In This Chapter Alexander advances towards the Granicus River
Alexander approached the Granicus ‘in battle-order’. He knew that the Persians were not far ahead. However, it wasn’t until his scouts returned that he discovered the satrapal army’s precise position, and formation: it was on the far side of the Granicus river, and was formed up ready for battle.
Arrian says that on receiving this news, Alexander ‘began to form his entire army for battle’. I take it, therefore, that marching ‘in battle-order’ is slightly different to actually being in battle formation.
At the same time that Alexander began doing this, Parmenion approached him. He proposed to the king that they make camp on the near side of the river. Doing this, he said, would make the Persians encamp further away as it had fewer infantrymen. Doing this would facilitate the army’s safe crossing tomorrow. Parmenion reckoned that if the Macedonian army crossed at daybreak, it would be able to do so before the Persian army had time to form up.
There is another reason why Parmenion advocated camping until the next day. As Arrian tells it, Parmenion did not think the army would be able to cross the river ‘on a wide front’ safely. The river looked deep and the banks on the far side, high; the army would find it hard to get out of the water – only being able to do so in the ‘weakest possible formation’, that of a column – and would be met by a cavalry charge. Defeat at the Granicus, Parmenion said, would put the entire expedition in danger.
Alexander ignored Parmenion’s concerns. According to Arrian he justified his decision to cross immediately on the basis of pride:
‘… I would be ashamed if, after crossing the Hellespont with ease, this little stream’ (this was his term to disparage the Granicus) ‘is to prevent us getting across just as we are.’
Waiting, Alexander said, would be ‘false to Macedonian prestige’ and his ‘own short way with danger’ and make the Persians think they could deal with them.
Thoughts When Arrian says that the Macedonian army advanced ‘in battle-order’ he describes its formation: the hoplites were ‘in a double phalanx’ and the cavalry were ‘on the wings’. It sounds, therefore, like the army was ready to fight. I wonder, therefore, if when Alexander ‘began to form his entire army for battle’ he wasn’t preparing it from scratch – as I imagined when I wrote the first two paragraphs above – but just adjusting it according to the information he had received from the scouts. Just a thought.
Why did Alexander ignore Parmenion’s concerns?
Before answering that, we might ask if Arrian’s account of what happened is even accurate. According to Diodorus (XVII.19), Alexander camped on the near side of the river overnight and crossed the Granicus at dawn the next day – just as Arrian has Parmenion suggesting. By-the-bye, Diodorus doesn’t include this conversation between the king and general.
So, who to believe? Well, you pays your money and takes your choice. As the notes to The Landmark Arrian say,
There is no possibility of reconciling the two accounts, and no agreement among historians as to which is more credible.
As much as I like Arrian, I would actually be inclined to believe Diodorus. If the Persians were on the far bank, crossing it straight away would seem to be a reckless decision. When it came to battle, Alexander was very capable of being reckless with himself, but with his army – ? I can’t immediately think of any time when he was. He certainly hasn’t been so far. Alexander waiting until dawn, however, would be a cunning decision in keeping with his superior strategic skills.
But let’s say that Arrian is correct. Why would he ignore Parmenion? I think it would be because he wanted to do things the right, that is, the Homeric, way, and that meant riding into danger rather than steering clear of it.
Having said that, and because I don’t believe Arrian’s account is correct, let me say that I think it is Ptolemy who portrays Alexander in this way rather than Alexander himself. It is Ptolemy who wants to represent Alexander as the Homeric hero. This isn’t to say that Alexander was not that type of person but I suspect there is a bit of retconning going on here.
Chapter Twelve can be broken down into three parts:
Alexander at Troy
Arrian’s Second Preface
Alexander on the March
Alexander at Troy While at Troy, Alexander was ‘crowned with a golden crown’ by Menoetius, the helmsman of his ship; a man named Chares from Athens and a number of other people followed suit.
Arrian reports that ‘[s]ome say… Alexander placed a wreath on the tomb of Achilles, while Hephaestion, it is said, did likewise at the tomb of Patroclus’.
The italics above are mine, to emphasise the fact that for the second chapter in succession we appear to have Arrian using a source or sources who were not Ptolemy and Aristobulos.
