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

The Flawed Brilliance of Alexander

Justin’s Alexander
Book XII Chapters 11-16
Part Six
Other posts in this series

For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus

Chapter Eleven
During Alexander’s expedition, his men, when not fighting, had somehow managed to get themselves deep in debt. Following the Susa weddings, Alexander paid that debt off in its entirety. It cost him twenty thousand talents to do so. One can only wonder how the men had managed to spend that much. Either way,

[Alexander’s] munificence was highly prized, not only for the sum given, but for the character of the gift, and was received not more thankfully by the debtors than by the creditors, exaction being as troublesome to the one as payment to the other.

Once the debts had been paid, Alexander proceeded to discharge his older veterans. Despite the kindness that their king had just showed them, the remaining men complained (during an assembly) that the discharge should be on the basis of service not age.

Justin describes the men as speaking to Alexander not only with ‘entreaties’ but also with ‘reproach’. Rather sulkily, they bid him to ‘“carry on his wars alone, with the aid of his father Ammon, since he looked with disdain on his soldiers.”’

In reply, Alexander oscillated between berating his men and speaking to them ‘in gentler terms’. When neither approach worked, he leapt down from his dais and personally arrested the ringleaders.

Chapter Twelve
His next action was to commend his Persian soldiers for their loyalty and enrol a thousand of them into his bodyguard as well as a number of auxiliaries into the regular army.

This cut the Macedonians to the quick, and they went to Alexander ‘beseeching him with tears “to content himself rather with punishing than ill-treating them.”’ Their pleas worked and Alexander released more veterans.

It is really striking, in this and the previous chapter, how fraught Alexander’s relationship with his men is. One minute they are friends, then enemies, then friends again. It’s as if their relationship has lost its foundations and has become a matter of shifting sands. And why? I think because of the army’s profound tiredness and Alexander’s perennial desire to get his way.

Justin notes that it was around of what we call the Opis Mutiny that Hephaestion died.

Alexander mourned for him longer than became his dignity as a king, built a monument for him that cost twelve thousand talents, and gave orders that he should be worshipped as a god.

Chapter Thirteen
Alexander returned to Babylon ‘from the distant shores of the ocean’. On the way, he was warned by the Magic’“not to enter the city,” for that the “place would be fatal to him.”’. As a result, the king took a diversion to an uninhabited city called Borsippa ‘on the other side of the Euphrates’.

There, however, the philosopher (and professional flatterer) Anaxarchus persuaded him to go to Babylon after all.  Anaxarchus argued that “if things were fixed by fate, they were unknown to mortals, and if they were dependent on the course of nature, were unchangeable.” Que sera, sera.

I am always rather suspicious when I read of about-turns like this. Alexander was not a puppet. He did what he wanted – even in matters of religion* – not what anyone else would have him do. Still, who knows what mental state he was in after Hephaestion’s death; perhaps this did make him more open to influence?

In Babylon, Alexander rested and resumed ‘the entertainments which had been for some time discontinued’ (no doubt as a result of Hephaestion’s death). One night, at a party given by an officer named Medius, the king collapsed in such extreme pain that he asked for someone to kill him.

His friends reported that the cause of his disease was excess in drinking, but in reality it was a conspiracy, the infamy of which the power of his successors threw into the shade.

* For example, when he took part in the attack of Tyre (Arrian 2:27) and crossed the Tanais (aka Jaxartes Arrian 4:4) despite Aristander’s warnings that the omens were against him

Chapter Fourteen
Justin blames Antipater for Alexander’s death. This chapter has a lot to say about Antipater but less about Alexander. I can’t move on, however, without recording what Justin tells us concerning the poison used to kill the king.

The strength of this poison was so great, that it could be contained neither in brass, nor iron, nor shell, nor could be conveyed in any other way than in the hoof of a horse.

Too strong for metal but able to be safely transported in a hoof. Perhaps Justin was tired when he wrote this.

Chapter Fifteen
Justin has been critical of Alexander. But he allow shim to die in a a noble fashion. Meeting his men for the last time, Alexander

… not only did not shed a tear, but showed not the least token of sorrow; so that he even comforted some who grieved immoderately, and gave others messages to their parents

Alexander, Justin says, was as prepared for death as he was for battle. Can any higher praise be given? Once the last soldier had left, the king asked his friends if they would find another like him. When they did not reply,

he said that, “although he did not know that, he knew, and could foretel, and almost saw with his eyes, how much blood Macedonia would shed in the disputes that would follow his death, and with what slaughters, and what quantities of gore, she would perform his obsequies.”

