Posts Tagged With: Artabazus

The Road to Marakanda – Spring 328 B.C.

In the Spring of 328 B.C., the Macedonian army campaigned in Bactria and Sogdia. The native people had closed the gates of their forts to Alexander and needed to be reminded who was in charge.

I say ‘the Macedonian army’ quite deliberately for it does not appear as if Alexander himself took part in the operation.

At least, not according to Arrian. He recounts how, after leaving Zariaspa, the Macedonian king put Attalus, Gorgias, Polyperchon and Meleager in charge of subduing Bactria, and Coenus and Artabazus (together), Hephaestion, Perdiccas and Ptolemy in charge of subduing Sogdia.

As for Alexander himself, he

… proceeded with [the rest of the army] in the direction of Marakanda, while the the other four commanders carried out offensive operations.

It is possible that he attacked Sogdian settlements along the way, but the fact that Arrian distinguishes between Alexander’s actions and those of his four commanders suggests to me that Arrian didn’t think so.

This passage has been on my mind for a while for it seems quite strange that Alexander would choose to miss an opportunity to win take part in a military operation.

Did he see the ‘offensive operations’ as no more than a bit of mopping up, and so unworthy of his attention?

The fact that Alexander had to split his army into as many as nine divisions, excluding his own, would suggest that the threat posed by the Bactrians and Sogdians was no small matter, if anything, the reverse.

Perhaps he had business to take care of in Marakanda? Arrian doesn’t mention any. However, the city had been put under siege twice by Spitamenes the previous year (Arrian IV.5,7). I am guessing, therefore, that Alexander wanted to assign new men to the garrison (Curtius VII.10.11*) that had held it over the winter. This, of course, is a job that could have been done by one of the king’s generals – Hephaestion, for example, whom some scholars tell us was not a particularly good soldier.

At first sight, the other sources are not helpful in working out what Alexander was up to in the Spring of 328 B.C. Plutarch covers the period of the Bactria-Sogdia campaign in Chapters 50-58 of his Life but says nothing about the army’s military operations. The same is the case with Justin (who covers the same period in XII.7 of his epitome). Diodorus might have done but unfortunately, the relevant section of his account has been lost.

That leaves us with Curtius. After bringing Alexander out of his winter quarters at Zariaspa (VII.10.13-16), Curtius appears to confuse the early 328 campaign with another set of events** before having Alexander build some cities and move on to the Sogdian Rock.

This most famous siege took place in 327 B.C. It appears, therefore, that Curtius has misdated it. Thus, at the start of Book Eight, he follows in Arrian’s footsteps by describing how Alexander divided his army into three (between himself, Hephaestion and Coenus***) and with his men ‘once more subdued the Sogdians and returned to Maracanda’ (VIII.1.7) (my emphasis]).

So, if Curtius is to be believed, Alexander did take part in the campaign before reaching Marakanda. And, I have to admit, that seems the more believable version of events.

However, if asked to chose who I believe – him or Arrian – I’m not sure that I wouldn’t stick with Arrian. Curtius can be such an unreliable historian.

As already mentioned, he gets the date of the Siege of the Sogdian Rock wrong. After bringing Alexander to Marakanda, Curtius has him speak to Derdas, whom he sent into the territory of the Scythians over the Tanais River the previous year (VII.6.12) as well as ‘a deputation of that people’ (VIII.1.7) who offered him their allegiance and the hand of the king’s daughter. Arrian, by contrast, places these events in Spring, while Alexander was still in Zariaspa (A IV.15).

As can be seen, Curtius appears to have a particular problem with accurate dating. In this light, I wonder if his account of Alexander’s actions in Sogdia at VIII.7 could be a reference to Alexander’s Autumn 329 campaign against the Sogdians, subsequent arrival in Zariaspa and meeting with the Scythians per Arrian.

And yet… and yet… As you can see, I am Hamlet-like in my indecision! The reason for this is that I just can’t think of a convincing reason why Alexander would not have joined the campaign while he was on his way to Marakanda.

Actually, there is one possible reason – injury and/or ill health. The previous year, Alexander’s leg was broken by an arrow (A III.30); he also suffered a slingshot blow to the head and neck (A IV.3) and a severe bout of dysentery but surely he would have recovered from the worst effect of these by Spring 328?

