Posts Tagged With: Brahmins

Alexander Saves Ptolemy’s Life

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 103 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander attacks Harmatelia
Ptolemy Wounded by Deadly Poison
Alexander Discovers Cure for Poison in a Dream
Ptolemy is Healed
Harmatelia Surrenders

The Story
Alexander’s campaign against the Brahmins drew to its end. Only one city still remained unconquered – Harmatelia. Towards the end of the chapter, Diodorus tells us that the city ‘was large and strongly fortified’. Perhaps it was for this reason, then, that Alexander decided to even the odds a little by using cunning before launching an all-out attack.

He sent a detachment of 500 men to attack the city. If the Brahmin soldiers launch a counter-attack, he told them, withdraw…

The soldiers fulfilled their orders and sure enough the Brahmins launched a counter-attack. The Macedonians quickly retreated. It looked to the Brahmins as if the foreigners were running scared so they pursued them, no doubt with glee.

Alexander’s full plan now came to fruition. He and the rest of the army were hiding. When the Brahmins came near to them, he ambushed them.

The surprise attack was successful but not without its cost for the Brahmins’ arrows were smeared with a deadly snake poison.

Diodorus kindly gives a detailed account of how the poison was made and its effect, which I have outlined below. Go straight to the next paragraph if you are of a nervous disposition.

Final warning.

Making the poison

  1. An unspecified type of snake was ‘killed and left in the sun’
  2. The sun ‘melted the substance of the flesh’ allowing ‘drops of moisture’ to form
  3. The poison was extracted from this moisture

The poison’s effect in order of occurrence

  1. Numbness of the body
  2. ‘[S]harp pains’
  3. Convulsion and shivering across the body
  4. Coldness and lividness of the skin
  5. Vomiting with bile appearing in the vomit
  6. ‘Black froth’ issuing from the wound
  7. Gangrene spreading across the body
  8. Death

Diodorus notes that the poison killed even those whose injury was no more than a scratch. It was a death sentence. Thus, when Ptolemy was struck by a poisoned arrow, he must have feared that his life was over.

This is Diodorus’ first mention of the man who would one day become pharaoh of Egypt. He was, we are told, ‘loved by all because of his character and his kindness to all’. For this reason, ‘he obtained a succour appropriate to his good deeds’.

That night, Alexander dreamt of a snake. In its mouth it carried a plant. The snake somehow showed Alexander that the plant could be used to heal its own bite. It even showed him where it grew.

Waking up, Alexander went in search of the plant. Finding it, he ground and ‘plastered it on Ptolemy’s body. He also prepared an infusion of the plant’ which Ptolemy drank. In the hours or days that followed the son of Lagus was restored to health. The same treatment was then applied to the other soldiers who had been poisoned and they too recovered.

Alexander’s attention now returned to Harmatelia. Preparations were made to attack it. Before this could happen, however, the Brahmins came out with their ‘suppliant branches’. Despite the harm they had done to one of his closest friends, Alexander accepted their surrender.

Did this incident happen? Was Ptolemy healed by Alexander? Given that Ptolemy was pro-Alexander even if not pro-Argead you would have expected him to mention in his memoir how the king had healed him. And yet, Arrian does not mention it at all.

Perhaps he did mention it and Arrian chose to omit it but why – given his own respect for Alexander and Ptolemy – would he do that?

Thinking aloud – I am doubtful that it did happen. My suspicion is that the soldiers whose accounts formed the basis of Cleitarchus’ narrative, which Diodorus used as his source text, embellished or invented the story.

Their reason for doing so? They liked Ptolemy on account of his character and/or the fact he (had) employed them, and so wanted to do right by him.

If that sounds unlikely, we know of at least one other occasion when the soldiers went out of their way to give Cleitarchus a favourable impression of Ptolemy (i.e. when they told the Alexandrian that Ptolemy climbed up the ladder with Peucestas when he was elsewhere at the time) so I see no problem in believing they did it again.

Against that, while Ptolemy corrected Cleitarchus’ mistake (Arrian says that the pharaoh ‘has made it quite plan [in his work] that he was not present at this action’) he seemingly makes no mention of the poisoning. Why would Ptolemy correct one mistake and not the other, unless it actually happened?