Arrian continues in this manner. He says that ‘[t]he story goes that Alexander called Achilles fortunate to have Homer as the herald of his lasting fame’. (my italics again). This much is true; Alexander was not well served either by historians or poets.
Arrian’s Second Preface Arrian shows this by outlining how other, much less deserving, men have been more celebrated than Alexander. The situation is so bad that Arrian is able to say that ‘Alexander’s achievements are far less well known than even the most trivial of other deeds in the past’.
To demonstrate this, Arrian compares the famous march of the 10,000 to Alexander’s expedition, and shows how the latter is the superior of the two.
… Alexander did not campaign in another man’s army, he did not retreat from the Great King, his victories were not confined to the defeat of those opposing a march back to the sea.
But rather, Arrian tells us, Alexander achieved the most of any Greek or barbarian – and this is why he decided to write his history. With unashamed self-confidence, he adds that ‘I did not think myself unsuited for the task of making Alexander’s achievements clear to the world’. Arrian’s writings define him; he describes them as ‘my country, my family, my public office’.
Alexander on the March From Troy, Alexander marched north to Arisbe, where he met Parmenion and the rest of the army. From there, he continued along the north-western corner of Asia Minor until he reached Lampsacus when he headed south again though only as far as the Prosactius river. From there, he marched north once more, passing Colonae on his way to Priapus on the north-western coast. This would be his last stop (or, at least, the last to be mentioned by Arrian) before coming to the Granicus river.
While Alexander was marching through north-western Asia Minor, the Persian satraps and commanders were meeting in Zeleia, (twentyish miles) east of the Granicus. When word came of Alexander’s arrival in the province, they discussed what to do. Memnon of Rhodes advocated a scorched earth policy to starve the Macedonians into retreat but was overruled by the Persians. One satrap, Arsites, refused to countenance any damage being done to the property of ‘the people under his charge’. The others suspected that Memnon wanted to avoid a conflict so as to keep his rank in the Great King’s court.
Thoughts Arrian doesn’t mention the story that, before jumping off his ship, Alexander flung his spear onto the shore to claim Asia (Minor) as his spear won territory (Diodorus XVII.17; Justin 11.5.10). Could it be that by focusing on the crowning of Alexander, he is demonstrating that he is not so much interested in Alexander the warrior as he is in Alexander the king?
What would this mean in practice? As the thought has only just occurred to me, I need to think about that before I can answer it. If it is true, though, I would expect Arrian’s Alexander to show whatever virtues the ancient Romans/Greeks thought a good ruler should have.
It is certainly one of the ironies of history that Alexander should, at any time, have been less well known than other men. Today, of course, he is very well known. For what he achieved he deserves to be the most well known of all the ancients but definitely lags behind the three most famous Romans – Julius Caesar, Augustus and Mark Antony. I would hazard to say that he isn’t even the most famous Greek: that honour probably belongs to Cleopatra VII.
In this post I spoke about Alexander’s impressive intelligence operation. We now get to see why it was so good. Arrian says that Alexander ‘always had scouts sent ahead of the main army’. We find out who Alexander’s ‘M’ was.: Amyntas son of Arrhabeaus. And his secret agents were ‘the squadron of Companions from Apollonia’ as well as ‘four squadrons of the so-called ‘advance guards”.
Okay, Amyntas was not quite M and the Apollonians not quite secret agents but of course they did have a licence to kill!
Finally, when I read this chapter, I was touched that Arsites seemed to be sticking up for his people. Well, maybe he was, but I’m sure the knowledge that no crops meant no taxes would have been in his mind as well.
Today, on the 2,375th anniversary of Alexander’s birth, I am delighted to welcome Jeanne Reames to The Second Achilles for the first of a two part ‘interview’ to discuss her part one of her new novel Dancing With The Lion: Becoming, in which she tells the story of how Alexander became the Great.
You can find Dancing With The Lion: Becoming on Amazon in the U.K. here and U.S.A. here or from all good bookshops. Jeanne’s book website is here.
To celebrate Dancing With The Lion: Becoming hitting the bookshelves, I caught up with Jeanne in the most twenty-first way possible, via e-mail, to discuss the novel and its characters.
What was your inspiration for writing Dancing with the Lion? When I was in grad school for the first time at Emory, this guy, “Alexander the Great,” kept popping up in my Early Church history classes, yet I knew nothing about him. Deciding I might learn something, I trekked off to the library and grabbed two biographies off the shelf, somewhat at random. They happened to be Peter Green’s Alexander of Macedon (the original 1974 Thames-on-Hudson edition with images), and N.G.L. Hammond’s 1980 Alexander the Great: King, Commander, and Statesman (his more measured bio). I couldn’t have picked more divergent visions of Alexander if I’d tried.
So I became fascinated by this young man who literally changed the face of his world, then died before 33, leaving behind such varying analyses from heroically positive to viciously negative. The novelist in me took note, as we love a complicated character. I kept reading, and fell in love with Macedonia itself, as well.
What was it like writing about Alexander himself? Did he come with a lot of baggage – given to you by other authors and historians – or does he travel lightly, so’s to speak? Oh, he comes with a freight-load of baggage, which is why I chose to use his real (Greek) name—Alexandros—to cut off some of it. In addition, I wanted to write him from a Macedonian perspective, as best I could. He’s too often viewed through a Greek (and later Roman) lens.
Much of that owes to our surviving sources, none of which were written during his own lifetime; Diodorus (arguably the earliest we still have) dates to the first century BCE. That would be like trying to write on John F. Kennedy with nothing more recent than bios 200 years in the future. Lord knows what they’d actually understand about the 1960s.
Fortunately, modern archaeology is producing amazing new insights, especially about early Iron-age, Archaic, and Classical Macedonia, rewriting our understanding of the Argead Macedonian kingdom. Never mind the royal cemetery at Aigai, what’s coming out of Aiani (ancient Elimeia), Archontiko (Pella), and Methone is stunning. But unfortunately, most of these reports are in modern Greek. I’ve tried to include at least references to our new discoveries in the novel, although the bulk of the text was written well before 2000. Again, all this contributes to my goal to show a non-Athenocentric, Macedonian Alexander.
Did Alexander surprise you by his actions in the course of writing this book or did you feel you always had him under control? If your characters are real, they always have a life of their own. Non-writers can be baffled when novelists talk about characters as if they were real people with whom the author has regular conversations. But if the author can’t do that, her characters aren’t 3D.
That said, Alexander was a bit harder to write my way into than Hephaistion. Hephaistion winked into existence when I (re-)read Peter Green’s bio and hit the line that describes him as, “Tall, handsome, spoilt, spiteful, overbearing, and fundamentally stupid” (p. 465, U. Cal ed., 1991 reprint). And in my head, this little Hephaistion sat up and said, “No, I wasn’t like that at all.” That gave me both a character and a dissertation, so I thank Peter for it.*
I’m sure some of my reaction was a gelling of what I’d read, leading me to a different opinion about Hephaistion. Yet from that moment, Hephaistion’s book character has been firmly formed and hasn’t changed much. Also, I’d like to note that I do see a distinction between my character and the historical person. If the former is certainly based on my research into the latter, I’m not confused about where the lines are.
The character who morphed the most during the writing was Myrtalē-Olympias. When I began, I had a fairly traditional, negative view. Then I read Beth Carney’s work, which fundamentally altered how I understood her and her motives, creating (I hope) a more nuanced character.
The historical Hephaestion did not live to write his memoirs and appears only episodically in the works of the Alexander historians. This makes him a rather elusive personality. Was that a blessing or curse for you in writing about him? I consider it a blessing, as it left me a lot of freedom. Yet I’ve spent so much time with this fellow, I do feel as if I have some sense of what the historical person must have been like.
With Hephaistion, we must avoid too simplistic a reading. It can be easy to slam him into certain pre-made categories. The first is a yes-man without genuine ambition or much of a mind of his own, just beauty and a steadfast loyalty to Alexander. A second is more sinister: an ambitious man of limited ability, using Alexander’s affection for him to climb the socio-political ladder at the Macedonian court, and targeting his enemies along the way. He may (or may not) have felt genuine affection for Alexander.
