Posts Tagged With: Darius III

Sweet Summer Child

In this post, I would like to share a few thoughts based on Alexander’s deeds in the month of July, as outlined in this post.

July is undoubtedly the most important month of the year for anyone interested in the life of Alexander of Macedon as it is the month in which he was born.

The date usually given for Alexander’s birth is 20th/21st July, and for the past few years, I have celebrated it by visiting a Greek restaurant for lunch on one of those dates.

Thanks to the coronavirus I won’t be able to to do so this year – or at least, not this month – but there is no way I am going to let the big day go by without a glass or two of Greek wine. There is a lovely Greek bakery/delicatessen on the corner of Farringdon Road and Topham Street in London so I shall pop in there and buy a suitable bottle of vino tinto and drink to the conqueror.

If you would like to read an account of Alexander’s conception and birth, Plutarch’s Life of Alexander is the book to read.

As it happens, Plutarch is the only one of the principle Alexander historians (Arrian, Curtius, Diodorus, and Justin) to have any interest in Alexander’s life before he became king. All the others, excluding Curtius, begin their narratives in 336 BC when Alexander becomes king. It’s rather like how St. Luke is the only Gospel writer to be very interested in Jesus’ conception and birth. A note on Curtius – perhaps he too wrote an account of Alexander’s birth; unfortunately, the first two books of his history have been lost so we don’t know.

In July 333 BC, Alexander left Gordium in central Asia Minor having either cut or untied the famous knot. What happened with the Gordian Knot is one of those moments in Alexander’s life where you pays your money and makes your choice. Plutarch again tells us that according to ‘most writers’ Alexander cut the knot but that Aristobulos says he untied it.

Which to believe? Aristobulos’ explanation – that Alexander undid the knot by first removing the dowel pin around which it was tied and then the yoke of the cart is elegant and simple. That’s a problem, though: are difficult problems ever so neatly solved? And then there is the issue of Aristobulos’ reputation for always trying to make Alexander look as good as possible.

That Alexander simply cut the knot sounds much more realistic (after all, if the knot could be undone by simply removing the dowel pin and yoke, surely someone would have thought of that before) and like the kind of thing he would do. Like I said, you pays your money and makes your choice.

July is also the month in which Memnon of Rhodes died. Of all Alexander’s enemies, he was probably the most dangerous. Before the Battle of the Granicus River, he proposed the adoption of a scorched earth policy to the Persian satraps, as a way of starving the Macedonian army out of Asia Minor.

The local populations would have suffered grievously but it was surely an excellent strategy for dealing with the Macedonians. Despite this, the satraps turned it down.

Afterward the Granicus, Memnon’s naval campaign in the Aegean Sea could well have forced Alexander, either to return home to protect Macedon and Greece, or send back troops he needed to be successful in his expedition.

Before the campaign could reach its fulfilment, however, Memnon died. The commanders who succeeded him were not able to keep the naval campaign going before Alexander defeated it from the land.

In July 332 BC, the Siege of Tyre finally came to a close when the Macedonian army finally broke into the city. The Tyrians had held Alexander at bay for seven months, and paid the price for it as the Macedonians cut down anyone they came across during their rampage across the city.

Tyre still exists and can be found sticking out into the Mediterranean Sea in the south of Lebanon. It does so because of Alexander’s mole. In the centuries following the siege, silt built up over the mole, creating the land that was needed to join the old and new cities together.

Zipping forward to July 330 BC, we come to the assassination of Darius III in Parthia (along the path of the Silk Road) on or around 17th July.

What would have happened to Darius if Alexander had caught him alive? Would he have let his defeated rival live? I very much doubt it. As long as Darius lived, he represented a threat to Alexander’s Great Kingship. He would surely have been put to death just as Alexander’s rivals to the Macedonian throne were.

I started this post with a beginning and so will end it with an ending.

In July 326 BC, the Macedonian army’s mutiny at the Hyphasis River took place. As I have seen written elsewhere, the army didn’t actually mutiny. That is to say, Alexander didn’t issue an order to cross the river, which the army then refused to carry out. Rather, they arrived at the river, and the army told their king we will not go any further. Alexander tried to talk them out of their refusal but to no avail.

Arrian’s account of the debate between Alexander and Coenus is a dramatic piece of literary theatre (in which light it should be seen rather than as an account of what was said on the day) and it’s interesting that although Coenus died not long afterwards there is no suggestion in the sources, and not much made by modern historians, that Alexander had him eliminated as a kind of revenge (Coenus, after all, was speaking as much for the army as himself). Men were killed by Alexander for much less.

Alexander’s anger and frustration as the army sails down the Indus River is also very notable. Never more so than on the two occasions when he impatiently climbs siege ladders by himself. Fed up of the army’s tardiness – now on their way home, the soldiers’ motivation to risk death had gone – Alexander decides to take on the enemy himself. On the second occasion, he is almost killed as a result. Afterwards, his senior commanders finally tell him off for risking himself too much!

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Arrian I.25.1-10

In This Chapter
Alexander Lyncestis’ Plot Against The King

Alexander Lyncestis was a man lucky to be alive. He and his two brothers, Heromenes and Arrhabaeus, had been implicated in the plot to kill Philip II but while they had been executed he had survived. Arrian says that Lyncestis had been,

… one of the first of [Alexander II’s] friends to rally round him after Philip’s death and had gone armed at his side when Alexander entered the palace.

Arrian I.25.2

The fact that he was married to Antipater’s daughter could only have helped him as well. Not that he relied on this important connection to save himself. The potentially chaotic aftermath of Philip’s assassination and return to the palace where more assassins may have been laying in wait to complete what Pausanias started were acutely dangerous moments. No wonder he did well for himself, afterwards:

[King] Alexander held [Lyncestis] in an honoured position in his entourage, sent him to be his general in Thrace, and appointed him to the command of the Thessalian cavalry…

Arrian I.25.2

Alexander the king certainly put a lot of trust in the man who for all his loyalty was still ‘implicated’ in Philip’s murder. It’s true that Alexander was far more prepared than we ever would be to take in men who had once been his enemies but I suspect that this implication was founded not on a suspicion of actual guilt but opportunism: Alexander Lyncestis was the son of Aëropus who was the cousin of Eurydice, Philip II’s mother; this gave him a claim to the Macedonian throne. The murder of Philip II gave Alexander an opportunity to eliminate potential rivals for that throne and escape criticism by claiming that the victims were involved in the plot to kill his father. Lyncestis must have known this, hence – whether or not he had anything to do with Philip’s murder – he went to great lengths to prove his loyalty.

So, Alexander Lyncestis had done well for himself, but now his career came to a sudden halt. In Arrian I.17 we read about Amyntas son of Antiochus who so disliked Alexander III he ran away from Macedon. He ended up in Ephesus only to be forced to flee again just before Alexander arrived there. Arrian says that Amyntas arrived at Darius’ court with a letter from Alexander Lyncestis. This inspired the Great King to send a man named Sisines to negotiate with him. Arrian doesn’t tell us what the letter said, but from what he does say we can infer that it contained an offer to kill the Alexander III because Sisines was authorised to inform that if he did so,

… Darius would install him as king of Macedonia and present him with a thousand talents of gold as well as the kingdom.

Arrian I.25.3

But Sisines was captured, and (under torture?) spilled the beans to Parmenion.

Parmenion was either on his way to, or in, Phrygia at the time so sent the Persian under guard to Alexander. Sisines repeated his story. Alexander summoned his friends and discussed what he should do next.

Rather amusingly, and a sign of the closeness of the friends to their king, they rebuked him for having trusted Lyncestis in the first place. They also turned their minds to an incident that had occurred during the Siege of Halicarnassus when a swallow had settled on Alexander’s head and kept singing until he was fully awake. Alexander had asked Aristander to interpret what happened. The seer told him that ‘it signified a plot by one of his friends’ (Arr. I.25.8).

So it had proved, and now the loyal friends recommended that Lyncestis be executed. But the matter was a very delicate one: if Alexander executed Lyncestis, Antipater was in a position to do him a great deal of harm, perhaps even overthrow him. For that reason, therefore, he decided that Lyncestis should not be executed but simply put under house arrest. It appears that he was with Parmenion’s detachment at this time because agents were sent in disguise to the general to inform him verbally what Alexander had decided. Lyncestis was duly arrested and would continue to travel with the expedition until being put to death in Drangiana in late 330 BC.

A couple of things before I finish.

The notes to my copy of Arrian suggest that the story of the swallow may be apocryphal – Arrian tells it in ‘indirect speech’

Lastly, one can only wonder why – if Alexander Lyncestis was indeed guilty of plotting against Alexander III – he chose this moment to make his move. Alexander the king had just won his first major battle. He was extremely popular with his men. Anyone trying to overthrow him would have to contend with that afterwards. There’s a reason why the two other major plots against Alexander occurred in Bactria-Sogdia. I don’t know the answer to this question, but I would consider it more likely that either Lyncestis was set up or had indeed been plotting to kill Alexander in the future only for events unknown to force his hand so that he had to act now.

Text Used
Hammond, Martin (tr.) Arrian: Alexander the Great (Oxford, OUP, 2013)

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Arrian I.23.1-8

In This Chapter
Halicarnassus Falls to Alexander

Memnon of Rhodes and Orontobates surveyed the damage caused to the city walls by the Macedonians, the injuries the enemy had caused, and the number of men killed; they decided that ‘as things stood they could not hold out’ (Arr. I.23.1) for much longer. As I mentioned in my previous post, morale may also have been a problem after the men guarding the city gates panicked and closed them, locking many of their comrades outside the city, leaving them to be slaughtered by the Macedonians.

The decision was taken to flee the city. Houses of civilians were set ablaze to prevent the Macedonians from following them. But not only houses burned; a siege tower was set alight as well, as were the arsenals. Perhaps Memnon was concerned not to let his weapons fall into Alexander’s hands.

As the wind spread the fire throughout the city, the Persians and mercenaries retreated either to Halicarnassus’ citadel or to an offshore island (actually a peninsula) named Zephyria.

Deserters alerted Alexander to what was going on. He entered the city and gave two orders: to kill anyone caught starting a fire and to spare any Halicarnassan found in their home.

The next morning, Alexander went to see the citadel and Zephyria on the western and eastern points respectively of the harbour exit.

He decided against besieging them, thinking that he would waste much time on them because of the nature of the ground, and that there was no great point now that he had taken the whole city.

Arrian I.23.5

Arrian tells us that Alexander ‘razed the city to the ground’ (Arr. I.23.6). He left enough of it, however, for a garrison to live in so that the Persians and mercenaries would not be able to break out. Two officers, Ptolemy (not the son of Lagus) and Asander were left in charge. The following year, just before Alexander fought Darius at Issus, they would finally defeat Orontobates in battle and end the sieges (Arr. II.5.7).

Back in the present, Alexander also buried the (enemy) dead before leaving for Phrygia. Around this time, he appointed Ada satrap of Caria. For her, the wheel of fortune had now turned full circle: In 344/3, Ada’s father, Hidrieus, had appointed her his successor. In 340/39, however, her brother, Pixodarus, usurped her. Since then, Ada had lived in a fort at Alinda. By the time of Alexander’s arrival in Caria, Ada’s situation had not improved. Pixodarus was now dead but Orontobates – to whom Ada had been married – now ruled instead. Alexander’s victory at Halicarnassus ended that. Ada, who had gone to meet Alexander upon his entry into Caria and offer him Alinda and adoption as her son, was now given Caria to rule just as before. She would continue to do so until no later than 324.

So in the end, Halicarnassus kind of fell with a bit of a whimper. Memnon and Orontobates saw the writing on the wall and ran. Arrian does not (unsurprisingly?) give the impression that they ran Alexander close but it is clear from his text that they had some good ideas – the surprise attack from the Tripylon gate being an example. In the end, though, they weren’t able to translate those ideas into performance. Why? Partly because of the strength of the Macedonian army but also, I think, they just didn’t have the numbers to oppose Alexander’s men. Their attacks were, of necessity, hit-and-run, and that was never going to be enough, with or without the men panicking. In this light, the defenders needed Halicarnassus to be strong enough to save them, and as it turned out, it wasn’t.

Texts Used
Hammond, Martin (tr.) Arrian: Alexander the Great (Oxford, OUP, 2013)
Heckel, Waldemar Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great (Oxford Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)

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Arrian I.19.1-11

In This Chapter
The Siege of Miletus

The Milesians’ Offer
When the Milesians saw the Persian fleet back off they knew they were between a rock and a hard place. Their response was to send one of their leading men to Alexander with an offer: ‘equal access to their walls and harbours’ (Arrian I.19.1) along with the Persians. Alexander refused to accept it, and told the Milesians to prepare for a siege.

Alexander’s refusal to share the city gives an insight into the uncompromising side of his nature. Yes, he could be pragmatic, but not in all things, small or large. Diodorus records that Alexander refused to share the Persian empire with Darius III telling the Great King’s envoys that ‘… the earth could not preserve its plan and order if there were two suns’ (Dio.XVII.54).

The Siege of Miletus
The next day, Alexander oversaw the undermining of the Milesian walls. He was watched, no doubt, by the Miletians but also by the Persian naval force, which had anchored off Mycale, as well as Nicanor, who was anchored at the island of Lade.

Seeing the siege begin, Nicanor ordered the anchors to be lifted. He led the fleet into Miletus’ harbour so that the Persians would not be able to sail past him to help the city.

Nicanor’s arrival lead some Milesians and mercenaries from the city’s garrison to give up hope of resisting Alexander; they jumped into the harbour and swam towards an islet just outside it. Others attempted a break out in boats; many of them were caught and killed.

The siege didn’t last long. In fact, it looks like from Arrian that it was over in a day, perhaps just a few hours. When it ended, Alexander had won.

The Islet
Once he had taken the city, Alexander turned his attention to those on the islet. Arrian tells us that,

When [Alexander] saw that the men on the island were prepared to fight to the death, he was moved to pity for these evidently courageous and loyal soldiers…

(Arr. I.19.6)

and offered them their lives in return for serving in his army (The Milesians present were simply sent back home).

Alexander’s clemency towards his defeated noble enemy is an established part of his character in the sources (see how he treats Timoclea, Cleophis and Porus*) but I suspect that more than just pity informed his actions at Miletus. For one, the mercenaries on the islet were protected by its cliffs. Alexander had ladders to scale them but he would have known that before ever his soldiers made it to the top, many would be killed by the mercenaries. Secondly, just days or weeks after the event, he also surely knew that he had gone too far in slaughtering the Greek mercenaries at the Granicus. Doing so caused an even deeper breach between himself and Greece – not conducive to maintaining control of the city-states – and he needed mercenaries in his army.

The Persian Naval Force
Despite being unable to stop Alexander take Miletus, the Persian naval force did not fully retreat. Instead, it sallied forth hoping to provoke a battle with the Macedonian fleet. In response, Alexander sent a detachment to Mycale, where the Persians were based, to stop them from disembarking their ships and collecting fresh water from the Maeander river.

With their ability to replenish their water supplies removed, the Persians were forced to sail further away to Samos. Once they had done this, however, they returned. When they did so, they conducted a daring operation. Five ships sailed into the Milesian harbour,

… hoping to catch Alexander’s ships unmanned, as they had discovered that most of the crews were away from their ships, out and about on details to collect firewood, provisions, or fodder.

Arrian I.19.9

Some sailers had indeed left their ships, but others remained. Seeing the Persian ships approach, Alexander sent his men after them. Four made it back to the fleet; one vessel, however, proved to be too slow and was captured. Following this defeat, the Persian naval force retired for good.

* See:
Timoclea – Plutarch Life of Alexander 12
Cleophis – Curtius VIII.10.35
Porus – Arrian V.19.1-3

Text Used
Hammond, Martin (tr.) Arrian: Alexander the Great (Oxford, OUP, 2013)
Bradford Welles C. (tr) Diodorus of Sicily The Library of History Bk XVII (Harvard University Press 1963)

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Arrian I.17.1-12

In This Chapter
Alexander takes Sardis and Ephesus

In the days following his victory at the Battle of the Granicus River, Alexander turned to the now changed political situation in the region. With the death of Arsites, the satrapy of Hellespontine Phrygia was now vacant. He appointed an officer named Calas to the role.

Alexander’s Political Methodology
A consistent feature of Alexander’s kingship is how he dealt with conquered territories on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, as in the case of Phrygia, he appointed a Macedonian governor. On other occasions, he appointed a Persian to the role, or else let the previous governor remain in office. As we shall see with King Porus, Alexander was also content to allow kings to remain in situ – as long as, of course, they were loyal.

In light of this, we can say that Alexander did not have a philosophy of power. He was, in one sense at least, a pragmatist. Could this be the reason why he refused to change Phrygia’s tax level? After Calas was appointed satrap, Alexander confirmed that the province would be required to keep paying the same taxes as it had under Darius III.

Zeleia and Dascylium
With Phrygia taken care of, Alexander turned to Zeleia and Dascylium.

Zeleians had fought in the satrapal army. After its defeat, the city’s inhabitants fled into the mountains to escape Macedonian reprisals. Now, however, they came back down to surrender themselves. For his part, Alexander told them to go home and absolved them from blame for fighting against him – ‘he recognized that they had been forced to fight on the barbarian side’ (Arr. I.17.2). The way Arrian writes it, it looks like the Zeleians decided to surrender themselves and were then absolved. I suspect, however, that Alexander sent messengers to tell them that they were in no danger. It doesn’t make sense that they would flee and then return without any guarantee of avoiding the fate that they had tried to run away from.

Alexander’s last action before moving on from the Granicus region was to send Parmenion to Dascylium. Its Persian garrison had left the city so taking it was a formality.

Alexander marched on Sardis from the Granicus River. When he was still eight miles from it, Mithrenes, ‘commander of the citadel garrison’ (Arr. I.17.3) and the city’s civilian leaders came out to meet him. ‘Mithrenes surrendered the citadel and treasury’ (Arr. I.17.4), and the civilian leaders surrendered the city.

Alexander marched to within two miles of Sardis before sending Amyntas son of Andromenes into it to take control of the citadel. As a reward for surrendering, Alexander ‘kept Mithrenes with him in a position of honour’. He also let the Sardians – and Lydians at large – keep their traditional institutions and independence.

It is interesting to compare Alexander’s response to Sardis and Phrygia. You might have thought that being a glory seeker, he would value those who made a noble stand against him rather than those who simply gave way. Sometimes – as in the case of Porus – he did but as we see here, not always.

