Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 81 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
The Benefactors live up to their name
Gedrosia falls into line
Satibarzanes returns to Aria
Erygius and Stasanor lead army against outlaw satrap
Alexander conquers Arachosia with ease
After Philotas’ execution, Alexander stayed in Dranginê (Drangianê) just long enough to ‘settle’ the region before moving on. He next entered the country of the Arimaspians, also known as the Benefactors. This name had been bestowed on them by Alexander’s hero, Cyrus the Great (600/576 – 530 B.C.).
As Diodorus relates it, the founder of the Persian Empire had been campaigning ‘in the desert’ when he ran out of provisions. Desperate for food, his soldiers began eating each other. For reasons Diodorus does not explain, the Arimaspians came to Cyrus’ aid with no less than thirty thousand wagons filled with food. In gratitude, Cyrus exempted the tribe from paying taxes as well as giving it ‘other marks of honour’. He also abolished their name, replacing it with ‘Benefactors’.
I suppose it is possible that the Benefactors acted out of the goodness of their hearts, though it is – admittedly – more likely that they were ordered to help, or else did so to secure political advantage. If the latter, the two hundred years since Cyrus’ death had seen no diminution in the tribe’s political acumen. For when Alexander entered Arimaspia, they ‘received him kindly’. No doubt eager to emulate his hero as much out of gratitude for the welcome Alexander ‘honoured the tribe with suitable gifts’. This pattern was repeated with the Cedrosians (aka Gedrosians). Finally, Alexander appointed a man named Tiridates to govern both peoples.
As is his wont, Diodorus now changes tack completely and returns to the subject of Satibarzanes. While Alexander was occupied with the Benefactors and Cedrosians, word came to him that the errant satrap ‘had returned from Bactria with a large force of cavalry to Areia [Aria]’.
Perhaps because he was eager to continue east, Alexander opted not to turn back himself in order to deal with the traitor. Instead, he appointed one of his long-time friend, Erygius, and Stasanor to lead an army against him.
For his part, Alexander continued east, entered Arachosia, and conquered it in a matter of days.
Diodorus’ account of the Benefactors is a lovely feel-good story. Of course the Arimaspians acted towards both Alexander and Cyrus out of self-interest but we shouldn’t let that detract from the sweetness of the moment. The fact is, both kings could easily have responded violently had they wished. But both were better than that and all was well that ended well.
In case the name of Erygius is not familiar to you – he was one of Alexander’s friends who took part in the Pixodarus Affair in 337 B.C. (and which I wrote about as part of my series on Plutarch’s Women here).
“You mean we had food all along, it was just on my head?”
Picture from Wikipedia