Finally, the royal friends did speak, and they asked Alexander who should succeed him.

He replied, “The most worthy.”

This response meets with Justin’s whole hearted approval. He says that,

Such was [Alexander’s] nobleness of spirit, that though he left a son named Hercules, a brother called Aridaeus, and his wife Roxane with child, yet, forgetting his relations, he named only “the most worthy” as his successor; as though it were unlawful for any but a brave man to succeed a brave man, or for the power of so great an empire to be left to any but approved governors.

Unfortunately, as Justin recognises, this nobleness opened the door for the wars that followed.


Six days after Medius’ party, Alexander gave his ring to Perdiccas. This act at guaranteed that there would at least be a transitional government while the identity of the next king was decided.

Chapter Sixteen
Justin sums up Alexander by paying him a number of compliments.

He was a man endowed with powers of mind far beyond ordinary human capacity.

[Olympias] certainly bore in her womb a conception superior to mortality… by no one’s influence was she rendered more illustrious than that of her son.

[As king, Alexander] inspired his soldiers with such confidence in him, that, when he was present, they feared the arms of no enemy, though they themselves were unarmed.

Justin also mentions the omens of Alexander’s ‘future greatness’ that were seen at his birth and acknowledges his unbeaten record as a general. Finally, he concludes, when Alexander died,

[h]e was overcome at last, not by the prowess of any enemy, but by a conspiracy of those whom he trusted, and the treachery of his own subjects.

Before starting this series of posts, I had a picture of Justin as being uniformly negative towards Alexander. That was the impression I got after reading From Tyrant to Philosopher-King.

However, while Justin does not hesitate to mention Alexander’s major fault – his medising – and his minor ones – his manipulativeness, for example – it is also true to say that he is very complimentary about the Macedonian king. No where is this more seen than in the last two chapters above.

It is possible, of course, that I have misread what Justin wrote, or that the translation I have used is not an accurate one, but assuming that neither is the case, I finish this series with a sense of Justin’s fairness and ability to recognise Alexander’s good whenever he sees it.

As for the mediaeval writers who used Justin to denigrate Alexander; well, I’m not going to criticise them., even though it seems to me (after reading the Epitome) that their reading must have been rather selective. The fact is, we know from other sources that Alexander did medise.

One last point – in case Justin has expressed any further opinion of Alexander in the other books of his Epitome and you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned it/them here, it’s because I have only read Books 11 and 12. If you know of any other statements of Justin, though, feel free to mention them in the comments below.


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The Fatal Macedonian

Justin’s Alexander
Book XII Chapters 5-10
Part Five
Other posts in this series

For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus

Chapter Five
In the last post, we saw how Alexander ‘easternised’ and tried to guide his friends and the army towards doing the same. Justin’s exact words are that Alexander ‘desired’ that his friends adopt Persian dress (Chapter 3) and ‘permitted’ his men to marry barbarian women (Chapter 4).

To my mind desired and permitted are positive words. But there is no doubt that Justin himself regarded these developments as a bad thing. He says that Alexander only ‘permitted’ his men to marry barbarian women so that he did,

not appear to be the only person who yielded to the vices of those whom he had conquered in the field

and he talks about Alexander acting ‘as if he gave himself up to the customs of those whom be had conquered.’ (my emphasis).

At the start of Chapter 5, Justin repeats the assertion (made in the previous chapter) that what angered the Macedonians was not simply that Alexander had taken on Persian mores but that in doing so he had ‘cast off the customs of his father Philip and of his country.’

It might have been better for Alexander to row back on his innovations and proceed thereafter more slowly and with greater caution – although in an inherently aggressive society such as his that is debatable – but instead, he turned inwardly against his men for the first time.

Justin describes the king as showing ‘a passionate temper towards those about him, not with a princely severity, but with the vindictiveness of an enemy’. He states that Philotas’ and Parmenion’s execution came about as a result of their criticising the king’s behaviour.

Parmenion’s and Philotas’ executions drove a wedge between the king and his men. What he has done to the ‘innocent old general and his son’, they said, we must expect to happen to ourselves.

