Posts Tagged With: Arrian

A Fake Argument

In an article titled A Brief History of Fake News on the Asharq Al-awsat website here, Amir Taheri states the following,

A bigger piece of fake news came in the shape of the yarn woven around Alexander the Great, the invincible conqueror. He is supposed to have lived to the ripe old age of 33.

In just 10 years, the Macedonian is supposed to have conquered almost all of the then known world from the Balkans Peninsula to Russia to the Indian Ocean and from North Africa to the Indian Subcontinent, Central Asia and China. That involves a distance of around 40,000 kilometers, allez-retour, which means he would have been traveling quite a bit. And, yet, he is supposed to have built 20 cities named after himself, taken four wives (long before Islam) and “disappeared” for an unknown length of time looking for the fountain of eternal youth.

That there is no contemporaneous account of those marvelous deeds has persuaded some historians to doubt the existence of such a character which first appeared in Greek and Latin literature in 160 AD, that is to say, centuries after the claimed events.

I don’t know who Amir Taheri is but judging by the bio at the top of the article he is a very experienced writer and journalist. If so, he has let himself down here.

First of all, a quibble: Alexander died at ‘the ripe old age’ of 32. However, maybe I should let that go as Alexander less than two months before his thirty-third birthday. I will not do the same with his other comments.

Secondly, Alexander never made it to Russia (or, to be more precise, the country that is now Russia). You could say that insofar as he conquered territory in what is now Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, he therefore conquered land from the Balkan peninsula to the former USSR but if that’s what Taheri meant he ought to have said it. It would have been best, though, if he had referred specifically to the countries above. That would have been most accurate.

Also, Alexander did not enter China. He didn’t even know it existed. If Taheri had bothered to look at a map of Alexander’s empire, he would have known this.

Thirdly, Alexander married three times, not four. A quick look at Wikipedia could have told Taheri this.

Fourthly, Alexander did not spend any time looking for the fountain of eternal youth. This tale comes from the Alexander Romance which is a fictionalised account of Alexander’s life. If one is going to claim that Alexander the Great is not a real person one might at least try to show that the supposed histories of his life are false rather than the fictions.

Fifthly, Alexander did not first appear ‘in Greek and Latin literature in 160 AD’. Certainly, Arrian and Plutarch wrote about Alexander in the second century AD but before them came Curtius, probably in the first century AD, and Diodorus, in the first century BC. Alexander is also referred to – as Alexander the Great, by and by – by Plautus in his comedy Mostellaria, which was written in the late third century/early second century BC by the Roman playwright, Plautus. Taheri’s claim, therefore, that Alexander does not appear until 160 AD is rot.

Finally, Taheri bases his claim that Alexander is ‘fake news’ by pointing out that there are no ‘contemporaneous accounts of those marvelous [sic] deeds’. It is disingenuous to use the fact that we no longer have the contemporary accounts of Alexander’s life to suggest that he never really lived.

What Taheri ought to be doing is looking at the accounts that we do have – in conjunction with the other evidence – and deciding on the basis of what he sees there whether Alexander lived or not. As it is, he has taken the path of a troll who purposefully uses bad arguments in order to score a point. Badly done, as Mr Knightly, would say; all the more so as he suggests that this is what other historians (I should like to know who) believe rather than himself.

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

2,374 Years Strong

diary – birthday edition

We don’t know which day exactly Alexander was born on but it usually taken to be 20th/21st July (though I have also seen 26th mentioned). With that in mind, I took the day off work yesterday to commemorate it by visiting a Greek restaurant in Primrose Hill called Lemonia. It is a lovely place and well worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood. I ate zatziki for starters, keftedes for mains and finished off with a Greek coffee. Sadly for my future as a food blogger and instagrammer I didn’t take any photographs of either the food or drink – I washed the food down with half a bottle of Restina Kourtaki. Oh, and I bought a bottle of Greek Macedonian red wine. When I open that I will certainly take a photograph and upload it here.

While I waited for the courses to arrive, I read the opening chapters of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander, our only (substantial) account of Alexander’s birth. The account is infused with legend as well as bald facts; one might also say it is laced with propaganda as well – particularly regarding Alexander’s divinity. Most interestingly, it also contains what is probably the only example of Olympias being humble. Plutarch records two traditions regarding her; in the first, she tells Alexander ‘the secret of his conception’ and urges him ‘to show himself worthy of his divine parentage’. In the other, Plutarch says that ‘that she repudiated this story and used to say, ‘Will Alexander never stop making Hera jealous of me.’

Who were the authors who maintained this latter tradition, and why did they do so? After Olympias died, in 316 BC, there was no motivation for anyone to defend her from whatever charge her erstwhile enemies cared to bring.

***

The mystery of the large, black coffin found in Alexandria has been solved – for now. It was opened and found to contain three skeletons and sewage water. Yuk. Read more here. Of course, we are disappointed that it didn’t contain Alexander’s body. On the other hand, though, isn’t it nice that the mystery over where his final resting place is, still remains?

***

Hornet, the gay news site, has a curate’s egg of an article on Alexander, here.

… letters of the time described Alexander yielding to Hephaestion’s thighs.

Robin Lane Fox mentions this anecdote and states that it comes from ‘the Cynic philosophers… long after [Alexander’s] death’.

“One soul abiding in two bodies” is how their tutor, Aristotle, described the two men.

Aristotle was respond to the question of ‘what is a friend’; he wasn’t referring to Alexander and Hephaestion (Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers Book V.20 here)

“The friend I valued as my own life,” Alexander wrote of his partner.

I don’t think Alexander did say this – did he?

Scholars have suggested that he became careless with his health after losing his lover.

I think it would be fair to say that Alexander was always careless of his health! In respect of the statement, I don’t think he was. I don’t recall anything in the sources to indicate it.

… eventually [Alexander and Barsine] are said to have had a son named Heracles. Questions linger about the veracity of that particular account — it’s possible that Heracles was procured in an attempt to usurp the throne after Alexander’s death. Though there were some who supported Heracles’ claim to Alexander’s lineage, he vanished not long after his supposed father died.

This is the first time I have heard anyone doubt that Heracles lived. He is well attested in the sources – Curtius, Diodorus and Justin all mention him. Also, Heracles didn’t ‘vanish not long after his supposed father died’ – he lived until 310/09 BC when Polyperchon tried to use him to reclaim Macedon from Cassander only to be executed after Cassander made Polyperchon an offer suitable to his irrelevant status in the Wars of the Successors.

She was carrying a son at the time, whom she named Alexander IV; but doubt was cast over the identity of the father.

Again, this is the first time I have heard anyone doubt Alexander’s paternity of Alexander IV.

In general, Alexander’s focus was on uniting Persian and Greek culture, and so he arranged marriages that spanned the two groups. He went so far as to organize a mass wedding that lasted five days and included 90 couplings, usually tying highly regarded Macedonian women to Greek soldiers whom Alexander trusted.

If Alexander was intent on uniting ‘Persian and Greek culture’ I don’t know why he would hold a mass wedding involving Macedonian women to Greek soldiers. Of course, he didn’t; the reference here is to the mass weddings at Susa in which Macedonians were married to Persians – see Arrian VII.4-8).

So the article is a bit hit and miss. I did like the closing passage, though:

… it is impossible not to wonder what passions existed two and a half millennia ago, and how recognizable those feelings would be to us today.

***

Judging by the way people write about Alexander and Hephaestion today, their feelings are very recognisable today! As it happens, I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to consider my own. I was asked who my heroes were. Alexander was suggested but then someone said that perhaps he was someone I was just fascinated by rather than considered heroic.

I wouldn’t consider Alexander heroic in the modern sense – he was no Superman, selflessly acting for the good of others; he was, though, heroic in the ancient Greek manner: devoted to winning glory for himself, proving himself better than anyone else.

Alexander certainly fascinates me but for me it goes much deeper than that, and for that reason, I try to think about him as critically as I can so that I don’t descend into fanboyism – excusing or ignoring the bad things he did and complexities of his life just because he looked good and (probably) slept with Hephaestion. I can’t say how good I am at that, probably not as much as I want to be, but for me it is important to try. It has the added benefit as well of enabling me to learn more about the Alexander who lived rather than the one I hold in my heart.

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Iliad, Hephaestion and Alexander’s Jealousy

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

* The third being Craterus

***

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

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

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

Picture Credits
The Iliad cover – The Telegraph

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

Changing the Past: In Antiquity and Today

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander’s Last Days – Arrian

29th May 323 BC

  • This evening, Alexander attends dinner with friends
  • Late into the night, Alexander retires to his quarters, but meets Medius on the way. Medius invites the king to a party that he is holding.
  • Alexander joins Medius; later on, he returns to his quarters where he bathes and goes to bed.
  • At some point during the night, Alexander wakes and decides to rejoin Medius. The two dine together and continue drinking.
  • In the early hours of the morning, Alexander returns to his quarters again where he bathes, sups and retires. He is feeling feverous.

30th May 323 BC

  • Alexander is too ill to leave his bed. He is carried in it to wherever he carries out his religious duties.
  • Afterwards, Alexander is taken to the men’s quarters of the palace where he remains the rest of the day.
  • During the day, Alexander continues making preparations for the projected expedition to Arabia.
  • In the evening, Alexander is carried in his bed to the Euphrates river and taken to a park on its far side where he is bathed. He presumably stays overnight in quarters by the river.

31st May 323 BC

  • The next day, Alexander is able to leave his bed. He bathes and offers sacrifice.
  • Afterwards, he returns to his quarters where he meets Medius. The two chat, and Alexander gives Medius orders to bring the latter’s officers to him on the morrow.
  • After his meeting with Medius has finished, Alexander eats and retires to his quarters. The fever remains on him.

1st June 323 BC

  • This morning, Alexander carries out his usual routine of bathing and offering sacrifice. He then meets Nearchus and gives him orders for the sailing of the fleet.

2nd June 323 BC

  • As per normal, Alexander bathes and carries out his religious duties.
  • Despite the fever still being with him, Alexander continues his preparations for the Arabian expedition.
  • That evening, Alexander bathes again. That evening, the fever grows worse; in the space of a few hours, Alexander becomes gravely ill.

3rd June 323 BC

  • This morning, Alexander returns to the park on the far side of the Euphrates.
  • Despite the fact that his fever is getting worse, he sacrifices – a true sign of his religious devotion if ever there was one – and continues making preparations for the Arabian expedition.

4th June 323 BC

  • A week after falling ill, Alexander is once more too ill to leave his bed.
  • He is nearly too ill to perform his religious duties and continue preparations for the expedition to Arabia but manages both.

5th June 323 BC

  • Alexander is now desperately ill. Despite this, he continues to perform his religious duties. He gives orders for his senior officers to wait near his quarters for him to call them.
  • Perhaps recognising for the first time that the king may die, his doctor (or most senior officers?) move him back to the royal palace from the park.
  • There, Alexander recognises his men when they come to see him but is unable to speak to them. He will not do so until his death. Alexander’s fever is now at its worst.

6th June 323 BC

  • Alexander remains bedridden in a state of high fever.

7th June 323 BC

  • For the second day in a row, Alexander remains bedridden in a state of high fever.

8th June 323 BC

  • For the third day in a row, Alexander remains bedridden in a state of high fever. How long can he hold out for? Or will the fever finally break?

9th June 323 BC

  • The fever does not break. Alexander remains bedridden in a state of high fever, and rumours are swirling around Babylon regarding the king’s condition. The Macedonian soldiers demand to see him. The senior officers acquiesce and, either today or yesterday, or both, Alexander’s men file past him to take sight of the king.
  • Alexander is barely able to raise his head but acknowledges the men with his eyes.
  • Tonight, Attalus, Cleomenes, Demophon, Peithon, Peucestas and Seleucus go to the temple of Serapis (or another, similarly named god) to ask the god if it would be better for Alexander(‘s recovery) if he was brought to him.
  • They stay the night so as to receive the god’s answer in a dream. He replies: no, it would not be better; Alexander should remain where he is.

10th June 323 BC

  • Late afternoon on a cloudy day in Babylon, Alexander dies.

Note
I used my Penguin Classics (1971) of Arrian to work out the number of days between the onset of Alexander’s fatal illness and his death. And if I have read Arrian correctly, he suggests that eleven days elapsed during this time. However, in his biography Alexander the Great (Penguin Books, 2004), Robin Lane Fox states that Medius’ party, the night of which Alexander fell ill, took place on 29th May, and that Alexander died on 10th June, thirteen days later.

Out of respect for Lane Fox’s dating, therefore, I added two days to Alexander’s illness. This was not an easy matter as in the Penguin translation Arrian is very clear about the passage of time, the text is full of ‘next day…the following morning… the day after’ etc. As can be seen above, Alexander was bedridden from 5th June onwards. His fever was such that he could do nothing. As Arrian does not describe any actions on Alexander’s part, therefore, I have inserted the two extra days here.

Of course, if you know of any dating that shows how Medius’ party actually took place on 31st May, or 1st June, as scholars debate whether Alexander died on 10th or 11th of the month, then feel free to leave a link in the comments below.

One last point – I first presented this account of the last days of Alexander on my Alexander Facebook page between 29th May and 10th June 2017.

Categories: Arrian | Tags: | Leave a comment

Bravery, Insight and Cowardice in India

Warning! In this post I reveal the answers to a quiz I held on The Second Achilles‘ Tumblr page on Monday. If you would like to play the game, visit click here and here as the answers to the quiz are below.

***

Hello to anyone who is visiting this blog from her Tumblr page. Below you will find the answers to Monday’s little quiz plus some extra comments by me.

Before getting to them, I must apologise to anyone reading this who would have liked to have to taken part in the quiz but saw the answers before following the links above. I should have mentioned the quiz on the blog on Monday but didn’t. I will certainly do so in the future.

***

Without further ado, let’s ‘name that officer‘.

The man injured alongside Alexander and then by the Indian chief was, of course, Ptolemy. For two bonus points I asked which Alexander historian(s) I used for the story and what happened next. My source is Arrian. Here is how he describes the incident, and what happened next.

Alexander’s next objective was the territory of the Aspasians, Guraeans, and Assacenians… Attacking the first of [the] towns which lay on his route, [Alexander] had no trouble in driving in the force which was stationed outside, and compelling the men to take refuge within the defences; but during the operation he was wounded in the shoulder by a missile which pierced his corselet. The wound was not serious, as the corselet prevented the missile from going right through his shoulder. Ptolemy, son of Lagus, and Leonnatus were also hurt.

… after a long march [Alexander] reached on the second day the town where the governor of the Aspasians was. The natives were no sooner aware of his approach than they fired the town and made their escape to the hills, with Alexander’s men in hot pursuit all the way. Many were cut down before the rough hill-country enabled them to shake off their pursuers.

During the pursuit, Ptolemy, son of Lagus, actually spotted the chief of the Indians of this district: he had already reached a hill and was trying to get away with some of his guards. Ptolemy, though he had a much inferior force, nevertheless rode for him; but it was too steep and too rough going for his horse, so he dismounted, gave it to a man to lead, and continued to chase the Indian on foot. Seeing him coming, the Indian and his guards turned to face him. They met; and the chief struck Ptolemy in the breast with his long spear, which pierced his corselet but did not penetrate his body. With a blow clean through the Indian’s thigh, Ptolemy laid him flat, and began to strip him, whereupon his guards, seeing that their chief was down, turned and fled. Other Indians, however, on the neighbouring hills, grieved at the sight of their leader’s body being carried off by the enemy, came hurrying down, and a fierce struggle ensued over the corpse. By then Alexander and his cavalrymen, now dismounted, were not far from the hill; they joined in the melee and finally succeeded in driving the Indians into the hills and getting possession of the body.
(Arrian Book IV.23-24)

Apart from Ptolemy’s heroism and very traditional action of stripping the Indian chief of his armour, what made a strong impression on me when I read this passage was the similarity between his and Alexander’s injury. The Macedonian king was struck by a missile, which pierced his corselet but which did not go through his body. If there was a chance of that happening, I presume the missile was a spear of some description. Well, fast forward and we find Ptolemy also being struck by a spear, which also pierced his corselet, but which did not enter his body. This one, however, did not penetrate his flesh. Was Ptolemy using an injury he received on this occasion to create a(nother) link between himself and the late king, and perhaps even to prove himself in a sense greater than him by saying ‘he was injured but I wasn’t’?

***

That’s Ptolemy, now let’s ‘name that nationality‘.

Firstly, in case you are wondering why I didn’t ask readers for the woman’s actual name, it’s because Arrian doesn’t provide it.

As for her nationality, the woman was Syrian. The bonus questions asked the reader to name Arrian’s source for the story and, again, to say what happened next. The source is Aristobulus. As for what happened next – the simple answer is that the young men’s plot unravelled. Here is how Arrian described all that happened.

… on the night in question Alexander sat up drinking until dawn. This may have been pure chance, though Aristobulus has a different explanation. According to him, there was a certain Syrian woman with the gift of second sight, who kept following Alexander about. He and his friends used to laugh at her; but, as time went on and everything she foretold in her trances turned out to be true, Alexander began to feel differently. He no longer found her a figure of fun, but let her come to him whenever she wished, by day or night, and on many occasions allowed her to watch over him while he slept.

This woman, in one of her prophetic trances, met him as he was coming away from his potations. She begged him to go back and drink the night out, and Alexander, convinced that there was something more than human in the warning, took her advice. So the boys’ plot fell through.

Epimenes, one of the guilty ones,  also, like Hermolaus, had a bosom friend, Charicles, son of Menander; and to him, on the following day, he told the whole story. Charicles told Epimenes’ brother, Eurylochus, who went to Alexander’s tent and passed everything on to Ptolemy son of Lagus, of the King’s Guard, who, in his turn, told Alexander. Alexander ordered the arrest of all the boys whose names were given him by Eurylochus. Questioned under torture, they admitted their guilt, and at the same time implicated certain others as well.
(Arrian Book IV.13-14)

There are two things I would like to highlight here. Firstly, Alexander’s trust in the woman. She was not only permitted to enter into his presence whenever she wished, but even to watch over him while he slept. He really must have trusted her very deeply indeed. Secondly, notice how Ptolemy informed Alexander of what Eurylochus told him straight away. Compare that to Philotas’ vacillation. This story takes place after Philotas’ downfall so it would not surprise me if Ptolemy had Parmenion’s son in mind when he went to see Alexander.

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Heckel on Hephaestion in 328 B.C.

In his entry for Hephaestion in his Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great (Wiley-Blackwell 2009 pp.133-6) Waldemar Heckel makes a number of contentious statements about the son of Amyntor, his character and military skills. One in particular has been on my mind since I read it before Christmas. Heckel writes,

[i]n the spring of 328, when the army was divided into five parts, [Hephaestion] commanded one contingent (A 4.16.2) in a mission that appears to have done little more than win back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled.

At first glance, this statement tells us something about the 328 B.C. campaign rather than Hephaestion but in my opinion Heckel uses it to unfairly denigrate Hephaestion’s abilities as an military officer.

Before I give my reasons for saying this, let’s look at the passage from Arrian that Heckel cites,

Four officers – Polysperchon, Attalus, Gorgias, and Meleager – were left in Bactria with instructions to destroy all natives who had refused submission and to keep a sharp look-out for any further trouble… Alexander himself, after crossing into Sogdiana, divided his remaining strength into five, one division to be commanded by Hephaestion, another by Ptolemy, son of Lagus, a third by Perdiccas, a fourth by Coenus and Artabazus. The fifth he took over himself and proceeded with it in the direction of Marakanda, while the other four commanders carried out offensive operations as opportunity offered, storming the forts where some of the native tribesmen were trying to hold out, or receiving the voluntary surrender of others.
(Arrian IV.16)

So, how does Heckel seek to denigrate Hephaestion?

He does so by minimising the importance of the campaign in terms of the objective (it was about no more than the capture of a few ‘small fortresses’), the number of men involved (five divisions) and its geographic range (Sogdia).

By doing so Heckel implies that the campaign made no great contribution to Hephaestion’s standing as an officer. This allows him to still refer to Hephaestion as ‘relatively inexperienced’ when he and Perdiccas travel to the Indus River to build a bridge for the Macedonian army to cross – even though it is now 326 and the son of Amyntor has been with the expedition since its start in 334 and involved in all its major battles and movements!

Objective
When Heckel says that the mission involved no more than ‘win[ning] back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled’ he makes it out to be no more than a footnote in the story of Alexander’s expedition.

However, I would suggest that there are no minor campaigns when one is seeking to end an insurrection across two countries (see below). That the 328 campaign was more than just capturing a few forts is certainly suggested by the length of time the mission took to complete. As Heckel says, it started in Spring. He goes on to state that it ended in summer. Two, three months to break into a few forts?

Number of Men Involved
Heckel says that Alexander split the army into five. To be fair, this is true – but only to a point. That is because Alexander had already divided the army in Bactria. As Arrian tells us, he gave Attalus, Gorgias, Polyperchon and Meleager orders to pacify that country.

Ultimately, if the Bactria commanders all had sole commands, the Macedonian army ended up being split into no less than nine parts across two countries. And all for the sake of a few ‘small fortresses’.

Geographic Range
As Arrian makes clear, the 328 campaign took place in Bactria and Sogdia. The Bactria commanders’ orders were not, in my opinion, materially different to those of the Sogdia commanders.

For his part, Heckel does not say outright ‘the campaign only took place in Sogdia’ but that he wants us to think that it did is implied by his reference to the army only splitting into five rather than six – nine depending on whether the Bactria commanders were given sole commands.

Conclusion
In 328 B.C., Alexander was faced with a crisis of control. Two countries had risen up against him. If he was to put the rebellion down, he not only needed to divide his army but place each division under the command of a man who he knew would be able to lead it bravely, intelligently (especially important after the Pharnuches fiasco the previous year) and strongly. One of the commanders he chose for that job was Hephaestion. Amyntoros’ speciality may have been in non-military missions (as Heckel notes) but his appointment to a sole command for this one proves to me that he knew how to lead as well. I have great respect for Waldemar Heckel’s writing but I don’t agree with his assessment of the 328 campaign or its denigration of Hephaestion.

The Other Sources

  • Curtius (VII.10.13) appears (see below) to refer only briefly to 328 Spring-Summer campaign. He says nothing about the Macedonian army being split up and states that Alexander ended the insurrection in just three days.
    Having said that, the notes to my Penguin Classics edition of Curtius’ History suggest that his insurrection may actually be a reference to ‘the activities of Arsaces of Aria and Brazanes, who opposed Phrataphernes in Parthyaea’, and which Arrian covers at IV.7. If that is so, his account is wrong, for as the notes point out – Arsaces and Brazanes were brought to Alexander (in chains during the winter of 329/8). The king did not go after them.
  • Alexander’s Bactrian-Sogdian campaign is missing from Diodorus’ account of his life due to a lacuna in the manuscript.
  • Plutarch does not discuss the Bactrian-Sogdian campaign.
  • Justin (XII.5) refers to Alexander city building in Bactria and Sogdia but says nothing about his campaigning there

 

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A Master of the Battle and Green Field

VI. Division 
(IV.16)
Read the other posts in this series

Alexander… after crossing into Sogdiana, divided his remaining strength into five, one division to be commanded by Hephaestion, another by Ptolemy, son of Lagus, a third by Perdiccas, a fourth by Coenus and Artabazus. The fifth he took over himself…
(Arrian IV.16)

***

Alexander arrived in Bactria in the Spring of 329 B.C. hot on the trail of Bessus. After a brief stop in Zariaspa to give his men time to recover from their crossing of the Hindu Kush, the Macedonian king led his army north. The chase ended on the Sogdian side of the Oxus River when Bessus was betrayed by his officers and handed over to Ptolemy*.

The capture of Bessus did not signify the end of Alexander’s presence in Sogdia or Bactria. Not long later, what appears to have been a multi-tribal native army, or armed force (Arrian III.30), attacked Macedonian foragers. Then, natives who lived in settlements along the Jaxartes (aka Tanais) River (A IV.1-4) rebelled against their new overlords. ‘They were joined in this hostile move by most of the people of Sogdiana… [and] some of the Bactrians’ (A IV.2). It would take Alexander nearly two years to pacify Bactria and Sogdia. It would never know peace, however.

