Posts Tagged With: Athens

Shields and Public Shaming

The Global Times frames an article on Europe’s future within the context of Macedon’s and Greece’s past. It writes,

In the 4th century BC Macedonia, a Greek-speaking kingdom of Northern Greece, under the leadership of Phillip II, set out to unify the Mediterranean world. Macedonia’s quest for hegemonic stability brought it into a direct conflict with old established Hellenic powers like Thebes, Sparta and most of all Athens.

The ancient Macedonians did not speak Greek. As I understand it, their tongue was a Greek dialect (which could not be understood by the Greeks).

During Philotas’ trial, Alexander asks Parmenion’s son if he will give his defence using his ‘native language’. When Philotas replies that he will speak Greek, Alexander uses this to score a nationalist point against him (see Curtius VI.9.34-36). Ironically, the reason why Philotas decides to use Greek is because he wants more people to understand him.

Rather than use the word ‘unify’, which for me suggests that Philip wanted to make all peoples equal under his rule, I would say simply that he wanted to conquer them. I have to admit here I am no expert on Philip’s foreign policy so what I say could be wide of the mark; however, I don’t get the impression that Philip was an idealist. He was in the business of winning power. Had he lived longer, maybe that would have changed – we’ll never know.

Macedon never came ‘into direct conflict’ with Sparta. In fact, both Philip II and Alexander left the Spartans alone. Not because they were afraid of the Lacedaemonians but because the latter were militarily and politically irrelevent. There was simply no need to waste time subduing them.

The article concludes

Germany must lead Europe without being hubristic toward other EU states. When Alexander the Great, Phillips’s heir, won his first battle against Persia, he dedicated his triumph to Athens and adorned the Parthenon with the shields of the Persian generals.

The exact truth of this statement depends upon which of the sources you read and trust.

Plutarch (Life of Alexander 16) states that the Macedonian king sent 300 shields (‘captured from the enemy’) to Athens. He writes

… over the rest of the spoils he had this proud inscription engraved: Alexander, the son of Philip, and the Greeks except the Spartans won these spoils of war from the barbarians who dwell in Asia’.

Arrian says that Alexander sent 300 panoplies to Athens as

… an offering to the goddess Athena… with the following inscription: Alexander, son of Philip, and the Greeks (except the Lacedaemonians) dedicate these spoils, taken from the Persians who dwell in Asia

If we follow Plutarch, the article is right to say that shields were sent, though not necessarily from ‘Persian generals’.

Was this a humble gesture on Alexander’s part? It is hard to say as Plutarch doesn’t give the king’s motive for sending them.

The article says that Alexander dedicated his victory at the Granicus to Athens. Plutarch doesn’t say this, and Arrian disagrees. He states that the panoplies were sent as ‘an offering to… Athena’. That makes sense; they were going to the Parthenon, after all.

Sending the panoplies as ‘an offering to… Athena’ sounds like a very humble gesture. However, as the notes to my Penguin Classics edition of Arrian point out, Greeks only played a small part in the Macedonian victory. And note what Alexander says about the Spartans. This inscription – and therefore the spoils – have less to do with humility, therefore, and much to do with propaganda (as my notes suggest) and public shaming. These two things are not evidence of hubris but neither are they good examples of behaviour for Germany or anyone else to follow.

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

King of Macedon

Justin’s Alexander
Book XI Chapters 1-5

Part One
Other posts in this series

According to Charles Russell Stone in From Tyrant to Philosopher-King, Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus ‘defined Alexander for many writers in England’ (p. 8) during the Mediaeval period. 

According to Stone, Justin’s influence was negative as ‘the first Roman histories to reach medieval England emphasized [Alexander’s] worst qualities and most egregious behaviour’. In this short series of posts, therefore, I thought I would look at this translation of the Epitome to see what exactly Justin said.

Chapter 1
Macedon is in turmoil. Philip II has been assassinated and his twenty year old son, Alexander, has been declared king. What hope does he have to keep his country together? The army, which he needs in order to rule, is divided between those who mourn Philip’s death and those who – having been conscripted into it – now hope that they may win their freedom.

Meanwhile, Philip’s friends are looking nervously over their shoulders. They fear a revengeful Persia, and rebellion by Greeks and barbarians in Europe alike. They believe that if all three turn against Macedon at the same time, their attack will be ‘utterly impossible to resist’.

Enter Alexander. He takes his place before a public assembly, starts to speak, and… not only calms his listeners’ nerves, and not only gives them hope for the future, but fills them with ‘favourable expectations’ for what is to come.

Justin does not quote Alexander’s speech, or put words into his mouth, but we can tell what kind of speech it was from his comments. Firstly, it was humble, for Alexander spoke with ‘modesty’. Secondly, it was restrained, for Alexander ‘reserved the further proofs of his ability for the time of action’. Thirdly, it was manipulative, for in granting ‘Macedonians relief from all burdens’ (i.e. tax breaks?), Alexander put them in mind of Philip, the beloved king they had just lost.

Chapter 2
The first hint of Alexander’s ruthlessness comes at the start of this chapter. After Philip II’s cremation, the new king ordered the murder of anyone connected to his father’s assassination. He also made sure to remove anyone who could rival his claim to the throne. Justin cites Caranus*, the son of Philip’s last wife, Cleopatra Eurydice, as being one such victim. Someone who was allowed to live, however, was Alexander Lyncestes, son of Aeropus**. His brothers (Heromenes and Arrhabaeus) were both executed for conspiracy but Alexander Lyncestes was permitted to live as he had been the first person to acclaim Alexander as king.

* Heckel in Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great asserts that Caranus did not exist

** Not Alexander the Great’s brother as Justin says

Chapter 3
Upon hearing of rebellion in Greece, Alexander marched south. He stopped first in Thessaly and,

exhorted the Thessalians to peace, reminding them of the kindnesses if (sic) shown them by his father Philip, and of his mother’s connexion with them by the family of the Aeacidae

We are used to thinking of Alexander the general but less so of Alexander the diplomat. On numerous occasions, however, he used diplomacy to win the support of his enemies. On this occasion, his plan worked to perfection. The Thessalians made him their ‘captain-General’ and gave him ‘their customs and public revenues’.

Accepting these, Alexander marched on to Athens. They had already submitted to him. Nevertheless, upon meeting their ambassadors, the king ‘severely [reproved] them for their conduct’. Most importantly, as far as Athens was concerned, he did not attack them.

Justin reports that Alexander then marched to Thebes ‘intending to show similar indulgence, if he found similar penitence’. But he did not. Once the city had been taken by force, Alexander asked his Greek allies what should be done to it. This sounds very democratic except that Alexander’s allies had all been mistreated by Thebes in the past. They were only ever going to vote for one course of action now. It’s hard not to imagine Alexander knowing this, and simply using the allies as a way of tearing down the city without getting his own hands dirty.

