Posts Tagged With: Arrian

20th September 331BC: A Blood Red Lunar Eclipse

We are now in the countdown to the anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela, which took place on 1st October 331BC.

For me, the start of the countdown is always the anniversary of the lunar eclipse that Alexander and his Macedonian army witnessed after crossing the Tigris River.

The eclipse took place on 20th September, ten days before the battle. Arrian reports it in a very matter-of-fact way. He tells us that after crossing the Tigris, Alexander rested his men. When the eclipse happened, Alexander sacrificed to the Moon, Sun and Earth. Afterwards, Aristander prophesied that the eclipse was a sign that the showdown with Darius would take place that month and that Alexander’s sacrifices showed that he – the Macedonian king – would triumph. The End.

Curtius gives a much more sensational account of what happened. He begins with an account of the actual eclipse.

First the moon lost its usual brightness, and then became suffused with a blood-red colour which caused a general dimness in the light it shed.

Curtius IV.10.2

As the moon turned blood red, the Macedonians, who were already anxious at the impending battle with Darius, were

… struck… with a deep religious awe which precipitated a kind of panic. They complained that the gods opposed their being taken to the ends of the earth, that now rivers forbade them access, met everywhere by desolation and desert. The blood of thousands was paying for the grandiose plans of one man who despised his country, disowned his father Philip, and had deluded ideas about aspiring to heaven.

Curtius IV.10.2-3

According to Curtius, the Macedonians were so spooked that they were on the verge of mutiny. Trouble was averted, however, by Alexander’s Egyptian priests who – although they knew the real reason for the eclipse – told the rank and file that the eclipse indicated a Macedonian victory in the battle ahead. This calmed the Macedonian soldiers’ nerves. ‘Nothing exercises greater control over the masses than superstition’ (C. IV.10.7) Curtius adds with a sneer, which is funny coming from a Roman.

What to make of the two accounts?

Arrian’s is so short and to-the-point that it would be tempting to see him as glossing over what really happened that night, something that Curtius is more than happy to reveal. Curtius’ account, however, is too sensational to be regarded as the gospel truth.

I have no problem believing that the Macedonians viewed the eclipse with a ‘religious awe’. They were a very religious people and saw meaning in natural events as a matter of course. Of course an event as profound as an eclipse would make a big impression on them.

Is it likely that the eclipse would cause them to panic? On the one hand, if they generally regarded eclipses as negative events, I don’t see why not; on the other, I don’t know how ancient Macedonians regarded eclipses so don’t have the knowledge to make a judgement one way or the other.

I am less convinced by the idea that the Macedonians complained that the gods opposed their onward movement, ‘that now rivers forbade them access’, and that ‘desolation and desert’ met them everywhere. And I disbelieve entirely that the Macedonians turned again, even if only briefly, against Alexander in the way that Curtius suggests.

The reason I don’t believe the Macedonians felt that the gods turned against them is that, once calmed by the Egyptian priests, they followed Alexander east without a murmur until the death of Darius. If they really believed this early that the gods – the gods! – were now against them, I would expect to see them turn against Alexander much earlier than India. As it is, when they did start to pine for home, it was because the Great King was now dead and they simply saw no need to go any further east. The anger of the gods did not come into it. Neither did they at the Hyphasis River.

I don’t know what Curtius means by ‘rivers forbade them access’ given that they had just easily crossed the Tigris. Similarly, the idea that they were ‘met everywhere by desolation and desert’ is too much hyperbole. Sure, they had crossed a desert but at no great cost to them either as an army or individuals. Curtius’ statement sounds more like the kind of thing that the Macedonians would say as the crossed the Gedrosian Desert on the way back from India.

Finally, if the Macedonian soldiery really believed that the ‘blood of thousands was paying for the grandiose plans of one man who despised his country’ they would have hated Alexander, not followed him to the ends of the earth, and then rebelled against his wishes with tears in their eyes. This is more hyperbole – more of Curtius adding to what he knows for the sake of his story. Similarly in regards the Macedonians’ view of Alexander’s beliefs regarding his divinity. He had only just visited Siwah a few months earlier. Surely he had not yet come to any settled view regarding who he was? Curtius’ statement here is so specific it seems to me to belong to a different time, maybe a few years later, after Alexander had time to ponder what had happened and arrive at an answer, which Curtius now brings back to the eve of the Battle of Gaugamela for the sake of an exciting narrative.

The Lunar Eclipse
Arrian III.7.6
Curtius IV.10.1-8

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Catching Up: 29th May 2019

If you are a new visitor to The Second Achilles, welcome to the blog. I hope you enjoy what you read here. If you are an occasional or regular reader, welcome back!

In today’s post: a novel, a Commentary and Donations

Dancing With The Lion: Becoming and Rise
by Jeanne Reames

Reames is a scholar of Alexander and now a novelist. Volume I: Becoming is published on 1st July this year and Volume II: Rise on 21st October. Just in time for my birthday a few days later.

Jeanne Reames’ website can be found here, and her page dedicated to Dancing with the Lion, here. There’s a lot to read so definitely take a look. I particularly liked the Homeric quotation – ‘Always to excel and claim renown over others’ – and hearing it in ancient Greek. Alexander’s music play list, though, was a nice bonus, though will no doubt prove controversial!

***

A Historical Commentary on Arrian’s History of Alexander, Vol I
A. B. Bosworth

I took my copy of the OUP 2013 translation of Arrian with me to Spain to read while on the Camino. Unfortunately, I had to get rid of it after just a few days as part of a drive to reduce the weight of my backpack. And as I spent so much money on the Camino I can’t yet afford to buy another copy. As it is such an important book to me, I went to my library yesterday and took out their copy.

While there, I came across a copy of A. B. Bosworth’s Historical Commentary Vol I (covering books I-III). I took it out straight away. Now, obviously I am going to read it, but I’m not sure how. I think I might just dip in and out of it; if I have time, I’ll make a note of any comments that stand out and mention them here.

***

Donations
I have added a Donate to the Blog page at the top of the blog. As soon as I can work out how to do it, I’ll add a Paypal button to the sidebar as well. In doing so, I feel all the awkwardness associated with talking about money so please feel free to ignore this and get on with doing what I would most like you to do – enjoy reading the blog. The reason for the donate option is practical – the blog and life in general costs money. There are a million good causes in the world that all deserve money more than me so I don’t know if the Donate option will be used but after eight years of writing The Second Achilles, nine of updating the Facebook page and ten writing the Twitter Macedonians I hope I have proved myself to be serious about him.

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32. The Battle of Issus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘… about one hundred thousand [Persian soldiers] were killed (including more than ten thousand cavalry), such large numbers that Ptolemy the son of Lagus, who was with Alexander at the time, says that when the party in pursuit of Darius met a ravine in their path they could cross it over the bodies of the dead.’
(Arrian II.11.8)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

Following his victory at Issus, Alexander left Asia Minor once and for all and entered Phoenicia. I end my series of posts on Alexander in Asia Minor with an image of his route through the region, the famous Naples mosaic, a painting of Sisygambis’ equally famous mistake, and a bust of Ptolemy – one of Arrian’s main sources for his account of Alexander’s expedition. I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts!

Alexander’s Route Through Asia Minor
The famous Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii (now in Naples). In it, we see Darius fleeing, possibly at the Battle of Issus
Sisigambis pays homage to Alexander after mistaking Hephaestion for the king
Ptolemy I Soter

Credit Where It’s Due
Map of Alexander’s route through Asia Minor: University of N. Carolina
The Alexander Mosaic: Livius
Sisigambis mistakes Hephaestion for Alexander: Wikipedia
Ptolemy I Soter: New World Encyclopaedia

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31. The Syrian Gates

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘… at nightfall [Alexander] took his whole army and marched to secure the [Syrian] Gates once more. By about midnight he had re-established control of the pass, and for what remained of the night he rested his army on the rocky outcrop above it, with guard-posts at the critical points.’
(Arrian II.8.1-2)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

The Syrian Gates

Credit Where It’s Due
The Syrian Gates: Flikr

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30. Myriandrus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘… and camped by the city of Myriandrus: during the night a fierce storm blew up, with rain and a violent wind, which kept him confined to camp.’
(Arrian II.6.2)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

With Myriandrus we actually leave Asia Minor and enter Phoenicia. As you can see from the map, Alexander had to march north towards the border of the two regions after realising that Darius was actually behind him.

Map showing the location of Myriandrus (or Alexandretta). Further to yesterday’s post, note the very southern location of the Syrian Gates. I wonder if the whole passage from the Gates to the Pinarus river are regarded as the Syrian Gates? More investigation required

Credit Where It’s Due
Map showing the location of Myriandrus: Wikimedia Commons

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29. The Assyrian Gates

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘[Alexander] led his army out on the march against Darius and the Persians. On the second day he passed through the [Assyrian] Gates…’
(Arrian II.6.2)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

Where are the Assyrian Gates? I’ve not been able to work it out. I think they are just west of the Beilan Pass. This pass, however, is supposed to be the Syrian Gates. In this image, however, the Syrian Gates are further north. Headache!

Credit Where It’s Due
Map showing the road to the Battle of Issus: Wikimedia Commons

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28. Mallus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘Next [Alexander] came to Mallus… [he] made the customary offerings for a hero to Amphilochus. He found the Malians in a state of civil strife, and brought that to an end…’
(Arrian II.5.9)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

An ancient Greek warrior

Credit Where It’s Due
Ancient Greek warrior: EPIGONI

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27. Magarsus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘[Alexander] went to Magarsus with the infantry and the royal squadron of cavalry: there he sacrificed to the Athena of Magarsus.’
(Arrian II.5.9)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

Map of Cilicia. I’ve not been able to find a map that mentions Magarsus; however, as it was Mallus’ port, you can see from Mallus’ location here where Magarsus would have been

Credit Where It’s Due
Map of southern Cilicia: Pinterest

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26. Soli

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘From Anchialus Alexander came to Soli. He installed a garrison there, and imposed a fine of two hundred talents of silver in punishment for the city’s pro-Persian tendency.’
(Arrian II.5.5)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

In the event, Soli paid Alexander 150 talents of silver. Perhaps because he was flush with victory after the Battle of Issus, Alexander waived the final fifty. At the same time, he sent the Solian hostages that he had taken from the city back home (Arr. II.12.2).

Soli, Asia Minor

Credit Where It’s Due
The Ruins of Soli: Wikipedia

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25. Anchialus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘[Alexander] set out from Tarsus, and on the first day reached the city of Anchialus, which legend tells was founded by Sardanapalus the Assyrian.’
(Arrian II.5.2)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

Sardanapalus who lived a very chaste and abstemious life

Credit Where It’s Due
Sardanapalus: Wikipedia

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