Survived like a boss

Picture: from Pinterest

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

A Land of Blood and Mercy

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 102 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
War and Peace along the Indus

The Story
Chapter 102 opens hopefully as Alexander makes peace with a few tribes but then becomes a tale of blood shed – one conquest after another as Alexander continues his journey to the ocean.

The Sambastae lived in cities that were ‘governed in a democratic manner’. Their army comprised of ‘sixty thousand infantry, six thousand cavalry, and five hundred armoured chariots’.

I don’t know how large the Macedonian army was at this point, but it seems that the Sambastae was organised and had sufficient numbers to put up a good defence of their country. They were compromised, however, by two things.

(i) An unfamiliarity with ships. When they saw the Macedonian fleet approach, they were taken aback by it.

(ii) A knowledge of the Macedonian army’s reputation.

If only the Sambastae had been ignorant of the Macedonian army’s achievement they might have recovered enough to fight. As it was, the tribal elders advised the authorities ‘not to risk a fight’.

Unlike the young Marmarians (read here) the rulers of the Sambastae agreed, and they sent ‘fifty of their leading citizens’ to beg for their lives. The ploy worked. Alexander ‘praised them and agreed to a peace’. In return, he was given ‘large gifts and heroic honours’.

Sodrae and Massani
These two tribes lived on either side of the Indus River and submitted to Alexander, as it seems, without a fight.

A New City
Alexander built a new Alexandria in or near these tribes’ territory. Ten thousand people were settled in it.

King Musicanus
We are not told whether there was a battle or if Musicanus gave himself up or was kidnapped; however, by some means or another, Alexander caught and executed him. In so doing he made Musicanus’ country subject to himself.

King Porticanus
There was definitely fighting here. Diodorus says that two cities in Porticanus’ country were taken ‘by storm’. Afterwards, Alexander gave his men permission ‘to plunder the houses, and then set them on fire’. As for Porticanus, he managed to escape to a stronghold only to be killed when Alexander attacked it.

Alexander was not done with Porticanus’ territory yet. He captured all ‘the other cities of [Porticanus’] kingdom and destroyed them’.

King Sambus
Diodorus says that Alexander ‘ravaged’ Sambus’ kingdom, killing eighty thousand people and destroying his cities. Most of their populations were taken into slavery. Sambus himself ‘fled with thirty elephants into the country beyond the Indus’. I wonder if he met cousin-Porus out there?

As he had done to Sambus’ people, so he did to the Brahmins. The survivors ‘came supplicating [to Alexander] with branches in their hands’. Alexander heard their appeal. Diodorus notes that he punished ‘the most guilty’ (i.e. those who had called for war against him?) and ‘forgave the rest’.

First of all, I’d like to go back to yesterday’s post. In it, we read how Dioxippus defeated Coragus in their duel by upending him, and placing his foot on Coragus’ neck. I visited the British Museum yesterday, and while there saw this Assyrian relief.


The man standing up is Tiglath-Pileser III; the man submitting to him is Hanunu, the ruler of Gaza. Can you see where Tiglath-Pileser’s foot is?

I was a bit surprised to read about the Sambastae’s alarm at the Macedonian ships. They obviously live quite close to the river, don’t they use ships themselves? It occurs to me, though, that perhaps it was the design of the Macedonian vessels that threw them – perhaps even their prows with the images of the gods on front.

Citing Arrian, the Footnotes say that this latest Alexandria was built ‘at the junction of the Acesines and the Indus’. I thought we left the Acesines behind when it flowed into the Indus, but obviously not. My picture of the rivers is contained in the third paragraph of this post.

As I said above, Diodorus doesn’t say if Alexander fought Musicanus. I’m going to suggest that he did, and that is why he killed him rather than confirm him in his post, like he did numerous other kings who willingly submitted.

Porticanus must really have angered Alexander, for not only did Alexander let his men plunder Porticanus’ cities, but he destroyed them and then destroyed all the other settlements in that country. In doing so, Diodorus writes, Alexander ‘spread the terror of his name throughout the whole region’.

Sambus’ kingdom gets equally tough treatment. They must have put up fierce resistance to the Macedonians.


Making Bactria and Sogdia look easy since 327 B.C.

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