After putting down the rebellion along the Jaxartes River, Alexander decided to cross the Jaxartes to attack some Scythians who had gathered there hoping to ‘join in an attack upon the Macedonians in the event of a serious rising’ (A IV.4), and suffered the loss of 2,300 men at the hands of a joint Scythian-native force led by Spitamenes who had decided to rebel against him (A IV.5-6).

Amidst all these events, Alexander was wounded twice and suffered a serious bout of dysentery. Operations continued until winter, which Alexander spent in Zariaspa.

***

The following Spring, Alexander led his men out of the city to deal with native settlements who had closed their gates to the governor. The unrest was so widespread Alexander was forced to divide his army up in order to deal with all the trouble.

Responsibility for bringing Bactria to heel was divided between Attalus, Gorgias, Meleager, and Polyperchon. I presume they acted independently of one another at this time but the text isn’t clear.

As for Sogdia, as we see from the quotation at the top of the post, the army was divided into five between Alexander himself, Hephaestion, Ptolemy, Perdiccas, and Coenus and Artabazus.

By-the-bye, the Sogdian operation is only the second time that Arrian has mentioned Hephaestion in the context of a military operation (the first being at [3] below). Here is a quick reminder of his previous appearances-

  1. I.12 During the visit to Troy
  2. II.13 In Sisygambis’ tent when she mistook him for Alexander
  3. III.15 Casualty list following the Battle of Gaugamela
  4. III.27 Given joint-command of the Companion Cavalry
  5. IV.12-13 Talking to Alexander the night Callisthenes failed to bow to the king

I don’t mention this in order to suggest that Hephaestion was not a good soldier. The picture we have of him in Arrian is Arrian’s own after Ptolemy and Aristobulos and such other sources as he has cared to use.

If anything, the grant of an independent command shows that Alexander clearly trusted his friend’s military capabilities. The times were simply too dangerous for the king to be handing divisions of his army over to friends just because they were friends.

Once the commands had been handed out, the

… four commanders carried out offensive operations as opportunity offered, storming the forts where some of the native tribesmen were trying to hold out, or receiving the voluntary surrender of others.
(A IV.16)

When these were completed, the generals returned in Marakanda. Hephaestion did not stay long, for Alexander sent him back out to ‘to plant settlements in the various towns’ (Arrian IV.16)

So, one minute a general, the next a settlement planner. Hephaestion was definitely a man of diverse talents. And we may talk of him as being very talented because his name crops up again and again when Alexander requires some kind of non-offensive operation to be completed.

For example,

332 Summer ‘Hephaestion conveys the fleet and the siege-equipment from Tyre to Gaza’
331 H. receives ‘a young Samian named Aristion, whom Demosthenes had sent in an effort to bring about a reconciliation with Alexander’
330 H. part of the ‘consilium’ that decided Philotas’ fate
328/7 H. collects ‘provisions for the winter’
327 Spring ‘Hephaestion and Perdiccas… sent ahead into India with a substantial force to act as an advance guard’

All-in-all

Alexander used him regularly for non-military operations: the founding of cities, the building of bridges and the securing of communications.

All the above quotes, including the last one, come from Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great by Waldemar Heckel (Wiley-Blackwell 2009) pp. 133-4. The final quote above ends ‘[these] constitute Hephaestion’s major contribution’. Obviously, Heckel has no great opinion of Hephaestion as a general. In my opinion, Arrian proves him wrong.

For the record, Heckel describes the five pronged operation in Sogdia as being ‘a mission that appears to have done little more than win back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled’ (ibid). I must emphasise that I don’t speak from a position of expertise here but I can’t believe that Alexander would feel the need to divide his army up for such a minor task.

* Or directly to Alexander – see Arrian III.30

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Alexandria Eschate the Early City and other Suspect Statements

someone+wrong+on+the+internetIt might be me, but I think it’s them
Let’s find out.

We begin with what is probably less an error and more a typo in “Viewpoint: The UN Silk Road Exhibition and the Byzantine-Roman Influence” which appears on the Greek Reporter – USA website here. The article looks at an exhibition, which has just concluded at the United Nations in New York City. Of interest to us is the following,

“After Alexander The Great conquered the Persians, he established the city of Alexandria Eschate in 339 BCE in the Fergana Valley of Neb (modern Tajikistan)…”

As the quotation marks show, this passage is not the writer’s own; in fact (and as they indicate) it comes from the Ancient History Encyclopedia’s article on the Silk Road. Unfortunately, the AHE has got a bit ahead of itself here – in 339 BC, Alexander wasn’t even king of Macedon yet let alone founding a city in northern Sogdia. They, of course, meant 329.

My Source
The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010), p.xlvi

***

Moving on, we come to “Humans are killing machine [sic] with or without religion“, which appears on the TwoCircles website here. The article concerns the recent terrorist attack in Paris, France and contains the following statement.

