Posts Tagged With: Bactria

The Road to Marakanda – Spring 328 B.C.

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

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

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

As for Alexander himself, he

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Master of the Battle and Green Field

VI. Division 
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Alexander… after crossing into Sogdiana, divided his remaining strength into five, one division to be commanded by Hephaestion, another by Ptolemy, son of Lagus, a third by Perdiccas, a fourth by Coenus and Artabazus. The fifth he took over himself…
(Arrian IV.16)


Alexander arrived in Bactria in the Spring of 329 B.C. hot on the trail of Bessus. After a brief stop in Zariaspa to give his men time to recover from their crossing of the Hindu Kush, the Macedonian king led his army north. The chase ended on the Sogdian side of the Oxus River when Bessus was betrayed by his officers and handed over to Ptolemy*.

The capture of Bessus did not signify the end of Alexander’s presence in Sogdia or Bactria. Not long later, what appears to have been a multi-tribal native army, or armed force (Arrian III.30), attacked Macedonian foragers. Then, natives who lived in settlements along the Jaxartes (aka Tanais) River (A IV.1-4) rebelled against their new overlords. ‘They were joined in this hostile move by most of the people of Sogdiana… [and] some of the Bactrians’ (A IV.2). It would take Alexander nearly two years to pacify Bactria and Sogdia. It would never know peace, however.

After putting down the rebellion along the Jaxartes River, Alexander decided to cross the Jaxartes to attack some Scythians who had gathered there hoping to ‘join in an attack upon the Macedonians in the event of a serious rising’ (A IV.4), and suffered the loss of 2,300 men at the hands of a joint Scythian-native force led by Spitamenes who had decided to rebel against him (A IV.5-6).

Amidst all these events, Alexander was wounded twice and suffered a serious bout of dysentery. Operations continued until winter, which Alexander spent in Zariaspa.


The following Spring, Alexander led his men out of the city to deal with native settlements who had closed their gates to the governor. The unrest was so widespread Alexander was forced to divide his army up in order to deal with all the trouble.

Responsibility for bringing Bactria to heel was divided between Attalus, Gorgias, Meleager, and Polyperchon. I presume they acted independently of one another at this time but the text isn’t clear.

As for Sogdia, as we see from the quotation at the top of the post, the army was divided into five between Alexander himself, Hephaestion, Ptolemy, Perdiccas, and Coenus and Artabazus.

By-the-bye, the Sogdian operation is only the second time that Arrian has mentioned Hephaestion in the context of a military operation (the first being at [3] below). Here is a quick reminder of his previous appearances-

  1. I.12 During the visit to Troy
  2. II.13 In Sisygambis’ tent when she mistook him for Alexander
  3. III.15 Casualty list following the Battle of Gaugamela
  4. III.27 Given joint-command of the Companion Cavalry
  5. IV.12-13 Talking to Alexander the night Callisthenes failed to bow to the king

I don’t mention this in order to suggest that Hephaestion was not a good soldier. The picture we have of him in Arrian is Arrian’s own after Ptolemy and Aristobulos and such other sources as he has cared to use.

If anything, the grant of an independent command shows that Alexander clearly trusted his friend’s military capabilities. The times were simply too dangerous for the king to be handing divisions of his army over to friends just because they were friends.

Once the commands had been handed out, the

… four commanders carried out offensive operations as opportunity offered, storming the forts where some of the native tribesmen were trying to hold out, or receiving the voluntary surrender of others.
(A IV.16)

When these were completed, the generals returned in Marakanda. Hephaestion did not stay long, for Alexander sent him back out to ‘to plant settlements in the various towns’ (Arrian IV.16)

So, one minute a general, the next a settlement planner. Hephaestion was definitely a man of diverse talents. And we may talk of him as being very talented because his name crops up again and again when Alexander requires some kind of non-offensive operation to be completed.

For example,

332 Summer ‘Hephaestion conveys the fleet and the siege-equipment from Tyre to Gaza’
331 H. receives ‘a young Samian named Aristion, whom Demosthenes had sent in an effort to bring about a reconciliation with Alexander’
330 H. part of the ‘consilium’ that decided Philotas’ fate
328/7 H. collects ‘provisions for the winter’
327 Spring ‘Hephaestion and Perdiccas… sent ahead into India with a substantial force to act as an advance guard’


Alexander used him regularly for non-military operations: the founding of cities, the building of bridges and the securing of communications.

All the above quotes, including the last one, come from Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great by Waldemar Heckel (Wiley-Blackwell 2009) pp. 133-4. The final quote above ends ‘[these] constitute Hephaestion’s major contribution’. Obviously, Heckel has no great opinion of Hephaestion as a general. In my opinion, Arrian proves him wrong.

For the record, Heckel describes the five pronged operation in Sogdia as being ‘a mission that appears to have done little more than win back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled’ (ibid). I must emphasise that I don’t speak from a position of expertise here but I can’t believe that Alexander would feel the need to divide his army up for such a minor task.

* Or directly to Alexander – see Arrian III.30

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Striking out from the Tanais

The Nature of Curtius
Book Seven Chapter 6-9
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Six
War in the Mountains
While Alexander was dealing with Bessus, some Macedonian soldiers went off to forage. They were ambushed by natives ‘who came rushing down on them from the neighbouring mountains’.

Hearing about the attack, Alexander responded by laying siege to the natives. During his assault, the king was struck in the leg by an arrow.

From ‘their high position on the mountain’, the barbarians saw Alexander being carried away. But this did not embolden them to continue the defence of their lives let alone go on the offensive.

Instead, envoys came to Alexander in his tent and told him how ‘saddened’ they were by his injury and that ‘if they had found the culprit, they would already have surrendered him’. There is a context for this surprising attitude, for in the view of this tribe, ‘it was only the sacrilegious who fought against gods’.

After making peace with the tribe, Alexander was carried (on alternate days by cavalry and infantry in order to satisfy the honour of both) to Maracanda. From there, he set about pillaging and burning ‘the neighbouring villages’.

Back in Maracanda, he received a visit from a friendly Scythian tribe from the far side of the Tanais (Jaxartes) River. Curtius says that after ‘addressing the deputation courteously’ Alexander sent one of his Friends, a man named Derdas, over the river to warn the Scythian tribes there not to cross it ‘without the king’s order’ (permission?).

Derdas was also given orders ‘to explore the terrain and make an expedition… to those Scythians who live beyond the Bosphorus’. That would be some expedition indeed if Derdas was being told to go all the way back to the Hellespont.

What the above shows again is how much smaller Curtius’/Alexander’s conception of the world was. This is further seen in the fact that the Scythians on the far side of the Tanais were regarded as living on ‘European soil’.

Alexander now intended to build a new city on the banks of the Tanais – Alexandria Eschate (the Furthest). First, however, he had to deal with a revolt among the Sogdians and Bactrians, which had been set off by Spitamenes and Catanes.

Craterus was sent to lay siege to the city of Cyropolis while Alexander did the same to the city of the Memaceni. Both cities fell but not before Alexander lost some of his best men fighting the Memaceni and was himself knocked unconscious by a slingshot.

Once the two cities had fallen, Alexander sent a detachment to Maracanda, where Spitamenes had taken refuge, while he returned to the Tanais  to build Alexandria Eschate in just seventeen days.

Chapter Seven
At the start of the chapter, Curtius reiterates that Scythia north-of-the-Tanais is part of Europe, while south of the river, it is on Asian soil. He says, that the Scythians who live near Thrace belong to the Sarmatian tribe, while those who live ‘directly beyond the Ister’ (i.e. the Danube) are spread out as far as Bactra.

The Scythian people also live ‘quite far north, beyond which the land is covered with deep forests and endless wilderness’.

The reason for Curtius’ brief overview is that the Scythian king had decided Alexandria Eschate was too close for comfort and had sent his brother, Carthasis, to make war on the Macedonians. This was awkward for Alexander because he still had the revolt in the south to deal with.

There was no question of the Scythians not being confronted. If they weren’t, he told his officers during a war council, they – the Macedonians – would lose face to the Sogdians and Bactrians. If they did, and defeated the Scythian force ‘who then will hesitate to submit to us when we are also the conquerors of Europe?’

The meeting was not yet over when bad news came from Maracanda – Menedemus had been ambushed by Spitamenes and his detachment wiped out in a wood. The first Teutoburg.

Chapter Eight
God of the World
That night, Alexander pondered how best to conduct his assault against the Scythians. He had placed the royal tent on the banks of the Tanais so that he could open the flaps and observe the enemy on the other side of the river to make a count of their numbers. He did this through the night.

The next day, Scythian ambassadors arrived in the camp to try and dissuade Alexander from attacking them.

‘Had the gods willed that your stature should match your greed the world could not hold you. You would touch the east with one hand and the west with the other, and reaching the west you would want to know where the mighty god’s light lay hidden.’

This sums up Alexander. He was very greedy – for glory – and had he had his way he would certainly have carried on fighting to the east and westernmost points of the world.

Chapter Nine
Dionysus Outdone
The ambassadors failed to persuade Alexander to desist. Once they had departed, the crossing of the Tanais began.

Despite the current of the river which made steering the rafts difficult, and the archers on the far side, the Macedonians made it to the banks where they engaged the Scythians.

As for the battle, the Scythians were put into disorder as soon as the Macedonians landed. They tried to flee only to be pursued. At some point, the Macedonian cavalry ‘crossed the bounds of Father Liber’ – Dionysus/Bacchus – ‘marked by stones set out at frequent intervals and by tall trees with ivy-covered trunks’. It seems Alexander was able to stay with the pursuit long enough to see the boundary stones before he was forced to turn back to camp by his recent injuries.

Back in camp, good news came from the south – the Sogdian and Bactrian revolt had collapsed. Victory over the Scythians had made the rebels see ‘that no race was a match for Macedonian arms’.

No doubt feeling well pleased with how things had turned out, Alexander thereafter made for Maracanda. There, he buried Menedemus and his men before going on to lay waste to the countryside and executing all ‘men of military age’ in the usual fashion.

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Loose Tongues and Empty Stomachs

The Nature of Curtius
Book Seven Chapter 4
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Chapter Four
Bactria and Beyond
I am accustomed to reading about Alexander’s booziness, not so much about the Persians’. It is with a little surprise, therefore, that we begin this chapter with Bessus and his friends in the middle of a drinking session that, very surprisingly, is also a council of war. ‘Sodden with drink’ Bessus criticised Darius for confronting Alexander

in the narrowest defiles of Cilicia when retreat would have enabled him to lead them on into naturally protected areas without their realising it. There were so many rivers to serve as obstacles and so many hiding-places in the mountains, he said; caught among these, the enemy would have had no chance to escape, much less offer resistance.

As I understand it, Bessus is criticising Darius for confronting Alexander in the ‘narrowest defiles’ when he – Darius – could have retreated to more ‘naturally protected areas’, leading Alexander to follow him without realising what the Great King was doing. Had Darius done this, according to Bessus, the rivers and ‘many hiding-places in the mountains’ would have prevented Alexander from either escaping or offering resistance to the Persian Army.

What confuses me a little is that, while I understand how the presence of rivers might be considered an obstacle to Alexander, I can’t see how mountainous hiding places could be thought of in the same way. Surely they would be ideal for escape and resistance?

Perhaps it was just the drink speaking. Maybe, but if so it didn’t stop Bessus from going on to enunciate his own strategy, which was a fairly sensible one. It was, ‘to draw back into the territory of the Sogdians and to use the river Oxus as a barrier… until strong reinforcements could amalgamate from the neighbouring tribes’.

Bessus was satrap of Bactria and had 8,000 of its men in his army. They ‘faithfully carried out his orders as long as they thought that their intemperate climate would make the Macedonians head for India’. On the day they learnt that the climate had failed to divert their enemy, however, ‘they all slipped off to their villages’.

We aren’t told what Bessus made of this betrayal, only that he crossed the Oxus just as he intended. On the far side he burnt his boats and began recruiting Sogdian soldiers.

Alexander, meanwhile, brought his men out of the Caucasus Mountains in a state of near starvation and, it seems, uncleanliness. In both cases the men made do. Without oil to wash themselves with, they used pressed sesame. And in the absence of grain*, they ate fish and herbs. At least there was fresh water to be had from the mountain streams. When the food ran out, the Macedonians were obliged to start slaughtering their pack animals. This continued until they entered Bactria.

Curtius describes Bactria as being an environmentally diverse country. It is, he says, is both fertile and barren. Where the country is fertile, there is ‘rich soil’, ‘plentiful trees and vines’, wheat crops and grazing grounds.

Where it is barren, nothing grows. In fact, it is desert, and as ever a dangerous desert at that. Winds blow in from the Pontic Sea (i.e. the Caspian) creating sand dunes and destroying the road. People crossing the desert do so by night so that they can use the stars to navigate.

The city of Bactra (aka Zariaspa, modern day Balkh) stood at the foot of the Caucasus – which Curtius calls Mt Parapanisus**. The river Bactrus, he says, follows the example of the Araxes River*** by flowing past Bactra rather than through it.

The chapter concludes with news of a revolt in Greece†, the march of the Scythians to Bessus’ camp and Erygius’ duel with Satibarzanes††, which was won by the Macedonian officer.

*there were grain stores around, but the natives had hidden them too well for the Macedonians to find

** As compared to Diodorus who calls it the Paropanisum

*** At Persepolis

† By the Peloponnesians and Laconians. This revolt concluded with the Battle of Megalopolis between Antipater and King Agis that we saw at the start of Book Six

†† Still only one of three that I know to have taken place during either Alexander’s life or the diadoch period. The other two are Dioxippus vs Coragus (c. 326/5 B.C. My post on Diodorus’ account of it is here) and Eumenes vs Neoptolemus in 320 B.C.

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Zephyros Lends A Hand

The Nature of Curtius
Book Six Chapters 6-11
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Chapter Six
Outcrop Siege
After killing Darius, Bessus fled to his home satrapy of Bactria (Bactriana to Curtius). There, he declared himself to be the Great King’s successor and renamed himself Artaxerxes IV. Satibarzanes, the satrap of Areia, brought news of this to Alexander. He was rewarded for his help by being confirmed in his office.

Alexander’s next move was to set off for Bactria so that he could confront Bessus. While he was on the road, Parmenion’s son, Nicanor, died. Short of supplies, the king left Nicanor’s brother, Philotas, to conduct the appropriate funeral rites.

Meanwhile, letters arrived from various satraps informing Alexander that Bessus was riding out to meet him and that Satibarzanes had defected to the pretender’s side.

Alexander decided to deal with Satibarzanes first. Unfortunately, he was not able to catch up with him before the traitor was able to flee to Bactria with 2,000 cavalrymen. He would still get a fight, though, for the rest of Satibarzanes’ army fled no further than the nearby hills.

13,000 Arians took refuge on a ‘rocky outcrop’ that was 32 stades in circumference. Curtius describes it as being ‘sheer on the west side but with a gentler gradient towards the east’. It benefitted from ‘dense tree-cover and a year-round spring with a generous flow of water’. The rebels were located on the outcrop’s ‘grassy plateau’.

Alexander ordered Craterus to lay siege to Artacana* while he rode after Satibarzanes. After realising that the satrap was too far ahead he made his way to the outcrop.

Things did not go easily there. Alexander ordered the ground to be cleared but was obliged to stop when he came to ‘impassable crags and sheer precipices’. This sounds like he was on the west side of the outcrop – Curtius doesn’t say why Alexander could not attempt an assault on it from the east. Perhaps the forest was too thick? Or the gentle gradient ended in broken land?

Whatever the reason, Alexander now set himself to working out how to overcome the natural barrier. Many plans passed through his mind but none seemed satisfactory. In the end, nature came to his aid.

It was a breezy day with the wind coming in ‘strong from the west’. While they waited for their king to decide what to do, the Macedonians cut the fallen trees up, perhaps for future as firewood. Seeing this, Alexander had a plan. He ordered his men to build a great bonfire. It rose, Curtius says with a little hyperbole, ‘to equal the height of the mountain**’ When it was lit, the wind blew the flames directly ‘into the faces of the enemy’. The fire burned so fiercely that the sky was covered by thick, black smoke.

Curtius doesn’t say it but sparks from the fire must have travelled across the space between the bonfire and plateau. The Arians did their best to escape the flames but to no avail. Some committed suicide by throwing themselves into the fire, others by jumping over the edge of the outcrop to be smashed upon the rocks below. Some prepared to fight to the death while the remainder, ‘half-burnt’, surrendered.

Once the outcrop was taken, Alexander rode to Artacana to lead the siege against the city. Upon seeing the Macedonian siege towers, the Artacanians surrendered.

From Artacana, Alexander proceeded to Drangiana to confront its satrap, Barzanaentes, who was a Bessus-loyalist and who had taken part in Darius’ murder. ‘Fearing the punishment he deserved, Barzaentes fled into India’.

* Artacoana in Arrian, Chortacana in Diodorus; ‘probably Herat’ today, according to the Notes

** By ‘the mountain’ I assume Curtius is referring to the outcrop

Chapter Seven – Eleven
Mainly Speeches to Boot
These chapters cover the Philotas Affair and take place indoors – in the royal tent, which turns out to be able to accommodate over 6,000 people. Either the royal tent was rather bigger than I imagined or else Curtius is not quite correct.

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Across Mount Paropanisum

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 82, 83 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
The Paropanisadae: A Hidden People
Alexander Crosses the Paropanisum
Erygius Defeats Satibarzanes in a Duel
Bessus Betrayed and Executed

The Story
Chapter 82
Diodorus doesn’t say when exactly Alexander sent Erygius and Stasanor to deal with Satibarzanes but it is the last action of 329 B.C. – according to his reckoning – that he describes. Chapter 82 opens at the start of 328 B.C. I say by his reckoning because the Footnotes state that it was now the summer of 330 B.C.

‘In this year Alexander marched against the so-called Paropanisadae’ who lived in the far north (in a land named Paropamisus – Wikipedia).

Diodorus describes Paropamisus as being ‘snow-covered and not easily approached’. The land is ‘plain and woodless’. The parapanisadae live in homes with conical roofs that are open at the top so that smoke can escape through them. Due to the heavy snow, they are confined to their homes for much of the year. Indeed, when the Macedonians passed through Paropamisus, they only became aware that there were people living there when smoke rose out of the ground underneath them.

Diodorus paints an evocative picture, but again, he appears to be in error. The Footnotes advise that Paropamisus was ‘neither in the north nor a plain’.

As far as Diodorus is concerned, though, Paropamisus was bad news for Alexander. The sun shone so brightly that the snow dazzled the Macedonians’ eyes, causing some to be blinded. For others, the march was so exhausting that they ‘became exhausted and were left behind’.

Fortunately, relief came when the Macedonians realised they were standing on top of the Paropanisadae homes. The country was made subject to Alexander, and food taken or bought from the natives’ supplies.

Per the Footnotes, Alexander met the Paropanisadae in the winter of 330 B.C.and wintered there that year.

Chapter 83
Continuing his journey, Alexander next ‘encamped near the Caucasus, which some call Mt. Paropanisum’, and which we call the Hindu Kush.

The journey over the mountain took sixteen days to complete. On the way, Alexander’s guides showed him the cave where, they said, Prometheus had been bound. The guides were even able to show the king marks left by Prometheus’ chains, and where the eagle that ate Prometheus’ liver every day had its nest.

On the eastern side of the Paropanisum, Alexander stopped to found another Alexandria. It was settled with 7,000 natives, 3,000 ‘camp followers’, and mercenaries. ‘It is interesting,’ say the Footnotes, that the city ‘received no Macedonian settlers’.

Once Alexandria had been established, Alexander marched into Bactria – news had now reached him ‘that Bessus had assumed the diadem and was enrolling an army’.


As Alexander made his way into Bactria, Erygius and Stasanor entered Areia (Aria). They camped near to Satibarzanes’ army, and for a while the two armies skirmished and engaged each other in small numbers. Having sized each other up, the three generals but their armies into battle formation for the final showdown.

Unfortunately, Diodorus tells us nothing of the battle except that Satibarzanes’ men ‘were holding their own’ when Satibarzanes challenged any Macedonian general who dared to a duel. Erygius dared. He came forward, and the two men fought until Satibarzanes fell to the ground, dead.

The loss of their commander demoralised the Persian soldiers and they surrendered themselves. The battle was over.


Chapter 83 concludes with Bessus’ downfall. During a banquet with his friends, he got into an argument with one named Bagodaras. Bessus wanted to execute Bagodaras but was persuaded by his friends to let him live (does this sound familiar?). Unlike Black Cleitus, Bagodaras wisely decided he was better off somewhere that Bessus was not. He chose Alexander’s camp.

Alexander greeted Bagodaras warmly, and word was sent to Bessus’ generals that if they also came over to the Alexander’s side, they too would be given safe passage and gifts. This message did not fall on deaf ears. In fact, not only did Bessus’ generals switch sides, but they arrested Bessus and brought him as well.

Alexander kept his side of the bargain and gave the generals ‘substantial gifts’. As for Bessus, he gave him to Darius’ family to be punished as they saw fit. They subjected the pretender to the Great King’s throne to ‘humiliation and abuse’ before ‘cutting his body up into little pieces’ and scattering them.

A lacuna in the manuscript means we lose the ‘end of Diodorus’ year 328/7 and the beginning of 327/6′. Chapter 84 will commence in ‘the autumn of 327′. This information comes from the Footnotes, which also note that Diodorus’ account of the following events are lost,

  • Alexander’s ‘Scythian, Bactrian and Sogdian campaigns’
  • The Death of Black Cleitus
  • Introduction of Proskynesis
  • The arrest of Callisthenes
  • The Page’s Conspiracy
  • Alexander’s marriage to Roxane

When I read Chapter 82, I thought it very rum that Alexander left the exhausted of his people behind during their march through Paropamisus. Looking at it from his perspective, though, I suppose he did not have a choice. Delaying would have meant even more deaths in the awful conditions.

Why did no Macedonians settle in the new Alexandria? Perhaps the territory was too rough even for them.

Erygius’ duel with Satibarzanes is one of only two duels that I know to have taken place during Alexander’s lifetime or during the Successor period. The other involved Eumenes versus Neoptolemus during the First War of the Successors in 320 B.C., which Eumenes won (I wrote about both the war and duel here). A duel must be about the only thing that Alexander didn’t fight in his lifetime!

The list of events missed due to the gap in the manuscript is a big shame. I would especially, though, have liked to see how Alexander spoke to his men after Bessus had been captured. That was, after all, why they had continued east following the destruction of the royal palaces at Persepolis and the death of Darius (see here). More honeyed words, no doubt.

The Macedonian army can be seen bottom left








(You may need a magnifying glass Hubble telescope)

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Yesterday I read Alexander the Great and Bactria by Frank L. Holt. The book is published by E. J. Brill and I can confirm that for me it was. Holt offers some very valuable insights into Bactria’s pre-Alexandrian history. He also has a few words to say about what happened after Alexander left; though, as the title indicates, the focus of the book is on the Macedonian king’s visit (329 – 327 B.C.).
Ever since I became interested in the life and times of Alexander the Great the temptation for me has been to focus on the first half of his expedition – all that happened between Greece and Babylon. That was where he fought his three major battles, and won the Persian Empire, after all; what could that most strange and unknown part of the world, the ancient far-east, have to offer to compete with that?
Firstly, it had Alexander’s fourth major battle that I had conveniently forgotten about. It also had some of his most intense personal dramas; for example, the murder of Black Cleitus and his seemingly inexplicable marriage to a barbarian princess; it also had some serious military dramas, too – Alexander was injured more times after Babylon than ever he was before*.
The east also gave the Macedonian king some of his most fabulous triumphs; for example, the crossing of the Hindu Kush and scaling of the Sogdian Rock – as well as most serious reverses; e.g. the crossing of the Gedrosian desert. Therefore, the far-east most certainly deserves to be remembered, read and written about. So, that is why I am writing this post. I must also give credit, though, to Alexander’s Army for putting the thought of Bactria in my head in the first place, (thanks, specifically, to this discussion). It isn’t the first time Alexander’s Army has inspired me and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Back to Bactria. A wild and primitive place? Poor and inconsequential? Before reading Alexander the Great and Bactria that is what I might have said about it. Holt put me right, though.
According to Holt ‘[s]ome scholars’ (Holt, p. 39) believe that Darius I’s parents were ‘former Bactrian rulers’ (Ibid). Whether they were or weren’t, Bactria was of sufficient interest to Darius (549-486 B.C.) that he made his son, Ariamenes, its satrap. I’m not clear as to whether Darius’ son and heir, Xerxes, held that office prior to becoming the Great King, but after succeeding his father as Great King he appointed his son as satrap.
What did Bactria offer that made it so important? As Alexander found when he marched from Bactra to the Oxus River, part of the country is desert. But, citing Ammianus Marcellinus, Holt notes that it was ‘a fertile region with good grazing lands along the higher plains and in the mountains’ (Holt, p. 18). Marcellinus also praises ‘the quality of Bactrian flocks, including their proverbially strong camels’ (Holt, pp. 18-19). They must have been strong indeed to get a proverbial reputation for it!
Holt (p. 35) notes how Plutarch in his De Alexandri Magni Fortuna aut Virtute (L. 328C-329D) gives Alexander the credit for civilising the Bactrians,

Alexander… taught the Arachosians to till the soil, and persuaded the Sogdians to support rather than slay their parents… He induced the Indians to accept the Greek gods, and the Scythians to bury rather than eat the dead… He taught the Gedrosians the tragedies of Euripides and Sophocles… Thanks to Alexander, Bactria and the Caucasus peoples worship the gods of Greece… He planted Greek institutions all across Asia, and thus overcame its wild and savage way of living… His enemies could not have been civilized if they had not been beaten… Greekness was marked by excellence, but wickedness was the way of the barbarians.

I have to confess I had never heard of this text before. However, I have now found (a different translation of) it here.
Plutarch is almost amusing in his bias. As I see it, the fertile countryside and close attention of senior Persians is as strong an indication as I can think of that the country that was in its own way civilised**.
We need not limit this statement to the period of Darius I and afterwards – Holt points out that archaeological surveys have discovered ‘ample evidence for the early development of irrigation, commerce, and fortified cities in ancient Central Asia’ (Holt, p. 27). ‘Palatial architecture’ (Ibid) has been discovered – which I take to mean either the remains of palaces or high status homes – and ‘temple structures’ (Ibid).  The region went through its ups and downs (much like Greece with its own dark age) but we certainly do not appear to be dealing with primitive peoples here.
How did Bactria achieve its developed state? Holt says that archaeologists are coming to the view that a ‘Bactrian miracle’ occurred rather than a Persian or even Median one (Holt, p. 33). This suggests to me that not only did Bactrians have the right amount of food to live on but they also enjoyed the peace and cultural life necessary for a country to be able to develop.
After crossing the Hindu Kush, Alexander marched to Bactra unopposed. From there, he made his way to the Oxus River, this time opposed only by the fierce heat of the desert. It seems that Bactria, like Egypt, was a country ready and waiting to join his empire.
Things went wrong, though. Holt puts the blame on Alexander’ construction of Alexandria-Eschate (Alexandria the Furthest) on the Bactria-Sogdiana border. The natives regarded this as an intolerable infringement upon their way-of-life and took up arms. Eighteen months of bitter fighting followed.
How did it end? Holt says that while the death of (the principle rebel leader) Spitamenes, was ‘significant’ it was not ‘decisive’ (Holt, p. 67). Rather, ‘[i]t was rather the king’s treatment of the remaining Sogdian chieftains which ameliorated the situation’ (Ibid). What did Alexander do? Well, stop killing them for a start, then he gave them their previous positions of power back.
One other important thing also happened to bring peace to Bactria-Sogdiana: Alexander married Roxane, daughter of Oxyartes, a Bactrian nobleman. Curtius says she was ‘a woman of remarkable physical beauty with a dignified bearing rarely found in barbarians’ (8. 4. 23). And, indeed, prejudiced Roman writers! Her marriage to Alexander, though, is best understood as being of the same kind as Philip II’s to his various wives – a wholly political affair.
By-the-bye, Curtius says that their first meeting took place at a banquet and not after the capture of the Sogdian Rock. He also says that the banquet was arranged by Oxyartes with ‘typical barbaric extravagance’ (Ibid); a final piece of proof that Bactria – for all the political upheaval that had affected it – and Oxyartes were both very wealthy.
* If you would like to read more about Alexander’s injuries, I wrote about them here and here

** NB Bactria’s economy did not rely on Bactrians. Holt mentions the historian Arnold Toynbee who visited the region in 1960. In Toynbee’s eyes,

Bactria provides a classic example of a geographical ’round-about’ where “routes converge from all quarters of the compass and from which routes radiate out to all quarters of the compass again.”
(Holt, p. 31)

An obvious example of the international trade that Bactria must have engaged in is that in the beautiful jewel, lapis lazuli, which made its way (I’m sure amongst other places) to the Egyptian court.

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