Chapter 4
During the deliberations, Cleadas, a representative of Thebes was permitted to speak for the survivors. He appealed to Alexander’s sense of history by pointing out that his ancestor, Herakles, had been born there and that his father had spent part of his youth in the city. Justin has nothing to say about the use of Philip but regards the mention of Herakles as an attempt to appeal to Alexander’s superstitious nature.

Neither worked and Thebes was razed. Thereafter, the land was divided up and the survivors sold into slavery. Feeling sorry for them, Athens permitted Thebans to enter their city. But Alexander had prohibited this, and he gave the city an ultimatum: War or hand over a number of generals and orators who had been leading rebels. Not only did Athens persuade Alexander not to open hostilities against them, however, but it also managed to persuade him to withdraw his demand for prisoners.

Again, we could view this as Alexander being clement but in reality it is far more likely that he let the matter go because he wanted to get on with his preparations for the war against Persia.

Chapter 5
Before leaving Macedon, Alexander completed his purge of the royal court to make sure no one rebelled against him while he was gone. Justin says that it was at this point that Attalus (uncle/guardian of Cleopatra Eurydice) was murdered.

Alexander also ‘divided’ all Argead land in Macedon and Greece between his friends, ‘saying, “that for himself Asia was sufficient.”’. On the one hand, this sounds very foolhardy. Or perhaps, brave. Why did he do it? Justin gives no clue but it is possible or likely that Alexander was actually trying to raise much needed money for his expedition.

Having rejected the Cleadas’ appeal to history, Alexander now showed his respect for it. Approaching the shore of Asia Minor, he follow in the footsteps of kings of old by throwing a ‘dart’ (i.e. a javelin) into the sand. In doing so, he symbolically claimed Asia for oneself.

Wading ashore, Alexander then turned to the gods. He sacrificed ‘praying that “those countries might not unwillingly receive him as their king.”’. More sacrifices would be carried out at Troy.

Overall Impression
Positive. It’s true, we’ve seen Alexander act manipulatively and ruthlessly but Justin does not have much to say about these moments. In fact, the first five chapters of his Epitome are largely free of comment by him. If there is a ‘stand-out’ moment it is, for me, in chapter one where he describes the outcome of Alexander’s appearance before the public assembly.

Categories: Justin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Death of Glory

The Nature of Curtius
Book Ten Chapter 1-10
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter One
The Best Laid Plans
According to Diodorus, Nearchus and Onesicritus rejoined Alexander while the latter was resting in Salmus, a seaside town in Carmania. Curtius says that the two men brought report ‘based partly on hearsay and partly on their own observation’ of an island ‘close to the river-mouth [of the Persian Gulf] which was rich in gold but without horses’ – a very practical concern. As for the sea, they said, it ‘was full of monsters [with] bodies the size of large ships’. These were only repulsed by ‘strident’ shouting.

Nearchus’ and Onesicritus’ next report was based purely on hearsay. The natives, they said, had told them that the Red Sea in India was named after King Erythus rather than because of its colour*. They added that off the (Indian?) mainland, there was an island ‘thickly planted with palm trees’ on which stood a ‘high column’ dedicated to Erythus. The island was a mysterious and dangerous place. Ships that travelled there to trade and search for gold ‘had never been seen again’.

After hearing Nearchus’ and Onesicritus’ report, Alexander told them to proceed up the Persian Gulf until they came to the Euphrates, which they should follow to Babylon.

At this point, Curtius breaks off to give Alexander’s future plans for imperial expansion. Africa was his first target, ‘because of his enmity to the Carthaginians’. After ‘crossing the Numidian deserts, he would set his course for Gades, where the pillars of Hercules were rumoured to be’. Then would come Spain and from there, Epirus.

With these plans in mind, Alexander gave the order for trees on Mt Libanus to be felled and a new fleet to be built.

The chapter ends with Alexander receiving a letter from an agent in Europe informing him that while he was in India, Zopyrion, the governor of Thrace, had been lost at sea during an expedition against the Getae. This had led another tribe, the Odrysians, to rebel. It appears there was also trouble in Greece as well but we do not know any more as the text breaks off at this point.

* Curtius first revealed this information in Book 8 Chapter 9

Chapter Two
The Mutiny at Opis
The narrative resumes with Harpalus’ flight from Babylon and his subsequent death*. Following this, Alexander issued his Exiles Decree. You can read more about it at Livius.

Curtius does not really draw a connection between the Harpalus affair and the Decree but if – as Livius suggests – it was intended as a way for Alexander to increase his control of the Greek cities it may have been inspired by the fact that before being expelled from Athens by an assembly of the people Harpalus had been welcomed by her ‘leading citizens’.

The chapter continues with the Mutiny at Opis. This arose after Alexander ordered 10,000 (according to Diodorus and Arrian) veterans to be sent home and 13,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry to be kept in Asia. Upon hearing this, the army suspected that the king intended ‘to fix the royal seat permanently in Asia’. This lead to the mutiny. The rest of the chapter covers the army’s rebellion and Alexander’s speech condemning its behaviour.

* Harpalus was a longtime friend of Alexander. Medically unfit to serve in the army, the king had made him his treasurer. But Harpalus abused his position by hiring courtesans and embezzling money. When Alexander returned from India, Harpalus feared that he would be brought to account for his crimes and so fled to Greece.

Chapter Three
The Mutiny at Opis, Cont’d
The next day, Alexander not only denied his men an audience but gathered his Persian troops together and, through an interpreter, told them they were now full members of his army. ‘Asia and Europe are now one and the same kingdom… you are both my fellow-citizens and my soldiers’. Unfortunately, the text breaks off during Alexander’s speech.

Chapter Four
Last Words
This chapter ‘begins’ with Alexander being berated (by one of the ringleaders of the revolt being led off to execution?*) for allowing the condemned men to be executed in a foreign manner and ‘by their own captives’. Alexander, however, is unswayed.

Another lacuna ends this chapter, and as the notes state, we lose a whole series of events, ranging** from ‘the arrival of Persian soldiers to replace the discharged Macedonian veterans’ to Medius’ dinner party and Alexander’s collapse.

* This is suggested by a quotation within the notes

** I should say ‘probably ranging’. As we don’t have the text we don’t know if Curtius includes all the events that the notes mention. 

Chapter Five
The Death of Alexander
After the initial ‘weeping and… beating of breasts… a still silence like that of desert wastes’ falls over the royal quarters as the Macedonians give thought to the critical question – what next?

Chapter Six
Babylon Conference Begins
The Successors meet to decide who will be their next king.

Chapter Seven
The Babylonian Conference Breaks Down
The Successors’ meeting degenerates into ‘a mutinous uproar’ between the supporters of Alexander’s brother, Arrhidaeus and those supporting the cause of Roxane’s unborn child. When Arrhidaeus’ supporters break into Alexander’s bed chamber those supporting Roxane’s child are forced to flee. They leave Babylon and head ‘towards the Euphrates’. At this point, the Macedonian army seems cleanly divided between the infantry, who support Arrhidaeus, and the senior officers/cavalry, who support Roxane’s child.

Chapter Eight
Peace Brokered
Arrhidaeus asks Perdiccas to accept Meleager (leader of the infantry faction) ‘as a third general’*. Perdiccas does so and peace between the infantry and cavalry is restored.

* After Craterus and Perdiccas

Chapter Nine
Peace Broken
Perdiccas proposes a purification ceremony to heal the wounds caused by the recent violence. The ceremony involves ‘cutting a bitch in two and throwing down her entrails on the left and right at the far end of the plain into which the army was to be led’. He then uses the ceremony to extract and execute 300 of Meleager’s supporters.

Chapter Ten
Perdiccas Divides The Empire Among the Successors
As well as accounting for who-got-what*, Curtius notes the conspiracy theories surrounding the manner of Alexander’s death. The chapter, and book, then concludes with the removal of Alexander’s body from Babylon to Memphis by Ptolemy**. Later, Curtius says, it was transferred to Alexandria ‘where every mark of respect continues to be paid to his memory and his name.’

* For more about the Division of the Empire and Wars of Successors, see this series of posts

Curtius presents Ptolemy’s action as being normal. This despite the fact that in Chapter 5, he has Alexander ask for his body to be taken to ‘Hammon’ ( – Ammon i.e. Siwah?)

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dangerous Roads: Lamia to Babylon

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 111, 112 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Origin of the Lamian War
Alexander Campaigns Against the Cossaeans
* “It won’t bring Hephaestion back” say critics
Alexander Marches to Babyon
Chaldaeans Warn: Avoid Babylon or Die
Alexander Enters Babylon

The Story
Chapter 111
As Hephaestion’s cortege makes its solemn journey to Babylon, Diodorus returns to Greece to describe the origin of the Lamian War.

The Lamian War (323 – 322 B.C.) was the first major battle to take place after Alexander’s death in June 323. It pitted Antipater and Craterus against a joint Aetolian-Athenian army. If you would like to know more about the battle itself, I wrote about it in my read-through of Robin Waterfield’s excellent book Dividing the Spoils here.

For Diodorus the origin of the Lamian War lies in the ‘disturbances and revolutionary movements’ that were taking place across Greece around this time.

These, he says, were caused by the unemployed mercenaries and rogue satraps and military officials who, after being sacked on Alexander’s orders, or having absconded from their governorships, had congregated in Taenarum and formed an army under an Athenian general named Leosthenes to oppose the Macedonian king.

Leosthenes carried out secret negotiations with Athens and gained its support to the tune of 50 talents ‘and a stock of weapons’. He also sought an alliance with Aetolia. The next step would be war.

As Leosthenes made his preparations in Greece, Alexander launched a winter campaign against the Cossaean tribe in Media. The Cossaeans were a mountain people who were ‘outstanding in valour’. That, and ‘the ruggedness of their country’ meant that they had never been conquered by the Persians.

But that record was about to come to an end. While the Cossaeans were still ignorant of the threat approaching, Alexander took control of all the roads into their country. He then launched a lightning strike against the people. Diodorus says that he ‘was superior in every engagement’. Many Cossaeans were killed and many more captured.

The Cossaean campaign took around forty days to complete. The survivors swore fealty to Alexander, and he ‘founded strong cities at strategic points and rested his army’.

Another lacuna in the manuscript appears at this point. As the beginning of the next chapter shows, however, we don’t appear to miss too much.

Chapter 112
Once his army was ready, Alexander began his march to Babylon. He walked slowly, stopping regularly. I can’t remember him doing this before. Was he trying to delay his arrival – and Hephaestion’s funeral – for as long as possible?

Diodorus says that Alexander ‘was still three hundred furlongs’ away from Babylon when Chaldaean astrologers there appointed one of their number – ‘the eldest and most experienced’ of them – to warn the king that if he entered the city, he would die. They had seen his death in ‘the configuration of the stars’. His life could be saved, however, ‘if he re-erected the tomb of Belus [Bel]’ but on no account should he enter Babylon.

Diodorus names the Chaldaean envoy as Belephantes. Either out of humility or nerves, Belephantes did not seek Alexander himself out but delivered the warning to Nearchus. He, in turn, spoke to the king.

Alexander, understandably, ‘was alarmed and more and more disturbed’ by the astrologers’ warnings. Nevertheless, it was only after ‘some hesitation’ – that he passed Babylon by (?) and set up camp two hundred furlongs away.

Alexander’s actions did not meet with Greek approval. Amongst those who tried to talk him about of his self-imposed exile was the philosopher Anaxarchus. They ‘plied [the king] with arguments drawn from philosophy’ and were so successful that not only did Alexander decide to enter Babylon after all but came to hate the all ‘prophetic arts’, especially the Chaldaeans’.

One can only imagine what the Chaldaeans thought as they watched Alexander ride towards the royal palace. The population, however, were very happy at the return of the king. They received the Macedonian troops ‘hospitably’. Woes were forgotten and ‘all turned their attention to relaxation and pleasure’.

Citing Plutarch, the Footnotes state that Alexander’s Cossaean campaign ‘was intended to solace Alexander’s grief for the death of Hephaestion’. To us, this seems very odd. In a warrior culture, however, it would have made perfect sense.

The story of the Chaldaeans forecasting Alexander’s death is a very intriguing one.

On the one hand, it has every appearance of a tale inserted into a narrative after the event in order to give meaning to it.

On the other, even if one doesn’t believe that it is possible to tell the future using astrology, maybe the story did happen just not in the way that it is presented. In other words, the priests got lucky. Astrology doesn’t work, but by pure coincidence, the stars arranged themselves in such a way as to fit the Chaldaeans’ criteria for the death of a monarch.

Dangerous Roads
Gentle Friendships

Alexander & Hephaestion: Mieza to Elysium

This picture is from the Folio Society’s illustrated edition of Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Fall of Harpalus

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 108 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Army Camps Outside Susa: War to Follow?
New Army is Loyal
* Alexander’s Persian Masterplan
Harpalus: A life Soaked in Blood, Money and Bodily Fluids
Harpalus Flees, Thibron Sees, the Satrap Dies in Crete

The Story
Alexander was still in Susa when an army comprising of 30,000 Persians arrived outside the city. They were not a rebel force but new recruits, the next generation of Alexander’s army.

Did Alexander want to create the largest army the world had ever seen? Not quite. Diodorus recalls how the Macedonian army mutinied at the Hyphasis River (see Comments below). He also tells us that the army was ‘frequently unruly when called into an Assembly and ridiculed Alexander’s pretence that Ammon was his father’.