To me, the evidence from the ancient sources doesn’t support either of those. First, he actually was capable (both Sabine Müller and I have written academic material about this). Second, all his clashes are late in his career, once he’d risen to very high rank, and in at least the case of Krateros, he may have been the target rather than the targeted. Earlier, he had no obvious enemies (aside from, perhaps, Olympias). In the novel, in fact, I’ve made him a bit more testy than I think he actually was. If Curtius (who was no fan of Alexander) paints a mostly positive picture of Hephaistion, perhaps we should pay attention.
He appears to have been deeply—and genuinely—attached to Alexander, and Curtius observed that he was diplomatic enough to avoid pushing his place. Yet he may also not have cared for personal advancement to the same degree as his fellows. That said, we must be careful not to make him passive; the evidence suggests that if insulted, he’d strike back. Remember, a virtuous Greek didn’t turn the other cheek; one was expected to help friends and hurt enemies, not ignore them, an important difference between now and then. In fact, showing clemency could be a backhanded insult, one Julius Caesar later used to great political effect. One could show clemency only to one’s social inferiors, after all.
I’ve come to think of Hephaistion as a “gamma male”; in pop culture, there’s little agreement as to what these men are like, but originally the term was coined to define those who disengage from the whole alpha-beta dynamic. They neither attempt to lead (although may be capable of doing so), nor do they willingly follow, unless they agree on the direction. While it might seem that alpha and gamma males should naturally clash, gamma males may also be the only true friend a strong alpha can have (and trust).
I find three aspects of Hephaistion’s personality mostly consistent according to our sources: he was honest with Alexander but diplomatic about his status in public, he seems to have agreed with Alexander’s policies in general and supported them, and last—and most importantly—Alexander wasn’t the least threatened by him. Add to that a friendship that quite probably spanned two decades and it suggests he was more complex than some would allow.
In writing Hephaestion did you ever find yourself in dialogue with previous interpretations of him? For example, in authors such as Mary Renault and film makers like Oliver Stone? Very little, actually. First, this novel is now 30 years from its inception, and Hephaistion was among the earliest solid characters I had. I wrote the first line in December of 1988. I hadn’t even read Renault yet, and all of that was long before Stone came on the scene. Not to mention Stone’s Hephaistion is really Renault’s Hephaistion.
So while some of my characters owe to the influence of others (say, Beth Carney’s impact on my view of Olympias), Hephaistion is solely mine, unless you count Curtius and the other original sources.
*(Important note: scholars can like each other very much while still disagreeing on evaluations of the evidence, and Peter gave me one of the best edit jobs I’ve ever had for “The Mourning of Alexander the Great” [Ed’s Note: Which you can readhere] which I also think is probably the best article I’ve published to date. So be aware that our scholarly disagreements in no way reflect our personal opinions about our colleagues. Also, we may disagree vehemently with one point, but agree substantially on others.)
Check back tomorrow for Part Two of the interview in which, among other things, we discuss Alexander’s mother, Olympias and his sister, Cleopatra and I get some advice on how to write (historical) fiction.
For more information about Dancing With The Lion, visit Jeanne Reames’s website here.
All the images used in this blog post belong to Jeanne Reames and are used with her permission
July is the month of new books. The first is a new translation – the first in fifty years – of Book 16-20 of Diodorus’ Library; the books that cover the life of Alexander and of the deeds of his Successors:
To read more about this significant work, visit the OUP’s website, here.
I am all the more excited to read this book as the translator, Robin Waterfield, wrote one of my favourite Alexander books, Dividing the Spoils, which is his account (based largely on Diodorus) of what happened to Alexander’s empire after his death.
What’s the second? Check back on Friday to find out!
‘… Alexander went off to the Temple of Ammon, where he wished to consult the oracle of the god… At one point, when their road could not be traced because of the sand dunes, the guide pointed out to the king that crows cawing on their right were calling their attention to the route which led to the temple. Alexander took this for an omen, and thinking that the god was pleased by his visit pushed on with speed.’ (Diodorus XVII.49)
I found this image on Pinterest this week and it immediately reminded me of the above passage from Diodorus. I initially thought the passage came from Arrian but he refers to Alexander being led by snakes (III.3.5).
Arrian specifically identifies Ptolemy as his source for this. If any animals ‘helped’ Alexander to find Siwah, it would be easy to understand why Ptolemy made them snakes. Creatures of evil in the Judeao-Christian tradition, they were symbols of royal authority in pharaonic Egypt.
Looking at the picture, I’m not at all sure that the photographer isn’t looking at a snowy landscape but if so, the snow is so smooth as to look – with a little imagination – like sand, especially with that yellow filter.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a credit for the photograph. It came, though, from a Tumblr blog called 7 Crows a Journey, which gives the source as a Tumblr blog called La Sombra.
In my last post (here), I cited the fact that F. S. Naiden says that Hephaestion’s funeral took place in Ecbatana as an example of the avoidable errors that he makes. Naiden’s exact words are,
For the funeral, [Alexander] ordered an altar brought up from Babylon at a cost of 10,000 talents.
(F. S. Naiden Soldier, Priest, and God p.235)
To be fair to Naiden, he does give a source for this view. The relevant end note reads ‘The burial of Hephaestion: App. 1a #58’
I assume that he is referring to Appian; unfortunately, I can’t find the latter anywhere in the bibliography so am not completely sure. If you happen to know who ‘App’ is, and which work of theirs is being referred to, I’d love to hear from you – leave a comment below, and I will be grateful.
In terms of the sources, Arrian and Diodorus seem very clear – Hephaestion’s body was taken to Babylon where a funeral pyre was built for him (Arr. VII.14.5; 14.8; Dio. XVII.110; 114). Plutarch is less clear. He states only that Alexander,
… planned to spend thousands upon thousands of talents on [Hephaestion’s] tomb and on an elaborate funeral.
(Plutarch Life of Alexander72)
He doesn’t say where the funeral and tomb were supposed to be, however. Depending on how you read Justin, he can be taken to imply that Hephaestion was buried in Ecbatana or somewhere else. He writes,
Alexander spent a long time mourning [Hephaestion. He] built him a tomb at a cost of 12,000 talents…
without saying where this happened.
Unfortunately, the relevant section of Curtius has been lost so we don’t know what he said about Hephaestion’s death.
When I wrote my last post, I didn’t refer to the sources. I was convinced within myself that they all took Hephaestion’s body back to Babylon and so there was no need to double-check. Well, as you can see, I should have double-checked. If I take nothing else away from my last post, it is that there is always a need to double-check!
One last point. The Wikipedia entry for Hephaestion states that,
Following Hephaestion’s death his body was cremated and the ashes were taken to Babylon.
It cites Worthington in support of its view, quoting him as follows,
Then Hephaestion was cremated and the ashes were taken to Babylon. There, an enormous funerary monument was to be built of brick and decorated with five friezes. It would stand over 200 feet high and cost 10,000 talents. Alexander himself would supervise its building when he got back to Babylon. In the aftermath of the king’s death, it was abandoned.
(Ian Worthington Alexander the Great: Man and God p.255)
A variation on a theme.
To recap: Naiden has an altar being brought from Babylon (and Hephaestion being ’embalmed, not cremated’ (p.235); Justin, that Alexander simply built a tomb for Hephaestion somewhere not recorded; Plutarch, that Alexander planned to spend an awful lot of money on Hephaestion’s funeral and tomb somewhere not recorded; Worthington, that Hephaestion was cremated in Ecbatana and his ashes taken to Babylon for burial.
It’s all a bit here, there, and everywhere! A question: are Naiden and Worthington using two different sources? They disagree on whether Hephaestion was embalmed or cremated but agree that his body was taken to Babylon for burial. I really need to find out who ‘App’ is. Until I can find out more, I think I will lean on Arrian’s and Diodorus’ account of what happened but I won’t say the Naiden made an avoidable error in this regard.
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.
27/11Dionysos 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.
30/11A 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?
2/12A 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)
3/12A 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
4/12Circadian 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.
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 Alexander46), 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
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.
Dium 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)
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.