What was Alexander’s response? Did he reassure his men that this would not happen*? No. He manipulated them into writing letters home, letters which he then took possession of and read. On doing so,

… he put all those, who had given unfavourable opinions of his conduct, into one regiment, with an intention either to destroy them, or to distribute them in colonies in the most distant parts of the earth.  

It’s one thing to adopt foreign customs, but quite another to treat his own men so badly. The Justinian anti-Alexander propaganda machine is getting into its stride now.

* In the same way he reassured Philotas’ relatives that they would not be punished along with him by repealing the law which allowed for the relatives of a condemned man to be executed as well (Curtius 6.11.20)

Chapter Six
Propaganda it may have have been, but true it also was*. And that was Alexander’s problem – he made these rods for his own back. For example, the king’s murder of Black Cleitus after the latter ‘defended the memory of Philip’ during a drunken party.

To his credit, though, Justin doesn’t simply say ‘Alexander got drunk and killed Cleitus out of pride’. He also relates the king’s regret, his attempt to kill himself, his continued remorse and realisation of how dreadful he must now appear to his men. In the end, Alexander was saved from his grief by his men, and Callisthenes, in particular. The wedge between them, it seems, was not unbridgeable.

* I’m giving Justin the benefit of the doubt here as Curtius (7.2.35-38) and Diodorus (XIII.17.80) also mention the incident.

Chapter Seven
… and yet, still Alexander persisted with his desire to be treated as if was a Persian monarch. Thus, though admittedly with hesitation, ‘he gave orders that he should not be approached with mere salutation, but with adoration’.

Black Cleitus’ death had not lessoned the opposition of the Macedonians. Callisthenes refused to prostrate himself to the king. And, having saved Alexander’s life, now lost his own to him. I wonder if that is why Justin made sure to mention the historian’s role in saving Alexander’s life as it now makes the his death all the more poignant – and bitter.

Several Macedonians died because they refused to indulge Alexander’s whim. But they did not die in vain; at least, not completely – Justin states that while the ‘custom of saluting their king was… retained by the Macedonians, adoration [was] set aside’.

In the Daedalian Mountains, Alexander received the submission of Queen Cleophis. Justin adds tartly that she ‘recovered her throne from him by admitting him to her bed’.

Curtius (8.10.35-36) also mentions Cleophis, though he only says that – according to some – it was simply her beauty that won her back her throne. He recognises, however, that at some point, she did give birth to a son which she named Alexander.

The Notes to my edition of Curtius cite A V Gutschmid (n.68) who said that Cleophis was a Roman invention*. I can well believe it. Even if Alexander did not abstain from sex, as Plutarch suggests (with the exception of Barsine), the respect he had for women surely makes the scenario given by Justin unlikely.

* An allusion to Cleopatra VII

Chapter Eight
The end of this chapter marks the end of Alexander’s eastward journey. Worn out by the constant travel and war, the Macedonian army begged their king to take them return home. Rather surprisingly (to me, anyway) given the antagonism between them since his adoption of Persian dress and customs, Alexander agreed to the men’s request.

Chapter Nine
This chapter covers more of Alexander’s battles, including the occasion when the king leapt into the city of the Sigambri* where he fought ‘alone against thousands’ until he was felled by an arrow. Typically, the ‘curing of the wound caused him more suffering than the wound itself.’

* Or, the Mallian city (See Arrian 6.9-12 and Plutarch Para. 63); Curtius calls it the City of the Sudracae (9.4.26-33; 9.5.1-21). Diodorus deals with the assault in VIII.17.98-99 but it isn’t clear to me from his narrative where the city was located

Chapter Ten
Alexander had returned to Babylon, where,

many of the conquered people sent deputations to accuse their governors, whom Alexander, without any regard to his former friendship for them, commanded to be put to death in the sight of the deputies.

I can’t decide whether Justin means this statement to be taken positively or otherwise.

On the one hand, a just judge should not be thinking of friendships when trying cases.

On the other, I do get the impression that when Justin says the governors were put to death ‘in the sight of the deputies’ Alexander was using the executions as a means of intimidation. But again, perhaps that was a good thing for him to do.

Justin concludes with a brief reference to the Susa Weddings. Alexander, he says, married Stateira II. He had his leading men marry

… the noblest virgins… in order that the impropriety of the king’s conduct might be rendered less glaring by the practice becoming general.

This is the third time Alexander has acted along these lines*. Given the king’s pride, I think it is better to take this statement as Justin’s opinion rather than of fact.

