Posts Tagged With: Babylon

The Carving of the World

The headline reads ‘Vandals paste ‘butcher’ sign on Alexander the Great statue’. You can read the full report here.

Was Alexander the Great a butcher? In answering this question we have to be careful that we don’t do so with a twenty-first century mindset.

The reason for this is simple. If we impose our morality on Alexander we learn nothing about him and only a little – that is not good – about ourselves. Alexander lived, after all, in the fourth century B.C. not the twenty-first A.D.

So what about in terms of fourth century B.C. morality? Was he a butcher? I don’t have a firm answer to this yet, but at the moment I am leaning towards yes. There was no international law that stated what was and wasn’t acceptable in combat back then but there were definitely times when Alexander and his men went too far (e.g. the destruction of Thebes and terrorising of the civilian population in India) in the prosecution of campaign war aims.

No one should be insulted by Alexander being called a butcher. He was a king and a general. That was always going to involve bloodshed. Always. And sometimes, he would go too far. If one wishes to know the real Alexander, one has to accept that this happened.

But also that more happened, or rather, didn’t happen because on other occasions Alexander reigned his men in; prevented blood from being spilt. For example, which was the last city to be sacked before Persepolis? Gaza. Between them, Alexander passed through Pelusium, Memphis, Babylon and Susa without allowing the cities or their citizens to be harmed. He could easily have put any or all of these cities to the sword. His men would have been delighted if he had.

And by-and-bye, though our focus is always naturally on Alexander the conqueror, it is also worthwhile remembering that his life involved more than fighting. We get a glimpse of it in the sources – for example, his love of medicine, of literature, and of philosophy. You may call Alexander a butcher if you like, and in a way, you would not be wrong, but if you do, or if you insist upon its primacy as a way of understanding him you run the very real risk of missing out on the other facets of his character instead revealing only your own prejudices.

Categories: By the Bye | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alexander: March/Spring Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

337
Spring Philip orders Alexander back to Pella (Peter Green*)

336
Spring Parmenion and Attalus lead the Macedonian advance army into Asia Minor (Livius, Peter Green)

335
Early Spring Alexander campaigns in Thrace and Illyria (Peter Green)
NB The Landmark Arrian** dates this campaign to Spring (as opposed to Early Spring. This applies to all similar references below)

Spring Alexander razes Thebes; Greek cities submit (Landmark Arrian)

334
March – April Alexander crosses into Asia Minor; beginning of his anabasis (Peter Green)
NB
Michael Wood*** dates the crossing of the Hellespont to May
The
Landmark Arrian dates the crossing to Spring

333
March – June Memnon’s naval offensive (Livius)

Early Spring
Memnon dies (Peter Green)

Spring Alexander arrives in Gordion where he undoes the famous knot (Landmark Arrian)

Spring (Possibly late spring?) Alexander passes through the Cilician Gates having taken Pisidia and Cappadocia (Landmark Arrian)

NB With reference to the death of Memnon, referred to above, the Landmark Arrian dates it to ‘Spring’ 333, during the Persian navy’s fight against the Macedonians. Contra Livius (below), it adds that after his death, and in the same year, the ‘Persian naval war falter[ered]’

332
Spring The Persian Fleet disintegrates (Livius)
January – September The Siege of Tyre continues (Michael Wood)

331
March Alexander visits Siwah (Livius)
NB Peter Green dates Alexander’s Siwah visit to ‘Early Spring’

Spring Alexander resumes his march towards Darius (Landmark Arrian)

330
Spring Alexander orders the royal palace in Persepolis to be burnt (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander finds the body of Darius (Landmark Arrian)

329
Spring First crossing of the Hindu Kush (Michael Wood)
NB Peter Green dates the crossing to ‘March – April’

Spring Alexander pursues Bessus across Bactria/Sogdia (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Bessus is betrayed by his officers and handed over to Alexander (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander quells an uprising along the Jaxartes (Tanais) River (Landmark Arrian)

328
Spring Alexander campaigns in Bactria and Sogdia (Michael Wood)
Spring The Sogdian Rock is captured (Michael Wood)

327
Early Spring Alexander marries Roxane (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the wedding to Spring

Early Spring The Pages’ Plot (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the Pages’ plot (and Callisthenes subsequent arrest/possible death) to Spring

Early Spring Callisthenes is executed (Michael Wood)
Spring Pharasmanes and Scythians seek an alliance with Alexander (Landmark Arrian)
Spring
The Sogdian Rock is captured (Livius, Peter Green, Landmark Arrian)
Spring The Rock of Chorienes is captured (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Craterus eliminates the last rebels (following Spitamenes’ death in the Autumn of 328) (Landmark Arrian)
Late Spring Second crossing of the Hindu Kush (Michael Wood)

326
Early Spring The Aornos Rock is captured (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the capture of the Aornos Rock to Spring

Early Spring Alexander meets Hephaestion and Perdiccas at the Indus River, which the reunited army then crosses (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the crossing of the Indus to Spring

Early Spring Alexander reaches Taxila (Michael Wood)

NB
The Landmark Arrian lists the sequence of events following Alexander’s capture of the Aornos Rock slightly differently to Michael Wood:
Wood Siege of Aornos > Alexander meets Hephaestion & Perdicas at the Indus > Macedonians cross the Indus > Alexander arrives in Taxila
Landmark Arrian Siege of Aornos Alexander sails down the Indus to Hephaestion’s and Perdiccas’ bridge > Alexander visits Nysa > Alexander receives Taxiles’ (‘son of the Taxiles he met in the Indian Caucasus’ the previous summer) gifts > Alexander crosses the Indus > Alexander meets Taxiles

Spring Battle of the Hydaspes River (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Bucephalus is buried (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander founds Nicaea and Bucephala (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Abisares submits to Alexander (Landmark Arrian)

