Posts Tagged With: Erygius

Alexander, Slicer of Knots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin reports that Alexander took Gordium,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander the manipulator at his finest.

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

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

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

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Across Mount Paropanisum

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 82, 83 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
The Paropanisadae: A Hidden People
Alexander Crosses the Paropanisum
Erygius Defeats Satibarzanes in a Duel
Bessus Betrayed and Executed

The Story
Chapter 82
Diodorus doesn’t say when exactly Alexander sent Erygius and Stasanor to deal with Satibarzanes but it is the last action of 329 B.C. – according to his reckoning – that he describes. Chapter 82 opens at the start of 328 B.C. I say by his reckoning because the Footnotes state that it was now the summer of 330 B.C.

‘In this year Alexander marched against the so-called Paropanisadae’ who lived in the far north (in a land named Paropamisus – Wikipedia).

Diodorus describes Paropamisus as being ‘snow-covered and not easily approached’. The land is ‘plain and woodless’. The parapanisadae live in homes with conical roofs that are open at the top so that smoke can escape through them. Due to the heavy snow, they are confined to their homes for much of the year. Indeed, when the Macedonians passed through Paropamisus, they only became aware that there were people living there when smoke rose out of the ground underneath them.

Diodorus paints an evocative picture, but again, he appears to be in error. The Footnotes advise that Paropamisus was ‘neither in the north nor a plain’.

As far as Diodorus is concerned, though, Paropamisus was bad news for Alexander. The sun shone so brightly that the snow dazzled the Macedonians’ eyes, causing some to be blinded. For others, the march was so exhausting that they ‘became exhausted and were left behind’.

Fortunately, relief came when the Macedonians realised they were standing on top of the Paropanisadae homes. The country was made subject to Alexander, and food taken or bought from the natives’ supplies.

Per the Footnotes, Alexander met the Paropanisadae in the winter of 330 B.C.and wintered there that year.

Chapter 83
Continuing his journey, Alexander next ‘encamped near the Caucasus, which some call Mt. Paropanisum’, and which we call the Hindu Kush.

The journey over the mountain took sixteen days to complete. On the way, Alexander’s guides showed him the cave where, they said, Prometheus had been bound. The guides were even able to show the king marks left by Prometheus’ chains, and where the eagle that ate Prometheus’ liver every day had its nest.

On the eastern side of the Paropanisum, Alexander stopped to found another Alexandria. It was settled with 7,000 natives, 3,000 ‘camp followers’, and mercenaries. ‘It is interesting,’ say the Footnotes, that the city ‘received no Macedonian settlers’.

Once Alexandria had been established, Alexander marched into Bactria – news had now reached him ‘that Bessus had assumed the diadem and was enrolling an army’.


As Alexander made his way into Bactria, Erygius and Stasanor entered Areia (Aria). They camped near to Satibarzanes’ army, and for a while the two armies skirmished and engaged each other in small numbers. Having sized each other up, the three generals but their armies into battle formation for the final showdown.

Unfortunately, Diodorus tells us nothing of the battle except that Satibarzanes’ men ‘were holding their own’ when Satibarzanes challenged any Macedonian general who dared to a duel. Erygius dared. He came forward, and the two men fought until Satibarzanes fell to the ground, dead.

The loss of their commander demoralised the Persian soldiers and they surrendered themselves. The battle was over.


Chapter 83 concludes with Bessus’ downfall. During a banquet with his friends, he got into an argument with one named Bagodaras. Bessus wanted to execute Bagodaras but was persuaded by his friends to let him live (does this sound familiar?). Unlike Black Cleitus, Bagodaras wisely decided he was better off somewhere that Bessus was not. He chose Alexander’s camp.

Alexander greeted Bagodaras warmly, and word was sent to Bessus’ generals that if they also came over to the Alexander’s side, they too would be given safe passage and gifts. This message did not fall on deaf ears. In fact, not only did Bessus’ generals switch sides, but they arrested Bessus and brought him as well.

Alexander kept his side of the bargain and gave the generals ‘substantial gifts’. As for Bessus, he gave him to Darius’ family to be punished as they saw fit. They subjected the pretender to the Great King’s throne to ‘humiliation and abuse’ before ‘cutting his body up into little pieces’ and scattering them.

