Posts Tagged With: Arsames

The man who had it all

The Nature of Curtius
Book Four Chapters 1 – 4
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter 1
The King Without a Crown
In the last post, we saw how Darius lost the Battle of Issus but was able to escape from the battlefield using horse relays. At the beginning of this chapter, Curtius makes the very poignant point that the Great King fled

through terrain which he had filled with armies almost beyond number but which was now deserted – to form one vast and solitary wilderness.

So, having lost the symbols of his kingship when he removed his royal insignia at the start of his flight it was now as if Darius had now lost his very kingdom. The earth had turned its back to him.

And I think that the earth could not have deserted (if you’ll excuse the pun) a more appropriate king. We know from the other Alexander historians that Memnon of Rhodes recommended a scorched earth policy prior to the Battle of the Granicus River, and that while the satraps had rejected his advice, as Alexander mentioned in his response to Darius’ letter, the Persians had form for carrying out such devastating actions*.

And, of course, there is Arsames – the satrap of Cilicia – who did indeed destroy his land upon Alexander’s approach.

Speaking of Alexander’s letter, it led to what must have been a very long journey for Thersippus who was given the responsibility of delivering it. If you have seen the film 300 you will know that messengers were not always treated very well (see the film clip below).

Admittedly, 300 is not your go-to film for an example of historical accuracy but if we jump forward to chapter 2 of Curtius’ book for a moment, what do we find happening to Alexander’s heralds after they entered Tyre to warn the Tyrians to make peace with the Macedonian king? They were killed and their bodies thrown over the city walls and into the sea. This. Is. Tyre!

In Sidon**, Alexander overthrew the king and gave the job of nominating a successor to Hephaestion. He offered the kingship to the two noblemen he was lodging with only for them to turn it down as they were not members of the royal family.

Impressed by their humility, Hephaestion invited them to chose the new king. They turned to a poor gardener named Abdalonymus who was ‘distantly related to the royal family’.

In what must be one of the nicest scenes in any biography of Alexander, the two noblemen visited Abdalonymus as he worked in his garden. There, they told him to take off his rags, clean himself up, and put on the royal clothing they had brought him.

The choice of Abdalonymus as king did not meet with everyone’s approval. So, Alexander summoned him in order to assess his character. How did you endure your poverty? He asked him. Abdalonymus replied,

‘These hands of mine satisfied my needs. I had nothing, but lacked nothing.’

I don’t know anything about Abdalonymus’ later career except that the Alexander sarcophagus may have been made for him.

I wonder, though, if Curtius was telling us something about Abdalonymus’ future when, as the two noblemen greeted him, the king-to-be was described as pulling up weeds. Weeds today, corrupt officials tomorrow***?

* In his letter, Alexander referred to how Xerxes I ‘left Mardonius in Greece so that he could destroy our cities and burn our fields’
** Or Tyre according to Diodorus, who also called Abdalonymys ‘Ballonymus’ (see here)
*** I must also mention the fact that when the noblemen met Abdalonymus he had no idea that Alexander and Darius were contending with one another for control of the latter’s empire. He was wise, humble and aloof.

Chapter 2
Re-Maker of Worlds
In this post, we have seen nature used as a metaphor – for the loss of a kingdom and for wisdom. At the start of the second chapter, Alexander threatens the Tyrian envoys by using what appears to be hyperbole. You think you are safe, he tells them, because you live on an island,

‘… but I am soon going to show you that you are really on the mainland.’

As it happens, the envoys believed him. To its cost, however, the city did not.

Alexander’s prophecy came true in two ways. Firstly, when his mole finally reached the island. And secondly when, over the years, the mole caused the sea to silt up around it to the point where the old city and island city could be completely joined. For images of joined-up Tyre today, see this post.

Alexander’s ability to not only use the land but change it according to his wishes stand in stark contrast to the impotent figure of Darius as he rides through the lonely wilderness.

Alexander intended to build a mole (i.e a causeway) to carry his army to the gates of the city. He was opposed not only by the Tyrians, but also the weather.

