Posts Tagged With: Battle of Chaeronea

Arrian I.10.1-6

In This Chapter
The Greek response to the fall of Thebes

News of Thebes’ fall spread throughout Greece, and the city-states who had been antagonistic towards Alexander rushed to reverse their position.

Arcadian troops had been sent by the city to aid Thebes; they had got as far as the Isthmus of Corinth before pausing to see how the battle went. Very useful. Upon seeing the Macedonians triumph, the soldiers condemned their leaders to death.

Elis recalled her (pro-Alexander) exiles.

Aetolia sent embassies to Alexander to ask forgiveness ‘for their own hint of revolution’.

Athens evacuated the countryside and closed the city gates. The Assembly passed Demades’ motion that ten ambassadors be sent to Alexander to congratulate him on his successful campaigns in Thrace and Illyria and Thebes.

The ambassadors were carefully chosen. There was only one criteria: they had to be men whom Alexander liked. Three years after Chaeronea, Athens knew she was in a sticky spot and was treading very carefully indeed.

After meeting the ambassadors, Alexander took no action against Athens but the city was not quite out of the woods. The king demanded the surrender of Demosthenes and eight of his associates. In his letter, Alexander blamed them for,

  1. Athens’ and Thebes’ defeat at Chaeronea
  2. the ‘subsequent wrongs committed on Philip’s death against both himself and Philip’ (I presume Alexander was accusing them of being part of the conspiracy to kill Philip here?)
  3. Thebes’ revolt

Athens did not fold, but very bravely asked Alexander ‘to forgo his anger’ against the nine men. He forgave eight of them. The ninth, Alexander said, had to go into exile. This was Charidemus, a naturalised Athenian citizen. Athens acquiesced and Charidemus went overseas where he joined Darius III’s war council.

Why did Alexander forgive any of the nine men? Arrian suggests it was either ‘out of respect’ for Athens or because he simply wanted to get the expedition to the east started.

Thoughts
I still can’t believe the Arcadian troops stopped to see how the battle was going before deciding to get involved or not! Given how cynical the ancient Greeks were about their treaties, I don’t suppose I should be surprised; but still -.

As you see above, the translation of Arrian’s Anabasis that I am using for these posts refers to the ‘hint of revolution’ in Aetolia. This makes their plea for forgiveness rather touching if a little pathetic. The Landmark Arrian omits any mention of hints. It says that the Aetolian tribes ‘had revolted on learning of the Thebans’ revolt’ (Landmark Arrian p.21).

I have to admit I am not quite sure why Alexander demanded above all else the exile of Charidemus. There is nothing in this chapter of Arrian that suggests he was any worse a person than, say, Demosthenes. Charidemus had been very powerful in Thrace; maybe Alexander feared the he might be again, or else simply wanted revenge for the trouble he had once caused Philip II.

Texts Used
Hammond, Martin (tr.) Arrian: Alexander the Great (Oxford, OUP, 2013)
Romm, James (ed.) The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander (New York, Pantheon, 2010)

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Arrian I.7.1-11

In This Chapter
Alexander marches against Thebes

Despite having to end his Thracian campaign prematurely, Alexander had done enough to ensure that Macedon’s northern borders would not be troubled for the rest of his reign.

He would not be so fortunate in regards the Greek city-states: they were always on the look out for an opportunity to rebel, and in Arrian’s Anabasis the first one to do so was Thebes.

The rebellion started when a group of rebels within the city invited likeminded exiles back home. Together, they murdered two Macedonian officers outside their garrison (established by Philip II in 338 BC following the Battle of Chaeronea) and persuaded the Theban Assembly to support their revolution.

The rebels employed a three point strategy to win the Assembly over.
They used slogans. Arrian describes how they made ‘play with the fine old slogans of ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’
Deceit. They claimed that Alexander had died in Illyria
Wish fulfilment. The rebels’ deceit worked because people wanted to believe that it was true

Alexander knew that if he let Thebes’ rebellion go unchecked, other city-states might follow. He may have had his head stuck in The Iliad but he was also a realist. So, he marched south at speed to confront the rebels.

Thirteen days later, Alexander entered Boeotia. The Thebans were taken back by the speed of his arrival. The rebels assured them, however, that the Alexander who had come was not Philip’s son but Alexander Lyncestis.

Arrian doesn’t tell us at which point the Thebans found out that Alexander son of Philip was still alive. On the fourteenth day after his departure from the north, however, Alexander arrived outside Thebes. There, Arrian tells us, he did not attack the city but paused so that the Thebans could have ‘a period of grace, should they wish to reconsider their disastrous decision’.

It would be easy to get carried away by Alexander’s kindness here but it was no doubt influenced by two practical concerns (a) a desire to avoid damaging his reputation among the Greeks by attacking a Greek city, and (b) a desire to rest his men in case fighting became necessary.

The rebels, however, were in no mood to turn back. Not only did they decline to reconsider but they sent out a large force of cavalry and infantry to attack the Macedonians. It managed to kill a few of the enemy before being chased back into the city.

The following day, Alexander moved his army to be closer to the Macedonian garrison in the Cadmea – ever since the murder of the two officers, the garrison had been under siege there. Then, Alexander stopped. He did not try to relieve the siege (the cadmea was surrounded by Theban palisades) or begin a general assault of the city. He still hoped, Arrian tells us, to end the rebellion peacefully.

And indeed, there were Thebans who wanted a return to Macedonian rule but the rebels were in too strong a position for the doves to make any headway. They ‘did everything in their power to press the people into war’.

Thoughts
‘making play with the fine old slogans‘ – Ouch. That’s proper sarcasm, there!
Something pointed out by the Notes in The Landmark Arrian – how Alexander, while in Illyria, knew what was going on in Thebes but the Thebans had no idea regarding where his army was or if he was leading it. That speaks to an impressive intelligence operation on Alexander’s part. The Notes say that Alexander had better intelligence than his rivals throughout his campaigns. I love spy stories so this is a really interesting angle for me.

Texts Used
Hammond, Martin (tr.) Arrian: Alexander the Great (Oxford, OUP, 2013)
Romm, James (ed.) The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander (New York, Pantheon, 2010)

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The Battle of Chaeronea and Its Aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noted

  • Diodorus does not mention the Sacred Band, wiped out by the Macedonians
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