The Persian recruits were, therefore, Alexander’s attempt to create a new unit of men, one which would serve ‘as a counter-balance to the Macedonian phalanx’. A more loyal counter-balance, one might say.

The new unit wore Macedonian armour and carried the same weaponry. Alexander met his new soldiers outside the city and watched with satisfaction as they demonstrated ‘their skill and discipline in the use of their weapons’.

From the new to the old – Diodorus cuts to an account of the fall of Alexander’s lifelong friend, Harpalus.

After capturing Babylon, Alexander appointed Harpalus satrap of the region. When the king entered India, Harpalus assumed he would never return, and so ‘gave himself up to comfortable living’. Does this mean that to begin with Harpalus governed Babylonia wisely (even if just out of fear of the consequences if he didn’t)?

This ‘comfortable living’ involved

  • ‘the abuse of women’
  • ‘illegitimate amours with the natives’
  • Squandering ‘much of the treasure under his control on incontinent pleasure’

By way of an example, Diodorus cites the occasion that Harpalus had ‘a great quantity of fish’ brought to him ‘all the long way from the Red Sea’. He pursued ‘an extravagant way of life’ that led many people to criticise him.

Harpalus responded to this criticism in the only way he knew how – he brought to Babylon ‘the most dazzling courtesan of the day’, a woman named Pythonicê. While she lived, he treated her like a queen. When she died, ‘he gave her a magnificent funeral and erected over her grave a costly monument’.

Perhaps the knowledge of grief would mellow Harpalus? Not a bit of it. Out with the old and in with the new. Pythonicê was replaced by another courtesan named Glycera.

Harpalus was licentious, violent and a thief but he was not stupid. Although he did not expect Alexander to return from the east, he knew how fickle fortune could be. With that in mind, ‘he established himself a place of refuge by benefactions to the Athenians’.

One day, bad news came. Alexander was on his way. Worse yet, he was executing ‘many of the satraps’ who had abused their power.

Harpalus stole 5,000 silver talents from the treasury, ‘enrolled six thousand mercenaries’ in his own private army and set off for Attica.

Things took a further turn for the worst, however, when the Attic cities refused to let him in. Harpalus now sent his troops to Taenarum (southern Sparta), while he made his way to Athens. Surely his past generosity would oblige them to help him in his hour of need?

Unfortunately, Harpalus’ corrupt behaviour had made him two very powerful enemies and even inspired them – for perhaps the first and only time in their lives – to work together in order to bring him to justice. ‘Antipater and Olympias demanded [Harpalus’] surrender’. It seems that some Athenians spoke up for him but it was no good. Harpalus was forced to flee lest he be turned over to the viceroy and queen mother. He came to Taenarum’ where he rejoined his troops.

From Taenarum, Harpalus and his men sailed to Crete. And there, Thibron, ‘one of his Friends’, killed him.

Back in Athens, an audit of Harpalus’ money (I presume the money that he gave to the city?) was carried out. Several leading figures, including Demosthenes, were found guilty of having accepted it. Diodorus does not reveal what happened to them after their conviction.

I have made a silent correction in the second paragraph. Diodorus actually says that the ‘Macedonians… mutinied when ordered to cross the Ganges River’ but we know from the other Alexander historians that the mutiny took place at the Hyphasis River.

Diodorus is a bit free and easy with his river names (just as he is with the location of the rivers). For example, in Chapter 93 he says that Alexander ‘advanced to the Hyphasis River’. A few lines later, he has the king ask Phegus what lies ‘beyond the Indus River’.

As the Indus River lies some distance behind the Hyphasis the reference to it here is plainly a mistake. The same applies to the Ganges, which is ‘some distance’ ahead of the Hyphasis.

I’m sure ‘incontinent pleasure’ does not mean what I imagine it to mean but the translator/Diodorus could have chosen a better phrase to describe Harpalus’ dissolute lifestyle.

If nothing else, Harpalus must be congratulated for being the only man to ever bring Antipater and Olympias together. The Footnotes call their alliance ‘odd’ but I think it makes perfect sense. Olympias would want Harpalus’ head because he had betrayed her son. Antipater would want it (a) because, yes, Harpalus had betrayed the king but particularly (b) because if Olympias demanded Harpalus’ surrender, he could hardly stay quiet without his own loyalty being questioned.

In a way, this reminds me of the way Philotas failed to report the conspiracy against Alexander. He didn’t because he didn’t take it seriously. If Antipater had given the same reason for not demanding Harpalus’ surrender he would have made Greece a haven for any satrap who disobeyed Alexander and thus run the risk of having his loyalty called into question. Unlike Philotas, Antipater did what needed to be done.

Macedonian Film Festival

We Need To Talk About Harpalus
A boy turns into a sociopath and ruins many lives before being caught

“It’ll massacre the opposition – at the theatre”
“When Thibron kills Harpalus, he steals the show as well as the money”
“Men want to avoid him, so do women except for courtesans.”

Who was the worst satrap – Harpalus or Cleomenes?

Vote Now, Die Tomorrow if either catch up with you.

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Athens’ Dilemma

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 15, 16 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Demands Athenian Opponents Be Handed Over To Him
Assembly Meets to Consider Response
The Ten Must be Helped – Demades
Alexander Climbs Down From Demand
Fabulous Feast in Macedon

The Story
After razing Thebes, Alexander sent ambassadors to Athens ‘to demand the surrender of ten political leaders who had opposed his interest’. Diodorus names two of them as being Demosthenes and Lycurgus (who, you may recall, condemned Lysicles after he lead the joint Athenian-Boeotian force to defeat at the Battle of Chaeronea).

Once the Athenian assembly had heard Alexander’s demand it was ‘plunged into deep distress and perplexity’. The assembly members wanted ‘to uphold the honour of their city’ but feared that Thebes’ fate might become their own.

The assembly debated how it should respond to Alexander. One of the men to speak was Phocion. Diodorus mentions him in Chapter 74 of Book XVI when he states that Phocion ‘defeated and expelled Cleitarchus, the tyrant of Eretria who had been installed by Philip’. We may say, then, that he had form for being anti-Macedonian.

On this occasion, however, Phocion argued that Alexander’s demand should be met. To those who believed otherwise – on the grounds that to hand over the ten men would mean death for them – Phocion said that ‘the men demanded should remember the daughters of Leos and Hyacinthus and gladly endure death so that their country would suffer no irremediable disaster’. This was not what the assembly wished to hear, though, and Phocion was driven from the stand with great force.

Demosthenes now stood up to speak. Using his most honeyed words, he won the assembly to his side. From what Diodorus says next it appears that Demosthenes did not rely on his oratory to win the day. ‘[I]t is reported’, he begins, that Demosthenes’ supporters bribed Demades with five silver talents to adopt a ‘subtly worded’ decree in defence of the ten. It worked. The decree was passed and a delegation – including Demades – sent to Alexander.

The mission was a total success. Indeed, the delegates even managed to persuade Alexander to let Athens take in Theban fugitives. Diodorus says that Demades ‘achieved all his objectives by the eloquence of his words’. I have no doubt, though, that Alexander really didn’t care that much about Athens. He just wanted to get things wrapped up so that he could return to Macedon and start planning his war against the Persian empire.

Which brings us neatly to Chapter 16. After making his return to Macedon, Alexander discussed with his ‘military commanders and… noblest Friends’ when the expedition should start and how should it be conducted.

Antipater and Parmenion – Alexander’s two most senior officers – told the king that he should delay crossing the Hellespont until he had produced an heir. ‘[B]ut Alexander was eager for action… It would be a disgrace, he pointed out, for one who had been appointed by Greece to command the war, and who had inherited his father’s invincible forces, to sit at home celebrating a marriage and awaiting the birth of children’.

Following the debate, Alexander ‘made lavish sacrifices to the gods at Dium’ and ‘held… dramatic contests in honour of Zeus and the Muses’. They took place over nine days. During that time, Alexander feasted in a tent that could hold a hundred couches. Sacrificial animals ‘and all else suitable for the festive occasion’ were distributed among the Macedonian army putting it ‘in a fine humour’ and ready, no doubt, to go fighting.

Let’s get to the important business first – Alexander’s party. Nine days and of ‘great magnificence’. No wonder he was nearly broke when he arrived in Asia Minor! Still, what a party it must have been. How much did Alexander eat and drink, I wonder? Not enough that he forgot how to prepare his army for what lay ahead. Smart man.

Back in Athens – the idea that Demosthenes might have bribed Demades is very interesting as it shows (I think) how much pressure he felt under. He must really have felt that his life was on the line.

Was his five silver talents money well spent? I’m not so sure – Alexander gave way to the Athenian requests ever so easily. Like I said above, I don’t think he particularly cared about Athens. He had bigger fish to fry (which he probably did at his party).

I don’t know what Parliaments around the world are like, but our one (that is to say, the House of Commons in Britain) can be a very childish place at times – especially at Prime Minister’s Questions, when the MPs seem more interested in scoring points off one another than asking serious questions. Even when the Commons is at its worst, however, I don’t recall any minister or MP being forcibly removed from the Despatch Box like Phocion was. We give Athens a great deal of credit for introducing democracy but the assembly’s treatment of him shows that the behaviour of those lucky enough to be its members left a lot to be desired.

Macedonian Humour
Did you hear the one about the amphora of wine that didn’t get drunk at Alexander’s party? No, I didn’t either.
Knock, Knock. Who’s there? Alexander. Not Alexander of Lyncestis by any chance? No, Alexander III now make an alliance with me or I’ll kill all of you.
Talk is cheap. Unless you’re Demosthenes, in which case it costs a small fortune.


Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Fall of Thebes

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 8, 9, 11-14 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

Alexander Dead: Exclusive Report
[Correction: In yesterday’s paper we reported that Alexander III, son of Philip II had died; this has been proved incorrect by the sight of him outside our city. The man responsible for this unfortunate error has been executed]
Thebes Falls: Many Dead, Captured
Demosthenes’ Swords: A Futile Gesture by a Worthless Man – Comment by Aeschines

The Story
After our detour into Asia Minor yesterday we return to Greece and her neighbours today. At the beginning of Chapter 8, Diodorus explains that upon subduing the Greek city-states, Alexander entered Thrace to deal with the tribes there who had risen up against him. Once that had been done, he marched west to Paeonia and Illyria. He was still fighting there when he received word ‘that many of the Greeks were in revolt’. If I read Diodorus correctly, Alexander immediately broke off his Paeonian/Illyrian campaign and headed south to confront his new enemies.

Diodorus focuses his narrative on Thebes. Determined to recover their freedom, the Thebans put the Macedonian garrison in the Cadmeia under siege. They built ‘deep trenches and heavy stockades’ to ensure that no ‘reinforcements [or] supplies’ could be taken in. Messengers were sent to other Greek cities – Diodorus names Arcadia, Argos and Elis – to ask for their help. An appeal was also sent to Athens.

For his part, Demosthenes sent weaponry to Thebes. However, while various cities sent soldiers, these did not enter the city but hung back to see which way the war with Macedon went.

When Alexander arrived at the city, the Thebans held a vote to determine how to proceed. The hawks got their way and the council voted unanimously to fight. Outside the city gates, Alexander made no move. He could not imagine that ‘a single city would… dare to match forces’ with his army. Diodorus says that the king had 30,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry ‘all battle-seasoned veterans’.

In Diodorus’ opinion, had the Thebans come to terms with Alexander, the king would have let the city have whatever it wanted because he was more interested in beginning his war against the Persian Empire. Sadly, ‘… he realized that he was despised by the Thebans, and so decided to destroy the city utterly…’

The Destruction of Thebes

Phase 1 Alexander invited any Theban who wished to ‘enjoy the peace… common to all the Greeks’ to leave their city and join him. The Thebans retorted ‘that anyone who wished to join the Great King and Thebes in freeing the Greeks and destroying the tyrant of Greece should come over to them’.

Phase 2 Being called a tyrant angered Alexander intensely. Diodorus says that he ‘flew into a towering rage’. He began building siege engines and preparing for battle.

Phase 3 After only three days preparation, Alexander was ready to begin his assault of Thebes. He divided his army into three divisions:

  • One to attack the palisades in front of the city
  • One ‘to face the Theban battle line’
  • One to be kept in reserve

The Thebans set up the defence of their city in this way:

  • Cavalry were stationed behind the palisades
  • Enfranchised slaves, refugees and resident aliens were placed at the city walls
  • Thebans were stationed in between the palisades and city walls to fight the Macedonians about Alexander

Phase 4 The battle cry went up and the Macedonian army approached the city. Both sides showered each other with missiles.

Phase 5 Hand-to-hand fighting followed the deadly rainfall. The Macedonians fought in phalanx formation. Diodorus says that while the Macedonians were numerically superior, the Thebans were stronger due to their ‘constant training in the gymnasium’.

The battle was long and bloody. The Macedonians were encouraged to ‘not… be unworthy of their previous exploits’ while the Thebans were reminded of the parents, wives and children whose lives depended on them. Great play was also made of Thebes’ past military successes, for example, at the Battle of Leuctra and Mantineia.

Phase 6 ‘At length Alexander saw that the Thebans were still fighting unflinchingly… but that his Macedonians were wearying’. He brought his reserve into the attack. This move reaped immediate results and many Thebans were killed.

Phase 7 And yet, the city was not ready to surrender itself into Alexander’s hands. Theban soldiers shouted that the Macedonians were ‘openly’ confessing to be their inferiors. Indeed, Diodorus suggests that they drew strength from having to fight the fresh Macedonian soldiers.

