Several months ago, I bought a copy of Ghost on the Throne by James Romm. The sub-title to the book explains what it is about: The Death of Alexander the Great and the Bloody Fight for His Empire.
To date, the only other book dedicated to the wars of the Successors that I have read has been Robin Waterfield’s Dividing the Spoils. As I write these words I am 170 pages into the 322 page long book, and I have to say I am not enjoying it as much as I did Dividing the Spoils. Not because I think Romm is a bad historian but because Waterfield is simply a better write. He has the rare gift of making his text flow easily off the page.
Having said that, Ghost on the Throne is a well written book; it is also very well laid out. Romm not only sub-divides his chapters but gives the latter their own titles so that you know exactly where and when you are in the story.
As for me, I have seen the death of Leonnatus in the Lamian War, and the death of Alexander’s half-sister, Cynnane, as she travelled east to marry her daughter, Adea, to Philip III. Coming up is Ptolemy’s theft of Alexander’s body and the death of the most popular living Macedonian at this time, Craterus.
Out of what I have read so far, two facts mentioned by Romm have really jumped out at me. I think I knew them already but for whatever reason they have made a strong impression on me now.
The first is that only Macedonian kings could marry more than one woman at a time. This was a big shame for Perdiccas – if noblemen could have practiced polygamy, he could have married Nicaea, Antipater’s daughter, and Cleopatra, Alexander’s only full-sister, and put himself in an all but unassailable position if he wished – as he surely did – to make a bid for the Macedonian throne. As it was, he had to pick one with the inevitable result that he would insult the parent of the other.
The second is how – between the cavalry and infantry – utterly divided the Macedonian army was. Even though I know very well what happened after Alexander died – how the infantry demanded that Arrhidaeos be made king while the cavalry decided on Roxane’s as yet unborn child, and the way in which the infantry more or less ran the cavalry out of town before a reconciliation was reached – reading about it again is still astonishing.
The fault line between infantry and cavalry seems to have been absolute. No cavalry or infantrymen joined the other side. How could they have been so opposed to each other? Had the rebellions at the Hyphasis river or at Opis divided them? Or would they have still turned on each other if Alexander had died without ever going to Asia? Whatever the answer, the fact that he managed to hold the two sides together and make sure a brilliant fighting force out of them speaks many volumes for his charisma and intelligence.
Credit Where It’s Due
Front cover of Ghost on the Throne: Goodreads
In the summer of 325 B.C., Alexander lead his men across the Gedrosian Desert. According to Arrian (VI.24) ‘[t]he result was disastrous’. When their provisions ran out, the men started slaughtering their pack animals. When their water skins ran dry, they themselves began to fall by the wayside.
Did Alexander make his army cross the desert as a punishment for its mutiny at the Hyphasis River? Perhaps, but I am not so sure. Arrian says that he chose the route
… because, apart from Semiramis on her retreat from India, no one, to his knowledge, had ever before succeeded in bringing an army safely through.
It is debatable as to whether this is true or not. Arrian says that Semiramis came out of the desert ‘with no more than twenty survivors’. Hardly an army. He also implies that Cyrus the Great crossed the desert. He too survived, with ‘an army’ – all seven of it.
Alexander, therefore, saw an opportunity to outdo Semiramis and Cyrus both. This is far more consistent with his character than believing he wanted to punish his men*.
* Arrian also notes that Alexander took the desert route in order to stay in touch with Nearchus’ fleet and obtain supplies for him.
Whatever reason Alexander entered the desert, when he left it, he came into a country named Carmania. It was ‘a well-populated’ land, one that was free and fertile. There, Alexander let his army rest before continuing. When the march did resume, the men wore ‘festive dress’. Alexander himself ‘led a Dionysian comus, feasting and drinking as he travelled’.
Diodorus gives no further details about Carmania. It is not hard to imagine, however, that this celebration was a very bittersweet one, perhaps here the men drank to forget as much as to remember (as at Persepolis).
For the first and last time, Arrian is more descriptive about a celebration than Diodorus. On the flip side, he does not believe what he has read. He describes the Carmanian episode as ‘improbable’. It is not mentioned, he notes, either by Ptolemy or Aristobulos, or, indeed by ‘any other writer whom one might consider to give reliable evidence’.
