Posts Tagged With: Gorgias

The Road to Marakanda – Spring 328 B.C.

In the Spring of 328 B.C., the Macedonian army campaigned in Bactria and Sogdia. The native people had closed the gates of their forts to Alexander and needed to be reminded who was in charge.

I say ‘the Macedonian army’ quite deliberately for it does not appear as if Alexander himself took part in the operation.

At least, not according to Arrian. He recounts how, after leaving Zariaspa, the Macedonian king put Attalus, Gorgias, Polyperchon and Meleager in charge of subduing Bactria, and Coenus and Artabazus (together), Hephaestion, Perdiccas and Ptolemy in charge of subduing Sogdia.

As for Alexander himself, he

… proceeded with [the rest of the army] in the direction of Marakanda, while the the other four commanders carried out offensive operations.

It is possible that he attacked Sogdian settlements along the way, but the fact that Arrian distinguishes between Alexander’s actions and those of his four commanders suggests to me that Arrian didn’t think so.

This passage has been on my mind for a while for it seems quite strange that Alexander would choose to miss an opportunity to win take part in a military operation.

Did he see the ‘offensive operations’ as no more than a bit of mopping up, and so unworthy of his attention?

The fact that Alexander had to split his army into as many as nine divisions, excluding his own, would suggest that the threat posed by the Bactrians and Sogdians was no small matter, if anything, the reverse.

Perhaps he had business to take care of in Marakanda? Arrian doesn’t mention any. However, the city had been put under siege twice by Spitamenes the previous year (Arrian IV.5,7). I am guessing, therefore, that Alexander wanted to assign new men to the garrison (Curtius VII.10.11*) that had held it over the winter. This, of course, is a job that could have been done by one of the king’s generals – Hephaestion, for example, whom some scholars tell us was not a particularly good soldier.

At first sight, the other sources are not helpful in working out what Alexander was up to in the Spring of 328 B.C. Plutarch covers the period of the Bactria-Sogdia campaign in Chapters 50-58 of his Life but says nothing about the army’s military operations. The same is the case with Justin (who covers the same period in XII.7 of his epitome). Diodorus might have done but unfortunately, the relevant section of his account has been lost.

That leaves us with Curtius. After bringing Alexander out of his winter quarters at Zariaspa (VII.10.13-16), Curtius appears to confuse the early 328 campaign with another set of events** before having Alexander build some cities and move on to the Sogdian Rock.

This most famous siege took place in 327 B.C. It appears, therefore, that Curtius has misdated it. Thus, at the start of Book Eight, he follows in Arrian’s footsteps by describing how Alexander divided his army into three (between himself, Hephaestion and Coenus***) and with his men ‘once more subdued the Sogdians and returned to Maracanda’ (VIII.1.7) (my emphasis]).

So, if Curtius is to be believed, Alexander did take part in the campaign before reaching Marakanda. And, I have to admit, that seems the more believable version of events.

However, if asked to chose who I believe – him or Arrian – I’m not sure that I wouldn’t stick with Arrian. Curtius can be such an unreliable historian.

As already mentioned, he gets the date of the Siege of the Sogdian Rock wrong. After bringing Alexander to Marakanda, Curtius has him speak to Derdas, whom he sent into the territory of the Scythians over the Tanais River the previous year (VII.6.12) as well as ‘a deputation of that people’ (VIII.1.7) who offered him their allegiance and the hand of the king’s daughter. Arrian, by contrast, places these events in Spring, while Alexander was still in Zariaspa (A IV.15).

As can be seen, Curtius appears to have a particular problem with accurate dating. In this light, I wonder if his account of Alexander’s actions in Sogdia at VIII.7 could be a reference to Alexander’s Autumn 329 campaign against the Sogdians, subsequent arrival in Zariaspa and meeting with the Scythians per Arrian.

And yet… and yet… As you can see, I am Hamlet-like in my indecision! The reason for this is that I just can’t think of a convincing reason why Alexander would not have joined the campaign while he was on his way to Marakanda.

Actually, there is one possible reason – injury and/or ill health. The previous year, Alexander’s leg was broken by an arrow (A III.30); he also suffered a slingshot blow to the head and neck (A IV.3) and a severe bout of dysentery but surely he would have recovered from the worst effect of these by Spring 328?

* Curtius says that Alexander left a 3,000 strong garrison in Sogdia. I take it that some even if not all of them stayed in Marakanda
** The Notes in my edition of Curtius say he could be thinking of the rebellion of Arsaces in Aria and Barzanes in Parthia and their capture by Stasanor
*** I don’t count this as an error on Curtius’ part – it could be him ‘telescoping’ the story in order to focus on the principle player(s) in it

Categories: Arrian, Finding Alexander, On Alexander, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Heckel on Hephaestion in 328 B.C.

In his entry for Hephaestion in his Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great (Wiley-Blackwell 2009 pp.133-6) Waldemar Heckel makes a number of contentious statements about the son of Amyntor, his character and military skills. One in particular has been on my mind since I read it before Christmas. Heckel writes,

[i]n the spring of 328, when the army was divided into five parts, [Hephaestion] commanded one contingent (A 4.16.2) in a mission that appears to have done little more than win back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled.

At first glance, this statement tells us something about the 328 B.C. campaign rather than Hephaestion but in my opinion Heckel uses it to unfairly denigrate Hephaestion’s abilities as an military officer.

Before I give my reasons for saying this, let’s look at the passage from Arrian that Heckel cites,

Four officers – Polysperchon, Attalus, Gorgias, and Meleager – were left in Bactria with instructions to destroy all natives who had refused submission and to keep a sharp look-out for any further trouble… Alexander himself, after crossing into Sogdiana, divided his remaining strength into five, one division to be commanded by Hephaestion, another by Ptolemy, son of Lagus, a third by Perdiccas, a fourth by Coenus and Artabazus. The fifth he took over himself and proceeded with it in the direction of Marakanda, while the other four commanders carried out offensive operations as opportunity offered, storming the forts where some of the native tribesmen were trying to hold out, or receiving the voluntary surrender of others.
(Arrian IV.16)

So, how does Heckel seek to denigrate Hephaestion?

He does so by minimising the importance of the campaign in terms of the objective (it was about no more than the capture of a few ‘small fortresses’), the number of men involved (five divisions) and its geographic range (Sogdia).

By doing so Heckel implies that the campaign made no great contribution to Hephaestion’s standing as an officer. This allows him to still refer to Hephaestion as ‘relatively inexperienced’ when he and Perdiccas travel to the Indus River to build a bridge for the Macedonian army to cross – even though it is now 326 and the son of Amyntor has been with the expedition since its start in 334 and involved in all its major battles and movements!

When Heckel says that the mission involved no more than ‘win[ning] back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled’ he makes it out to be no more than a footnote in the story of Alexander’s expedition.

However, I would suggest that there are no minor campaigns when one is seeking to end an insurrection across two countries (see below). That the 328 campaign was more than just capturing a few forts is certainly suggested by the length of time the mission took to complete. As Heckel says, it started in Spring. He goes on to state that it ended in summer. Two, three months to break into a few forts?

Number of Men Involved
Heckel says that Alexander split the army into five. To be fair, this is true – but only to a point. That is because Alexander had already divided the army in Bactria. As Arrian tells us, he gave Attalus, Gorgias, Polyperchon and Meleager orders to pacify that country.

Ultimately, if the Bactria commanders all had sole commands, the Macedonian army ended up being split into no less than nine parts across two countries. And all for the sake of a few ‘small fortresses’.

Geographic Range
As Arrian makes clear, the 328 campaign took place in Bactria and Sogdia. The Bactria commanders’ orders were not, in my opinion, materially different to those of the Sogdia commanders.

For his part, Heckel does not say outright ‘the campaign only took place in Sogdia’ but that he wants us to think that it did is implied by his reference to the army only splitting into five rather than six – nine depending on whether the Bactria commanders were given sole commands.

In 328 B.C., Alexander was faced with a crisis of control. Two countries had risen up against him. If he was to put the rebellion down, he not only needed to divide his army but place each division under the command of a man who he knew would be able to lead it bravely, intelligently (especially important after the Pharnuches fiasco the previous year) and strongly. One of the commanders he chose for that job was Hephaestion. Amyntoros’ speciality may have been in non-military missions (as Heckel notes) but his appointment to a sole command for this one proves to me that he knew how to lead as well. I have great respect for Waldemar Heckel’s writing but I don’t agree with his assessment of the 328 campaign or its denigration of Hephaestion.

The Other Sources

  • Curtius (VII.10.13) appears (see below) to refer only briefly to 328 Spring-Summer campaign. He says nothing about the Macedonian army being split up and states that Alexander ended the insurrection in just three days.
    Having said that, the notes to my Penguin Classics edition of Curtius’ History suggest that his insurrection may actually be a reference to ‘the activities of Arsaces of Aria and Brazanes, who opposed Phrataphernes in Parthyaea’, and which Arrian covers at IV.7. If that is so, his account is wrong, for as the notes point out – Arsaces and Brazanes were brought to Alexander (in chains during the winter of 329/8). The king did not go after them.
  • Alexander’s Bactrian-Sogdian campaign is missing from Diodorus’ account of his life due to a lacuna in the manuscript.
  • Plutarch does not discuss the Bactrian-Sogdian campaign.
  • Justin (XII.5) refers to Alexander city building in Bactria and Sogdia but says nothing about his campaigning there


Categories: On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Master of the Battle and Green Field

VI. Division 
Read the other posts in this series

Alexander… after crossing into Sogdiana, divided his remaining strength into five, one division to be commanded by Hephaestion, another by Ptolemy, son of Lagus, a third by Perdiccas, a fourth by Coenus and Artabazus. The fifth he took over himself…
(Arrian IV.16)


Alexander arrived in Bactria in the Spring of 329 B.C. hot on the trail of Bessus. After a brief stop in Zariaspa to give his men time to recover from their crossing of the Hindu Kush, the Macedonian king led his army north. The chase ended on the Sogdian side of the Oxus River when Bessus was betrayed by his officers and handed over to Ptolemy*.

