Arrian I.13.1-7

In This Chapter
Alexander advances towards the Granicus River

Alexander approached the Granicus ‘in battle-order’. He knew that the Persians were not far ahead. However, it wasn’t until his scouts returned that he discovered the satrapal army’s precise position, and formation: it was on the far side of the Granicus river, and was formed up ready for battle.

Arrian says that on receiving this news, Alexander ‘began to form his entire army for battle’. I take it, therefore, that marching ‘in battle-order’ is slightly different to actually being in battle formation.

At the same time that Alexander began doing this, Parmenion approached him. He proposed to the king that they make camp on the near side of the river. Doing this, he said, would make the Persians encamp further away as it had fewer infantrymen. Doing this would facilitate the army’s safe crossing tomorrow. Parmenion reckoned that if the Macedonian army crossed at daybreak, it would be able to do so before the Persian army had time to form up.

There is another reason why Parmenion advocated camping until the next day. As Arrian tells it, Parmenion did not think the army would be able to cross the river ‘on a wide front’ safely. The river looked deep and the banks on the far side, high; the army would find it hard to get out of the water – only being able to do so in the ‘weakest possible formation’, that of a column – and would be met by a cavalry charge. Defeat at the Granicus, Parmenion said, would put the entire expedition in danger.

Alexander ignored Parmenion’s concerns. According to Arrian he justified his decision to cross immediately on the basis of pride:

‘… I would be ashamed if, after crossing the Hellespont with ease, this little stream’ (this was his term to disparage the Granicus) ‘is to prevent us getting across just as we are.’

Waiting, Alexander said, would be ‘false to Macedonian prestige’ and his ‘own short way with danger’ and make the Persians think they could deal with them.

When Arrian says that the Macedonian army advanced ‘in battle-order’ he describes its formation: the hoplites were ‘in a double phalanx’ and the cavalry were ‘on the wings’. It sounds, therefore, like the army was ready to fight. I wonder, therefore, if when Alexander ‘began to form his entire army for battle’ he wasn’t preparing it from scratch – as I imagined when I wrote the first two paragraphs above – but just adjusting it according to the information he had received from the scouts. Just a thought.

Why did Alexander ignore Parmenion’s concerns?

Before answering that, we might ask if Arrian’s account of what happened is even accurate. According to Diodorus (XVII.19), Alexander camped on the near side of the river overnight and crossed the Granicus at dawn the next day – just as Arrian has Parmenion suggesting. By-the-bye, Diodorus doesn’t include this conversation between the king and general.

So, who to believe? Well, you pays your money and takes your choice. As the notes to The Landmark Arrian say,

There is no possibility of reconciling the two accounts, and no agreement among historians as to which is more credible.

As much as I like Arrian, I would actually be inclined to believe Diodorus. If the Persians were on the far bank, crossing it straight away would seem to be a reckless decision. When it came to battle, Alexander was very capable of being reckless with himself, but with his army – ? I can’t immediately think of any time when he was. He certainly hasn’t been so far. Alexander waiting until dawn, however, would be a cunning decision in keeping with his superior strategic skills.

But let’s say that Arrian is correct. Why would he ignore Parmenion? I think it would be because he wanted to do things the right, that is, the Homeric, way, and that meant riding into danger rather than steering clear of it.

Having said that, and because I don’t believe Arrian’s account is correct, let me say that I think it is Ptolemy who portrays Alexander in this way rather than Alexander himself. It is Ptolemy who wants to represent Alexander as the Homeric hero. This isn’t to say that Alexander was not that type of person but I suspect there is a bit of retconning going on here.

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Arrian I.12.1-10

In This Chapter
From Troy to Priapus

Chapter Twelve can be broken down into three parts:

  1. Alexander at Troy
  2. Arrian’s Second Preface
  3. Alexander on the March

Alexander at Troy
While at Troy, Alexander was ‘crowned with a golden crown’ by Menoetius, the helmsman of his ship; a man named Chares from Athens and a number of other people followed suit.

Arrian reports that ‘[s]ome say… Alexander placed a wreath on the tomb of Achilles, while Hephaestion, it is said, did likewise at the tomb of Patroclus’.

The italics above are mine, to emphasise the fact that for the second chapter in succession we appear to have Arrian using a source or sources who were not Ptolemy and Aristobulos.

Arrian continues in this manner. He says that ‘[t]he story goes that Alexander called Achilles fortunate to have Homer as the herald of his lasting fame’. (my italics again). This much is true; Alexander was not well served either by historians or poets.

Arrian’s Second Preface
Arrian shows this by outlining how other, much less deserving, men have been more celebrated than Alexander. The situation is so bad that Arrian is able to say that ‘Alexander’s achievements are far less well known than even the most trivial of other deeds in the past’.

To demonstrate this, Arrian compares the famous march of the 10,000 to Alexander’s expedition, and shows how the latter is the superior of the two.

… Alexander did not campaign in another man’s army, he did not retreat from the Great King, his victories were not confined to the defeat of those opposing a march back to the sea.

But rather, Arrian tells us, Alexander achieved the most of any Greek or barbarian – and this is why he decided to write his history. With unashamed self-confidence, he adds that ‘I did not think myself unsuited for the task of making Alexander’s achievements clear to the world’. Arrian’s writings define him; he describes them as ‘my country, my family, my public office’.

Alexander on the March
From Troy, Alexander marched north to Arisbe, where he met Parmenion and the rest of the army. From there, he continued along the north-western corner of Asia Minor until he reached Lampsacus when he headed south again though only as far as the Prosactius river. From there, he marched north once more, passing Colonae on his way to Priapus on the north-western coast. This would be his last stop (or, at least, the last to be mentioned by Arrian) before coming to the Granicus river.

While Alexander was marching through north-western Asia Minor, the Persian satraps and commanders were meeting in Zeleia, (twentyish miles) east of the Granicus. When word came of Alexander’s arrival in the province, they discussed what to do. Memnon of Rhodes advocated a scorched earth policy to starve the Macedonians into retreat but was overruled by the Persians. One satrap, Arsites, refused to countenance any damage being done to the property of ‘the people under his charge’. The others suspected that Memnon wanted to avoid a conflict so as to keep his rank in the Great King’s court.

Arrian doesn’t mention the story that, before jumping off his ship, Alexander flung his spear onto the shore to claim Asia (Minor) as his spear won territory (Diodorus XVII.17; Justin 11.5.10). Could it be that by focusing on the crowning of Alexander, he is demonstrating that he is not so much interested in Alexander the warrior as he is in Alexander the king?

What would this mean in practice? As the thought has only just occurred to me, I need to think about that before I can answer it. If it is true, though, I would expect Arrian’s Alexander to show whatever virtues the ancient Romans/Greeks thought a good ruler should have.

It is certainly one of the ironies of history that Alexander should, at any time, have been less well known than other men. Today, of course, he is very well known. For what he achieved he deserves to be the most well known of all the ancients but definitely lags behind the three most famous Romans – Julius Caesar, Augustus and Mark Antony. I would hazard to say that he isn’t even the most famous Greek: that honour probably belongs to Cleopatra VII.

In this post I spoke about Alexander’s impressive intelligence operation. We now get to see why it was so good. Arrian says that Alexander ‘always had scouts sent ahead of the main army’. We find out who Alexander’s ‘M’ was.: Amyntas son of Arrhabeaus. And his secret agents were ‘the squadron of Companions from Apollonia’ as well as ‘four squadrons of the so-called ‘advance guards”.

Okay, Amyntas was not quite M and the Apollonians not quite secret agents but of course they did have a licence to kill!

Finally, when I read this chapter, I was touched that Arsites seemed to be sticking up for his people. Well, maybe he was, but I’m sure the knowledge that no crops meant no taxes would have been in his mind as well.

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Arrian I.11.1-8

In This Chapter
Return to Macedon and Departure for Asia Minor

Alexander conquered Thebes in the autumn of 335 BC. After settling matters with Athens, he returned to Macedon where he made sacrifice to Olympian Zeus in a ceremony (?) first established by his predecessor, Archelaus (who reigned from c.413-399). Later, he celebrated Olympic Games – not the famous one – at Dion (Arrian incorrectly says it was held at Aegae). Arrian notes that according to some sources, Alexander also celebrated ‘games in honour of the Muses’.

Around the time that Alexander was holding these celebrations, he received word that a statue of Orpheus in Pieria had started to sweat continuously. A number of seers made prophecies based on this occurrence but Arrian records only one. According to a seer named Aristander, who had served under Philip and would do so under Alexander to at least Bactria-Sogdia, the sweating meant that ‘all the composers of epic and lyric and choral odes’ would have much work to do in ‘celebrating Alexander and his achievements’.


Arrian now fast forwards to Spring 334 BC.

In late April or early May, Alexander lead his army to the Hellespont. Twenty days after leaving home, he arrived at Elaeus on the south-eastern tip of Thrace.

As you can see from the map, he chose the shortest sea crossing possible to Asia Minor Alexander never shied away from danger and indeed could sometimes be reckless in the face of it but he clearly knew there was a time and a place for everything. And the crossing to Asia Minor was not it.

At Elaeus, Alexander sacrificed to Protesilaus who was shot dead straight after setting foot on Asian soil following the crossing from Greece at the start of the Trojan war. Alexander wanted his expedition to go better.