* Curtius says that Alexander left a 3,000 strong garrison in Sogdia. I take it that some even if not all of them stayed in Marakanda
** The Notes in my edition of Curtius say he could be thinking of the rebellion of Arsaces in Aria and Barzanes in Parthia and their capture by Stasanor
*** I don’t count this as an error on Curtius’ part – it could be him ‘telescoping’ the story in order to focus on the principle player(s) in it

Categories: Arrian, Finding Alexander, On Alexander, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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!

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.

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 
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’


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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Torture in Curtius (1)

Last post here

In this post I continue my look at the number of times and contexts in which torture is referenced by the Alexander historians. Today, it is the turn of Curtius. In contrast to Arrian and Plutarch who barely mention it at all (twice and three times respectively), Curtius does so on thirty-eight occasions.


Due to that high volume of usage, and the fact that I will be quoting all the relevant passages, I have decided to split this post into three. The next will look exclusively at torture in the context of the Philotas Affair. The third will look at references to torture made by Curtius in connection with the Pages’ Conspiracy and the rebel Biton.


As you may be aware, the first two books of Curtius’ history have not survived. I’ll begin, therefore, in Book III with Alexander settling his affairs in Lycia and Pamphylia before moving on to the city of Calaenae in Phrygia.

Actually, due to the uneven spread of word usage, Book IV will be the start point. From IV.8.10-11, I’ll continue on to VI.8.14, just before the first use of the word in connection with the Philotas Affair.

The Spread:

  • 0 in Book III
  • 4 in Book IV
  • 2 in Book V
  • 2 in Book VI


Book IV.8.10-11
contains a reference to a number of criminals being tortured for their crimes

Alexander marched with all possible speed to avenge [Andromachus’] murder [by the Samaritans], and on his arrival the perpetrators of the heinous crime were surrendered to him. He appointed Memnon to replace Andromachus, executed the murderers of the former governor, and handed over to their own subjects a number of local rulers, including Aristonicus and Ersilaus of Methymna, whom they tortured and put to death for their crimes.

Book IV.10.27
Here we see the word ‘torture’ being used in a metaphorical sense by Darius III

[Darius said to Tyriotes,] “… You are not going to tell me, are you, what I most suspect and fear to put into words – that members of my family have been violated, something which would be worse than any kind of torture for me and, I think, for them?”

Book IV.10.30-33
Here we see Darius warning Tyriotes the eunuch that if he lies he will be tortured. Tyriotes, who is telling the truth, stands his ground, effectively saying to the Great King ‘bring it on’.

Tyriotes swore by the gods of his country that no violence had been offered the queen, that Alexander had actually lamented her death and wept as much as Darius was doing then, but these declarations served only to revive an anxious suspicion in the mind of the adoring husband, who inferred that Alexander’s grief for a captive must have derived from his having had sexual relations with her. Accordingly, keeping only Tyriotes back and dismissing everybody else, he said to him (without tears now but with a sigh): ‘Tyriotes, do you see that lies will not do? The instruments of torture will soon be here, but for heaven’s sake don’t wait for them if you have any regard for your king. Surely he did not dare to do… what I want to know yet fear to ask… he being a young man and her master?” Tyriotes offered to undergo torture, calling the gods to witness that the queen had been treated with propriety and respect.

Book V.3.12
Afraid of being tortured, the Uxians break into the Macedonian camp and ask Sisigambis to intercede with Alexander for them

… daunted by the added fear of torture, they sent men to Darius’ mother Sisigambis, by a secret path unknown to their enemy, to ask her to use her influence to mollify the king.

Book V.5.5-6
contains a reference to torture having been inflicted upon the Greek captives

When he was not far from the city, the king was met by a pitiful group of men whose misfortune has few parallels in history. They were Greek captives, some 4,000 in number, whom the Persians had subjected to various kinds of torture. Some had had their feet cut off, some their hands and ears. They had been branded with letters from the Persian alphabet by their captors, who had kept them to amuse themselves over a long period by humiliating them.

Book VI.5.3
As with IV.10.27, we see torture being used as a figure-of-speech here

Given a friendly welcome, Artabazus said: ‘Your majesty, I pray to heaven you may prosper with unending good fortune. Everything here brings me happiness but I am tortured by this one thought, that my declining years make long enjoyment of your kindness impossible for me.’

Book VI.6.31
contains a reference not to torture per se but an experience being as like it

The woods crackled as they burned, and the parts that the soldiers had not fired ignited as well and started to consume everything near them. The barbarians tried to escape their agonizing torture if the flames died down anywhere, but wherever the fire had left a passage stood their enemy.


Here are my observations based on the above quotations. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section

  • Curtius uses the word ‘torture’ and its variants in a different way on all but one occasion. Here is my break down
    • 1 reference to torture being carried out (IV.8.10-11)
    • 2 reference to torture used as a metaphor (IV.10.27, VI.5.3)
    • 1 reference to the threat of torture (IV.10.30-33)
    • 1 reference to a willingness to undergo it to prove a cause (IV.10.30-33)
    • 1 reference to the fear of torture (V.3.12)
    • 1 reference to torture having been carried out (V.5.5-6)
    • 1 reference to another experience being like torture (VI.6.31)
  • Perhaps ironically, the reference to torture being carried out (IV.8.10-11) has hardly any impact at all. This is because Curtius makes no mention at all of what was done to Aristonicus and Ersilaus of Methymna et al before they died.
  • IV.10.30-33 and IV.8.10-11 show that torture was regarded as an acceptable part of the interrogation process and punishment for convicted criminals in the Macedon/Near East and Persia respectively
  • V.5.5-6 suggests that in Persia torture was not confined to the legal process but that prisoners-of-war (perhaps anyone under the control of another person?) could be tortured if the master so wished it
  • VI.6.31 is definitely uncomfortable to read but makes too little impact due to the impersonal nature of the passage. It is hard to get emotionally invested in the fate of a people described only as ‘the barbarians’.
  • V.5.5-6 also lacks names but at least we know the nationality of the people concerned. For me, this is the most horrible passage for although Curtius does not describe the actual torture, we see very clearly the result of it.
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Sex and the Country

The Nature of Curtius
Book Six Chapters 1-5
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter One
Sparta’s Last Hurrah
The lacuna that brought Book Five to a halt covers the start of Book Six. As a result, we miss the opening of the Battle of Megalopolis*, which was fought between Antipater and Agis of Sparta in 331 B.C. In lieu of that, here is what I wrote about Diodorus’ account of the battle. What remains of Curtius’ account contains no topographical references.

* And, of course, any part of the narrative that Curtius may have included before it

Chapter Two
After tarrying in an unnamed location, Alexander marched into Parthia. Where had he been before hand? The map provided with my copy of Curtius’ History suggests Mardia. When he meets the Mardians in Chapter Five below, however, having ‘penetrated the furthest reaches of Hyrcania’ I assume Alexander has either backtracked or these Mardians are out of place.

Curtius does not give us much information about Parthia (which he calls Parthiene) other than to say that it is a ‘level and fertile area…  occupied by… Scythians’. Alexander made his way to the city of Hecatompylos (Diodorus’ Hecatontapylus) where a rumour spread in the Macedonian camp that they were going home.

Chapter Three
Catalogue of Victories
As the men packed up their bags, Alexander had to  summon his best rhetoric in order to persuade them to follow him east. He did so by first reminding them of the people and places they had conquered* (deep breath):-

Illyrians, Triballians, Boeotia, Thrace, Sparta, Achaeans, the Peloponnese, Ionia, Aeolis, Caria, Lydia, Cappadocia, Phrygia, Paphlagonia, Pamphylia, Pisidia, Cilicia, Syria, Phoenicia, Armenia, Persia, the Medes and Parthia.

Once that was done, Alexander then reminded the men that the people they had conquered had still to be broken. And the people they had not yet conquered would stab them in the back the minute they turned for home.

* Alexander’s exact words are places that had been ‘subdued under my direct leadership or by campaigns conducted under my orders or instructions’. Alexander himself never conquered Sparta – there was no need to as it did not pose a threat – and as far as I am aware, Antipater did not go to war against King Agis on Alexander’s ‘orders or instructions’. He did so because he needed to
Also, I can’t help but notice that he did not include Egypt in his list. I wonder why?

Chapter Four
A Rich Country
The rhetoric did its job and the men told Alexander ‘to lead them wherever he wished’.

Close to the Parthia-Hyrcania border, Alexander set up camp. He did so near a ‘dense, shady grove of tall trees’. The land was fertile here, being nourished by the streams that fell from the surrounding cliffs.

Curtius tells us of the Ziobetis River, which has its source ‘at the foot of the [nearby?] mountains’. After being split in two by a rock the river runs more aggressively before diving underground for 300 stades. When it reappears, it returns to being one channel until joining another river called the Rhidagnus.

