Posts Tagged With: Aria

The Savage Desert

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 105 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Oreitae Easily Conquered
Cedrosians: Having a Whale of a Time
Macedonians Cross Cedrosian Desert: Heavy Losses in Heat
Oreitae Launch Revenge Attack

The Story
Alexander entered ‘the country of the Oreitae (Oreitis?). Diodorus has more to say about Oreitaean customs than he does about Alexander’s campaign against that people. This is partly because fighting the Oreitae proved easy, and the country was ‘quickly brought… into submission’, and partly because the specific custom to which he refers was such an unusual one.

Diodorus describes how the Oreitae leave the naked bodies of their dead in thickets apparently so that wild animals can eat them. The relatives of the deceased then divide up the dead person’s clothing between themselves, ‘sacrifice to the heroes of the nether world,’ and host ‘a banquet for their friends’.

From Oreitae, Alexander made his way to Cedrosia. There, he travelled close to the shore line.

Diodorus doesn’t tell of any military action taking place in Cedrosia, although if the Macedonians found the going easy in the country of the Oreitae they would not have been troubled by the Cedrosians.

The people, Diodorus says, were ‘unfriendly and utterly brutish’.

This savagery seems to pertain to their personal habits rather than what they were like as warriors. For, with admittedly no small amount of hyperbole, Diodorus says that the Cedrosians let their nails ‘grow from birth to old age’ and that they never washed their hair. He adds that they were heavily tanned and dressed ‘in the skin of beasts’ – as stereotypical a sign that someone is a savage as ever there was.

The Cedrosians may have been very primitive but they knew how to make the best of their limited resources. They not only wore animal skins, but ate ‘the flesh of stranded whales’, which had died on their beaches. Furthermore, they used whale bones to build their homes. This went as far as using whale scales as roof tiles. A very clever feat, of course, since – as the Footnotes point out – whales do not have scales.

Alexander made his way through Cedrosia ‘with difficulty’. Not because of the people, but because he was short of supplies and was now marching through a desert.

The going proved so hard that the army became ‘disheartened’ and Alexander himself ‘sank into no ordinary grief and anxiety’.

The king sent messengers to Parthyaea, Dranginê, and Areia to seek supplies. The messengers delivered their orders and provisions were forwarded on. They did not, however, arrive in time to prevent the loss of many soldiers. They never could have.

These losses were brought about not only by the dreadful conditions and Alexander’s bad planning, but because the Oreitae launched what must have been a surprise attack on Leonnatus’ division, inflicting ‘severe losses’ before escaping home.

Diodorus calls the Oreitae habit of exposing the bodies of the dead to be eaten by wild animals ‘strange and quite unbelievable’. Certainly to our eyes it is most unusual. If I was the Oreitaeans’ PR man I’d point out (a) the decomposing body is kept away from the community so one cannot oppose it on hygiene grounds, and (b) by being eaten it both highlights and makes a practical contribution to the well-being of the environment. What’s the difference between being eaten by a worm and wolf, anyway?

I’m afraid I would find it harder to be the Cedrosians PR agent. Overgrowing finger and toe nails, unwashed hair, skin ‘burned black’ by the sun. And how they must have smelled of whale! Yuk. Well, if anyone can defend the Cedrosians I’d love to see it.

I was very interested by Diodorus’ statement that Alexander ‘sank into no ordinary grief and anxiety’. I read this as Diodorus saying that he became depressed.

Alexander was, it seems, prone to anxiety. A quick google search for references on this blog to him being anxious shows that he suffered from anxiety on at least two occasions.

(i) Diodorus Ch. 31 Over Memnon’s success in the Aegaean – read here
(ii) Plutarch 47 In Hyrcania when he worried over whether his army would continue to follow him – read here.

I have to say, though, neither of these occasions are presented in such a way as to make me feel Alexander suffered from anxiety as a serious mental health disorder. On both occasions he was anxious in the way someone would be in a high pressure situation.

In other words, he was anxious, the moment passed and he moved on.

By contrast, what Diodorus describes feels really quite different. It foreshadows, in a way, the extreme emotion that Alexander will feel when Hephaestion dies (and which Diodorus explains in two simple but foreboding words.  Alexander, he says, ‘intensely grieved’ [Chp. 110] for his friend. Arrian goes into greater detail about how he grieved [Bk 7. Para 14]).

I’m used to reading that Alexander became a megalomaniac in his later days – do we have any justification of suspecting that all along he was prone to anxiety attacks, which in Gedrosia developed into a more serious – even if not clinical – depression? I need to improve my medical knowledge before attempting to answer that question.

Keen to outdo the Cedrosians’ love of all things
whale, Alexander decides to go looking for whales
in their natural habitat.

Picture: The British Library

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Across Mount Paropanisum

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 82, 83 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
The Paropanisadae: A Hidden People
Alexander Crosses the Paropanisum
Erygius Defeats Satibarzanes in a Duel
Bessus Betrayed and Executed

The Story
Chapter 82
Diodorus doesn’t say when exactly Alexander sent Erygius and Stasanor to deal with Satibarzanes but it is the last action of 329 B.C. – according to his reckoning – that he describes. Chapter 82 opens at the start of 328 B.C. I say by his reckoning because the Footnotes state that it was now the summer of 330 B.C.

‘In this year Alexander marched against the so-called Paropanisadae’ who lived in the far north (in a land named Paropamisus – Wikipedia).

Diodorus describes Paropamisus as being ‘snow-covered and not easily approached’. The land is ‘plain and woodless’. The parapanisadae live in homes with conical roofs that are open at the top so that smoke can escape through them. Due to the heavy snow, they are confined to their homes for much of the year. Indeed, when the Macedonians passed through Paropamisus, they only became aware that there were people living there when smoke rose out of the ground underneath them.

Diodorus paints an evocative picture, but again, he appears to be in error. The Footnotes advise that Paropamisus was ‘neither in the north nor a plain’.

As far as Diodorus is concerned, though, Paropamisus was bad news for Alexander. The sun shone so brightly that the snow dazzled the Macedonians’ eyes, causing some to be blinded. For others, the march was so exhausting that they ‘became exhausted and were left behind’.

Fortunately, relief came when the Macedonians realised they were standing on top of the Paropanisadae homes. The country was made subject to Alexander, and food taken or bought from the natives’ supplies.

Per the Footnotes, Alexander met the Paropanisadae in the winter of 330 B.C.and wintered there that year.

Chapter 83
Continuing his journey, Alexander next ‘encamped near the Caucasus, which some call Mt. Paropanisum’, and which we call the Hindu Kush.

The journey over the mountain took sixteen days to complete. On the way, Alexander’s guides showed him the cave where, they said, Prometheus had been bound. The guides were even able to show the king marks left by Prometheus’ chains, and where the eagle that ate Prometheus’ liver every day had its nest.

On the eastern side of the Paropanisum, Alexander stopped to found another Alexandria. It was settled with 7,000 natives, 3,000 ‘camp followers’, and mercenaries. ‘It is interesting,’ say the Footnotes, that the city ‘received no Macedonian settlers’.

Once Alexandria had been established, Alexander marched into Bactria – news had now reached him ‘that Bessus had assumed the diadem and was enrolling an army’.


As Alexander made his way into Bactria, Erygius and Stasanor entered Areia (Aria). They camped near to Satibarzanes’ army, and for a while the two armies skirmished and engaged each other in small numbers. Having sized each other up, the three generals but their armies into battle formation for the final showdown.

Unfortunately, Diodorus tells us nothing of the battle except that Satibarzanes’ men ‘were holding their own’ when Satibarzanes challenged any Macedonian general who dared to a duel. Erygius dared. He came forward, and the two men fought until Satibarzanes fell to the ground, dead.

The loss of their commander demoralised the Persian soldiers and they surrendered themselves. The battle was over.


Chapter 83 concludes with Bessus’ downfall. During a banquet with his friends, he got into an argument with one named Bagodaras. Bessus wanted to execute Bagodaras but was persuaded by his friends to let him live (does this sound familiar?). Unlike Black Cleitus, Bagodaras wisely decided he was better off somewhere that Bessus was not. He chose Alexander’s camp.

Alexander greeted Bagodaras warmly, and word was sent to Bessus’ generals that if they also came over to the Alexander’s side, they too would be given safe passage and gifts. This message did not fall on deaf ears. In fact, not only did Bessus’ generals switch sides, but they arrested Bessus and brought him as well.

Alexander kept his side of the bargain and gave the generals ‘substantial gifts’. As for Bessus, he gave him to Darius’ family to be punished as they saw fit. They subjected the pretender to the Great King’s throne to ‘humiliation and abuse’ before ‘cutting his body up into little pieces’ and scattering them.