Not all of the army went to Elaeus with him. Most of it had stayed with Parmenion a few miles up the road at Sestos. Alexander’s most senior general now oversaw its passage in one hundred and sixty triremes and an unspecified number of freighters to Abydos.

Alexander, meanwhile, sailed for Troy. While at sea – halfway between Thrace and Asia Minor – he sacrificed a bull and poured a libation into the sea. Once he reached Asia Minor, Alexander leapt off his ship – in full armour, no less.

Having already erected an altar at Elaeus, Alexander now had another built at his ships’ landing site. It was dedicated to Zeus ‘the protector of Landings’, Athena and Herakles. Leaving the shore, he marched to Troy, or the run down tourist trap that now claimed to be the same, where he sacrificed to ‘Trojan Athena’. He left his panoply there and took in its place weaponry that dated back to the Trojan War. At the end of his visit, he also sacrificed to Priam so as to ‘avert his anger at the race of Neoptolemus’ from which Alexander was descended (on his mother’s side).

This chapter forms a bridge between the Greek Campaigns and Campaign in Asia Minor. It is dominated by religion. Alexander changed as a person during the thirteen years of his kingship but some things remained constant – his belief in and loyalty to the Olympian gods. The various sacrifices that we see being carried out here are mirrored by those that he conducted during his last illness in June 323 BC.

On a few occasions in this chapter, Arrian distances himself a little from his sources: ‘The prevailing consensus is…’, ‘They also say…’, ‘The prevalent account…’. I take this wording to mean that the relevant information does not come from Ptolemy or Aristobulos?

The above three quotations all relate to Alexander’s crossing of the Hellespont and visit to Troy. Why might Ptolemy and Aristobulos not been interested in recording it (and Arrian vice versa)? We don’t know. Perhaps it never happened – the whole Alexander-Achilles thing is a later invention. Perhaps it did happen but still not with the significance that was later attached to it so Ptolemy and Aristobulos only mentioned it in passing. As for Arrian, perhaps he knew his readers would like the story.

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Arrian I.1-10 Some Thoughts

Background to the Series
In early 2017, I finished a series of blog posts based on Arrian’s Anabasis. I was happy for I had now written a blog-series based on all the major historians of the great king.

I closed my laptop and asked myself: What next? What must I do to take my love of Alexander to the next level?

Unfortunately, I never resolved that question. Actually, it would more accurate to say that I knew the answer but was not able to see it through. I would have loved to study Alexander more formally and blog about that but the course of my life did not allow it.

As a result, and for over two years, The Second Achilles drifted. I’m afraid to say, so did my reading and study of Alexander. To my chagrin, I became on my Twitter page someone who talked about Alexander using the knowledge he had built up about Alexander in the past rather than one who was using the knowledge he was learning in the present. I did not like that at all. Eventually, the rot set in on my creative Alexander Twitter page as well. To date, it has not recovered, and I don’t know if it will. It was a sad situation to be in – my love for Alexander and his life and times was undiminished but I was simply not doing anything about it. Ideas came, but unfortunately, left just as quickly.

A few weeks ago, another idea came, and this one appears to have stuck: It occurred to me that Arrian – in a manner of speaking – had got me into this rut, let’s see if he can get me out of it. I haven’t read him the whole way through in a long time, let’s do so chapter-by-chapter and see where it takes me.

I am delighted and not a little relieved that three weeks after beginning the series, I have now reached the end of Stage One. Alexander has concluded his Greek campaigns and is now ready to sail across the Hellespont to start to go to war against the Persian Empire.

When I wrote the first post, I didn’t know how I would – or even if I would – divide the series up. I am happy to do so according to Alexander’s various campaigns, though; given his story, it makes a lot of sense. Looking ahead, I think I will continue along the same lines (with the possible exception of his City Sweep: Babylon-Susa-Persepolis).

Arrian I.1-10 Some Thoughts

Arrian presents a very positive image of Alexander as a general. He does this by foregrounding Alexander’s positive qualities (see here) and by suppressing the negative ones (see the comparison between Arrian’s and Diodorus’ Alexander here). He has no time to waste on any ‘other’ type of Alexander; for example, Alexander the youth, or king, or even person: His narrative is wholly geared towards the military leader.

If you would like to know about Alexander the youth or person, you’ll need to read Plutarch’s Life of Alexander; Alexander the king, of course, can still be found in Arrian, but he exists slightly off-centre as the book’s focus is elsewhere.

Arrian’s Alexander is based on the Alexander of his two major sources: Ptolemy and Aristobulos. Having said that, given how focused Arrian is on the military aspects of Alexander’s kingship, and how Ptolemy is supposed to be his source for the same* perhaps we are really reading Ptolemy’s Alexander. I would like to think that actually, we aren’t, that while the Alexander we see in these pages is based on Ptolemy’s version of his king it is substantially Arrian’s. Where Ptolemy’s Alexander ends and Arrian’s begins, though, is a good question.

In the past, I have criticised Curtius’ history of Alexander for being sensationalist, as if written like a modern day tabloid. If that is the case, I think now that Arrian’s Alexander is akin to a Hollywood interpretation of him: Alexander gets into scrapes (e.g. at Mt Haemus and outside Pellium) but just like James Bond or Jason Bourne always manages to extract himself – and with no little panache for the sake of the audience. I have to admit, I have never thought of Arrian like this before; he makes such a thing of how much better he is than other historians that he comes across as rather stuffy and self-important historian rather than a populariser of the man he is writing about.

I said that Arrian suppresses Alexander’s negative qualities. This isn’t completely true. While it is true that he tries to gloss over the Macedonian king’s role in the destruction of Thebes, wait until he delivers his judgement over the destruction of Xerxes’ palace at Persepolis. There, Arrian says it was wrong – no ifs, not buts, just wrong. He is on Alexander’s side, but is not besotted with him.

* I presume on the basis that Ptolemy fought alongside Alexander in the army and became a senior general by the time of Alexander’s death whereas Aristobulos, although he fought, was principally an engineer

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Arrian I.10.1-6

In This Chapter
The Greek response to the fall of Thebes

News of Thebes’ fall spread throughout Greece, and the city-states who had been antagonistic towards Alexander rushed to reverse their position.

Arcadian troops had been sent by the city to aid Thebes; they had got as far as the Isthmus of Corinth before pausing to see how the battle went. Very useful. Upon seeing the Macedonians triumph, the soldiers condemned their leaders to death.

Elis recalled her (pro-Alexander) exiles.

Aetolia sent embassies to Alexander to ask forgiveness ‘for their own hint of revolution’.

Athens evacuated the countryside and closed the city gates. The Assembly passed Demades’ motion that ten ambassadors be sent to Alexander to congratulate him on his successful campaigns in Thrace and Illyria and Thebes.

The ambassadors were carefully chosen. There was only one criteria: they had to be men whom Alexander liked. Three years after Chaeronea, Athens knew she was in a sticky spot and was treading very carefully indeed.

After meeting the ambassadors, Alexander took no action against Athens but the city was not quite out of the woods. The king demanded the surrender of Demosthenes and eight of his associates. In his letter, Alexander blamed them for,

  1. Athens’ and Thebes’ defeat at Chaeronea
  2. the ‘subsequent wrongs committed on Philip’s death against both himself and Philip’ (I presume Alexander was accusing them of being part of the conspiracy to kill Philip here?)
  3. Thebes’ revolt

Athens did not fold, but very bravely asked Alexander ‘to forgo his anger’ against the nine men. He forgave eight of them. The ninth, Alexander said, had to go into exile. This was Charidemus, a naturalised Athenian citizen. Athens acquiesced and Charidemus went overseas where he joined Darius III’s war council.

Why did Alexander forgive any of the nine men? Arrian suggests it was either ‘out of respect’ for Athens or because he simply wanted to get the expedition to the east started.

I still can’t believe the Arcadian troops stopped to see how the battle was going before deciding to get involved or not! Given how cynical the ancient Greeks were about their treaties, I don’t suppose I should be surprised; but still -.

As you see above, the translation of Arrian’s Anabasis that I am using for these posts refers to the ‘hint of revolution’ in Aetolia. This makes their plea for forgiveness rather touching if a little pathetic. The Landmark Arrian omits any mention of hints. It says that the Aetolian tribes ‘had revolted on learning of the Thebans’ revolt’ (Landmark Arrian p.21).

I have to admit I am not quite sure why Alexander demanded above all else the exile of Charidemus. There is nothing in this chapter of Arrian that suggests he was any worse a person than, say, Demosthenes. Charidemus had been very powerful in Thrace; maybe Alexander feared the he might be again, or else simply wanted revenge for the trouble he had once caused Philip II.

Texts Used
Hammond, Martin (tr.) Arrian: Alexander the Great (Oxford, OUP, 2013)
Romm, James (ed.) The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander (New York, Pantheon, 2010)

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Arrian I.9.1-10

In This Chapter
Arrian discusses the scale of Thebes’ defeat

Arrian lists three reasons why the defeat of Thebes ‘shocked the rest of Greece’ as well as those involved:

  1. The size of the city
  2. The ‘sudden violence’ of the Macedonian attack
  3. The unexpectedness of the attack to both conquerors and defeated

Arrian compares the defeat of Thebes to a number of other military disasters, and explains why they were not as shocking:

  1. Athens’ defeat in Sicily during the Peloponnesian War (431-404). The massacre of thousands of men was a disaster for Athens but It Wasn’t As Bad As Thebes because it happened ‘far from home’ and involved mainly allied troops rather than citizen soldiers. The city of Athens itself was unaffected.
  2. Athens’ defeat at Aegosptami (405). Although this defeat led to the city’s ultimate defeat in the Peloponnesian War, IWABAT because only the Athenian fleet was destroyed. Yes, the city suffered damage in consequence but this was restricted to (a) ‘the demolition of the Long Walls’, (b) the surrender of the rest of the fleet and (c) the loss of their empire. Athens herself survived and quickly rebuilt.
  3. Sparta’s defeats at Leuctra (371) and Mantinea (362). Arrian describes these as shocking defeats for Sparta but only because they were unexpected, not on account of the numbers killed – therefore, IWABAT
  4. The Boeotian and Arcadian assault on Sparta under Epaminondas (370/69). As with (3), this was a shock because of its unexpectedness rather than on account of its its scale – therefore, IWABAT
  5. Sparta’s capture of Plataea (427). This, Arrian says, was ‘no great calamity’ because the city was not a big one and only a limited number of people were captured (the notes to my copy of Arrian say that 200 Plataeans were executed)
  6. Athens’ capture of Melos (416) and Scione (421). The capture of both these cities lead to a massacre of the defeated people. However, this WABAT because it was ‘more a source of shame to the perpetrators than any great surprise to the Greek world in general’.

In contrast, the following made Thebes’ defeat worse:

  1. The ‘impetuous irrationality of the revolt’
  2. The speed of the city’s defeat
  3. The general massacre that took place during the battle
  4. The ‘total enslavement’ of the populace

All this was so bad that Thebes’ defeat was put down to ‘divine anger’ – The city was paying the price for past betrayals; namely,

  1. of the Greeks during the Graeco-Persian War
  2. for its capture of Plataea ‘at a time of truce’
  3. … and enslavement of the Plataean people
  4. for the destruction of the battlefield where Persia had been defeated once and for all
  5. for voting to destroy Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War

Alexander did not decide Thebes’ ultimate fate himself. Instead, he left it to his allies. Naturally, having been the victims of Thebes in the past, they were not kind in their judgement. It was decided (a) to raze the city, (b) to parcel the land out among themselves, (c) to garrison the Cadmea (to prevent any attack on the new land owners?) (d) to put the population into slavery, and finally (e) to rebuild Orchomenus and Plataea, both of which had been destroyed by Thebes.

Alexander rubber stamped the allies decision, although he did exempt Pindar’s house from destruction and exempted priests and priestesses, ‘guest-friends’ of his father, and any Theban who had lobbied on behalf of Macedon in the city from being enslaved.

Why was the Macedonian attack unexpected? Well, remember that as Arrian has it, Alexander did not immediately attack the city upon his arrival. He wanted the Thebans to come to their senses. The attack only began after Perdiccas’ unauthorised assault on the palisades. This, of course, may be what happened in Ptolemy’s propaganda rather than in real life.

I said above that Alexander did not decide Thebes’ fate. It could not have suffered so grievously, however, without his approval, even if it was only implicitly given. Is he to be condemned for allowing Thebes to be destroyed? Well, even in antiquity, the destruction of Thebes was regarded as an atrocity.

The destruction of Thebes was no doubt intended to send a very harsh message to the rest of Greece – revolt at your peril – but in this it was not successful. Four years later, Sparta rose up against Macedon at the Battle of Megalopolis and in 322, following Alexander’s death the year before, Athens tried to win its freedom at the Battle of Crannon.

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Arrian I.8.1-11

In This Chapter
Alexander assaults Thebes

‘… Alexander did not attack the city’ (Arr. I.7.11)

Perdiccas, however, had other ideas. Without seeking or waiting for permission from the king, he began an assault of the outer palisade.

At first, all went well. Perdiccas was able to break through the palisade and make a charge towards the Theban soldiers behind it. He was helped in this by Amyntas son of Andromenes who brought the men under his command into the fray.

Arrian doesn’t tell us when Alexander saw what was going on but when he did see the assault, he brought the rest of the army forward to prevent Perdiccas and Amyntas being cut off from the Macedonian forces.

Alexander ordered his archers and Agrianian soldiers through the first palisade. As this was happening, Perdiccas was doing his best to break through the inner palisade. This is where things started to go wrong for him, though, and in a serious way, for he was wounded and his injury was so bad, he ‘fell on the spot’. Fortunately, his men were able to drag him away to safety.

Perdiccas’ men seem to have been pushed back from the inner palisade because the fighting continued in the space between the outer and inner palisades, next to a temple dedicated to Heracles. At first, the Macedonian forces were able to push the Theban soldiers back to where the temple stood. But there, perhaps inspired by their devotion to the greatest of all warriors, the Thebans rallied. Now, it was the Macedonians who were being forced back.

