Posts Tagged With: Coenus

Broken Roads and Men

The Nature of Curtius
Book Five Chapters 4-5
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Four
The Susian Gates are forced open
The whole business of the Siege of the Susian Gates reads like a more challenging version of the Uxian siege. We have seen how on both occasions the defile worked against Alexander (albeit in different ways). Now, just as a guide showed Tauron the way to Medates’ town, Alexander found another guide to take him through the mountains to Ariobarzanes’ camp.

Before setting Alexander on his way, Curtius gives us a run down of Persia’s topography. Enclosed by mountains on one side and the Persian Gulf on the other, the country contains a fertile and ‘extensive plain’. The richness of the soil comes from the Araxes River which ‘encourages a greater growth of vegetation’ than any other. Persia, Curtius says, has a ‘healthier climate’ than anywhere else in Asia. It’s easy to see how civilisation was able to form there.

It all sounds very splendid. For Alexander, though, it was also very far off. His guide had warned him that the path to Ariobarzanes’ camp would be a difficult one, and so it proved. Along the way, they encountered ‘impossible crags and precipitous rocks that time and again made them lose their footing’, then there were the snow drifts and the fear that darkness in enemy country brings.

Despite these difficulties, and lingering suspicions over the guide’s loyalty, however, Alexander and his men reached the top of the mountain path. There, they divided in two with Alexander ordering Philotas, Coenus, Amyntas and Polyperchon to take an easier path, while he himself – accompanied by his mounted bodyguard – proceeded along a higher route.

The king met no difficulties until lower down when the road became interrupted by a chasm. What remained of it was blocked by tree branches. That night, the wind howled all around them.

The next day, Alexander wiped out a Persian outpost. With Craterus, who had brought the main part of the Macedonian army back through the defile, and Philotas et al, he attacked Ariobarzanes’ base. The battle was hard fought with Ariobarzanes managing to break through the Macedonian centre but to no avail.

From what Curtius says, it appears that that at one part Ariobarzanes fled from the battlefield and tried to enter Persepolis, only to be turned away. He then went back to the Susian Gates and fought alongside his men until being killed.

Chapter Five
For Shame
Alexander had won the Gates but was still wary of the country. Not because there might be Persians about, but because it was broken, and there were ‘deep ditches with steep sides’ on either side of the road.

While on the road, a messenger from Persepolis arrived with a letter from Tiridates, the ‘guardian of the royal moneys’. Come quickly, he said, before the people pillage the treasury.

Alexander set off with his cavalry and, after a night long journey, arrived at the river Araxes. There, the Macedonians demolished some nearby villages to make a bridge.

It is here that Curtius says Alexander met a colony of mutilated Greeks, placed here by the Persians for their amusement. The Notes suggest that the story is a fiction, included to remind the reader ‘of the past atrocities of the Persians’.

Alexander offered to send the men home, but after a debate they elected to stay. Shame, and a desire to keep the wives and children they had found in Persia won the day. Accepting this, Alexander gave them money, clothing, sheep, cattle and seed-corn to till and sow.

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The Battle of Gaugamela

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 58-61 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Persian and Macedonian Armies Clash At Gaugamela
Alexander Narrowly Misses Killing Darius
Parmenion Defeats Mazaeus
Darius Flees; Persians Routed

The Story

Chapter 58
As we saw in the last post, Diodorus dedicates the whole of Chapter 57 to the formation of the Macedonian army. At the start of this chapter, he restricts his description of the Persian army’s formation to saying that that it was based ‘on the characteristics of its national contingents’. I take this to mean that like the Macedonians, each battalion was formed of men from a particular region.

The only other detail that we are given is Darius’ position. Diodorus places him opposite Alexander, on the Persian left wing. The Footnotes, however, state that he actually  fought in the centre.

Darius and Alexander ordered their men forward. As the two sides came up to each other, their trumpeters gave the signal to attack. Diodorus says that ‘the troops charged each other’ although if the Macedonians were carrying their sarissae, I find that unlikely. Be that as it may, the Battle of Gaugamela now begun.

One The Persians’ scythed chariots leapt forward. At first, and just as Darius intended, they ‘created great alarm and terror among the Macedonians’, all the more so since Mazaeus, who was ‘in command of the cavalry’, sent them forward with ‘dense squadrons of horse’.
1A After the initial shock, however, the Macedonians remembered Alexander’s instructions and they began beating their shields loudly. The tactic worked. Most of the Persian horses were unsettled and turned back. Some, however, continued forward. Again, just as Alexander ordered, the phalanx divided so that the chariots could pass harmlessly through.
1B This tactic was only partially successful. It is true that some chariots passed straight down the newly created channels while others were stopped when the driver was killed with a javelin. But other chariot drivers ‘wrought death’ upon the Macedonians, with their scythes slashing the enemy from neck to leg.

