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Arrian I.17.1-12

In This Chapter
Alexander takes Sardis and Ephesus

In the days following his victory at the Battle of the Granicus River, Alexander turned to the now changed political situation in the region. With the death of Arsites, the satrapy of Hellespontine Phrygia was now vacant. He appointed an officer named Calas to the role.

Alexander’s Political Methodology
A consistent feature of Alexander’s kingship is how he dealt with conquered territories on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, as in the case of Phrygia, he appointed a Macedonian governor. On other occasions, he appointed a Persian to the role, or else let the previous governor remain in office. As we shall see with King Porus, Alexander was also content to allow kings to remain in situ – as long as, of course, they were loyal.

In light of this, we can say that Alexander did not have a philosophy of power. He was, in one sense at least, a pragmatist. Could this be the reason why he refused to change Phrygia’s tax level? After Calas was appointed satrap, Alexander confirmed that the province would be required to keep paying the same taxes as it had under Darius III.

Zeleia and Dascylium
With Phrygia taken care of, Alexander turned to Zeleia and Dascylium.

Zeleians had fought in the satrapal army. After its defeat, the city’s inhabitants fled into the mountains to escape Macedonian reprisals. Now, however, they came back down to surrender themselves. For his part, Alexander told them to go home and absolved them from blame for fighting against him – ‘he recognized that they had been forced to fight on the barbarian side’ (Arr. I.17.2). The way Arrian writes it, it looks like the Zeleians decided to surrender themselves and were then absolved. I suspect, however, that Alexander sent messengers to tell them that they were in no danger. It doesn’t make sense that they would flee and then return without any guarantee of avoiding the fate that they had tried to run away from.

Alexander’s last action before moving on from the Granicus region was to send Parmenion to Dascylium. Its Persian garrison had left the city so taking it was a formality.

Alexander marched on Sardis from the Granicus River. When he was still eight miles from it, Mithrenes, ‘commander of the citadel garrison’ (Arr. I.17.3) and the city’s civilian leaders came out to meet him. ‘Mithrenes surrendered the citadel and treasury’ (Arr. I.17.4), and the civilian leaders surrendered the city.

Alexander marched to within two miles of Sardis before sending Amyntas son of Andromenes into it to take control of the citadel. As a reward for surrendering, Alexander ‘kept Mithrenes with him in a position of honour’. He also let the Sardians – and Lydians at large – keep their traditional institutions and independence.

It is interesting to compare Alexander’s response to Sardis and Phrygia. You might have thought that being a glory seeker, he would value those who made a noble stand against him rather than those who simply gave way. Sometimes – as in the case of Porus – he did but as we see here, not always.

Why might this have been so? To paraphrase the writer, there’s a time for fighting, and a time for making peace. Alexander was a glory seeker but he was not a war monger. If he could get his way through peaceful means then he would do it. So, why was it a time for making peace rather than war? At a guess, I would say that Alexander did not want to fight again so soon after the Granicus battle; his men needed time to recover.

Once Amyntas had taken the city, Alexander entered it. He went to the citadel and was impressed by its strength. The idea of building a temple there occurred to him but while he was searching for a suitable building site, a thunder storm struck. Arrian says that the downpour took place ‘exactly where the Lydian royal palace stood’ (Arr. I.17.6). Alexander saw the will of the gods in this and acquiesced: he gave orders for the temple to be built on the site of the palace.

A Tripartite Government
Macedonian rule over Sardis was split between Pausanias (citadel) and Nicias (assessment & collection of tribute). Asander son of Philotas was given the satrapy of Lydia.

Sardis represents the first occasion in Arrian that we see Alexander splitting authority in one place between more than one person. The most famous example of this happening is in Egypt. The likely reason he did so there is because Egypt was too big and too powerful (in terms of wealth and defence capabilities) to be given to one person. Perhaps Sardis was the same: as we saw above, Alexander recognised the strength of the citadel.

Further Orders
Arrian notes that Alexander sent Calas, the new satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, and Alexander son of Aëropus to ‘Memnon’s territory’ (Arr. I.17.8) with a number of troops. Alexander son of Aëropus was a man lucky to be alive: ‘[h]is brothers, Heromenes and Arrhabaeus, were both executed for their alleged complicity in the ‘plot’ to assassinate Philip II’ (Heckel, p.19). Following Philip’s death, the son of Aëropus (who we also call Alexander Lyncestis) was the first to declare Alexander III ‘king’. This probably saved his life. Unfortunately, he subsequently either turned against Alexander or was set up. Either way, he was arrested, and after being held under arrest for some time, executed in the aftermath of the Philotas affair.

Upon hearing the result of the Battle of the Granicus River, the Persian garrison in Ephesus – which was comprised of mercenary troops – fled. With them went Amyntas son of Antiochus. He was a man used to being on the run, having fled Macedon in order to get away from Alexander. Why? Arrian tells us that Alexander hadn’t hurt him but that Amyntas simply disliked or hated the king and ‘thought it would be an indignity to meet with any unpleasant reprisal from him’ (Arr. I.17.9).

Alexander hurried towards Ephesus, reaching it after three days. The city immediately fell into his hands. Alexander allowed those Ephesians who had been forced into exile for supporting him to return. He abolished the city’s oligarchy, instituted a democracy, and ordered that taxes should now be paid to the temple of Artemis.

The oligarchs had ruled Ephesus badly. Arrian records that as well as inviting the Persian army into the city, they had,

… plundered the sanctuary of Artemis… pulled down the statue of Philip [of Macedon] in the sanctuary and dug up the grave of Heropythus, the liberator of the city…

Arrian I.17.11

Retribution against the oligarchs was swift and bloody. It got so bad that Alexander had to step in to prevent further bloodshed – especially against the innocent. Arrian concludes this chapter by saying,

No other action won Alexander as much credit as his handling of Ephesus at this time.

Arrian 1.17.12)

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Plutarch’s Women: Olympias of Epirus (Chapt. 1-3)

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A Quick Preliminary

Plutarch’s life of Alexander is not a history but a character study. For this series of posts I am going read Plutarch’s Life chapter by chapter to see what – if anything – he has to say about the character of the women Alexander met and knew.
To keep the word count of each post at a reasonable (I hope) level I will discuss each appearance by a woman in the narrative individually, as and when I come to it.
Finally, and just for the record, I am reading Plutarch’s life of Alexander in the revised edition of Penguin Books Age of Alexander, translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert and Timothy E. Duff.
Olympias of Epirus

As is well known, women are the fairer sex. In past times they have also been called the weaker. But while this may be true in terms of out-and-out physical strength it certainly isn’t in terms of the intellect and/or will. Olympias’ life bears witness to the truth of this.
Plutarch mentions Alexander’ mother on the very first page of his Life. He describes how Alexander’s father, Philip II, fell in love with Olympias during their initiation into the Mysteries of Samothrace. Olympias was an orphan so Philip had to obtain the consent of her brother, Arybbas, in order to marry her.
The night before the newly-weds consummated their marriage, Olympias had a dream in which her womb was struck by a thunderbolt. A ‘blinding flash’ followed from which a sheet of flame emerged and spread out ‘far and wide’ before fading away. ‘Some time’ after the wedding, Philip had his own dream. In it, he sealed Olympias’ womb using a seal engraved with the figure of a lion.
Most of Philip’s soothsayers thought that his dream was a warning to keep a close eye on his wife. Why? Plutarch doesn’t actually say but one doesn’t need to be Herr Freud to guess the answer. Only one said otherwise. Aristander, who would go on to have an illustrious career in Alexander’s court, said that it portended the birth of a powerful son.
It looks like Philip sided with Aristander for Plutarch gives no indication that he took any action against his suspect wife. Sadly, however, his love for her did eventually cool down. According to Plutarch it happened after Philip found his wife in bed with a snake stretched out beside her. Plutarch says Philip feared that Olympias would cast an ‘evil spell’ on him or was the consort of some higher being’.
What was going on? Well, in Plutarch’s words, Olympias was an initiate of the all female ‘Orphic religion’ which ‘engaged in the orgiastic rites of Dionysus’. At this point, you would do well to stop thinking that this religion involved lots of sex. Well, for all I know, it did, but it also involved initiates entering into a possessed Dionysiac state – something that Olympias did ‘with even wilder abandon’ than her fellow cult members and consorting with snakes. The sight of these snakes emerging from ivy wreaths or twining round the initiates’s (women’s) wands ‘terrified the male spectators’.
Upon seeing his wife in bed with a snake Philip sent a messenger to Delphi to ask what the sight meant. The oracle replied that the snake was a god – Zeus-Ammon. Philip was told to sacrifice to this Greek-Egyptian deity and revere above all other gods.
Before continuing, let’s pause for a moment to consider what we have and haven’t read. What we have read is, very likely, Argead propaganda designed to convince people of Alexander’s divine parentage. What we haven’t read is anything that tells us what Olympias herself was like. All we can surmise from the opening chapters of Plutarch’s narrative is that she was very religious and that’s it.
Or is it? Plutarch continues,

According to Eratosthenes, Olympias when she sent Alexander on his way to lead his great expedition to the East, confided to him and to him alone the secret of his conception and urged him to show himself worthy of his divine parentage. But other authors maintain that she repudiated this story and used to say, ‘Will Alexander never stop making Hera jealous of me?’

The reason I mention this passage is that, apart from the fact that it confirms Olympias’ religiosity, it also – in my opinion, anyway – speaks to her humility. It tells me that Olympias was a woman who respected – no doubt, feared – the gods deeply and was concerned lest her son’s successes cause them to bring their wrath down on her.
This post is not about rehabilitating Olympias’ character but if I can find anything that shows she was not, or rather more than the proud, ruthless schemer of Oliver Stone’s film then I am very happy to mention it. People are always more complex in real life than on the silver screen and we – I – definitely need to remember that.
The third chapter ends with an account of Alexander’s birth, placing it on the same day as the destruction of Artemis’ temple at Ephesus (20th July 356 B.C.). Plutarch refers to a writer named Hegesias of Magnesia who said the temple burned down because Artemis had left it to attend Alexander’s birth. If nothing else, Hegesias wins plaudits for a fine show of sycophancy!
Before finishing, I would like to go back to the matter of Olympias’ religion. Plutarch says that she followed the same ‘observances’ as the women who lived around Mount Haemus (in Thrace). Twenty years after his birth, Alexander would cross the Haemus on his way to subdue the Triballians and Getae – I wonder if he met any women who had danced with his mother all those years ago and what he thought of them.

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