A lacuna in the manuscript means we lose the ‘end of Diodorus’ year 328/7 and the beginning of 327/6′. Chapter 84 will commence in ‘the autumn of 327′. This information comes from the Footnotes, which also note that Diodorus’ account of the following events are lost,

  • Alexander’s ‘Scythian, Bactrian and Sogdian campaigns’
  • The Death of Black Cleitus
  • Introduction of Proskynesis
  • The arrest of Callisthenes
  • The Page’s Conspiracy
  • Alexander’s marriage to Roxane

When I read Chapter 82, I thought it very rum that Alexander left the exhausted of his people behind during their march through Paropamisus. Looking at it from his perspective, though, I suppose he did not have a choice. Delaying would have meant even more deaths in the awful conditions.

Why did no Macedonians settle in the new Alexandria? Perhaps the territory was too rough even for them.

Erygius’ duel with Satibarzanes is one of only two duels that I know to have taken place during Alexander’s lifetime or during the Successor period. The other involved Eumenes versus Neoptolemus during the First War of the Successors in 320 B.C., which Eumenes won (I wrote about both the war and duel here). A duel must be about the only thing that Alexander didn’t fight in his lifetime!

The list of events missed due to the gap in the manuscript is a big shame. I would especially, though, have liked to see how Alexander spoke to his men after Bessus had been captured. That was, after all, why they had continued east following the destruction of the royal palaces at Persepolis and the death of Darius (see here). More honeyed words, no doubt.

The Macedonian army can be seen bottom left








(You may need a magnifying glass Hubble telescope)

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The Benefactors

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 81 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
The Benefactors live up to their name
Gedrosia falls into line
Satibarzanes returns to Aria
Erygius and Stasanor lead army against outlaw satrap
Alexander conquers Arachosia with ease

The Story
After Philotas’ execution, Alexander stayed in Dranginê (Drangianê) just long enough to ‘settle’ the region before moving on. He next entered the country of the Arimaspians, also known as the Benefactors. This name had been bestowed on them by Alexander’s hero, Cyrus the Great (600/576 – 530 B.C.).

As Diodorus relates it, the founder of the Persian Empire had been campaigning ‘in the desert’ when he ran out of provisions. Desperate for food, his soldiers began eating each other. For reasons Diodorus does not explain, the Arimaspians came to Cyrus’ aid with no less than thirty thousand wagons filled with food. In gratitude, Cyrus exempted the tribe from paying taxes as well as giving it ‘other marks of honour’. He also abolished their name, replacing it with ‘Benefactors’.

I suppose it is possible that the Benefactors acted out of the goodness of their hearts, though it is – admittedly – more likely that they were ordered to help, or else did so to secure political advantage. If the latter, the two hundred years since Cyrus’ death had seen no diminution in the tribe’s political acumen. For when Alexander entered Arimaspia, they ‘received him kindly’. No doubt eager to emulate his hero as much out of gratitude for the welcome Alexander ‘honoured the tribe with suitable gifts’. This pattern was repeated with the Cedrosians (aka Gedrosians). Finally, Alexander appointed a man named Tiridates to govern both peoples.


As is his wont, Diodorus now changes tack completely and returns to the subject of Satibarzanes. While Alexander was occupied with the Benefactors and Cedrosians, word came to him that the errant satrap ‘had returned from Bactria with a large force of cavalry to Areia [Aria]’.

Perhaps because he was eager to continue east, Alexander opted not to turn back himself in order to deal with the traitor. Instead, he appointed one of his long-time friend, Erygius, and Stasanor to lead an army against him.

For his part, Alexander continued east, entered Arachosia, and conquered it in a matter of days.

Diodorus’ account of the Benefactors is a lovely feel-good story. Of course the Arimaspians acted towards both Alexander and Cyrus out of self-interest but we shouldn’t let that detract from the sweetness of the moment. The fact is, both kings could easily have responded violently had they wished. But both were better than that and all was well that ended well.

In case the name of Erygius is not familiar to you – he was one of Alexander’s friends who took part in the Pixodarus Affair in 337 B.C. (and which I wrote about as part of my series on Plutarch’s Women here).

“You mean we had food all along, it was just on my head?”

Picture from Wikipedia

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The Macedonian Army’s Formation

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

The Headlines
Alexander Oversleeps
Macedonian Army Forms Up Against Persians

The Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cavalry from Right to Left

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

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

Infantry from Right to Left

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

Diodorus classes the following as battalions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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