So what has he read? What does he say? That-
Alexander rode through Carmania on a ‘double-sized chariot’
Which ‘he reclined [in] with his intimate friends’
While they listened ‘to the music of flutes’ (perhaps a favourite instrument – we saw flutists at Persepolis, yesterday)
As Alexander relaxed, his men ‘accompanied him making merry’
Provisions never ran out – the Carmanian people provided everything along the way that the Macedonians needed
This journey was a conscious imitation of Dionysus’ thriambi (triumphs) which he led after conquering India
At Dium and Persepolis, sacrifices to the gods formed part of the celebrations. On the authority of Aristobulos, Arrian says that Alexander also held sacrifices in Carmania. On this occasion, he offered them for his own conquest of India and safe passage across the Gedrosian desert. And as before, there were also games – athletics and literary.
Arrian’s ‘improbable story’ is Curtius’ statement of fact. Alexander ‘decided to imitate [Dionysus’] procession’. Orders were given
… for villages along his route to be strewn with flowers and garlands, and for bowls full of wine and other vessels of extraordinary size to be set out on the thresholds of houses.
Alexander and his friends wore garlands and listened to the music of flute and lyre. About them on their ‘cart’ lay scattered ‘golden bowls and huge goblets’.
It wasn’t only Alexander who travelled in this way. Wagons were joined together so that they became moving tents (‘some with white curtains, others with costly material’) in which ordinary soldiers could relax.
That’s what Curtius says Alexander did. But what is his’ opinion of it all? Has he calmed down from his rabid description of sex in Babylon and Thaïs at Persepolis?
Alexander’s imitation of Dionysus was an example of ‘his pride soaring above the human plane’.
As such it was a deeply irresponsible act.
For seven days, the army marched drunk and in a state of disorder. It was
… an easy prey if the vanquished races had only had the courage to challenge riotous drinkers – why, a mere 1,000 men, if sober, could have captured this group.
I don’t think Curtius has ever been near a group of riotous drinkers. If he had, he would know that they would not prove as easy to subdue as he thinks!
Be that as it may, despite the Macedonians ‘sheer recklessness’ (for Carmania had not yet been subdued – that’s a fair point) fortune favoured Alexander and his men and ‘turned even this piece of disgraceful soldiering into a glorious achievement!’.
According to Plutarch, the Carmanian march ‘developed into a kind of Bacchanalian procession’. It lasted for seven days, during which Alexander feasted continually. He and his friends reclined on a ‘dais’ pulled by eight horses.
‘Innumerable wagons’ followed them. There’s no mention of white curtains here, but ‘purple or embroidered canopies’.
While Curtius says that the soldiers decorated their wagons ‘with their finest arms’, Plutarch states that no weapons or armour were to be seen.
Something that was able to be seen were men ‘drinking as they marched’ while ‘others [lay] sprawled by the wayside’.
Plutarch agrees with Arrian that musicians were present. In fact, ‘the whole landscape resounded with the music of pipes and flutes’. And more – ‘with harping and singing and the cries of women rapt with divine frenzy’. Hopefully, for the men’s well-being, they did not have any snakes with them.
Plutarch adds that more than just drinking was involved on this march. He says that ‘all the other forms of bacchanalian licence attended this straggling and disorderly march, as though the god were present’.
After a week, Alexander arrived at the Palace of Gedrosia. There, the army was rested and was permitted to celebrate another festival. One day, ‘after he had drunk well’, Alexander watched a dancing and singing competition in which his favourite eunuch, Bagoas, was competing.
Bagoas won. He sat beside the king. The Macedonians applauded him
… and shouted to Alexander to kiss the winner, until at last the king put his arms around him and kissed him.
This is an interesting end to the chapter. Bagoas, after all, represented a world that the Macedonians did not approve of and, if he had the kind of influence over Alexander that the Orsines Affair (Curtius X.1.26-38) suggests, a power that they could not have appreciated. Yet, there they are treating him in a playful manner. My belief is that Curtius exaggerated Bagoas’ role in Orsines’ downfall, and I think this scene provides indirect evidence of that.
Carmania in Short Reason To give thanks for being alive Duration One week Outstanding Features That anyone was still alive to celebrate it Result A nice moment for Bagoas
The Nature of Curtius Book Nine Chapter 1-4 For other posts in the series clickhere
Chapter One The Indian Interior Alexander celebrated victory over Porus with ‘a sacrifice of animals to the Sun’. He had much to thank Helios for as the god had ‘opened up to him the limits of the east’.
Later, Alexander told his men that the Indian strength had been ‘shattered’ and all that was left was ‘rich plunder’. His next decision showed that he now considered the end of the expedition to be nigh – Alexander gave instructions for ‘ships to be constructed so that after completing his expedition across Asia he might visit the sea at the world’s end’.
The ships were built using wood from trees in mountainside forests. As the Macedonians cut the trees down, they disturbed ‘snakes of extraordinary size’. Curtius says they also sighted rhinoceroses on the mountains.
Back at the Hydaspes, Alexander founded two cities on either side the river. They were named Nicaea and Bucephala* (after his horse, Bucephalas).
From the Hydaspes, Alexander now ‘crossed the river** and marched into the interior of India’.
At this point, Curtius pauses for a moment to give us a few more details regarding India’s geography. He tells us that its ‘climate is healthy’, with ‘plentiful supplies of spring-water’ and shade thanks to the ‘almost interminable tracts of countryside [which] were covered with forests’. These woods were comprised of ‘tall trees that reached extraordinary heights’.
Curtius mentions one particular tree that had branches ‘like huge tree-trunks [which] would bend down to the ground where they would turn and rise once more, creating the impression of being not a branch rising up again but a tree generated from an independent root’. This is the Banyan tree, which Diodorus also mentions (see here).
Lest we get too comfortable with the idea of India, however, Curtius has a warning for us – ‘large numbers of snakes’ also lived in the country. They ‘had scales which emitted a golden gleam and a venom of unique virulence’. In fact, it was so potent a bite would lead to instant death. Fortunately, Alexander was able to obtain the antidote from natives.
From all that Curtius has told us about India it doesn’t sound like the kind of place that would have a desert. Nevertheless, he says that it was after Alexander had crossed one that he came to the Hiarotis River***. I suspect Curtius’ definition of ‘desert’ is as flexible as his geography.
The Hiarotis was flanked by trees ‘not found elsewhere’. Wild peacocks also lived there. Leaving the river behind, Alexander attacked various tribes, including one whose city was ‘protected by a marsh’. It did not prevent the Macedonians from storming it.
Presently, Alexander came to Sophites’ kingdom. He submitted to the king and (during a banquet?) told Alexander about how fierce his people’s hunting dogs were. To prove it, he had four attack a captive lion. As they bit it, an attendant tugged at one of the dog’s legs. He didn’t let go. So the attendant ‘proceeded to cut off the leg with a knife’. But still the dog did not let go. The attendant, therefore, cut the dog in another part of its body – to no avail. It held firm. Finally, the attendant slashed at it. The dog died holding onto the lion.
Leaving Sophites, Alexander marched to the Hyphasis River.
* Although, see Chapter Three below where Curtius states that Nicaea and Bucephala were founded after his return to the Hydaspes from the Hyphasis River
** I presume that Curtius means Alexander crossed the Hydaspes once again as he has not given any indication of the Macedonians having left it after the founding of the two cities
*** aka the Hydraotis
Chapter Two The Hyphasis River
For two days, Alexander wondered if he should cross the Hyphasis at the point he had now reached. On the third day, he decided to do so.
The difficulty he faced was that the Hyphasis was very broad and ‘was obstructed with rocks’. While considering the matter, Alexander also discussed the river and what lay beyond it with a local client king named Phegeus whom he had ordered to join him.
Phegeus told Alexander that if he crossed the Hyphasis, he would have a twelve day journey until he came to the Ganges River. Crossing the Ganges would bring him to the Gangaridae and Prasii people who were ruled by a king named Aggrammes who had a mighty army at his disposal.
Phegeus quoted figures of 20,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots and 3,000 elephants. Incredulous at these figures, Alexander got a second opinion from Porus. He confirmed them but said that Aggrammes was a second rate monarch.
In the end, what concerned Alexander most was neither the size of Aggrammes’ army nor his elephants but ‘the terrain and the violence of the rivers’ – Phegeus must have told him of these during their conversation. He also doubted his soldiers’ commitment. Having grown old as they marched east, would they follow him ‘over rivers that blocked their path, over all the natural obstacles confronting them?’.
To find out, Alexander called his men together for an assembly during which he urged them to follow him east.
Chapter Three Coenus Speaks for the Men The assembly at the Hyphasis River continued with Coenus giving Alexander the army’s response. They had had enough. Alexander withdrew angrily to his tent. Three days later he emerged and gave the order for twelve giant altars to be built before they began the journey west.
Leaving the Hyphasis behind, Alexander marched to the Acesines River. There, Coenus died. Of natural causes? Or perhaps the victim of an angry king?
Back at the Hydaspes River, Alexander founded Nicaea and Bucephala for either the first or second time (see chapter one, above) and received reinforcements for the army. The ships that he had ordered to be built (chapter one again) were now ready and so the journey south to the Indian Ocean began.
Chapter Four Foreboding The Macedonian fleet sailed as far as the point ‘where the Hydaspes joins the Acesines’. From there, the ships entered the ‘the country of the Sibi’ who claimed descent from Alexander’s ancestor, Herakles.
Alexander marched inland to attack various tribes. One tribe placed 40,000 men on a river bank to stop the Macedonians from crossing it. They failed. After attacking another city, Alexander sailed round its citadel which was ‘protected by three of the largest rivers in India (the Ganges excepted)’ – the Indus to the north and ‘the confluence of the Acesines and the Hydaspes’ to the south.
The fleet sailed through the confluence down a narrow channel created by silt. At the meeting point of the Hydaspes and Acesines, the waters crashed against each other angrily, creating sea-like waves. So violent were these that two of the Macedonian ships were sunk and others beached. Alexander’s ship might also have gone down but for the efforts of his oarsmen. The ship still ran aground, but was at least safe.
The Macedonian army marched on. When it met a large joint Sudracae and Mallian force, the soldiers began to complain. ‘Alexander… had not terminated the war, only changed its location.’ And what if they destroyed the latest army to meet them? ‘Gloomy darkness and a never-ending night brooding over the deep’ awaited them, and ‘… a sea filled with shoals of savage sea-monsters… stagnant waters where dying nature had lost her power.’*
Alexander met his men, pacified them and defeated the joint Sudracae/Mallian army.
335 Liviusc.12th September Thebes is razed to the ground after rebelling against Alexander’s rule Peter Green* places the fall of Thebes in ‘early Spring’ The Landmark Arrian** says simply that it took place in Spring
333 Livius and Peter Green (September) Alexander falls ill after going to bathe in the Cydnus River in Cilicia. Parmenion sends word to him warning that Philip of Arcanania, the only royal doctor prepared to treat the king, has been bribed by Darius III to kill him. Alexander takes Philip’s medicine anyway and went on to make a full recovery The Landmark Arrian places Alexander’s illness in the Summer of 333
332 Livius (September – November) The Siege of Gaza The Landmark Arrian and Michael Wood*** both state that the Siege of Gaza took place in Autumn
326 Michael Wood (early September) Mutiny at the Hyphasis River Livius (September) Macedonian army starts construction of fleet of ships Michael Wood (Autumn) Macedonian Army returns to the Hydaspes River The Landmark Arrian (Autumn) Alexander begins journey down the Hydaspes and Acesines Rivers.
325 Livius (15th September) Nearchus ‘starts on his voyage’ [i.e. from Pattala, down the Indus River and into the Indian Ocean en route to the Euphrates River] Livius (September) Alexander crosses Gedrosia Peter Green (‘? September’) Macedonians cross the Gedrosian desert The Landmark Arrian (Autumn) Nearchus ‘prepares his fleet’. Subjection of the Oreitae. Many Macedonians die during crossing of Gedrosian desert
* Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
** The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
*** In the Footsteps Of Alexander the Great A Journey from Greece to India (BBC Books 2004)
This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know.
At the moment, Livius‘ chronology is the one by which I test the others. That may change; I’ll note it if it does.