Why might this have been so? To paraphrase the writer, there’s a time for fighting, and a time for making peace. Alexander was a glory seeker but he was not a war monger. If he could get his way through peaceful means then he would do it. So, why was it a time for making peace rather than war? At a guess, I would say that Alexander did not want to fight again so soon after the Granicus battle; his men needed time to recover.

Once Amyntas had taken the city, Alexander entered it. He went to the citadel and was impressed by its strength. The idea of building a temple there occurred to him but while he was searching for a suitable building site, a thunder storm struck. Arrian says that the downpour took place ‘exactly where the Lydian royal palace stood’ (Arr. I.17.6). Alexander saw the will of the gods in this and acquiesced: he gave orders for the temple to be built on the site of the palace.

A Tripartite Government
Macedonian rule over Sardis was split between Pausanias (citadel) and Nicias (assessment & collection of tribute). Asander son of Philotas was given the satrapy of Lydia.

Sardis represents the first occasion in Arrian that we see Alexander splitting authority in one place between more than one person. The most famous example of this happening is in Egypt. The likely reason he did so there is because Egypt was too big and too powerful (in terms of wealth and defence capabilities) to be given to one person. Perhaps Sardis was the same: as we saw above, Alexander recognised the strength of the citadel.

Further Orders
Arrian notes that Alexander sent Calas, the new satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, and Alexander son of Aëropus to ‘Memnon’s territory’ (Arr. I.17.8) with a number of troops. Alexander son of Aëropus was a man lucky to be alive: ‘[h]is brothers, Heromenes and Arrhabaeus, were both executed for their alleged complicity in the ‘plot’ to assassinate Philip II’ (Heckel, p.19). Following Philip’s death, the son of Aëropus (who we also call Alexander Lyncestis) was the first to declare Alexander III ‘king’. This probably saved his life. Unfortunately, he subsequently either turned against Alexander or was set up. Either way, he was arrested, and after being held under arrest for some time, executed in the aftermath of the Philotas affair.

Upon hearing the result of the Battle of the Granicus River, the Persian garrison in Ephesus – which was comprised of mercenary troops – fled. With them went Amyntas son of Antiochus. He was a man used to being on the run, having fled Macedon in order to get away from Alexander. Why? Arrian tells us that Alexander hadn’t hurt him but that Amyntas simply disliked or hated the king and ‘thought it would be an indignity to meet with any unpleasant reprisal from him’ (Arr. I.17.9).

Alexander hurried towards Ephesus, reaching it after three days. The city immediately fell into his hands. Alexander allowed those Ephesians who had been forced into exile for supporting him to return. He abolished the city’s oligarchy, instituted a democracy, and ordered that taxes should now be paid to the temple of Artemis.

The oligarchs had ruled Ephesus badly. Arrian records that as well as inviting the Persian army into the city, they had,

… plundered the sanctuary of Artemis… pulled down the statue of Philip [of Macedon] in the sanctuary and dug up the grave of Heropythus, the liberator of the city…

Arrian I.17.11

Retribution against the oligarchs was swift and bloody. It got so bad that Alexander had to step in to prevent further bloodshed – especially against the innocent. Arrian concludes this chapter by saying,

No other action won Alexander as much credit as his handling of Ephesus at this time.

Arrian 1.17.12)

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Arrian I.16.1-7

In This Chapter
The Ending and Aftermath of the Battle of the Granicus

The Macedonian Army Dominates
Arrian describes the Persians as now being ‘harried on all fronts’ by both elements of the Macedonian army; i.e. cavalry and infantry. He says that the Macedonian light troops ‘intermingled’ with their cavalry and caused ‘great damage’ to the enemy.

That is not a surprise – the Persian horsemen only had two arms, and they were needed to fight / protect themselves against the Macedonian cavalry. They simply could not defend themselves against light armed troops who were sneaking around and stabbing them from below.

Conclusion of the Battle
The battle effectively ended when the Persian centre gave way. This lead to the Left and Right wings of the Satrapal army fleeing. Unsurprisingly, the infantry collapse happened under pressure from Macedonian troops led by Alexander himself.

I say ‘unsurprisingly’ with a little cynicism – it is very convenient that the Persian army should break at the point where Alexander physically stands.

Arrian states that a thousand Persian cavalry were killed in the battle. Alexander did not long pursue those who fled, whether they were cavalry or infantry; instead, he ordered his men to surround the Persians’ Greek mercenaries, who were still stationed a little behind the main army. They had not fought in the battle, but could not be permitted to walk away; they had betrayed Greece. Alexander ordered them to be killed. Most were; any survivors were taken away in chains to the mines of Macedonia.

