The Macedonian Supremacy

Today’s post is being powered by a glass of St. Chinian’s wine. It is a French red that, I am disappointed to say, tastes rather bland. Before you ask, this isn’t going to stop me from finishing the bottle. Red wine is too important for that. Anyway, let’s talk about Alexander.

***

Since last Wednesday, I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to anymore of Robin Lane Fox’s lecture. In fact, I am going to listen to Nos.1-4 again as I’d really like to share some of his insights.

***

What I have done, however, is started reading The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire by Waldemar Heckel. Heckel is the author of Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great which is undoubtedly the most useful reference book about Alexander that I have ever bought. If you are studying Alexander, or writing about him in any capacity, Who’s Who is an absolutely brilliant work.

But what about The Marshals? Well, I suppose this is an expanded version of Who’s Who, focusing – as the title suggests – on the most important men in Alexander’s life and army. The book is more of an academic one; you can tell this by the fact that whereas Who’s Who talks about Antipater, Craterus and Perdiccas, The Marshals has Antipatros, Krateros and Perdikkas. Scholars always mean business when they use the directly transliterated version of Greek names.

As I write this post I have only read the opening chapter of The Marshals: The Old Guard: Introduction and The House of Attalos. My green underlining pen has been busy, though. Here are some quotes.

The army that crossed the Hellespont in 334 B.C. was still very much that of Philip II…

… a purge, whether in the name of justice or filial piety, could extend only so far…

… the new King lacked the authority to reform but slightly the command structure of the expeditionary force.

All these come from the very first page. That the army was still Philip’s is, of course, a truism but also a fact that is easy to forget if we focus on Alexander too much and so worth recalling all the same. The second, and especially third, quotations are ones that are surely more difficult to remember. Alexander was king, surely he could do whatever he wanted! No, not at all. Of the latter two quotes, the third strikes me the hardest. It builds upon what I have heard other authors say about how the Greeks viewed Alexander at his accession – they did not think very much of him. It’s probably why Darius III let a satrapal army fight him at the Granicus (Graneikos if you are Weckel): Why should I waste my time with this upstart? Let the satraps give him a spanking and send him home.

One more quote,

When Alexander set out for Asia, he left many enemies, potentially dangerous, alive, both in Makedonia and within the army: witness the series of intrigues and conspiracies that followed the death of Philip II.
(The Marshals of Alexander, p.11)

This statement alone really brings home how vulnerable Alexander was in all aspects of his life. He must have had such a strong will to not succumb to paranoia from his earliest days. In light of statements like the above, it’s worth remembering that not only did Alexander not become paranoid from the start but he maintained his friendships. And had an exceptionally close one with Hephaestion. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for him not to trust Amyntor’s son, and yet ~.

I do find myself in awe of his ability to be so close to Hephaestion despite having every reason to stay aloof from him and everyone.

***

Over on the Facebook page, I am coming to the end of my run of links. Tomorrow’s is the last and is about Circadian rhythms. This is your body clock – that part of you that tells you when to go to sleep and, unless you own a cat, when to wake up. The article that I link to (Shh – don’t tell anyone but it is this one. I don’t mind mentioning it here as I know not everyone on Facebook will click the link when I link to this blog post there). The scientist being interviewed states that it was,

… one of Alexander the Great’s soldiers [who] noticed circadian rhythms in the way that plants hold their flowers up towards the sun during the day, and drop during the night.

But doesn’t say which soldier. Fortunately, since I scheduled the above mentioned post, Google Alerts has told me about another article on the same subject It is this one; and here, we are told the soldier’s name: Androsthenes. Who was he? According to Weckel in Who’s Who he was a trierach in Alexander’s Indian fleet and served under Nearchus on his Indian Ocean expedition. Weckel says that Androsthenes wrote an account of that voyage – the original is lost now, but was cited by Strabo. Perhaps, therefore, Strabo is the source for Androsthenes observing the leaves of the tamarind tree?