Daily Diodorus Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 108 (Loeb Classical Library) Read the other posts in this serieshere
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.
Daily Diodorus Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 95, 96 (Loeb Classical Library) Read the other posts in this serieshere
Great Camp Assembled: A Different Kind of Shock and Awe
Congratulations to Bucephala and Nicaea on their Name Day
* Inside: Remembering the horse behind the name Sibians: A Present People, A Past Legend
Once the decision to return west had been taken, Alexander didn’t simply up sticks and depart. On the banks of the Hyphasis River he had his men construct altars to the dodekathaeon, fifty cubits (75 feet) high.
A camp perimeter was ‘traced’ at three times its normal size and a ditch ‘fifty feet wide and forty deep’ created. The displaced earth was used to make a great wall.
Inside the ‘camp’, men were ordered to build outsized beds and stables that were ‘twice the normal size’. Alexander wanted any natives passing this way to believe that ‘men of huge stature, displaying the strength of giants’ had once been here.
Only when the entire camp had been built in similarly exaggerated proportions did Alexander finally take his leave of the easternmost border of his empire.
From the Hyphasis, the Macedonian king returned to the Acesines River. There, he found the ships he had ordered to be built (see Chapter 89) ready and waiting for him.
But rather than board them and set sail straightaway, Alexander again paused. The ships needed to be fitted out and he wanted more built.
It was while the ships were being attended to and built that reinforcements arrived all the way from Greece. They comprised of Greek allied soldiers and mercenaries. In total they were 30,000 infantry and just under 6,000 cavalry. The soldiers came with ‘elegant suits of armour for 25,000 foot soldiers and a hundred talents of medical supplies’.
The armour and supplies were distributed to the men. By the time this was done, the fleet was again ready. It now comprised of ‘two hundred open galleys and eight hundred service ships’.
Alexander’s last act before finally setting sail was to name the two cities he had built on either side of the river. These became Nicaea on the western side and Bucephala on the eastern bank, where the battle against Porus had been fought.
Before I continue, I must pause to address two slightly confusing matters that you may have noticed.
i. I don’t know if it comes out as such, but when I wrote about the building of Nicaea and Bucephala in this post I did so under the impression that both cities were built on the eastern side of the river – Bucephala on the eastern bank and Nicaea further on. That this was the case was the impression I got from Diodorus’ text where he writes, ‘[Alexander] founded two cities, one beyond the river where he had crossed and the other on the spot where he had defeated Porus’. He now states that the cities were built ‘on either side of the river’.
ii. When Diodorus has Alexander name Nicaea and Bucephala he is still on the Acesines River. However, in Chapter 89 they are being built on (either side of) the Hydaspes. The Footnotes state that the Hydaspes is renamed the Acesines ‘after its confluence with the Sandabal and the Hyarotis’. If this is the case, Diodorus has been a bit lazy in saying the battle happened on the Hydaspes but at least it clears up the confusion… except that in Chapter 96, he ‘mentions the confluence of the Acesines and Hydaspes as if they were different’. The Footnotes suggest that the Acesines is the Sandabal river.
Alexander now set sail. The fleet was not large enough to carry the entire army, or even most of it; led by Craterus and Hephaestion, they marched down river. The Footnotes cite Arrian as saying Craterus marched on the right bank and Hephaestion on the left. Given their prickly relationship that was probably just as well.
At ‘the junction of the Acesines and the Hydaspes’ (see point ii above), Alexander disembarked and led his army ‘against the people called the Sibians’. Diodorus refers to the belief that they ‘are the descendants of the soldiers who came with Heracles to the rock of Aornus’ and ‘were settled in this spot by him’. It isn’t made clear whether Alexander knew this or not before he stepped off his ship.
Either way, no fighting happened. The ‘leading notables’ of the Sibians met him and handed over ‘magnificent gifts’. They ‘renewed their ties of kinship, and undertook to help him enthusiastically in every way, as being his relatives’. Alexander gave the Sibians their freedom and moved on.
The Agalesseis came next. Their army – 40,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry – formed up against the Macedonians. In the ensuing battle, Alexander killed most of the enemy. Some Agalesseians escaped from the carnage into ‘neighbouring cities’. These were put under siege and captured. Prisoners were sold as slaves.
Alexander also stormed ‘a large city in which twenty thousand persons had taken refuge’. There, his army appears to have sustained high losses in the street-by-street fighting. Angered by this, Alexander torched the city, burning most of the city’s inhabitants to death in the process. This sounds a very ugly moment. The Footnote, however, record Curtius as saying that the Indians themselves set fire to the city ‘to avoid subjection’.
The surviving Agalesseians withdrew to the city’s citadel. There, they ‘appealed for mercy with suppliant branches’. Despite his anger, or perhaps now becalmed, Alexander accepted their appeal.
Alexander’s building of a super-sized camp reminds me of the Anglo-Saxons’ reaction to the ruined Roman villas. They too thought they had been built by giants.
I wonder what the new arrivals from Greece felt like when they finally reached Alexander only to discover that they were going back the way they came again! Annoyed or quite happy?
When Arrian says that Craterus marched on the right bank and Hephaestion on the left I assume this is as you look down the river towards the Ocean; if so, Craterus would have been on the western bank and Hephaestion on the eastern.
Daily Diodorus Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 91-94 (Loeb Classical Library) Read the other posts in this serieshere
From Porus it shall be taken; to Porus it shall be given
Sopeithes: An Obsessive Quest for Perfection
Macedonians arrive at the Hyphasis River
Macedonian Army Rejects Further Progress
The Story Chapter 91
Alexander was on the march when he learnt that Porus’ cousin, also named Porus, ‘had left his kingdom and fled to the people of Gandara’. This annoyed the Macedonian king – had cousin-Porus not yet submitted to him? – and so ‘he sent Hephaestion with an army into his country’ so that it might be handed over ‘to the friendly Porus’.
As for Alexander, his next campaign was against the Adrestian people. He won their cities ‘partly by force and partly by agreement’.
Leaving the Adrestians behind, he now came to ‘the country of the Cathaeans’. Diodorus tells us that under Cathaean law, wives were cremated along with their husbands. The reason for the law, we are told, is that a wife had once murdered her husband. Alexander ‘captured their greatest and strongest city after much fighting and burned it’. He was besieging another ‘notable city’ in the region when its inhabitants surrendered to him.
Now, Alexander came to a group of cities under the rule of a king named Sopeithes. Diodorus says that his people were devoted to beauty. ‘From birth’, children were examined to make sure they were ‘well formed and designed by nature to have a fine appearance and bodily strength’. If they passed the test, they were were allowed to live. If they did not, they were killed.
Sopeithes himself was ‘strikingly handsome’. He was also smart. Seeing Alexander approach, he came out of his city and handed it over to him. In return, Alexander gave it back. No doubt relieved, Sopeithes put on a great feast for the Macedonians which lasted for several days.
Sopeithes gave Alexander a gift of 150 dogs ‘remarkable of their size and courage’. To ‘test their mettle’, Sopeithes put two of the worst in a cage with a lion. When the lion gained the upper hand, two more dogs were put in the cage. The four took control of the fight. As they did so, one of Sopeithes’ men slashed the leg of one of the dogs. Alexander protested at this only for Sopeithes to promise to give him three more dogs in replacement. Sopeithes’ man severed the dog’s leg. It ‘uttered neither yelp nor whimper’ until it collapsed due to blood loss.
Alexander was still with Sopeithes when Hephaestion returned having transferred cousin-Porus’ land to the friendly king of that name. The king congratulated him on his work and set off on campaign once more.
His next target was ‘the kingdom of Phegus’ who surrendered and ‘met the king with many gifts’. His reward was to be confirmed as king. The Macedonians were given another feast – this one lasting a mere two days before they took their leave.
Alexander now arrived at the Hyphasis River. Diodorus gives it as being seven furlongs in width, six fathoms in depth, and having a violent current.
As they stood on the river’s western bank, Alexander questioned Phegus about what lay beyond. Phegus told him that there was a desert that would take twelve days to cross; beyond that was another river – the Ganges – which was 32 furlongs (4 miles) in width. It was ‘the deepest of all the Indian rivers’.
What lay beyond the Ganges? A number of tribes – the Tabraesians and Gandaridae (to whom cousin-Porus had fled), ‘whose king was Xandrames’. He had an army of 20,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots, and 4,000 elephants.
Alexander didn’t believe these figures, so sought a second opinion from Porus. He confirmed them, but added that Xandrames ‘was an utterly common and undistinguished character, and was supposed to be the son of a barber’! Despite his low position, Xandrames’ father ‘had been handsome’. The queen fell in love with him and murdered her husband, presumably so that they could marry.
The figures were daunting but Alexander ‘was not discouraged’. ‘He had confidence in the fighting qualities’ of his men and still remembered what the Pythia had told him – that he would be ‘unconquerable’ – and how ‘Ammon had given him the rule of the whole world’.
But while Alexander had faith in his men, he also knew that they ‘were exhausted with their constant campaigns’. If they were to fight the Gandaridae, he needed to make ‘an effective appeal’ to them. Diodorus outlines the condition of Alexander’s army after ‘eight years among toils and dangers’.
The hooves of the horses had worn thin
‘[A]rms and armour were wearing out’
‘Greek clothing was quite gone’
The clothing had been replaced with Indian materials, which cannot have pleased the men. A further difficulty was the weather – it had been raining for seventy days ‘to the accompaniment of continuous thunder and lightning’.
Alexander gave thought to all this and decided that the best way to secure his men’s loyalty was to gain their ‘goodwill through gratitude’. So, he gave them permission to plunder the land they were in.
While the men were doing this, Alexander met their wives and children. To the former he promised a ‘monthly ration, to the children he distributed a service bonus in proportion to the military records of their fathers’.
Once the plundering was over, Alexander met his men in an assembly. He urged them to join him against the Gandaridae but his appeal fell on deaf ears. As a result of this, ‘he gave up the undertaking’.
The long journey home was about to begin.
Comments In his Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great, Waldemar Heckel goes out of his way to downplay Hephaestion’s military credentials. His appointment to command of half the Companion Cavalry was an act of ‘nepotism’; he was ‘a relatively inexperienced officer’ who had ‘no extraordinary abilities as a general’.
As I’m sure I’ve said before, if Alexander had wanted to act in a nepotistic manner towards Hephaestion, he would have promoted him long before 330 B.C. As it is, how Heckel can call him ‘relatively inexperienced’ after five years of campaigning – including three major battles – is beyond me. Finally, I might ask who of Alexander’s officers had ‘extraordinary abilities as a general’? The only two I can think of are Eumenes and Antigonus Monophthalmus. The others were very talented indeed but I would hesitate to call them men of genius.
And ultimately, so what if they weren’t all extraordinarily talented commanders? An army needs more than brilliant leaders to survive. It needs soldiers who can organise – Hephaestion, soldiers who can inspire – Black Cleitus and Craterus, soldiers who can influence – Ptolemy, stalwarts – unglamorous men who can get a job done – Perdiccas, and soldiers who are prepared to learn about the country they are in – Peucestas, and so on.
Diodorus’ comments regarding Sopeithes’ people’s obsession with beauty should make for uncomfortable reading for us today as it does not sound a million miles from the practice of gender selection or aborting unborn children when they are found to have a physical defect.
I gave Sopeithes the benefit of the doubt by calling him ‘smart’. It may well be that he surrendered to the Macedonians simply to protect his good looks.
Was there ever an occasion when a military leader tried to secure the loyalty of his men by appealing to their wives and children? I can’t think of it.
The perfunctory way in which Diodorus deals with the Macedonian army’s mutiny at the Hyphasis River is really quite remarkable. In fact, in his text, there is no mutiny. Alexander simply asks his men to follow him and they decline; he agrees, therefore, to turn back. It all sounds rather democratic.
Why did Alexander’s appeal to his soldiers fail? Some hurts are shallow and can be healed; others go much deeper and either heal more slowly or never at all. Reading between the lines, the latter was surely the case with the Macedonian soldiers.
But, one might say, shouldn’t they have been more grateful having just made themselves very rich through plunder? I doubt all the riches in the world would have persuaded the Macedonians to continue. To be rich is a good thing but wealth pales into utter insignificance against the anguish caused by mental and physical pain.