Posts Tagged With: Iolaus

Alexandria Eschate the Early City and other Suspect Statements

someone+wrong+on+the+internetIt might be me, but I think it’s them
Let’s find out.

We begin with what is probably less an error and more a typo in “Viewpoint: The UN Silk Road Exhibition and the Byzantine-Roman Influence” which appears on the Greek Reporter – USA website here. The article looks at an exhibition, which has just concluded at the United Nations in New York City. Of interest to us is the following,

“After Alexander The Great conquered the Persians, he established the city of Alexandria Eschate in 339 BCE in the Fergana Valley of Neb (modern Tajikistan)…”

As the quotation marks show, this passage is not the writer’s own; in fact (and as they indicate) it comes from the Ancient History Encyclopedia’s article on the Silk Road. Unfortunately, the AHE has got a bit ahead of itself here – in 339 BC, Alexander wasn’t even king of Macedon yet let alone founding a city in northern Sogdia. They, of course, meant 329.

My Source
The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010), p.xlvi


Moving on, we come to “Humans are killing machine [sic] with or without religion“, which appears on the TwoCircles website here. The article concerns the recent terrorist attack in Paris, France and contains the following statement.

Alexander, the great, conquered almost the whole world in his lifetime of 30 years. He could have lived in Greece with peace among his people. But he chose to go for war one after another with countries who were never his enemy. Millions of people were killed in the process of conquering the world, his own soldiers had lost desire to fight anymore and wanted to go back home but Alexander was adamant to move forward.

Was all that bloodshed for religion? No. Alexander wanted to be known as world conqueror in the history, his self-ego, greediness to rule over world were the reason for his madness. What did he get after so much bloodshed? He was killed by his own people. Why? Because they wanted the power and territory, which Alexander had won so far! Thus again for power to rule and self-pride.

These two paragraphs contain one straight forward inaccuracy and a number of very debatable points

Plain Wrong
… in his lifetime of 30 years Alexander died at the age of 32, shortly before his 33rd birthday

My Source
Arrian The Campaigns of Alexander (Penguin Books 1971) p.395

He could have lived in Greece with peace among his people My answer to this depends on what the writer means by ‘with peace’.

If he means Alexander could simply have chosen to live within his own borders and let the Greek city-states be for the duration of his reign, I would disagree. In my opinion – and if you think I am wrong, feel very free to tell me – Alexander had to subjugate the Greek city-states if for no other reason than not to do so would allow them to grow in power and risk them threatening Macedon’s borders, something they would want to do in order to take away from Macedon the power she cultivated under Philip.

If, however, the writer means Alexander could have lived in peace after subjugating Greece then I would agree with that. The only problem with that, though, is that kind of peace is not really worth the name.

… countries who were never his enemy It would be a bold man who said that none of the Greek city-states or Persian Empire were Alexander’s enemy. We could argue that individual countries within the Persian Empire were not Alexander’s enemy and indeed there were rulers who sought to avoid war with him. And when they did, on some if not all occasions, he settled things peacefully with them. The writer’s picture of Alexander as a man who fought continual wars for supremacy over the world is simply not accurate.

Millions of people were killed I wasn’t going to include this as I don’t have a list of figures regarding how many people died as a result of Alexander’s actions to hand. However, I thought I would do so a. As a means of publicising this fact in case anyone could refer me to a source which does give the numbers b. Because I am very suspicious of the writer’s claim. I have read all the main sources for Alexander’s life now and get no impression that Alexander’s kill-count was one million let alone ‘millions’. The writer seems to me to be afflicted with the same propensity to exaggerate as the ancient sources.

his madness If the writer is judging Alexander according to his own understanding of what constitutes madness then he is not judging the historical person of Alexander but his own, imaginary version, of the man. If, however, he has attempted to understand how the ancient Macedonians/Greeks defined madness and written accordingly then that would be a different matter. On that subject, I found this article at Psychology Today to be very helpful in terms of understanding how the Macedonians and Greeks saw madness.

He was killed by his own people Taken literally this statement is wrong. The Macedonians either in part or as a whole did not rise up against Alexander. If we take the writer to mean the people who are alleged to have assassinated him – Antipater, Cassander and Iolaus – then it is simply debatable. They could have murdered the king, they had a motive to do so (Antipater’s fear that Alexander intended to kill him), but it is surely significant that the first person to make the allegation was Alexander’s mother, Olympias, who was at that time locked in battle with Cassander, the last of the aforementioned three to survive.

they wanted the power and territory I was tempted to put this in the plain wrong category. If Alexander was assassinated by Antipater et al then it appears to have been for the sake of self-preservation rather than for ‘power and territory’.


Finally, good old Wikipedia. In its list of Achaemenid Kings it lists ‘Artaxerxes IV’ he being Bessus. Only a very creative definition of what makes someone a king can justify his inclusion. As all the sources show, Bessus was only ever a pretender – and, frankly, not a particularly good one at that. If Bessus is going to be included, the list of regents who looked after Alexander IV and Philip III Arrhidaeus really ought to mention Peithon and Arrhidaeus who held office between Perdiccas’ death and the council at Triparadeisus in 320 B.C.

* Full marks to anyone who noticed that the URL to this post reads ‘Alexander Eschate’ and not Alexandria Eschate! We live together, we love together, and we make mistakes together too.

Categories: On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Death of Alexander

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 116-118 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Mystery in Palace as Prisoner Sits on Royal Throne
Alexander Lost in Swamps
King Found: Diadem Worn By Oarsman
* Inside: A round up of all recent omens
King Falls Ill Following Party
Alexander Dies

The Story
Chapter 116
Hephaestion’s funeral was now over. For relief, Alexander ‘turned to amusements and festivals’. To the world it looked like ‘he was at the peak of his power and good fortune’ but Fate had other ideas and immediately that the festivities began ‘heaven… began to foretell [Alexander’s] death’.

Diodorus gives the example of two omens that portended this. The first involved a native who was kept in chains. One day, as Alexander was receiving a massage, those chains suddenly fell off. The native – presumably a prisoner of some sort – ran away from his guards and entered throne room. There, he took Alexander’s clothes and diadem and put them on before sitting down on the throne itself.

Upon being told what had happened, Alexander ‘was terrified’. He went to the native and asked him what he was about. The man made no reply. Alexander turned to his seers and asked them to interpret what had happened.

Diodorus doesn’t give their response but it was clearly negative to Alexander as it made him order the native’s execution in the hope ‘that the trouble which was forecast by his act might light upon the man’s own head’.

Once the native had been taken away, Alexander retrieved his clothing ‘and sacrificed to the gods who avert evil’. This pious act, however, was not enough to remove his worry about what the incident portended.

We have seen once or twice before how Alexander could have his mind changed with absurd ease by those underneath him. Diodorus gives an example of this when he described how the king decided to stay outside Babylon (Chapter 112 here). Curtius gives another when he tells how Bagoas poisoned Alexander’s mind against Orsines (10:1:24-38).

It now happens again. Diodorus says that Alexander ‘recalled the predictions of the Chaldaeans’ and became angry ‘with the philosophers who had persuaded him to enter Babylon’. In consequence, he renewed his respect for the Chaldaeans and argued ‘railed’ at anyone ‘who used specious reasoning to argue away the power of Fate’.

Diodorus’ second omen came when Alexander was exploring the swamps around Babylon. His skiff became separated from the royal party. Upon a moment, it passed underneath some tall reeds, which caught Alexander’s diadem and threw it into the water. One of the oarsmen ‘swam after it’. Upon retrieving the ribbon, the oarsman placed it on his head for safe keeping.

Alexander was lost for three days and nights. Presently, he put his diadem on again. When he did so, the skiff came out of the swamp. What did it all mean? Alexander went straight to his soothsayers to find out.

Chapter 117
The seers told Alexander to ‘sacrifice to the gods on a grand scale’ and quickly. Before he could do so, however, the king was ‘called away by Medius… to take part in a comus’.

At the party, Alexander ‘drank much unmixed wine in commemoration of the death of Heracles’. He filled ‘a huge beaker’ and drank it in one go; suddenly, ‘he shrieked aloud as if smitten by a violent blow’. The king’s Friends came forward and took Alexander back to his quarters.

The royal physicians ‘were summoned’ but they could do nothing to take away the pain. Alexander ‘continued in great discomfort and acute suffering’.

After a while, he realised that he was dying. Alexander removed his ring of office and gave it to his chiliarch – Perdiccas. ‘His Friends asked: “To whom do you leave the kingdom?”‘ Alexander replied, simply, ‘”To the strongest.”‘ He then prophesied ‘that all of his leading Friends would stage a vast contest in honour of his funeral’.

At an unspecified point after speaking these words, Alexander died. He had reigned for ‘twelve years and seven months’ and ‘accomplished greater deeds than any… who had lived before him [or] who were to come later’.

Diodorus concludes the chapter with an acknowledgement that some historians believe that Alexander was poisoned. As this is so, ‘it seems necessary for us to mention their account also’.

Chapter 118
This chapter, therefore, is a coda of sorts to the main story, which is now finished.

Diodorus turns to Antipater. He served as Alexander’s ‘viceroy’ in Macedon while the king was abroad. During this time, he ‘was at variance with… Olympias’. That seems a very polite way of putting it.

To begin with, Antipater didn’t take Olympias seriously because Alexander ignored ‘her complaints against him’. Later, however, ‘as their enmity kept growing’ and Alexander ‘showed an anxiety to gratify [Olympias] in everything out of piety’ Antipater became worried.

When Alexander killed Parmenion and Philotas ‘terror’ entered Antipater’s heart. But not only his, also ‘all of Alexander’s Friends’. Antipater’s son, Iolaus, was Alexander’s wine-pourer. The viceroy gave him a poison to administer to the king.

If Alexander was poisoned, how come nobody wrote about it afterwards? Diodorus doesn’t ask this question out loud but clearly has it in mind. He that, following Alexander’s death, Antipater ‘held… supreme authority in Europe’ and after him, ‘his son Cassander’. Their power, therefore, was why ‘many historians did not dare write about the drug’.

Diodorus has no doubt, however, that Cassander is guilty; he cites the murder of of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes as proof of his hostility to Alexander.

Finally, Diodorus turns to Sisygambis – whom he calls Sisyngambris. She mourned Alexander’s death deeply. In fact, her grief was so profound that she stopped eating. Five days later, she died ‘painfully but not ingloriously’.

Why did the native run to the throne and take Alexander’s clothing and diadem? In Chapter 66 (which I covered here) we saw how Alexander upset a eunuch when he used one of Darius’ tables as a footstool. In the Footnotes for this incident, we are told ‘that the throne was a symbol of divinity in the Orient, and that a king’s clothing, bed, and throne were affected with royal and divine mana’. Thus, in the Footnotes for Chapter 116, it is said that the man ‘may have regarded [the throne] as a sanctuary, or at least as a place of refuge’. Obviously, he saw the clothes and diadem as having similar protective powers.

By-the-bye the Footnotes also state that it is possible that the native may have simply held the clothes rather than put them on. Either way, the story echoes that of the woman with the haemorrhage who knew that if she could only touch Jesus’ clothing she would be healed (This story features in all three synoptic gospels – Lk 8:40-56, Mk 5:21-43, and Matt 9:18-26).

In regards the story of the diadem, I recall reading elsewhere that by placing it on his head, the man was, according to tradition (?), declaring himself king. Well, of course he wasn’t in reality – he was just trying to stop the ribbon from getting wet – but Alexander’s religious belief did not permit him to believe that interpretation alone. Not without divine confirmation, anyway.

I speak under correction, but I am sure that the man who went after the diadem is elsewhere identified as Seleucus – perhaps as a result of his own later assertion that he rescued it. His reason for doing so? It added legitimacy to his kingship.

In Chapter 116, Diodorus says that Alexander was ‘terrified’ by the implications of the native man’s actions. And that, even after sacrificing, he remained troubled. After escaping the swamp, the king returned to his seers for their interpretation of the diadem incident. We are clearly dealing with a very religiously motivated man, here. And yet, no sooner has Alexander been told what to do by the seers, he allows himself to be distracted by Medius. Is that really likely? Did Alexander’s religious beliefs weigh no more than an invitation to join a drinking party?

I would certainly like to believe that Alexander’s last words – including his answer to the question of to whom he left his empire – were really spoken by him. I question his response ‘to the strongest’, though, as in the circumstances it just seems a little too Homeric an answer – if that is possible – for him. I know that the Macedonians did not practice primogeniture but why would he not say ‘to my son’?

As for his prophecy, isn’t it too eerily accurate to be true? Perhaps Alexander was just thinking of the funeral games – as normally understood – that he knew would be held for him.

All this is moot, however, if he was unable to speak as Arrian states. But Alexander could have spoken before he lost his voice. Or, perhaps, afterwards if only in whispering rasps?

I don’t think I can say anything here that does justice to the question of whether or not Alexander was poisoned but here are my thoughts, anyway.

In case you are wondering how Antipater – in Macedon – was able to give Iolaus – in Babylon – the poison: As I understand it, Cassander travelled from Macedon to Babylon around this time. In this scenario, he just took the poison with him.

It is very interesting that Diodorus says that all of Alexander’s Friends were terrified by the demise of Parmenion and Philotas. This is not the impression I get from Curtius who has Craterus speaking out very harshly against Philotas. Neither does Curtius have Craterus being in a party of one – others supported him in his hostility. Were they speaking out of fright? Far more likely that it was out of the knowledge that they were doing away with a rival.

Having said that, I am sure some were worried by what had happened; I think, though, that Diodorus is simply exaggerating.

I would like to test Diodorus’ explanation of why historians did not write about Antipater and Cassander being responsible for Alexander’s death. For example, I can understand why Cleitarchus might suppress the information. He lived in Alexandria and Ptolemy, Egypt’s ruler, was Cassander’s ally during the Successor Wars.

I think Olympias is the source of the allegation that the Antipatrids killed her son? If so (or even if not) I wonder who was the first person to write it down after her.

I accept that Cassander was anti-Argead, but I wonder if we could equally say that his murder of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes were less to do with his hatred of Alexander and more about carving out a place for an Antipatrid dynasty in the new world that Alexander’s death had created.

Finally, one would have to be a very heartless man not to be affected by Sisygambis’ end. She had every reason to hate Alexander but came to love him more dearly than life itself.

The king died. Clouds [were in the sky]image


  • The above photograph of the Babylon Astronomical Diary that refers to Alexander’s death comes from the British Museum
  • The translation of the text is from Livius
Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: