Posts Tagged With: Diodorus Siculus

From Dionysos to Pixodarus


Last Thursday in Alexanderland (see the last post) was a bit of a wash-out thanks to my cold. Fortunately, it turned out to be a 24 hour illness and so on Friday I was feeling a bit better. Once this chest bug goes I’ll be really happy.

As Friday is the closest thing I have to an ‘off-day’, when I make no arrangement to do anything after I get home from work I didn’t do anything Alexander related until yesterday. Then, I opened my e-mail and looked through my outstanding Alexander related Google Alerts. Some of the links were of interest and so I will be posting them on the Facebook page from midnight GMT tomorrow (Monday, 26th November) until the same time on 4th December.

Here is a sneak-peak of what is upcoming.

  • 27/11 Dionysos in India On the Dionysiaca, one poem equal to The Iliad and Odyssey in length written about the ancient gods just as Christianity became the dominant religion in the west.
  • 28/11 A review of Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This game has been getting a lot of positive reviews. Reading this one was quite bittersweet for me. I loved AC 2 but lost faith in the franchise over its glitchiness and the yearly release schedule. I’m happy that Origins has been a return to form but sadly still feel no inclination to play it.
  • 29/11 A letter writer claims that Alexander tried to invade Ethiopia but was forced to turn back when he saw his opponent’s army. Uh-huh.
  • 30/11 A call for more Philippics and jeremiads. Don’t we already get them on Twitter?!
  • 1/12 Happy Advent! The Downfall of the Seleucid Empire. I wondered whether to post this article because it addresses current political concerns, which is not really what the Fb Alexander page is about. I wonder how Fbers will react?
  • 2/12  A re-telling of the famous anecdote about Alexander and Diogenes; this one, with a slightly different ending to their exchange (or, at least, an ending that I had not read before)
  • 3/12 A repeat of the claim that Alexander suffered from epilepsy. Did he? I could tell you to wait until this post goes up before seeing my response but that would be click baity and horrible. I’ll tell you now, No, he didn’t. It’s a misunderstand of what happened at the Cydnus river
  • 4/12 Circadian clocks and Alexander’s army. The link is to an article on the Sputnik News website. I had not heard of this website before so looked it up; apparently, it is a pro-Russian site that publishes suspect stories. In light of that, I might not have bothered with this article but have decided to post it anyway as it isn’t about politics (although it has just occurred to me that the Nobel Prize is rather political. Let’s see what the Fb readers say)

If Google Alerts provides more interesting articles, they will appear after the 4th.


This morning, I reached the 88th page of Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose so must now decide whether to continue with it. I am still more-or-less enjoying it so will do so. I am, also, however, still bothered by his approach to the book.

I mentioned in my last post how Bose makes assumptions about Alexander’s life in order to draw lessons from them. He also plain makes up details. For example, at the start of Chapter 3 The Men Who Could Be King he has Philip II being assassinated as he falls over while some climbing steps leading into a temple. Diodorus (XVI.92-94), however, is quite clear that Philip II was assassinated as he walked into the theatre  – Oliver Stone gets this spot on in his film.

He gets other details wrong. In describing how Alexander was almost removed from the Macedonian political scene, Bose refers to the Pixodarus affair (Plutarch Life of Alexander 10). In his version of the story, however, it is not Pixodarus of Caria in south-western Asia Minor who offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to Arrhidaeos but an unnamed satrap ‘of the Persian part of Thrace’. Thrace was under Philip II’s control.

There is also a case of what might be called sinning by omission. In Bose’s retelling of the Pixodarus affair, Alexander prevents the marriage by having the actor Thessalus go to Thrace to use his acting skill to dissuade the satrap from proceeding with his offer. As a result, the ‘next day the satrap quietly withdrew the marriage proposal’. Bose’s account of the affair ends there.

According to Plutarch, however, Alexander not only sent Thessalus (to Caria) but gave him orders to tell Pixodarus that he, Alexander, was willing to marry the Carian’s daughter instead. Did Bose forget this or did he omit it because it was an wholly amateurish move that was bound to be discovered by Philip to Alexander’s and Bose’s embarrassment. For, surely, what Alexander did was not the action of a role model for CEOs and Chairmen.

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

Pebbled Propaganda in Pella?

This post is me unpacking my thoughts regarding the Pella Lion Hunt mosaic. Please forgive its length and, probably obvious, conclusion. The identity of the people in the mosaic is not something I had seriously considered before so was starting first base here
I have just started reading By the Spear, Ian Worthington’s account of the lives and deeds of Philip II and his son Alexander.

At the start of the book, Worthington talks about how Macedonian boys were taught to hunt from an early age. It was a way of teaching them how to fight against men when they grew up.

Hunting, however, was more than just a utilitarian exercise.

… it allowed time for the king and his nobles to interact socially, which affected their relations politically. These hunts were clearly dangerous, as a mosaic depicting a lion hunt from Pella attests.

The mosaic that Worthington is referring to here is, of course, the one you can see at the top of this post. He goes on,

Although the figures on the mosaic have been disputed, most likely we have Alexander to the animal’s left, trapped by its paw, and Craterus (who became one of Alexander’s generals) to its right, coming to his rescue… Both are wearing next to no protective clothing and are armed only with short swords – they thus had to get up close and personal with their deadly prey and rely on split-second instincts.

When I read the above passage, I was very taken by Worthington’s statement that Alexander was trapped by the lion. I had never noticed that detail before. And certainly, if you look at his expression, he does seem very alarmed. So, thank you to Ian Worthington for showing me something new in an image I thought had nothing new to say.


It was very unwise of me to think that the Pella Lion Hunt Mosaic had nothing new to say when it is such a mysterious image. Worthington identifies the man on the left with Alexander, and the man on the right with Craterus. The mosaic, however, makes no such identification on either account.

The man on the left wears a kausia (‘wide-brimmed felt hat’ as Worthington calls it) but while this was worn by Macedonian kings, it was not worn exclusively by them. In fact, up until Alexander became influenced by Persian customs and dress, his royal predecessors seem to have gone out of their way to be as much like their men as possible, including in what they wore.

Perhaps there is something in the cloak, spear or scabbard that the man on the left is holding that suggests Alexander, but if there is, I’m afraid I can’t see it. The same applies to the man on the right in respect of Craterus.

The Lion Hunt Mosaic was found in a Pella residence known as The House of Dionysos, named after another mosaic found there (see below). The house was a big one. It obviously belonged to an extremely wealthy individual. This video shows what kind of a place it was.

If you watch the video, you’ll see that it places the Lion Hunt Mosaic in the very centre of the building. Whoever lived here, the mosaic meant a lot to them, and they would have wanted as many people as possible to see the work.

So who did live in this residence? Well, I’m afraid I don’t know. But whether it was a royal property or belonged to a nobleman, here are some thoughts I have regarding the Lion Hunt Mosaic.

Firstly, whoever the two figures are, I think that the one on the right stands for the owner of the house, or at least the one who paid for the mosaic and probably had a residence there. He is the one coming to the rescue of the other man, after all; it would make sense for him to place himself in the starring role, so’s to speak.

Secondly, I have seen the creation of the mosaic dated to between 325-300 B.C. If the two men are not Alexander and whoever but are simply two hunters, whether real of fictional, then there is nothing more to say about it; it simply records a hunting trip of some description and was made in the late fourth century B.C.

If, however, the man on the left is Alexander then the identity of the man on the right becomes very intriguing.

Imagine walking into the House of Dionysos. Come, the owner says, Come and look at my new mosaic. You walk into the central room and there you see that he has had a mosaic installed in which ‘he’ is rescuing King Alexander. It is between 325 and 300 B.C. You know about the king’s amazing exploits in the east. If this man had no connection to Alexander then this mosaic would surely come across as a bit presumptuous. Actually, the mere fact that the man placed himself in a mosaic with Alexander would be laughable. And the fact that he showed himself rescuing the king would be ridiculous.

So, if the man on the left is Alexander, I think the man who paid for the mosaic knew him, and probably fought alongside him; not just as a junior officer much less a rank and file soldier but as a general, and maybe even directly helped the king if not saved his life on one or more occasions. This would have definitely entitled the man to put himself next to Alexander on the mosaic, and even to come to his rescue.

Ian Worthington identifies the man on the right with Craterus. As he says, though, the identification is disputed. I have also seen Hephaestion mentioned as the right hand figure. A couple of other names occur to me – Black Cleitus and Peucestas.

Black Cleitus and Peucestas were both high up in Alexander’s army and both saved his life (Cleitus at the Granicus in 334 and Peucestas at the Mallian town in 325). Cleitus died in 328. There is no reason he could not have ordered the making of the mosaic before then but I would question whether he would have wanted to, given how estranged he had become from Alexander due to the latter’s orientising ways. As for Peucestas, I think his focus was on the future, not the past. He could have ordered the mosaic to be made after 325 but I suspect he was too busy getting used to his Persian trousers.

In truth, there are probably any number of people who could have ordered the mosaic but let’s go back to Craterus and Hephaestion. Hephaestion was Alexander’s best friend and fought alongside him. He was a nobleman, to boot. He surely had the money and motive to have the mosaic made. But did he have the ego to show himself saving Alexander’s life? We know from Diodorus (XVIII.114) that Hephaestion was perfectly comfortable in his friendship with Alexander. I don’t think he would have felt the need to show how important he was to the king, even to the point of saving his life.

Craterus, however, is another matter. He loved Alexander more than any other man. But, as Alexander himself pointed out (D. XVIII.114; Plutarch Life of Alexander 46), Craterus loved Alexander the king whereas Hephaestion loved Alexander the man. This could only have angered and distressed Craterus as he would have known that to love the man rather than the office placed Hephaestion closer to Alexander’s heart than himself – a very painful position for a lover of any kind to be in. No wonder he and Hephaestion feuded. Therefore, I think Craterus commissioned the mosaic not just to show how close he was to Alexander but as a slight against Hephaestion and act of self-affirmation: I was important to Alexander, I WAS (and more than him, too)*.

Another reason I am going with Craterus as the man on the right is that according to Robin Waterfield in Dividing the Spoils,

Craterus marked the end of the Lamian War with a large monument at Delphi, sculpted by the best artists of the day, that showed him saving Alexander’s life during a hunt…

He did it at Delphi, I think he did it at Pella, too. It would not surprise me to learn one day that the building we call the House of Dionysos was Craterus’ family residence.


Dionysos riding on a panther; the mosaic from which the House of Dionysos takes its name (Source: Theoi via Pinterest)

* On this point, Hephaestion may have been comfortable in his friendship with Alexander but he could be a very proud man, and there is space within this to see him ordering the mosaic’s creation for similar reasons to Craterus. When I think about that, though, I go back to his letter to Olympias and it seems to me that however proud he was, he was not self-doubting

Categories: By the Bye | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

A Happy and Holy Time in Dium

Ain’t no party like a Dium party

It’s Christmas week and The Second Achilles is in a hard place. How can the blog mark the occasion when the Birth of the Saviour (sorry, Ptolemy) will not happen for another three hundred years?

It’s time to be creative. If the reason for Christmas is beyond our scope to discuss, perhaps there is a connection to be found with Alexander in her associated practices.

As luck would have it, there is, and it comes in the idea of celebration. Christians celebrate the Birth of Jesus. Macedonians were also fond of celebrating. Yes, I know that the Tenuous Links Society would be very interested in the connection I have just made but it’s Christmas week so you’ll have to forgive me!

On that basis, in the next four posts I will look at four celebrations mentioned by the Alexander historians (starting off with Diodorus each time). In this post, I’ll begin with Dium; tomorrow, Babylon; Christmas Eve, Persepolis and on Christmas Day, Carmania.


Diodorus XVII.16
In the Autumn of 335 B.C. Alexander returned to Macedon after a successful campaigning season during which he had secured his northern borders and successfully brought the Greek city-states to heel.

Once home, he began preparations for the projected invasion of Asia Minor. Two important questions that needed answering were ‘[w]hen should the campaign be started and how should he conduct the war?’ (D. XVII.16).

Parmenion and Antipater tried to persuade Alexander to delay any action until he had produced an heir only for the king to retort that it would be a disgrace to ‘sit at home celebrating a marriage and awaiting the birth of children’ (Ibid). Alexander won the argument and preparations for the invasion continued.

That October, Alexander went to Dium to celebrate the Olympian Games. These are not to be confused with the Olympic Games. The Olympian version were instituted by Alexander’s predecessor, Archelaus (r.413-399 B.C.)*.

Held ‘in honour of Zeus and the Muses’, the Olympian Games involved ‘lavish sacrifices’, ‘dramatic contests’ and, of course, a lot of eating and drinking.

Best of all, from the point of view of the party goer, if not the catering staff (i.e. servants and slaves), the festival lasted nine days.

To re-enforce the fact that not only were they engaged in a sacred activity but that time itself had, in a sense, become sacred, Alexander named ‘each day after one of the Muses’ (Ibid). Call me cynical, but I somehow doubt that the average Macedonian cared very much about the sacrality of the time and place in which he stood at that moment. Not when there was more wine to be had.

* I took the term ‘Olympian Games’ from Peter Green Alexander of Macedon 356-323 B.C. University of California Press 1992. Arrian also uses it – see below.


In our own day, America has a reputation for doing things bigger than anyone else. Well, I suppose Americans do live in a vast country so have to fill the space somehow, but, of course, the USA was not the first nation to go large. Egypt did with her monumental statues, and in Dium, in his own way, so did Alexander.

Before the Games started, he ordered a huge tent to be built, one that could hold a hundred couches. The notes to my copy of Diodorus* state that ‘Agathocles’s Hall of the Sixty Couches was one of the wonders of Sicily (Book 16.83.2)’ so you can see that Alexander was not only going large but determined to smash records to smithereens. Start as you mean to go on.

My favourite pubs are those that look homely and comfortable. Macedonians liked anything that reminded them of how great they were. How the tent must have done that! No wonder Alexander took it with him when he left for Asia Minor. It was a brilliant propaganda tool as well as a place to get sozzled.

* Loeb Classical Library 1963


Among the guests at the banquet in the great tent were ambassadors from the Greek cities. Imagine what they thought of the tent. We may be sure that Alexander’s invitation to them to attend was not simply, or even an, act of kindness but a way of intimidating them – and through them, their cities.

If Diodorus has got all his facts right, Alexander was the perfect host. He circulated among his guests, distributed ‘to his entire force sacrificial animals’ as well as anything else they needed. I am happy when my friend buys me a pint. I think I would probably have fainted for joy in Dium.


Arrian (I.11) offers a more sober account of what happened that Autumn. While he confirms that Alexander did indeed offer

… to Olympian Zeus the form of ceremonial thanksgiving which had been in use since the time of Archelaus.

and also celebrated ‘the Olympian Games’, he states that the games took place at Aegae. Now, it’s true that he doesn’t say where the thanksgiving to Zeus took place, so maybe it was at Aegae at the same time as the Games but that isn’t the impression I get.

He also states that Alexander ‘according to some accounts, held games in honour of the Muses’ (Ibid). I take this to mean that Ptolemy and Aristobulos don’t mention the fact. Why would they not? Well, we don’t know. It might be the Games never happened; it might also be that neither Ptolemy nor Aristobulos regarded the Games as relevant to their narrative.

Arrian’s account is perfunctory. I feel he is only mentioning what happened because he has to. Once the words are down, he immediately moves forward to the next subject. Rather miserably, that is

… a report… that the statue of Orpheus son of Oegrus of Thrace, had been constantly sweating.

Happily, however, Aristander was able to give the omen a favourable interpretation.

There are a number of possible reasons for Arrian’s desultory account of the events at Dium. The worst is that his main sources were misery guts who didn’t like fun. In Christmas week, however, we are not having that. I am choosing to believe that Ptolemy would have very much liked to have waxed lyrical about the partying that went on but thought for the sake of decency and professionalism that he better not.

Plutarch is even worse than Arrian. He neither mentions acts of thanksgiving to Zeus nor the Olympian Games. In Chapter 14 of his Life of Alexander, he says simply that when the Macedonians ‘set out’ for Asia Minor, ‘… the statue of Orpheus at Libethra… was observed to be covered in sweat’. He confirms Aristander’s positive interpretation of the omen.

Dium In Short
Reason Thanksgiving/Honour of Zeus and the Muses
Duration Nine Days
Outstanding Features A ten almost big enough to cover Alexander’s ego
Result Lots, and lots, of headaches (+ a happy and grateful army)

Categories: Humour | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Sources Speak: Diodorus on Ptolemy Pt 4

  • An index of the other posts in this series can be found here
  • I am using the Loeb Classical Library’s edition of Diodorus’ Library of History (Harvard University Press, 2004) for this post.

320 BC
IX. 18. 33 – 36
PP. 105 – 115
We left Ptolemy at the end of the last post preparing for war with Perdiccas. Diodorus tells us that arriving at the Nile river, Perdiccas tried to ‘clear out an old canal’ only for his work to be destroyed when the Nile broke through his barriers. This prompted a number of desertions from his army. The deserters did not just drift away but joined Ptolemy’s army. I wonder what else had happened that they decided to do this.
Diodorus calls Perdiccas ‘a man of blood’, a usurper who ‘wished to rule all by force’. By contrast, Ptolemy ‘was generous and fair’ and even something of a democrat as he permitted all his commanders ‘the right to speak frankly’. Furthermore, he was a very intelligent general, having ‘secured all the most important points in Egypt’. This would help save his life when Antigonus and Demetrius attacked him in 306. Diodorus rightly considers that Ptolemy’s good character and strategic common sense gave him ‘the advantage in his undertakings, since he had many persons who were well disposed to him and ready to undergo danger gladly for his sake’.
Putting his setback at the canal behind him, Perdiccas continued on his way. Following an overnight march, he arrived on the other side of the Nile opposite the Fort of Camels. At daybreak, Perdiccas crossed the river and began his assault. Ptolemy and his troops arrived to defend the position and battle was joined.
As I read Diodorus’ account of this engagement I was not only struck by how favourably he treats Ptolemy – I am used to that now – but by how heroic he makes him. It reminded me of someone else. This is what he says,

  • Ptolemy… had the best soldiers near himself
  • [He] wished to encourage the other commanders and friends to face the dangers[, so posted] himself on the top of the outwork
  • … with utter contempt of the danger, [he struck and disabled] those who were coming up the ladders
  • Following [Ptolemy’s] example, his friends fought boldly…
  • … many heroic conflicts were occasioned by the personal prowess of Ptolemy and his exhortations to his friends to display both their loyalty and courage

I don’t know about you, but for me it is almost like reading about Alexander all over again. I have no trouble believing that Ptolemy was a brave and noble man but I feel sure now that Diodorus had some sort of pro-Ptolemaic agenda. Perhaps I am reading too much into the above passages but their similarity to how the sources talk about Alexander is inescapable.
The siege of the Fort of Camels lasted all day. At nightfall, the two sides withdrew. Perdiccas must have returned to the far side of the Nile because that night he marched to another crossing point, this time opposite the city of Memphis. There, he attempted another crossing. It ended in disaster as the movement of his elephants, horses and men displaced the river bed, making a hollow that caused the river to become too deep to be traversed. Perdiccas ordered the men who had managed to make the crossing back. Those who could swim returned, but many were swept away and either drowned or were killed further downstream by crocodiles.
In keeping with his noble character, Ptolemy gathered the bodies of the dead on his side of the river and cremated them according to Greek custom. The Perdiccan soldiers now not only had a reason to hate their general but a positive reason to like Ptolemy. No wonder then that they now revolted. This lead a group of senior officers – lead by or simply including Peithon and Arrhidaeus – to assassinate Perdiccas.
Perdiccas was killed at night time. The next day, Ptolemy entered the camp ‘and spoke in defence of his… attitude’. I suspect he could have told them he was a dog and started woofing for all that they cared. Not because he was the winning general and could do what he liked, but because he brought with him grain and other supplies; for as well as being demoralised, Perdiccas’ men were hungry.
On the day that Ptolemy entered the Perdiccan camp – rather bravely, I have to admit, as there must have still been soldiers loyal to the defeated general there – an event took place that changed the course of history: Ptolemy turned down the chance to become Alexander IV’s and Philip III Arrhidaeus’ guardian. Instead, although Ptolemy,

… was in a position to assume the guardianship of the kings… he did not grasp at this, but rather, since he owed a debt of gratitude to Pithon [sic] and Arrhidaeus, he used his influence to give them the supreme command.

Diodorus does not dwell on this moment but it is surely worthy of contemplation. Had Ptolemy gained control over the two kings he would have been de facto king of Macedon and Alexander’s empire. But only for as long as the other successors accepted his authority, which, of course, they wouldn’t have – no more than Ptolemy bowed to Perdiccas when he came knocking on Egypt’s door. By letting Peithon and Arrhidaeus take on the burden of looking after the kings, Ptolemy surely did as much for the safe keeping of his satrapy and possibility of a Ptolemaic dynasty with all that that gave us than any fight.
Diodorus’ next few references to Ptolemy are very short and not particularly enlightening in terms of his character, so let’s quickly run through them.
320 BC
IX. 18. 39
p. 121
The Triparadeisus Conference.

To Ptolemy [Antipater] assigned what was already his, for it was impossible to displace him, since he seemed to be holding Egypt by virtue of his own prowess as if it were a prize of war.

Well, Diodorus, it was a prize of war – Alexander’s; with all due respect to Perdiccas, Ptolemy himself had not yet fought a full-on battle to defend his territory.
320 BC
IX. 18. 43
p. 133
In the aftermath of his defeat of Perdiccas.

As for Egypt, Ptolemy, after he had unexpectedly rid himself of Perdiccas and the royal forces, was holding that land as if it were a prize of war. Seeing that Phoenicia and Coelê Syria, as it was called, were conveniently situated for an offensive against Egypt, he set about in earnest to become master of those regions.

This is more the Ptolemy that I am used to reading about – the pragmatist who moves because he needs to not because he wants  – much less because has a pothos. Actually, that makes him sound really counter-cultural. We’ll see how well that view stands up in the rest of this series.
319 BC
IX. 18. 49
p. 147
Before his death, Antipater appointed Polyperchon to the regency of the two kings. This angered his (Antipater’s) son, Cassander, who thought that the role should have gone to him. He built a secret alliance against Polyperchon comprising of his Macedonian friends.

He also sent envoys in secret to Ptolemy, renewing their friendship and urging him to join the alliance and to send a fleet as soon as possible from Phoenicia to the Hellespont.

Ptolemy may have sent a positive response to Cassander but he didn’t give him a fleet. With no chance of success for his plot in Macedon, therefore…
319 BC
IX. 18. 54
PP. 161 – 63
… Cassander travelled to Asia Minor, and the court of Antigonus Monophthalmus. There, he told the one-eyed general ‘that Ptolemy also had promised to be an ally’. Back in Macedon, Polyperchon knew that,

... Cassander would also gain as allies Ptolemy the ruler of Egypt, and Antigonus, who had already openly rebelled against the kings, and each of them possessed great armies and abundant wealth and was master of many nations and cities of consequence.

Well, yes, Ptolemy had rebelled against the kings (i.e. when he had fought Perdiccas), and he probably did have a pretty decent and big army; I am sure that he even had ‘abundant wealth’ but Diodorus is surely exaggerating over the extent of his domain. Many nations? Also, ‘cities of consequence’?  I hope he is not talking about Alexandria here; surely it was still being built.
318 BC
IX. 18. 62
p. 181
Eumenes called a meeting of the diadochi. After breaking his alliance with Antigonus, he needed soldiers, and they would not be forthcoming unless he could get the support of the other successors. He called a meeting, claiming that he had seen Alexander giving orders to his senior officers in a dream, and that the successors should imitate what had happened; the meeting went well, but not all were convinced…

Ptolemy, who had sailed to Zephyrium in Cilicia with a fleet, kept sending to the commanders of the Silver Shields, exhorting them not to pay any attention to Eumenes, whom all the Macedonians had condemned to death.

By ‘all the Macedonians’ he means the Perdiccan soldiers who had sentenced Eumenes to death after hearing of his victory over Craterus and Neoptolemus.
318 BC
IX. 18. 73
p. 211

After Eumenes had news of Antigonus’ move, he thought to recover for the kings Phoenicia, which had been unjustly occupied by Ptolemy…

Antigonus’ move was to Cilicia in south-eastern Asia Minor to complete his take over of the region by destroying Eumenes before the Cardian could build up his army. Diodorus rather gives the impression that Eumenes decided to attack Phoenicia after hearing that Antigonus was coming after him, which would be a little odd. At the same time, though, he says that the news of Antigonus ‘forestalled’ Eumenes’ invasion and that he then marched north to make contact with the upper satrapies of Syria. The reason why Diodorus says Ptolemy was occupying Phoenicia unjustly is because Ptolemy seized it from Laomedon (320), who he then took captive (this is described on p. 133).
That brings us to the end of this post. Ptolemy’s next appearance in Diodorus’ history is in 316 when he gives shelter to Seleucus who had been forced out of his satrapy of Babylonia by Antigonus. We’ll learn more about that and what happened next in the next post.

Categories: The Sources Speak | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Sources Speak: Diodorus on Ptolemy Pt 3

  • An index of the other posts in this series can be found here
  • I am using the Loeb Classical Library’s edition of Diodorus’ Library of History (Harvard University Press, 2004) for this post.

322/21 BC
Antipater and Craterus were fighting Aetolia when Antigonus joined them. He brought bad news – Perdiccas intended to overthrow Antipater and use his regency of Alexander IV and Philip III Arrhidaeus to make himself master of Macedon.
Antipater and Craterus summoned their senior officers and held a meeting with them to discuss this unpleasant development. Fortunately, there was total agreement on what needed to be done: 1. Make peace with the Aetolians. They could be left for another day. 2. Antipater and Craterus to take their armies to Asia Minor as quickly as possible thereafter so as to meet the threat posed by Perdiccas. 3. An embassy to be sent to Ptolemy,

… to discuss concerted action, since he was utterly hostile to Perdiccas but friendly to them…
(IX. 8. 25. p. 85)

This is Diodorus’ first reference to Ptolemy since his account of the help that Ptolemy gave to the Cyrenian exiles (as mentioned in the last post).
While Antipater, Craterus and Antipater were holding their council, Perdiccas was in a meeting of his own with his ‘friends and generals’ (Ibid, p. 87). During it, he asked them,

… whether it was better to march against Macedonia or first to take the field against Ptolemy.
(IX. 8. 25. p. 87)

Perdiccas’ counsellors favoured fighting Ptolemy first so that ‘there might be no obstacle in the way of their Macedonian campaign’ (Ibid). Given Ptolemy’s enmity, and the fact that Antipater and Craterus had decided to ask him for his help, this was a wise move.
Having said that, in this age of fluid alliances and friendships, I must admit that a part of me is a little surprised that Perdiccas did not make any effort to form an alliance with Ptolemy. Not only would it have removed any danger that he posed but it would have also isolated Antipater and Craterus that little bit more.
322/21 BC
Diodorus tells us that Arridaeus (a Macedonian officer, not Philip III) ‘spent nearly two years’ making Alexander’s funeral carriage. It was a vehicle of great splendour and, it seems, even quite technologically advanced on account of being fitted with some kind of suspension system.
Once the vehicle had been finished, he led it out of Babylon along with its bodyguard and ‘a crowd of roadmenders and mechanics’ (p.95). According to Diodorus, Arrhidaeus,

… brought the body of the king from Babylon to Egypt. Ptolemy… doing honour to Alexander, went to meet [the cortege]… receiving the body [he] deemed it worthy of the greatest consideration. He decided for the present not to send it to Ammon, but to entomb it in the city that had been founded by Alexander himself…
(IX. 8. 28. p. 95)

He decided… not to send it to Ammon‘. By Ammon, I presume that Diodorus means Siwa.
I have always understood that the intention was to send Alexander’s body to Macedon but now that I think about it I don’t know the origin of this view. Arrian and Plutarch don’t seem to mention what happened to his body at all, while Curtius says simply that ‘Alexander’s body was taken to Memphis by Ptolemy’ and from there transported to Alexandria.
Have I got it wrong? I don’t thinks so, because Livius says,

In December 322, Perdiccas sent the remains of Alexander to the tomb that had been prepared in Macedonia’s religious capital, Aegae.

Where did Livius get its information? Perhaps it is Justin. I don’t have a copy of his Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus so can’t check. If you know the answer to this question, I’d be delighted to hear it; do leave a comment in the combox.
Once Ptolemy had taken Alexander’s body to Egypt, he had to prepare for Perdiccas’ coming. The following passage from Diodorus will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read the previous two posts in this series.

… men, because of [Ptolemy’s] graciousness and nobility of heart, came together eagerly from all sides to Alexandria and gladly enrolled for the campaign, although the army of the kings was about to fight against that of Ptolemy; and, even though the risks were manifest and great, yet all of them willingly took upon themselves at their personal risk the preservation of Ptolemy’s safety. The gods also saved him unexpectedly from the greatest dangers on account of his courage and his honest treatment of all his friends.
(IX. 8. 28. p. 95)

At this point, I have to remind myself that Diodorus wrote his history three hundred years after Ptolemy’s death, based it mainly on Cleitarchus (not Ptolemy’s more self-serving work as used by Arrian) and had no reason that I can think of to praise Ptolemy so highly, except because that is how he is presented by his sources who – ultimately – were Macedonian soldiers. Can you think of another reason?
Ptolemy’s popularity gives me an excuse to mention the following. If Hephaestion had lived, he rather of Perdiccas (his successor as chiliarch) would have divided the empire up at the Babylon Conference. Whether or not the senior officers and phalanx still (almost) came to blows, I think that Hephaestion would eventually have become the latter’s natural leader. The phalanx was pro-Argead; Hephaestion was the philalexandros, how could they not join together? But as Diodorus indicates, Ptolemy was the man with the bravery and grace. He and Hephaestion would have made either very interesting (powerful) allies, or sharply contrasting and yet alike, enemies.
Sadly, Hephaestion didn’t live, so we have to return to what actually happened. Namely, that seeing how powerful Ptolemy had become (Ibid) Perdiccas decided that he would lead the war against him himself. Perhaps it was Ptolemy’s popularity that caused Perdiccas to reject any possibility of a rapprochement with him: he feared that if they joined up he risked his authority being undermined by the more popular man. That fear was justified, as we’ll find out in the next post.

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The Rôle of Rain in Arrian’s Campaigns of Alexander

Rainfall (Wikipedia)

Puddles of Rain (Wikipedia)

As I sat in the library yesterday trying with varying degrees of success to develop an idea for a story I want to write, it began raining outside; lightly, at first, but soon quite heavily. Before long, there were puddles of water on the roof tops outside. The rain got me thinking – is it mentioned during Alexander’s expedition? And if so, in what context? Last night, I opened up Arrian and took a look.
There are eleven references to rain during the course of the book, I have bunched them according to their context. I used the Penguin Classics (London, 1971) edition of Arrian for this post.
p. 77
The first reference comes early on in Alexander’s campaign when he is still in eastern Asia Minor. Upon entering the city of Sardis, the Macedonian king visits its acropolis and decides to build a temple there in honour of Zeus, presumably in thanksgiving for the success thus far of his expedition.
But where should it be built? Arrian tells us that Alexander is still mulling over this question when a storm break suddenly ‘over the palace of the Lydian kings’. It must have been a hot and close day as Alexander’s visit to Sardis took place in the summer. Either way, he – Alexander – interprets the rain fall as a sign from Zeus that he wants his temple to be built at (or in place of?) the palace.
The story presents Alexander in a very positive light in that it shows him paying due respect to the gods; it also places him in the grand tradition of people who decide upon an action on account of an external / ‘miraculous’ event. Another famous example of this is the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, the site of which was chosen on account of a vision – and a miraculous snowfall in the middle of summer.
p. 152
The second mention of rain in a religious context occurs during Alexander’s invasion of Egypt. After settling the country, he becomes ‘passionately eager’ to visit the oracle at Siwa. After riding to Paraetonium (modern day Mersa Matruh; known to Alexander as Amunia) he turns inland. A trip across the desert follows. ‘Fortunately,’ Arrian says, ‘there was much rain – the god’s own gift, as he supposed’*.
I know of no modern churches that have been built in a particular place because of a miraculous event (I know of few modern churches that – architecturally speaking, anyway – are worthy of commemorating a miraculous event, but that is another matter) but interpreting events as having taken place by God’s grace/will/permission, etc, is still very common. Have we failed to move on or are those who see God at work in human history part of the grandest tradition of all? I have no idea what Arrian would say, but his aside ‘as he supposed’ makes him sound quite sceptical of Alexander’s belief – or what he presents as his belief.
* I presume Arrian means there was much rain at the start of the desert journey rather than during it.
p. 110
On a number of occasions Arrian mentions the rain in no more than its basic historical context. It happened, and this is what happened as a result. For example, after arriving at Myriandrus (south eastern corner of Asia Minor) he is forced by ‘a storm of… violent wind and rain’ to stay put rather than break camp and confront Darius III. Given how sensitive Alexander was to omens and portents I am a little surprised that this storm was not interpreted as portending trouble in the same way that the eclipse on the night before the Battle of Gaugamela was. He didn’t, it passed, Alexander met Darius at Issus, and defeated him for the first time.
p. 330
The Hydaspes is not the only occasion when the weather impedes Alexander. Nearchus is forced to wait at Pattala for the weather to change before he can sail at the head of the Macedonian fleet along the Indian coast back west.
p. 300
On the westward journey, Alexander stops once again at the Hydaspes River. There, he visits his two settlements – Nicaea and Bucephala (named for his horse, Bucephalas, who had died following the battle against Porus) – which had been damaged by ‘heavy rains’. Alexander pauses just long enough to repair the damage and see to any other outstanding matters before sailing down the river towards the Indian ocean.
p. 338
Alexander’s crossing of the harsh Gedrosian desert on his way back to Babylon is the stuff of legend. It was also something of a disaster. If it wasn’t the fierce sun and lack of water that nearly did for the Macedonian army, there was the ‘deep, burning, sunbaked sand’ (p. 336) and the ‘lofty hills of sand’ (Ibid) that the men and animals too easily sank into. Then, there was also the water when it did finally appear. The Macedonians were so parched they would accidentally drown in their desperation to slake their thirst. That was a consistent problem; there was also one that came suddenly and with great violence.
During their desert crossing, the Macedonians arrived at a stream; a very welcome sight. But it was monsoon season, which meant that heavy rain falls were taking place in the mountains. Over night, the stream started to swell until a flash flood swept through the camp.