325
Spring – Summer Journey down the Indus River (Michael Wood)
Spring Alexander defeats the Brahmins, Musicanus, and Sambus (Landmark Arrian)

324
February – March Alexander’s journey to and arrival in Susa (Peter Green)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates Alexander’s arrival to Spring. It adds that after his arrival he purged the corrupt satraps, held the mass wedding ceremonies,and forgave his soldiers’ debts/awarded ‘gold wreaths to officers’; this did not, howeverm stop tensions rising ‘over Alexander’s moves to integrate the army’
March Alexander meets Nearchus in Susa (Livius)
March Susa Marriages (Livius)
March Alexander issues the Exiles’ Decree (Peter Green)
March Alexander issues the Deification Decree (Peter Green)
Spring Alexander explores lower Tigris and Euphrates (Landmark Arrian)
Spring The 30,000 epigoni arrive in Susa (Peter Green)

323
Spring Alexander returns to Babylon after campaigning against the Cossaeans (Peter Green)
Spring Bad omens foreshadow Alexander’s death (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander sends ‘spoils of war to Greece; he is hailed as a god by Greek envoys
Spring Alexander makes preparations for an Arabian campaign (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander orders ‘extravagant’ honours to be given to Hephaestion (Landmark Arrian)

*Peter Green Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
** The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
***Michael Wood In the Footsteps Of Alexander the Great A Journey from Greece to India (BBC Books 2004)

Notes

  • This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know!
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Thaïs’ Torch Song

I know a girl, a girl called Party, Party girl

Diodorus
(XVIII.72)
We all know what happened at Persepolis: Alexander got drunk and allowed Thaïs of Athens to persuade him to burn the royal palace down in revenge for the destruction wrought by the Persians when they invaded Greece 150 years earlier.

Diodorus adds a few details to this outline. The party was part of a celebration, which included ‘costly sacrifices to the gods’ and games ‘in honour of his victories’.

He says that when Thaïs rose to speak, ‘the drinking was far advanced’. I take this to mean that it had been going on for a long time rather than that Alexander, for example, was blind drunk, otherwise I doubt he would have been physically able to lead the ‘triumphal procession’ that ended with the palace being torched.

Either way, the only other details that he gives us are that the feast was a rich one and that female musicians were present. For when Alexander led the guests out of the palace, they followed, singing and playing flutes and pipes.

***

Arrian
(III.18-19)
As we have discovered over the last couple of days, Arrian is not your go-to man for anything involving fun. His account of the nine-day festival at Dium was perfunctory and he simply ignored the jauntier side of the Macedonian’s one month stay in Babylon.

Things do not improve here in Persepolis. Arrian says nothing at all about the Macedonian celebrations and implies that Alexander alone was responsible for the decision to burn the royal palace.

The reason for these omissions, and – by-the-way, the absence of Thaïs’ name – may stem from the fact that Arrian took his account of what happened in Persepolis from Ptolemy Lagides, her lover, who would obviously have had no interest in reminding anyone of her part in the affair.

Having said that, Ptolemy was not Arrian’s only source, and I very much doubt that Aristobulos – who treats Alexander so favourably – would have identified his king as being solely responsible for the debacle.

But even if he had (and he is supposed to have lived in Alexandria in later years so maybe had to think about keeping Ptolemy sweet) what of other writers? The only explanation I can offer is that Arrian did indeed know about Thaïs’ involvement but simply decided to trust Ptolemy’s account. King’s don’t lie, after all.

***

Plutarch
(Life 38)
Plutarch builds upon Diodorus’ picture of what happened. He explains that Alexander ‘happened to get involved in a rowdy drinking party with his companions’. I have to trust that the translation is accurate but with the best will in the world, I really can’t imagine Alexander just ‘happening’ to join a party.

Anyway, ‘[s]ome women’ were present. They ‘had come in a drunken revel to see their lovers’. As we’ll see in the long quote from Curtius, below, he is talking here about the courtesans who lived with some of Alexander’s generals.

Rather than talk further about Thaïs, here is a link to my post on this chapter of Plutarch’s Life, which I wrote for my Tumblr blog. I’ll now move on to Cutius as the rest of Chapter 38 is taken up with Thaïs’ speech and its consequences.

***

Curtius
(V.7)
Yesterday, we saw Curtius write like an ‘outraged’ tabloid journalist with his hyperbolic description of Babylon’s sexual depravity*. Today, we do not find him any less annoyed.

He admits that ‘Alexander had some great natural gifts’ but snaps that ‘all these were marred by his inexcusable fondness for drink.’

At the very time that his enemy and rival for imperial power was preparing to resume hostilities, and when the conquered nations, only recently subdued, still had scant respect for his authority, he was attending day-time drinking parties at which women were present – not, indeed, such women as it was a crime to violate, but courtesans who had been leading disreputable lives with the soldiers.

And that’s how we know that Curtius was the Roman equivalent of a tabloid journalist. He liked being outraged and considered that it was acceptable to ‘violate’ some women**.

As Curtius’ blood pressure rises, he refers to Thaïs as ‘the drunken whore’. Now, drunk she may have been, but a whore she was not; at least, not in the commonly understood sense. Whores, by which I mean common prostitutes, offered sex. They trod the streets with messages like ‘follow me’ cut into their shoes and that was that. You got no more than their bodies from them.

Courtesans, by contrast, were well educated women who may have slept with their clients but were hired also – or principally – for their companionship, their intellectual and artistic skills. Now, I don’t know what word Curtius used to describe Thaïs but if he used the Latin for ‘[common] prostitute’ he was either ignorant of her true profession or purposefully ignoring it in order to put her down. Given his low of view of women as described above, I suspect the later is the case.

Curtius goes on to say that the Macedonians were ashamed of what Alexander (and presumably, Thaïs) did and that the king, after sleeping off his drunkenness also regretted his actions. This is in accord with what Plutarch says.

* I am aware that Babylon had a very bad reputation in terms of the sexual conduct of its people but Curtius could always have used more sober or neutral language. He is a historian not a moralist

** Here I have to recognise that Curtius may simply be referring to the fact – if so it was – that courtesans had no protection from rape under the law. Such would appear to be the case in respect of prostitutes according to this Wikipedia article. But even if there is only stating a legal fact we may still question the overall tone of his writing which is negative

Persepolis in Short
Reason Celebrate Alexander’s war victories
Duration Short – perhaps one night?
Outstanding Features Ended with one less royal palace in the world
Result Ptolemy sitting at his desk many years later, thinking “… no, I really can’t put that in. Is there any party that is safe to mention??”

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

Babylon. The Friendly City.

Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 19 Alexander’s fifth regnal year

Our second celebration took place in Babylon, October 331 B.C. Alexander had just defeated Darius III for the second and decisive time at Gaugamela and, by so doing, inherited his empire.

Diodorus (XVII.64) reports that following the battle, the new Great King went to Arbela where he found food and treasure. He might have tarried there for longer but was worried about Babylonia being polluted by the unburied Persian bodies on the battlefield. To prevent any harm coming to his men he ‘immediately’ resumed his advance upon the capital city.

There, Alexander was greeted with open arms by the Babylonians. Indeed, the whole Macedonian army was greeted happily. The men were given lodgings and much food and drink.

It would be nice to think that the Babylonians were acting out of the kindness of their hearts but we should not fool ourselves. Their actions were much more likely informed by a desire not to be slaughtered. Even if they had never heard of Thebes, they would have known that conquering kings were not always merciful ones.

And then there is Babylon’s reputation as a licentious city. Maybe in the back of many people’s minds was the thought that, if we can persuade these strangers not to kill us, maybe we can persuade them to pay for sex instead. For more on that point, see Curtius below.

As for Diodorus, the only other comment he has to make about Alexander’s first visit to the city is that he stayed for thirty days ‘because the food was plentiful and the population friendly’.

***

Yesterday, we saw how Arrian’s account of the celebration at Dium was short and rather unenthusiastic. Today, his account (III.26) of Alexander’s visit to Babylon is equally stiff.

Alexander, he says, approached the city cautiously. In fact, ‘in battle order’. To be fair, if the Babylonians had not formally surrendered this was a wise thing to do. He would have looked pretty stupid had he just rolled up to the city only to be met by an armed force (not that the risk of this stopped him from being ever-so-casual in Carmania, as we’ll see in two days).

As it turned out, all was well that ended well; the Babylonians streamed out of the city, handed gifts over, and gave their home ‘with the citadel and all its treasures’ into Alexander’s hands.

Party time?

Well, maybe. But we’ll never know from Arrian. He focuses on the religious and political dimension of Alexander’s visit. The king ordered the rebuilding of the temple of Bel (‘destroyed by Xerxes’). This was also a political act as Bel was ‘the god held by the Babylonians in the greatest awe’. Alexander was intent on winning hearts and minds to his cause.

Arrian also states that it was in Babylon that Alexander ‘came into contact with the Chaldeans’ (n. ‘priests of Marduk’) and gave them a place in his counsels. The Chaldeans, of course, would go on to play a vital role in Alexander’s life when he returned to Babylon in 323 B.C.

In between of these religious acts, Arrian also mentions a number of political (and military) appointments. Once they are completed, he has Alexander resume his onward journey. And once again, I am forced to imagine Ptolemy sitting at his desk thinking “Babylon… Babylon… mmm, we had a good time there… probably too good a time. Better not mention anything about that, either.”

***

Despite Arrian’s deficiencies, it is Plutarch who lets the side down for the second day running. At least yesterday he mentioned the weeping statue. Today, he says nothing at all about Babylon. The nearest he comes to it is at the start of Chapter 31.

After Alexander had subdued the whole region which lay [on the west] side of the Euphrates, he resumed his advance against Darius.

And that’s your fun-destroying lot.

***

Fortunately, Curtius (V.1.36) comes to the rescue. And how. He is positively frothy mouthed with disgust at Babylon’s vices. And in the best hypocritical tabloid journalist fashion, rather than refuse to give publicity to that which he hates, he shares every last detail with us. Well, not every last but enough so that we can share his rage and he, ahem, can get more readers.

There is no doubt that some of the things Curtius mentions are rather unorthodox. Unlike dear Quintus, however, I have no qualms about detailing them so that more people will read this post. So, let’s look at what he says.

On Babylon

[The] moral corruption there is unparalleled

It’s ability to stimulate and arouse unbridled passions is incomparable

On Babylonians

Parents and husbands permit their children and wives to have sex with strangers, as long as this infamy is paid for

Babylonians are especially addicted to wine and the excesses that go along with drunkenness

Women attend dinner parties. At first they are decently dressed, then they remove all their top-clothing and by degrees disgrace their respectability until (I beg my readers’ pardon for saying it) they finally throw off their most intimate garments. This disgusting conduct is characteristic not only of courtesans but also of married women and young girls, who regard such vile prostitution as ‘being sociable’

At this point, I fear that I may be held responsible for the moral degradation of my younger or more impressionable readers. Even now, they are probably looking up last minute offers on flights to Babylon for Christmas. But here’s the thing. The city no longer exists. And neither, to all intents and purposes, did Babylon in Curtius’ time. We don’t know when exactly he wrote his history of Alexander, but it is not likely to have been earlier than the middle of the first century B.C., by which time Babylon had been in ruins for nigh on two hundred years. Curtius’ anger makes no more sense than you or me writing about the Georgians and getting annoyed at their sexual practices. Sometimes, you have to take a deep breath and let go. This Curtius appears to have been unable to do.

