being caught

“It’ll massacre the opposition – at the theatre”
“When Thibron kills Harpalus, he steals the show as well as the money”
“Men want to avoid him, so do women except for courtesans.”

Who was the worst satrap – Harpalus or Cleomenes?

Vote Now, Die Tomorrow if either catch up with you.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Seven Day Party

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 106, 107 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Macedonian Army Arrives in Carmania
Macedonians Enjoy A Seven Day Road Party
Caranus: Was he Right To Kill Himself?
A Royal Wedding in Susa!

The Story
Chapter 106
Whatever the state of Alexander’s mental health, he made it through the Cedrosian desert. The Macedonian army arrived in Carmania, a ‘well-populated country’ and one that contained ‘everything needful’ for a good time. Which is exactly what the Macedonians proceeded to have as they passed through it.

First of all, though, Alexander let his army rest. That should probably be in inverted commas. When they resumed their march, the men walked ‘in festive dress’. As for Alexander, he ‘led a Dionysiac comus, feasting and drinking as he travelled’. Happy days.

But all good parties must come to an end, and when you wake up the next day, you are liable to do so with a headache. Alexander’s was a particularly bad one – he discovered that ‘many of his [satrapal and military] officials’ whom he had left in charge of various cities and regions had been abusing their power.

Alexander began punishing the offenders. Word of this got around. Some of the guilty ‘revolted against the king’s authority’, others stole money and fled. Hearing of this, Alexander ‘wrote to all his generals and satraps in Asia, ordering them… to disband all their mercenaries immediately’.

Alexander’s next stop was a seaside city named Salmus. There, he rested. One day, while he watched ‘a dramatic contest in the theatre’, Nearchus’ fleet put in to port. The sailors came straight to the theatre where they received a rapturous welcome from the audience.

They gave a report of their voyage to Alexander. The sailors spoke of ‘astonishing ebbings and flowings in the Ocean’, of ‘many large and unsuspected islands… along the coast’ and – most spectacularly of all – ‘an encounter with a large school of incredibly large whales’. The Cedrosians would have been very jealous.

The sailors were enamoured towards the animals. They spoke of their fear that their ships would smash against them, and of how they shouted, blew their trumpets, and beat their shields to make such a loud noise that the whales took fright and dived to deeper water.

Chapter 107
Having received the report, and – hopefully – after giving the sailors a little time to rest, Alexander ordered them to continue their journey to the Euphrates. He and the army left Salmus on foot and started the long trek to Susianê.

They reached it without incident. On the border, an Indian philosopher named Caranus (aka Calanus), who had travelled west with Alexander, fell ill. He was 73 years old and had never been ill before. Knowing that ‘he had received the utmost limit of happiness both from nature and from Fortune’, and – perhaps – perceiving that his illness was terminal, Caranus decided to end his life.

He asked Alexander to build a pyre for him. The king tried to talk him out of killing himself but Caranus’ mind was set. When pyre was finished, he ‘cheerfully’ climbed onto it. The pyre was then lit, and he died.

Diodorus reports that while some who watched him die ‘marvelled at his fortitude and contempt for death’, others ‘thought him mad’, while others still regarded him as ‘vainglorious about his ability to bear pain’.

Caranus was given ‘a magnificent funeral’. When that was done, Alexander resumed his journey and in due course arrived in Susa. There, ‘he married Stateira’ and had Hephaestion marry Drypetis. Diodorus concludes the chapter by saying that Alexander ‘prevailed upon the most prominent of his Friends to take wives also, and gave them in marriage the noblest Persian ladies’. And that is all Diodorus has to say about the famous Susa Weddings.

Did Alexander really hold a seven day party? The Footnotes say that neither Ptolemy or Aristobulos refer to it. On the other hand, both Alexander and his father ‘were fond of the comus in general’.

One of my images of Alexander is of a great general but, frankly, rubbish administrator. He simply wasn’t interested in that sort of thing. The corrupt satraps and generals seem to bear that out. However, upon learning of their deeds he did punish them rather than leave them in place. Having said that, he should never have given Harpalus any position of authority or reinstated him when he abused Alexander’s trust.

And who was the official to whom Alexander said, after Hephaestion died, he would not punish him for any wrong-doing he might do in the future if he honoured Hephaestion? Was that Harpalus? I can’t remember and can’t find it on the ‘net. I don’t know if that is a true story so will have to try and find out.

It seems to me that what we have with Caranus is an early example of a very topical issue – assisted suicide. Plus ça change. Alexander’s initial opposition to Caranus’ request makes sense in terms of his outlook on life. He lived for glory, something that he could never attain enough of. Life, for him, would never reach a point where he could say ‘I have had my fill’. Caranus’ outlook was, by contrast, rather less ambitious.

Of course, there is the story (told by Arrian) that when close to death, Alexander tried to commit suicide by throwing himself into the Euphrates river (only to be dissuaded from doing so by Roxane). But Alexander only wanted to kill himself in order to make it appear that he was the son of Ammon. Only Alexander could turn suicide – the ultimate act of self-abnegation – into an act that confirmed his greatness.

Inevitably, along with the debate between those for and against the assisted suicide there were the unhelpful opinions of no few people regarding Caranus, which they should really have kept to themselves.

Diodorus’ representation of the Susa Weddings joins the list of important events that he writes all too briefly about.

Somewhere in the crowd,
Thaïs had to admit she was really quite


This picture can be bought on (German) eBay

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The Savage Desert

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 105 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Oreitae Easily Conquered
Cedrosians: Having a Whale of a Time
Macedonians Cross Cedrosian Desert: Heavy Losses in Heat
Oreitae Launch Revenge Attack

The Story
Alexander entered ‘the country of the Oreitae (Oreitis?). Diodorus has more to say about Oreitaean customs than he does about Alexander’s campaign against that people. This is partly because fighting the Oreitae proved easy, and the country was ‘quickly brought… into submission’, and partly because the specific custom to which he refers was such an unusual one.

Diodorus describes how the Oreitae leave the naked bodies of their dead in thickets apparently so that wild animals can eat them. The relatives of the deceased then divide up the dead person’s clothing between themselves, ‘sacrifice to the heroes of the nether world,’ and host ‘a banquet for their friends’.

From Oreitae, Alexander made his way to Cedrosia. There, he travelled close to the shore line.

Diodorus doesn’t tell of any military action taking place in Cedrosia, although if the Macedonians found the going easy in the country of the Oreitae they would not have been troubled by the Cedrosians.

The people, Diodorus says, were ‘unfriendly and utterly brutish’.

This savagery seems to pertain to their personal habits rather than what they were like as warriors. For, with admittedly no small amount of hyperbole, Diodorus says that the Cedrosians let their nails ‘grow from birth to old age’ and that they never washed their hair. He adds that they were heavily tanned and dressed ‘in the skin of beasts’ – as stereotypical a sign that someone is a savage as ever there was.

The Cedrosians may have been very primitive but they knew how to make the best of their limited resources. They not only wore animal skins, but ate ‘the flesh of stranded whales’, which had died on their beaches. Furthermore, they used whale bones to build their homes. This went as far as using whale scales as roof tiles. A very clever feat, of course, since – as the Footnotes point out – whales do not have scales.

Alexander made his way through Cedrosia ‘with difficulty’. Not because of the people, but because he was short of supplies and was now marching through a desert.

The going proved so hard that the army became ‘disheartened’ and Alexander himself ‘sank into no ordinary grief and anxiety’.

The king sent messengers to Parthyaea, Dranginê, and Areia to seek supplies. The messengers delivered their orders and provisions were forwarded on. They did not, however, arrive in time to prevent the loss of many soldiers. They never could have.

These losses were brought about not only by the dreadful conditions and Alexander’s bad planning, but because the Oreitae launched what must have been a surprise attack on Leonnatus’ division, inflicting ‘severe losses’ before escaping home.

Diodorus calls the Oreitae habit of exposing the bodies of the dead to be eaten by wild animals ‘strange and quite unbelievable’. Certainly to our eyes it is most unusual. If I was the Oreitaeans’ PR man I’d point out (a) the decomposing body is kept away from the community so one cannot oppose it on hygiene grounds, and (b) by being eaten it both highlights and makes a practical contribution to the well-being of the environment. What’s the difference between being eaten by a worm and wolf, anyway?

I’m afraid I would find it harder to be the Cedrosians PR agent. Overgrowing finger and toe nails, unwashed hair, skin ‘burned black’ by the sun. And how they must have smelled of whale! Yuk. Well, if anyone can defend the Cedrosians I’d love to see it.

I was very interested by Diodorus’ statement that Alexander ‘sank into no ordinary grief and anxiety’. I read this as Diodorus saying that he became depressed.

Alexander was, it seems, prone to anxiety. A quick google search for references on this blog to him being anxious shows that he suffered from anxiety on at least two occasions.

(i) Diodorus Ch. 31 Over Memnon’s success in the Aegaean – read here
(ii) Plutarch 47 In Hyrcania when he worried over whether his army would continue to follow him – read here.

I have to say, though, neither of these occasions are presented in such a way as to make me feel Alexander suffered from anxiety as a serious mental health disorder. On both occasions he was anxious in the way someone would be in a high pressure situation.

In other words, he was anxious, the moment passed and he moved on.

By contrast, what Diodorus describes feels really quite different. It foreshadows, in a way, the extreme emotion that Alexander will feel when Hephaestion dies (and which Diodorus explains in two simple but foreboding words.  Alexander, he says, ‘intensely grieved’ [Chp. 110] for his friend. Arrian goes into greater detail about how he grieved [Bk 7. Para 14]).

I’m used to reading that Alexander became a megalomaniac in his later days – do we have any justification of suspecting that all along he was prone to anxiety attacks, which in Gedrosia developed into a more serious – even if not clinical – depression? I need to improve my medical knowledge before attempting to answer that question.

Keen to outdo the Cedrosians’ love of all things
whale, Alexander decides to go looking for whales
in their natural habitat.

Picture: The British Library

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Genocide? The Macedonian Trident

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 104 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Two Islands Discovered: Sacrifices Offered
Nearchus Sets Sail for Euphrates
Alexander Destroys Tribes
New Alexandria Founded

The Story
In the summer of 325 B.C. Alexander’s fleet sailed out of the mouth of the Indus River and into the Indian Ocean. Diodorus reports that he found two islands in the process. He landed on each and ‘performed rich sacrifices’. Altars to Tethys and Oceanus were built and ‘many large cups of gold’ thrown into the sea after libations had been poured from them.

Leaving the islands, Alexander sailed to the city of Patala. A couple of posts ago we read about the city of the Sambastae, which was ‘governed in a democratic manner’. If this city was the Athens of the east, then it seems Patala was the Sparta. For there, ‘[t]wo kings descended from two houses [and] inherited their office from their fathers’. The two kings had authority over of all matters relating to war ‘while the council of elders was the principal administrative body’.

Some of Alexander’s ships had become damaged by the journey down the Indus river and into the ocean (see here for an example of how damage occurred). Repairs had been carried out, but now, Alexander burned all those that had become damaged again.

The remaining vessels were given ‘to Nearchus and others of [Alexander’s] Friends’ who were ordered ‘to coast along through the Ocean’ making observations before meeting the king at the mouth of the Euphrates River.

As the ships set sail once more, Alexander led the army inland. He ‘traversed much territory and defeated his opponents’. Those ‘who submitted were received kindly’. The Abritae and ‘tribesmen of Cedrosia’ are named as having willingly submitted.

Alexander’s march took him across ‘a long stretch of waterless and largely desert country’ right up to the border of Oreitis. Upon his arrival there, the king split the army into three divisions under his own, Ptolemy’s and Leonnatus’ command.

Ptolemy was ordered ‘to plunder the district by the sea’, while Leonnatus was told ‘to lay waste [to] the interior’. As for Alexander, he ‘devastated the upper country and… hills’.

The country ‘was filled with fire and devastation and great slaughter’. The Macedonian soldiers won ‘much booty’. The neighbours of the destroyed tribes ‘were terrified and submitted’ to Alexander.

When all was done, Alexander decided to found another Alexandria, and he did so in a ‘sheltered harbour’.

Diodorus doesn’t give the date at the start of the chapter – that comes from the Footnotes, which cite Strabo.

Theoi is a good source of information about the ancient Greek gods. Here are their entries for Tethys and Oceanos.

It is quite a distance from the mouth of the Indus to Euphrates Rivers though perhaps it would not have seemed so far to the Macedonians given that they believed the world was a smaller place?

I have to admit a little confusion here. Diodorus says that Alexander led his men ‘as far as the frontiers of Oreitis’. I have assumed that his campaign against the tribes took place in that country. In Chapter 105, however, Diodorus describes Alexander as advancing ‘into the country of the Oreitae’ whose name is too similar to Oreitis to be a different people. Perhaps the campaign took place on the frontier itself or in no-man’s land between Oreitis and the region he had just passed through?

Diodorus does not mince his words when talking about Alexander’s campaign, and it sounds absolutely ghastly. The way he talks about Alexander’s ‘destruction of the tribes’ makes it sound like a genocidal action taking place. But what had the natives done to deserve such treatment? Maybe they had done nothing. I imagine they must have resisted Alexander, however, causing him to turn savagely against them.

Macedonian Film Festival

There Will Be Blood
A man discovers resistance and does all he can to destroy it

“An enduring Argead favourite”
“A rich story – for the Macedonians”
“Not sure it will go down well in foreign territories”

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Alexander Saves Ptolemy’s Life

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 103 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander attacks Harmatelia
Ptolemy Wounded by Deadly Poison
Alexander Discovers Cure for Poison in a Dream
Ptolemy is Healed
Harmatelia Surrenders

The Story
Alexander’s campaign against the Brahmins drew to its end. Only one city still remained unconquered – Harmatelia. Towards the end of the chapter, Diodorus tells us that the city ‘was large and strongly fortified’. Perhaps it was for this reason, then, that Alexander decided to even the odds a little by using cunning before launching an all-out attack.

He sent a detachment of 500 men to attack the city. If the Brahmin soldiers launch a counter-attack, he told them, withdraw…

The soldiers fulfilled their orders and sure enough the Brahmins launched a counter-attack. The Macedonians quickly retreated. It looked to the Brahmins as if the foreigners were running scared so they pursued them, no doubt with glee.

Alexander’s full plan now came to fruition. He and the rest of the army were hiding. When the Brahmins came near to them, he ambushed them.

The surprise attack was successful but not without its cost for the Brahmins’ arrows were smeared with a deadly snake poison.

Diodorus kindly gives a detailed account of how the poison was made and its effect, which I have outlined below. Go straight to the next paragraph if you are of a nervous disposition.

Final warning.

Making the poison

  1. An unspecified type of snake was ‘killed and left in the sun’
  2. The sun ‘melted the substance of the flesh’ allowing ‘drops of moisture’ to form
  3. The poison was extracted from this moisture

The poison’s effect in order of occurrence

  1. Numbness of the body
  2. ‘[S]harp pains’
  3. Convulsion and shivering across the body
  4. Coldness and lividness of the skin
  5. Vomiting with bile appearing in the vomit
  6. ‘Black froth’ issuing from the wound
  7. Gangrene spreading across the body
  8. Death

Diodorus notes that the poison killed even those whose injury was no more than a scratch. It was a death sentence. Thus, when Ptolemy was struck by a poisoned arrow, he must have feared that his life was over.

This is Diodorus’ first mention of the man who would one day become pharaoh of Egypt. He was, we are told, ‘loved by all because of his character and his kindness to all’. For this reason, ‘he obtained a succour appropriate to his good deeds’.

That night, Alexander dreamt of a snake. In its mouth it carried a plant. The snake somehow showed Alexander that the plant could be used to heal its own bite. It even showed him where it grew.

Waking up, Alexander went in search of the plant. Finding it, he ground and ‘plastered it on Ptolemy’s body. He also prepared an infusion of the plant’ which Ptolemy drank. In the hours or days that followed the son of Lagus was restored to health. The same treatment was then applied to the other soldiers who had been poisoned and they too recovered.

Alexander’s attention now returned to Harmatelia. Preparations were made to attack it. Before this could happen, however, the Brahmins came out with their ‘suppliant branches’. Despite the harm they had done to one of his closest friends, Alexander accepted their surrender.

Did this incident happen? Was Ptolemy healed by Alexander? Given that Ptolemy was pro-Alexander even if not pro-Argead you would have expected him to mention in his memoir how the king had healed him. And yet, Arrian does not mention it at all.

Perhaps he did mention it and Arrian chose to omit it but why – given his own respect for Alexander and Ptolemy – would he do that?

Thinking aloud – I am doubtful that it did happen. My suspicion is that the soldiers whose accounts formed the basis of Cleitarchus’ narrative, which Diodorus used as his source text, embellished or invented the story.

Their reason for doing so? They liked Ptolemy on account of his character and/or the fact he (had) employed them, and so wanted to do right by him.

If that sounds unlikely, we know of at least one other occasion when the soldiers went out of their way to give Cleitarchus a favourable impression of Ptolemy (i.e. when they told the Alexandrian that Ptolemy climbed up the ladder with Peucestas when he was elsewhere at the time) so I see no problem in believing they did it again.

Against that, while Ptolemy corrected Cleitarchus’ mistake (Arrian says that the pharaoh ‘has made it quite plan [in his work] that he was not present at this action’) he seemingly makes no mention of the poisoning. Why would Ptolemy correct one mistake and not the other, unless it actually happened?

Survived like a boss

Picture: from Pinterest

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A Land of Blood and Mercy

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 102 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
War and Peace along the Indus

The Story
Chapter 102 opens hopefully as Alexander makes peace with a few tribes but then becomes a tale of blood shed – one conquest after another as Alexander continues his journey to the ocean.

The Sambastae lived in cities that were ‘governed in a democratic manner’. Their army comprised of ‘sixty thousand infantry, six thousand cavalry, and five hundred armoured chariots’.

I don’t know how large the Macedonian army was at this point, but it seems that the Sambastae was organised and had sufficient numbers to put up a good defence of their country. They were compromised, however, by two things.

(i) An unfamiliarity with ships. When they saw the Macedonian fleet approach, they were taken aback by it.

(ii) A knowledge of the Macedonian army’s reputation.

If only the Sambastae had been ignorant of the Macedonian army’s achievement they might have recovered enough to fight. As it was, the tribal elders advised the authorities ‘not to risk a fight’.

Unlike the young Marmarians (read here) the rulers of the Sambastae agreed, and they sent ‘fifty of their leading citizens’ to beg for their lives. The ploy worked. Alexander ‘praised them and agreed to a peace’. In return, he was given ‘large gifts and heroic honours’.

Sodrae and Massani
These two tribes lived on either side of the Indus River and submitted to Alexander, as it seems, without a fight.

A New City
Alexander built a new Alexandria in or near these tribes’ territory. Ten thousand people were settled in it.

King Musicanus
We are not told whether there was a battle or if Musicanus gave himself up or was kidnapped; however, by some means or another, Alexander caught and executed him. In so doing he made Musicanus’ country subject to himself.

King Porticanus
There was definitely fighting here. Diodorus says that two cities in Porticanus’ country were taken ‘by storm’. Afterwards, Alexander gave his men permission ‘to plunder the houses, and then set them on fire’. As for Porticanus, he managed to escape to a stronghold only to be killed when Alexander attacked it.

Alexander was not done with Porticanus’ territory yet. He captured all ‘the other cities of [Porticanus’] kingdom and destroyed them’.

King Sambus
Diodorus says that Alexander ‘ravaged’ Sambus’ kingdom, killing eighty thousand people and destroying his cities. Most of their populations were taken into slavery. Sambus himself ‘fled with thirty elephants into the country beyond the Indus’. I wonder if he met cousin-Porus out there?

As he had done to Sambus’ people, so he did to the Brahmins. The survivors ‘came supplicating [to Alexander] with branches in their hands’. Alexander heard their appeal. Diodorus notes that he punished ‘the most guilty’ (i.e. those who had called for war against him?) and ‘forgave the rest’.

First of all, I’d like to go back to yesterday’s post. In it, we read how Dioxippus defeated Coragus in their duel by upending him, and placing his foot on Coragus’ neck. I visited the British Museum yesterday, and while there saw this Assyrian relief.


The man standing up is Tiglath-Pileser III; the man submitting to him is Hanunu, the ruler of Gaza. Can you see where Tiglath-Pileser’s foot is?

