Posts Tagged With: Battle of the Granicus River

9. The Granicus River

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘Alexander was not far from the Granicus when riders came at speed from the forward posts to report that the Persians were ranged ready for battle on the far bank of the Granicus. Alexander then began to form his entire army for battle.’
(Arrian I.13.2)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

The Granicus River today

Credit Where It’s Due
Granicus River: Livius

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The Light of Philip Recedes

Justin’s Alexander
Book XII Chapters 1-4
Part Four
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 One
For the Greeks, burying the dead was a matter of religious necessity. If they were not laid to rest in the proper fashion, their souls could never pass through ‘the gates of Hades’ (Iliad 23:71*) and have peace.

Justin states that Alexander lost a number of his men ‘in the pursuit of Darius’. Being religiously devout, he made sure to bury them before resuming his eastward march.

But though Alexander was a pious man, he was also, as we have seen, an expert manipulator of people. Thus, he not only buried his men, but did so ‘at great expense’.

This reminds me of the burial of those who died in the Battle of the Granicus River. In 11:6, Justin states that they were buried,

… sumptuously as an encouragement to the rest, honouring them also with equestrian statues, and granting privileges to their relatives.

I am sure the men deserved the special care and honour given to them. But I am equally sure that Alexander was keen to forestall any disquiet in his army occasioned by losses** so early on in the expedition. This, of course, was no longer an issue after Darius’ death, but Alexander was surely keen to keep his men’s morale up so that he could keep pushing east. Lavish funerals were one way to achieve that (as, no doubt, were the 13,000 talents he distributed to the survivors, afterwards).

Following the death of Darius, Justin reports that Alexander was given news of King Agis’ failed revolt back in Greece, King Alexander of Epirus’ failed war in italy, and the death of Zopyrion, the ‘lieutenant-general’ of Scythia (Thrace, according to Curtius – see Chapter One). Alexander cried for Zopyrion’s loss; but, lest we get too dewy-eyed about his empathy, Justin says that the king,

…was affected with various emotions but felt more joy at learning the deaths of two rival kings, than sorrow at the loss of Zopyrion and his army.

It seems to me that here we either have proof of where Alexander’s ultimate priorities lay or an attempt by Justin to blacken his character.

Staying with Justin, he clearly liked Agis as he dedicates the next paragraph of his short work to an account of the king of Sparta’s fall. Agis kept fighting even as his men fled the battlefield. He wanted the world to know that if he was ‘inferior to Alexander [it was] in fortune only, not in valour’. Justin was convinced. When Agis died, he did so ‘overpowered by numbers… superior to all in glory.’

‘Superior to all’. Even, one must assume, to Alexander the Great.

* The Iliad tr. by Stephen Mitchell (Wiedenfeld & Nicholson 2012)

** Admittedly, Justin says that only 129 Macedonians died at the Granicus River. I am presuming that this is an under-exaggeration (is that a real phrase?)

Chapter Two
This chapter is given over to an account of Alexander of Epirus’ actions and death in Italy and of Zopyrion’s death.

Chapter Three
Justin now confuses me a little. As mentioned above, he states that Alexander ‘felt… joy at learning the deaths of two rival kings’. I.e. Agis and Alexander of Epirus. Now, however, he reports that,

…he  [Alexander of Macedon] assumed a show of grief on account of his relationship to Alexander [of Epirus], and caused the army to mourn for three days.

By saying that Alexander ‘assumed a show of grief’, is he suggesting that it was not real?

Whatever the answer, Justin doesn’t dwell on it. Instead, he gives us another example of Alexander the manipulator. With Darius dead, his men think they will be going home. In a general assembly, the king tells them Not so. We did not come for Darius’ body but his throne. If we return west now, our victories in previous battles will count for nothing.

The barbarians of the east had to be subjected, and – perhaps more to the point for Alexander, – those who had killed Darius had to be punished. Now that Alexander was Great King, he had to avenge his predecessor.

At this point, Justin pauses long enough to tell the story of Alexander’s thirteen day tryst with Thalestris (aka Thallestris), whom he also calls Minithya. Once that is over, he states that,

Alexander assumed the attire of the Persian monarchs, as well as the diadem, which was unknown to the kings of Macedonia, as if he gave himself up to the customs of those whom be had conquered.

At the same time, and in emulation of the Persian kings, he began holding extravagant feasts, games alongside them, and sleeping ‘among troops of the king’s concubines of eminent beauty and birth.’. To forestall criticism of this medising, Justin says that Alexander ‘desired his friends also to wear the long robe of gold and purple.’

Justin himself has no time for this behaviour, and he accuses Alexander of ‘being utterly unmindful that power is accustomed to be lost, not gained, by such practices’. This is the most critical Justin has been of Alexander since 11:10.

Chapter Four
Alexander’s army was equally unimpressed. According to Justin, there was,

… a general indignation that he had so degenerated from his father Philip as to abjure the very name of his country, and to adopt the manners of the Persians, whom, from the effect of such manners, he had overcome.

But Alexander was undeterred, and just as he had asked his friends to adopt Persian dress, he encouraged the rank and file to marry barbarian women. This policy had a duel purpose. Firstly, to make the Macedonians accept Alexander’s behaviour, and secondly, to make the men think of home – Macedon – less often, for if their wives were here, their home would now be the camp. Thirdly, the marriages would produce sons who would grow up to succeed their fathers in the army. We can argue about the morality of Alexander’s actions, but there’s no denying the cleverness of this policy, one which was – Justin says – continued by the Successors.

The gathering clouds are definitely getting very dark now. It’s true, we see him being pious but perhaps also fake (in his supposed grief for Alexander of Epirus) and definitely effete according to the Macedonians. Alexander’s adoption of Persian dress and customs, and his attempt to draw his men into that lifestyle, is driving a wedge between him and his army.

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Earth and Water

The Nature of Curtius
Book Four Chapters 11-16
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter 11
Tears and Hard Ground
On the eve of the Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander received another letter from Darius. In it, the Great King offered further concessions to him in order to end the war between them. These included – once again – Stateira II’s hand in marriage but this time all territory west of the Euphrates River. Alexander was warned that taking the whole empire would be ‘fraught with danger’ and that it would be difficult to control.

Why did Darius think Alexander might respond to this letter any more positively than his last?

A few days earlier*, Stateira I had died. Upon being informed, Alexander wept copious tears for her, and he gave his permission for her funeral to be carried out in the ‘traditional Persian fashion’.

In the confusion following Stateira’s death, a eunuch** belonging to the Persian royal family escaped from the Macedonian camp and made his way to Darius’ tent. There, he told the Great King how Alexander had cried for his late wife, having treated the royal women with the utmost respect since capturing them following the Battle of Issus.

It was this insight into Alexander’s kindness that gave Darius the confidence to send his letter.

Unfortunately, the seeds did not fall on fertile ground and Alexander dismissed Darius’ offer. “‘He generously gives me the land beyond the Euphrates,'” Alexander said, contemptuously, “‘[but] I am already across the Euphrates and my camp stands beyond the boundary of the land he generously promises me as dowry!'”

The ambassadors were allowed to return to Darius. They did so, and told him that ‘battle was imminent’.

* The following account comes from Chapter 10

** Curtius gives his name as Tyriotes

Chapter 12
Mist and Sun
As the Macedonian army marched towards Gaugamela, a strange event happened. ‘Intermittent flashes in the bright sky, of the type seen on hot summer days [and which] had the appearance of fire’ were seen. The Macedonian soldiers thought ‘that they were flames gleaming in Darius’ camp, and that they had negligently advanced among enemy outposts’. This caused a general panic to occur.

Realising what was happening, Alexander stopped the march and told his men to ‘lay down their arms and rest’. While they did so, he reassured them that the Persians were still a long way off and that they were in no danger.

As it happens, however, they were, for Mazaeus and his cavalry party were on a hilltop overlooking the camp. Curtius says that if he ‘had struck while [the Macedonians] were still panicking a terrible disaster could have been inflicted’ on Alexander’s army. But he didn’t. Although he had 3,000 horse with him Mazaeus would have known he was hopelessly outnumbered. So, he stayed put ‘content not to be under attack’.