Phase 8 As the battle raged, Alexander noticed a postern gate ‘that had been deserted by its guards’. He ordered Perdiccas to break into the city through it. He and ‘a large detachment of troops’ broke the gate down and entered the city without being seen.

Phase 9 Once the Thebans realised that their defences had been compromised, they withdrew into the city. Unfortunately, their retreat was disorganised. Cavalrymen trampled over infantry before, in their haste to escape the Macedonians, falling off their horses and onto their swords.

Phase 10 At the same time as the Thebans were retreating, the Macedonian garrison in the Cadmeia broke out and fell upon the enemy. The Thebans’ disorder allowed the garrison soldiers to carry out ‘a great slaughter’ of men.

Phase 11 The fight for Thebes was violent even by the standards of the time. Diodorus informs us that the Macedonian army was ‘enraged’ by the Theban proclamation (phase two, above). They yelled curses and slew ‘all whom they met without sparing any’. Despite the wrath being visited upon them, the Thebans continued to defend their city. None would be ever seen ‘begging the Macedonians to spare his life’ and neither ‘did they in ignoble fashion fall and cling to the knees of their conquerers’.

Phase 12 As the Macedonian army rampaged through the city, all her buildings were pillaged and ‘[e]verywhere boys and girls were dragged into captivity as they wailed piteously the names of their mothers’. ‘[C]hildren and women and aged persons who had fled into the temples were torn from sanctuary and subjected to outrage without limit’

It is worth remembering that the Macedonian army did not fight the Thebans alone. Diodorus says that other Greeks did so alongside them; he names Thespians, Plataeans and Orchomenians as well as some others. In the Footnotes, we learn that, Justin added Phocians to that list. Conversely, Plutarch and Arrian only name the Phocians and Plataeans.

6,000+ Thebans were killed in the battle.
30,000+ Thebans were captured and sold into slavery (earning Alexander 440 talents of silver).

Once the battle was over, Alexander buried the Macedonian dead – over 500 in number. He then held a meeting with the representatives of the Greek cities in his army to discuss what should be done with Thebes itself. Now was the time for score settling. Destroy it, some of the representatives said; after all, Thebes allied herself to Persia during the Greek Wars. Other reasons were also given but Diodorus does not name them. A vote was taken and it was agreed that the city should be razed to the ground. Here is what the meeting decided:

  • Raze Thebes
  • Sell all prisoners
  • Outlaw Theban exiles from Greece
  • Prohibit all Greeks from sheltering Thebans

Diodorus covers Alexander’s Thracian campaign in a matter of lines. Fortunately, Arrian is on hand to tell us more about it in the first chapter of his account of Alexander’s life. I wonder why Diodorus treats it so briefly. Did he not regard it as being important? Was that why he wrote only briefly about the Battle of Chaeronea?

Something else that Diodorus fails to tell us much (actually, anything) about is why the Thebans revolted. Again, Arrian fills in the gaps. According to him, an anti-Macedonian party managed to persuade the Thebans that Alexander had died.

With friends like these… Nothing says cynical more than the actions of the Greek cities who sent soldiers to Thebes’ aid presumably with orders not to actually enter the city until they knew which way the fight was going. Diodorus makes no issue of this rather unsatisfactory state of affairs so I suppose it was an accepted part of ‘helping’ your neighbour back then, but really; no one could have liked it, could they?

Reading Diodorus’ account of the fight for Thebes has not been the easiest experience. By modern standards, it was a very nasty affair, indeed. Credit has to go to the Thebans for fighting so well. On a different occasion, perhaps Alexander would have treated them more leniently afterwards. If only they had not insulted him.

Perdiccas at the postern gate reminds me of an incident much later on in Alexander’s career, which I have been reading about lately. During his Sogdian campaign, Alexander laid siege to Cyropolis. As his men assaulted the city, Alexander noticed a dry river bed running out of it. The tunnel through which the river (during winter) ran was large enough for a man to crawl through. So, that’s exactly what Alexander and a few others did. Once again, Arrian covers that story. The Footnotes here say that Perdiccas may have carried out a similar manoeuvre at Halicarnassus.

Speaking of the Footnotes, they also note that whereas Diodorus states that Perdiccas broke through the postern gate during the fighting, Arrian (citing Ptolemy as his source) says that it happened at the outset and that Perdiccas acted without Alexander’s authorisation. Ptolemy also states that Perdiccas was badly injured during the assault, which Diodorus does not. I’ve seen this incident cited as proof that Ptolemy was bad-mouthing Perdiccas, although if he was writing his book in old age he would have no need to. Could it be evidence that Ptolemy wrote his narrative between 323 – 321 B.C.?

Unintended Consequences

  • The price of slaves must have plummeted due to the sudden influx of so many onto the market
  • The cost of building a must also have decreased thanks to all the Theban rubble that was now available
  • The Greek economy must have suffered at least a little due to Thebes’ fall. It was an important city and surely contributed a great deal to the wealth of the country.
Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Greek Response to Alexander’s Accession

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 3 & 4 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

Greece Rejects Alexander’s Authority
Alexander’s Charm Offensive Wins Greek Submission
Alexander Appointed War Leader

The Story
Yesterday, we looked at what happened to Attalus after Alexander became king of Macedon. Today, we turn to Greece.

Chapter 3
Philip’s death was met with great joy. Despite having been defeated at the Battle of Chaeronea two years earlier, ‘the Athenians were not ready to concede the leading position among the Greeks to Macedon’. Given that they had the talented orator, Demosthenes, agitating against their northern rivals this is no surprise.
As we saw yesterday, Athens made common cause with Attalus. At the same time as the city was talking to him, it also ‘encouraged many of the [Greek] cities to strike for their freedom’. No wonder Alexander was ‘seriously worried’ at this time.
Restored ‘those of the Arcananians who had experienced exile because of Philip’.
Persuaded by a citizen (?) named Aristarchus to expel the Macedonian garrison in the city and adopt a democratic form of government.
Expelled the Macedonian garrison from the Cadmeia (citadel) and refused to ‘concede to Alexander the leadership of the Greeks’.
Diodorus says that ‘alone of the Greeks [Arcadia] never acknowledged Philip’s leadership nor did they now recognize (sic) that of Alexander’. The Footnotes confirm that he is confusing Arcadia with Sparta.
Peloponnese ‘… the Argives and Eleians and Lacedaemonians, with others, moved to recover their independence’.
Elsewhere Diodorus says that ‘[b]eyond the frontiers of Macedonia, many tribes moved toward revolt and a general feeling of unrest swept through the natives in that quarter’. He means, of course, the tribes of Thrace, Paeonia and Illyria. We will meet them again in the next day or two.

So, as you can see, Alexander’s reception among the Greeks was universally bad. According to Diodorus, no one at all accepted his authority. What was his response? Persuasion and diplomacy; fear, and force.

