Posts Tagged With: Arrian

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

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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’.

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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.

Categories: On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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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

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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)

Categories: Humour | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Among the Wounded

III. The Battle of Gaugamela
(III.15)
Read the other posts in this series

About sixty of Alexander’s Companions were killed; among the wounded were Coenus, Menidas, and Hephaestion himself.

I am intrigued by the translation ‘and Hephaestion himself‘ (my emphasis). If it reflects what Arrian wrote, the ‘himself’ cuts Hephaestion off from Coenus and Menidas. It is as if Arrian mentions them for one reason – I believe their rank, unless they had another connexion to Alexander that I am not aware of – and Hephaestion for another – undoubtedly his friendship with the king, which Arrian has already firmly established.

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Arrian doesn’t mention any particular source for the information he provides. This is in contrast to i. his account of Alexander at Troy where he writes that ‘[o]ne account says that Hephaestion laid a wreath on the tomb of Patroclus’. Of course, Ptolemy or Aristobulos could be that ‘one account’ but if they are it does seem strange that Arrian doesn’t name them, and ii. the anecdote of Sisygambis’ mistake, which Arrian specifically says doesn’t come from Ptolemy or Aristobulos. Can we, then, make any deductions regarding who the source of the Gaugamela quote might be?

I think Arrian got his information from Ptolemy but that Ptolemy used a source common to himself and Diodorus and Curtius, the other two Alexander historians who mention Hephaestion in this context. My reason for saying this is because all three accounts are very similar. Here is Diodorus’ version.

Of the most prominent group of commanders, Hephaestion was wounded with a spear thrust in the arm; he had commanded the bodyguards. Perdiccas and Coenus, of the general’s group, were also wounded, so also Menidas and others of the higher commanders.
(XVII.61)

And here Curtius’,

Hephaestion suffered a spear-wound in the arm; Perdiccas, Coenus and Menidas were almost killed by arrows.
(IV.16.32)

So, all three accounts state that Hephaestion was injured. Diodorus and Curtius add the detail that he was stabbed in the arm with a spear. All three accounts also state that Coenus and Menidas were injured. Diodorus and Curtius, however, tell us that Perdiccas was among the wounded.

This is why I think Arrian’s source is Ptolemy. In the first years of the Wars of the Successors, Perdiccas was Ptolemy’s mortal enemy. I think Ptolemy excluded him from his memoir as a form of payback. If he wrote his memoir after 310 B.C., over ten years after Perdiccas died, it was a very petty form of payback but that’s beside the point.

On the issue of Ptolemy’s pettiness, could that be why he doesn’t give Hephaestion’s injury – he’ll mention him if he has to, but he’ll go no further than that.

I’m against this idea. If we are going to have a go at Ptolemy, we might also ask ‘if he didn’t want too much attention given to Hephaestion, why did he bother to mention him at all?’ Could it be that actually, Ptolemy simply wasn’t interested – as a matter of course – in dwelling on people’s injuries*? He was a soldier, after all.

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One final point. If Ptolemy, Diodorus and Curtius all used the same source, who could it be? Cleitarchus is the obvious name to mention here but I wonder. I doubt Cleitarchus could have got his information from the Macedonian veterans living in Alexandria at the close of the fourth century B.C. If any of them had fought at Gaugamela near Hephaestion et al I doubt they would have had time to observe them.

Rather, I imagine that Ptolemy took his information directly from Callisthenes’ war reports and/or the royal diaries, which he obtained after stealing Alexander’s body. These would have have confirmed to him what he already remembered learning after the conclusion of the battle in 331 B.C.

* Excluding Alexander. If what I say is correct, Arrian will only mention specific injuries when the narrative demands it or when his source is someone other than Ptolemy

Categories: Hephaestion Amyntoros | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Fatal Macedonian

Justin’s Alexander
Book XII Chapters 5-10
Part Five
Other posts in this series

For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus

Chapter Five
In the last post, we saw how Alexander ‘easternised’ and tried to guide his friends and the army towards doing the same. Justin’s exact words are that Alexander ‘desired’ that his friends adopt Persian dress (Chapter 3) and ‘permitted’ his men to marry barbarian women (Chapter 4).

