Posts Tagged With: Chortacana

Zephyros Lends A Hand

The Nature of Curtius
Book Six Chapters 6-11
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Six
Outcrop Siege
After killing Darius, Bessus fled to his home satrapy of Bactria (Bactriana to Curtius). There, he declared himself to be the Great King’s successor and renamed himself Artaxerxes IV. Satibarzanes, the satrap of Areia, brought news of this to Alexander. He was rewarded for his help by being confirmed in his office.

Alexander’s next move was to set off for Bactria so that he could confront Bessus. While he was on the road, Parmenion’s son, Nicanor, died. Short of supplies, the king left Nicanor’s brother, Philotas, to conduct the appropriate funeral rites.

Meanwhile, letters arrived from various satraps informing Alexander that Bessus was riding out to meet him and that Satibarzanes had defected to the pretender’s side.

Alexander decided to deal with Satibarzanes first. Unfortunately, he was not able to catch up with him before the traitor was able to flee to Bactria with 2,000 cavalrymen. He would still get a fight, though, for the rest of Satibarzanes’ army fled no further than the nearby hills.

13,000 Arians took refuge on a ‘rocky outcrop’ that was 32 stades in circumference. Curtius describes it as being ‘sheer on the west side but with a gentler gradient towards the east’. It benefitted from ‘dense tree-cover and a year-round spring with a generous flow of water’. The rebels were located on the outcrop’s ‘grassy plateau’.

Alexander ordered Craterus to lay siege to Artacana* while he rode after Satibarzanes. After realising that the satrap was too far ahead he made his way to the outcrop.

Things did not go easily there. Alexander ordered the ground to be cleared but was obliged to stop when he came to ‘impassable crags and sheer precipices’. This sounds like he was on the west side of the outcrop – Curtius doesn’t say why Alexander could not attempt an assault on it from the east. Perhaps the forest was too thick? Or the gentle gradient ended in broken land?

Whatever the reason, Alexander now set himself to working out how to overcome the natural barrier. Many plans passed through his mind but none seemed satisfactory. In the end, nature came to his aid.

It was a breezy day with the wind coming in ‘strong from the west’. While they waited for their king to decide what to do, the Macedonians cut the fallen trees up, perhaps for future as firewood. Seeing this, Alexander had a plan. He ordered his men to build a great bonfire. It rose, Curtius says with a little hyperbole, ‘to equal the height of the mountain**’ When it was lit, the wind blew the flames directly ‘into the faces of the enemy’. The fire burned so fiercely that the sky was covered by thick, black smoke.

Curtius doesn’t say it but sparks from the fire must have travelled across the space between the bonfire and plateau. The Arians did their best to escape the flames but to no avail. Some committed suicide by throwing themselves into the fire, others by jumping over the edge of the outcrop to be smashed upon the rocks below. Some prepared to fight to the death while the remainder, ‘half-burnt’, surrendered.

Once the outcrop was taken, Alexander rode to Artacana to lead the siege against the city. Upon seeing the Macedonian siege towers, the Artacanians surrendered.

From Artacana, Alexander proceeded to Drangiana to confront its satrap, Barzanaentes, who was a Bessus-loyalist and who had taken part in Darius’ murder. ‘Fearing the punishment he deserved, Barzaentes fled into India’.

* Artacoana in Arrian, Chortacana in Diodorus; ‘probably Herat’ today, according to the Notes

** By ‘the mountain’ I assume Curtius is referring to the outcrop

Chapter Seven – Eleven
Mainly Speeches to Boot
These chapters cover the Philotas Affair and take place indoors – in the royal tent, which turns out to be able to accommodate over 6,000 people. Either the royal tent was rather bigger than I imagined or else Curtius is not quite correct.

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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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