Chapter 4
Persuasion and Diplomacy

Alexander marched to Thessaly where he reminded the Thessalians ‘of his ancient relationship to them through Heracles’. He spoke ‘kindly words’ and made ‘rich promises’. Both had their desired effect and the Thessalian League duly recognised Alexander’s ‘leadership of Greece’.

After winning ‘over the neighbouring tribes similarly’, Alexander marched from Thessaly to Pylae, where he asked/made the Amphictyon League recognise him as the leader of Greece. It did.

Alexander then met Ambraciot ambassadors ‘and, addressing them in friendly fashion, convinced them that they had been only a little premature in grasping the independence that he was on the point of giving them voluntarily’. I wonder if he managed to keep a straight face while saying this.

Fear and Force
Alexander’s next destination was Boeotia and the city of Thebes. Knowing that the Thebans would not accept him as quickly as the Thessalians et al had done, he marched to their city ‘in full battle array’. The Thebans panicked. Diodorus doesn’t actually say what happened next but as the destruction of the city took place later (we will come to it in Chapter 14) we know that on this occasion the Thebans did the smart thing and made peace with the Macedonian king.

The Thebans panicked when they saw the Macedonian army outside their city. Athens did not wait until Alexander made his way to Attica before doing the same. Their panic began when they learnt that he had passed into Boeotia. Alarmed by the speed of Alexander’s advance, Athens brought all her property into the city and made plans to rebuild the city walls. Recognising her limited ability to resist, Alexander, however, the city sent envoys to Alexander to beg his forgiveness ‘for [the] tardy recognition of his leadership’.

One member of the party sent to Alexander was none other than Demosthenes. Like Attalus, though, he got cold feet and at Cithaeron turned back for home. If there is uncertainty as to why Attalus decided against challenging Alexander, there can be no doubt regarding Demosthenes volte face. It was written in all his screeds against Alexander and Philip II. There was another reason, too: Diodorus says that the orator had ‘received large sums of money’ from Darius III. He, of course, would not be happy if he heard that Demosthenes had made peace with the Macedonian king.

Having put the fear of himself into the Athenians, Alexander settled things amicably with the envoys. This allowed him to get on with the really important business of calling ‘a meeting at Corinth’ to ask the assembled Greeks to ask them to appoint him as their ‘general plenipotentiary’ and promise to join his war of revenge against Persia. This was done and he returned to Macedon.

Diplomacy is never something that I think about in relation to Alexander of Macedon but as his response to the Greek rejection of his authority shows, he knew how to charm and persuade just as much as he did to fight a battle. As I sit here writing these words, I still can’t quite believe that he did not have to resort to arms at least once during this period. Unfortunately for Thebes, he soon would, but even then, blood was only spilled after Alexander attempted to resolve the dispute diplomatically.

Something else that I never associate with Alexander is fear; Diodorus’ mention of it at the start of Chapter 3, therefore, is very notable. It reminds me that he – Alexander – did not always act quickly, either. While in Asia Minor, he vacillated a great deal over whether to confront Darius or build up his forces (Plutarch, 17).

Although it has been interesting to learn about the Greek response to Alexander’s accession, it pales next to the insight into the king’s emotional state at the start of his reign and in Asia Minor. The reason for this is obvious – it makes him a man, someone I can relate to, rather than simply The One Who Conquered All. To see Alexander as a man who tripped over from time-to-time doesn’t diminish his achievement but puts it into context and, I think, makes it all the more remarkable.

FOR SALE: A house between a rock and a hard place. Contact: Demosthenes
WANTED: A new Greek ‘pen friend’ for a Persian Great King. Prepared to Pay Handsomely
FOR SALE: A rusty sword. Contact: Any bored Macedonian soldier

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Battle of Chaeronea and Its Aftermath

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVI Para 86-88 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

Philip Defeats a Joint Athenian-Boeotian Army at Chaeronea
Demades Charms Philip
Lysicles Condemned to Death

The Story
Diodorus’ first substantive reference to Alexander comes at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 B.C.). His account of the battle itself is very brief but he does tell us that when the armies deployed, Alexander – ‘young in age but noted for his valour and swiftness of action’ – was positioned among Philip’s ‘most seasoned generals’, no doubt to learn from them as much as to fight himself.

The battle began at dawn and ‘was hotly contested for a long time’. Finally, however, the Macedonians prevailed. Unsurprisingly, the man whom Diodorus says made the difference was Alexander. Determined to show Philip ‘his prowess’, the eighteen year old prince broke through the Boeotian line and put the enemy to flight.

Seeing what his son had done, Philip now advanced himself. He was, Diodorus says, determined not to concede ‘credit for the victory even to Alexander’!

  • 1000+ Athenians killed
  • 2000+ Athenians captured
  • ‘Many’ Boeotians killed and ‘not a few’ captured

After the battle was over, Philip completed the day’s work by raising ‘a trophy of victory’, giving up the enemy dead so that they could be buried, sacrificing to the gods in thanksgiving for his win and rewarding those of his men who ‘had distinguished themselves’ during the battle.

That was Philip at his best. His worst, unfortunately, soon appeared. Diodorus explains that after drinking neat wine, Philip began mocking his prisoners. But they did not take it lying down; one of them, however, an Athenian named Demades, chastised the Macedonian king. ‘O King,’ he said, ‘when Fortune has cast you in the rôle of Agamemnon, are you not ashamed to act the part of Thersites?’

Demades’ rebuke sobered Philip up. Realising his mistake, he not only freed Demades but made him one of ‘his own company’. But Demades hadn’t finished yet. He used his skill as an orator to persuade Philip to free all the Athenian prisoners.

Back in Athens, the Athenians dealt with their defeat by condemning the losing general, Lysicles, to death upon the accusation of Lycurgus. But what had Lysicles done beyond losing the battle? Had he acted negligently? Betrayed the alliance? No. Lycurgus’ accusation came simply out of anger that after losing the battle, and so many men, Lysicles had the temerity to show his face in Athens again. Rough justice.

In reading Diodorus’ account of the Battle of Chaeronea I was very struck by his insistence that Alexander did not defeat the Boeotians alone. Alexander, we are told, was ‘ably seconded by his men’ during the battle. As he broke through the line, ‘the same success was won by his companions’.

The way in which Philip ‘steals’ the victory made me smile wryly. That’s how men were, back then – very very competitive – and how they would be during the Wars of the Successors (323-281 B.C.).

Philip’s drunken antics inevitably reminds one of Cleopatra Eurydice’s wedding party latter that year, or in 337 B.C. when he tried to assault Alexander who had just insulted Attalus. Then, Philip’s drinking made him look an idiot as he fell off his couch. Here, it leads to his rejecting the ‘symbols of pride’ that he wore (e.g. his garland). This makes me think that he had an ulterior motive for listening to Demades though I can’t imagine what it would be.