* After asking and permitting his friends and army to wear Persian dress and marry barbarian women, as described above

The storm clouds have definitely broken. And yet, Justin still mentions aspects of Alexander’s behaviour that could be taken positively. I have to give him credit for that. What the above chapters have really brought home to me is the fact that the Macedonian army’s estrangement from its king – in Justin’s eyes – was wholly connected to their love for Philip. I am not used to thinking of Philip II as a king beloved of his men.

One last point – Justin’s narrative contains a number of errors. For example, his assertion that Parmenion and Philotas were executed after criticising Alexander’s adoption of Persian dress and customs, and that Parmenion was tortured before being killed. A list of the mistakes are for another post; for now, I just wanted to acknowledge them here lest anyone thought they weren’t in my mind.


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The Light of Philip Recedes

Justin’s Alexander
Book XII Chapters 1-4
Part Four
Other posts in this series

For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus

Chapter One
For the Greeks, burying the dead was a matter of religious necessity. If they were not laid to rest in the proper fashion, their souls could never pass through ‘the gates of Hades’ (Iliad 23:71*) and have peace.

Justin states that Alexander lost a number of his men ‘in the pursuit of Darius’. Being religiously devout, he made sure to bury them before resuming his eastward march.

But though Alexander was a pious man, he was also, as we have seen, an expert manipulator of people. Thus, he not only buried his men, but did so ‘at great expense’.

This reminds me of the burial of those who died in the Battle of the Granicus River. In 11:6, Justin states that they were buried,

… sumptuously as an encouragement to the rest, honouring them also with equestrian statues, and granting privileges to their relatives.

I am sure the men deserved the special care and honour given to them. But I am equally sure that Alexander was keen to forestall any disquiet in his army occasioned by losses** so early on in the expedition. This, of course, was no longer an issue after Darius’ death, but Alexander was surely keen to keep his men’s morale up so that he could keep pushing east. Lavish funerals were one way to achieve that (as, no doubt, were the 13,000 talents he distributed to the survivors, afterwards).

Following the death of Darius, Justin reports that Alexander was given news of King Agis’ failed revolt back in Greece, King Alexander of Epirus’ failed war in italy, and the death of Zopyrion, the ‘lieutenant-general’ of Scythia (Thrace, according to Curtius – see Chapter One). Alexander cried for Zopyrion’s loss; but, lest we get too dewy-eyed about his empathy, Justin says that the king,

…was affected with various emotions but felt more joy at learning the deaths of two rival kings, than sorrow at the loss of Zopyrion and his army.

It seems to me that here we either have proof of where Alexander’s ultimate priorities lay or an attempt by Justin to blacken his character.

Staying with Justin, he clearly liked Agis as he dedicates the next paragraph of his short work to an account of the king of Sparta’s fall. Agis kept fighting even as his men fled the battlefield. He wanted the world to know that if he was ‘inferior to Alexander [it was] in fortune only, not in valour’. Justin was convinced. When Agis died, he did so ‘overpowered by numbers… superior to all in glory.’

‘Superior to all’. Even, one must assume, to Alexander the Great.

* The Iliad tr. by Stephen Mitchell (Wiedenfeld & Nicholson 2012)

** Admittedly, Justin says that only 129 Macedonians died at the Granicus River. I am presuming that this is an under-exaggeration (is that a real phrase?)

Chapter Two
This chapter is given over to an account of Alexander of Epirus’ actions and death in Italy and of Zopyrion’s death.

Chapter Three
Justin now confuses me a little. As mentioned above, he states that Alexander ‘felt… joy at learning the deaths of two rival kings’. I.e. Agis and Alexander of Epirus. Now, however, he reports that,

…he  [Alexander of Macedon] assumed a show of grief on account of his relationship to Alexander [of Epirus], and caused the army to mourn for three days.

By saying that Alexander ‘assumed a show of grief’, is he suggesting that it was not real?

Whatever the answer, Justin doesn’t dwell on it. Instead, he gives us another example of Alexander the manipulator. With Darius dead, his men think they will be going home. In a general assembly, the king tells them Not so. We did not come for Darius’ body but his throne. If we return west now, our victories in previous battles will count for nothing.

The barbarians of the east had to be subjected, and – perhaps more to the point for Alexander, – those who had killed Darius had to be punished. Now that Alexander was Great King, he had to avenge his predecessor.