Having said that, when he adds “I beg my readers’ pardon…” a part of me is nodding my head slowly and thinking Yeah, right… Anything for the fame.

As manipulative or genuinely enraged as Curtius might be, his words do give an insight into what the Macedonians might have got up to in Babylon. Drink and sex. Lots of.

Further to what Diodorus says, Curtius claims that the Macedonians stayed in Babylon ‘revelling in… dissipation’ for thirty-four days. He criticises Alexander for undermining ‘military discipline [there] more than in any other place’ and states that thanks to its licentious behaviour the army

… which had conquered Asia would doubtless have been weakened for any subsequent confrontations, if it had had an adversary.

It did. Ariobarzanes at the Persian Gates the following year. And guess who won. Curtius has his explanation for this, of course.

To lesson the effects of the damage [Alexander’s army] was continually refurbished with reinforcements.

Uh huh. And it was nothing to do with the general wear and tear of war and campaigning.

Babylon in Short
Reason Letting hair down after winning the Persian Empire
Duration A whacking 30 or 34 days
Outstanding Features Pure partying. No apparent religious element
Result Collective liver failure and spike in births nine months later

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Selected Search Enquiries (2)

Some more interesting search enquiries have led people to this blog. Here are answers to some of the questions.

“where is troy located?”
The ruins of Troy can be found near the Turkish city of Hisarlik (See Google Maps here). Several settlements have been built on the site of Homeric Troy (with the first dating to c. 3000 B.C. According to About, the Tojan War took place

… either at the time of the level known as Troy VI (1800-1275 BC) or Troy VII (1275-1100 BC).

Alexander cannot have been greatly impressed by Troy on the occasion of his visit in 334 B.C. The Landmark Arrian says that by his day it had become ‘a dusty tourist town’.

“what did diodorus say about babylon”
So far as Alexander is concerned, not a lot. The Macedonians’ arrival at Babylon is covered in XVII.64 of the Library of History. Diodorus describes the Babylonians as receiving Alexander ‘gladly’ and providing quarters and plenty of food to the Macedonian army. There was so much food that Alexander stayed in the city for a month before moving on to Susa. And that’s pretty much it.

There are a number of other references to Babylon scattered throughout Book 17:

  • Chapter 31 Darius orders his forces to muster in Babylon before marching towards Issus (see the picture below)
  • Chapter 39 Darius rushes back to Babylon after being defeated at Issus. There, he gathers the survivors of the first royal army together and writes to Alexander offering him part of his territory in return for ‘a treaty of friendship’
  • Chapter 53 Darius leaves Babylon with his second royal army – it will eventually meet Alexander at Gaugamela.
  • Chapter 64 Alexander’s arrival in Babylon, as mentioned above
  • Chapter 65 After leaving Babylon, Alexander is met by reinforcements from Macedon.
  • Chapter 71 Persepolis is so rich that Alexaner is obliged to send ‘for a vast number of mules from Babylon and Mesopotamia, as well as from Susa’ where the treasure was due to be sent to.
  • Chapter 108 Alexander had given his friend Harpalus ‘custody of the treasury in Babylon’. Unfortunately, Harpalus abused that trust. Believing that Alexander would never return from India, he gave himself up to licentious living and ‘squandered much of the treasure under his control on incontinent pleasure’.
  • Chapter 110 After Hephaestion’s death, Alexander ordered Perdiccas to take his body back to Babylon
  • Chapter 112 Alexander did not immediately follow Hephaestion’s body back to Babylon. Instead, he launched a campaign against a mountain dwelling people called the Cossaeans. When he did finally set out for the city, he travelled ‘in easy stages, interrupting the march frequently and resting the army’. As he approached Babylon, some Chaldean priests warned him that the stars were portending his death if he entered the city. For a short while, Alexander heeded their warning and stayed outside. Finally, however, some Greek philosophers led by Anaxarchus, persuaded him to ignore the priests. He entered the city. Once again, he and the army were greeted ‘hospitably’ by the populace. The Macedonian soldiers ‘turned their attention to relaxation and pleasure’.
  • Chapter 116 Alexander receives an omen of his death when a man sits upon the royal throne. Diodorus says that the king was angry with the Greek philosophers who had persuaded him to enter the city.

As you can see, Diodorus’ references to Babylon focus on people and actions rather than the city itself. The only time that he really moves beyond that is when he says – at the end of Chapter 112 – that so far as ‘relaxation and pleasure’ were concerned, ‘everything necessary was available in profusion’ – a sure allusion to Babylon’s reputation for being a licentious city. I wonder if Diodorus talks more about the city in his other books? If you have any references, feel free to let me know in the comments box.

“who are sophites”
Sophites (aka Sopeithes, Sophytes) was an Indian king whose realm

… was situated between the Hydraotes and Hyphasis, and between that of the Adrestae and Cathaeans and of Phegeus’
(Heckel Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great).

He is mentioned by Diodorus (XVII.91-92), Curtius (IX.1.24-35) and Arrian (VI.3). Caution needs to be exercised regarding the location of Sophites’ kingdom – the notes to my copy of Arrian say that both Diodorus and Curtius got it wrong and that we do not know where it was located.

“the offspring of incest couples”
Incest does not play an important part in Alexander’s story. It did, however, become common practice in the Ptolemaic dynasty from the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphos onwards. Earlier this year, I wrote this post about who married who in the Ptolmaic dynasty. Allowing for any mistakes that I have made (the Ptolemaic family tree is, as you might imagine, rather complicated), there were a total of eight brother-sister marriages and twelve children born to brother and sister parents.