Alexander learnt from natives that if you throw something in to the hole where the Ziobetis disappears underground, it will appear again at the opening. To test this, he threw in two horses. Sure enough, their bodies duly appeared at the opening. Pooh sticks, the Alexander way.

While at the border camp, Alexander received a letter from Nabarzanes in which he declared his wish to surrender. The king accepted it. Afterwards, he began his march to Hyrcania.

At first, Alexander moved cautiously. The ‘belligerent temper of the natives and the lie of the land’ made it awkward territory to cross.

Curtius informs us of a valley that travels as far as the Caspian Sea, where it ends in a crescent shaped piece of land. The Caspian, he says, is ‘less salty than other seas [and] has a population of huge serpents… its fish are very differently coloured from other fish’.

‘To the north’, he continues, the Caspian ‘covers the coastal area’. Finally, Curtius notes that some people call the Caspian the Hyrcanian Sea while others say that the Palus Maeotis (the sea of Azov) ‘drains into it’. Against this, other people believe that the waters which cause the aforementioned coastal area to be flooded come from India rather than the Caspian.

Passing the Caspian Sea by, Alexander took ‘a virtually impassable track overhung by forest’ along which ‘torrents and floods’ travelled. Unsurprisingly, he was unchallenged by any hostile natives and eventually came to cultivated land.

Curtius says that this land ‘produces plentiful quantities of all provisions’ and that the soil ‘is particularly suited to viticulture’. I bet the Macedonians appreciated that. There was also an oak-like tree that had ‘leaves thickly coated with a honey’ which had to be collected before daybreak as the sun made the sap evaporate.

Chapter Five
Alexander was well into his march across Hyrcania when Artabazus surrendered himself and his sons to him. Artabazus was 95 years old. Rather than embarrass the old man by walking while Artabazus rode his horse, Alexander had his own brought up and mounted it.

Sometimes, Alexander does things that you think ‘that was very good of him’ but you also wonder ‘did he do that for an ulterior motive?’. I am thinking of his attitude to women here, especially as Plutarch outlines it. This time, however, Alexander had no need to mount his horse. He did it purely out of respect. Not only does this show that he was a respectful man but also that it is worth giving him the benefit of the doubt when the question of his motive comes up elsewhere.

In the last post, we saw how Alexander led a brief campaign against the Mardians. Now, he does so again. They were ‘a culturally backward’ people who ‘had failed to send ambassadors’ to him. In other words, they had failed to submit to him.

Alexander led a small detachment out to bring the Mardians to heel. Upon his arrival in their land, they fled to the interior of Mardia (?). Alexander pursued them but found the going tough, for the interior ‘was enclosed by mountain ridges, tall forests and impassable cliffs’.

The Mardians may have been primitive but they knew how to make the country work for them. For example, they grew trees close by one other, wound their branches together and knotted them before putting them into the ground to grow again.

It’s not clear to me whether the branches were broken off or still attached to the trees, but whichever it was, they grew anew and ‘with even greater vigour’. This created a very simple and effective barrier that could not easily be cut down.

Alexander chased the Mardians to woods, which he then surrounded, with the intention of finding a way in to attack his enemy. Before he could do so, however, the natives took advantage of the Macedonians’ ignorance of the country to carry out some successful sorties. During one, they captured not only some men but Bucephalas as well.

Curtius does not give Bucephalas’ history. Instead, he says only that the horse was prized ‘above all other animals’ by the king. He also states that Bucephalas ‘would not allow another man to sit on him’ and that, when Alexander wished to mount him, ‘he would of his own accord bend his knees to receive him’.

Furious at Bucephalas’ loss, Alexander issued a Return Him or Else ultimatum. The thieves wisely chose the former option, with added gifts for good measure. But the king was not placated, and he ordered ‘the woods to be felled and for earth to be hauled from the mountains and heaped on the flat ground’. It appears his intention was not to break through the barriers but rise above them, using the earth as a siege tower.

Seeing this, the Mardians surrendered.

Alexander moved on to Hyrcania city where he received Nabarzanes’ surrender.

Alexander’s last action in Hyrcania was to entertain Thalestris, the queen of the Amazons, whose territory lay on ‘the plains of Themiscyra in the area of the river Thermodon’ on the opposite side of the Caspian Sea. When I say ‘entertain’ I mean, of course, in the sexual sense as Thalestris came (no pun intended) wanting to bear his child. She promised that if it were a boy, he could have it, but that if it was a girl, it would remain with her.

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