Posts Tagged With: Carmania

The Sons of Dionysus

Cause we like to partyyyy

In the summer of 325 B.C., Alexander lead his men across the Gedrosian Desert. According to Arrian (VI.24) ‘[t]he result was disastrous’. When their provisions ran out, the men started slaughtering their pack animals. When their water skins ran dry, they themselves began to fall by the wayside.

Did Alexander make his army cross the desert as a punishment for its mutiny at the Hyphasis River? Perhaps, but I am not so sure. Arrian says that he chose the route

… because, apart from Semiramis on her retreat from India, no one, to his knowledge, had ever before succeeded in bringing an army safely through.
(VI.24)

It is debatable as to whether this is true or not. Arrian says that Semiramis came out of the desert ‘with no more than twenty survivors’. Hardly an army. He also implies that Cyrus the Great crossed the desert. He too survived, with ‘an army’ – all seven of it.

Alexander, therefore, saw an opportunity to outdo Semiramis and Cyrus both. This is far more consistent with his character than believing he wanted to punish his men*.

* Arrian also notes that Alexander took the desert route in order to stay in touch with Nearchus’ fleet and obtain supplies for him.

Diodorus
(XVII.106)
Whatever reason Alexander entered the desert, when he left it, he came into a country named Carmania. It was ‘a well-populated’ land, one that was free and fertile. There, Alexander let his army rest before continuing. When the march did resume, the men wore ‘festive dress’. Alexander himself ‘led a Dionysian comus, feasting and drinking as he travelled’.

Diodorus gives no further details about Carmania. It is not hard to imagine, however, that this celebration was a very bittersweet one, perhaps here the men drank to forget as much as to remember (as at Persepolis).

Arrian
(VI.27)
For the first and last time, Arrian is more descriptive about a celebration than Diodorus. On the flip side, he does not believe what he has read. He describes the Carmanian episode as ‘improbable’. It is not mentioned, he notes, either by Ptolemy or Aristobulos, or, indeed by ‘any other writer whom one might consider to give reliable evidence’.

So what has he read? What does he say? That-

  • Alexander rode through Carmania on a ‘double-sized chariot’
  • Which ‘he reclined [in] with his intimate friends’
  • While they listened ‘to the music of flutes’ (perhaps a favourite instrument – we saw flutists at Persepolis, yesterday)
  • As Alexander relaxed, his men ‘accompanied him making merry’
  • Provisions never ran out – the Carmanian people provided everything along the way that the Macedonians needed
  • This journey was a conscious imitation of Dionysus’ thriambi (triumphs) which he led after conquering India

At Dium and Persepolis, sacrifices to the gods formed part of the celebrations. On the authority of Aristobulos, Arrian says that Alexander also held sacrifices in Carmania. On this occasion, he offered them for his own conquest of India and safe passage across the Gedrosian desert. And as before, there were also games – athletics and literary.

Curtius
(IX.10.24-29)
Arrian’s ‘improbable story’ is Curtius’ statement of fact. Alexander ‘decided to imitate [Dionysus’] procession’. Orders were given

… for villages along his route to be strewn with flowers and garlands, and for bowls full of wine and other vessels of extraordinary size to be set out on the thresholds of houses.

Alexander and his friends wore garlands and listened to the music of flute and lyre. About them on their ‘cart’ lay scattered ‘golden bowls and huge goblets’.

It wasn’t only Alexander who travelled in this way. Wagons were joined together so that they became moving tents (‘some with white curtains, others with costly material’) in which ordinary soldiers could relax.

That’s what Curtius says Alexander did. But what is his’ opinion of it all? Has he calmed down from his rabid description of sex in Babylon and Thaïs at Persepolis?

No.

Alexander’s imitation of Dionysus was an example of ‘his pride soaring above the human plane’.

As such it was a deeply irresponsible act.

For seven days, the army marched drunk and in a state of disorder. It was

… an easy prey if the vanquished races had only had the courage to challenge riotous drinkers – why, a mere 1,000 men, if sober, could have captured this group.

I don’t think Curtius has ever been near a group of riotous drinkers. If he had, he would know that they would not prove as easy to subdue as he thinks!

Be that as it may, despite the Macedonians ‘sheer recklessness’ (for Carmania had not yet been subdued – that’s a fair point) fortune favoured Alexander and his men and ‘turned even this piece of disgraceful soldiering into a glorious achievement!’.

Plutarch
(Life 67)
According to Plutarch, the Carmanian march ‘developed into a kind of Bacchanalian procession’. It lasted for seven days, during which Alexander feasted continually. He and his friends reclined on a ‘dais’ pulled by eight horses.

‘Innumerable wagons’ followed them. There’s no mention of white curtains here, but ‘purple or embroidered canopies’.

While Curtius says that the soldiers decorated their wagons ‘with their finest arms’, Plutarch states that no weapons or armour were to be seen.

Something that was able to be seen were men ‘drinking as they marched’ while ‘others [lay] sprawled by the wayside’.

Plutarch agrees with Arrian that musicians were present. In fact, ‘the whole landscape resounded with the music of pipes and flutes’. And more – ‘with harping and singing and the cries of women rapt with divine frenzy’. Hopefully, for the men’s well-being, they did not have any snakes with them.

Plutarch adds that more than just drinking was involved on this march. He says that ‘all the other forms of bacchanalian licence attended this straggling and disorderly march, as though the god were present’.

After a week, Alexander arrived at the Palace of Gedrosia. There, the army was rested and was permitted to celebrate another festival. One day, ‘after he had drunk well’, Alexander watched a dancing and singing competition in which his favourite eunuch, Bagoas, was competing.

Bagoas won. He sat beside the king. The Macedonians applauded him

… and shouted to Alexander to kiss the winner, until at last the king put his arms around him and kissed him.

This is an interesting end to the chapter. Bagoas, after all, represented a world that the Macedonians did not approve of and, if he had the kind of influence over Alexander that the Orsines Affair (Curtius X.1.26-38) suggests, a power that they could not have appreciated. Yet, there they are treating him in a playful manner. My belief is that Curtius exaggerated Bagoas’ role in Orsines’ downfall, and I think this scene provides indirect evidence of that.

Carmania in Short
Reason To give thanks for being alive
Duration One week
Outstanding Features That anyone was still alive to celebrate it
Result A nice moment for Bagoas

Categories: Humour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Death of Glory

The Nature of Curtius
Book Ten Chapter 1-10
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter One
The Best Laid Plans
According to Diodorus, Nearchus and Onesicritus rejoined Alexander while the latter was resting in Salmus, a seaside town in Carmania. Curtius says that the two men brought report ‘based partly on hearsay and partly on their own observation’ of an island ‘close to the river-mouth [of the Persian Gulf] which was rich in gold but without horses’ – a very practical concern. As for the sea, they said, it ‘was full of monsters [with] bodies the size of large ships’. These were only repulsed by ‘strident’ shouting.

Nearchus’ and Onesicritus’ next report was based purely on hearsay. The natives, they said, had told them that the Red Sea in India was named after King Erythus rather than because of its colour*. They added that off the (Indian?) mainland, there was an island ‘thickly planted with palm trees’ on which stood a ‘high column’ dedicated to Erythus. The island was a mysterious and dangerous place. Ships that travelled there to trade and search for gold ‘had never been seen again’.

After hearing Nearchus’ and Onesicritus’ report, Alexander told them to proceed up the Persian Gulf until they came to the Euphrates, which they should follow to Babylon.

At this point, Curtius breaks off to give Alexander’s future plans for imperial expansion. Africa was his first target, ‘because of his enmity to the Carthaginians’. After ‘crossing the Numidian deserts, he would set his course for Gades, where the pillars of Hercules were rumoured to be’. Then would come Spain and from there, Epirus.

With these plans in mind, Alexander gave the order for trees on Mt Libanus to be felled and a new fleet to be built.

The chapter ends with Alexander receiving a letter from an agent in Europe informing him that while he was in India, Zopyrion, the governor of Thrace, had been lost at sea during an expedition against the Getae. This had led another tribe, the Odrysians, to rebel. It appears there was also trouble in Greece as well but we do not know any more as the text breaks off at this point.

* Curtius first revealed this information in Book 8 Chapter 9

Chapter Two
The Mutiny at Opis
The narrative resumes with Harpalus’ flight from Babylon and his subsequent death*. Following this, Alexander issued his Exiles Decree. You can read more about it at Livius.

Curtius does not really draw a connection between the Harpalus affair and the Decree but if – as Livius suggests – it was intended as a way for Alexander to increase his control of the Greek cities it may have been inspired by the fact that before being expelled from Athens by an assembly of the people Harpalus had been welcomed by her ‘leading citizens’.

The chapter continues with the Mutiny at Opis. This arose after Alexander ordered 10,000 (according to Diodorus and Arrian) veterans to be sent home and 13,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry to be kept in Asia. Upon hearing this, the army suspected that the king intended ‘to fix the royal seat permanently in Asia’. This lead to the mutiny. The rest of the chapter covers the army’s rebellion and Alexander’s speech condemning its behaviour.

* Harpalus was a longtime friend of Alexander. Medically unfit to serve in the army, the king had made him his treasurer. But Harpalus abused his position by hiring courtesans and embezzling money. When Alexander returned from India, Harpalus feared that he would be brought to account for his crimes and so fled to Greece.

Chapter Three
The Mutiny at Opis, Cont’d
The next day, Alexander not only denied his men an audience but gathered his Persian troops together and, through an interpreter, told them they were now full members of his army. ‘Asia and Europe are now one and the same kingdom… you are both my fellow-citizens and my soldiers’. Unfortunately, the text breaks off during Alexander’s speech.

Chapter Four
Last Words
This chapter ‘begins’ with Alexander being berated (by one of the ringleaders of the revolt being led off to execution?*) for allowing the condemned men to be executed in a foreign manner and ‘by their own captives’. Alexander, however, is unswayed.

Another lacuna ends this chapter, and as the notes state, we lose a whole series of events, ranging** from ‘the arrival of Persian soldiers to replace the discharged Macedonian veterans’ to Medius’ dinner party and Alexander’s collapse.

* This is suggested by a quotation within the notes

** I should say ‘probably ranging’. As we don’t have the text we don’t know if Curtius includes all the events that the notes mention. 

Chapter Five
The Death of Alexander
After the initial ‘weeping and… beating of breasts… a still silence like that of desert wastes’ falls over the royal quarters as the Macedonians give thought to the critical question – what next?

Chapter Six
Babylon Conference Begins
The Successors meet to decide who will be their next king.

Chapter Seven
The Babylonian Conference Breaks Down
The Successors’ meeting degenerates into ‘a mutinous uproar’ between the supporters of Alexander’s brother, Arrhidaeus and those supporting the cause of Roxane’s unborn child. When Arrhidaeus’ supporters break into Alexander’s bed chamber those supporting Roxane’s child are forced to flee. They leave Babylon and head ‘towards the Euphrates’. At this point, the Macedonian army seems cleanly divided between the infantry, who support Arrhidaeus, and the senior officers/cavalry, who support Roxane’s child.

Chapter Eight
Peace Brokered
Arrhidaeus asks Perdiccas to accept Meleager (leader of the infantry faction) ‘as a third general’*. Perdiccas does so and peace between the infantry and cavalry is restored.

* After Craterus and Perdiccas

Chapter Nine
Peace Broken
Perdiccas proposes a purification ceremony to heal the wounds caused by the recent violence. The ceremony involves ‘cutting a bitch in two and throwing down her entrails on the left and right at the far end of the plain into which the army was to be led’. He then uses the ceremony to extract and execute 300 of Meleager’s supporters.

Chapter Ten
Perdiccas Divides The Empire Among the Successors
As well as accounting for who-got-what*, Curtius notes the conspiracy theories surrounding the manner of Alexander’s death. The chapter, and book, then concludes with the removal of Alexander’s body from Babylon to Memphis by Ptolemy**. Later, Curtius says, it was transferred to Alexandria ‘where every mark of respect continues to be paid to his memory and his name.’

* For more about the Division of the Empire and Wars of Successors, see this series of posts

Curtius presents Ptolemy’s action as being normal. This despite the fact that in Chapter 5, he has Alexander ask for his body to be taken to ‘Hammon’ ( – Ammon i.e. Siwah?)

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Good, the Bad, and the Seven Day Party

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 106, 107 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Macedonian Army Arrives in Carmania
Macedonians Enjoy A Seven Day Road Party
Caranus: Was he Right To Kill Himself?
A Royal Wedding in Susa!

The Story
Chapter 106
Whatever the state of Alexander’s mental health, he made it through the Cedrosian desert. The Macedonian army arrived in Carmania, a ‘well-populated country’ and one that contained ‘everything needful’ for a good time. Which is exactly what the Macedonians proceeded to have as they passed through it.

First of all, though, Alexander let his army rest. That should probably be in inverted commas. When they resumed their march, the men walked ‘in festive dress’. As for Alexander, he ‘led a Dionysiac comus, feasting and drinking as he travelled’. Happy days.

But all good parties must come to an end, and when you wake up the next day, you are liable to do so with a headache. Alexander’s was a particularly bad one – he discovered that ‘many of his [satrapal and military] officials’ whom he had left in charge of various cities and regions had been abusing their power.

Alexander began punishing the offenders. Word of this got around. Some of the guilty ‘revolted against the king’s authority’, others stole money and fled. Hearing of this, Alexander ‘wrote to all his generals and satraps in Asia, ordering them… to disband all their mercenaries immediately’.

Alexander’s next stop was a seaside city named Salmus. There, he rested. One day, while he watched ‘a dramatic contest in the theatre’, Nearchus’ fleet put in to port. The sailors came straight to the theatre where they received a rapturous welcome from the audience.

They gave a report of their voyage to Alexander. The sailors spoke of ‘astonishing ebbings and flowings in the Ocean’, of ‘many large and unsuspected islands… along the coast’ and – most spectacularly of all – ‘an encounter with a large school of incredibly large whales’. The Cedrosians would have been very jealous.

The sailors were enamoured towards the animals. They spoke of their fear that their ships would smash against them, and of how they shouted, blew their trumpets, and beat their shields to make such a loud noise that the whales took fright and dived to deeper water.

Chapter 107
Having received the report, and – hopefully – after giving the sailors a little time to rest, Alexander ordered them to continue their journey to the Euphrates. He and the army left Salmus on foot and started the long trek to Susianê.

They reached it without incident. On the border, an Indian philosopher named Caranus (aka Calanus), who had travelled west with Alexander, fell ill. He was 73 years old and had never been ill before. Knowing that ‘he had received the utmost limit of happiness both from nature and from Fortune’, and – perhaps – perceiving that his illness was terminal, Caranus decided to end his life.

He asked Alexander to build a pyre for him. The king tried to talk him out of killing himself but Caranus’ mind was set. When pyre was finished, he ‘cheerfully’ climbed onto it. The pyre was then lit, and he died.

Diodorus reports that while some who watched him die ‘marvelled at his fortitude and contempt for death’, others ‘thought him mad’, while others still regarded him as ‘vainglorious about his ability to bear pain’.

Caranus was given ‘a magnificent funeral’. When that was done, Alexander resumed his journey and in due course arrived in Susa. There, ‘he married Stateira’ and had Hephaestion marry Drypetis. Diodorus concludes the chapter by saying that Alexander ‘prevailed upon the most prominent of his Friends to take wives also, and gave them in marriage the noblest Persian ladies’. And that is all Diodorus has to say about the famous Susa Weddings.

Comments
Did Alexander really hold a seven day party? The Footnotes say that neither Ptolemy or Aristobulos refer to it. On the other hand, both Alexander and his father ‘were fond of the comus in general’.

One of my images of Alexander is of a great general but, frankly, rubbish administrator. He simply wasn’t interested in that sort of thing. The corrupt satraps and generals seem to bear that out. However, upon learning of their deeds he did punish them rather than leave them in place. Having said that, he should never have given Harpalus any position of authority or reinstated him when he abused Alexander’s trust.

And who was the official to whom Alexander said, after Hephaestion died, he would not punish him for any wrong-doing he might do in the future if he honoured Hephaestion? Was that Harpalus? I can’t remember and can’t find it on the ‘net. I don’t know if that is a true story so will have to try and find out.

It seems to me that what we have with Caranus is an early example of a very topical issue – assisted suicide. Plus ça change. Alexander’s initial opposition to Caranus’ request makes sense in terms of his outlook on life. He lived for glory, something that he could never attain enough of. Life, for him, would never reach a point where he could say ‘I have had my fill’. Caranus’ outlook was, by contrast, rather less ambitious.

Of course, there is the story (told by Arrian) that when close to death, Alexander tried to commit suicide by throwing himself into the Euphrates river (only to be dissuaded from doing so by Roxane). But Alexander only wanted to kill himself in order to make it appear that he was the son of Ammon. Only Alexander could turn suicide – the ultimate act of self-abnegation – into an act that confirmed his greatness.

Inevitably, along with the debate between those for and against the assisted suicide there were the unhelpful opinions of no few people regarding Caranus, which they should really have kept to themselves.

Diodorus’ representation of the Susa Weddings joins the list of important events that he writes all too briefly about.

Somewhere in the crowd,
Thaïs had to admit she was really quite
jealous

calanus

This picture can be bought on (German) eBay

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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