The Satrapal army suffered serious losses in its officer class. Here are the chief casualties according to Arrian:

  • Niphates
  • Petenes
  • Spithridates (Satrap of Lydia)
  • Mithrobuzanes (Governor of Cappadocia)
  • Mithridates (Son-in-Law of Darius III)
  • Arbupales (son of Darius who was the son of Artaxerxes)
  • Pharnaces (Brother of Darius III’s wife)
  • Omares (Mercenary Commander)
  • Arsites (He didn’t die on the battlefield but committed suicide after fleeing home)

Macedonian Casualties

  • 25 Companion Cavalry
  • 60+ Non-Companion Cavalry
  • 30 or so Infantry

Alexander honoured both his own and the enemy dead.

The twenty-five dead Companion Cavalry men had bronze statues to them set up in Dium – Alexander had Lysippus, the only sculptor he permitted to reproduce his image, make the statues. The families of all the Macedonian dead were exempted from paying land taxes as well as ‘other forms of personal state service or property levies’.

The Macedonian dead were buried with their arms. The Persian dead were also buried. This stands in contrast to what happened after the Battle of Guagamela, when – according to Curtius – the Persian dead were left on the battlefield and Alexander had to move camp more quickly than expected due to the outbreak of disease caused by the rotting bodies (Curtius V.I.11).

The Macedonian wounded were not ignored. Alexander visited and invited them to tell him how they had received their injuries, letting them brag if they wished.

The only people to be treated badly after the Battle of the Granicus were the surviving Greek mercenaries. As mentioned above, they were sent to the mines.

In light of what happened to the Greek mercenaries, the Spartan state may be grateful that it received only a tongue lashing from Alexander. He sent 300 panoplies (complete sets of Persian armour) to Athens,

… to be dedicated to Athena on the Acropolis… [with] the inscription… ‘Alexander the son of Philip and the Greeks except the Spartans dedicated these spoils for the barbarians occupying Asia.’

Arrian I.XVI.7

The following are the things that really jump out at me in this chapter:

  • The statement that the Persian centre broke ‘at the point where Alexander was at the forefront of the action’. In the chaos of a battlefield, would you really be able to tell where exactly a collapse began? Maybe, but I strongly suspect Ptolemy placed it just where Alexander was for the benefit of his king.
  • The fact that the Satraps did not use the Greek mercenaries. They were the best infantry soldiers in their army. Their first mistake was not listening to Memnon and employing a scorched earth policy against Alexander to force him back home; their last was not to use their best soldiers.
  • The number of senior officers in the Satrapal army who died. Not just one or two but at least nine. I think this speaks to their bravery and sense of honour; they truly lead from the front.
  • Alexander’s honourable response towards not just his dead but the Persian dead as well. When we ask ‘What kind of man was Alexander?’ We might say, one who lived for glory and leave it at that. That’s true, but as may be seen here, he did not do so without a care for those who died as a result of his quest.

Text Used
Hammond, Martin (tr.) Arrian: Alexander the Great (Oxford, OUP, 2013)

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Arrian I.10.1-6

In This Chapter
The Greek response to the fall of Thebes

News of Thebes’ fall spread throughout Greece, and the city-states who had been antagonistic towards Alexander rushed to reverse their position.

Arcadian troops had been sent by the city to aid Thebes; they had got as far as the Isthmus of Corinth before pausing to see how the battle went. Very useful. Upon seeing the Macedonians triumph, the soldiers condemned their leaders to death.

Elis recalled her (pro-Alexander) exiles.

Aetolia sent embassies to Alexander to ask forgiveness ‘for their own hint of revolution’.

Athens evacuated the countryside and closed the city gates. The Assembly passed Demades’ motion that ten ambassadors be sent to Alexander to congratulate him on his successful campaigns in Thrace and Illyria and Thebes.

The ambassadors were carefully chosen. There was only one criteria: they had to be men whom Alexander liked. Three years after Chaeronea, Athens knew she was in a sticky spot and was treading very carefully indeed.

After meeting the ambassadors, Alexander took no action against Athens but the city was not quite out of the woods. The king demanded the surrender of Demosthenes and eight of his associates. In his letter, Alexander blamed them for,

  1. Athens’ and Thebes’ defeat at Chaeronea
  2. the ‘subsequent wrongs committed on Philip’s death against both himself and Philip’ (I presume Alexander was accusing them of being part of the conspiracy to kill Philip here?)
  3. Thebes’ revolt

Athens did not fold, but very bravely asked Alexander ‘to forgo his anger’ against the nine men. He forgave eight of them. The ninth, Alexander said, had to go into exile. This was Charidemus, a naturalised Athenian citizen. Athens acquiesced and Charidemus went overseas where he joined Darius III’s war council.

Why did Alexander forgive any of the nine men? Arrian suggests it was either ‘out of respect’ for Athens or because he simply wanted to get the expedition to the east started.

I still can’t believe the Arcadian troops stopped to see how the battle was going before deciding to get involved or not! Given how cynical the ancient Greeks were about their treaties, I don’t suppose I should be surprised; but still -.

As you see above, the translation of Arrian’s Anabasis that I am using for these posts refers to the ‘hint of revolution’ in Aetolia. This makes their plea for forgiveness rather touching if a little pathetic. The Landmark Arrian omits any mention of hints. It says that the Aetolian tribes ‘had revolted on learning of the Thebans’ revolt’ (Landmark Arrian p.21).

I have to admit I am not quite sure why Alexander demanded above all else the exile of Charidemus. There is nothing in this chapter of Arrian that suggests he was any worse a person than, say, Demosthenes. Charidemus had been very powerful in Thrace; maybe Alexander feared the he might be again, or else simply wanted revenge for the trouble he had once caused Philip II.

Texts Used
Hammond, Martin (tr.) Arrian: Alexander the Great (Oxford, OUP, 2013)
Romm, James (ed.) The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander (New York, Pantheon, 2010)

Read previous posts in this series here

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20th September 331BC: A Blood Red Lunar Eclipse

We are now in the countdown to the anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela, which took place on 1st October 331BC.

For me, the start of the countdown is always the anniversary of the lunar eclipse that Alexander and his Macedonian army witnessed after crossing the Tigris River.

The eclipse took place on 20th September, ten days before the battle. Arrian reports it in a very matter-of-fact way. He tells us that after crossing the Tigris, Alexander rested his men. When the eclipse happened, Alexander sacrificed to the Moon, Sun and Earth. Afterwards, Aristander prophesied that the eclipse was a sign that the showdown with Darius would take place that month and that Alexander’s sacrifices showed that he – the Macedonian king – would triumph. The End.

Curtius gives a much more sensational account of what happened. He begins with an account of the actual eclipse.

First the moon lost its usual brightness, and then became suffused with a blood-red colour which caused a general dimness in the light it shed.

Curtius IV.10.2

As the moon turned blood red, the Macedonians, who were already anxious at the impending battle with Darius, were

… struck… with a deep religious awe which precipitated a kind of panic. They complained that the gods opposed their being taken to the ends of the earth, that now rivers forbade them access, met everywhere by desolation and desert. The blood of thousands was paying for the grandiose plans of one man who despised his country, disowned his father Philip, and had deluded ideas about aspiring to heaven.

Curtius IV.10.2-3

According to Curtius, the Macedonians were so spooked that they were on the verge of mutiny. Trouble was averted, however, by Alexander’s Egyptian priests who – although they knew the real reason for the eclipse – told the rank and file that the eclipse indicated a Macedonian victory in the battle ahead. This calmed the Macedonian soldiers’ nerves. ‘Nothing exercises greater control over the masses than superstition’ (C. IV.10.7) Curtius adds with a sneer, which is funny coming from a Roman.

What to make of the two accounts?

Arrian’s is so short and to-the-point that it would be tempting to see him as glossing over what really happened that night, something that Curtius is more than happy to reveal. Curtius’ account, however, is too sensational to be regarded as the gospel truth.

I have no problem believing that the Macedonians viewed the eclipse with a ‘religious awe’. They were a very religious people and saw meaning in natural events as a matter of course. Of course an event as profound as an eclipse would make a big impression on them.

Is it likely that the eclipse would cause them to panic? On the one hand, if they generally regarded eclipses as negative events, I don’t see why not; on the other, I don’t know how ancient Macedonians regarded eclipses so don’t have the knowledge to make a judgement one way or the other.

I am less convinced by the idea that the Macedonians complained that the gods opposed their onward movement, ‘that now rivers forbade them access’, and that ‘desolation and desert’ met them everywhere. And I disbelieve entirely that the Macedonians turned again, even if only briefly, against Alexander in the way that Curtius suggests.

The reason I don’t believe the Macedonians felt that the gods turned against them is that, once calmed by the Egyptian priests, they followed Alexander east without a murmur until the death of Darius. If they really believed this early that the gods – the gods! – were now against them, I would expect to see them turn against Alexander much earlier than India. As it is, when they did start to pine for home, it was because the Great King was now dead and they simply saw no need to go any further east. The anger of the gods did not come into it. Neither did they at the Hyphasis River.

I don’t know what Curtius means by ‘rivers forbade them access’ given that they had just easily crossed the Tigris. Similarly, the idea that they were ‘met everywhere by desolation and desert’ is too much hyperbole. Sure, they had crossed a desert but at no great cost to them either as an army or individuals. Curtius’ statement sounds more like the kind of thing that the Macedonians would say as the crossed the Gedrosian Desert on the way back from India.