As I understand it, brother-sister marriages had for a long time been common practice for the Egyptian pharaohs. That it began with Ptolemy II Philadelphos suggests to me that while the Ptolemies did in some respects (perhaps most?) keep themselves apart from the natives – to the point where Cleopatra VII (she of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony fame) was the first Ptolemy in 300 years to speak Egyptian – they were adept at adopting such Egyptian practices as were required for the maintenance of their power. I wonder what Ptolemy I Soter would have made of it all.

“laura gill helens daughter”
The Mieza Book Club read Gill’s novel The Young Lion last year; you can read the transcript of the club’s meeting here. If you would like to read more of her writing, however, you can do so via her blog here.

Het_optrekken_van_Darius_voor_de_Slag_bij_Issus_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-3999(Picture: Wikimedia Commons)

 

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Hephaestion’s Remains – Update

Exactly one year ago I wrote a post for this blog in which I speculated about what might have happened to Hephaestion’s body after he died.

You can read the post here but in short, I said that I did not think that his magnificent funeral (Diodorus XVII.115) took place, and that after Alexander died, Hephaestion was probably quietly cremated and buried by the Successors in Babylon before being forgotten about.

When I wrote my post, I never imagined that a year on I would have reason to return to it. However, the discovery of a skeleton in the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis, and the suggestion that it could be Hephaestion’s, has drawn me back to the subject.

The person to whom I owe the idea that Hephaestion might be buried at Amphipolis is Dorothy King – see her post here.

As you’ll see, she theorises that the Lion Tomb was originally built for Alexander. If that is correct, the presence of Hephaestion’s body would presumably mean that Alexander intended to be buried with his friend.

Given how Alexander identified himself with Achilles, and treated Hephaestion as Patroclus*, together with the fact that Achilles and Patroclus were buried together at Troy**, this idea makes perfect sense.

***

But, do the bones belong to Hephaestion?

Tests are being carried out on them at the moment. It goes without saying that they won’t tell us the deceased’s name but hopefully they will give us information that will help in the identification process.

For example (and again, hopefully) they’ll tell us the person’s sex, their approximate age at time-of-death, and perhaps what injuries or illnesses they suffered from in their life.

If the sex of the person is female then that obviously rules out the deceased being Hephaestion.

If, however, it is male and the person died in their 30s that would make it possible for the bones to be his as he was about Alexander’s age and we know that in 324 B.C. Alexander was 32.

Further to this, if there is sign of injury in at least one of the arm bones, that would also make it possible for  the skeleton to be Hephaestion’s as Curtius says he ‘suffered a spear-wound in the arm’ at the Battle of Gaugamela (IV.16.32).

It has to be emphasised, though, that even if the tests point to the skeleton being Hephaestion’s we can gain no certainty in the matter from them. What we must really hope for is the discovery of an inscription that spells out clearly to whom the tomb belongs. Otherwise, there will always be an element of doubt.

 ***

But let’s backtrack a bit – how can we be talking about Hephaestion’s skeleton being in Amphipolis when the sources have his funeral – and cremation at that – taking place in Babylon?

That’s a good question. What could have happened is that after the funeral his remains were transported to Amphipolis and there deposited. This, however, doesn’t answer the question how it is we have a skeleton in the Lion Tomb when Hephaestion was cremated.

So, what about the bones? Dr King provides an answer. In a comment made on 13th November 2014 at 10:30am (I’m sorry – I can’t seem to link directly to it) underneath the above mentioned blog post she states that ancient cremations did not take place at the same temperatures as modern ones.

This means that Hephaestion could have been cremated to the point that his flesh burned off but that – due to the lower temperature of the pyre – his bones survived.

Perhaps the tests currently being done on the skeleton will be able to tell us if the bones were indeed subjected to fire?

If we agree to the survival of Hephaestion’s bones as a possibility we can move on to the question of how they got from Babylon to Amphipolis.

As it happens, though, we need to correct the starting point of his final journey.

***

Let’s look at what the five major Alexander historians say about Hephaestion’s death and what happened to his body afterwards.

Arrian (VII.14,15) states that Hephaestion fell ill and died in Ecbatana and that a funeral pyre was built for him in Babylon. There is no reference, however, to the funeral actually taking place once Alexander arrived there.

Curtius Unfortunately, a lacuna in the MS means we do not have his account of Hephaestion’s death and funeral.

Diodorus has Hephaestion die in Ecbatana and his body transported to Babylon (XVII.110) where his pyre built XVII.115). No mention is made of what happened to Hephaestion’s remains afterwards.

Justin does not say explicitly where Hephaestion died. In terms of the narrative, his death takes place in Chapter 12. The last city Alexander is identified as reaching prior to this is Babylon (in Chapter 10), but at the start of Chapter 13 Justin appears to suggest that Alexander went to Babylon after Hephaestion’s death.

Neither does Justin say what happened to Hephaestion’s body. He does mention, however (in Chapter 12), that a monument was built in his honour, and that it cost 12,000 talents.

Plutarch states that Hephaestion died in Ecbatana (Chapter 72) but doesn’t say that his body was taken to Babylon. He does state, however, that Alexander decided to spend 10,000 talents on his friend’s funeral and tomb.

***

In summary, Arrian, Diodorus and Plutarch all agree that Hephaestion died in Ecbatana. But while Arrian and Diodorus state explicitly that his body was taken to Babylon, Plutarch makes no such claim. By implication he has Hephaestion’s body remain in Ecbatana. This may be what Justin is getting at although his account is really too vague to be of much use.

***

So, we have a disagreement. Who, in that case, do we believe?

Up until this week, I would have accepted Arrian’s and Diodorus’ account. Diodorus is not the best historian but Arrian has a very good reputation, and based his history on people who were witnesses to what happened four hundred years earlier – including one who was at the very centre of Macedonian power.

