Posts Tagged With: Amazons

From Porus to Marauding Greeks

Linked To Alexander (1)

I subscribe to Google Alerts and every day (or there and there abouts) receive an email that lets me know where ‘Alexander the Great’ has been mentioned on the web. Not all the references to him are of any use – I have lately received one e-mail that linked to a rapper using Alexander’s name – but occasionally an e-mail will come back with one or more links that deserve being more widely known about. I will gather them together and every week or two blog them here.
More links here

24th July 2014
The Indian Republic
Forgotten Heroes: King Porus

31st July 2014
The Guardian
August’s Reading Group: The Alexander Trilogy by Mary Renault

US Macmillan Publishers
Two books related to Alexander the Great by Judith Tarr
Bring Down the Sun
Queen of the Amazons

3rd August 2014
The Standard Digital News
Egypt: Ancient pearl maintains its lustre
on Alexandria

7th August 2014
Times Higher Education
Wandering Greeks: The Ancient Greek Diaspora from the Age of Homer to the Death of Alexander the Great, by Robert Garland

A List of Links to Alexander 

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Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 77 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
The Amazons march out of legend and into history – and back again
Thallestris to Alexander: I want your child
How Alexander Medised: Special Report

The Story
Today, the Amazonians are regarded as being figures of legend rather than history. The Footnotes for Chapter 77 tell me that the Alexander historians could be equally sceptical – though only that Thallestris, the Amazonian queen, met Alexander. For his part, Diodorus simply recounts the story, offering no opinion one way or another regarding its veracity. Here is what he says.

Once Bucephalus had been safely returned to him, Alexander left Mardia and made his way back to Hyrcania. There, a party of three hundred Amazon warriors entered the Macedonian camp. They were led by Thallestris who, Diodorus says, ‘was remarkable for [her] beauty and… bodily strength’. The women arrived in full armour, impressing Alexander with their dignity.

Recovering himself, Alexander asked Thallestris the reason for her visit. She ‘replied that it was for the purpose of getting a child’.

Any man could have done that for her; why had she chosen Alexander? Simple. ‘He had shown himself the greatest of all men in his achievements, and she was superior to all women in strength and courage’. Their offspring, therefore, would surely ‘surpass all other mortals in excellence’.

According to Diodorus, Alexander was ‘delighted’ with this request and into his bed chamber they went.

And there they remained for thirteen days until Thallestris rode home – out of history and into legend carrying Alexander’s child?


In the second half of this chapter, Diodorus describes how Alexander easternised his court. He,

  • appointed Asian ushers
  • appointed ‘the most distinguished persons to act as his guards’
  • wore the ‘Persian diadem’, dressed in the Great King’s (?) white robe and wore the Persian sash
  • distributed purple bordered cloaks to his companions
  • ‘dressed the horses in Persian harness’
  • ‘added concubines to his retinue’ – one for each day of the year

These measures seem very ‘in-your-face’ so far as the Macedonians are concerned. Diodorus does add, however, that Alexander ’employed these customs… sparingly’ so as not to offend his men.

Here is what I wrote about Plutarch’s reference to Thallestris’ visit.

What to make of the Amazons? A matriarchal society is one thing but a society comprised of women only? That is surely another. I’ve never heard of it anywhere else, although I must admit I haven’t looked. I might do so now. It is interesting that the sources do not dismiss the possibility of the Amazons existing outright but I wonder if that’s because they tended to build their work on authority rather than challenge it like historians today do. But here, I am simply thinking and about something I know nothing about.

It is a shame that Diodorus isn’t a little more critical of his sources as his straight bat leads him to say quite contrary things. For example, we are told that Alexander was careful about which Persian customs he took on, but only after we learnt that the Macedonian king allowed his concubines to parade in front of him every night so that he could choose which one to sleep with. That does not speak of a sparing attitude. I can see why Diodorus is accused of a copy-and-paste attitude.

By-the-bye, the Footnotes state that scholars today do not accept that this really happened. The fact that it is not mentioned elsewhere makes me inclined to agree with them.

Pity the poor concubine whose day was 29th February

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Plutarch’s Women: The Persian Royal Family, Barbarian Women, the Amazonian Queen, General Ref. & Roxane (Chapts. 43, 44, 46 & 47)

For the other posts in this series, click here

The Persian Royal Family
We pick up the story of Plutarch’s women in Chapter 43 of his Life of Alexander. In July 330 BC Alexander finally caught up with Darius III. The Great King had been on the run since losing the Battle of Gaugamela the previous October.
Plutarch tells us that Alexander ‘burst into’ Darius’ camp. He met no opposition there, however, only ‘great heaps of gold and silver vessels’ and ‘wagons full of women and children that were moving aimlessly about’.
How empty these remnants of his riches must have seemed to Darius; how broken his people.
Today, however, the Great King wasn’t in the camp but further up the road. He was found by a Macedonian named Polystratus, lying in a wagon, ‘riddled with javelins’. At Darius’ request, Polystratus gave him some water to drink.
By-the-bye, could we compare this incident to the moment, during his pursuit of the Great King when Alexander refused water because there was not enough for his men? If so, perhaps Darius’ request could be said to demonstrate his weakness in comparison to Alexander.
Sipping the water, Darius regretted that he would not be able to repay Polystratus’ act of kindness. ‘[b]ut,’ he said to the Macedonian, ‘Alexander will reward you… and the gods will repay him for his courtesy towards my mother, and my wife and my children.’ Darius then placed his hand in Polystratus’ and died. Afterwards, Alexander sent his body to Sisygambis, Darius’ mother, ‘to be laid out in royal state’.
It might be stretching things to say that Darius died happy but it does seem to me that we can’t overestimate how important it was to him that his family were treated with ‘courtesy’. As to weather this was because of their political value or because he genuinely loved them, I cannot say. I imagine it was a combination of the two.
Barbarian Women
In Chapter 44, Plutarch tells how Hyrcanian tribesmen kidnapped Bucephalas. Could you imagine a worse thing for anyone to do? No wonder, then, that Alexander warned the tribe that if Bucephalas was not returned, ‘he would exterminate the whole tribe, together with their women and children.’ Naturally, Bucephalas was returned – unharmed.
This episode has an ending that is typical of Alexander. Once Bucephalas had been returned, the king gave a ransom (Plutarch calls it that) to his kidnappers. Perhaps the king was just relieved to have his beloved horse again, but when I think of people like Porus, Oxyartes and Artabazus, to name but three, I feel I could write a book titled

Resist Then Submit
A Guide to Surviving being Alexander the Great’s Enemy

The next reference to a woman comes in Chapter 46; and what a reference it is, for it is here that Plutarch tells us that, while in Parthia, Alexander met the queen of the legendary Amazons.
Well, kind of.
Firstly, Plutarch acknowledges that while several historians provide an account of this meeting, others – including Ptolemy – ‘maintain that [it] is a fiction’.
Secondly, he records a letter sent by Alexander to Antipater in which Alexander describes the occasion when he is supposed to have met the Amazonian queen. He does not mention her at all – only that a Scythian king had offered him his daughter in marriage.
Finally, he also relates how, years later, Lysimachus smiled at Onesicritus’ account of the incident and said, ‘I wonder where I was then.’

For Plutarch’s sake, it is probably just as well that Alexander never met the queen of the Amazons. He has already undermined his view that Alexander was chaste once (read here – Who was the father of Stateira’s baby?); goodness knows how he would deal with a woman who is supposed to have kept Alexander in bed for two weeks in order to make her pregnant.
General Reference
To tell another man that he is doing X ‘like a woman’ is an age old insult. In Chapter 47 we see that it goes back to at least 330 BC. In Hyrcania, Alexander became ‘anxious’ – for reasons not precisely explained – that his men would refuse to follow him any further. Standing before the Macedonian army, he explained to them that,

… up to now the barbarians had watched them as if they were in a dream, but that if they merely threw the whole country into disorder, and then retired, the Persians would fall upon them as if they were so many women.

Presumably, the Persians had never fought the Amazonians.
As for the toughness of women – Olympias was already showing that she was no feeble female, Thaïs had shown her credentials in Persepolis, and in a few years time, Adea Euridike would give an equally good account of herself.
To end this post, we stay in a Chapter 47 for a quick reference to Roxane. Plutarch says the Alexander fell in love with her after seeing her dance. He admits, though, that the marriage was politically convenient. Despite Stateira I’s pregnancy, he persists with the idea that Alexander was wholly chaste. He records that,

… the barbarians were encouraged by the feeling of partnership which [the] marriage created, and they were completely won over by Alexander’s moderation and courtesy and by the fact that without the sanction of marriage he would not approach the only woman who had ever conquered him.

It is interesting that Plutarch speaks of the barbarians as seeing the marriage in terms of being a ‘partnership’ whereas for him it was a victory for Roxanne. It seems to suggest that the barbarians were reconciled to Alexander’s kingship. As for Plutarch, I suppose it is in the nature of those who have, or in Plutarch’s case, take the side of those in power, to always fear its loss.

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