I was a bit surprised to read about the Sambastae’s alarm at the Macedonian ships. They obviously live quite close to the river, don’t they use ships themselves? It occurs to me, though, that perhaps it was the design of the Macedonian vessels that threw them – perhaps even their prows with the images of the gods on front.

Citing Arrian, the Footnotes say that this latest Alexandria was built ‘at the junction of the Acesines and the Indus’. I thought we left the Acesines behind when it flowed into the Indus, but obviously not. My picture of the rivers is contained in the third paragraph of this post.

As I said above, Diodorus doesn’t say if Alexander fought Musicanus. I’m going to suggest that he did, and that is why he killed him rather than confirm him in his post, like he did numerous other kings who willingly submitted.

Porticanus must really have angered Alexander, for not only did Alexander let his men plunder Porticanus’ cities, but he destroyed them and then destroyed all the other settlements in that country. In doing so, Diodorus writes, Alexander ‘spread the terror of his name throughout the whole region’.

Sambus’ kingdom gets equally tough treatment. They must have put up fierce resistance to the Macedonians.


Making Bactria and Sogdia look easy since 327 B.C.

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Dioxippus vs. Coragus

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 100, 101 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Coragus Challenges Dioxippus to Duel
Dioxippus Wins Duel in Record Time
Dioxippus Accused of Theft
Dioxippus Found Dead

The Story
Chapter 100
Alexander recovered from the arrow shot to his chest. Perhaps in thanksgiving and celebration, he ‘sacrificed to the gods, and held a great banquet for his Friends’. As ever, the wine flowed freely, and that night it caused the downfall of two men.

Coragus (aka Coratas) was a tough Macedonian soldier ‘who had distinguished himself many times in battle’. He also had, it seems, a short temper, which the alcohol ‘sharpened’. And that is as much of an explanation as we get for what happened next – Coragus challenged an Athenian soldier named Dioxippus to a duel.

Dioxippus accepted the challenge. Alexander was informed and set a date for the duel to take place. On the day of the contest, the support of the ‘myriads of men gathered’ who came to watch divided along national lines.

It must have been an awkward occasion for people like Eumenes, though. All his fellow Greeks were supporting Dioxippus; his position in the Macedonian hierarchy, however, required him to be a little more circumspect.

Coragus took to the ‘field of honour… clad in his expensive armour’. By contrast, Dioxippus came naked. And while Coragus carried a javelin, lance and sword, Dioxippus carried only ‘a well balanced club’.

Both duelists were ‘fine to look upon with their magnificent physiques and their ardour for combat’. They seemed as gods to the audience – Coragus inspiring ‘terror as if he were Ares’ and Dioxippus bearing ‘a certain resemblance to Heracles’ because of his club.

The duel began. The two men ‘approached each other’; Coragus threw his javelin only to see it shoot wide as Dioxippus dodged it.

Undeterred, Coragus raised his lance ‘and charged’. But Dioxippus stood firm, and as soon as Coragus came within reach, he ‘struck the spear with his club and shattered it’.

Coragus was now ‘reduced to continuing the battle with his sword’. But before he could unsheathe it, Dioxippus leapt forward and up-ended him. Coragus struck the ground. A second later, he felt Dioxippus’ ‘foot upon his neck’. Looking up, his eyes must have widened at the sight of the Athenian’s club raised and ready to administer the death blow.

Dioxippus did not move. Instead, he paused and ‘looked to the spectators’.

Chapter 101
Diodorus says that the ‘crowd was in an uproar because of the stunning quickness and superiority of the man’s skill’. By ‘uproar’ does he mean it was angry or impressed?

Whichever it was, Alexander brought the proceedings to an end. He gave the signal for Dioxippus to let Coragus go. The Athenian obeyed, and that should have been that.

Except, it wasn’t. Alebit, without providing any evidence, Diodorus describes Alexander as being ‘plainly annoyed’ by Dioxippus’ victory. He also alleges that he ‘continued more and more hostile to him’.

This hostility lead unnamed Macedonian members of Alexander’s court to conspire against Dioxippus. They had a servant plant a gold cup underneath the pillow of the Athenian’s couch. At the next symposium, the cup was ‘found’ and Dioxippus promptly accused of stealing it.

Realising ‘that the Macedonians were in league against him’ Dioxippus took his leave from the party. He returned to his quarters, and there wrote a suicide note. In it, he informed Alexander of the conspiracy against him. Then, he killed himself.

Diodorus says that Dioxippus ‘had been ill-advised’ to accept Coragus’ challenge ‘but… much more foolish’ to commit suicide. For that reason, he adds, ‘many of those who reviled him, mocking his folly, said that it was a hard fate to have great strength of body but little sense’.

Alexander’s reaction was quite different. He read Dioxippus’ suicide note ‘and was very angry’ at his death. Thereafter, he ‘often mourned his good qualities’. No mention is made, however, of any attempt to bring those who had caused Dioxippus’ death to justice.

This is the second duel we have seen in Diodorus’ book – the first being Erygius vs Satibarzanes (read here). It becomes the third that I have known to have taken place in Alexander’s lifetime (as per the just linked-to post, the other is Eumenes vs Neoptolemus in 320 B.C.).

Why did Coragus decide to challenge Dioxippus? There may have been animosity between them, but given where Dioxippus was from, I would be surprised if Coragus wasn’t simply jealous at the fact that the Greek had ‘won a crown’ at the Olympic Games (The Footnotes say he won the boxing competition ‘probably in 336 B.C.’) and in his drunkenness wanted to humiliate him before his fellow Macedonians.

It is notable that Coragus was ‘reduced’ to using his sword. In any film you care to watch – or rather, in any film that I have watched – which is set in ancient Greece or Rome the sword is always prominent. In reality, though, it seems it was by no means the primary weapon. And when it was used, soldiers did not engage in the kind of grand duels we see in the Star Wars films (I think I’m right in saying the Roman legionaries used their swords ‘simply’ to stab and slash?)

Speaking of Star Wars, you are entirely forgiven if you started humming Duel of the Fates while reading this post.

What to make of Dioxippus’ suicide? You could say that he should have complained to Alexander about what had happened. But that would have been useless if the king was as hostile to him as Diodorus says. While there is always another way, Dioxippus undoubtedly read the writing on the wall – that the Macedonian conspirators were determined to get rid of him – and ended his own life before they could do it. It is a very depressing moment in Alexander’s story.

As for Alexander himself, once again we find him regretting the loss of someone after – albeit indirectly this time – bringing it about. If the tale of Dioxippus has any truth to it then it is one of those moments that counts as a stain upon the king’s reputation.

Coragus: These are the rules. You go down,
I win.
 I go down, I win – just a little later on,

Basis eines Athletengrabes. 510 v. Chr.

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The City of the Mallians

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 98, 99 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Sydracae and Mallians Make Peace in the Face of a Common Enemy
Sydracae and Mallians Form Join Army.
* Negotiations over who commands it ongoing
Joint Army Breaks-up: No Agreement Over Leadership
Macedonians Attack City: Many Indian Casualties

The Story
Chapter 98
Diodorus makes no mention of what happened to the fleet immediately after its escape from the deadly eddies of the Indus River; presumably, Alexander ordered the surviving ships to be repaired while he continued his journey by land; alternatively, he might have waited for the repairs to be completed before continuing on foot with the ships sailing alongside him.

Unfortunately, Diodorus doesn’t give any clue as to which was indeed the case, opening the chapter with ‘[n]ext Alexander undertook a campaign against the Sydracae and the people known as Mallians’.

Up till Alexander’s arrival, the Sydracae and Mallians had been fighting each other. Seeing a common enemy approach, however, they patched up their differences and joined forces.

The joint army numbered ‘eighty thousand infantry, ten thousand cavalry, and seven hundred chariots’. Undoubtedly, a mighty force. But the two tribes also had mighty egos and ‘fell into a dispute’ over who should command the army. Unable to agree, they retired to their cities.

Whether delighted or disappointed by the army’s dispersal, Alexander came to ‘the first city’. Judging by what happened next and with reference to the other Alexander historians, this was the city of the Mallians. Diodorus simply refers to the inhabitants as Indians, though, so I shall follow him in that practice.

Alexander wanted to ‘take [the city] by storm’, but one of his seers – a man named Demophon – warned that if he did so, he would put himself in ‘great danger’. Demophon ‘begged Alexander’ to leave the city be ‘for the present’ but the king’s blood was hot. Not only did he ignore the warning but publicly ‘scolded’ Demophon for ‘dampening the enthusiasm of the soldiers’.

Demophon was dismissed and the siege got underway. Presently, a postern gate was broken open. Alexander led his men into the city. Many Indians were killed. Those who survived fled to the city’s citadel.

Diodorus now states that while the Macedonians fought ‘along the wall. Alexander seized a ladder, leaned it against the walls of the citadel’ and climbed up it.

Too scared to fight him mano-a-mano, the Indians ‘flung javelins and shot arrows at him’ instead. Their blows (upon his shield) made Alexander stagger. Where were his men? They were making ready to follow him. Two ladders were placed against the wall. The soldiers ‘swarmed up in a mass’. Suddenly – disaster. There were too many, and the ladders broke under their weight.

Chapter 99
Alexander was on top of the wall, alone. He could have climbed back down to rejoin his men, but that was not his way. His way was to fight. So, he leapt into the…

… citadel? No, apparently he jumped into ‘the city’. Did Diodorus forget he had just written that Alexander climbed the citadel wall a few lines ago? Perhaps. Or maybe the reference to Alexander climbing the citadel wall is a mistake and that after pursuing the Indians to the citadel he returned to the city walls. Although, why he would feel the need to go back outside and climb the wall to re-enter the city is beyond me. I think Alexander jumped into the citadel and Diodorus has been a bit lazy checking his text. As he says ‘city’ though, I will follow him in this.

Therefore, after jumping down into ‘the city’, Alexander found himself surrounded by Indians. Diodorus says he was ‘undismayed’ by their attack. I suspect that is only the beginning of the Macedonian king’s emotions, most of which were probably along the lines of ‘This is fantastic! A chance to win GLORY!’

During the fight, Alexander made use of a tree on his right-hand side and the city wall on his left to give him extra protection.

The Indians drew closer and closer; Alexander sustained ‘many blows upon the helmet [and] not a few upon the shield’. But he was determined to ‘make this, if it were the last feat of his life, a supremely glorious one’.

The fight continued until – inevitably – an Indian arrow hit its target. Alexander ‘was struck… below the breast’. The wound caused him to falter. The archer who had shot him ran up to deliver the coup de grâce. His hubris was the death of him. Alexander lunged his sword into the Indian’s side. Using a branch, the king hauled himself to his feet to continue the fight. Despite his injury and the pain he must have been in, Alexander ‘defied the Indians to come forward and fight’.

On the other side of the city wall, a third ladder had been found and was now flung against the wall. Peucestes (more commonly called Peucestas), the man who had carried the sacred shield into battle ever since Alexander took it from Troy, climbed up first.

Leaping down into the city, Peucestes covered Alexander with his shield. More Macedonians now followed. The Indians took fright and withdrew.

The Macedonians took the city ‘by storm. In a fury at the injury to their king, [they] killed all whom they met and filled the city with corpses’.

Alexander was seriously injured. So much so that a rumour went round the Greek settlements in Bactria and Sogdiana that he had died. The settlers had never really wanted to live in these wild and unfriendly places and so packed their bags to begin the long journey home. They never made it, being ‘massacred by the Macedonians after Alexander’s death’.

Hands up anyone who thought of the Greeks when they read about the Sydracae and Mallians falling out over who should command the army! That was certainly my first reaction.

Why did Alexander publicly admonish Demophon? What was so important about the city that he simply had to attack it? I wonder if it wasn’t just a matter of pride – something that Alexander was feeling a lot of after his humiliating climb down on the Hydaspes River.

I think the image of Alexander, an arrow sticking out of his chest, shouting at the Indians to to fight him is one of my most favourite from the whole of Diodorus’ book. The whole episode – how he climbed up the wall first, jumped into the citadel/city and kept fighting says everything that needs to be said about Alexander as a general.

The south-west wall of Multan’s citadel.

Did Alexander jump down here?









Only Diodorus knows, and he ain’t telling

Photo: From Livius

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