A lacuna in the manuscript means we lose the ‘end of Diodorus’ year 328/7 and the beginning of 327/6′. Chapter 84 will commence in ‘the autumn of 327′. This information comes from the Footnotes, which also note that Diodorus’ account of the following events are lost,

  • Alexander’s ‘Scythian, Bactrian and Sogdian campaigns’
  • The Death of Black Cleitus
  • Introduction of Proskynesis
  • The arrest of Callisthenes
  • The Page’s Conspiracy
  • Alexander’s marriage to Roxane

When I read Chapter 82, I thought it very rum that Alexander left the exhausted of his people behind during their march through Paropamisus. Looking at it from his perspective, though, I suppose he did not have a choice. Delaying would have meant even more deaths in the awful conditions.

Why did no Macedonians settle in the new Alexandria? Perhaps the territory was too rough even for them.

Erygius’ duel with Satibarzanes is one of only two duels that I know to have taken place during Alexander’s lifetime or during the Successor period. The other involved Eumenes versus Neoptolemus during the First War of the Successors in 320 B.C., which Eumenes won (I wrote about both the war and duel here). A duel must be about the only thing that Alexander didn’t fight in his lifetime!

The list of events missed due to the gap in the manuscript is a big shame. I would especially, though, have liked to see how Alexander spoke to his men after Bessus had been captured. That was, after all, why they had continued east following the destruction of the royal palaces at Persepolis and the death of Darius (see here). More honeyed words, no doubt.

The Macedonian army can be seen bottom left








(You may need a magnifying glass Hubble telescope)

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Satibarzanes’ Betrayal

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 78 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Satibarzanes Revolts
Artacoana Chosen For Showdown
Satibarzanes Flees To Bessus – Men to Mountains
Alexander Subdues Aria

The Story
Diodorus begins Chapter 78 by finishing Chapter 77. He notes that even though Alexander adopted Persian customs and dress only ‘sparingly’ some people still complained. They were ‘silenced… with gifts’. I’ve made that sound very dramatic but the ellipsis really does only signify that I have missed a word out.

Meanwhile, Satibarzanes, the satrap of Aria, ‘made common cause with Bessus’, murdered his Macedonian guard and fled to Chortacana (aka Artacoana), a city of ‘great natural strength’ where he intended to hold out against Alexander.

This is Satibarzanes’ first appearance in Diodorus’ narrative. He holds an important position within it, however, as one of Darius’ murderers. The Footnotes appear to suggest that Satibarzanes and Alexander first met on the battlefield as they refer to Alexander defeating before confirming him in his satrapy. After doing so, he sent Satibarzanes on his way with a detachment of Macedonian soldiers to make sure he behaved.

On hearing of Satibarzanes’ betrayal, Alexander set out against him. The two never met, however, for as the Macedonian army approached, the satrap took fright at its size and reputation. He leapt onto his horse and with two thousand men rode for Bactria. Those followers who did not ride with him were told to hide in an unknown mountain.

We never found out what happened to the last people who ran into the mountains to escape Alexander but this time, Diodorus says that the king followed Satibarzanes’ men to their destination, laid siege to the place and brought about their surrender. A month later, all of Aria was under his control.

Once this was done, it seems that Alexander returned to Hyrcania again as Diodorus has him leaving there and moving on ‘to the capital of Dranginê [aka Drangianê], where he paused and rested his army’.

Why did Satibarzanes rebel against Alexander? Did he really think that Bessus would be able to do what Darius could not? Bessus must have been a very charismatic man to persuade him otherwise. I imagine that Satibarzanes was also swayed by Bessus’ rank. Bactria was the satrapy of kings. It’s where the heirs to the Archaemenid empire learned their trade before succeeding to the throne (See Livius here). Darius may not have had Bessus in mind to be his successor – he had a son, after all – but now that Codomannus was dead and Ochus was in Alexander’s hands – perhaps Bessus satrapal importance, the fact (?) that he had royal blood in him, and all that charisma made an irresistible combination.

As mentioned above, the Footnotes say that Alexander confirmed Satibarzanes as satrap of Aria ‘after defeating him’. I don’t know in what sense they mean this. Arrian says that the two men met in the Arian town of Susia where the confirmation took place. Curtius has Alexander confirming him after Satibarzanes enters the Macedonian camp and reports Bessus’ rebellion.

Opening This Week at an Amphitheatre Near You

Catch Me If You Can
A play about a satrap who conned his followers
into thinking he had any guts before doing a








Image from the British Museum

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