Alexander, the great, conquered almost the whole world in his lifetime of 30 years. He could have lived in Greece with peace among his people. But he chose to go for war one after another with countries who were never his enemy. Millions of people were killed in the process of conquering the world, his own soldiers had lost desire to fight anymore and wanted to go back home but Alexander was adamant to move forward.

Was all that bloodshed for religion? No. Alexander wanted to be known as world conqueror in the history, his self-ego, greediness to rule over world were the reason for his madness. What did he get after so much bloodshed? He was killed by his own people. Why? Because they wanted the power and territory, which Alexander had won so far! Thus again for power to rule and self-pride.

These two paragraphs contain one straight forward inaccuracy and a number of very debatable points

Plain Wrong
… in his lifetime of 30 years Alexander died at the age of 32, shortly before his 33rd birthday

My Source
Arrian The Campaigns of Alexander (Penguin Books 1971) p.395

Debatable
He could have lived in Greece with peace among his people My answer to this depends on what the writer means by ‘with peace’.

If he means Alexander could simply have chosen to live within his own borders and let the Greek city-states be for the duration of his reign, I would disagree. In my opinion – and if you think I am wrong, feel very free to tell me – Alexander had to subjugate the Greek city-states if for no other reason than not to do so would allow them to grow in power and risk them threatening Macedon’s borders, something they would want to do in order to take away from Macedon the power she cultivated under Philip.

If, however, the writer means Alexander could have lived in peace after subjugating Greece then I would agree with that. The only problem with that, though, is that kind of peace is not really worth the name.

… countries who were never his enemy It would be a bold man who said that none of the Greek city-states or Persian Empire were Alexander’s enemy. We could argue that individual countries within the Persian Empire were not Alexander’s enemy and indeed there were rulers who sought to avoid war with him. And when they did, on some if not all occasions, he settled things peacefully with them. The writer’s picture of Alexander as a man who fought continual wars for supremacy over the world is simply not accurate.

Millions of people were killed I wasn’t going to include this as I don’t have a list of figures regarding how many people died as a result of Alexander’s actions to hand. However, I thought I would do so a. As a means of publicising this fact in case anyone could refer me to a source which does give the numbers b. Because I am very suspicious of the writer’s claim. I have read all the main sources for Alexander’s life now and get no impression that Alexander’s kill-count was one million let alone ‘millions’. The writer seems to me to be afflicted with the same propensity to exaggerate as the ancient sources.

his madness If the writer is judging Alexander according to his own understanding of what constitutes madness then he is not judging the historical person of Alexander but his own, imaginary version, of the man. If, however, he has attempted to understand how the ancient Macedonians/Greeks defined madness and written accordingly then that would be a different matter. On that subject, I found this article at Psychology Today to be very helpful in terms of understanding how the Macedonians and Greeks saw madness.

He was killed by his own people Taken literally this statement is wrong. The Macedonians either in part or as a whole did not rise up against Alexander. If we take the writer to mean the people who are alleged to have assassinated him – Antipater, Cassander and Iolaus – then it is simply debatable. They could have murdered the king, they had a motive to do so (Antipater’s fear that Alexander intended to kill him), but it is surely significant that the first person to make the allegation was Alexander’s mother, Olympias, who was at that time locked in battle with Cassander, the last of the aforementioned three to survive.

they wanted the power and territory I was tempted to put this in the plain wrong category. If Alexander was assassinated by Antipater et al then it appears to have been for the sake of self-preservation rather than for ‘power and territory’.

***

Finally, good old Wikipedia. In its list of Achaemenid Kings it lists ‘Artaxerxes IV’ he being Bessus. Only a very creative definition of what makes someone a king can justify his inclusion. As all the sources show, Bessus was only ever a pretender – and, frankly, not a particularly good one at that. If Bessus is going to be included, the list of regents who looked after Alexander IV and Philip III Arrhidaeus really ought to mention Peithon and Arrhidaeus who held office between Perdiccas’ death and the council at Triparadeisus in 320 B.C.

* Full marks to anyone who noticed that the URL to this post reads ‘Alexander Eschate’ and not Alexandria Eschate! We live together, we love together, and we make mistakes together too.

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A Happy and Holy Time in Dium

Ain’t no party like a Dium party

It’s Christmas week and The Second Achilles is in a hard place. How can the blog mark the occasion when the Birth of the Saviour (sorry, Ptolemy) will not happen for another three hundred years?

It’s time to be creative. If the reason for Christmas is beyond our scope to discuss, perhaps there is a connection to be found with Alexander in her associated practices.

As luck would have it, there is, and it comes in the idea of celebration. Christians celebrate the Birth of Jesus. Macedonians were also fond of celebrating. Yes, I know that the Tenuous Links Society would be very interested in the connection I have just made but it’s Christmas week so you’ll have to forgive me!

On that basis, in the next four posts I will look at four celebrations mentioned by the Alexander historians (starting off with Diodorus each time). In this post, I’ll begin with Dium; tomorrow, Babylon; Christmas Eve, Persepolis and on Christmas Day, Carmania.