For example, Curtius says that a gap of four stades (under half a mile) separated Tyre from the mainland. That gap was assaulted by a strong ‘south-westerly wind, which rolled rapid successions of waves on to the shore’.

Then there was the depth of the sea which, beyond the shoreline, fell into a ‘fathomless’ depth. Although this was an exaggeration, as it turned out, the sea was still deep enough to fill the Macedonian soldiers ‘with despair’ when they saw it.

But Alexander was stronger than their hopelessness, and he got his men to work. The mole soon began to rise out of the sea.

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Echoes of War

The Nature of Curtius
Book Three Chapters 7 – 10
For the other posts in this series, click here

Chapter Seven
The City of Issus
Once Alexander had recovered from his illness he marched south from Tarsus via Soli to Mallus on the Cilician coast. In order to enter the city, he had to cross the Pyramus River. He did so by constructing a pontoon bridge.

Curtius gives no details regarding how the bridge was built but perhaps Alexander used the same method by which he crossed the Danube in 335 B.C. and would cross Jaxartes in 329; namely, by having his men stitch their tents together and filling them with hay so that they acted as floats.

As it happens, Alexander was not the only bridge builder at this time. Just before he crossed the Pyramus, Darius had crossed the Euphrates, possibly at Thapsacus according to the Notes. In order to do so, the Great King also built a pontoon bridge. Again, Curtius doesn’t explain how the bridge was built. But it must have been sturdy, as it was good enough to survive the trudge of soldiers’ feet for five days while the Persian army made its way across.

From Mallus, Alexander made his way to Castabalum – a day’s march along the road. There, he met Parmenion. The old marshal made up for having incorrectly accused Philip of Arcanania of betraying the king by delivering some good news*.

He reported that not only had he taken control of a ‘pass through which [the Macedonians] were obliged to march to reach the city called Issus’ but he had won the city itself. Furthermore, his men had ‘dislodged the Persians holding positions within the [Taurus] mountains’.

Alexander marched on through the newly won pass and into Issus. There, he called his senior officers together to discuss whether to continue marching or wait for reinforcements that were on the way from Macedon**.

Parmenion was unequivocal in his response – they should wait in Issus. If they did so, the ‘narrow pass’ outside the city would nullify the size advantage of the Persian army. If they carried on into the plains, the Persians would be able to constantly replenish their front line or use their superior size to surround or trap the Macedonian army in a ‘pincer-movement’. Alexander saw the sense in this argument and ‘decided to await his enemy at the narrowest part of the pass’.

* One can only wonder whether Parmenion’s good news was enough to make Philip forgive him
** The Notes say that no other source mentions these reinforcements and that they may be Curtius’ invention

Chapter Eight
Darius’ Inflexibility
The similarities between Darius’ and Alexander’s journeys extend beyond the building of pontoon bridges. The Great King too received advice regarding how to fight his enemy, and Darius also had the chance to influence where his army would form up against the Macedonians. But unlike Alexander, Darius proved unable to accept the advice and was therefore unable to influence where the battle would take place.

When I say unable I mean he could have accepted it but through weakness failed to do so. Let’s look at what happened.

At an unspecified point after crossing the Euphrates River, Darius received a message from his Greek mercenaries. They ‘strongly urged’ him ‘to retreat and head for the plains of Mesopotamia’.

At the very least, the mercenaries said, you should split the army in two so that if even if you lose the upcoming battle your kingdom will not be put in peril.

To his credit, Darius took the advice seriously – in contrast to his courtiers who not only dismissed the counsel but said that the idea of splitting the army up showed that the mercenaries wanted to ‘hand over to Alexander whatever part was entrusted to them’!

Again, to his credit, Darius dismissed the courtiers’ wild claims. But critically he did not do as the mercenaries advised. Instead, he sent a message back thanking ‘them for their concern’ and confirming he would not retreat as that would destroy his reputation, which would ‘certainly’ cause the loss of his kingdom to Alexander.

Darius also rejected the idea of splitting the army up. And here is why he was weak. To break the army in two, he said, would mean ‘breaking with tradition’. In any case, Alexander – ‘formerly… a fearsome figure… had taken to a hiding-place in the narrow parts of a mountain valley’ and was ‘deceiving his own soldiers with a feigned illness’.