At this point, Justin pauses long enough to tell the story of Alexander’s thirteen day tryst with Thalestris (aka Thallestris), whom he also calls Minithya. Once that is over, he states that,

Alexander assumed the attire of the Persian monarchs, as well as the diadem, which was unknown to the kings of Macedonia, as if he gave himself up to the customs of those whom be had conquered.

At the same time, and in emulation of the Persian kings, he began holding extravagant feasts, games alongside them, and sleeping ‘among troops of the king’s concubines of eminent beauty and birth.’. To forestall criticism of this medising, Justin says that Alexander ‘desired his friends also to wear the long robe of gold and purple.’

Justin himself has no time for this behaviour, and he accuses Alexander of ‘being utterly unmindful that power is accustomed to be lost, not gained, by such practices’. This is the most critical Justin has been of Alexander since 11:10.

Chapter Four
Alexander’s army was equally unimpressed. According to Justin, there was,

… a general indignation that he had so degenerated from his father Philip as to abjure the very name of his country, and to adopt the manners of the Persians, whom, from the effect of such manners, he had overcome.

But Alexander was undeterred, and just as he had asked his friends to adopt Persian dress, he encouraged the rank and file to marry barbarian women. This policy had a duel purpose. Firstly, to make the Macedonians accept Alexander’s behaviour, and secondly, to make the men think of home – Macedon – less often, for if their wives were here, their home would now be the camp. Thirdly, the marriages would produce sons who would grow up to succeed their fathers in the army. We can argue about the morality of Alexander’s actions, but there’s no denying the cleverness of this policy, one which was – Justin says – continued by the Successors.

The gathering clouds are definitely getting very dark now. It’s true, we see him being pious but perhaps also fake (in his supposed grief for Alexander of Epirus) and definitely effete according to the Macedonians. Alexander’s adoption of Persian dress and customs, and his attempt to draw his men into that lifestyle, is driving a wedge between him and his army.

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Decay Sets In

Justin’s Alexander
Book XI Chapters 10-15
Part Three
Other posts in this series

For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus

Chapter Ten
We ended the last post on a high, with Alexander showing his respect for the Persian royal women.

Unfortunately, we begin this post on a low as Justin pinpoints the aftermath of the Battle of Issus as the moment when Alexander first allowed himself to be seduced by Eastern riches and beauty. The Macedonian king was ‘seized with admiration’ of Darius’ ‘wealth and display’. As a result ‘… he… began to indulge in luxurious and splendid banquets’.

Justin also says that it was at this time that Alexander ‘fell in love with his captive Barsine* for her beauty’. In 327/6 she would give him a son, Hercules. If this sounds very romantic, Justin’s reference to Barsine indicates that he considered Alexander’s love for her to be part of his degeneration.

Justin gives a more positive view of Alexander when he describes how the latter appointed Abdolonymus as king of Sidon. He says that Alexander put Abdolonymus, rather than a Sidonian nobleman, on the throne ‘lest they should regard his favour as shown to their birth, and not as proceeding from the kindness of the giver’.

* Daughter of Artabazus

Chapter Eleven
We can’t have too much of a good thing, though, and it is Alexander the manipulator who now returns. In some style, too. Justin relates how his mother, Olympias, ‘confessed to her husband Philip, that “she had conceived Alexander, not by him, but by a serpent of extraordinary size” and that, in consequence of this, Philip had disowned Alexander and divorced her. Alexander visited Siwah, therefore, ‘anxious to obtain the honour of divine paternity, and to clear his mother from infamy’.

To make sure both his wishes were satisfied, the king sent messengers ahead of him to tell the priests ‘what answers he wished to receive’. Upon his arrival, they duly hailed Alexander as the son of Ammon and, for good measure, told his friends ‘that “they should reverence [him] as a god, and not as a king.”‘

Justin says that the announcement of his divinity increased Alexander’s ‘haughtiness’ and brought about ‘a strange arrogance… in his mind, the agreeableness of demeanour, which he had contracted from the philosophy of the Greeks and the habits of the Macedonians, being entirely laid aside.’

Chapter Twelve
In the period that followed, Darius tried to buy Alexander off by offering him money, territory and ‘one of his daughters” (perhaps Stateira II as she was the oldest of the two) hand in marriage. Alexander rejected these overtures. He didn’t want money, he wanted the whole Persian empire. And it was no use offering part of the empire and Stateira II to him as he already possessed both. Alexander told Darius ‘”to come to him as a suppliant, and to leave the disposal of his kingdom to his conqueror.”’

