Plutarch

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

Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (71 – 77)

With this post, I conclude my read through of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander over on Tumblr, here are the links to Chapters 71-77.

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Chapter Seventy-One – The Mutiny at Opis
Chapter Seventy-Two – Hephaestion’s Death and Alexander’s Grief
Chapter Seventy-three – Portents of Alexander’s Death
Chapter Seventy-Four – The Antipatrids’ Alleged Rôle in Alexander’s Death
Chapter Seventy-Five – Superstition and Heavy Drinking
Alexander’s Letter to Cleomenes
Chapter Seventy-Six – Alexander’s Last Eleven Days, a day-by-day account
Chapter Seventy-Seven – Was Alexander Poisoned?

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Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (64 – 70)

As I continue my read through of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander over on Tumblr, here are the links to Chapters 64-70.

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Chapter Sixty-Four – The Gymnosophists
Chapter Sixty-Five – Calanus and Dandamis
Chapter Sixty-Six – Ocean and Desert
Chapter Sixty-Seven – Carmanian Revel
Chapter Sixty-Eight – Restoring Order to the Empire
Chapter Sixty-Nine – Cyrus the Great’s Tomb & Calanus’ Self-Immolation
Chapter Seventy – The Susa Weddings

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Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (57 – 63)

As I continue my read through of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander over on Tumblr, here are the links to Chapters 57-63.

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Chapter Fifty-Seven – Baggage Burning, Ill Omens, and the Discovery of Oil
Chapter Fifty-Eight – Sisimithres, the Younger Alexander, Nysa
Chapter Fifty-Nine – Generous to Taxiles, Ruthless towards the Indian Mercenaries
Chapter Sixty – The Battle of the Hydaspes River
Chapter Sixty-One – On Bucephalas
Chapter Sixty-Two – At The Hyphasis River
Chapter Sixty-Three – The Siege of the Mallian City

 

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Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (50 – 56)

As I continue my read through of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander over on Tumblr, here are the links to Chapters 50-56.

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Chapter Fifty – Alexander’s and Black Cleitus’s Confrontation
Chapter Fifty-One – Black Cleitus’ Downfall
Chapter Fifty-Two – Alexander’s Remorse
Chapter Fifty-Three – Callisthenes’ Character
Chapter Fifty-Four – Callisthenes’ Lack of Common Sense
Chapter Fifty-Five – Callisthenes’ Downfall
Chapter Fifty-Six – Concerning Demaratus the Corinthian

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Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (43 – 49)

As I continue my read through of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander over on Tumblr, here are the links to Chapters 43-49.

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Chapter Forty-Three – Finding Darius
Chapter Forty-Four – A Matter of Inaccurate Geography
Chapter Forty-Five – Alexander adopts Perso-Median dress/His army’s reaction
Chapter Forty-Six – Thallestris, Queen of the Amazons
Chapter Forty-Seven Splits within the Macedonian army and bringing East and West together
Chapter Forty-Eight – Philotas’ Character
Chapter Forty-Nine – The Philotas Affair

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Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (36 – 42)

As I continue my read through of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander over on Tumblr, here are the links to Chapters 36-42.

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Chapter Thirty-Six – Susa’s riches
Chapter Thirty-Seven – Through Persia to Persepolis
Chapter Thirty-Eight – Thaïs of Athens
Chapter Thirty-Nine – Alexander’s Insistent Generosity
Chapter Forty – The Macedonian Officers’ Indulgence
Chapter Forty-One – Alexander’s Forbearance with his Friends
Chapter Forty-Two – Alexander the Correspondent, later decline and Pursuit of Darius III

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Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (29 – 35)

With apologies for its lateness here are my links to Chapter 29 – 35 of my Plutarch read-through, which I am currently doing on this blog’s Tumblr page.

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Chapter Twenty-Nine – Sacrifices and contests in Phoenicia
Chapter Thirty – Stateira I’s death; Darius III and Tireos
Chapter Thirty-One – Gaugamela: Through Mesopotamia to the Eve of Battle
Chapter Thirty-Two – Gaugamela: The morning of the Battle and some of its actions
Chapter Thirty-Three – The Battle of Gaugamela
Chapter Thirty-Four – From Gaugamela to Babylon
Chapter Thirty-Five – On Naphtha

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Torture in Arrian and Plutarch

Part 2 Torture in Curtius (I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 49

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (22 – 28)

I’m writing this not one week after posting my last weekly up date but about one minute! While writing it I realised that I should have posted the Chapter 15 – 21 list last week and completely forgot so apologies for that.

Here is today’s list. The links will take you to The Second Achilles‘ Tumblr page where I am writing my read through of Plutarch’s Life.

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Chapter Twenty-Two – More on Alexander’s self-restraint
Chapter Twenty-Three – Alexander’s Routine
Chapter Twenty-Four – Damascus and Tyre
Chapter Twenty-Five – Aristander
Chapter Twenty-Six – Alexandria to Siwah
Chapter Twenty-Seven – The Son of Zeus
Chapter Twenty-Eight – Man and God

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