Posts Tagged With: Battle of the Hydaspes River

Alexander the Hungover Conqueror?

In an article for The Sydney Morning Herald, on how we can say and do things that we regret while hungover as well as drunk, columnist Sam de Brito states that

Alexander the Great (who died of alcoholism) conquered most of the known world, putting endless cities to the sword while hungover.

You can read it here.

First of all, I should say that I don’t know the background to the article: it doesn’t reference any particular event and the heading – ‘Victoria Bitterly divorced’ – appears as no more than a pun on the name of an Australian brewer. Perhaps a high ranking member of the family or company that owns it is going through a messy divorce case.

So far as this blog post is concerned, however, that is by-the-bye as I am going to focus solely on de Brito’s statement regarding Alexander.

***

Firstly, he states as fact that Alexander ‘died of alcoholism’. Actually, the cause of Alexander’s death is not known with any certainty. The Macedonian king might have died of alcoholism but he also might have died of malaria, typhoid or been poisoned. The ultimate cause of his death might just have been natural causes – his body worn out by the damage done to it during thirteen plus years of campaigning. In short, though, De Brito has no grounds to assert that alcohol was the killer.

Secondly, he states that Alexander ‘conquered most of the known world, putting endless cities to the sword while hungover.’

This is the kind of statement that seems reasonable until you actually think about it. Yes, Alexander ‘conquered most of the known world’ but is it very likely that a person could conduct a successful thirteen year military campaign in an inebriated state?

I personally doubt it but let’s say – for the sake of argument – that it is, what of Alexander specifically? de Brito’s charge finds no favour with Plutarch. In Chapter 23 of his Life of Alexander, he states

Alexander was also more moderate in his drinking than was generally supposed. The impression that he was a heavy drinker arose because when he had nothing else to do, he liked to linger over each cup, but in fact he was usually talking rather than drinking: he enjoyed holding long conversations, but only when he had plenty of leisure. Whenever there was urgent business to attend to, neither wine, nor sleep, nor sport, nor sex, nor spectacle could ever distract his attention, as they did for other generals. The proof of this is his life, which although so short was filled to overflowing with the most prodigious achievements.

I am sure Sam de Brito researched his article before filing it so it is unfortunate that he missed this.

***

But perhaps de Brito only had a limited amount of time to write his article and happened to use Curtius instead. If anyone is going to present a picture of a warrior-king slaughtering his way across the world while being slaughtered, it is surely him. Curtius writes,

Alexander had some great natural gifts: a noble disposition surpassing that of all other monarchs; resolution in the face of danger; speed in undertaking and completing projects; integrity in dealing with those who surrendered and mercy towards prisoners; restraint even in those pleasures which are generally acceptable and widely indulged. But all these were marred by his inexcusable fondness for drink.
(Curtius 5.7:1)

de Brito’s article gives the impression that he has read the last sentence in the quotation above and used it as the lens through which he sees Alexander, either in ignorance or dismissal of Plutarch’s words.

***

To be honest, I doubt de Brito has read any of the sources – his allegation comes across as the kind of thing someone who-got-it-from-his-mate-who-was-told-it-by-his-old-man-(probably-while-hungover)-who-knew-all-that-old-stuff would say use.

However, let’s take de Brito seriously and ask what does Curtius have to say about the role of alcohol during the course of Alexander’s career? After all, the above quotation certainly speaks of a man whose life was coloured by it. Does Curtius present Alexander as being hung over during his conquests? Let’s find out.

***

de Brito talks about Alexander being hungover while ‘putting endless cities to the sword’. To get a more representative look at what role alcohol might have played in his career, I have picked ten major military actions that Alexander took part in. Obviously, as Books I and II of Curtius’ have been lost, I am starting with Book III.

The Siege of the Celaenaeans’ Citadel
(III.1.1-8)
After entering Celaenae without any difficulty, Alexander laid siege to its citadel. At first, the Celaenaeans were defiant, but as the days passed, and – presumably – their food and water ran low they offered to surrender if Darius did not send a relieving force within the next sixty days. Alexander agreed, and when no Persians arrived, the Celaenaeans duly surrendered. Two months is plenty of time for Alexander to have got drunk once, twice or maybe sixty times. However, not only does Curtius make no mention of any drinking taking place in the Royal Tent, he says that Alexander left Celaeanae after just ten days. He was a man with a mission and didn’t have time to mess around with alcohol.