… the stream… grew into such a torrent that it drowned most of the camp-followers’ women and children and swept away the royal tent with everything it contained…

Depending on where Alexander spent the night, then, it sounds like he was lucky to escape with his life.
p. 268
When Alexander arrived at the western bank of the Hydaspes River, he began making preparations to cross it. On the other side, Porus awaited him. However, the water level was high and – thanks to the seasonal rains and water flowing down from the Indian Caucasus (i.e Hindu Kush) – very dangerous. So. Alexander declared that he would wait until the river had calmed down before attempting a crossing. Despite this, he still kept an eye out for any opportunity to cross over.
By-the-bye, Arrian says that Alexander arrived at the Hydaspes at the time of the summer solstice. J. R. Hamilton, who compiled the notes for my translation, says that – as Arrian himself records – the battle takes place in May. Alexander had a very keen eye!
p. 271
When Alexander did decide to cross the Hydaspes he moved away from his camp so that the Indian king would not know where his crossing point was. On the night that the Macedonian army made its move, a thunder storm struck. Arrian doesn’t say it but (if I may echo Alexander after leaving Paraetonium), it was a god-send, for it drowned out ‘the clatter of arms, shouted orders, and the commotion’ of the moving army.
p. 272
After helping facilitate Alexander’s safe crossing of the Hydaspes, the rain very quickly becomes a serious impediment. In fact, this happens before he has completed his crossing. Alexander and his men reach the far shoreline. Or so they think. Actually, they are on an island. Another stretch of water need to be traversed before they reach the eastern side of the river. Ordinarily, this would not have been a problem, but the previous night’s rain had now swollen the water and made it very hazardous to cross. Nevertheless, a fording point was found, and as he did so often, Alexander led the way.
p. 291
Diodorus VIII. 17. 94. 3
In his notes, Hamilton says that the rain also contributed to the exhaustion of the Macedonian army, leading to its mutiny at the Hyphasis River, and cites Diodorus to this effect. The latter states that by the time they reached the Hyphasis, it had rained for seventy days in succession, ‘to the accompaniment of continuous thunder and lightning’.
p. 358
Arrian’s final mention of rain comes when Alexander is back in Susiana. Arrian states that he sailed down the Eulaeus River towards the sea (i.e. the Persian Gulf) before digressing with an account of how the Euphrates River – in the absence of much rain fall in the region – is used to help irrigate the country
To conclude, before writing this bog post I had thought that I would find either Alexander or Arrian interpreting the rôle of the rain much more than has happened. This is definitely a hangover from reading once that whenever Herodotus mentions people crossing bridges it means something bad is going to happen to them. Speaking of Herodotus, I would say that only three of the eleven references to rain in Arrian are positive in respect of its rôle – at Sardis, Paraetonium, and the Hydaspes when it drowns out the noise of the Macedonian army. The rest of the time it gets in his way to some degree or another.

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The Sources Speak: Diodorus on Ptolemy Pt 2

  • An index of the other posts in this series can be found here
  • I am using the Loeb Classical Library’s edition of Diodorus’ Library of History (Harvard University Press, 2004) for this post.

In the last post we saw how Ptolemy was only mentioned twice by Diodorus in Book 8 of his Library of History. Firstly, when Alexander saved his life after Ptolemy was poisoned. Secondly, when Alexander split his army into three to lay waste to the low, middle and high country of the land on the border of Oreitis. Alexander gave himself responsibility for attacking the upper (hill) country, Leonnatus the responsibility for despoiling the interior, and Ptolemy responsibilty for devastating the land by the sea.
The second mention of Ptolemy is made without further comment in respect of his character or how (well) he carried out his orders. The mission was a success, though, for as Diodorus records,

… much country was wasted, so that every spot was filled with fire and devastation and great slaughter. The soldiers soon became possessed of much booty, and the number of persons killed reached many myriads.
(Diodorus VIII. Bk. 17. p. 421-2)

The first mention of Ptolemy is much more interesting as Diodorus tells us that Alexander was very close to him, and that Ptolemy himself was much loved by the Macedonian soldiers on account of his ‘character and kindness to all’.
323 BC
We pick up the story in Babylon, just two years after the events described above. Alexander is dead, and his senior officers are in the Royal Palace listening to Perdiccas tell them which satrapies he has decided to allocate to who.

… he gave Egypt to Ptolemy, son of Lagus…
(IX. 18. p. 17)

Diodorus makes no further mention of Ptolemy here. But in a way, he doesn’t need to; not when it comes to Ptolemy’s capability as a general, anyway. Had he not been a very good one, I very much doubt that Perdiccas would have entrusted such an important country to him.
But what about Ptolemy’s character? We know, of course, that the men liked him – could that have played a part in Perdiccas’ considerations? I think so, but only alongside Ptolemy’s perceived loyalty to the Argead cause. Remember, the phalanx and senior officers had already almost come to blows over what should happen to Alexander’s empire. The phalanx wanted Alexander’s mentally disabled brother, Arrhidaeus, to be made king; but the senior officers disagreed. The two sides prepared for a fight until conciliators managed to bring them both together. As a result of the proceeding ‘Babylon Conference’, Arrhidaeus was indeed named king, but only with Perdiccas as his regent. I would like to suggest that Ptolemy was given Egypt, in part or in whole, as part of an attempt by Perdiccas to assure the Argeads that they had a place at the high table of power. A kind of quid pro quo for Perdiccas holding the regency.
323/22 BC

In Asia, of those who had shared in the division of the satrapies, Ptolemy took over Egypt without difficulty and was treating the inhabitants with kindness. Finding eight thousand talents in the treasury, he began to collect mercenaries and to form an army. A multitude of friends also gathered about him on account of his fairness. With Antipater he carried on a diplomatic correspondence that led to a treaty of co-operation, since he well knew that Perdiccas would attempt to wrest from him the satrapy of Egypt.
(IX. 18. p. 51)

Once again, Diodorus highlights Ptolemy’s kind character. It is hard not to believe, however, that at least a few of those ‘friends’ were attracted to the 8,000 talents Ptolemy held as much as they were to Ptolemy himself.
Ptolemy’s ‘kindness’ towards the Egyptians is still noteworthy as imperial powers are not generally known for treating the their subjects with respect. One imperialist did, though – Alexander. Was Ptolemy, then, emulating his standard of rule? Possibly, although maybe he really was just a very kind natured person; I suspect, though, that as with all human beings, Ptolemy had mixed motives for ruling in the way he did. After all, by treating his subjects well, he made friends with the powerful priestly class who could, had it wanted, made his life very difficult.
Diodorus’ observation that Ptolemy ‘well knew that Perdiccas would attempt to wrest… the satrapy of Egypt’ from him suggests to me that Perdiccas did indeed appoint Ptolemy to his post for political reasons rather than because he thought Ptolemy was the best choice.
322/21 BC
Ptolemy’s arrival in Egypt appears to have taken place around the same time as the Lamian War. Not long after his arrival, he received a visit from a group of rich Cyrenians who had been thrown out of Cyrene by the commoners as a result of Thibron’s siege, which was causing the city great hardship.
The exiles asked Ptolemy for his help in restoring them to their city. Seeing the opportunity to extend his power and influence in the region (Cyrenaica was in eastern Libya, right next to Egypt), Ptolemy sent,

… a considerable force, both infantry and naval, with Ophellas as general.
(IX. 18. p. 75)

The new leaders of Cyrene were so dismayed by the return of the exiles that they agreed terms with Thibron and made common cause with him against the Ptolemaic army. It was to no avail, however; Ophellas defeated the joint army, captured Thibron and took Cyrenaica, which he then ‘delivered… to Ptolemy the king’ (Ibid, p. 77). In actual fact, it would be another 17 or so years before Ptolemy would claim that title.
Ptolemy’s opportunism was not a characteristic that was unique to him. All of Alexander’s Successors had this trait. For his part, Ptolemy used it alongside his natural cautiousness, a trait we will see more of in the future. Thus, while he never sought to empire build like people such as Antigonus and Seleucus, he would where he was able, grab land and power, releasing both quickly if circumstance turned against him, only to return later.

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The Sources Speak: Diodorus on Ptolemy Pt 1

An index of the other posts in this series can be found here

Ptolemy I Soter

Ptolemy I Soter

Now that I have finished my series of posts on the Wars of the Successors I would like to look at how some of them are represented in the individual sources from the beginning of the source writer’s narrative until the subject’s death or 301 BC when Diodorus’ history of the successor period ends. My first subject is Ptolemy Lagides.
A Surprise
As I am already reading Arrian for my Letters posts, I thought I would start this series of posts with another source – Diodorus Siculus.
To begin then; when I opened up the Index to Book VIII of his Library of History this morning, I expected to see any number of references to Ptolemy. Much to my surprise, however, Diodorus mentions him only twice. In April 325, Alexander attacked the city of Harmatelia (AKA Harmata). The Brahminic army fought with weapons smeared with a deadly drug. Here is Diodorus’ description of its effect – not for the faint hearted!

The power of the drug was derived from certain snakes which were caught and killed and left in the sun. The heat melted the substance of the flesh and drops of moisture formed; in this moisture the poison of the animals was secreted. When a man was wounded, the body became numb immediately and then sharp pains followed, and convulsions and shivering shook the whole frame. The skin became cold and livid and bile appeared in the vomit, while a black froth was exuded from the wound and gangrene set in. As this spread quickly and overran to the vital parts of the body, it brought a horrible death to the victim.

Depending on how you look at things, you could say that this was an early form of chemical warfare.
Ptolemy’s Deadly Injury
Diodorus doesn’t tell us how many Macedonians were injured fighting the Brahmins’ army, only that ‘some of [his] forces were’. One of those wounded, though, was Ptolemy. Here are two interesting snippets of information that Diodorus has to say about him.

  1. … Alexander was not so much concerned [for the other wounded], but he was deeply distressed for Ptolemy… who was much beloved by him
  2. [Ptolemy] was loved by all because of his character and his kindnesses to all

(1) I am quite sure that Alexander was concerned for all his injured men and that Diodorus, rather crassly, is suggesting otherwise simply to foreground the king’s love for Ptolemy. If I’m right, it is the same kind of simplification that Oliver Stone makes in his film of Alexander for the sake of the story. Nothing new under the sun, as they say!
(2) In case you are wondering, Diodorus doesn’t use Ptolemy as a source for his work! Actually, this was my second surprise. Given how close Ptolemy was to Alexander, I would have thought his memoir would have been required reading for historians.
According to Livius, Diodorus’ source is Cleitarchus. The latter’s source is said by the chart to be soldiers in the Macedonian army itself. If this is so, it would give credibility to Diodorus’ second statement above, which does seem rather over-the-top otherwise.
The King Has Healing Hands
How did Ptolemy survive his horrible injury? According to Diodorus, Alexander himself came to the rescue.

The king saw a vision in his sleep. It seemed to him that a snake appeared carrying a plant in its mouth, and showed him its nature and efficacy and the place where it grew. When Alexander awoke, he sought out the plant, and grinding it up plastered it on Ptolemy’s body. He also prepared an infusion of the plant and gave Ptolemy a drink of it. This restored him to health.

It’s easy to be cynical about these kind of dreams that we read so much about in antiquity but if there is a god or gods why wouldn’t they use them to communicate with their people? Admittedly, Diodorus doesn’t say that that is what happened here; I am just assuming that the dream did not come from Alexander’s subconscious. Although, now that I think about it, perhaps he was once told about the plant and its healing powers, so that now, in his dream, as he worried over his dying friend, he remembered it again.
Otherwise, I can only wonder why Diodorus uses the dream trope to explain Alexander’s knowledge. I presume it must add something to his character as he is generally favourable to the king. Unfortunately, I just don’t know enough about the matter to say.
One final point – Arrian, whose chief source is Ptolemy, does not mention this incident. Did Ptolemy decide not to mention it (and if so, why, as it shows he had Alexander’s close friendship), or was it Arrian who chose to omit it?
Ptolemy the General
Ptolemy’s second appearance in Diodorus’ History follows on from the first. Upon reaching ‘the frontiers of Oreitis’ Alexander ‘divided his force into three divisions and named as commander of the first, Ptolemy’. The son of Lagus was given orders to ‘plunder the district by the sea’. Leonnatus and Alexander himself led the other two divisions and the country was laid waste to.
And that for Ptolemy, as far as Diodorus is concerned, is that. We won’t meet him again until the Wars of the Successors, which the Diodorus covers in Books XI – XII. So that is where we will go next.

  • My edition of Diodorus is the Loeb Classical Library (1963). The quotations can be found in Book VIII pp. 415-21
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