Posts Tagged With: Cydnus River

24. The Cydnus River – Tarsus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘It was [at Tarsus] that Alexander fell ill. Aristobulus’ account attributes it to exhaustion, but others say that Alexander, sweaty and overcome by the heat, had wanted a bathe and had dived into the river Cydnus for a swim (the Cydnus runs right through the city of Tarsus, and with its springs in the Taurus mountains and a course through open country its water is cold and clear). The result was an attack of cramp, violent fever, and persistent inability to sleep.”
(Arrian II.4.7-8)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

The Cydnus River

Credit Where It’s Due
The Cydnus River: Sketchings and Other Life Reflections

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Alexander, Slicer of Knots

Justin’s Alexander
Book XI Chapters 6-9
Part Two
Other posts in this series

For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus

Chapter Six
When deciding upon a title for the first post in this series, I considered ‘Alexander the Pragmatist’ as that seemed to be a key feature of his early kingship. I eventually decided against it as I didn’t think Alexander could be fully described by one word alone.

Nevertheless, his pragmatism was an important element of his rule, and we shall see it more than once today. For example, Justin reports that as the Macedonian army advanced through Asia, Alexander exhorted his men not to destroy the land – as it was their property.

Having mentioned this, Justin allows himself for a brief moment to be in awe of his subject. The Macedonian army was a small force consisting of just 32,000 infantry and 4,500 cavalry. Justin remarks,

Whether, with this small force, it is more wonderful that he conquered the world, or that he dared to attempt its conquest, is difficult to determine.

Another example of Alexander’s pragmatism then follows. He entered Asia not with an army comprised of ‘robust young men, or men in the flower of their age’ but veterans, ‘masters of war’. Further to this, Justin says that none of the officers were under sixty.

He is exaggerating the age of Alexander’s army. But why would he do so? I wonder if it is an attempt to rationalise the magnitude of Alexander’s achievement, one that – in his opinion – was surely beyond the power of young men to attain.

Having said that, it’s true that Alexander began his expedition with much older men riding alongside him – Parmenion, for example, and perhaps Erygius? He knew the value of experience.

In his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it account of the Battle of the Granicus River, Justin notes that Alexander’s ‘conduct’ – his bravery – was as much responsible for the Persian defeat as ‘the valour of the Macedonians’. And again, ‘the terror of his name’ is said to have played as large a part in defeating Darius’ lieutenants as his weapons did.

Chapter Seven
A further example of Alexander’s pragmatism begins this chapter. On hearing of Alexander Lyncestes’ alleged treachery, the king doesn’t have him executed but put under arrest. He knows that he is still close to Macedon to avoid trouble from the pro-Lyncestian faction there.

Another feature of Alexander’s character that we saw in the first post was his respect for history, albeit when it suited him. Here, he is not so much selective about what he says but particular in his interpretation.

Justin reports that Alexander took Gordium,

… not so much for the sake of plunder, as because he had heard that in that city, in the temple of Jupiter, was deposited the yoke of Gordius’s car; the knot of which, if anyone should loose, the oracles of old had predicted that he should rule all Asia.

Alexander searched for the ends of the knot but was unable to find them. Unwilling to give up (and risk his army being unsettled by the bad omen), he simply cut the through the knot and announced that he had undone it. He had certainly put, as Justin puts it ‘a forced interpretation on the oracle’. Most importantly, though, it was accepted.

Chapter Eight
Justin says that Alexander ‘crossed Mount Taurus’ (to reach Cilicia) because he feared its defiles. This is certainly not the witness of Curtius.

We move on to the severe illness that afflicted Alexander after he went to bathe in the Cydnus River, and which left him gravely ill.

With a little kindness, we might say that having been warned by Parmenion that Philip of Arcanania meant to poison him, the king was very brave to trust his doctor’s medicine. I suspect Justin is right, though, when he says that ‘Alexander, however, thought it better to trust the doubtful faith of the physician, than to perish of certain disease.’

Chapter Nine
Issus. As the Macedonian and Persian armies approached each other, Justin reports Alexander as being concerned by the small size of his force versus the huge one opposite him. He calmed his nerves by recalling the ‘powerful people he had overthrown’ and marched on.

That was fine for Alexander, but what about his men? Justin notes that to stop them worrying, the king decided a. not to avoid giving battle (so as to not give the men time to panic), and b. to stop and start as they marched towards the Persians to enable his men to get used to what lay before them.

As you might expect, he also encouraged his men with a stirring speech, or rather, several – one tailored for each nationality represented.

He excited the Illyrians and Thracians by describing the enemy’s wealth and treasures, and the Greeks by putting them in mind of their wars of old, and their deadly hatred towards the Persians. He reminded the Macedonians at one time of their conquests in Europe, and at another of their desire to subdue Asia, boasting that no troops in the world had been found a match for them, and assuring them that this battle would put an end to their labours and crown their glory.

Alexander the manipulator at his finest.

One thing that is on my mind though is, did he really intend to stop his eastward expedition after Issus (presuming he thought that there would be no further fighting between it and Babylon?) or was he simply lying?

Following the Battle of Issus, Justin takes us into the Persian royal women’s tent where he describes Alexander as being ‘touched with the respectful concern of the princesses for Darius’. His sympathy for, and the help he subsequently gave to, Sisygambis, Stateira I, Stateira II and Drypetis is undoubtedly a high point in Justin’s treatment of him.

Impressions
Again, I come away from the book with a sense of Justin’s being on the whole positive towards Alexander. He does describe the Macedonian king as doing some negative actions but they are not dwelt upon. I rather feel at the moment that the real story of Justin’s attitude is to be found between the lines rather than it what he says upfront.

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A Passage to Cilicia

The Nature of Curtius
Book Three Chapters 4 – 6
For the other posts in this series, click here

Chapter Four
The Cilician Gates
As Darius moved north, Alexander marched south from Cappadocia. He stopped in an area known as ‘The Camp of Cyrus’. This was named after Cyrus the Great who ‘maintained a permanent camp’ there when he went to fight Croesus in Lydia. The camp was fifty stades (five miles) away from the Cilician Gates.

The ‘Gates’ were actually a rock formation in a narrow defile. Their name came from the fact that they looked like they were man-made, and they afforded the only means of entering Cilicia, which was bounded by the ‘rugged and precipitously steep’ Taurus mountain range.

The governor of Cilicia was a man named Arsames. He had it in him if not to defeat Alexander then at least to inflict upon him a critical defeat that could in turn have led to the undermining of the whole Macedonian campaign.

In order to achieve this, Arsames needed only to post a small force on the ridge overlooking the defile. Curtius says that the the defile ‘could barely accommodate four armed men [walking] abreast’. Picking them off, therefore, would have been easy.

However, Arsames chose instead to do what Memnon of Rhodes had recommended before the Battle of the Granicus River; namely, to lay waste to the country and starve Alexander into submission. He did so ‘with fire and the sword’. Destroying anything ‘that might be of use’ to his enemy.

Thus, Alexander – to his surprise and delight – found the Cilician Gates unguarded. He passed through them and marched on to Tarsus.

It would be inaccurate to say that Arsames totally ignored the Gates. Curtius tells us that he posted guards to the three mountain passes (of which, only the Cilician Gates provided entry into the country). However, after hearing that the satrap was destroying the countryside the guards deserted believing that they had been betrayed.

Curtius describes how the Cilician countryside ‘levels out’ as it approaches the sea. This flatness, he says, is ‘frequently interrupted by streams’ including two ‘famous rivers’ – the Pyramus and Cydnus.

Of the Pyramus he has nothing else to say, but the Cydnus now takes centre stage in Alexander’s story.

What was the river like? Well, it was neither a particularly deep nor violent one. In fact, it ran very gently ‘with no torrents breaking into its course’. Curtius doesn’t mention any mythological being associated with the Cydnus. Perhaps its gentility gave the impression that it was a rather boring river. Maybe it was, but if so, the Cydnus was a valuable one for it ran over ‘pure soil’. It contained no stories but it helped men live so that they could tell them.

Like the Marsyas, the waters of the Cydnus were very clear. They were also very cold, for the river ran underneath the shade of its banks.

Lest we think that its clarity and clearness were all the Cydnus had to commend itself, Curtius adds that at its headwaters (i.e at the source of the river) there were ‘many monuments popularized in song’. He says ‘They were shown the sites of the cities of Lyrnesus and Thebes, the cave of Typhon, the grove of Corycus where saffron grows’.

By ‘they’, I assume Curtius means the Macedonians. Unfortunately, they did not see too much as the monuments and cities were but ruins or even just memories in the air with no earthly trace left. The cities had fallen, and nature reclaimed her land.

Chapters Five and Six
The Cydnus River
Alexander arrived in Tarsus in August. The weather was boiling hot. As it happened, the Cydnus passed through the city so he went to bathe in it.

Now, you might think this would be a thoroughly innocuous act. What happened next, however, made it a very significant, and nearly fatal, one. Alexander had barely taken a step into the water ‘when he suddenly felt his limbs shiver and stiffen’. He was rushed back to this tent, seemingly on the point of death.

As Alexander’s friends clear the way and carry their king to his bed, I would like to look very briefly at how he – Alexander – used the river as a propaganda tool. The main purpose of his visit was to bathe. However, in so doing, he considered ‘that it would also add to his prestige if he showed his men that he was satisfied with attention to his person which was plain and unelaborate’.

That’s Alexander. He could probably have found a way of making the act of picking the dirt from between his toes a heroic one. As it is, Alexander’s purpose has its origin in the days of his youth when he was taught by the austere Leonidas. It also reminds me of how he used his good treatment of women as a way of proving his superiority to the Persians (see here for more details).

After being taken to his tent, Alexander remained there until his physician, Philip of Arcanania, had cured him of his illness. This covers the rest of Chapter 5 and all of 6. If you would like to read more about what happened, see here and here.

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Alexander: September / Autumn Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

335
Livius c.12th September Thebes is razed to the ground after rebelling against Alexander’s rule
Peter Green* places the fall of Thebes in ‘early Spring’
The Landmark Arrian** says simply that it took place in Spring

333
Livius and Peter Green (September) Alexander falls ill after going to bathe in the Cydnus River in Cilicia. Parmenion sends word to him warning that Philip of Arcanania, the only royal doctor prepared to treat the king, has been bribed by Darius III to kill him. Alexander takes Philip’s medicine anyway and went on to make a full recovery
The Landmark Arrian places Alexander’s illness in the Summer of 333

332
Livius (September – November) The Siege of Gaza
The Landmark Arrian and Michael Wood*** both state that the Siege of Gaza took place in Autumn

326
Michael Wood (early September) Mutiny at the Hyphasis River
Livius (September) Macedonian army starts construction of fleet of ships
Michael Wood (Autumn) Macedonian Army returns to the Hydaspes River
The Landmark Arrian (Autumn) Alexander begins journey down the Hydaspes and Acesines Rivers.

325
Livius (15th September) Nearchus ‘starts on his voyage’ [i.e. from Pattala, down the Indus River and into the Indian Ocean en route to the Euphrates River]
Livius (September) Alexander crosses Gedrosia
Peter Green (‘? September’) Macedonians cross the Gedrosian desert
The Landmark Arrian (Autumn) Nearchus ‘prepares his fleet’. Subjection of the Oreitae. Many Macedonians die during crossing of Gedrosian desert

* Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
** The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
*** In the Footsteps Of Alexander the Great A Journey from Greece to India (BBC Books 2004)

This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know.
At the moment, Livius‘ chronology is the one by which I test the others. That may change; I’ll note it if it does.

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The Triumph of Friendship over Wealth

For other posts in this series click here

Date 333 BC Place Cydnus River, Asia Minor
Bad Medicine Is What I Need
Philip of Arcanania

Alexander the Great Rescued from the River Cydnus (Pietro Testa)

Alexander the Great Rescued from the River Cydnus (Pietro Testa). Source: see below

Alexander Falls Ill
It isn’t often that a man gets to show how hard he is in a – ahem – bed chamber, but in the summer of 333 B.C. Philip of Arcanania was given the opportunity and was not found wanting.
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This is how it happened. Alexander took ill after going for a bathe in the Cydnus River. His condition was so bad his doctors wouldn’t treat him in case he died and they got the blame for it. For ‘blame’ read ‘executed’.
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Cometh the hour, cometh the bad ass. Philip had been Alexander’s doctor since the latter’s youth. If the king is going to die, he told himself, I am going down with him. We hear a lot in the news these days about how wonderful the NHS in Britain and ‘Obamacare’ in America are but let’s be honest no British or American doctor would guarantee the success of their treatment with their own life.
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J’Accuse
While Philip was off making the potion, Alexander received a letter from Parmenion. In it, his second-in-command warned that Philip had been bribed by Darius and intended to kill him.
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According to Curtius, Alexander debated with himself whether to accept Philip’s treatment or not. After much thought, he decided he would do so. ‘Better to be killed by someone else’s crime than my own fear’ (Curtius). That’s so Alexander it makes me wonder if he was really ill at all.
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Alexander told no one about the letter. Instead, he sealed it and hid it under his pillow. Philip took two days to finish making his draught. Upon entering Alexander’s bed chamber, he handed it over. In return, Alexander gave him the letter and asked him to read it.
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The Moment of Truth
The king drank the draught ‘with confidence’ (Curtius). Philip’s reaction to Parmenion’s letter, however, depends on which source you read. Curtius says that the physician ‘demonstrated more outrage than fear’. Plutarch says it was a scene worthy of the stage – Alexander serenly drinking the cup while Philip, upon reading the letter, ‘was filled with surprise and alarm’. Significantly, however, the physician was not deflected from his course, and he implored Alexander ‘to take courage and follow his advice’ (Plutarch). Arrian says that Philip simply read the letter and, without alarm, told the king to carry on following his instructions.
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Which ever way you look at it, Philip behaved with commendable strength. Here he was, being stitched up – see below – by the second most powerful man in the Macedonian army and, even in Plutarch’s account, he stood still, stood tall, held firm and held fast. Next time you watch a medical drama on TV and see all the doctors and nurses running around like headless chickens wondering what to do about someone’s broken finger, remember Philip.
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As it happens, the danger wasn’t over yet. Plutarch and Curtius both report that after taking Philip’s medicine, Alexander fell ill again. Curtius says his ‘breathing became intermittent and difficult’. Plutarch tells us that Alexander ‘fell into a swoon and displayed scarcely any sign of sense or of life’.

  • Did Philip panic?
  • Did Philip run away?
  • Did Philip kill himself in fear and shame?

No, of course not, and shame on you if you think he did any of the above. What Philip actually did was stick to his job and carry on treating the king. Soon, Alexander recovered and proved that he was back to his best by giving Darius a well deserved pasting at the Battle of the Issus River a few months later. What a man.
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Epilogue
There is something very suspect about Parmenion’s rôle in this affair. It may just be me but when I consider what Parmenion had to gain by Alexander’s death – as the king’s second-in-command he had a more than reasonable chance of taking the throne in the event of Alexander’s dying without an heir – his bad mouthing of the one doctor who was willing to help the king looks to me like an attempted coup. It was the perfect plan, after all: if Alexander didn’t die, Parmenion could just blame his ‘source’ for providing bad information. We don’t hear anything about who told Parmenion that Philip was going to poison Alexander after the event so I imagine that that is exactly what happened and he got away with it.
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Rating of Hard 8/10
For Philip set himself the target of healing Alexander with primitive medicine knowing that if he failed, he would probably die himself; he kept his head after reading Parmenion’s letter
Against As Alexander’s friend even if the king had died would the other generals really have turned against him? Philip was at Medius’ party and probably helped the king then. We don’t know what happened to him thereafter but if he had been executed for failing to save Alexander’s life, I think one of the sources would have mentioned it.
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Picture Source The Daily Beast. Testa’s painting can be found at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art

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