To my mind desired and permitted are positive words. But there is no doubt that Justin himself regarded these developments as a bad thing. He says that Alexander only ‘permitted’ his men to marry barbarian women so that he did,

not appear to be the only person who yielded to the vices of those whom he had conquered in the field

and he talks about Alexander acting ‘as if he gave himself up to the customs of those whom be had conquered.’ (my emphasis).

At the start of Chapter 5, Justin repeats the assertion (made in the previous chapter) that what angered the Macedonians was not simply that Alexander had taken on Persian mores but that in doing so he had ‘cast off the customs of his father Philip and of his country.’

It might have been better for Alexander to row back on his innovations and proceed thereafter more slowly and with greater caution – although in an inherently aggressive society such as his that is debatable – but instead, he turned inwardly against his men for the first time.

Justin describes the king as showing ‘a passionate temper towards those about him, not with a princely severity, but with the vindictiveness of an enemy’. He states that Philotas’ and Parmenion’s execution came about as a result of their criticising the king’s behaviour.

Parmenion’s and Philotas’ executions drove a wedge between the king and his men. What he has done to the ‘innocent old general and his son’, they said, we must expect to happen to ourselves.

What was Alexander’s response? Did he reassure his men that this would not happen*? No. He manipulated them into writing letters home, letters which he then took possession of and read. On doing so,

… he put all those, who had given unfavourable opinions of his conduct, into one regiment, with an intention either to destroy them, or to distribute them in colonies in the most distant parts of the earth.  

It’s one thing to adopt foreign customs, but quite another to treat his own men so badly. The Justinian anti-Alexander propaganda machine is getting into its stride now.

* In the same way he reassured Philotas’ relatives that they would not be punished along with him by repealing the law which allowed for the relatives of a condemned man to be executed as well (Curtius 6.11.20)

Chapter Six
Propaganda it may have have been, but true it also was*. And that was Alexander’s problem – he made these rods for his own back. For example, the king’s murder of Black Cleitus after the latter ‘defended the memory of Philip’ during a drunken party.

To his credit, though, Justin doesn’t simply say ‘Alexander got drunk and killed Cleitus out of pride’. He also relates the king’s regret, his attempt to kill himself, his continued remorse and realisation of how dreadful he must now appear to his men. In the end, Alexander was saved from his grief by his men, and Callisthenes, in particular. The wedge between them, it seems, was not unbridgeable.

* I’m giving Justin the benefit of the doubt here as Curtius (7.2.35-38) and Diodorus (XIII.17.80) also mention the incident.

Chapter Seven
… and yet, still Alexander persisted with his desire to be treated as if was a Persian monarch. Thus, though admittedly with hesitation, ‘he gave orders that he should not be approached with mere salutation, but with adoration’.

Black Cleitus’ death had not lessoned the opposition of the Macedonians. Callisthenes refused to prostrate himself to the king. And, having saved Alexander’s life, now lost his own to him. I wonder if that is why Justin made sure to mention the historian’s role in saving Alexander’s life as it now makes the his death all the more poignant – and bitter.

Several Macedonians died because they refused to indulge Alexander’s whim. But they did not die in vain; at least, not completely – Justin states that while the ‘custom of saluting their king was… retained by the Macedonians, adoration [was] set aside’.

In the Daedalian Mountains, Alexander received the submission of Queen Cleophis. Justin adds tartly that she ‘recovered her throne from him by admitting him to her bed’.

Curtius (8.10.35-36) also mentions Cleophis, though he only says that – according to some – it was simply her beauty that won her back her throne. He recognises, however, that at some point, she did give birth to a son which she named Alexander.

The Notes to my edition of Curtius cite A V Gutschmid (n.68) who said that Cleophis was a Roman invention*. I can well believe it. Even if Alexander did not abstain from sex, as Plutarch suggests (with the exception of Barsine), the respect he had for women surely makes the scenario given by Justin unlikely.

* An allusion to Cleopatra VII

Chapter Eight
The end of this chapter marks the end of Alexander’s eastward journey. Worn out by the constant travel and war, the Macedonian army begged their king to take them return home. Rather surprisingly (to me, anyway) given the antagonism between them since his adoption of Persian dress and customs, Alexander agreed to the men’s request.