To go back to the flashes of light for a moment, I presume from the Macedonian soldiers’ reactions they thought they were seeing the reflection of the sun on the Persians’ armour and weaponry and that this meant they had drawn too close to their enemy. It makes a lot more sense that fiery flashes of light across a blue sky.

Whatever the cause of the flashes, they unnerved the Macedonians enough to make Alexander call a halt to the proceedings for the day and set up a fortified camp.

The next day, Mazaeus withdrew from the hilltop. The Macedonians took his position. From their new vantage point they had a good view of the battlefield. It was a humid day, however, and a mist descended. While it wasn’t heavy enough to obscure the plain before them, ‘it did render it impossible to see how [the Persian] forces were divided and organized.’

Presently, the mist lifted and the two armies were revealed to each other. Both shouted their war-cries ‘and the woods and valleys round about rang with a terrifying noise’.

Chapter Thirteen
Spikes in the Ground
This chapter is concerned mostly with the Persian and Macedonian armies preparation for war, so is of little interest to us. It does conclude, however, with a sole horse rider galloping out of the Persian camp and towards Alexander. His name was Bion and he was a deserter. He warned the Macedonian king that Darius had placed iron spikes in the ground where he thought the Macedonian cavalry intended to ride during the battle. I don’t recall any similar practice at the Granicus River or Issus and if memory serves, Alexander himself never employed such a tactic. Perhaps he thought it would undermine his glory.

Chapter Fourteen
Empire and Prison
Alexander encouraged his men with a bold speech. He spoke, as it were, to two people – the brave and non-brave.

To the brave, he made the land out to be a place of triumph, where they had won great victories (e.g. at the Granicus River and Issus) or had passed through as victors (e.g. the Cilician Mountains, Syria and Egypt).

To the non-brave, however, the land was represented as an enemy. You have come so far, he said, that ‘all those rivers and mountains [are] a barrier’ behind you. If you want to go home, you are going to have to fight.

Darius also spoke of barriers. Not natural ones, though; that would have been difficult having wrought so much destruction upon the land as part of his defensive operations. Instead, the Great King asked his men to be living barriers that would save the lives of their families who waited behind them.

Chapter Fifteen
The Eagle
The Battle of Gaugamela was in full bloody flow when Alexander’s guards caught sight of ‘an eagle gently hovering just above the king’s head, frightened neither by the clash of arms nor the groans of the dying’.

Aristander – dressed as a priest and with a laurel-branch in his hand – pointed the eagle out to the soldiers as it maintained its station saying (or, more likely, shouting, if he really was there) that it was ‘an infallible omen of victory’.

Up till now, the Macedonians had been in a state of terror. Upon being alerted to the eagle’s presence, however, they became ‘fired with tremendous enthusiasm and confidence for the fight’. This confidence increased when Darius’ charioteer was killed.

Dominos now started to fall. The charioteer was mistaken for Darius. The Persian Cavalry let out a huge cry. This unsettled the entire Persian army. The left-wing folded and the army started to retreat. The Macedonians gave chase. The battle ended and a massacre began.

Chapter Sixteen
A Bridge Too Far
Darius fled to the Lycus River (the modern day Greater Zab). Crossing it, he contemplated destroying the bridge behind him. But although he knew that would prevent the Macedonians from pursuing him, he decided not to do as it would also condemn many of his men to death.

In the hours that followed, however, the Persian soldiers themselves either caused the bridge to collapse or surely came close to doing so as they ‘overloaded’ it in their haste to flee the battlefield. So desperate were they that not only did men attempt to wade across the Lycus – with some being carried away under the weight of their armour – but they also trampled over each other in order to reach the other side. It was an ignominious end to the battle of empires.

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The man who had it all

The Nature of Curtius
Book Four Chapters 1 – 4
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter 1
The King Without a Crown
In the last post, we saw how Darius lost the Battle of Issus but was able to escape from the battlefield using horse relays. At the beginning of this chapter, Curtius makes the very poignant point that the Great King fled

through terrain which he had filled with armies almost beyond number but which was now deserted – to form one vast and solitary wilderness.

So, having lost the symbols of his kingship when he removed his royal insignia at the start of his flight it was now as if Darius had now lost his very kingdom. The earth had turned its back to him.

And I think that the earth could not have deserted (if you’ll excuse the pun) a more appropriate king. We know from the other Alexander historians that Memnon of Rhodes recommended a scorched earth policy prior to the Battle of the Granicus River, and that while the satraps had rejected his advice, as Alexander mentioned in his response to Darius’ letter, the Persians had form for carrying out such devastating actions*.

And, of course, there is Arsames – the satrap of Cilicia – who did indeed destroy his land upon Alexander’s approach.

Speaking of Alexander’s letter, it led to what must have been a very long journey for Thersippus who was given the responsibility of delivering it. If you have seen the film 300 you will know that messengers were not always treated very well (see the film clip below).

Admittedly, 300 is not your go-to film for an example of historical accuracy but if we jump forward to chapter 2 of Curtius’ book for a moment, what do we find happening to Alexander’s heralds after they entered Tyre to warn the Tyrians to make peace with the Macedonian king? They were killed and their bodies thrown over the city walls and into the sea. This. Is. Tyre!

In Sidon**, Alexander overthrew the king and gave the job of nominating a successor to Hephaestion. He offered the kingship to the two noblemen he was lodging with only for them to turn it down as they were not members of the royal family.

Impressed by their humility, Hephaestion invited them to chose the new king. They turned to a poor gardener named Abdalonymus who was ‘distantly related to the royal family’.

In what must be one of the nicest scenes in any biography of Alexander, the two noblemen visited Abdalonymus as he worked in his garden. There, they told him to take off his rags, clean himself up, and put on the royal clothing they had brought him.

The choice of Abdalonymus as king did not meet with everyone’s approval. So, Alexander summoned him in order to assess his character. How did you endure your poverty? He asked him. Abdalonymus replied,

‘These hands of mine satisfied my needs. I had nothing, but lacked nothing.’

I don’t know anything about Abdalonymus’ later career except that the Alexander sarcophagus may have been made for him.

I wonder, though, if Curtius was telling us something about Abdalonymus’ future when, as the two noblemen greeted him, the king-to-be was described as pulling up weeds. Weeds today, corrupt officials tomorrow***?

* In his letter, Alexander referred to how Xerxes I ‘left Mardonius in Greece so that he could destroy our cities and burn our fields’
** Or Tyre according to Diodorus, who also called Abdalonymys ‘Ballonymus’ (see here)
*** I must also mention the fact that when the noblemen met Abdalonymus he had no idea that Alexander and Darius were contending with one another for control of the latter’s empire. He was wise, humble and aloof.

Chapter 2
Re-Maker of Worlds
In this post, we have seen nature used as a metaphor – for the loss of a kingdom and for wisdom. At the start of the second chapter, Alexander threatens the Tyrian envoys by using what appears to be hyperbole. You think you are safe, he tells them, because you live on an island,

‘… but I am soon going to show you that you are really on the mainland.’

As it happens, the envoys believed him. To its cost, however, the city did not.

Alexander’s prophecy came true in two ways. Firstly, when his mole finally reached the island. And secondly when, over the years, the mole caused the sea to silt up around it to the point where the old city and island city could be completely joined. For images of joined-up Tyre today, see this post.

Alexander’s ability to not only use the land but change it according to his wishes stand in stark contrast to the impotent figure of Darius as he rides through the lonely wilderness.

Alexander intended to build a mole (i.e a causeway) to carry his army to the gates of the city. He was opposed not only by the Tyrians, but also the weather.

For example, Curtius says that a gap of four stades (under half a mile) separated Tyre from the mainland. That gap was assaulted by a strong ‘south-westerly wind, which rolled rapid successions of waves on to the shore’.

Then there was the depth of the sea which, beyond the shoreline, fell into a ‘fathomless’ depth. Although this was an exaggeration, as it turned out, the sea was still deep enough to fill the Macedonian soldiers ‘with despair’ when they saw it.

But Alexander was stronger than their hopelessness, and he got his men to work. The mole soon began to rise out of the sea.

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