Chapter 59
Two The Macedonian phalanx and Persian infantry now came within shooting distance of each other. Arrows, slingshot and javelins flew threw the air

Three Hand-to-hand combat between the cavalry began. In Chapter 57 I got the impression that the Macedonian cavalry ran from the right to left wing – just as it had at the Granicus River and Issus. From what Diodorus now says, however, it appears that, actually, it was on the right wing only. As this was so, Diodorus continues, Darius himself ‘led his kinsman cavalry against them’. These were the Royal Relatives, whose flight presaged the Persian defeat at the Granicus River.

Four The Persian cavalry was supported in its attack by a unit known as the ‘Apple Bearers’, so-called because of the apple-shaped butt on their spears, the Mardi and Cossaei, household troops and ‘the best fighters among the indians’. They enjoyed a superiority of numbers over the Macedonians and pressed hard against them.

Five Diodorus now tells us that Mazaeus was in charge of the Persian right wing. Either his horse had swift feet or this is a mistake as a moment ago Mazaeus was somewhere in the centre or left wing overseeing the scythed chariots’ attack. My uncertainty on this point comes from the fact that Diodorus doesn’t say where exactly the chariots were while the Footnotes suggest they were situated on the left wing – they must be referencing another historian.
5A Mazaeus had ‘the best of the [Persian] cavalry under him’, and with it he wreaked havoc on the Macedonians killing ‘not a few of his opponents at the first onslaught’.
5B As the Persian cavalry drove at the Macedonians, Mazaeus ordered ‘two thousand Cadusii and a thousand picked Scythian horsemen’ to sweep round the Macedonian flank and hit the baggage train. Their orders were to capture the Macedonian baggage, people as well as objects. The Footnotes suggest that this may have been, effectively, a rescue operation to free the Persian women (e.g. the royal family).

Six The Cadusii and Scythian horsemen entered the Macedonian camp. Persian prisoners-of-war rose up to join them.’Most of the female captives rushed off to welcome the Persians’. But not Sisygambis. She ‘neither trusted the uncertain turns of Fortune nor would sully her gratitude toward Alexander’.

Seven The Persian horsemen returned to Mazaeus ‘to report their success’.

Eight Meanwhile, Darius’ cavalry continued to press against their Macedonian opposites, forcing them ‘to give ground’.

Chapter 60
Nine Seeing the Persian cavalry force his men back, Alexander decided it was time to intervene. Leading the ‘royal squadron and the rest of the elite horse guards’ he ‘rode hard against Darius’.

Ten The Persians defended themselves by flinging javelins at Alexander and his men. Dodging the missiles, Alexander returned fire – throwing a javelin at Darius himself. It missed – but only just; instead, it struck Darius’ chariot driver, knocking him to the ground.

Eleven The driver’s fall was the turning point of the battle. The Persians around Darius cried out at this near-miss. Their concern was misinterpreted by soldiers further away, who thought it meant that Darius had been killed.

Twelve Fearing the worst, the soldiers further away began to flee from the battlefield. The men fighting next to them followed. ‘[S]teadily, little by little, the solid ranks of Dareius’s guard disintegrated’.

Thirteen One can imagine Darius’ frustration as he saw his men fleeing from the battlefield. Nevertheless, he fought on until ‘both flanks [of his guard?] became exposed’. Then, filled with alarm, he retreated.

Fourteen Seeing Darius’ chariot flee, the Persian army began a general collapse. Alexander and his men searched for Darius but in the swirl of dust, thrown up by the Persian cavalry, it was impossible to find him.

Fifteen Despite Darius’ departure, the battle was not yet over. Mazaeus was pushing the Thessalian cavalry hard on the Persian right (/Macedonian left). He might have routed lesser foes, but the Thessalians were the finest horsemen of their time and ‘put up a stout resistance’. Under Parmenion’s leadership, they were even able to take the upper hand.

Sixteen Mazaeus, however, had superior ‘weight and numbers’ and took control of the fight. There was a ‘great slaughter’ and Parmenion feared his men would be defeated. He sent horsemen to ask Alexander for help but they were unable to catch up with him – his pursuit of Darius had taken him a ‘great distance from the battlefield’.