To be fair, Darius’ concern for his reputation is a reasonable point. Arsames’ scorched earth policy, which we read about in the last post, caused him to lose his with his mountain guards who then promptly deserted. I find it hard to believe, though, that Darius’ influence over his men was so light that they would desert simply as a result of any decision to retreat.

Darius’ decision to keep the army whole on the grounds that that’s what his ancestors did is lamentable. In a way, he didn’t need to split his army – after being defeated at Issus, he still managed to form a new one for the Battle of Gaugamela – but that is besides the point. Darius’ reason for keeping it as one shows that he was unable to adapt to circumstances.

I can’t help but feel that when Darius told the mercenaries that Alexander was feigning illness, he was not acting on even faulty intelligence, but simply deluding himself. He wanted – or needed – to believe that his enemy was a fraud and so convinced himself of the ‘fact’.

In this, Darius was being every bit as inflexible as the French generals who did nothing to protect the Ardennes forest against a Nazi advance as they were determined to believe that Hitler’s troops would attack along the Maginot Line.

So, Darius continued on his way, and his delusion continued with him. Around the time that the Persians passed through the Amanic Gates, Darius discovered that Alexander had left Issus. Why? The delusion provided the answer: He had abandoned it and was in retreat.

A number of stragglers from the Macedonian army were caught. Darius had them mutilated before making them inspect the Persian forces. He wanted them to tell Alexander what they had seen and put the fear of Darius’ strength in him.

When that was done, Darius crossed the Pinarus River in pursuit of his ‘fleeing’ rival. The mutilated stragglers, meanwhile, caught up with their army and reported to Alexander what they had seen. The king could not believe that the Persians were behind him, so sent scouts to investigate.

They passed along the coast and the sound of crashing waves soon gave way to the duller thud thud thud sound of marching men.

Alexander had been concerned to learn whether Darius was coming with his entire army. On hearing that he was, he happily set up camp in the pass they were currently situated. So much Darius’ attempt at shock and awe.

From passes to ridges. That night, Alexander climbed ‘to the top of a high ridge’ and ‘sacrificed to the tutelary gods of the area’. The next day, the Macedonian army approached the Persian force in a narrow defile. When told about this, Darius was incredulous, and his army ‘alarmed’.

As the Persians took up their weapons, some of the men climbed hilltops to get a view of the enemy. Darius thought about doing the same with a view of using it to organise an encircling movement of the Macedonians. In the end, Curtius says, he was undone, by fortune. ‘Some of the Persians were too frightened to carry out their orders, [while] others obeyed them to no effect’.

How different it might have been Darius he had listened to the mercenaries and returned to the Mesopotamian plains.

Chapter Nine
In the Defile
This short chapter covers the disposition of the Macedonian and Persian armies. At the end, Curtius notes the very simple way in which Alexander adapted to his environment. While the defile remained narrow, the phalanx marched with no protection on its flanks (except that afforded by the rocks). As it widened, though, Alexander placed cavalry cover there.

Chapter Ten
The Art of Rhetoric
At the start of the battle, the two armies sought to gain a psychological advantage by issuing their battle cries. These echoed ‘from the mountain tops’ no less ‘and vast forests’.

Alexander rode ahead of his men, inspiring them with talk of conquering the entire world. ‘It would not be fruitless labour on the sheer rocks and crags of Illyria and Thrace: they were being offered the spoils of the entire East.’

And just as he adapted his strategy according to the lay of the land, Alexander adapted the way he spoke to his men in order to get the best result from them. ‘Since the Illyrians and Thracians usually made their living by looting, Alexander told them to look at the enemy line agleam with gold and purple… They [the Illyrians and Thracians] should exchange their rugged mountain-tops and barren hill-trails permanently stiff with frost for the rich plains and fields of the Persians’.

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A Passage to Cilicia

The Nature of Curtius
Book Three Chapters 4 – 6
For the other posts in this series, click here

Chapter Four
The Cilician Gates
As Darius moved north, Alexander marched south from Cappadocia. He stopped in an area known as ‘The Camp of Cyrus’. This was named after Cyrus the Great who ‘maintained a permanent camp’ there when he went to fight Croesus in Lydia. The camp was fifty stades (five miles) away from the Cilician Gates.

The ‘Gates’ were actually a rock formation in a narrow defile. Their name came from the fact that they looked like they were man-made, and they afforded the only means of entering Cilicia, which was bounded by the ‘rugged and precipitously steep’ Taurus mountain range.

The governor of Cilicia was a man named Arsames. He had it in him if not to defeat Alexander then at least to inflict upon him a critical defeat that could in turn have led to the undermining of the whole Macedonian campaign.

In order to achieve this, Arsames needed only to post a small force on the ridge overlooking the defile. Curtius says that the the defile ‘could barely accommodate four armed men [walking] abreast’. Picking them off, therefore, would have been easy.

However, Arsames chose instead to do what Memnon of Rhodes had recommended before the Battle of the Granicus River; namely, to lay waste to the country and starve Alexander into submission. He did so ‘with fire and the sword’. Destroying anything ‘that might be of use’ to his enemy.

Thus, Alexander – to his surprise and delight – found the Cilician Gates unguarded. He passed through them and marched on to Tarsus.

It would be inaccurate to say that Arsames totally ignored the Gates. Curtius tells us that he posted guards to the three mountain passes (of which, only the Cilician Gates provided entry into the country). However, after hearing that the satrap was destroying the countryside the guards deserted believing that they had been betrayed.

Curtius describes how the Cilician countryside ‘levels out’ as it approaches the sea. This flatness, he says, is ‘frequently interrupted by streams’ including two ‘famous rivers’ – the Pyramus and Cydnus.

Of the Pyramus he has nothing else to say, but the Cydnus now takes centre stage in Alexander’s story.

What was the river like? Well, it was neither a particularly deep nor violent one. In fact, it ran very gently ‘with no torrents breaking into its course’. Curtius doesn’t mention any mythological being associated with the Cydnus. Perhaps its gentility gave the impression that it was a rather boring river. Maybe it was, but if so, the Cydnus was a valuable one for it ran over ‘pure soil’. It contained no stories but it helped men live so that they could tell them.

Like the Marsyas, the waters of the Cydnus were very clear. They were also very cold, for the river ran underneath the shade of its banks.

Lest we think that its clarity and clearness were all the Cydnus had to commend itself, Curtius adds that at its headwaters (i.e at the source of the river) there were ‘many monuments popularized in song’. He says ‘They were shown the sites of the cities of Lyrnesus and Thebes, the cave of Typhon, the grove of Corycus where saffron grows’.

By ‘they’, I assume Curtius means the Macedonians. Unfortunately, they did not see too much as the monuments and cities were but ruins or even just memories in the air with no earthly trace left. The cities had fallen, and nature reclaimed her land.

Chapters Five and Six
The Cydnus River
Alexander arrived in Tarsus in August. The weather was boiling hot. As it happened, the Cydnus passed through the city so he went to bathe in it.

Now, you might think this would be a thoroughly innocuous act. What happened next, however, made it a very significant, and nearly fatal, one. Alexander had barely taken a step into the water ‘when he suddenly felt his limbs shiver and stiffen’. He was rushed back to this tent, seemingly on the point of death.

As Alexander’s friends clear the way and carry their king to his bed, I would like to look very briefly at how he – Alexander – used the river as a propaganda tool. The main purpose of his visit was to bathe. However, in so doing, he considered ‘that it would also add to his prestige if he showed his men that he was satisfied with attention to his person which was plain and unelaborate’.

That’s Alexander. He could probably have found a way of making the act of picking the dirt from between his toes a heroic one. As it is, Alexander’s purpose has its origin in the days of his youth when he was taught by the austere Leonidas. It also reminds me of how he used his good treatment of women as a way of proving his superiority to the Persians (see here for more details).

After being taken to his tent, Alexander remained there until his physician, Philip of Arcanania, had cured him of his illness. This covers the rest of Chapter 5 and all of 6. If you would like to read more about what happened, see here and here.

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