Clearly, Alexander had no time for Darius. I would hesitate to say that this was due to his post-Siwah haughtiness, however; he would certainly have given the same reply at any other point of his life – but this did not influence his treatment of Darius’ family. Thus, when the Great King was informed (by an escaped eunuch) that ‘“his wife [Stateira I] had died of a miscarriage’ he was also told ‘that Alexander had mourned for her death, and attended her funeral’. Importantly, given who Stateira I was, the eunuch gave Alexander’s motive for his behaviour as ‘kindness of feeling’ rather than love, for ‘Darius’s wife had been visited by him but once, though he had often gone to console his mother and her little daughters’.

Following the events of Siwah, this is a very welcome return to nobility for Alexander. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. When Darius thanked him for his kindness towards Stateira I, and made an offer of more money, land and a daughter’s hand in marriage in order to end hostilities between them, Alexander rather proudly – as it seems to me – replied that he had no need of the Great King’s thanks. Nothing,

“had been done by him to flatter Darius, or to gain the means of mollifying him, with a view either to the doubtful results of war, or to conditions of peace; but that he had acted from a certain greatness of mind, by which he had learned to fight against the forces of his enemies, not to take advantage of their misfortunes…”

I find it impossible to read ‘from a certain greatness of mind’ without imagining Alexander looking down his nose at Darius.

Chapter Thirteen
As the Macedonian and Persian armies lined up to fight the Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander gave his men another inspirational speech. Unsurprisingly, and wisely, he met the issue of superior Persian numbers head-on. Don’t be alarmed that the Persian army is greater in size than our own, he told them, Darius is only fighting with more human beings. We are fighting with more men. If nothing else, that is a neat turn of phrase.

Chapter Fourteen
This chapter covers the Battle of Gaugamela, its aftermath and Alexander’s subsequent march to Susa and Persepolis. Justin’s treatment of the new Great King is limited to a comment about how bravely he fought at Gaugamela,

Alexander… made the most hazardous efforts; where he saw the enemy thickest, and fighting most desperately, there he always threw himself, desiring that the peril should be his, and not his soldiers’.

and an acknowledgement of his kindness towards the mutilated Greeks to whom he gave permission to return home from their Persian exile.

Chapter Fifteen
Alexander comes to the fore in an indirect manner here. Justin recounts how Darius was found mortally wounded after being attacked by ‘his relatives*’. Before dying, he commended Alexander once again for his kindness to his ‘mother and children’. He had proved himself ‘a prince, not… a foe’.

Upon reaching Darius’ body, Alexander,

… contemplated with tears a death so unsuitable to his dignity. He also directed his corpse to be buried as that of a king, and his relics to be conveyed to the sepulchres of his ancestors.

So, after the blows done to Alexander’s reputation during the course of these chapters – specifically, the beginning of his medising after Issus and the arrogance that came from being declared son of Ammon – we are able to end on a positive note, one which reminds us of what we have known since the first post in this series – Alexander’s respect for history, and adds something new – his respect for Persian religious practices and fallen enemies.

* i.e. Bessus

The clouds are definitely gathering around Justin’s Alexander. If it doesn’t seem like it that is only because Justin prioritises telling Alexander’s story rather than dwelling on the on-going impact of the latter’s decision to adopt a Persian lifestyle. It is interesting, though, that Justin still finds time to give an account of some of Alexander’s more positive actions – it would have been very easy for him to exclude them – think of the way Ptolemy is supposed to have suppressed the role of Thaïs’, his mistress, in the destruction of the royal palace at Persepolis – but no, there they are for us to see and appreciate. Can we say that this is proof that Justin was not wholly antagonistic towards Alexander?

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Alexander, Slicer of Knots

Justin’s Alexander
Book XI Chapters 6-9
Part Two
Other posts in this series

For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus

Chapter Six
When deciding upon a title for the first post in this series, I considered ‘Alexander the Pragmatist’ as that seemed to be a key feature of his early kingship. I eventually decided against it as I didn’t think Alexander could be fully described by one word alone.

Nevertheless, his pragmatism was an important element of his rule, and we shall see it more than once today. For example, Justin reports that as the Macedonian army advanced through Asia, Alexander exhorted his men not to destroy the land – as it was their property.

Having mentioned this, Justin allows himself for a brief moment to be in awe of his subject. The Macedonian army was a small force consisting of just 32,000 infantry and 4,500 cavalry. Justin remarks,

Whether, with this small force, it is more wonderful that he conquered the world, or that he dared to attempt its conquest, is difficult to determine.

Another example of Alexander’s pragmatism then follows. He entered Asia not with an army comprised of ‘robust young men, or men in the flower of their age’ but veterans, ‘masters of war’. Further to this, Justin says that none of the officers were under sixty.

He is exaggerating the age of Alexander’s army. But why would he do so? I wonder if it is an attempt to rationalise the magnitude of Alexander’s achievement, one that – in his opinion – was surely beyond the power of young men to attain.

Having said that, it’s true that Alexander began his expedition with much older men riding alongside him – Parmenion, for example, and perhaps Erygius? He knew the value of experience.

In his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it account of the Battle of the Granicus River, Justin notes that Alexander’s ‘conduct’ – his bravery – was as much responsible for the Persian defeat as ‘the valour of the Macedonians’. And again, ‘the terror of his name’ is said to have played as large a part in defeating Darius’ lieutenants as his weapons did.

Chapter Seven
A further example of Alexander’s pragmatism begins this chapter. On hearing of Alexander Lyncestes’ alleged treachery, the king doesn’t have him executed but put under arrest. He knows that he is still close to Macedon to avoid trouble from the pro-Lyncestian faction there.

Another feature of Alexander’s character that we saw in the first post was his respect for history, albeit when it suited him. Here, he is not so much selective about what he says but particular in his interpretation.

Justin reports that Alexander took Gordium,

… not so much for the sake of plunder, as because he had heard that in that city, in the temple of Jupiter, was deposited the yoke of Gordius’s car; the knot of which, if anyone should loose, the oracles of old had predicted that he should rule all Asia.

Alexander searched for the ends of the knot but was unable to find them. Unwilling to give up (and risk his army being unsettled by the bad omen), he simply cut the through the knot and announced that he had undone it. He had certainly put, as Justin puts it ‘a forced interpretation on the oracle’. Most importantly, though, it was accepted.

Chapter Eight
Justin says that Alexander ‘crossed Mount Taurus’ (to reach Cilicia) because he feared its defiles. This is certainly not the witness of Curtius.

We move on to the severe illness that afflicted Alexander after he went to bathe in the Cydnus River, and which left him gravely ill.

With a little kindness, we might say that having been warned by Parmenion that Philip of Arcanania meant to poison him, the king was very brave to trust his doctor’s medicine. I suspect Justin is right, though, when he says that ‘Alexander, however, thought it better to trust the doubtful faith of the physician, than to perish of certain disease.’

Chapter Nine
Issus. As the Macedonian and Persian armies approached each other, Justin reports Alexander as being concerned by the small size of his force versus the huge one opposite him. He calmed his nerves by recalling the ‘powerful people he had overthrown’ and marched on.

That was fine for Alexander, but what about his men? Justin notes that to stop them worrying, the king decided a. not to avoid giving battle (so as to not give the men time to panic), and b. to stop and start as they marched towards the Persians to enable his men to get used to what lay before them.

As you might expect, he also encouraged his men with a stirring speech, or rather, several – one tailored for each nationality represented.

He excited the Illyrians and Thracians by describing the enemy’s wealth and treasures, and the Greeks by putting them in mind of their wars of old, and their deadly hatred towards the Persians. He reminded the Macedonians at one time of their conquests in Europe, and at another of their desire to subdue Asia, boasting that no troops in the world had been found a match for them, and assuring them that this battle would put an end to their labours and crown their glory.

Alexander the manipulator at his finest.

One thing that is on my mind though is, did he really intend to stop his eastward expedition after Issus (presuming he thought that there would be no further fighting between it and Babylon?) or was he simply lying?

Following the Battle of Issus, Justin takes us into the Persian royal women’s tent where he describes Alexander as being ‘touched with the respectful concern of the princesses for Darius’. His sympathy for, and the help he subsequently gave to, Sisygambis, Stateira I, Stateira II and Drypetis is undoubtedly a high point in Justin’s treatment of him.

Again, I come away from the book with a sense of Justin’s being on the whole positive towards Alexander. He does describe the Macedonian king as doing some negative actions but they are not dwelt upon. I rather feel at the moment that the real story of Justin’s attitude is to be found between the lines rather than it what he says upfront.

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