***

Dium
Diodorus XVII.16
In the Autumn of 335 B.C. Alexander returned to Macedon after a successful campaigning season during which he had secured his northern borders and successfully brought the Greek city-states to heel.

Once home, he began preparations for the projected invasion of Asia Minor. Two important questions that needed answering were ‘[w]hen should the campaign be started and how should he conduct the war?’ (D. XVII.16).

Parmenion and Antipater tried to persuade Alexander to delay any action until he had produced an heir only for the king to retort that it would be a disgrace to ‘sit at home celebrating a marriage and awaiting the birth of children’ (Ibid). Alexander won the argument and preparations for the invasion continued.

That October, Alexander went to Dium to celebrate the Olympian Games. These are not to be confused with the Olympic Games. The Olympian version were instituted by Alexander’s predecessor, Archelaus (r.413-399 B.C.)*.

Held ‘in honour of Zeus and the Muses’, the Olympian Games involved ‘lavish sacrifices’, ‘dramatic contests’ and, of course, a lot of eating and drinking.

Best of all, from the point of view of the party goer, if not the catering staff (i.e. servants and slaves), the festival lasted nine days.

To re-enforce the fact that not only were they engaged in a sacred activity but that time itself had, in a sense, become sacred, Alexander named ‘each day after one of the Muses’ (Ibid). Call me cynical, but I somehow doubt that the average Macedonian cared very much about the sacrality of the time and place in which he stood at that moment. Not when there was more wine to be had.

* I took the term ‘Olympian Games’ from Peter Green Alexander of Macedon 356-323 B.C. University of California Press 1992. Arrian also uses it – see below.

***

In our own day, America has a reputation for doing things bigger than anyone else. Well, I suppose Americans do live in a vast country so have to fill the space somehow, but, of course, the USA was not the first nation to go large. Egypt did with her monumental statues, and in Dium, in his own way, so did Alexander.

Before the Games started, he ordered a huge tent to be built, one that could hold a hundred couches. The notes to my copy of Diodorus* state that ‘Agathocles’s Hall of the Sixty Couches was one of the wonders of Sicily (Book 16.83.2)’ so you can see that Alexander was not only going large but determined to smash records to smithereens. Start as you mean to go on.

My favourite pubs are those that look homely and comfortable. Macedonians liked anything that reminded them of how great they were. How the tent must have done that! No wonder Alexander took it with him when he left for Asia Minor. It was a brilliant propaganda tool as well as a place to get sozzled.

* Loeb Classical Library 1963

***

Among the guests at the banquet in the great tent were ambassadors from the Greek cities. Imagine what they thought of the tent. We may be sure that Alexander’s invitation to them to attend was not simply, or even an, act of kindness but a way of intimidating them – and through them, their cities.

If Diodorus has got all his facts right, Alexander was the perfect host. He circulated among his guests, distributed ‘to his entire force sacrificial animals’ as well as anything else they needed. I am happy when my friend buys me a pint. I think I would probably have fainted for joy in Dium.

***

Arrian (I.11) offers a more sober account of what happened that Autumn. While he confirms that Alexander did indeed offer

… to Olympian Zeus the form of ceremonial thanksgiving which had been in use since the time of Archelaus.

and also celebrated ‘the Olympian Games’, he states that the games took place at Aegae. Now, it’s true that he doesn’t say where the thanksgiving to Zeus took place, so maybe it was at Aegae at the same time as the Games but that isn’t the impression I get.

He also states that Alexander ‘according to some accounts, held games in honour of the Muses’ (Ibid). I take this to mean that Ptolemy and Aristobulos don’t mention the fact. Why would they not? Well, we don’t know. It might be the Games never happened; it might also be that neither Ptolemy nor Aristobulos regarded the Games as relevant to their narrative.

Arrian’s account is perfunctory. I feel he is only mentioning what happened because he has to. Once the words are down, he immediately moves forward to the next subject. Rather miserably, that is

… a report… that the statue of Orpheus son of Oegrus of Thrace, had been constantly sweating.

Happily, however, Aristander was able to give the omen a favourable interpretation.

There are a number of possible reasons for Arrian’s desultory account of the events at Dium. The worst is that his main sources were misery guts who didn’t like fun. In Christmas week, however, we are not having that. I am choosing to believe that Ptolemy would have very much liked to have waxed lyrical about the partying that went on but thought for the sake of decency and professionalism that he better not.

Plutarch is even worse than Arrian. He neither mentions acts of thanksgiving to Zeus nor the Olympian Games. In Chapter 14 of his Life of Alexander, he says simply that when the Macedonians ‘set out’ for Asia Minor, ‘… the statue of Orpheus at Libethra… was observed to be covered in sweat’. He confirms Aristander’s positive interpretation of the omen.

Dium In Short
Reason Thanksgiving/Honour of Zeus and the Muses
Duration Nine Days
Outstanding Features A ten almost big enough to cover Alexander’s ego
Result Lots, and lots, of headaches (+ a happy and grateful army)

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