Chapter Nine
This chapter covers more of Alexander’s battles, including the occasion when the king leapt into the city of the Sigambri* where he fought ‘alone against thousands’ until he was felled by an arrow. Typically, the ‘curing of the wound caused him more suffering than the wound itself.’

* Or, the Mallian city (See Arrian 6.9-12 and Plutarch Para. 63); Curtius calls it the City of the Sudracae (9.4.26-33; 9.5.1-21). Diodorus deals with the assault in VIII.17.98-99 but it isn’t clear to me from his narrative where the city was located

Chapter Ten
Alexander had returned to Babylon, where,

many of the conquered people sent deputations to accuse their governors, whom Alexander, without any regard to his former friendship for them, commanded to be put to death in the sight of the deputies.

I can’t decide whether Justin means this statement to be taken positively or otherwise.

On the one hand, a just judge should not be thinking of friendships when trying cases.

On the other, I do get the impression that when Justin says the governors were put to death ‘in the sight of the deputies’ Alexander was using the executions as a means of intimidation. But again, perhaps that was a good thing for him to do.

Justin concludes with a brief reference to the Susa Weddings. Alexander, he says, married Stateira II. He had his leading men marry

… the noblest virgins… in order that the impropriety of the king’s conduct might be rendered less glaring by the practice becoming general.

This is the third time Alexander has acted along these lines*. Given the king’s pride, I think it is better to take this statement as Justin’s opinion rather than of fact.

* After asking and permitting his friends and army to wear Persian dress and marry barbarian women, as described above

Impressions
The storm clouds have definitely broken. And yet, Justin still mentions aspects of Alexander’s behaviour that could be taken positively. I have to give him credit for that. What the above chapters have really brought home to me is the fact that the Macedonian army’s estrangement from its king – in Justin’s eyes – was wholly connected to their love for Philip. I am not used to thinking of Philip II as a king beloved of his men.

One last point – Justin’s narrative contains a number of errors. For example, his assertion that Parmenion and Philotas were executed after criticising Alexander’s adoption of Persian dress and customs, and that Parmenion was tortured before being killed. A list of the mistakes are for another post; for now, I just wanted to acknowledge them here lest anyone thought they weren’t in my mind.

 

Categories: Justin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Persian Women

I recently discovered the very well presented Mani website. Contrary to what the name suggests, it is not dedicated that region of Greece, but the great women of Persia from antiquity to the first millennium A.D.

The site contains some beautiful pictures and there is no doubt that the author loves his country a great deal. It is a shame, therefore, that some of his information is not as accurate as it could be.

For example, in the section on Sisygambis (called here Sissy Cambis), we are told that Darius III’s mother,

was a remarkable Achaemenid woman who fought, resisted and did not surrender to Alexander the Macedonian Tyrant.

The only correct statement in this sentence is Alexander’s name and nationality. Actually, I would accept that Sisygambis was remarkable but only if by that one meant that she was remarkable in her devotion to the king.

That aside, Sisygambis neither fought nor resisted Alexander. Not in war and not when he came into her tent. As for never surrendering to him – what else was her act of obeisance to him?

In my opinion, calling Alexander a tyrant is also debatable. The problem with using that word is that it brings to mind a specific office in antiquity, which Alexander never held. If one wanted to use a pejorative terms, would it not have been more precise and accurate to refer to him as Alexander the Macedonian autocrat?

The article next says that Sisygambis,

… was captured by Alexander after the battle of Issus in 333 B.C.E, along with her beautiful daughter Princess Estatira. Alexander was very much found [sic] of her and had a crush on her according to the Greek Historians!

I’ve quoted this passage in full because I am not sure whether the author is saying that Alexander had a crush on Sisygambis or Stateira II (Estatira). I think it is the latter but am not completely sure. Either way, I am not convinced by the accuracy of the statement.

Assuming the author means Stateira – the Greek historians of whom I am aware do not spend a great deal of time discussing her: Arrian and Diodorus only mention Stateira II in the context of the Susa weddings and Plutarch goes out of his way to describe how Alexander treated the entire Persian royal family with great courtesy. (For the record, Curtius doesn’t mention her at all).

Having said that, we know from Plutarch that Stateira I – Sisygambis’ daughter and Stateira II’s mother – died in childbirth over nine months after being captured by Alexander. If he had a crush on anyone, perhaps it was her. Maybe. We know too little about their relationship to talk about ‘crushes’, if that particular word is even appropriate in the first place.

As well as the above, we are also informed in the articles on Sisygambis, Roxane, and the future of Persia that the Bactrian princess was Darius III’s daughter (in the third article she is simply referred to as being Persian).

This is an unfortunate mistake as in his article on Stateira II, the author acknowledges that Roxane was from ‘from the kingdom of Bactria’, which makes me think he must know that she was not Darius’ daughter.

By-the-bye, the Roxane article also calls Alexander’s son, Alexander IV Aegus, which I’m not sure I’ve seen before. Wikipedia says this is a modern error but I don’t know anything more about it.

I have pointed out some of the mistakes in the above mentioned website so let me emphasise the quality of its presentation and clear love of its subject. The website is very political and so invariably makes some contentious statements. Those aside, the author’s history might well – but for the mistakes I have mentioned – be very accurate.

Of course, I speak as no more than a student of Alexander rather than expert. I make my own mistakes. If the errors on Mani can be ironed out I’m sure it’ll be a top-notch website.

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Alexander Crosses The Hellespont

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 17, 18 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Crosses The Hellespont: War Inevitable
Macedonian Army: Is It Strong Enough?
Alexander Pays Homage to Achilles
Satrapal Commanders Debate Tactics
Scorched Earth Policy and Invasion of Greece Rejected

The Story
With Chapter 17, Alexander’s war of revenge begins. As Philip II had intended to do, he crossed the Hellespont at the head of a fleet of ‘sixty fighting ships’. Upon reaching the Troad, the Macedonian king threw his spear into the beach and leapt into the surf – the first of the invaders to do so. The spear throw was a ritualistic gesture which signified that Alexander ‘received Asia from the gods as a spear-won prize’.

After wading ashore, Alexander and his army marched to ‘the tombs of the heroes Achilles, Ajax, and the rest’ making offerings ‘and other appropriate marks of respect’ to the Achaians.

According to Diodorus, it was once he had worshipped Achilles et al that Alexander took a count of his armed forces:

      • Macedonian Infantry 12,000
      • Allied Infantry 7,000
      • Mercenaries 5,000 (under Parmenion’s command)
      • Odrysian, Triballian, Illyrian soldiers 7,000
      • Agrianian/other arches 1,000
      • Total 32,000
      • Macedonian cavalry 1,800 (under Philotas’ command)
      • Thessalian cavalry 1,800 (under Calas’ command)
      • Allied Greek cavalry 600 (under Erygius’ command)
      • Thracian/Paeonian Scouts 900 (under Cassander’s command)
      • Total 4,500

Diodorus states that Alexander left 12,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry behind in Macedon.

We are now told that upon leaving the Troad, Alexander marched to Ilium where he stopped at the sanctuary of Athena. A ‘sacrificant’, also named Alexander, noticed a statue of ‘a former satrap of Phrygia’ named Ariobarzanes lying on the ground. There were other ‘favourable omens’ too and so, no doubt with a glad heart, the seer went to his royal namesake and interpreted them thus – Alexander ‘would be victor in a great cavalry battle’ especially if he fought it ‘within the confines of Phrygia’. Alexander the seer added that the king would ‘with his own hands… slay in battle a distinguished general of the enemy’.

By way of clarification, Phrygia was in west-central Asia Minor. Contrary to what Diodorus says, Alexander was still in the Troad when he received the prophecy. Here is a map of Asia Minor on Wikipedia that you may find helpful (Unfortunately, the file type won’t let me save it and post it here).

Alexander the seer gave special credit for the good omens to Athena who, he said, would help Alexander the king achieve his victory. Chapter 18 begins, therefore, with the king making ‘a splendid sacrifice’, and dedicating his armour to, her – taking in return ‘the finest of the panoplies [i.e. a complete suit of armour]’ from her sanctuary.

Diodorus says that Alexander wore this armour ‘in his first battle’ (i.e. at the Granicus River). It would still be with him nine years and many thousands of miles later when Alexander got impatient with his men and stormed the Mallian fortress by himself.

It is at this point that Diodorus takes his leave of Alexander and takes us to the Persian camp. Having failed to stop the Macedonians entering Asia Minor they were discussing how to stop his advance through the Great King’s territory.

Memnon of Rhodes proposed the same scorched earth policy that we saw him put in place after failing in his siege of Cyzicus. As I mentioned in that post, however, the Persian satraps in charge of the effort to stop Alexander refused to countenance destroying their crops.

For his part, Memnon not only proposed laying waste to the land but invading Greece, thus forcing Alexander to return home lest he not only fail in his war of revenge but also be deprived of his throne. This idea was also rejected by the Persians – they regarded Memnon’s twin-pronged approach as being below their dignity, if you please.

The satraps determined ‘to fight it out’ and duly assembled their army. They advanced west, across Hellespontine Phrygia, and pitched camp by the river Granicus, using the bed of the river as a line of defence’.

We’ll see tomorrow how Diodorus covered the first major battle of Alexander’s kingship.

Comments
After throwing his spear into the sand, Alexander’s decision to be the first Macedonian ashore was a tremendous act of faith. He was, after all, following in the footsteps of Protesilaos who was not only the first Archaian to jump ashore after the arrival of the Hellenic force outside Troy but also the first to die. What Diodorus doesn’t tell us is that before leaving Europe, Alexander sacrificed to the gods at Protesilaos’ tomb ‘to ensure’ Arrian says ‘better luck for himself than Protesilaus had’. His prayer was heard and then some.

According to the Footnotes, Diodorus ‘is our only source for the detailed [Macedonian] troop list’ at the start of the expedition. Here (according to the Footnotes) are the figures given by the other Alexander historians:

  • Justin ‘gives simply’ 32,000 foot and 4,500 horse
  • Plutarch: the Macedonians were 30,000 – 40,000 foot and 4,000 – 5,000 horse
  • Arrian – there were “not much more than” 30,000 foot and 5,000 horse

Quoting Plutarch, the Footnotes give Aristobulos as saying there were 30,000 foot and 4,000 horse; Ptolemy: 30,000 foot and 5,000 horse; Anaximenes 43,000 foot and 5,500 horse

Further to Alexander’s nine day party, which we read about in the last post, the Footnotes (again quoting Plutarch) say that – according to Aristobulos – the king arrived in Asia Minor with just 70 talents and – according to Duris – 30 days’ worth of provisions. On the other hand, Onesicritus claims that he was actually 200 talents in debt.

The Footnotes are also helpful in highlighting Diodorus’ inaccuracies.

  • Erygius did not command the allied cavalry until winter 334/3
  • Cassander (if by Cassander is meant the son of Antipater) ‘is a mistake’ – he did not join Alexander until his return to Babylon in 324. The scouts commander ‘at the Granicus and later’ was a man named Ariston
  • Diodorus says there were 4,500 cavalry but his figures add up to 5,100

My first thought after reading these figures is that why did Alexander wait until he had crossed into Asia Minor before assessing the size of his fighting force? Wouldn’t it be wiser to get something like that done before heading into enemy territory? Perhaps there is a literary reason why Diodorus made the change. I can’t see it, though. Maybe it really did just happen like that.

As for the figures themselves – the historians are in rough agreement regarding how many men crossed the Hellespont. It’s a real shame that the beginning of Curtius’ history has been lost so that we can’t see how many many men his chief source, Cleitarchus, said were in the army at this time.

The numbers are all very impressive but I have to admit I am more taken by a couple of the names attached to them, especially Anaximenes and Duris. They are not familiar to me so I shall be sure to look them up later to see if I can learn more about them.

One final point. Looking back, it is easy to condemn the Persian satraps for not listening to Memnon. At the time, however, given that no one knew how good a general Alexander would be, and how much destroying their crops would cost, deciding to fight him must have seemed the only sensible decision. In a way I feel quite sorry for them.

Noted

  • Diodorus makes no mention of Alexander and Hephaestion running round the tombs of Achilles and Patroclus. Is this due to Roman reservations regarding their relationship? For the matter of that, who was Diodorus’ audience? I better stop before the questions start to flood out!
Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tarn Springs Some Surprises

I have now finished W W Tarn’s Narrative. Here are three things that made an impression upon me between pages 86 and 148. If you would like to read what I thought of the first half of the book and can’t see the relevant post below this one, just click here.
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Alexander and Herodotus

Herodotus was no longer much read… there is no sign that Alexander knew him at all, not even his account of Scylax’s voyage.
(Tarn, p. 86)

I almost drew breath when I read this even though I have no idea whether it is accurate or not. My understanding is that Alexander was a well read man. Is this not true? Of course, we may well have been and still not known about Herodotus’ Histories if the latter had fallen into obscurity. Tarn’s book was published just after World War II ended and at least one part of it was written in the 20s so scholarship may have discovered that Herodotus was not a stranger to Alexander after all. I certainly hope so. The alternative does not seem at all fitting.
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In the last post, I noted a couple of points where Oliver Stone used Tarn’s text in his film about Alexander. In the film, Stone has Bucephalus die during the Battle of the Hydaspes River. I had always thought this to be inaccurate and that Bucephalus died at some point earlier or later. Tarn surprised me, therefore, when I read,

Alexander after his victory [in the Battle of the Hydaspes] founded two cities, Alexandria Nicaea where his camp had stood, and Alexandria Bucephala on the battlefield, nicknamed from his horse which died there…
(Tarn, pp 96-7)

Ah. Maybe my memory was at fault, then. I jumped to Arrian to see what he said. Sure enough…

Porus’ son… wounded Alexander with his own hand and struck the blow which killed his beloved horse Bucephalus.
(Arrian, p. 274)

To be sure, Arrian is talking about the engagement that took place just before the battle started but it was a confrontation that was part of the whole so on that basis we can give Stone and Tarn a qualified pass. Except, Plutarch –

After [the battle at the Hydaspes River] Bucephalus… died, not immediately but some while later. Most historians report that he died of wounds received in the battle, for which he was being treated but according to Onesicritus it was from old age, for by this time he was thirty years old.
(Plutarch, para 61)

I don’t know much about Onesicritus but if his Wikipedia entry is accurate then he is not necessarily a writer to be trusted.
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The last thing that made a big impression definitely did make me draw a breath, which is funny because its one of those things I kind of knew already. In short, it highlighted how interested Alexander was in exploring and learning about the world. My principle image of him is, of course, as the second Achilles – being all about the war and glory. Tarn makes it clear though, that Alexander was simply not about blood ‘n guts. Here is the relevant passage:

[Alexander] attacked the secret of the ocean. He sent Heracleides to explore the Hyrcanian sea, and ascertain whether Aristotle had been right in calling this great expanse of salt water a lake, or whether the old theory that it was a gulf of Ocean might not be true after all…

He himself turned his attention to the Persian Gulf. He took steps to ensure better communication between Babylonia and the sea by removing the Persian obstacles to free navigation of the Tigris and founding an Alexandria on the Gulf at the mouth of that river…

He also planned to colonise the eastern coast of the Gulf, along which Nearchus had sailed, and sent 500 talents to Sidon to be coined for the hire or purchase of sailors and colonists. This would help to establish the already explored sea-route between India and Babylon; but he meant to complete the sea-route from India to Egypt by exploring the section between Babylon and Egypt and circumnavigating Arabia, possibly as a preliminary to still more extensive maritime exploration in the future. He therefore planned an expedition along the Arabian coast…
(Tarn, p. 118)

I can’t tell you what about this passage opened my eyes because I don’t know, but reading it felt like a splash of cold water to the face. As I said above, I already knew that Alexander was a keen explorer and student but what this passage has succeeded in doing is bringing that truth home to me in a strong and direct way. I’m not going to rename this blog The Second Aristotle but sure I won’t forget it in a hurry.

Editions Used
Arrian The Campaigns of Alexander (Penguin Classics London 1971)
Plutarch The Age of Alexander (Penguin Classics London 2011)
Tarn, W W Alexander the Great I Narrative (Cambridge University Press 1948)

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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