***

Last night, I watched Jason Bourne for the first time since seeing it in the cinema. Narratively speaking, it is a rather tired film, but I still enjoyed it far more than I expected. Perhaps part of the reason for that was because I found a point of connection between Bourne and Alexander. Jason Bourne is a force of nature. He can never be stopped. When he turns his mind to something, he will see it through – all very Alexandrian traits.

Categories: Alexander in Film, Books | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Good Way, The Bad Way, The Macedonian Way

Hello from London, UK. Well, this chest bug is still with me. I had a bad time of it yesterday but overnight it weakened, and so things haven’t been so bad today. I really hope it behaves (or, well, why not, goes) as I am attending a Christmas drinks event tomorrow. Christmas drinks in November; I know, I know. Anyway, let’s talk about Alexander the Great.

***

I am still reading Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose. I have to be honest and say that nothing about the book has really grabbed me in the last couple of days; however, I am appreciating still – and perhaps a little more the deeper into the book I go – his business insights. The one that sticks in my mind tonight is the example of Lou Gerstner who became CEO of IBM in the early 90s when it was in decline. By careful management of the company’s divisions, actually listening to the staff (what an idea!), stopping meetings where people talked and nothing happened, and no doubt more, he turned its fortunes around. The Macedonian equivalent of this would be Philip II’s restoration of Macedon’s fortunes after he became king in 360/59. When he took the throne, the country was in danger of being torn to pieces by its various enemies. By reforming and re-arming the army and the clever use of diplomacy he turned it into a porto-imperial power. Alexander, of course, finished the job.

***

One of the members of the Alexander the Great Reading Group on Facebook is currently posting a series of lectures by Robin Lane Fox. I have listened to the first four and cannot recommend them highly enough. Here is Part One:


Notwithstanding the fact that he is a great Alexander scholar, Lane-Fox is also a total Alexander fanboy. This is evident from the start – Alexander was the greatest conqueror… the great king… of antiquity… ever! – and whenever he talks about his involvement with Oliver Stone’s film. It’s wonderful. The lectures have some lovely titbits of information and are very insightful; for example, on the vexed question of whether the Macedonians were Greeks or barbarians or somewhere inbetween.

If you are not a member of the Reading Group, do join. You can find the group here.

***

I had a lovely conversation with @MichaelBagatti on Twitter yesterday that reminded me I need to learn more about the Hellenistic Age. By and bye, he also recommended James Romm’s Ghost on the Throne. I bought that book a while ago and am looking at it even as I type these words. (Looking at the screen again) Once I have finished with Bose, that will be my next read. I don’t have time to dive into the Hellenistic Age at the moment, but I am thinking about ways I can dip my toes in. Watch this space.

***

And that’s all for now. I have nearly finished my mug of tea. I wonder if I might open a bottle of brandy and take a sip of that later. What would Alexander do? I expect he would have finished the brandy already, chest bug or not.

Categories: Books | Tags: | Leave a comment

From Dionysos to Pixodarus

26.II.17

Last Thursday in Alexanderland (see the last post) was a bit of a wash-out thanks to my cold. Fortunately, it turned out to be a 24 hour illness and so on Friday I was feeling a bit better. Once this chest bug goes I’ll be really happy.

As Friday is the closest thing I have to an ‘off-day’, when I make no arrangement to do anything after I get home from work I didn’t do anything Alexander related until yesterday. Then, I opened my e-mail and looked through my outstanding Alexander related Google Alerts. Some of the links were of interest and so I will be posting them on the Facebook page from midnight GMT tomorrow (Monday, 26th November) until the same time on 4th December.

Here is a sneak-peak of what is upcoming.

  • 27/11 Dionysos in India On the Dionysiaca, one poem equal to The Iliad and Odyssey in length written about the ancient gods just as Christianity became the dominant religion in the west.
  • 28/11 A review of Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This game has been getting a lot of positive reviews. Reading this one was quite bittersweet for me. I loved AC 2 but lost faith in the franchise over its glitchiness and the yearly release schedule. I’m happy that Origins has been a return to form but sadly still feel no inclination to play it.
  • 29/11 A letter writer claims that Alexander tried to invade Ethiopia but was forced to turn back when he saw his opponent’s army. Uh-huh.
  • 30/11 A call for more Philippics and jeremiads. Don’t we already get them on Twitter?!
  • 1/12 Happy Advent! The Downfall of the Seleucid Empire. I wondered whether to post this article because it addresses current political concerns, which is not really what the Fb Alexander page is about. I wonder how Fbers will react?
  • 2/12  A re-telling of the famous anecdote about Alexander and Diogenes; this one, with a slightly different ending to their exchange (or, at least, an ending that I had not read before)
  • 3/12 A repeat of the claim that Alexander suffered from epilepsy. Did he? I could tell you to wait until this post goes up before seeing my response but that would be click baity and horrible. I’ll tell you now, No, he didn’t. It’s a misunderstand of what happened at the Cydnus river
  • 4/12 Circadian clocks and Alexander’s army. The link is to an article on the Sputnik News website. I had not heard of this website before so looked it up; apparently, it is a pro-Russian site that publishes suspect stories. In light of that, I might not have bothered with this article but have decided to post it anyway as it isn’t about politics (although it has just occurred to me that the Nobel Prize is rather political. Let’s see what the Fb readers say)

If Google Alerts provides more interesting articles, they will appear after the 4th.

***

This morning, I reached the 88th page of Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose so must now decide whether to continue with it. I am still more-or-less enjoying it so will do so. I am, also, however, still bothered by his approach to the book.

I mentioned in my last post how Bose makes assumptions about Alexander’s life in order to draw lessons from them. He also plain makes up details. For example, at the start of Chapter 3 The Men Who Could Be King he has Philip II being assassinated as he falls over while some climbing steps leading into a temple. Diodorus (XVI.92-94), however, is quite clear that Philip II was assassinated as he walked into the theatre  – Oliver Stone gets this spot on in his film.

He gets other details wrong. In describing how Alexander was almost removed from the Macedonian political scene, Bose refers to the Pixodarus affair (Plutarch Life of Alexander 10). In his version of the story, however, it is not Pixodarus of Caria in south-western Asia Minor who offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to Arrhidaeos but an unnamed satrap ‘of the Persian part of Thrace’. Thrace was under Philip II’s control.

There is also a case of what might be called sinning by omission. In Bose’s retelling of the Pixodarus affair, Alexander prevents the marriage by having the actor Thessalus go to Thrace to use his acting skill to dissuade the satrap from proceeding with his offer. As a result, the ‘next day the satrap quietly withdrew the marriage proposal’. Bose’s account of the affair ends there.

According to Plutarch, however, Alexander not only sent Thessalus (to Caria) but gave him orders to tell Pixodarus that he, Alexander, was willing to marry the Carian’s daughter instead. Did Bose forget this or did he omit it because it was an wholly amateurish move that was bound to be discovered by Philip to Alexander’s and Bose’s embarrassment. For, surely, what Alexander did was not the action of a role model for CEOs and Chairmen.

Categories: Books, Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch | 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

I: The Music of Gaugamela

30th September – One day until the 2,348th anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela. I have a question to ask myself but I don’t yet have an answer for it so let’s have a little music instead. Thank you Oliver Stone, and thank you Vangelis for The Drums of Gaugamela. And thank you reader for reading these blog posts over the last twelve days. You deserve a rest!

Album Version: heroic all the way

Unreleased Version: Includes audio from the battle which gives it a tough, tough edge

Categories: On Alexander | 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

III: Performance Review I (The Persian Army)

28th September – Three days until the 2,348th anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela. Today, I am asking ‘How did the Persian army perform in the battle?’

This, of course, is an impossible question to answer fairly. Not only is our best record of the battle incomplete – Arrian tells us about key engagements on the left and right wings of the Macedonian army but too little about what happened in the centre – but all our records are biased in favour of Alexander and his men. And let’s not get started on the fact that we are reading the texts in translation.

So far, so not encouraging. But let’s not give up hope. Arrian is no sycophant. Just as he is not afraid to criticise Alexander when he feels the king deserves it, so also he recognises when the Persians did well at Gaugamela.

For example, he describes the cavalry battle between the Bactrians and Paeonians/mercenaries as an ‘intense’ one, and says that Darius’ men killed more Macedonians (Ar.III.13.4) than the latter did Persians.

