Posts Tagged With: Babylonia

The Eagle That Saw Everything

The Nature of Curtius
Book Three Chapter 2 & 3
For the other posts in this series, click here

Chapter Two
A field outside Babylon
At the start of The Lord of the Rings there is a scene when a fox comes across the hobbits as they rest in the woodland of the Shire.

“‘Hobbits!’ he thought. ‘Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something mighty queer behind this.’ He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it.

Let us imagine a fox taking a walk down a country road just outside Babylon in 333 B.C. It is a mild November morning in Mesopotamia*, perfect hunting weather. Suddenly, the fox halts. He has heard a distant thud thud thud. He doesn’t round and run away, though. For one thing, the noise is mesmerising in its consistency; for another, he knows what it portends. The fox walks forward before stopping at the top of a slope.

Thud thud thud.

The noise grows louder. And then, after what seems an age, a column of men led by a cavalry officer appears from round a corner at the far end of the road. They don’t approach the fox, though; instead, they take another turn to his left.

For reasons best known to himself, the fox decides to follow the column. He wriggles his way underneath the hedgerow at the side of the road (It’s true, I may be making Mesopotamia sound like England here) and trots along the top of the hill for what seems an age.

As he walks, the breeze picks up and the fox hears shouting, trumpets blowing, feet marching and picks up the scent of many strange bodies.

Finally, the animal comes to the opposite end of the hill from where he started. And after emerging from underneath another hedgerow, he sees in the near distance a plain. And that plain is brim full of men gleaming with ‘purple and gold’.

‘The Great King’s army,’ he said to himself. ‘I have seen it before, but not this size. All his men must be here. And there is the Great King himself, standing on his chariot, reviewing his soldiers before they set off to battle. He is holding himself very proudly. But who is he about to fight? It must be a mighty foe, indeed.’ It was, but the fox had breakfast to catch, so never found out who this powerful enemy was.

As for the army – Curtius reports that Darius reviewed a quarter of a million infantry and sixty-two thousand cavalry on that plain. Although they came from many parts of his empire, not all regions were represented. The eastern provinces, Bactria and Sogdia, for example, had not had enough time to send men there.

I am assuming that the field used by Darius in the same way that the Romans used the Campus Martius – for pasturage and military exercises. It would be very rum the Great King used someone’s estate. Especially since he damaged it by digging a ditch to delineate the border of the area he was using for the review. Farmer Maggot would not have stood for that.

During the review, Darius asked his Athenian commander, Charidemus, if he thought that this army was enough to defeat Alexander’s. Charidemus replied bluntly that it was not. Insulted, Darius had him executed only to regret his decision immediately afterwards.

* I am basing this statement on the weather and climate for Baghdad as described here. I know that over time our climate changes; hopefully, in the case of Mesopotamia, it has not done so by too much in the last 2,300 years.

Chapter Three
Sacred Animals
A number of animals ‘accompanied’ Darius as he marched north to confront Alexander. There were the white horses that drew the ‘chariot consecrated to Jupiter’ (i.e Ahura Mazda) and behind them ‘a horse of extraordinary size’, which the Persians called ‘the sun’s horse’. They were driven by men wearing white robes and wielding golden whips. I’m sure the sting just felt the same, though.

Curtius describes Darius’ chariot as being mounted with images of two gods – Ninus and Belus. Between them ‘was a consecrated eagle made of gold and represented with wings outstretched’. I have to admit I was a little surprised when I read this as I am more used to thinking of eagles as Roman and Greek symbols.

Wikipedia says that some Greek writers wrote that the Achaemenes, the founder of the Archaemenid empire (c. 700 B.C.), was raised by an eagle. Perhaps Darius was referencing this? Or maybe Curtius added the detail in order to build up the architecture of his his narrative.

The eagle was not the only bird-of-prey on display. Darius wore a cloak that ‘bore a gilded motif of hawks attacking each other’. It sounds terribly impressive. But there’s no chance Curtius will leave us with that image of the Great King. Immediately afterwards he says that Darius wore his belt ‘in the style of a woman’. Can who ever is last out please clean up the sarcasm behind them.

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Susa

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 65, 66 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Fresh Troops Reach Macedonian Army
Alexander Enters Susa
EXPOSED: Darius’ Secret Order
POLL Should Alexander Have Used Darius’ Table?

The Story

Chapter 65
Leaving Babylon, Alexander started marching east towards the royal city of Susa. He was still in Babylonia when fresh troops from Macedon arrived at the camp. Here are their numbers as Diodorus gives them.

Macedonian

  • Cavalry 500
  • Infantry 6,000

Thracian

  • Cavalry 600

Trallian

  • [infantry?] 3,500

Peloponnesian

  • Cavalry ‘little less than’ 1,000
  • Infantry 4,000

Along with the soldiers ‘came fifty sons of the king’s Friends sent by their fathers to serve as bodyguards’. The fact that these men are identified as their fathers’ sons makes me wonder if they weren’t actually pages come to serve Alexander and be hostages to their fathers’ good behaviour.

Six days after leaving Babylon, Alexander entered Sittacene, which lay between Babylonia and Susiana. The country was a rich one ‘abounding in provisions of all sorts’ so Alexander let his men rest for a few days to allow them to recover from the excursions of their march.

While his men caught their breath, Alexander set about reviewing his army’s organisation. ‘He wanted to advance some officers and to strengthen the forces by the number and the ability of the commanders’. Officers who had proven their worth were promoted. He also made changes to the ‘situation of… individual soldiers’ in order to improve their lot.

Diodorus tells us that Alexander’s promotions and improvements increased his army’s devotion and obedience to himself. No doubt that was an intention of the reform, but the Footnotes suggest that he may also have been adapting the army for ‘impending mountain and steppe warfare’, a type of fighting that the traditional phalanx was not suited for.

Upon resuming its march, the Macedonian army made its way through Sittacene and into Susiana and hence to the capital, Susa, which he took ‘without opposition’. Indeed, Diodorus says that Abuleutes (Footnotes: Abulites according to Arrian and Curtius) the satrap had been told by a Darius to let Alexander take the city. Why? Darius thought Alexander would be distracted by Susa’s wealth and glamour thus allowing him more time to raise his third army.

Chapter 66
Susa had no shortage of wealth. It gave Alexander’s coffers 40,000 ‘talents of gold and silver bullion’ and 9,000 ‘talents of minted gold in the form of darics’.

During his tour of the royal palace, Alexander lifted himself onto the Great King’s royal throne. The dais upon which it stood was so high off the ground that Alexander’s feet were unable to reach the footstool and were left dangling.

A quick-thinking page placed a nearby table under his feet. Alexander approved of this solution. One of a Darius’ eunuchs, however, started to cry. When asked what was wrong, he explained that he was ‘grieved’ to see an object that was so highly regarded by Darius be used in such a base manner by Alexander.

Alexander sympathised. Believing that he had acted arrogantly he ordered the page to take the table away. At this point, Philotas interjected. You did not act arrogantly, he told the king, for your action ‘”… occurred through the providence and design of a good spirit.'”

Who would Alexander side with – the eunuch or Philotas? He chose the latter, justifying his decision by regarding Philotas’ words as an omen, and the table stayed where it was.

Comments
The new Macedonian and allied cavalry and infantry were brought by Amyntas son of Andromenes, who we saw leave for home in Chapter 49 (here).

When I read Chapter 65, I found myself wondering who the Trallians were. The Footnotes helpfully state that they were a Thracian tribe.

If the Footnotes are right that Alexander’s re-organisation of his army was carried out in order to adapt to the new forms of warfare that lay ahead then we can take it as an example of his genius as a general, able to not only adapt to new conditions but develop new forms of military organisation as well.

Diodorus’ anecdote regarding the satrap of Susa’s orders are not, the Footnotes say, mentioned by any other Alexander historian. The idea that Darius thought the Macedonians would be distracted by Susa’s wealth made me smile, though, as it presumably means that he thought the Greeks were decadent in the same way that the latter thought the Persians were. I had not considered this before.

The story of the throne reminds me of Curtius’ account of Orsines’ downfall at the hands of Bagoas. I have my doubts regarding the truth of that story (certainly as Curtius writes it) because it portrays Alexander in far too simplistic a manner: Bagoas has a word in his ear, the next thing you know, Orsines is dead. The same happens here: Alexander sits on the throne, the eunuch complains so he pacifies him, then Philotas has a word so Alexander does what he says. It’s all too neat (rather like the two Gordian knot traditions, which I wrote about here)

The Crying Eunuch would make a great name for a pub
“We deliver service with a smile… unless you move the tables, in which case the resident eunuch will start to bawl”

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: