Posts Tagged With: Charidemus

The Eagle That Saw Everything

The Nature of Curtius
Book Three Chapter 2 & 3
For the other posts in this series, click here

Chapter Two
A field outside Babylon
At the start of The Lord of the Rings there is a scene when a fox comes across the hobbits as they rest in the woodland of the Shire.

“‘Hobbits!’ he thought. ‘Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something mighty queer behind this.’ He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it.

Let us imagine a fox taking a walk down a country road just outside Babylon in 333 B.C. It is a mild November morning in Mesopotamia*, perfect hunting weather. Suddenly, the fox halts. He has heard a distant thud thud thud. He doesn’t round and run away, though. For one thing, the noise is mesmerising in its consistency; for another, he knows what it portends. The fox walks forward before stopping at the top of a slope.

Thud thud thud.

The noise grows louder. And then, after what seems an age, a column of men led by a cavalry officer appears from round a corner at the far end of the road. They don’t approach the fox, though; instead, they take another turn to his left.

For reasons best known to himself, the fox decides to follow the column. He wriggles his way underneath the hedgerow at the side of the road (It’s true, I may be making Mesopotamia sound like England here) and trots along the top of the hill for what seems an age.

As he walks, the breeze picks up and the fox hears shouting, trumpets blowing, feet marching and picks up the scent of many strange bodies.

Finally, the animal comes to the opposite end of the hill from where he started. And after emerging from underneath another hedgerow, he sees in the near distance a plain. And that plain is brim full of men gleaming with ‘purple and gold’.

‘The Great King’s army,’ he said to himself. ‘I have seen it before, but not this size. All his men must be here. And there is the Great King himself, standing on his chariot, reviewing his soldiers before they set off to battle. He is holding himself very proudly. But who is he about to fight? It must be a mighty foe, indeed.’ It was, but the fox had breakfast to catch, so never found out who this powerful enemy was.

As for the army – Curtius reports that Darius reviewed a quarter of a million infantry and sixty-two thousand cavalry on that plain. Although they came from many parts of his empire, not all regions were represented. The eastern provinces, Bactria and Sogdia, for example, had not had enough time to send men there.

I am assuming that the field used by Darius in the same way that the Romans used the Campus Martius – for pasturage and military exercises. It would be very rum the Great King used someone’s estate. Especially since he damaged it by digging a ditch to delineate the border of the area he was using for the review. Farmer Maggot would not have stood for that.

During the review, Darius asked his Athenian commander, Charidemus, if he thought that this army was enough to defeat Alexander’s. Charidemus replied bluntly that it was not. Insulted, Darius had him executed only to regret his decision immediately afterwards.

* I am basing this statement on the weather and climate for Baghdad as described here. I know that over time our climate changes; hopefully, in the case of Mesopotamia, it has not done so by too much in the last 2,300 years.

Chapter Three
Sacred Animals
A number of animals ‘accompanied’ Darius as he marched north to confront Alexander. There were the white horses that drew the ‘chariot consecrated to Jupiter’ (i.e Ahura Mazda) and behind them ‘a horse of extraordinary size’, which the Persians called ‘the sun’s horse’. They were driven by men wearing white robes and wielding golden whips. I’m sure the sting just felt the same, though.

Curtius describes Darius’ chariot as being mounted with images of two gods – Ninus and Belus. Between them ‘was a consecrated eagle made of gold and represented with wings outstretched’. I have to admit I was a little surprised when I read this as I am more used to thinking of eagles as Roman and Greek symbols.

Wikipedia says that some Greek writers wrote that the Achaemenes, the founder of the Archaemenid empire (c. 700 B.C.), was raised by an eagle. Perhaps Darius was referencing this? Or maybe Curtius added the detail in order to build up the architecture of his his narrative.

The eagle was not the only bird-of-prey on display. Darius wore a cloak that ‘bore a gilded motif of hawks attacking each other’. It sounds terribly impressive. But there’s no chance Curtius will leave us with that image of the Great King. Immediately afterwards he says that Darius wore his belt ‘in the style of a woman’. Can who ever is last out please clean up the sarcasm behind them.

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Memnon takes the Battle to Greece

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 29, 30 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Memnon Appointed Supreme Commander of Persian Army
Memnon Sweeps Across Aegean: Chios & Lesbos Fall
Mitylene Taken After Fierce Struggle
Memnon Dies After Brief Illness
Darius To Take Command of Persian Army

The Story
Chapter 29 could be titled ‘The Deeds of Memnon’ as it focuses exclusively on his actions after the Siege of Halicarnassus (and in the year between July 333 – 332 B.C.).

The chapter begins with Darius appointing Memnon ‘commanding general of the whole war’ against Alexander. I have to admit, I thought that Darius had already appointed Memnon to this role (in Chapter 23). Perhaps Diodorus is just repeating himself.

Either way, Memnon now ‘gathered a force of mercenaries, manned three hundred ships, and pursued the conflict vigorously’. He ‘secured Chios’ and landed on Lesbos. There, he took the cities of Antissa, Methymna, Pyrrha and Eressus.

Memnon also laid siege to Mitylene. A few posts ago (here), we saw how he tried and failed to take Cyzicus. Perhaps siege warfare was not Memnon’s strong point. He eventually took Mitylene but only ‘with difficulty… after a siege of many days and with the loss of many of his soldiers’.

To the distress of her inhabitants, Memnon now prepared to sail for Euboea. Not all Greeks were so alarmed, however; Diodorus reports that those ‘who were friendly to Persia… began to have high hopes of a change in the political situation’.

Memnon did not use force alone to win the Greek cities to his side. Bribes were also liberally handed out. In the end, though, it all came to nothing. Memnon died suddenly and – as it seems to me – all Persian army activity stopped while Darius held ‘a session of his Council of Friends’ to decide what to do next.

It wasn’t so much Memnon’s death that made his activity in the Aegean a waste of time but Darius’ decision not to pursue the war in Greece. When he met his Friends, his two proposals were to either send a general to fight Alexander or lead the Persian army himself.

In the debate that followed, the Great King’s Friends were divided over the best course of action.

Among Darius’ Friends was an Athenian named Charidemus. According to the Footnotes, he was one of the ten Athenians whom Alexander demanded when he approached the city (see here). Diodorus says that Charidemus was ‘a man generally admired for his bravery and skill’ and ‘had been a comrade-in-arms of King Philip and had led or counselled all his successes’. The Footnotes dispute this.

Now, though, Charidemus advised Darius to send a general against Alexander. He had a good idea who that general should be, as well. You can probably guess that he meant himself.

Darius agreed with Charidemus. His other Friends, though, were less convinced. They even accused Charidemus of wanting to gain control of an army so that he could betray the Great King. Why would they condemn him in this way? I should think racism was certainly a factor. It certainly was in Charidemus’ response. He angrily accused the Persians of a ‘lack of manliness’.

Darius was insulted by Charidemus’ outburst and ordered him to be taken away and executed. Charidemus was dragged off, but not before ‘he shouted that the king would soon change his mind and… receive a prompt requital for this unjust punishment, becoming the witness of the overthrow of the kingdom’.

Diodorus says that Darius soon regretted his hasty decision. In the meantime, he searched for a general to take Memnon’s place. Finding none,  Darius made the fateful decision to lead his army into battle himself.

In this post I said that Black Cleitus saved the future of hellenism across the world. Given Memnon’s success in his Greek campaign I wonder if we can’t say that his death both robbed the Archaemenid empire of its future and proved to be final nail in the coffin of classical Greece. I am thinking that had he successfully turned Greece to Darius’ side and defeated Alexander in battle (a big if, I know) then that would have restored Greece and Persia to the political situation it was in before the rise of Macedonia.

I am guessing that the reason Darius did not pursue operations in Greece following Memnon’s death was because he knew or thought that the Greeks would only listen to another Greek. His decision not to continue what had been a very successful campaign is otherwise inexplicable to me.

The dispute between Charidemus and the other Friends is a moment of farce. With the former’s execution it becomes the blackest of black comedies. It tells us something interesting about Darius’ character, though; namely, that he was capable of being as impetuous as Alexander. I wonder how he reconciled this aspect of his character to being part of a social structure as strict as the Persian one?

I was talking to a friend a night or two ago about Formula 1. I love F1 racing, and have done for many years, but – as I was telling my friend, it really is the most venal sport in the world. Money rules all. Exchange money for personal interest and you have the most venal city states that I have ever met – those of ancient Greece. Diodorus names Sparta as being one of those who were friendly to Persia. It never ceases to amaze me how they were prepared to support their enemy in order to win one over their Greek enemies.

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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