According to Wikipedia, Thersites was an Achaean soldier during the Trojan War. He was an ugly man, bow legged and lame. Rather unwisely, he insulted Agamemnon. In revenge, Odysseus beat him – much to the amusement of the assembled Achaeans.

Obviously, Demades is telling Philip not to be ridiculous like Thersites, but the image I take away from the allusion is of Philip as Agamemnon. I don’t mean the Agamemnon who was king of all the Greeks; rather, the Agamemnon who, when he returned home, was slain in his bath by Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. I know that we have no proof that Olympias played the role of Clytemnestra but she had a certainly had a strong enough motive to kill him.

One more point about Demades – I don’t think I will ever get used to the way in which enemies could become trusted friends – so quickly – in those days. It seems incredible that Philip could even think about placing Demades in a position of responsibility; and yet, he did so, giving the Athenian ‘every mark of honour’ as well. And all because Demades had a good way with words. Mind you, we elect our leaders today when they have not much more so perhaps I should not be surprised.

The Athenians’ treatment of Lysicles puts me in mind of Stalin’s purges in the thirties. Then, men were executed not because they were criminals who deserved the death sentence (assuming anyone ever does, which I do not believe) but because they had fallen out of favour with the Man of Steel. This is what happened to Lysicles. Yes, he had lost the battle but as I mentioned above not for reasons of negligence. This is proven by the nature of Lycurgus’ accusation. The Athenians may have been the world’s first democrats, but truly, only to a point; sadly, it appears that Lysicles soon felt it.


  • Diodorus does not mention the Sacred Band, wiped out by the Macedonians
Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dark Before the (False?) Dawn

I have just started reading John D. Grainger’s Alexander the Great Failure. Before I even open the book I have to say a word about the title. While it is certainly very dramatic, and will no doubt achieve its aim of getting people interested in what Grainger has to say, it also comes across as rather attention-seeking. That’s a shame as it makes one immediately wary of Grainger rather than open to whatever argument he puts forward.
I’m going to read and blog the book one chapter at a time. This won’t be an in-depth response to Grainger, though, just some thoughts, questions and comments. Let me know if I appear wary rather than open! Although I am as much ‘for’ Alexander as Grainger appears to be against, I will try and read his book with an open mind.
Alexander the Great Failure opens with a brief introduction. There, Grainger states that the ‘fundamental facts’ (Grainger, p.xvii) of Alexander’s life are (a) that he was Philip II’s son and (b) a Macedonian. To understand Alexander’s failure, therefore, these two facts ‘need to be considered in some detail’ (Ibid). I already have a problem here as I would add that Alexander’s self-identification with Achilles is also a fundamental fact, as well as his determination to live the life of a homeric hero.
That aside, looking at Alexander with reference to his father and country makes perfect sense. No one is born in a vacuum. We are all influenced by our families and country. This would also imply, however, that Alexander’s failure was not – entirely – his own but shared with those who made him the man he was. I wonder if Grainger will make this point.
Grainger begins Chapter 1 in 370 B.C. By-the-bye, the book ends in 272 B.C. – nearly ten years after the death of the last two diadochi, Lysimachus and Seleucus. This makes sense from the point of view that Alexander’s actions led directly to the diadoch wars. Although, did they not have free will? They did not need to fight.
To go back to the introduction, Grainger confirms that his intention is to show how Alexander’s empire came into being, and how it failed. He accuses Alexander of being no less than ‘one of the world’s great failures’ (Grainger, p. xviii) and of bringing ‘that failure on himself’ (Ibid). But again, Alexander can hardly be held responsible for what the diadochi did. I wonder if Grainger will gloss over their contribution to the ‘misery and death’ that ensued after 323 B.C.?
As well as blaming Alexander for the deaths of ‘countless thousands of people’ (Ibid), Grainger also blames him for his untimely death. In Grainger’s eyes, Alexander’s death was caused by his ‘arrogance’ (Ibid). At this point I can only assume that he means in the way Alexander exposed himself to injury during his campaigns or perhaps his alleged over-drinking? But did he? And one man’s recklessness could be another’s bravery.
Grainger also states that Alexander failed because ‘he both refused to provide [an heir] and killed off any man who could be seen as one’ (Ibid). As for the former argument – Alexander IV, anyone? In regards the latter, that turned out not to be true, either.
That’s the Introduction; let’s jump into Chapter 1. I am definitely grateful to Grainger for taking the time to explain the position of Macedon in the years leading up to Philip II’s accession. He really brings home what a weak country it was.
To fully demonstrate this, he goes back to the first Macedonian king about whom we have any degree of knowledge – Alexander I (ruled 497 – 454 B.C.) who was forced to kowtow to Darius I during the Persian Wars. Afterwards, he did the same with the Greeks. Later on, Archelaos (413 – 399 B.C.) bowed to the power of the Spartans. His successor, Amyntas III (391 – 370 B.C.), was in turn was beaten about by the Chalcidian League,
So far so humiliating. Macedon’s weakness in the face of her enemies abroad had several causes. For example, baronial rivalry; a fundamentally unstable royal succession policy (see below); the lack of bureaucratic infrastructure, and lack of national identity. Just like the Greeks thought of themselves as Athenians and Spartans rather than Greeks, it seems many Macedonian subjects – I’m really thinking here of those in Upper Macedon – held themselves to be members of their local community (tribe) rather than as Macedonians. Consequently, their natural inclination was to rebellion rather than conciliation.
By the time Philip II ascended to the throne in 359 B.C. none of this had changed. The odds on him faring any better than his predecessors, therefore, were very long indeed. Chapter 2 will pick up his story.
Before finishing, I’d like to go back to the issue of the royal succession, which, as Grainger notes was often a very bloody affair. One reason for this is because Macedon did not practice succession according to the principle of primogeniture. The eldest son (as in Alexander III’s case) might inherit the throne, but if he did he did not do so because of who he was.
In principle, the king chose his successor and an Assembly ratified that choice. I guess that is why Alexander’s generals gathered round his bed in June 323 B.C. to ask him who would succeed him even though Roxane was pregnant – Did he say Craterus?. But this would imply that Grainger is making too much of Alexander’s ‘refusal’ to provide an heir, as what need would there be for him to do so when he could just designate one?
I don’t know which side I am on. If Alexander didn’t really need to have an heir, there would have been no need for Parmenion and Antipater to have wasted time urging him to marry and father a son before leaving Macedon.
Having said that, as is clear from Robin Lane Fox’s biography of the king that Alexander’s refusal even to marry let alone have a child may have been born of political insight: had Alexander married either Parmenion’s or Antipater’s daughters you can bet their fathers would have taken full advantage of their new closeness to the Macedonian throne. And in ancient Macedon, ‘[a]ssassination, murder and civil war’ (Grainger, p. 5) were not only part of the succession process.

Categories: Books | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: