Posts Tagged With: Illyria

Arrian I.1.1-13

In This Chapter
Arrian’s account of Alexander’s life is titled Anabasis Alexandrou, which means ‘Alexander’s Expedition’. For this reason, Arrian begins his account of Alexander’s life with Philip II’s murder and Alexander’s accession to the throne of Macedon.

Having established his kingship Alexander marched on the Peloponnese where he asked the ‘Peloponnesian Greeks’ to give him ‘leadership of the campaign against Persia’, a role previously granted to Philip. Everyone except the Spartans, who believed only in leading rather than being lead, agreed.

Arrian mentions in passing that Athens stirred in opposition to Alexander but that his quick arrival put an end to it. Alexander was given various honours by the city and returned home.

Alexander became king of Macedon in October 336BC. Arrian now jumps forward to Spring 335BC and the new king’s campaign to secure Macedon’s northern borders before heading east.

Alexander marched into Thrace where he confronted Triballian and Illyrian forces. In his first battle as king (as recorded by Arrian, of course), Alexander used a very inventive tactic in order to nullify a potentially catastrophic threat.

Alexander and his army came to the foot of the Haemus mountains. Above them stood a rag tag army of locals and ‘independent Thracians’. They had with them carts which they intended to push down the side of the mountain and into the Macedonian army.

Had this tactic worked, it would have thrown the Macedonian army into disarray, making the job of repelling it – perhaps even destroying it – that much easier. Seeing what the enemy intended to do, however, Alexander ordered his men to do one of two things; either (a) part ways so that the oncoming carts simply rolled down empty channels either side of them, or, where that was not possible, (b) lie down with their shields on their backs so that the carts rolled over them. The Macedonian soldiers did both these things and as a result, Arrian tells us, suffered no deaths. With their best chance of defeating the Macedonian army having rolled away, the locals and independent Thracians were easily defeated in the scrappy battle that followed.

Thoughts
How do the other Alexander Historians begin their works? Well, both Diodorus and Justin begin at the same point as Arrian – with Philip’s death and Alexander’s accession to the throne. The first two books of Curtius have been lost so we don’t know where he begins. Only Plutarch tells us anything about Alexander’s early life. In reading it, though, we have to be careful as there is a fair amount of mythologising and propaganda there.

Arrian glosses over the manner of Alexander’s accession and what happened after. In fact, in regards the latter, he has next to nothing to say, which is odd because it is relevant to his focus – a military history of Alexander’s life. For more information, we have to turn to Diodorus.

By the way, Diodorus gives us the first opportunity to ask which of the sources might be more accurate. Diodorus says that when Alexander became king Evaenetus was archon of Athens while Arrian says it was Pythdelus – who is right? Or are these two names for one man?

It isn’t clear from Arrian whether Athens folded after Alexander’s quick arrival at Athens or elsewhere. Diodorus tells us that it happened after the Macedonian king’s arrival in Boeotia, to confront Thebes, which had rebelled against him.

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The Diplomatic King

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 113 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Receives Envoys and Embassies

The Story
For thirteen years, Alexander had lived as a warrior-king. Now, upon his return to Babylon, he took off his armour, exchanged his helmet for a diadem and sat upon his throne. There was much to be done.

Envoys ‘from practically all the inhabited world’ came to visit him. Some wished to congratulate Alexander on his conquests, others brought crowns, others still came to conclude ‘treaties of friendship and alliance’ or to ‘defend themselves against accusations’.

Among those who came to the royal palace were envoys from Asia and Europe, from Libya, Carthage, Libyphoenicia and from ‘as far as the Pillars of Hercules’. Envoys from Greece, Macedon, Illyria, the Adriatic and Thrace and even Gauls also arrived. Of the Gauls, Diodorus says they were the first of their kind to become known ‘in the Greek world’.

Alexander arranged the order in which he would see each embassy. It was arranged along thematic lines.

  1. Those who had come to discuss ‘matters concerning religion’
  2. Those ‘who brought gifts’
  3. Those ‘who had disputes with their neighbours’
  4. Those who had internal problems
  5. Those who did not want to let their exiles return

Diodorus now gives what I presume is the order in which he met those who wished to discuss religious matters. He met them, Diodorus says, in ‘order of importance of [their] sanctuaries’.

  1. Eleians
  2. Ammonians
  3. Delphians
  4. Corinthians
  5. Epidaurians
  6. Unnamed others

What was Alexander like as a king? Well, Diodorus gives a positive view saying that he strove to give satisfying answers all who came to him, and send them away ‘content as far as he was able’.

Comments
Chapter 113 opens with Diodorus’ usual formula for indicating that a new year has started. He names Agesias as the new archon at Athens. According to the Footnotes, Agesias – or Hegesias as the ‘Attic inscriptions’ call him – took up that role in the summer of 324 B.C. However, Alexander returned to Babylon in the spring of 323 B.C.

I said in a previous post that one of my images of Alexander is that he was a great general but rubbish administrator. Well, this chapter assures me that that wasn’t the case. When he put his mind to it (even if only then) he could do the job well.

A couple of things about Alexander the administrator-king jump out at me.

Firstly, the fact that he put religious matters first in his order of importance. For a while now I have been thinking about how important religion was to him. I wonder if it gets as much attention from historians as it perhaps ought to.

Secondly. I raised an eyebrow when I saw Elis appear before the Ammonians. I am presuming that the latter are either from Siwah or another sanctuary dedicated to Ammon. However, I have just looked Elis up on Wikipedia and found that that is where Olympia is located. A part of me is still a little surprised that the Ammonians were not seen first but I can now understand why.

To the above, I would add that as we draw to the end of Diodorus’ account of Alexander’s life, I get no impression from him that in his later days, Alexander became a megalomaniac who drank too much.

Membership of Alexander’s first diplomatic corps
was a little unbalanced

Greek_Phalanx

Picture from Wikipedia

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The Fall of Thebes

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 8, 9, 11-14 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

Headlines
Alexander Dead: Exclusive Report
[Correction: In yesterday’s paper we reported that Alexander III, son of Philip II had died; this has been proved incorrect by the sight of him outside our city. The man responsible for this unfortunate error has been executed]
Thebes Falls: Many Dead, Captured
Demosthenes’ Swords: A Futile Gesture by a Worthless Man – Comment by Aeschines

The Story
After our detour into Asia Minor yesterday we return to Greece and her neighbours today. At the beginning of Chapter 8, Diodorus explains that upon subduing the Greek city-states, Alexander entered Thrace to deal with the tribes there who had risen up against him. Once that had been done, he marched west to Paeonia and Illyria. He was still fighting there when he received word ‘that many of the Greeks were in revolt’. If I read Diodorus correctly, Alexander immediately broke off his Paeonian/Illyrian campaign and headed south to confront his new enemies.

Diodorus focuses his narrative on Thebes. Determined to recover their freedom, the Thebans put the Macedonian garrison in the Cadmeia under siege. They built ‘deep trenches and heavy stockades’ to ensure that no ‘reinforcements [or] supplies’ could be taken in. Messengers were sent to other Greek cities – Diodorus names Arcadia, Argos and Elis – to ask for their help. An appeal was also sent to Athens.

For his part, Demosthenes sent weaponry to Thebes. However, while various cities sent soldiers, these did not enter the city but hung back to see which way the war with Macedon went.

When Alexander arrived at the city, the Thebans held a vote to determine how to proceed. The hawks got their way and the council voted unanimously to fight. Outside the city gates, Alexander made no move. He could not imagine that ‘a single city would… dare to match forces’ with his army. Diodorus says that the king had 30,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry ‘all battle-seasoned veterans’.

In Diodorus’ opinion, had the Thebans come to terms with Alexander, the king would have let the city have whatever it wanted because he was more interested in beginning his war against the Persian Empire. Sadly, ‘… he realized that he was despised by the Thebans, and so decided to destroy the city utterly…’

The Destruction of Thebes

Phase 1 Alexander invited any Theban who wished to ‘enjoy the peace… common to all the Greeks’ to leave their city and join him. The Thebans retorted ‘that anyone who wished to join the Great King and Thebes in freeing the Greeks and destroying the tyrant of Greece should come over to them’.

Phase 2 Being called a tyrant angered Alexander intensely. Diodorus says that he ‘flew into a towering rage’. He began building siege engines and preparing for battle.

Phase 3 After only three days preparation, Alexander was ready to begin his assault of Thebes. He divided his army into three divisions:

  • One to attack the palisades in front of the city
  • One ‘to face the Theban battle line’
  • One to be kept in reserve

The Thebans set up the defence of their city in this way:

  • Cavalry were stationed behind the palisades
  • Enfranchised slaves, refugees and resident aliens were placed at the city walls
  • Thebans were stationed in between the palisades and city walls to fight the Macedonians about Alexander

Phase 4 The battle cry went up and the Macedonian army approached the city. Both sides showered each other with missiles.

Phase 5 Hand-to-hand fighting followed the deadly rainfall. The Macedonians fought in phalanx formation. Diodorus says that while the Macedonians were numerically superior, the Thebans were stronger due to their ‘constant training in the gymnasium’.

The battle was long and bloody. The Macedonians were encouraged to ‘not… be unworthy of their previous exploits’ while the Thebans were reminded of the parents, wives and children whose lives depended on them. Great play was also made of Thebes’ past military successes, for example, at the Battle of Leuctra and Mantineia.

Phase 6 ‘At length Alexander saw that the Thebans were still fighting unflinchingly… but that his Macedonians were wearying’. He brought his reserve into the attack. This move reaped immediate results and many Thebans were killed.

Phase 7 And yet, the city was not ready to surrender itself into Alexander’s hands. Theban soldiers shouted that the Macedonians were ‘openly’ confessing to be their inferiors. Indeed, Diodorus suggests that they drew strength from having to fight the fresh Macedonian soldiers.

Phase 8 As the battle raged, Alexander noticed a postern gate ‘that had been deserted by its guards’. He ordered Perdiccas to break into the city through it. He and ‘a large detachment of troops’ broke the gate down and entered the city without being seen.

Phase 9 Once the Thebans realised that their defences had been compromised, they withdrew into the city. Unfortunately, their retreat was disorganised. Cavalrymen trampled over infantry before, in their haste to escape the Macedonians, falling off their horses and onto their swords.

Phase 10 At the same time as the Thebans were retreating, the Macedonian garrison in the Cadmeia broke out and fell upon the enemy. The Thebans’ disorder allowed the garrison soldiers to carry out ‘a great slaughter’ of men.

Phase 11 The fight for Thebes was violent even by the standards of the time. Diodorus informs us that the Macedonian army was ‘enraged’ by the Theban proclamation (phase two, above). They yelled curses and slew ‘all whom they met without sparing any’. Despite the wrath being visited upon them, the Thebans continued to defend their city. None would be ever seen ‘begging the Macedonians to spare his life’ and neither ‘did they in ignoble fashion fall and cling to the knees of their conquerers’.

Phase 12 As the Macedonian army rampaged through the city, all her buildings were pillaged and ‘[e]verywhere boys and girls were dragged into captivity as they wailed piteously the names of their mothers’. ‘[C]hildren and women and aged persons who had fled into the temples were torn from sanctuary and subjected to outrage without limit’

It is worth remembering that the Macedonian army did not fight the Thebans alone. Diodorus says that other Greeks did so alongside them; he names Thespians, Plataeans and Orchomenians as well as some others. In the Footnotes, we learn that, Justin added Phocians to that list. Conversely, Plutarch and Arrian only name the Phocians and Plataeans.

Aftermath
6,000+ Thebans were killed in the battle.
30,000+ Thebans were captured and sold into slavery (earning Alexander 440 talents of silver).

Once the battle was over, Alexander buried the Macedonian dead – over 500 in number. He then held a meeting with the representatives of the Greek cities in his army to discuss what should be done with Thebes itself. Now was the time for score settling. Destroy it, some of the representatives said; after all, Thebes allied herself to Persia during the Greek Wars. Other reasons were also given but Diodorus does not name them. A vote was taken and it was agreed that the city should be razed to the ground. Here is what the meeting decided:

  • Raze Thebes
  • Sell all prisoners
  • Outlaw Theban exiles from Greece
  • Prohibit all Greeks from sheltering Thebans

Comments
Diodorus covers Alexander’s Thracian campaign in a matter of lines. Fortunately, Arrian is on hand to tell us more about it in the first chapter of his account of Alexander’s life. I wonder why Diodorus treats it so briefly. Did he not regard it as being important? Was that why he wrote only briefly about the Battle of Chaeronea?

Something else that Diodorus fails to tell us much (actually, anything) about is why the Thebans revolted. Again, Arrian fills in the gaps. According to him, an anti-Macedonian party managed to persuade the Thebans that Alexander had died.

With friends like these… Nothing says cynical more than the actions of the Greek cities who sent soldiers to Thebes’ aid presumably with orders not to actually enter the city until they knew which way the fight was going. Diodorus makes no issue of this rather unsatisfactory state of affairs so I suppose it was an accepted part of ‘helping’ your neighbour back then, but really; no one could have liked it, could they?

Reading Diodorus’ account of the fight for Thebes has not been the easiest experience. By modern standards, it was a very nasty affair, indeed. Credit has to go to the Thebans for fighting so well. On a different occasion, perhaps Alexander would have treated them more leniently afterwards. If only they had not insulted him.

Perdiccas at the postern gate reminds me of an incident much later on in Alexander’s career, which I have been reading about lately. During his Sogdian campaign, Alexander laid siege to Cyropolis. As his men assaulted the city, Alexander noticed a dry river bed running out of it. The tunnel through which the river (during winter) ran was large enough for a man to crawl through. So, that’s exactly what Alexander and a few others did. Once again, Arrian covers that story. The Footnotes here say that Perdiccas may have carried out a similar manoeuvre at Halicarnassus.

Speaking of the Footnotes, they also note that whereas Diodorus states that Perdiccas broke through the postern gate during the fighting, Arrian (citing Ptolemy as his source) says that it happened at the outset and that Perdiccas acted without Alexander’s authorisation. Ptolemy also states that Perdiccas was badly injured during the assault, which Diodorus does not. I’ve seen this incident cited as proof that Ptolemy was bad-mouthing Perdiccas, although if he was writing his book in old age he would have no need to. Could it be evidence that Ptolemy wrote his narrative between 323 – 321 B.C.?

Unintended Consequences

  • The price of slaves must have plummeted due to the sudden influx of so many onto the market
  • The cost of building a must also have decreased thanks to all the Theban rubble that was now available
  • The Greek economy must have suffered at least a little due to Thebes’ fall. It was an important city and surely contributed a great deal to the wealth of the country.
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