However, my opinion changed after I read an article by Paul McKechnie called Diodorus Siculus and Hephaestion’s Pyre, which offered a compelling reason not to accept Arrian’s and Diodorus’ account at face value.

I came across McKechnie’s article thanks to a link on Dorothy King’s blog here.

If I have understood McKechnie correctly, he argues that the account of Hephaestion’s funeral in Diodorus is not an account of an historical event at all but a literary conceit, designed to foreshadow Alexander’s death***.

Seeing the funeral in this way allows us to make sense of a statement that Diodorus makes in XVIII.4 of his Library of History. There, he says that after Alexander’s death, Perdiccas found among the late king’s papers

… orders for the completion of the pyre of Hephaestion.

Now, obviously, if the funeral had taken place as per XVII.115 there would be no need for these orders to be in Alexander’s papers.

McKechnie further argues that Diodorus took the story of the pyre in Babylon from a writer named Ephippus of Olynthus, who lived around the time of Alexander.

The reason I mention Ephippus is because he connects Diodorus’ narrative to Arrian’s. McKechnie suggests that Ptolemy read Ephippus’ account and decided to use it in his own history.

And indeed, he had a good reason for doing so. Just as Ephippus placed Hephaestion’s funeral in Babylon for literary reasons, Ptolemy placed it there for political ones.

So, I took Alexander’s body from Babylon to Memphis, he could say to the political doubter, I had a precedent – Alexander, himself, who took Hephaestion’s body from Ecbatana to Babylon.

Paul McKechnie’s article is really interesting, and I thoroughly recommend it to you. If you don’t have access to JSTOR, you can read it here.

***

So, as matters now stand, we have Hephaestion dying in Ecbatana and his funeral taking place there. The presence of the Lion of Hamadan (which is modern day Ecbatana) would appear to indicate that Alexander buried his friend there as well†.

Having corrected the starting point of Hephaestion’s journey, therefore, we now need to get him from Ecbatana to Amphipolis.

This part is most difficult for none of the surviving sources state that Hephaestion’s body was taken back to Macedon. If we are to place him there, we must do so by other means.

Here are three reasons for placing Hephaestion in Amphipolis.

  1. Alexander would not have regarded burying Hephaestion in Ecbatana as fitting. In life, he had seen himself as Achilles and Hephaestion as his Patroclus. In light of that, it makes better sense that he would want that identification to be made permanent in death
  2. The Lion Tomb in Amphipolis is so great, so majestic, it could only have been built for a very few people. The other possibilities are: Olympias, Philip III Arrhidaeus and Roxane, and Alexander IV.
    As I understand it, there are inscriptions in existence which state (or indicate?) that Olympias was buried in Pydna, where she was killed.
    Philip III Arrhidaeus is a possibility as he was a king but maybe buried at Vergina.
    Would Cassander to have honoured Alexander IV (and through him, Roxane) with such a great tomb after killing them?
  3. It looks like the Lion Tomb could easily have met the cost of Hephaestion’s burial as described by Plutarch and Justin

These may or may not sound like good reasons but if you are still nervous about the lack of evidence in the sources, it is perhaps worth remembering that they are the surviving sources and that – as we have seen – they disagree with one another about what happened to Hephaestion after his death. We have no obligation, therefore, to take them at their word.

***

What do I think? I honestly don’t know. I like the idea of Hephaestion being buried at Amphipolis but I wish – really wish – we had stronger literary evidence.

At the moment, though, and although he is supposed to have been buried at Vergina, I am very tempted by the idea of Alexander IV being buried there.

After his murder on Cassander’s orders, several years passed before Alexander IV’s death became known. When it did, there was no civil war, no unrest, no rioting, nothing. Cassander, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Seleucus and Antigonus all in due course proclaimed themselves king of their individual realms and that was that.

The reason for this is that time had passed and people had let the past go. I think perhaps Cassander realised this. And when he did, he decided that he could afford to be as generous to Alexander IV in death as he had been cruel in life, and deposited his remains in the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis.

That’s what I think, and as I am sure you have noticed, I have offered no actual evidence for Alexander IV being buried there. In fact, as I read back what I have written, I am beginning to think there is a stronger case for Hephaestion’s burial.

***

A last word. I have no more of an idea about who is buried in the Lion Tomb as anyone else, and I look forward to hearing more news from the archaeologists. In the meantime, what I would say, is that Amphipolis has been – and continues to be – a great learning experience for me and I am indebted to Dorothy King who has posted very insightful blog posts and linked to equally good articles about Alexander – McKechnie’s especially. I hope I never stop learning.

* I’m thinking here of how he had Hephaestion lay a wreath on Patroclus’ grave at Troy (Arrian I.12) and his Homeric response to Hephaestion’s death. Just as Achilles cut his hair in honour of Patroclus (Iliad XXIII.147-8)
** See Iliad XXIII.243-44 and Odyssey XXIV.73-5)
*** McKechnie notes how Diodorus emphasises Hephaestion’s status as Alexander’s second self, how Alexander attends to the funeral after setting his affairs in order, and orders the Sacred Flame in Asian cities to be extinguished in Hephaestion’s honour – something which is was only ever done upon the king’s die
It is McKechnie who uses the Lion of Hamadan as evidence for Hephaestion’s remains being in Ecbatana. He provides other reasons as well. For example, a reference to Aelian, who

… in his story of gold and silver being melted together with the corpse on Hephaestion’s pyre, speaks of Alexander’s having demolished the walls of the acropolis of Ecbatana-and gives no hint of the pyre’s being supposed to have been in Babylon

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The Flawed Brilliance of Alexander

Justin’s Alexander
Book XII Chapters 11-16
Part Six
Other posts in this series

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

Chapter Eleven
During Alexander’s expedition, his men, when not fighting, had somehow managed to get themselves deep in debt. Following the Susa weddings, Alexander paid that debt off in its entirety. It cost him twenty thousand talents to do so. One can only wonder how the men had managed to spend that much. Either way,

[Alexander’s] munificence was highly prized, not only for the sum given, but for the character of the gift, and was received not more thankfully by the debtors than by the creditors, exaction being as troublesome to the one as payment to the other.

Once the debts had been paid, Alexander proceeded to discharge his older veterans. Despite the kindness that their king had just showed them, the remaining men complained (during an assembly) that the discharge should be on the basis of service not age.

Justin describes the men as speaking to Alexander not only with ‘entreaties’ but also with ‘reproach’. Rather sulkily, they bid him to ‘“carry on his wars alone, with the aid of his father Ammon, since he looked with disdain on his soldiers.”’

In reply, Alexander oscillated between berating his men and speaking to them ‘in gentler terms’. When neither approach worked, he leapt down from his dais and personally arrested the ringleaders.

Chapter Twelve
His next action was to commend his Persian soldiers for their loyalty and enrol a thousand of them into his bodyguard as well as a number of auxiliaries into the regular army.

This cut the Macedonians to the quick, and they went to Alexander ‘beseeching him with tears “to content himself rather with punishing than ill-treating them.”’ Their pleas worked and Alexander released more veterans.

It is really striking, in this and the previous chapter, how fraught Alexander’s relationship with his men is. One minute they are friends, then enemies, then friends again. It’s as if their relationship has lost its foundations and has become a matter of shifting sands. And why? I think because of the army’s profound tiredness and Alexander’s perennial desire to get his way.

Justin notes that it was around of what we call the Opis Mutiny that Hephaestion died.

Alexander mourned for him longer than became his dignity as a king, built a monument for him that cost twelve thousand talents, and gave orders that he should be worshipped as a god.

Chapter Thirteen
Alexander returned to Babylon ‘from the distant shores of the ocean’. On the way, he was warned by the Magic’“not to enter the city,” for that the “place would be fatal to him.”’. As a result, the king took a diversion to an uninhabited city called Borsippa ‘on the other side of the Euphrates’.

There, however, the philosopher (and professional flatterer) Anaxarchus persuaded him to go to Babylon after all.  Anaxarchus argued that “if things were fixed by fate, they were unknown to mortals, and if they were dependent on the course of nature, were unchangeable.” Que sera, sera.

I am always rather suspicious when I read of about-turns like this. Alexander was not a puppet. He did what he wanted – even in matters of religion* – not what anyone else would have him do. Still, who knows what mental state he was in after Hephaestion’s death; perhaps this did make him more open to influence?

In Babylon, Alexander rested and resumed ‘the entertainments which had been for some time discontinued’ (no doubt as a result of Hephaestion’s death). One night, at a party given by an officer named Medius, the king collapsed in such extreme pain that he asked for someone to kill him.

His friends reported that the cause of his disease was excess in drinking, but in reality it was a conspiracy, the infamy of which the power of his successors threw into the shade.

* For example, when he took part in the attack of Tyre (Arrian 2:27) and crossed the Tanais (aka Jaxartes Arrian 4:4) despite Aristander’s warnings that the omens were against him

Chapter Fourteen
Justin blames Antipater for Alexander’s death. This chapter has a lot to say about Antipater but less about Alexander. I can’t move on, however, without recording what Justin tells us concerning the poison used to kill the king.

The strength of this poison was so great, that it could be contained neither in brass, nor iron, nor shell, nor could be conveyed in any other way than in the hoof of a horse.

Too strong for metal but able to be safely transported in a hoof. Perhaps Justin was tired when he wrote this.

Chapter Fifteen
Justin has been critical of Alexander. But he allow shim to die in a a noble fashion. Meeting his men for the last time, Alexander

… not only did not shed a tear, but showed not the least token of sorrow; so that he even comforted some who grieved immoderately, and gave others messages to their parents

Alexander, Justin says, was as prepared for death as he was for battle. Can any higher praise be given? Once the last soldier had left, the king asked his friends if they would find another like him. When they did not reply,

he said that, “although he did not know that, he knew, and could foretel, and almost saw with his eyes, how much blood Macedonia would shed in the disputes that would follow his death, and with what slaughters, and what quantities of gore, she would perform his obsequies.”

Finally, the royal friends did speak, and they asked Alexander who should succeed him.

He replied, “The most worthy.”

This response meets with Justin’s whole hearted approval. He says that,

Such was [Alexander’s] nobleness of spirit, that though he left a son named Hercules, a brother called Aridaeus, and his wife Roxane with child, yet, forgetting his relations, he named only “the most worthy” as his successor; as though it were unlawful for any but a brave man to succeed a brave man, or for the power of so great an empire to be left to any but approved governors.

Unfortunately, as Justin recognises, this nobleness opened the door for the wars that followed.

 

Six days after Medius’ party, Alexander gave his ring to Perdiccas. This act at guaranteed that there would at least be a transitional government while the identity of the next king was decided.

Chapter Sixteen
Justin sums up Alexander by paying him a number of compliments.

He was a man endowed with powers of mind far beyond ordinary human capacity.

[Olympias] certainly bore in her womb a conception superior to mortality… by no one’s influence was she rendered more illustrious than that of her son.

[As king, Alexander] inspired his soldiers with such confidence in him, that, when he was present, they feared the arms of no enemy, though they themselves were unarmed.

Justin also mentions the omens of Alexander’s ‘future greatness’ that were seen at his birth and acknowledges his unbeaten record as a general. Finally, he concludes, when Alexander died,

[h]e was overcome at last, not by the prowess of any enemy, but by a conspiracy of those whom he trusted, and the treachery of his own subjects.

Conclusions
Before starting this series of posts, I had a picture of Justin as being uniformly negative towards Alexander. That was the impression I got after reading From Tyrant to Philosopher-King.

However, while Justin does not hesitate to mention Alexander’s major fault – his medising – and his minor ones – his manipulativeness, for example – it is also true to say that he is very complimentary about the Macedonian king. No where is this more seen than in the last two chapters above.

It is possible, of course, that I have misread what Justin wrote, or that the translation I have used is not an accurate one, but assuming that neither is the case, I finish this series with a sense of Justin’s fairness and ability to recognise Alexander’s good whenever he sees it.

As for the mediaeval writers who used Justin to denigrate Alexander; well, I’m not going to criticise them., even though it seems to me (after reading the Epitome) that their reading must have been rather selective. The fact is, we know from other sources that Alexander did medise.

One last point – in case Justin has expressed any further opinion of Alexander in the other books of his Epitome and you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned it/them here, it’s because I have only read Books 11 and 12. If you know of any other statements of Justin, though, feel free to mention them in the comments below.

 

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The Fatal Macedonian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* An allusion to Cleopatra VII

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

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

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

Chapter Ten
Alexander had returned to Babylon, where,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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?)

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The Nature of Curtius
Book Five Chapters 2-3
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Two
Laying Siege to the Uxians
From Babylon, the Macedonian army made its way into Sittacene. Like Mesopotamia, it was also a fertile land ‘producing rich quantities of provisions of all kinds’. Despite having stopped for a while in Babylon, Alexander now tarried here, holding competitions to decide who should fill a command he had newly created – that of chiliarch*.

That was not the only change Alexander made to the organisation of his army. For the first time, he broke the link between it and the land. Previously, the Macedonian cavalry had been formed along tribal lines. This meant that the commander of each cavalry unit came from the same place as his men. That now ended. From now on, the commanders would be whoever Alexander decided to appoint*.

The king also made a change to the procedure for alerting the men that camp was about to be struck. Before, a trumpet blast had been used to provide the appropriate signal but the camp’s general ‘noise and commotion’ made it impossible to hear.

Alexander’s solution was to turn to nature. A pole would be raised. At the top of it, presumably on a platform, or in a metal bucket, a fire would burn and be the signal that it was time to pack up. During the night the fire would be visible to all; during the day time, the smoke that the fire created would be the signal.

From Sittacene the Macedonian army marched towards Susa. Alexander was met just outside the city by the son of Abulites, its satrap. The young man guided Alexander to the Choaspis River which, Curtius reports, ‘reputedly carries fine drinking water’. There, Abulites himself met his new master. He handed over gifts of ‘dromedaries*** of outstanding speed’ and elephants.

The chapter ends with a neat little detail which shows how far removed the Persian royal family had become from the land which they ruled. After being sent purple fabric from home, Alexander passed it on to Sisygambis so that her grand daughters (Stateira II and Drypetis) could be taught how to make clothing. Sisygambis rejected the gift angrily ‘for to Persian women nothing is more degrading than working with wool’. Such was her offence that Alexander came in person to apologise.

* chiliarchs had responsibility for 1,000 men. Hephaestion, among others, would later hold this office

** From what Curtius says, it seems that the organisation of the cavalry unit remained tribally based

**** Camels

Chapter Three
The Susian Gates are closed
The Persian royal family were left in Susa. Four days later, Alexander reached the Pasitigris River. This river, Curtius says, comes out of the Uxian mountains where ‘it rushes down-country for fifty stades in a rocky channel between well treed banks’. In the plains, however, it is perfectly navigable and so Alexander had no problems crossing it and entering the territory of the Uxians.

As the Pasitigris continued on its genteel way to the Persian Gulf, however, Alexander’s life was about to get considerably more difficult. His target was the Uxians’ satrap, Medates, whose city lay beyond a defile. Some natives told Alexander of a secret path across the mountains that would take him to a high point behind the city. The king despatched Tauron, the brother of Harpalus, to take the path. He himself entered the defile.

Upon reaching the opposite or far end, the Macedonians made use of the local trees to make protective coverings for the men who were ‘bringing up the siege towers’. Once they had arrived, the siege began in earnest. However, Curtius says that the ‘whole terrain was sheer crag, with boulders and stones impeding access’. As a result of this, the Macedonians ‘had to battle with the location as well as the enemy’.

In the larger context of Alexander’s life, the Uxian siege is a minor event. The city was neither very big nor particularly significant. Despite this, Alexander only took it thanks to Tauron. One enemy could be managed, two, however, was too much and the natives withdrew to their citadel.

The Uxians’ begged for mercy. Perhaps embarrassed by his failure to take the city himself, and wanting to teach the Uxians a lesson, Alexander denied their request. Despite this, the Uxians still survived. And they did so using a ploy that any child would recognise. Getting nowhere with their ‘father’, they went to their ‘mother’ instead. At first, Sisygambis declined to intercede for them, but after many pleas, her heart melted and she asked Alexander to relent. He not only did so, but gave the Uxians very favourable terms.

Following the siege, Alexander split his army in two between himself and Parmenion. The general was ordered to enter Persia by marching across its plains. Alexander would do so by passing through the Susian Gates.

Unfortunately, the Gates were held by the only Persian officer to give him a really severe test during his expedition – Ariobarzanes.

Ariobarzanes had 25,000 men under his command and the advantage of the high ground. Thus, when the Macedonians approached the Gates from a narrow defile, Ariobarzanes’ men were able to rain rocks and stones down on them with impunity.

The Macedonians tried to climb up the walls of the defile to confront their enemy but the rocks were too unstable. As hands grasped them they came free sending the men tumbling down. There was nothing for it, Alexander had to retreat.

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