Finally, if the Macedonian soldiery really believed that the ‘blood of thousands was paying for the grandiose plans of one man who despised his country’ they would have hated Alexander, not followed him to the ends of the earth, and then rebelled against his wishes with tears in their eyes. This is more hyperbole – more of Curtius adding to what he knows for the sake of his story. Similarly in regards the Macedonians’ view of Alexander’s beliefs regarding his divinity. He had only just visited Siwah a few months earlier. Surely he had not yet come to any settled view regarding who he was? Curtius’ statement here is so specific it seems to me to belong to a different time, maybe a few years later, after Alexander had time to ponder what had happened and arrive at an answer, which Curtius now brings back to the eve of the Battle of Gaugamela for the sake of an exciting narrative.

The Lunar Eclipse
Arrian III.7.6
Curtius IV.10.1-8

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

Catching Up: 23rd June 2019

Reporting the arrival of a new book about Alexander will never not be exciting. Therefore, I am delighted to mention the lately published Alexander the Great from Britain to Southeast Asia by Su Fang Ng.

Unfortunately, this is an academic book, so while it is no doubt of the highest quality, it is also of the highest price – £90 (hardback).

I am very lucky in that I am a member of the London Library, which if I ask it would hopefully purchase a copy but otherwise, it’s a shame that Su Fang Ng’s knowledge will be pretty much limited to university students and teachers.

You can read more about the book at the Oxford University Press’s website here


Popculture reports a rape allegation against President Donald Trump. Author E. Jean Carroll,

… recalled [Trump] talking “about himself like he’s Alexander the Great ready to loot Babylon” as they tried to decide the best gift for the woman Trump was shopping for.

Caitlynn Hitt, Popculture

Alexander visited Babylon twice – once in late 331 BC, following the Battle of Gaugamela, and then again in May-June 323. In 331, the Macedonian king gave his soldiers leave to enjoy themselves but not to loot the city. That would come when they arrived in Persepolis at the end of the January 330.

In 323, the army returned to Babylon in an orderly fashion (in contrast to its ‘march’ across Carmania) and kept its discipline until Alexander’s death on 10th/11th June. Without an established heir to take over command, order started to break down. But this did not lead the Macedonians to turn on the city, however, only each other. The situation was eventually rescued by the ruthless actions of Perdiccas.


The Conversation has a long and fascinating article on how ‘Neoliberalism has tricked us into believing a fairytale about where money comes from’. You can read it, here. The writer mentions Alexander several times, most notably when she says that he,

… is said to have used half a ton of silver a day to fund his largely mercenary army rather than a share of the spoils (the traditional payment). 

Mary Mellor, The Conversation

Alexander certainly used mercenaries but to the best of my knowledge they were never in a majority in his army. I don’t have any figures to hand but I am quite intrigued by the question of how many mercenaries he did use so will commit myself to seeing if I can find out this week.

In regards the use of spoils – of course, Alexander did use spoils to pay his men but certainly not as often as some other generals would have done.


An interesting article in The National Herald looking at the history of the antagonism between the West and Iran. The writer observes,

The Macedonian conqueror of Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan and Punjab was called Alexander the Great not because of his military achievements, because he took the title of Great from Darius III the Great.

Aakar Patel, The National Herald

To the best of my knowledge, no one calls Darius III the Great. Given his record, why would they. The writer is surely thinking of Darius I. On that point, I have never seen anyone compare Alexander to Darius I. I can only wonder where he got the idea that Alexander’s sobriquet is lifted from Darius rather than his success in battle from.

The first known person to call Alexander the Great was a Roman playwright named Titus Maccius Plautus (254 – 184 BC) in a play named Mostellaria. From what I know of the play, Alexander is given the sobriquet on account of his deeds but I will try and find out more and report back.

Categories: By the Bye | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

32. The Battle of Issus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘… about one hundred thousand [Persian soldiers] were killed (including more than ten thousand cavalry), such large numbers that Ptolemy the son of Lagus, who was with Alexander at the time, says that when the party in pursuit of Darius met a ravine in their path they could cross it over the bodies of the dead.’
(Arrian II.11.8)

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

Following his victory at Issus, Alexander left Asia Minor once and for all and entered Phoenicia. I end my series of posts on Alexander in Asia Minor with an image of his route through the region, the famous Naples mosaic, a painting of Sisygambis’ equally famous mistake, and a bust of Ptolemy – one of Arrian’s main sources for his account of Alexander’s expedition. I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts!

Alexander’s Route Through Asia Minor
The famous Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii (now in Naples). In it, we see Darius fleeing, possibly at the Battle of Issus
Sisigambis pays homage to Alexander after mistaking Hephaestion for the king
Ptolemy I Soter

Credit Where It’s Due
Map of Alexander’s route through Asia Minor: University of N. Carolina
The Alexander Mosaic: Livius
Sisigambis mistakes Hephaestion for Alexander: Wikipedia
Ptolemy I Soter: New World Encyclopaedia

Categories: On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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