Alexander watched as his men retreated. He didn’t panic, though, but instead took the time to observe the condition of the Thebans and he noticed that they were not in any order: easy pickings, therefore, for his phalanx.

Alexander ordered the phalanx forward. They advanced, as Arrian says, ‘in full battle-order’, and pushed the Thebans past the inner palisade and into the city. Alexander’s calmness had turned a potential defeat into a rout.

It got better. The Thebans were so desperate to escape the advancing phalanx that the city gates could not be closed in time to stop a Macedonian invasion.

The Macedonian troops now split up. Some went to break the siege of the Cadmea. Once that was done the reunited forces entered the lower city via the Ampheum (a shrine in the centre of the city). Others entered Thebes by climbing over the city walls (which were now in Macedonian hands) and made their way to the market place.

Theban soldiers put up a brave defence at the Ampheum but were fatally undermined by their own cavalry which decided to flee from the city. A general slaughter of the defenders now followed.

Who was responsible for the slaughter – not just of Theban soldiers, but women and children as well? Arrian names the allied soldiers – ‘Phoecians, Plataeans, and other Boeotians’. They even killed Thebans in their homes and, most heinously, ‘suppliants at the altars’.

At the start of this chapter, Arrian makes a point of telling us that his source for Perdiccas’ unauthorised attack on the outer palisade is Ptolemy. As the Notes say, ‘Ptolemy had good reason to take a hostile line on Perdiccas, after the latter’s bid, albeit unsuccessful, to wrest control of Egypt from him in 321/0’. This would seem to indicate that Ptolemy wrote his history during the early years of the Wars of the Successors, because why bother after Perdiccas had died? Of course, he could have remained bitter about what Perdiccas had tried to do or just triumphalist.

Another question that occurs to me is why Arrian mentions his source for this piece of information in the first place. I suspect he knew that what he was reading was unlikely to be true either in whole or in part: Perdiccas was too professional a soldier to do anything so rash and, as the reader would probably think the same, mentioned his source as a way of saying ‘If you have an argument, take it up with him’.

Arrian’s Alexander at Thebes is of a man who is patient and calm. It is quite a contrast to Diodorus’ Alexander who is wholly the opposite. We can add these virtues to the list that we created at the end of the Thracian campaign here. Of course, we need to remember that Arrian’s Alexander is informed by Ptolemy, Aristobulos and others who were favourable towards him. Is this the real Alexander? My answer is yes, though only in part.

I am also interested by the fact that Alexander brought his army forward to help Perdiccas and Amyntas. What was his motivation? Was it a policy of no one gets left behind? Or simply concern that defeat for Perdiccas and Amyntas would look bad for him? Probably a mixture, but I would lean towards the former as being the most important since throughout his career Alexander lived and suffered by his men; even later on when he grew more distant from them, he still shared their pains and sufferings on the march – see particularly the Gedrosian desert crossing.

One last thing – and related to what I said above – it is notable that Arrian names and shames Alexander’s allies for the slaughter of the Thebans. I wonder if the influence of Ptolemy can be seen here as well. Having bad mouthed (or penned) Perdiccas, he put the blame on the allies for the unnecessary bloodshed in order to protect his ‘virtuous’ Alexander.

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Arrian I.7.1-11

In This Chapter
Alexander marches against Thebes

Despite having to end his Thracian campaign prematurely, Alexander had done enough to ensure that Macedon’s northern borders would not be troubled for the rest of his reign.

He would not be so fortunate in regards the Greek city-states: they were always on the look out for an opportunity to rebel, and in Arrian’s Anabasis the first one to do so was Thebes.

The rebellion started when a group of rebels within the city invited likeminded exiles back home. Together, they murdered two Macedonian officers outside their garrison (established by Philip II in 338 BC following the Battle of Chaeronea) and persuaded the Theban Assembly to support their revolution.

The rebels employed a three point strategy to win the Assembly over.
They used slogans. Arrian describes how they made ‘play with the fine old slogans of ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’
Deceit. They claimed that Alexander had died in Illyria
Wish fulfilment. The rebels’ deceit worked because people wanted to believe that it was true

Alexander knew that if he let Thebes’ rebellion go unchecked, other city-states might follow. He may have had his head stuck in The Iliad but he was also a realist. So, he marched south at speed to confront the rebels.

Thirteen days later, Alexander entered Boeotia. The Thebans were taken back by the speed of his arrival. The rebels assured them, however, that the Alexander who had come was not Philip’s son but Alexander Lyncestis.

Arrian doesn’t tell us at which point the Thebans found out that Alexander son of Philip was still alive. On the fourteenth day after his departure from the north, however, Alexander arrived outside Thebes. There, Arrian tells us, he did not attack the city but paused so that the Thebans could have ‘a period of grace, should they wish to reconsider their disastrous decision’.

It would be easy to get carried away by Alexander’s kindness here but it was no doubt influenced by two practical concerns (a) a desire to avoid damaging his reputation among the Greeks by attacking a Greek city, and (b) a desire to rest his men in case fighting became necessary.

The rebels, however, were in no mood to turn back. Not only did they decline to reconsider but they sent out a large force of cavalry and infantry to attack the Macedonians. It managed to kill a few of the enemy before being chased back into the city.

The following day, Alexander moved his army to be closer to the Macedonian garrison in the Cadmea – ever since the murder of the two officers, the garrison had been under siege there. Then, Alexander stopped. He did not try to relieve the siege (the cadmea was surrounded by Theban palisades) or begin a general assault of the city. He still hoped, Arrian tells us, to end the rebellion peacefully.

And indeed, there were Thebans who wanted a return to Macedonian rule but the rebels were in too strong a position for the doves to make any headway. They ‘did everything in their power to press the people into war’.

‘making play with the fine old slogans‘ – Ouch. That’s proper sarcasm, there!
Something pointed out by the Notes in The Landmark Arrian – how Alexander, while in Illyria, knew what was going on in Thebes but the Thebans had no idea regarding where his army was or if he was leading it. That speaks to an impressive intelligence operation on Alexander’s part. The Notes say that Alexander had better intelligence than his rivals throughout his campaigns. I love spy stories so this is a really interesting angle for me.

Texts Used
Hammond, Martin (tr.) Arrian: Alexander the Great (Oxford, OUP, 2013)
Romm, James (ed.) The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander (New York, Pantheon, 2010)

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Arrian I.6-1-11

In This Chapter
How Alexander escaped from a pincer movement

Cleitus and Glaucias could not have asked for better luck. Alexander and his army was caught right between them, and what’s more, both could sally forth and begin the final showdown at their leisure: Cleitus was safe behind the walls of Pellium and Glaucias had the advantage of height as offered by the hills that surrounded the city. In addition to that, the woods that covered them gave him a good protection.

In Chapter Four we saw how Alexander used shock and awe tactics in order to defeat the Getae. Outside Pellium, he used the same tactic but in a very different way.

Rather than attack either the city or the hills hard and fast, or simply retreat, and risk being attacked in his rear, Alexander formed his phalanx up to a depth of 122 rows. Then, after ordering silence, he took his infantrymen through a series of manoeuvres. ‘[S]pears upright’, then down and left and right; he marched the phalanx forward at speed, and wheeled it about on both left and right wings. Finally, he put it into a wedge formation and approached Glaucias’ men who were watching from the foothills. Unnerved by the Macedonian display of discipline and power, they fled back into the hills. Alexander allowed his men to beat their shields and issue their battle cry. This added to the Taulantians’ terror. Those who did not flee into the hills made their way into Pellium.

Having nullified the threat of Glaucias for now, Alexander rode away from the phalanx to dislodge some of the Taulantians who held a hill overlooking the pass that was the Macedonians’ only route to safety. On seeing him come, they fled. The Taulantians were not at all keen fighters. Or maybe they were just realistic ones.

The Phalanx forded the river (Eordaicus). Instead of ordering it to continue marching, Alexander lined it up on the other side of the bank – to discourage the Taulantians from pursuing him and picking off the men at the rear.

This, though, is what they tried to do. As the Taulantians rushed forward, Alexander and his cavalrymen charged them. You will not be surprised to read that, according to Arrian, Glaucias’ men did not stand and fight but once more fled.

The Taulantians made one last attempt to claim some scalps but as the last of the Macedonian army crossed the river, Alexander gave the order for catapults and archers to provide covering fire. This was effective. Alexander lost no men in his retreat.

Alexander may have been forced into a retreat but like Glaucias, he was not above an act of opportunism. Three days later, on hearing that the Illyrians and Taulantians were camped outside Pallium ‘in disorderly fashion’, Alexander led a large company of men back over the Eordaicus ahead of the main body of the army. Cleitus and Glaucias had assumed that Alexander had left the area and not bothered to send any spies to confirm this. This was their undoing.

Alexander came crashing down on the Illyrian and Taulantian men. Many were killed in their beds. Others tried to flee; those who did so successfully were forced to dump their weapons on the way. Cleitus locked himself in Pellium. Seeing no hope for the future there, he burnt the city down and snuck away to rejoin Glaucias in the latter’s kingdom.

In the way he used silence and discipline to overwhelm the Taultantians, Alexander showed himself to be a master of psychological warfare. He knew exactly what would get under his enemy’s skin, what would make it panic and flee. Thanks to the brilliant training of his army – for which he would have had to thank his father, Philip – he was able to execute his idea. If the death of Langarus changed the complexion of the Wars of the Successors (see Arrian I.2.1-6 here) this was a ‘battle’ that was won in 359 BC when Philip became king.

Chapter Six marks the end of the Illyrian campaign. In the next chapter, Alexander heads south to deal with Thebes. What do the Thracian and Illyrian campaigns tell us about Alexander? As a general, this:

– He had a tactically creative mind
– He had supreme confidence in the abilities of his soldiers
– He was able to think on his feet
– He was a calm thinker, not given to panicking
– He did not look down on ‘dirtier’ acts, such as acts of opportunism
– He knew the minds of his enemies
– He lead from the front

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Arrian I.5.1-11

In This Chapter
Alexander vs Cletius and Glaucias

Having defeated the Getae and declared himself a friend of the Celts Alexander ‘advanced towards the territory of the Agrianians and Paeonians’. He was not intending to attack either of these tribes as they were both allies of Macedon(1). Indeed, Langarus, the king of the Agrianians, was a personal friend of Alexander’s and joined the Macedonian king while he was still on the road.

During his march, Alexander was informed that an Illyrian client king named Cleitus had revolted against him. Cleitus would have been known to Alexander for in 359 BC, Cleitus’ father, Bardylis, killed Philip II’s brother, Perdiccas I, in battle. More bad news followed: Cleitus had been joined in his revolt by King Glaucias of the Taulantians who had, up until now, remained independent of Macedonian control. And furthermore, another independent tribe named the Autariates intended to attack (ambush?) him while he was on the road.

Once or twice in Alexander’s career he was hit by uncertainty over what to do at a critical moment, but no such weakness struck him in the spring/summer of 335 BC. He decided to move at speed towards the troublesome tribes. Langarus did his bit to make things easier by offering to deal with the Autariates for him; Alexander accepted.

Langarus was so successful in his mission that Alexander offered him the hand of his half-sister Cynane in marriage. Unfortunately, Langarus died (of natural causes) before any marriage could take place. Twelve years before the Wars of the Diadochi started, fate worked to destabilise the environment in which they would take place that little bit more.

Back in 335, Alexander marched on the city of Pellium by the Eordaicus river: Cleitus had seized the city. Upon his arrival, Alexander set up camp by the river. He intended to assault the city walls the following day.

But there was a problem, for Cleitus had men hidden in ‘the thickly wooded heights’ that surrounded the city. If Alexander attacked it, they would run down and attack him in the side and rear. Alexander’s only advantage was in numbers for Glaucias had not yet joined Cleitus so the number of men in the woods was limited.

As Alexander advanced on Pellium, the Illyrians performed a human sacrifice, killing ‘three boys [and] two girls’ before joining the fight. They rushed down the slopes and engaged the Macedonians. At some point after – it isn’t clear how long the battle lasted – Alexander forced the Illyrians back; they fled into Pellium. The Macedonians found the dead youngsters in the hills.

Alexander had won the battle but was still at risk of losing the war as Glaucias was close by ‘with a large force’ – in fact he was now in the hills surrounding Pellium. Alexander clearly had spies monitoring Glaucias’ movements because he knew he did not have the numbers to attack both Pellium and Glaucias at the same time.

While he worked out what to do next, Alexander sent Philotas (Parmenion’s son) on a foraging mission. While Philotas was gone, the Macedonian king received word from his spies that Glaucias intended to ambush Philotas. Alexander immediately set out with a small force to rescue him.

Glaucias’ attack was perhaps an opportunistic one, because on hearing of Alexander’s advance, Glaucias backed off. Maybe he just wanted to save his men for the bigger battle ahead. Either way, Philotas returned to the Macedonian camp safely.

With Philotas back in camp, Alexander was back to square one: what was he to do about the threats in front and behind him? He was caught in a pincer movement that, if he made one wrong move, could bring his life to a sudden end. Surely retreat was the only option, but the only way out was through a narrow pass that would take an agonisingly long time to march through and risk the Macedonian rear being ravaged by Cleitus’ and Glaucias’ forces.

I have gone against my practice in the previous posts by inserting some commentary in the first part of this post. One thing remains on my mind now: how did Alexander get himself into such an awkward spot? How did he end up having to worry about Cleitus in front and Glaucias behind him?

He knew about Cleitus and Glaucias coming together before arriving in Pellium. I presume that as soon as he learnt this, he sent spies to report back on their movements and hoped that he would be able to take Pellium before Glaucias and his men arrived. Given that Glaucias arrived on the day he intended to attack the city, however, he was cutting it incredibly fine to the point of given himself an unrealistic target. With this in mind, it could not have been wise to send Philotas foraging in such a dangerous area.

(1) Notes The Landmark Arrian (2010), p.10

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