Similarly, he admits that Simmias could not follow Alexander in his pursuit of Darius because of the pressure that that the Macedonian left wing was under. Simmias had to stay behind to help relieve the embattled battalions (Ar.III.14.4).

And again, he is not shy to mention how the Macedonian phalanx line was broken, thus allowing Persian cavalry to raid Alexander’s camp (Ar.III.14.5-6).

Finally, he gives witness to the calm-headedness of the Persian cavalry who ran into Alexander as he made his way to help Parmenion and who, despite their desperate situation, managed to form themselves up and fight ‘the fiercest cavalry battle’ of Gaugamela (Ar.III.15.1-2).

Arrian’s honesty shows us that the Persian cavalry fought hard and fought well. It did so, even to the point of victory – for as Alexander was destroying the Persian left wing, Mazaeus came within a stroke of doing likewise to the Macedonian left*. Arrian doesn’t have so much to say about this but Parmenion would not have sent a messenger to Alexander (Ar.III.15.1) had he not been in the direst straits.

So, in answer to the question of ‘How did the Persian army perform in battle?’ I would answer: I cannot speak to the infantry because Arrian doesn’t really tell us anything about it, but the Persian cavalry gave a pretty decent account of itself. Yes, they failed in the end but not for want of trying.

*If Mazaeus had destroyed the Macedonian left wing, he would have been able to envelope and destroy the Macedonian centre. And if he had achieved that, Alexander and the right wing would have been crippled and liable to be chased down before they could ever escape home. At that stage, even if they had managed to repulse Mazaeus’ attack, continuing on would not have been an option as there would have been too few of them

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IV: An Alexandrian Credo

27th September – Four days to go until the 2,348th anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela. Okay, three days as I am writing this on the 28th but if you don’t tell anyone, neither will I.

Yesterday’s question was ‘What would have happened if Darius III had won the Battle of Gaugamela?’

 

I’ll split my answer between Persia and Macedon.

Persia
If Darius had defeated Alexander, the Macedonian army would have been crushed. There would be no rematch. Any survivors would have been hunted down and only a handful of the 40,000 men who took to the field at Gaugamela would have made it home. Darius’ position as Great King would have been strengthened and in the end the Persian Empire would have survived him.

In the following months and years after 1st October 331, Darius would have taken back Alexander’s conquests – Egypt, Tyre, Phoenicia, Asia Minor etc. But I do not believe that he would have moved against Greece. Such a step would have been too bold for him. The Persians had spent the last 150 years interfering with Greek internal affairs with a far more effective weapon than men or swords: money. Darius, I think, would have been happy to continue that policy.

How long would the Persian Empire have lasted? I think it would have kept going until at least the rise of Rome. I say this because in real life the only serious challenger to any of the Hellenistic kingdoms before Rome was Chandragupta Maurya in India. But he was happy to make his peace with the Seleukids rather than seek their kingdom for himself. Had Darius won, and had he any contact with India, I think Chandragupta would have treated him in the same way.

Macedon
Had the Macedonian army been defeated at Gaugamela, Alexander would surely have died with his men. If that had happened, the Argead dynasty would have either died with him or fallen in the years following. In the event of Alexander’s death in battle, I see Arrhidaeus being appointed king just as he was in 323, but also being controlled and then disposed of, just as he was in 317.

Thereafter, I think history would have taken the same course as it actually did: Arrhidaeus’ assassin would have made himself king. How long he would have survived is another matter. For had Gaugamela been lost, Macedon would certainly have lost its hegemony over Greece. Emboldened by Alexander’s death, the Greeks would have risen up just like they did in 323. And this time, it is unlikely that Craterus or Leonnatus would have survived to come to Antipater’s aid. And even if they had, they would not have brought much of an army with them.

So, the Greeks would have rebelled, thrown off the Macedonian yoke, and resumed the intercity rivalries that had riven them since the Persian invasion. Macedon would have been one more combatant in the arena but never more, and maybe a lot less, unless another man of genius rose to the throne, just like Philip II did.

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