Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 108 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Army Camps Outside Susa: War to Follow?
New Army is Loyal
* Alexander’s Persian Masterplan
Harpalus: A life Soaked in Blood, Money and Bodily Fluids
Harpalus Flees, Thibron Sees, the Satrap Dies in Crete
Alexander was still in Susa when an army comprising of 30,000 Persians arrived outside the city. They were not a rebel force but new recruits, the next generation of Alexander’s army.
Did Alexander want to create the largest army the world had ever seen? Not quite. Diodorus recalls how the Macedonian army mutinied at the Hyphasis River (see Comments below). He also tells us that the army was ‘frequently unruly when called into an Assembly and ridiculed Alexander’s pretence that Ammon was his father’.
The Persian recruits were, therefore, Alexander’s attempt to create a new unit of men, one which would serve ‘as a counter-balance to the Macedonian phalanx’. A more loyal counter-balance, one might say.
The new unit wore Macedonian armour and carried the same weaponry. Alexander met his new soldiers outside the city and watched with satisfaction as they demonstrated ‘their skill and discipline in the use of their weapons’.
From the new to the old – Diodorus cuts to an account of the fall of Alexander’s lifelong friend, Harpalus.
After capturing Babylon, Alexander appointed Harpalus satrap of the region. When the king entered India, Harpalus assumed he would never return, and so ‘gave himself up to comfortable living’. Does this mean that to begin with Harpalus governed Babylonia wisely (even if just out of fear of the consequences if he didn’t)?
This ‘comfortable living’ involved
- ‘the abuse of women’
- ‘illegitimate amours with the natives’
- Squandering ‘much of the treasure under his control on incontinent pleasure’
By way of an example, Diodorus cites the occasion that Harpalus had ‘a great quantity of fish’ brought to him ‘all the long way from the Red Sea’. He pursued ‘an extravagant way of life’ that led many people to criticise him.
Harpalus responded to this criticism in the only way he knew how – he brought to Babylon ‘the most dazzling courtesan of the day’, a woman named Pythonicê. While she lived, he treated her like a queen. When she died, ‘he gave her a magnificent funeral and erected over her grave a costly monument’.
Perhaps the knowledge of grief would mellow Harpalus? Not a bit of it. Out with the old and in with the new. Pythonicê was replaced by another courtesan named Glycera.
Harpalus was licentious, violent and a thief but he was not stupid. Although he did not expect Alexander to return from the east, he knew how fickle fortune could be. With that in mind, ‘he established himself a place of refuge by benefactions to the Athenians’.
One day, bad news came. Alexander was on his way. Worse yet, he was executing ‘many of the satraps’ who had abused their power.
Harpalus stole 5,000 silver talents from the treasury, ‘enrolled six thousand mercenaries’ in his own private army and set off for Attica.
Things took a further turn for the worst, however, when the Attic cities refused to let him in. Harpalus now sent his troops to Taenarum (southern Sparta), while he made his way to Athens. Surely his past generosity would oblige them to help him in his hour of need?
Unfortunately, Harpalus’ corrupt behaviour had made him two very powerful enemies and even inspired them – for perhaps the first and only time in their lives – to work together in order to bring him to justice. ‘Antipater and Olympias demanded [Harpalus’] surrender’. It seems that some Athenians spoke up for him but it was no good. Harpalus was forced to flee lest he be turned over to the viceroy and queen mother. He came to Taenarum’ where he rejoined his troops.
From Taenarum, Harpalus and his men sailed to Crete. And there, Thibron, ‘one of his Friends’, killed him.
Back in Athens, an audit of Harpalus’ money (I presume the money that he gave to the city?) was carried out. Several leading figures, including Demosthenes, were found guilty of having accepted it. Diodorus does not reveal what happened to them after their conviction.
I have made a silent correction in the second paragraph. Diodorus actually says that the ‘Macedonians… mutinied when ordered to cross the Ganges River’ but we know from the other Alexander historians that the mutiny took place at the Hyphasis River.
Diodorus is a bit free and easy with his river names (just as he is with the location of the rivers). For example, in Chapter 93 he says that Alexander ‘advanced to the Hyphasis River’. A few lines later, he has the king ask Phegus what lies ‘beyond the Indus River’.
As the Indus River lies some distance behind the Hyphasis the reference to it here is plainly a mistake. The same applies to the Ganges, which is ‘some distance’ ahead of the Hyphasis.
I’m sure ‘incontinent pleasure’ does not mean what I imagine it to mean but the translator/Diodorus could have chosen a better phrase to describe Harpalus’ dissolute lifestyle.
If nothing else, Harpalus must be congratulated for being the only man to ever bring Antipater and Olympias together. The Footnotes call their alliance ‘odd’ but I think it makes perfect sense. Olympias would want Harpalus’ head because he had betrayed her son. Antipater would want it (a) because, yes, Harpalus had betrayed the king but particularly (b) because if Olympias demanded Harpalus’ surrender, he could hardly stay quiet without his own loyalty being questioned.
In a way, this reminds me of the way Philotas failed to report the conspiracy against Alexander. He didn’t because he didn’t take it seriously. If Antipater had given the same reason for not demanding Harpalus’ surrender he would have made Greece a haven for any satrap who disobeyed Alexander and thus run the risk of having his loyalty called into question. Unlike Philotas, Antipater did what needed to be done.
Macedonian Film Festival
We Need To Talk About Harpalus
A boy turns into a sociopath and ruins many lives before being caught
“It’ll massacre the opposition – at the theatre”
“When Thibron kills Harpalus, he steals the show as well as the money”
“Men want to avoid him, so do women except for courtesans.”
Who was the worst satrap – Harpalus or Cleomenes?
Vote Now, Die Tomorrow if either catch up with you.