Posts Tagged With: Granicus River

Arrian I.13.1-7

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.

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Arrian I.12.1-10

In This Chapter
From Troy to Priapus

Chapter Twelve can be broken down into three parts:

  1. Alexander at Troy
  2. Arrian’s Second Preface
  3. 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.

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