Seventeen The horsemen returned to Parmenion. Despite what must have been a bitter disappointment, Parmenion did not give in. And what happens when you don’t give in? You win. That’s what Parmenion did. He routed Mazaeus’ cavalry. The Battle of Gaugamela was now over.

Chapter 61
Eighteen As he rode away from the battlefield, Darius took advantage of the dust cloud hiding him and swung round to the Macedonian rear. In doing so, he escaped his pursuers.

Nineteen Following the Persian army’s defeat on the battlefield and the route that followed here are the casualty figures as Diodorus gives them.

  • Persian Cavalry and Infantry ‘more than ninety thousand’
  • Macedonian Cavalry and Infantry ‘[a]bout five hundred’ + ‘very many wounded’

Twenty Some high-profile Macedonians were injured during the battle. Hepahestion was wounded in the arm by a spear thrust. Perdiccas and Coenus were also injured. Diodorus also mentions a cavalry officer named Menidas (‘and others of the higher commanders’) who I am not familiar with being hurt.

Comments
In Chapter 58, Diodorus describes how the Persian scythed chariots ‘cut through necks and sent heads tumbling to the ground with the eyes still open and the expression of the countenance unchanged’. This is obviously an indication of how quickly the scythes killed their man but it also reminded me of the story (I don’t know if it is true) of how, after she was guillotined, Charlotte Corday’s head was lifted up and slapped to see if it was possible for someone to survive decapitation even if only for a few seconds. Corday is said to have looked indignantly back at the man who assaulted her. There is more on this gruesome story on her Wikipedia page.

The Footnotes state that Diodorus’ mention of the Cossaei in Four (one of the units that supported the Persian cavalry on the left wing) is an error ‘since they were not subjects of the king’

At the start of Chapter 60, Diodorus says ‘The Persian king… hurled javelins against his opponents’. In Ten, above, I have limited myself to saying that the Persians flung javelins as I can’t bring myself to believe that Darius himself did so. What do you think? Is it likely that he would have himself?

Still in Chapter 60 – in Eleven I described how the fall of Darius’ driver led to the Persians around the royal chariot anxiously crying out. Their dismay at how close Alexander had come to killing the Great King was misinterpreted by Persians further away who thought it meant that Darius had been killed. They began fleeing the battlefield, thus initiating the end of the battle. How far away were these Persians? The reason I wonder this is because Darius was supposed to be quite tall, was he not? Were these Persians too far away to see him standing up? Was Darius, at that moment, leaning down to tend to his driver? Was he cowering in his chariot?

With reference to Sixteen, the Footnotes are very interesting regarding Parmenion’s message to Alexander. The historians are divided as to what happened.

  • Arrian ‘Alexander received the message and returned’
  • Curtius and Plutarch ‘Alexander received the message but did not turn back’
  • Diodorus Alexander did not receive the message and did not return

The Footnotes give the casualty figures according to the other historians.

Arrian

  • Persian Dead Three Hundred Thousand
  • Macedonian Dead One Hundred

Curtius

  • Persian Dead Forty Thousand
  • Macedonian Dead Three Hundred

Writer of P. Oxyrhynchus 1798

  • Persian Dead Fifty Three Thousand
  • Macedonian Dead One Thousand Foot + Two Hundred Horse
Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Macedonian Army’s Formation

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 56, 57 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Oversleeps
Macedonian Army Forms Up Against Persians

The Story

Chapter 56
That night, Alexander lay in his bed pondering the size of the Persian army and the ‘decisive nature of the impending battle’. Whichever army was the strongest would win the day, and win everything. But which would triumph? Alexander didn’t know and this uncertainty kept him awake until the early hours of the next day when his concern finally gave way to sleep.

Dawn came and went and Alexander slept on. This pleased his Friends who thought ‘that the king would be all the keener for the battle’ if he woke up well rested.

However, as the sun continued its rise in the east, Alexander continued to sleep. Parmenion used his authority as Alexander’s second-in-command to order the Macedonian army ‘to make ready for the battle’. The other Friends, meanwhile, entered Alexander’s bed chamber to try and rouse him. After some effort, it seems, they succeeded.

The Friends were astonished at Alexander’s ability to rest for so long. How could he be so unconcerned? Alexander replied that Darius ‘had freed him from all anxiety by assembling all his forces into one place’. This day would decide everything, ‘and they would be saved toils and dangers extending over a long period of time’.

No doubt after completing his toilette and eating, Alexander called his officers together and gave a rousing speech. By now his army was ready to move. He lead it towards the Persian line. As at the Granicus River and Issus, the cavalry rode ahead of the infantry.

Chapter 57
Diodorus dedicates this chapter to giving an account of the formation of the Macedonian army and a brief explanation of how it approached the Persian force.

Cavalry from Right to Left

  • Royal Squadron under Black Cleitus
  • Friends under Philotas son of Parmenion
  • Seven squadrons also under Philotas son of Parmenion
  • Peloponnesians and Achaeans under Erygius of Mitylene
  • Phthiotes and Malians also under Erygius of Mitylene
  • Locrians and Phocians also under Erygius of Mitylene
  • Thessalians under Philip

Diodorus states that Alexander placed Cretan archers and Achaian archers ‘next’ to the Thessalians.

Infantry from Right to Left

  • Silver Shields under Nicanor son of Parmenion (behind the Royal Squadron, Friends and seven squadrons)

Diodorus classes the following as battalions

  • Elimiotes under Coenus
  • Orestae and Lyncestae under Perdiccas
  • Unidentified battalion under Meleager
  • Stymphaeans under Polyperchon
  • Unidentified battalion under Philip son of Balacrus
  • Unidentified battalion under Craterus

The Persian army was much larger than the Macedonian; to prevent the enemy from outflanking him, Alexander ‘kept his wings back’ from the front line. His response to the threat posed by the scythed chariots was to order the infantry to clash their shields when the chariots approached in order to scare their horses into turning back.

If that didn’t work, the men were told to simply move to one side and allow the chariots to pass through the gap. The horses and their riders would then be sitting ducks (my phrase not Alexander’s!) for Macedonian sling and spear.

As usual for the king, Alexander himself rode on the right wing with the royal squadron.

Finally, Diodorus says that Alexander moved the army forward in an oblique (i.e. slanted) line – he wanted to get to the Persians first and ‘settle the issue of the battle by his own actions’.

Comments
First of all – I have had to guess at one or two of the proper nouns above. Apologies if you see any incorrect ones (let me know in the comments if you do and I’ll amend the post).

The story of Alexander oversleeping is a very good one. The fact that he couldn’t sleep for worry shows his humanity in a very simple and perfect way.

For me, Chapter 57 is notable for who it omits to mention for as much as who it does. For example, where is Hephaestion? He may have been Alexander’s closest friend but it seems that – according to Diodorus – at Guagamela he was not yet senior enough to command a battalion of the Macedonian army.

I was a little surprised that Diodorus didn’t give Parmenion’s location. It appears from Chapter 60, however, that he was fighting on the left wing next to the Thessalian cavalry. Being Alexander’s deputy he was probably in overall charge of the left wing.

Those of you who know Alexander’s army well will have noticed an anachronism in Diodorus’ desciption of it. According to the Footnotes, ‘Silver Shields’ only came into use as a term to describe the hypaspistae (Shield Bearers) during the diadoch period. It originated from the ‘introduction of silver and gold trappings in 327′ presumably on the soldiers’ shields.

From Alexander’s Crusade by Professor Tufton Frobisher-Smythe (OUP 1902)
The Battle of Gaugamela is sometimes referred to as The Battle of Arbela in deference to the village of that name, near which Alexander and Darius III clashed. However, Gaugamela is the more accurate name as that is where the two armies actually were.

That the battle should be called The Battle of Gaugamela is highlighted in certain early manuscripts of Arrian’s history where he refers to an another battle that really did take place at Arbela even as Alexander and Darius were fighting one another a few miles away. The combatants were a number of Macedonians and Persians. Arrian writes,

“The men on both sides were stragglers. Messengers had previously come from the main army of both kings and told them to make for Arbela ‘as that is where all would be decided’. So they did. Of course, the messengers meant Gaugamela but the men did not realise this. Thus, when they arrived outside Arbela and saw each other both assumed that the enemy in front of them were the sole survivors of a mighty battle that had already taken place. That there were no bodies nearby did not occur to anyone as reason to doubt this assumption. As a result of this mistake, the stragglers decided to fight each other for the honour of their late kings and country. The Macedonians won and claimed the Persian Empire for themselves. They were very disappointed when messengers from the main army reappeared to tell them what had happened at Gaugamela.”

An undeniably curious episode that no other ancient historian mentions. Did it really happen? Or was Ptolemy (or Arrian for that matter) drunk when he wrote it?

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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