Quintus Curtius Rufus

The Pilgrim Conqueror

Two weeks ago, I watched a film called The Way. In it, Martin Sheen plays a bereaved father who undertakes the Camino pilgrimage in memory his son, Daniel, who died while undertaking the same journey. Since then, pilgrimages have been much on my mind – even to the point when I’ve thought about doing the Camino myself. I’m a Catholic so the idea of a pilgrimage is a familiar one to me. I also have personal reasons for wanting to undertake the walk.

God and I certainly need to have a chat – about terrible jobs, His Church and a lot else besides. Let’s see what happens; in the mean time, The Way has also lead me to take a closer look at Alexander’s expedition to the east.

I am accustomed to seeing the expedition as a single event, one which involved a march from Macedon to India and back to Babylon, and which involved a war of conquest as well as other types of battles (for example, a war of liberation in Asia Minor) and missions (a quest for glory for Alexander). Maybe this is how you see the expedition as well.

However, after watching The Way it occurred to me that Alexander also undertook several pilgrimages during the course of his kingship. For example, in 336, after securing for himself the captainship of the pan-hellenic crusade against the Persian Empire, he went to Delphi to find out what the gods thought of his expedition (Plutarch Life of Alexander 14). One of his first actions in Asia Minor was to visit Troy to pay homage to Achilles (Arrian I.12.1); Diodorus XVII.17; Justin XI.5.10-12; Plutarch LoA 15). And in Egypt, he went out of his way to visit to the temple of Amon at Siwah (Arrian III.3.1-4.5; Curtius IV.7.5-32; Diodorus XVII.49-51; Justin XI.11.2-12; Plutarch LoA 26-27). In India, Alexander approached Nysa intending to lay siege to it. After the Nysaeans claimed Dionysus as their father, however, Alexander took what could be called a pilgrimage up a mountain associated with the god. I hesitate to call this a true pilgrimage, however; to be quite honest it could have just been an excuse for the Macedonians to go on a drunken bender (See Curtius VIII.10.1-18; Arrian’s account of Alexander’s visit is more dignified – Ar. V.1.1-2.7). Finally, on the way back to Babylon, Alexander paused to visit the tomb of Cyrus (Arrian VI.29.4-11; Curtius X.1.30-32).

People go on pilgrimage for many reasons. Sometimes it is religious, sometimes not. For the most part, the purpose of Alexander’s pilgrimages were military and religious. Delphi, Troy and Siwah all fall into the former category; Nysa and Cyrus’ tomb into the latter. And they were all very personal experiences for him – especially Siwah.

At the end of The Way, Martin Sheen’s character finds a measure of peace following his arrival in Santiago. Whatever the reason one undertakes a pilgrimage that ought to be the least that comes out of it. Unfortunately for Alexander, none of his pilgrimages lead him to becoming a more peaceful person. This is because they all served his purpose rather than helping to define it.

For example, he went to Delphi not to find out if he should undertake the expedition but to find out if the gods approved of it. I have no doubt that he would have still left for the east even if he had received a warning not to do so (look at how Alexander ignored Aristander’s warning at Gaza (Arrian II.26.4-27.1 and again in Sogdia [Arrian IV.4.3]). Perhaps, as might have happened at the Hyphasis river, another sacrifice would have been carried out, one which this time delivered the ‘correct’ result.

One can’t blame Alexander for not finding peace in his pilgrimages. He did not live in a time of peace and in any case, this conception of a pilgrimage is probably a Christian one so it would be unfair to judge him by it. Despite that, I have enjoyed breaking down Alexander’s journey a little, seeing and appreciating that it was more than just a march from one end of the known earth to the other. If I do hit the road at Saint Jean Pied de Port, my own purpose notwithstanding, I shall smile at the opportunity to think about Alexander’s journey some more.

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

Doubting Mary

27th August 2018

In my last post, I mentioned an online article which cast doubt on the veracity of the figure of Herakles, Alexander’s son by Barsine. It was, I said, the first time I had seen doubt expressed regarding whether Herakles was a real person or not.

A few days later, and perhaps rather inevitably, I came across another writer expressing the same doubt. That writer was none other than Mary Renault in The Nature of Alexander. Speaking about the capture of the non-royal women at Damascus*, she says,

These ladies, not being royal game, were not so strictly preserved. One has a role in Alexander’s legend, another in his history. Only Plutarch says that he took for himself Barsine, Memnon’s widow and Artabazus’ daughter; for the staggering reason that Parmenion – of all people! – told him she would be good for him. The dubiety of the story lies not only in this, but in the powerful motive for inventing it. No record at all exists of such a woman accompanying his march; nor of any claim by her, or her powerful kin, that she had borne him offspring. Yet twelve years after his death a boy was produced, seventeen years old, born therefore five years after Damascus, her alleged son ‘brought up in Pergamon’; a claimant and short-lived pawn in the succession war, chosen probably for a physical resemblance to Alexander. That he actually did marry another Barsine [Stateira II] must have helped both to launch and preserve the story but no source reports any notice whatever taken by him of a child who, Roxane’s being posthumous, would have been during his lifetime his only son, a near royal mother. In a man who named cities after his horse and dog, this strains credulity.
(Mary Renault “The Nature of Alexander” pp.100-1)

It would take a blog post or two to do justice to Renault’s statement. For now, I would like to just mention a few thoughts that I have about it.