The capture of Bessus did not signify the end of Alexander’s presence in Sogdia or Bactria. Not long later, what appears to have been a multi-tribal native army, or armed force (Arrian III.30), attacked Macedonian foragers. Then, natives who lived in settlements along the Jaxartes (aka Tanais) River (A IV.1-4) rebelled against their new overlords. ‘They were joined in this hostile move by most of the people of Sogdiana… [and] some of the Bactrians’ (A IV.2). It would take Alexander nearly two years to pacify Bactria and Sogdia. It would never know peace, however.

After putting down the rebellion along the Jaxartes River, Alexander decided to cross the Jaxartes to attack some Scythians who had gathered there hoping to ‘join in an attack upon the Macedonians in the event of a serious rising’ (A IV.4), and suffered the loss of 2,300 men at the hands of a joint Scythian-native force led by Spitamenes who had decided to rebel against him (A IV.5-6).

Amidst all these events, Alexander was wounded twice and suffered a serious bout of dysentery. Operations continued until winter, which Alexander spent in Zariaspa.


The following Spring, Alexander led his men out of the city to deal with native settlements who had closed their gates to the governor. The unrest was so widespread Alexander was forced to divide his army up in order to deal with all the trouble.

Responsibility for bringing Bactria to heel was divided between Attalus, Gorgias, Meleager, and Polyperchon. I presume they acted independently of one another at this time but the text isn’t clear.

As for Sogdia, as we see from the quotation at the top of the post, the army was divided into five between Alexander himself, Hephaestion, Ptolemy, Perdiccas, and Coenus and Artabazus.

By-the-bye, the Sogdian operation is only the second time that Arrian has mentioned Hephaestion in the context of a military operation (the first being at [3] below). Here is a quick reminder of his previous appearances-

  1. I.12 During the visit to Troy
  2. II.13 In Sisygambis’ tent when she mistook him for Alexander
  3. III.15 Casualty list following the Battle of Gaugamela
  4. III.27 Given joint-command of the Companion Cavalry
  5. IV.12-13 Talking to Alexander the night Callisthenes failed to bow to the king

I don’t mention this in order to suggest that Hephaestion was not a good soldier. The picture we have of him in Arrian is Arrian’s own after Ptolemy and Aristobulos and such other sources as he has cared to use.

If anything, the grant of an independent command shows that Alexander clearly trusted his friend’s military capabilities. The times were simply too dangerous for the king to be handing divisions of his army over to friends just because they were friends.

Once the commands had been handed out, the

… four commanders carried out offensive operations as opportunity offered, storming the forts where some of the native tribesmen were trying to hold out, or receiving the voluntary surrender of others.
(A IV.16)

When these were completed, the generals returned in Marakanda. Hephaestion did not stay long, for Alexander sent him back out to ‘to plant settlements in the various towns’ (Arrian IV.16)

So, one minute a general, the next a settlement planner. Hephaestion was definitely a man of diverse talents. And we may talk of him as being very talented because his name crops up again and again when Alexander requires some kind of non-offensive operation to be completed.

For example,

332 Summer ‘Hephaestion conveys the fleet and the siege-equipment from Tyre to Gaza’
331 H. receives ‘a young Samian named Aristion, whom Demosthenes had sent in an effort to bring about a reconciliation with Alexander’
330 H. part of the ‘consilium’ that decided Philotas’ fate
328/7 H. collects ‘provisions for the winter’
327 Spring ‘Hephaestion and Perdiccas… sent ahead into India with a substantial force to act as an advance guard’


Alexander used him regularly for non-military operations: the founding of cities, the building of bridges and the securing of communications.

All the above quotes, including the last one, come from Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great by Waldemar Heckel (Wiley-Blackwell 2009) pp. 133-4. The final quote above ends ‘[these] constitute Hephaestion’s major contribution’. Obviously, Heckel has no great opinion of Hephaestion as a general. In my opinion, Arrian proves him wrong.

For the record, Heckel describes the five pronged operation in Sogdia as being ‘a mission that appears to have done little more than win back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled’ (ibid). I must emphasise that I don’t speak from a position of expertise here but I can’t believe that Alexander would feel the need to divide his army up for such a minor task.

* Or directly to Alexander – see Arrian III.30

Categories: Hephaestion Amyntoros | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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