Posts Tagged With: Bessus

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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Satibarzanes’ Betrayal

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 78 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Satibarzanes Revolts
Artacoana Chosen For Showdown
Satibarzanes Flees To Bessus – Men to Mountains
Alexander Subdues Aria

The Story
Diodorus begins Chapter 78 by finishing Chapter 77. He notes that even though Alexander adopted Persian customs and dress only ‘sparingly’ some people still complained. They were ‘silenced… with gifts’. I’ve made that sound very dramatic but the ellipsis really does only signify that I have missed a word out.

Meanwhile, Satibarzanes, the satrap of Aria, ‘made common cause with Bessus’, murdered his Macedonian guard and fled to Chortacana (aka Artacoana), a city of ‘great natural strength’ where he intended to hold out against Alexander.

This is Satibarzanes’ first appearance in Diodorus’ narrative. He holds an important position within it, however, as one of Darius’ murderers. The Footnotes appear to suggest that Satibarzanes and Alexander first met on the battlefield as they refer to Alexander defeating before confirming him in his satrapy. After doing so, he sent Satibarzanes on his way with a detachment of Macedonian soldiers to make sure he behaved.

On hearing of Satibarzanes’ betrayal, Alexander set out against him. The two never met, however, for as the Macedonian army approached, the satrap took fright at its size and reputation. He leapt onto his horse and with two thousand men rode for Bactria. Those followers who did not ride with him were told to hide in an unknown mountain.

We never found out what happened to the last people who ran into the mountains to escape Alexander but this time, Diodorus says that the king followed Satibarzanes’ men to their destination, laid siege to the place and brought about their surrender. A month later, all of Aria was under his control.

Once this was done, it seems that Alexander returned to Hyrcania again as Diodorus has him leaving there and moving on ‘to the capital of Dranginê [aka Drangianê], where he paused and rested his army’.

Why did Satibarzanes rebel against Alexander? Did he really think that Bessus would be able to do what Darius could not? Bessus must have been a very charismatic man to persuade him otherwise. I imagine that Satibarzanes was also swayed by Bessus’ rank. Bactria was the satrapy of kings. It’s where the heirs to the Archaemenid empire learned their trade before succeeding to the throne (See Livius here). Darius may not have had Bessus in mind to be his successor – he had a son, after all – but now that Codomannus was dead and Ochus was in Alexander’s hands – perhaps Bessus satrapal importance, the fact (?) that he had royal blood in him, and all that charisma made an irresistible combination.

As mentioned above, the Footnotes say that Alexander confirmed Satibarzanes as satrap of Aria ‘after defeating him’. I don’t know in what sense they mean this. Arrian says that the two men met in the Arian town of Susia where the confirmation took place. Curtius has Alexander confirming him after Satibarzanes enters the Macedonian camp and reports Bessus’ rebellion.

Opening This Week at an Amphitheatre Near You

Catch Me If You Can
A play about a satrap who conned his followers
into thinking he had any guts before doing a








Image from the British Museum

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Bessus takes up the fight against Alexander

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 74 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Bessus Reaches Bactria
Bessus Proclaims Himself King
Allie Greek Soldiers Dismissed

The Story
With Chapter 74 Diodorus enters a new year in his chronology (July 329 B.C. – June 328 B.C.). This year, Bessus arrived in Bactria with his fellow rebels, including Nabarnes and Barxaës. There, he issued a rallying cry to the Bactrians, urging them to defend their freedom.

Perhaps to waylay the fears of those who wondered how they could oppose the man who had overthrown the Great King, Bessus reminded the people that Bactria ‘was hard for an enemy to penetrate’.

Bessus’ next step inevitably followed his call to arms, for he could hardly tell his subjects to defend themselves without committing himself to that struggle as well. Thus, Bessus ‘proclaimed that he would take personal command of the war’.

But that wasn’t all. With ‘the approval of the people’ – Bessus declared himself Darius III’s successor. Wikipedia says he gave himself the regnal name of Artaxerxes V. He must have felt he now had one foot in Babylon already.

Before the other could join it, though, Bessus had some hard grafting to do. So, just as Darius did after his defeats at Issus and Gaugamela, Bessus set about enlisting men into his new army and equipping them with new weapons.

Alexander would come and there would be a reckoning. Bessus intended to make sure that on that day he would not be the man to be struck dead.

A couple of posts ago (here) I said that the destruction of the royal palaces at Persepolis marked the natural conclusion to Alexander’s expedition. Diodorus now explains that as far as the Macedonian army was concerned, that point came when Darius died. As a result, they were ‘impatient to go home’.

Alexander called his men together and ‘addressing them with effective arguments’ and, I am sure, the most honeyed words, convinced them to continue east with him.

Some men, however, would now leave. The allied Greek troops were paid the outstanding portion of their wages with a one talent bonus (in the case of the cavalry) or ten minas (the infantry) on top. They were sent on their way with praise and a little more cash to cover the journey.

Alexander had been very generous, but he was even more so to those allies who chose to re-enlist. They were given the princely sum of three talents.

Diodorus closes the chapter by explaining that Alexander gave generously partly because he was a generous person but also because he could afford to. His war of revenge against Darius had yielded 8,000 talents. But that’s not all – the total cost of the money ‘distributed to the soldiers’ (does he mean the allies or Macedonians in general? I’m not sure), ‘including clothing and goblets’ came to 13,000 talents. And there there was the loot and plunder, which ‘was thought to be even more still’.

The one thing that I would really like to know is the one thing that Diodorus doesn’t mention: How did Bessus explain his part in the murder of Darius? Did he lie and say someone else killed him? Perhaps he told a half-truth – always more effective than an out-and-ot lie. Or maybe he just glossed over it in some way or other.

In the first draft of this post, I wrote in paragraph two that Bessus told the Bactrians that Bactria was a hard country to conquer. When editing I changed it to the quotation as what I had said didn’t feel quite accurate. In the end, of course, Alexander did conquer Bactria – just, but the country was never really pacified. This has been the story of Afghanistan (of which Bactria forms the northern part) right down to the present.

When referring to Alexander’s meeting with his men, Diodorus says that the king ‘made them willing to follow him in the part of the war which remained’. This implies continuity with the war of revenge. Yet, I wonder if we cannot say that by dismissing the allied soldiers, Alexander was implicitly agreeing that the original war was now over.

Would Alexander Have used The Nuclear Bomb?
No. In our age, he would have been an awful general on account of his determination to win glory. He would have eschewed easy-wins and been undone thereby.

The idea that Hephaestion was Alexander’s lover rests on the latter’s identification of himself as Achilles and Hephaestion as Patroclus, and the belief at that time that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. Athenaeus, meanwhile, says that Alexander liked to “keep Thais with him” (Wikipedia), which could mean that she and the king were lovers. Who’s for annoying the Ptollelians by advertising this possibility more?


Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The Death of Darius III

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 73 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Subdues Persia
Darius Murdered
Did Alexander meet Darius before the Great King died? We investigate
Spartan Envoys Begin Mercy March

The Story
The destruction of the royal palaces at Persepolis may have satisfied Greek pride but Alexander had no intention of resting on his laurels. Leaving the city, he set about pacifying Persia. Some of her cities were taken ‘by storm’, others by more peaceful means. Once the country had been subdued, Alexander returned to the pursuit of Darius.

The deposed Great King was on his way to Bactria where he hoped to raise another army (although if I read Diodorus correctly, he was travelling there with 30,000 men) when one of his senior lieutenants, Bessus, seized him.

What happened next depends on who you read (and believe).

Diodorus is of the opinion that Bessus murdered Darius. Arriving at the scene of the crime not long later, Alexander found the Great King and ‘gave him a royal funeral’.

According to other writers, however – referred to but left unnamed by Diodorus – Darius was still alive when Alexander found him. He ‘commiserated with [Darius] on his disasters’ and agreed to the dying man’s request that he ‘avenge his death’. Alexander set off in pursuit of Bessus only to call it off after Bessus escaped (over the Hindu Kush and) into Bactria.

Rather randomly, the chapter ends with the conclusion to the Battle of Megalopolis (which I covered here). Having lost the battle to Antipater’s army, Sparta asked for terms. Antipater referred the request to the Hellenic League. Was he acting out of deference to the Hellenic League or fear of Alexander (as Curtius – mentioned by the Footnotes – suggests)?

The League’s council met in Corinth and had a ‘long discussion’ over what to do before deciding on ‘nothing’. Instead, they forwarded the matter to Alexander for his judgement. Deference again, or fear? I agree with Curtius.

Back in Macedon, Antipater took possession of fifty Spartan hostages. As for Sparta itself, perhaps fed up of waiting for someone to make a decision – or, more likely, wanting to influence Alexander’s decision – it ‘sent envoys to Asia asking forgiveness for their mistakes’.

From the way Diodorus writes, it is as if he thinks Alexander found and buried Darius at the same time. As it happens, though, there is a little bit of disagreement among the Alexander historians as to what happened at this time.

  • Arrian says that Darius died after being killed by Nabarzanes and Barsaentes. Alexander did not arrive in time to speak to him. After finding Darius’ body, he sent it to Persepolis to be buried in the royal tombs.
  • Curtius says that Darius was killed by ‘Bessus and his fellow-conspirators’. Unfortunately, there is a break in the text so we do not know whether he lived long enough to meet Alexander or where his body was sent.
  • Justin As I write this, I don’t have access to a copy of Justin but from the portion of his text quoted in the end notes of my edition of Curtius, I see that he has Darius being found by an unnamed man (for whose name see Plutarch below) and living long enough to talk to him (through an interpreter) but not Alexander. Justin adds that Alexander sent Darius’ body to be buried in the ‘tombs of his ancestors’, which presumably means Persepolis.
  • Plutarch says Bessus murdered Darius, who was found alive by a Macedonian named Polystratus and that he lived long enough to accept some water from him. According to Plutarch, Darius died before Alexander arrived. Thereafter, Alexander sent his body to Sisygambis – in Susa? Plutarch does not tell us her whereabouts.

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The H.L. Team
Follow the crazy adventures of a bunch of bureaucrats as they travel the empire helping absolutely no one as they are too scared to even tie up their own sandal laces without asking Alexander’s permission.

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