The Battle of Issus
(III.7-10)
In the lead up to Alexander’s first confrontation with Darius, we see him stopping in Soli and enjoying a holiday. No doubt he enjoyed a drink there but Curtius does not mention it – neither does he record Alexander drinking at any other point before the start of the battle.

The Siege of Tyre
(IV.2-4)
This siege lasted for six months so Alexander undoubtedly enjoyed a few drinks along the way. And indeed, Curtius does state that ‘excessive drinking’ took place – but by the Tyrians. It occurred after ‘a sea-creature of extraordinary size’ beached itself on the Macedonian mole before slipping back into the sea. The Tyrians interpreted this as a sign of Neptune’s* anger with the Macedonians and the sure failure of their siege so started to celebrate.

* Curtius was a Roman

The Siege of Gaza
(IV.6.7-31)
Part of Curtius’ manuscript is missing here but in the portion we have there is no reference to Alexander drinking at any time during the siege.

The Battle of Gaugamela
(IV.11-14)
From the arrival of the ten ambassadors to the start of the battle at Gaugamela there is once again no mention of Alexander drinking. The night before the battle he stayed up late (IV.13.16) but not to drink – his mind was completely occupied by the fight to come.

The Susian Gates
(V.3.16-4.34)
Neither on the way to the Gates, not despite the humiliation of having to withdraw from them after the Persian boulder ambush, did Alexander turn to drink. Instead, he regrouped, found a new route, and took the fight to his enemy – winning.

The Sogdian Rock
(VII.11.1-27)
Upon his arrival at the Rock, Alexander examined ‘the difficulties of the terrain’ before him. The Sogdian Rock seemed too well protected to be taken and the Macedonian king ‘decided to…’ drink his frustration away? No. ‘leave, but then… was overcome by a desire to bring even nature to her knees’. During the siege, Alexander spent the whole day watching for any sign that his men had successfully completed their ascent. Curtius describes how, when night came and darkness fell, Alexander ‘withdrew to take refreshment’. Perhaps this included a little wine? I expect so but no so much as the king was up before daybreak the next morning to continue his watch.

The Aornos* Rock
(VIII.11.2-25)
At first, Alexander was baffled as to how this outcrop might be taken but soon found help – not from wine but a local guide. When the time came to launch an attack, Alexander was the first to clamber over the makeshift ramp that the Macedonians had built to cover the gap between the rock and surrounding land. The fight was hard fought and when mounting casualties forced Alexander to order a retreat it looked like the Indians had won. But, though forced back, the Macedonians had unnerved them and, two nights later, the Indians tried to flee from the rock. Alexander was sufficiently clear headed to order them to be pursued and cut down.

* Curtius calls it the Aornis Rock

The Battle of the Hydaspes River
(VIII.13.5-27)
When Alexander arrived at the Hydaspes he did not know how to cross its broad expanse without being cut down by Porus’ army, which was waiting for him on the other side. At the Aornos Rock, a guide had shown him the way. This time, he used his own guile – his own clear-headed, no reference to alcohol once again, guile.

The Mallian City
(IX.4.15-33)
Before carrying out what must surely rank as one of the most famous jumps in military history, Alexander had to quell a potential mutiny in the Macedonian ranks. His army had thought that after turning west at the Hyphasis River, they were ‘quit of danger’. Realising that this was not so, they ‘were suddenly terror-stricken’. Alexander met his men’s fear head on and inspired them to follow him into battle once more. Could he have done this while hungover? I doubt it. By now it can go without saying that, there is – yet again – no reference to Alexander drinking at this time.

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Ten military actions ranging from Asia Minor to India. No direct references to Alexander drinking alcohol let alone being hungover during operations. Curtius accuses Alexander of marring his talents ‘by his inexcusable fondness for drink’, I accuse him (once again) of resorting to sensationalism and exaggeration.

As for Sam de Brito, I am sure he is an excellent journalist, but on this occasion, I can’t help but feel that he trusted to his historical knowledge more than was perhaps wise. Maybe he wrote his article while hungover.

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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!
Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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