  1. Is it really so hard to imagine Alexander taking advice from Parmenion? I know he gets short shrift in some of the texts but even if that is because he made some wrong or bad calls, Alexander never stopped trusting him. When he left him at Ecbatana, he put into Parmenion’s hands, an awful lot of money and troops. It would have been truly ‘staggering’ for him to do that if he did not have complete confidence in the general.
  2. Herakles wasn’t produced out-of-the-blue twelve years after Alexander’s death. Nearchus suggested him for the vacant crown at the first Babylonian conference (Curtius X.6.10-12). I presume Renault would say this was a fiction created in 311 –
  3. – But if so, wouldn’t Cassander have known it? Wasn’t he in Babylon when Alexander died, after all? Even if he wasn’t, he could simply have asked someone – Ptolemy, for example – who was there, if Nearchus had mentioned Herakles and then acted accordingly. Well, maybe he didn’t have time. The whole matter is still very fishy, though.

* Following the Battle of Issus in 333 BC

***

Speaking of The Nature of Alexander, I am still reading the book. This morning, I started the Persia chapter and left a comment about it on the Alexander Reading Group Facebook page. To read it, or any of the other comments in the Reading Group, click here.

***

Curtius (VII.6.12) states that Alexander asked a friend of his named Derdas to cross the Tanais* river to undertake a diplomatic mission and engage in a little intelligence gathering. He asked him ‘to explore the terrain and make an expedition also to those Scythians who live beyond the Bosphorus’.

I’ve always been intrigued by this passage. As you no doubt know, the Bosphorus is the strait** that splits Istanbul into a European and Asian city. Did Alexander really think that he had travelled so far round the world that he was but days or mere weeks away from Asia Minor? It sounds like it, though the idea is hard to credit.

Speaking of ’round’, did Alexander know that the world was a sphere? You would be forgiven for saying ‘no’ on the grounds that there was so much that the ancients did not know about the world. However, if you did, you’d be wrong. According to the British Library’s blog, here, Plato and Aristotle – Alexander’s teacher, of course, – taught unambiguously that the world was round. What no one knew, though, was how people on the other side of the world didn’t fall off it. Gravity remained unknown.

*aka Jaxartes, modern day Syr-darya
** As well as the ‘small indentation at’ the base of a woman’s throat. First prize to anyone who can guess which book and film this comes from. It’s been mentioned on this blog before!

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Iliad, Hephaestion and Alexander’s Jealousy

Recently, I bought the audiobook version of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of The Iliad. I have been listening to it at work and it has been a very intense experience.

One battle after another, one Greek or Trojan after another being killed in the most gruesome way. Homer does not spare you in his descriptions but – and this is surely his genius as a poet – he never descends into any kind of slaughter-porn; the deaths are treated with an amazing, and very mature, matter-of-factness.

As a result, the story never gets too much to bear. With that said, I can only listen to it for an hour or two every day before I need to take a break.

***

A few days ago, perhaps last week, I read an author who suggested that Perdiccas might have been a few years older than Alexander. This got me thinking about how Alexander sent Perdiccas with Hephaestion into Gandhara. It was 327 BC, and their

… instructions were to take by force or negotiate the surrender of all the towns on their route, and, once arrived at the Indus [River], to make all necessary preparations for the crossing of the river.
(Arrian IV.22.7)

Why did Alexander send two of his three most senior officers* away together? My Oxford World’s Classics edition of Arrian says that ‘Alexander needed a macho officer to balance the less bellicose Hephaestion’.

This seems to me to be a rather extraordinary statement. It can only come from the view that Hephaestion was not first-and-foremost a military man. Therefore, he must have been a bit soft.

However, the Hephaestion who, it is true, is most often seen carrying out non-military operations is also the Hephaestion fought with such vigour at the Battle of Gaugamela that he was wounded (Ar. III.15.2). And is also the same Hephaestion who took a ruthless and leading role in the downfall of Philotas (see C.VI.11.10 ff). And, yes, he is the same Hephaestion who was not afraid to square off against Craterus (Plutarch Life of Alexander 47) and even face down Olympias herself despite her ‘sharp criticisms and threats against him’ (Diodorus XVII.114).

So much for Hephaestion not being a ‘bellicose’ man. But if we rule the Oxford World’s Classics’s explanation out, why did Perdiccas travel with him? Well, I’m not going to pretend I know; I don’t, but a thought that came to me is that perhaps, if Perdiccas was appreciably older than Alexander (with whom Hephaestion was coeval), just perhaps, he was not there to cover the military side of the mission while Hephaestion handled the non-military but was assigned to Hephaestion to act as a mentor – to help him grow as a military commander rather than replace him as one. It’s just a thought.

* The third being Craterus

***

I am on Twitter – @secondachilles if you would like to follow me – and yesterday I had a conversation with someone that led me to this passage,

… Alexander never used to greet the news that Philip had captured an important city or won a famous victory with particular delight; instead, he used to say to his friends, ‘Lads, my father’s going to pre-empt me in everything. By the time he’s finished, there’ll be nothing important left for me to present to the world, no splendid victories to be won with your help.’
(Plutarch Life 5)

Isn’t it amazing that Alexander worried about this? In his youth, he must have either had a very limited conception of the size of the world or else regarded most of it as being simply beyond reach. More likely, though, he never said any such thing and that the anecdote is based not on a specific conversation but on Alexander’s attitude and his tendency to be jealous of other people’s achievements – see how he called the Battle of Megalopolis in 331 BC ‘a battle of mice’ (Plutarch Life of Agesilaus 15) and his fatal quarrel with Black Cleitus (Curtius VIII.1.22-52).

Picture Credits
The Iliad cover – The Telegraph

Categories: Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Hephaestion Amyntoros, Homer, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Changing the Past: In Antiquity and Today

New Year is well and truly over and I am back at work. When is my next holiday?

***

This week I read Come, Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie Mallowan. Don’t be confused by the last name, she is that Agatha Christie. Mallowan was her married name. The reason for its use here is because Come, Tell Me is not a crime novel but an account of the archaeological trips to the Near East that she undertook with her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan, in the 1930s.

In Chapter One, Christie and her husband make their way to Syria on the Orient Express. They witness no murders, fortunately, but do pass the Sea of Marmora and Cilician Gates in Turkey.

As soon as I saw these names, my mind went back to Alexander. Christie’s Marmora became Diodorus’ Marmarens. The Marmarens (who, I should say, lived in Lycia rather than around the Sea of Marmara) attacked the Macedonian army as it marched past, killing no few soldiers, kidnapping others and stealing booty. Alexander, unsurprisingly, was rather displeased by this, and lay siege to the Marmarens’ fort.

For two days, Alexander attacked it. However, although he failed to break its defences, he did enough to persuade the Marmaren elders that he would stay until he had done so. Upon realising this, the elders,

… advised their younger countrymen to end their resistance and make peace with the king on whatever terms were possible.
(Diodorus XVII.28)

Interestingly, the younger Marmarens refused to do this. Diodorus tells us that they ‘were eager to die together simultaneously’ (Ibid) for the sake of their freedom. Now, at this point, you might have thought that the elders would have knocked their children’s heads together, remind them of who was in charge and lead the surrender before the youngsters came out with another tom fool idea. But no, they acquiesced to this, and came out with a tom fool idea of their own. The elders told the young men If you are determined to die, kill your wives, children and elderly relatives then break out of the fort and hide yourselves in the mountains.

The young men liked this idea and went away to have a last meal with their families. That evening, however, some of them reneged on the plan. But they didn’t run away with their loved ones. Instead of killing their families ‘with their own hands’ (Ibid) as the elders had suggested, they set fire to their homes and burned them alive. Six hundred men did this, and having done so, they should have had the decency to die with their loved ones. But no. They duly broke out of the fort and headed to the mountains.

This story has stuck with me since I read it. I am fascinated by the apparent equality of power between the young and old Marmarens. I have not heard of any other society in antiquity, or since, for that matter, where a similar situation has existed.

But… Did it exist? It may not have. The above quotations from Diodorus comes from my Loeb edition. The notes there state that ‘Appian… tells the same story of Xanthus, traditionally destroyed in this way three times… it was something of a literary topos’ (Diodorus XVII.28 n.5). Indeed, as the notes say, Diodorus repeats the story in Book XVIII.22 of his Library. There, it is the Isaurians in Pisidia who, seeing that they have no chance of breaking Perdiccas’ siege, burn their families alive in their homes. The Isaurians, however, do not try to flee afterwards. Instead, they destroy their possessions in the fire and, after defending the city for a little while longer, jump into the flames themselves.

Diodorus calls the Isaurians’ actions ‘a heroic and memorable deed’ (Dio.XVIII.22). I can only wonder if he changed the original account of what happened to the Marmarens and Isaurians to highlight their perceived heroism or if his sources did so.

***

Only Diodorus mentions the Marmarens. In contrast, both Arrian (II.4.3-6) and Curtius (III.4.11-14) refer to Alexander’s passage through the Cilician Gates on his way to Tarsus. There, their similarity ends.

Curtius states that Alexander looked at the narrow path ahead of him and,

… they say [was] never more surprised at his good fortune. For, he observed, he could have been crushed just by rocks, if there had been anyone there to hurl them down on his approaching troops.
(Curtius III.4.11)

According to Arrian, however, the Cilician Gates were heavily defended when Alexander arrived, but when the Persian soldiers realised ‘that Alexander was leading the attack in person’ (Ar.II.4.4), they fled. This sounds altogether a more likely version of events than Curtius’ as it would make no sense for the local satrap, Arsames, to leave the pass undefended.

***

One of the things that makes Alexander such an interesting figure to study is the fact that he defies our expectations. I was reflecting on this the other day and contemplating writing a blog post titled ‘Alexander the (Social Justice) Warrior’ focusing on how he pardoned Timoclea after she killed the Thracian soldier who raped her (Plutarch Life of Alexander 12), his treatment of the Persian queen and princesses (Pl. Life 21) and the conquered Persians (e.g. in the way he tried to integrate them into his imperial hierarchy as satraps). These were all very progressive social actions.

Alexander was not just about the fighting; and when he did fight he did not do so just to make Greece look good. Like any social justice warrior he wanted to change the world for the better. Hence, the above mentioned actions and the fact that he took surveyors and scientists on his expedition.

Of course, the name ‘social justice warrior’ has a pejorative meaning as well. And guess what. Alexander can be found there as well.

Thus, taking the Urban Dictionary’s definition (here),

… an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation.

Having been taught by Aristotle, Alexander could hold his own in an argument. However, he was undeniably concerned with his reputation. That was the whole reason for the expedition.

Social Justice Warriors or SJWs are: People with paper thin skin who always find something to be offended about. They generally have no concept of humour.

As Black Cleitus (Curtius VIII.1.22-52), Callisthenes (Pl. Life 53) and Cassander (Pl. Life 74) found out to their collective cost Alexander could be very easily offended sometimes, with fatal consequences.

[SJWs] aggressively call for the downfall of the person who carelessly offended them.

Philotas (Curtius VI.7.1-11.40), anyone?

But as I said above, Alexander defies our expectations. He is not only a progressive but also very conservative. Perhaps I will come back to that in my next or a future post.

***

The BBC and Netflix are producing a new drama based on the Trojan War. Controversy is following in the series’ wake, however, due to the fact that some of the characters, including Achilles, are being played by black actors. For more, see the Greek Reporter here.

If I had been the casting director, I would have chosen a white actor to play Achilles. That’s what he was. However, the more I think about it, the less I think that the casting director is obliged to hire a white person.

The Iliad is not history. Homer’s Achilles did not exist. He might be based on a real person but he is not them. Homer’s Achilles is a myth. He is a meaning. And in that capacity, he can be reinterpreted by every age as it sees fit. Indeed, it is only by being reinterpreted that he remains relevant to us.

If a law was made that permitted only one, single version of Achilles, we would bound him to the meaning of a specific time and place, and one day, he would become strange and unknowable to us. I would a thousand thousand times over rather have a black Achilles, a female Achilles, an Achilles who loves Hector rather than Patroclus or a pacifist Achilles rather than an irrelevant Achilles.

Categories: Alexander in Film, Arrian, Books, Diodorus Siculus, Homer, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Of Ghosts and Footprints

Happy New Year! I hope you have a happy and fruitful 2018. Have you made any resolutions? I have two Alexander related ones:-

  1. Read Diodorus’ account of Philip II’s life (Book XVI of his Library)
  2. Read The Iliad again

Philip II
I have never read a full account of Philip’s life. All that I know about him comes from books about Alexander. He deserves better than that so Diodorus XVI will, I hope, be a first step in doing justice to the man without whom Alexander would not, could not, have conquered most of the known world.

The Iliad
I am going to read the World’s Classic translation. I have owned this edition since my university days in the ’90s. The poem, of course, has been translated more recently but I am keen to read the World’s Classic version because I am looking for a particular quotation:

Men will know the difference now that I have come.

In my memory, these words are spoken by Achilles. When, though, I can’t remember. I presume it is after he leaves his tent following Patroclus’ death. I have to admit, though, it is only the quotation that I can remember (Though do I have it right…?). For all I know, I actually read it somewhere else and over time I have attached it to The Iliad because it is the kind of thing Achilles would say. Well, in 2018 I hope I can find out whether or not this is true.

***

Straight after finishing Partha Bose’s Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy, I started Ghost on the Throne by James Romm. Ghost is his account of the Wars of the Successors.

The last book length treatment of these wars that I read was Robin Waterfield’s Dividing the Spoils, which I enjoyed tremendously. Ghost on the Throne has, therefore, big boots to fill.

So far, I have only read the six page introduction but it begins very excitingly with Manolis Andronikos’ discovery of the royal tombs at Vergina. The introduction includes photographs of four ivory heads found in the tomb. They are identified as ‘Alexander’s Companions’. Before opening this book, I had only heard of the Alexander and Philip busts so it was a revelation to discover that there was more.

… though having said that, doesn’t Michael Wood see these heads in his In the Footsteps of Alexander documentary?

***

This morning, I read Plutarch’s 23 page Life of Eumenes. I wasn’t expecting to read this but yesterday I received a message from ‘anonymous’ via my Alexander Tumblr page asking for my thoughts about Alexander’s war secretary who went on to become one of the most skilled generals in the Wars of the Successors so before replying I decided to take the opportunity to refresh my memory concerning him.

Eumenes does not appear in the major sources of Alexander’s life very often. Arrian mentions him all but four times, Curtius twice; Plutarch (in his Life of Alexander) and Diodorus do not mention him at all. The reason for this is no doubt because for most of Alexander’s expedition, Eumenes served ‘only’ as the king’s war secretary. His only recorded military action was in India. There, Alexander gave him 300 cavalrymen and orders to notify two rebellious towns that a third, Sangala, had been captured but that if they submitted then they would have nothing to fear from him. In the event, Eumenes was unable to deliver this news as the residents of both towns had already heard about Sangala’s fall and fled.

Having given Eumenes only 300 cavalrymen Alexander clearly did not intend him to do anything more than deliver his message. If the Indians had resisted, Eumenes would undoubtedly have backed off and called to Alexander for help. As it was, this is pretty much what happened, anyway. Eumenes sent word to Alexander that the towns were empty. Thereafter, the king chased after the Indians. They had got a head start, though, and so most escaped.

It is interesting that we don’t hear of Eumenes chasing the Indians, either before or after Alexander’s arrival. He could have done but it wouldn’t surprise me if Alexander had told him ‘stay where you are’ on account of his inexperience.

But could he have been so inexperienced? It is astonishing to see how he went from administrator to one of the most competent generals of the early Successor Wars (Eumenes died in 316 BC). Where, though, might that experience have come from?

Alexander could have used Eumenes in a military capacity at any time during the expedition. But if he had, is it very likely that he would have given him this really minor responsibility now? I can’t see it. Sangala was destroyed in the summer of 326 BC. I wonder if Alexander gave Eumenes further military responsibilities as the Macedonian army, first, made its way to the Hyphasis river, and then, as it marched and sailed to the Indian ocean. The army did not reach the Gedrosian desert until September 325 so Eumenes would have had nearly a year’s experience as a general (perhaps a little more if he took part in the Cossaean campaign) to take into the Successor period. That’s still not much time, but perhaps men of genius don’t really need it.

By the way, if you would like to read Arrian’s and Curtius’ account of Eumenes’ sole known military command under Alexander, you can do so at Arrian V.24.6-7 and Curtius IX.1.19.

***

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading Caesar’s Footprint’s: Journeys to Roman Gaul by Bijan Omrani. When I saw it in the bookshop, I had to buy it. I love travelogues, and especially ones where the writer walks in the footsteps of famous historical people.

Having said that Caesar’s Footprints is not quite Omrani’s In the Footsteps of Alexander; his scope is far broader. He begins with Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul but moves on to look at the impact that Rome had on the territory from the time of Caesar through to the end of the Roman age five hundred years later.

The book is a great read, being in turn informative, descriptive, and evocative. I’m always happy to spend time in Julius Caesar’s company but was especially happy to learn about Gallo-Roman citizens such as Ausonius, who wrote a beautiful love poem to his new wife; a Gallic goddess named Sequana, and early Christian bishops like St Martin of Tours who did 25 years in the army before becoming a priest. He did several tours before becoming of Tour (sorry).

Of course, I knew about St Martin already but not the details of his life. I was sad to read that he wanted to deal with paganism using the same violent methods that Rome did in respect of Christians. I suppose he and Rome regarded their enemies as an existential threat but I still wish that he could have employed something other than violence to do away with pagan temples (There’s no mention of St Martin authorising acts of violence against people but we know that other Christian leaders though time have done so).

Anyway, I would not have mentioned the book here except that there does appear to be an Alexander reference. Sidonius sent a book to his relative, Apollinaris; with it, he sent a poem, addressed to the book, in which he ‘describes the route it must take to reach its destination’ (B Omrani Caesar Footprints 2017 p.212). Upon its arrival, Sidonius says it will ‘probably encounter Apollinaris walking in his secluded gardens’ (Ibid),

And if he were not to be found among the flowers, he would be cooling himself in his imitation grotto on the slope of a neighbouring hill, a ‘cavern’ formed by the branches of trees arching together to create a natural portico – better even than the ancient orchards of the Indian King Porus, which he decorated with golden vines heavy with clusters of gems.
(Ibid)

Is this Alexander’s Porus? I don’t recall the sources talking about his wealth but I don’t know of any other important kings of that name. Then again, I don’t know much ancient Indian history apart from Alexander. It would be great to get some background to this.

Categories: Arrian, Books, Diodorus Siculus, Philip II, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lion in Winter

We have snow in London today! And not just the usual two flake job that we sometimes get. Okay, I am not exactly snowed in right now but the snow has made my neighbourhood look quite pretty. Unfortunately, it is of the crystalline sort so as soon as the temperature goes up a notch it will all melt away.

Did Alexander ever have to deal with snow? Of course, he did. He no doubt had to trudge through it during his crossing of the Parapamisus (Hindu Kush aka Indian Caucasus) in 329 B.C., though both Diodorus (XVII.82) and Curtius (VII.3.6-18) focus on the difficulties that the conqueror faced when he marched through the territory of the Parapamisadae.

Curtius shows Alexander at his best as the Macedonians toiled in this primitive tribe’s inhospitable land. He describes how,

The king made the round of his troops on foot, raising up some who were on the ground and using his body to lend support to others when they had difficulty keeping up. At one moment he was at the front, at another at the centre or rear of the column, multiplying for himself the hardships of the march.
(Curtius VII.3.17)

If you only had time to give someone just one example of why the Macedonian army followed Alexander to India the above passage would be worth quoting. His selflessness here is absolute. Not only was he doing something very kind but he was doing at great personal risk. Of course, if he had collapsed, he would have been carried; but in his weakened state, would he have survived? That would not have been guaranteed.

***

In the last few days, I have finished reading The Old Guard section of Waldemar Heckel’s The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire. Along the way, I have learnt a few new words. E.g. synotrophos – a close councillor. Heckel calls Parmenion’s son Philotas the synotrophos of Amyntas Perdikka; philotimia – one who loves to be superior and philarchia – one who loves power. Antigonus Monophthalmus is described as being both of these. I should say that I got the meanings for all of these words from a Google search so if you know ancient Greek and disagree with the meanings described, do leave a note in the comments.

By the way, the Amyntas mentioned above was Amyntas III son of Perdiccas who became king of Macedon at the age of five or six in 360/59 B.C. Because of his extreme youth, Philip II either served as his regent before replacing him as king, or just took over as king from the outset. It was a necessary move, not least because of the threats that Macedon was facing at the time. Philip gave Amyntas III his daughter, Cynnane’s, hand in marriage and the couple lived in peace during Philip’s lifetime. Amyntas, however, was killed on Alexander orders in the dynastic purge following his own accession to the throne.

That was unfortunate, but in terms of Macedonian realpolitik, Amyntas’ death was necessary for he was a rival claimant to the throne. Indeed, his claim was stronger than Alexander’s, so he had to be killed lest either he create a rival power base or somehow else do so using him as its figurehead in order to overthrew Alexander.

On the theme of necessary killings, let’s jump forward to the Battle of Granicus in 334 B.C. After defeating the Persian cavalry and main body of the infantry, Alexander surrounded the Greek mercenaries who had been held back by the satraps and proceeded to massacre them. Not all the mercenaries were killed but those who survived were taken in chains back to Macedon to be worked as slaves until Athens successfully sued for their release (see Arrian III.6.2) in 332/1.

What should Alexander have done after surrounding the mercenaries? I suspect most people would say ‘accept their surrender’ and perhaps they wouldn’t be wrong. But The Marshals contains a passage which reminds us that allowing one’s enemies to live came at a potentially high cost. In the entry on Antipatros (Antipater), Heckel describes how King Agis of Sparta’s army at the Battle of Megalopolis in 331 contained 20,000 infantry, with ‘as many as 8,000 mercenaries who had escaped from Issos’ (p.41). From a strictly pragmatic point of view, Alexander should have hunted down those mercenaries and exterminated them. By allowing them to live, he put Antipater under threat and therefore his kingdom. Of course, he did something similar when he banned his satraps from using mercenaries in 324. The now unemployed soldiers returned to Greece, eventually joining Leosthenes’ army and fighting in the war against Antipater (See Dividing the Spoils, p.37). To be sure, it wasn’t Alexander’s kingdom that was placed under threat but that of Alexander IV, Philip III, and, more to the point, the Successors.

***

In his entry on Black Kleitos, Heckel makes a very interesting point about how Alexander treated the old guard: he got rid of them whenever he could. But not by murder. Heckel cites Kalas, Asandros, Antigonos, Balakros, and Parmenion – all of whom were given commands in this place or that – but importantly, away from the royal court. The same would have happened to Cleitus had he not died.

***

I am a big fan of Formula 1 racing. For many years, it was run by Bernie Ecclestone who employed a divide-and-conquer strategy in order to keep the power hungry teams in their place and make them do his bidding. The more things change the more they stay the same. Go back to the Lamian Wars in 322 B.C. After losing the Battle of Krannon, the Greek allies sued for peace. But,

… Antipatros refused to deal with the Greeks collectively, demanding instead separate peace terms with each state.
(pp.45-6)

A simple and clever move, and potentially devastating for any of the allies who didn’t play ball.

***

For this section of the post, I owe Shiralyn Mayon much thanks as she has kindly shared some You Tube videos relating to Alexander and Greek history on the Facebook page. She asked me my thoughts on them.

The first is this one,

As you can tell by the title, this video is not actually about Alexander. That notwithstanding, I enjoyed it. I learnt a little about Greek history and came away with a smile. The channel which made it is called Overly Sarcastic Productions and so, yes, the narrator is pretty sarcastic, but amusingly so.

The problem with sarcasm, however, is that it works by distorting the truth of whatever it is talking about. So, did Thebes have a ‘hissy fit’ at a peace conference? This brings me to my complaint: the video contains no dates! Which peace conference is the video talking about? I am still learning my pre-Alexander history so need all the help I can get with stuff like this. I was wondering if the video might be referring to the Peace of Antalcidas in 386 B.C. but the entry in my copy of A Chronology of Ancient Greece doesn’t really match the video’s account of what happened.

The second video is this one,

It was interesting to watch but even though it is less than five minutes long it quickly tailed off into not much, really. It starts with a claim: that ‘Alexander expressed an interest in widening his grip on India’. I would be interested to know the source for this as I have never heard it before. The other thing that jumped out at me was the statement that Alexander would probably have died in his 50s as life expectancy in antiquity ‘wouldn’t have gone past the 60s’. Tell that to Ptolemy, Seleucus and Lysimachus who all died in their 70s-80s. For me, this video is a start. The creator could profitably go back and update it when he knows more about the Wars of the Successors.

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

22.II.17 A Birth, A General & On Alexander’s Mental Health

Welcome to my midweek post. I hope this post finds you well. I am writing this with a slight cold and chest bug. I have drunk my Lemsip Max and have put on a nice, cozy jumper – bought today because I didn’t have one already and gosh I need it. Rather ironically, perhaps, I also have my fan on because I dislike still air.

What’s going on in Alexanderland, i.e. my Alexander reading and writing?

***

In the last few days, someone has found the blog by asking if Alexander was born of rape. The answer to this is ‘no’. For more information, read Chapter One and Two of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. There is no suggestion there that Philip raped his wife. I suspect that whoever asked this question had Oliver Stone’s film in mind. If I recall correctly, Philip very nearly does rape Olympias but backs away after seeing her snakes. Alexander, at that point, is a young boy.

***

Earlier this week, a commenter on the Facebook challenged the fact that in my introduction post I referred to Alexander as ‘the greatest general ever to live’, and not king. You can find their comment and our subsequent conversation here.

My reference to Alexander as a great general rather than king was deliberate. For me – and I was speaking from my point of view – a great king is one who is not only successful in war but who rules wisely and justly as well. I wouldn’t say that Alexander was, on the whole, unwise or unjust, though he had his moments, but neither would I say that he was a Solomonic figure. In my view, to be a great king, he needed to move east much more slowly – only after consolidating his military gains and bringing peace to the affected region – and been much more of a diplomat (like his father). Further to this, a great king would have given more time and care to the administration of their kingdom than Alexander did. He didn’t neglect it, at least not wholly, but he was too bent on conquest to give his possessions the time they required.

***

I am still reading Partha Bose’s Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy: The Timeless Lessons of History’s Greatest Empire Builder. I am now up to page 53 of the 88 I committed myself to on Sunday, and contrary to my expectations, am enjoying it. I like how Bose brings in the example of other military (and business) people to make his point.

One thing I am not sure I like so much is how many assumptions he seems to make about Alexander’s life. For example, we know next to nothing about Alexander’s time at Meiza, where he was tutored by Aristotle, but Bose doesn’t let that stop him from saying they probably did this or that or the other before going on to suggest that this is how Alexander became such a good warrior later.

To be fair, he does in one or two places acknowledge the limited amount of information that we have, but if he really believed in this limitation then surely he shouldn’t go on to try and draw lessons from assumptions that he must know may well not be true. This has happened so much I have started to wonder if he is using a source that I don’t know about.

Having said all that, I didn’t stop to note examples of where Bose writes in the manner I have suggested. I will try to do this between now and Sunday. Maybe I will find that it isn’t as bad as I think tonight.

***

For a long time now, I have had it in my mind that Alexander was in bad mental health at the end of his life. A while ago, I re-read Arrian and Curtius to see how they described Alexander’s last days. Yesterday and earlier today I re-read Diodorus and Plutarch.

If memory serves, Arrian says nothing that would indicate Alexander suffered from mental ill health. What Curtius says, we don’t know, due to gaps in the text. Both Diodorus and Plutarch do talk of Alexander being scared, deeply so, by ill omens but I have to admit, they are not convincing me of their validity. Partly, this is the rationalist in me speaking but I am also put out by the fact that Diodorus and Plutarch turn Alexander into a superstitious simpleton in order to make the point that the bad omens terrified him. It is reminiscent of Curtius’ account of the Orsines Affair and I don’t believe for a minute Alexander was ever like that. I think this is an issue I will come back to in the future as it troubles me.

***

Finally, I would like to end this post by acknowledging the 54th anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis. Lewis is one of my intellectual and spiritual heroes; actually, the greatest. While I am not writing about Alexander directly because of him, I am sure that reading his books gave me the intellectual capacity to do so. More importantly than that, he was a wise, humble, and good man. Requiescat in Pace, Jack.

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

19.II.17 Reading, Egypt, and Learning

I have started reading a book titled Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy: The Timeless Lessons of History’s Greatest Empire Builder by Partha Bose. I’m only a few pages in but the book appears to be part-biography, part-management manual. For that reason, I don’t know if I will finish it as I am not sure how interested I am in applying the lessons of Alexander’s kingship to modern-day businesses (I took the book out of the library because I wanted to read about about Alexander the general). Well, it is 264 pages; I’ll commit myself to reading a third – 88 pages – of it and see how I feel then.

If you would like to read more about the book, it’s Amazon.com page is here.

***

I spend a fair amount of time on my Alexander Facebook page these days, and I am extremely proud that in the last few months it has crossed the 10,000 mark for both Likes and Follows. It shows how relevant Alexander remains today.

On 14th November, I noted that it was – according to Peter Green – the 2,349th anniversary of Alexander’s coronation as pharaoh of Egypt. The qualification according to is very important as Green is the only historian I know who even says that Alexander was made pharaoh let alone gives a date for it.

I am very happy to celebrate ‘Coronation Day’ on 14th Nov. because it is good to celebrate positive events, but I have to admit, I do not know where Green gets his confidence from: none of the five major sources into Alexander’s life mention his being crowned pharaoh. Indeed, they hardly even mention (his first visit to) Memphis. Only Arrian tells us anything of substance. He says that Alexander sacrificed to sundry gods, including Apis, then held athletic and literary contests before leaving again. Curtius states that Alexander went to Memphis and that’s it.

So, is it likely that Alexander was crowned? This is a question that it might be better for me to come back to, as at the moment, over on the Facebook page, I am writing a series of Alexander in Egypt posts. It is a location-by-location account of the various places he went to according to the sources. I have just left Memphis. In case you would like to read them, here are the posts:

  1. Coronation Day post
  2. Pelusium
  3. Heliopolis
  4. Memphis

Don’t worry about clicking on the links, though: I intend to reblog the posts here when I am finished. What I really wanted to say is that Alexander spent seven months in Egypt. As mentioned above, he visited Memphis at the start of his trip, and at the end. Unfortunately, neither Arrian nor Curtius – who are the only two to mention the first visit to Memphis – say how long he spent there before moving on. This is is a shame because if the coronation of a new pharaoh required a lot of preparation, and he was there for only a short while, then we could rule November out as the coronation date. But perhaps the Egyptian authorities would have been ready by the following April? What I am hoping is that as I continue reading the Egypt chapter of the sources I will come upon a passage that sheds more light on how long Alexander spent in particular places. I fear it won’t happen but we’ll see.

***

I enjoy updating the Facebook page even though there are times when I have to delete disagreeable posts. These tend to be any that even hint at the current dispute between Greece and FYROM and – thankfully very rare – homophobic posts. The annoyance of those kinds of post is more than made up for by the supportive ones and insights that readers share. Recently, I have benefitted from two in particular:

  1. That Alexander’s battle strategy was based on a ‘hammer and anvil’ approach. i.e. The phalanx acted as an anvil on which the enemy was placed while the Companion Cavalry beat it like a hammer. This strategy can be seen most clearly at the Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela. The analogy is not a perfect one but has been really helpful in helping me ‘see’ the battles more clearly than I did before.
  2. Heliopolis: When I wrote the above linked post I suggested that Alexander sacrificed there. A commenter stated, however, that by his day, the city was a ruin. It’s more likely, therefore, that Alexander simply used it as a place to cross the Nile before continuing on to Memphis.
Categories: Arrian, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Opportunists

After Alexander died, his generals met to discuss the succession.
 
(all references from Curtius)
 
Perdiccas suggested that they wait to see if Roxane gave birth to a son (X.6.9), while Nearchus said that Heracles, Alexander’s son by Barsine, should be made king (X.6.11). Ptolemy, however, dismissed both ideas. He said that the generals should rule together with decisions taken by majority vote (X.6.15). Aristonus spoke next – Alexander had given Perdiccas his ring so it is Perdiccas who should lead them (X.6.17).
 
The Assembly agreed with Aristonus but before the meeting could be concluded, Meleager spoke up. Perdiccas should not be allowed to rule them as he will seize power! he said, No, authority should be given to the people – i.e. the infantry (X.6.23). 
After this interjection, Meleager stormed off – to start looting the royal palace with his supporters. He had not got far, however, when an unnamed member of the rank and file changed history by suggesting that Arrhidaeos, Alexander’s brother, should be made king. The Assembly approved this idea and the order to bring Arrhidaeos was given (X.6.24; 7.1.-6).
 
Foiled in his plan, Meleager acted quickly to do the next best thing – to spite Perdiccas – and brought Arrhidaeos to the Assembly (X.7.7).
 
Opportunists all… almost
  • Perdiccas voted for Roxane because as the most senior officer in the army he had control of her.
  • Nearchus voted for Heracles because he had married Barsine’s daughter, and so was Heracles’ brother-in-law.
  • Ptolemy wanted the generals to rule because he knew no one man could rule the empire and because he himself was very popular with the men – very useful if the generals could not reach a consensus and needed a ‘nudge’ in the right direction.
  • I don’t know enough about Aristonus to know why he chose to support Perdiccas. It may be that he genuinely thought that Perdiccas should be their leader on account of Alexander giving him his ring or maybe Perdiccas had promised him a reward for his loyalty. In 321/0, Aristonus was given command of a mission to defeat the kings of Cyprus who had allied themselves with Ptolemy.
  • Meleager’s suggestion that the phalanx was Alexander’s successor was an irresponsible and ridiculous one; it was surely no more than a brazen attempt to grab power by Meleager himself. If this is correct, it is ironic that his plan was undone by a member of the infantry. But if we can fault Meleager for his lack of subtlety, we can’t fault his persistence. Though if he really turned to Arrhidaeos just to spite Perdiccas, he was a shallow and mean minded man.
Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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’…
Justin
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

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