Posts Tagged With: Mardians

Sex and the Country

The Nature of Curtius
Book Six Chapters 1-5
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter One
Sparta’s Last Hurrah
The lacuna that brought Book Five to a halt covers the start of Book Six. As a result, we miss the opening of the Battle of Megalopolis*, which was fought between Antipater and Agis of Sparta in 331 B.C. In lieu of that, here is what I wrote about Diodorus’ account of the battle. What remains of Curtius’ account contains no topographical references.

* And, of course, any part of the narrative that Curtius may have included before it

Chapter Two
Parthia
After tarrying in an unnamed location, Alexander marched into Parthia. Where had he been before hand? The map provided with my copy of Curtius’ History suggests Mardia. When he meets the Mardians in Chapter Five below, however, having ‘penetrated the furthest reaches of Hyrcania’ I assume Alexander has either backtracked or these Mardians are out of place.

Curtius does not give us much information about Parthia (which he calls Parthiene) other than to say that it is a ‘level and fertile area…  occupied by… Scythians’. Alexander made his way to the city of Hecatompylos (Diodorus’ Hecatontapylus) where a rumour spread in the Macedonian camp that they were going home.

Chapter Three
Catalogue of Victories
As the men packed up their bags, Alexander had to  summon his best rhetoric in order to persuade them to follow him east. He did so by first reminding them of the people and places they had conquered* (deep breath):-

Illyrians, Triballians, Boeotia, Thrace, Sparta, Achaeans, the Peloponnese, Ionia, Aeolis, Caria, Lydia, Cappadocia, Phrygia, Paphlagonia, Pamphylia, Pisidia, Cilicia, Syria, Phoenicia, Armenia, Persia, the Medes and Parthia.

Once that was done, Alexander then reminded the men that the people they had conquered had still to be broken. And the people they had not yet conquered would stab them in the back the minute they turned for home.

* Alexander’s exact words are places that had been ‘subdued under my direct leadership or by campaigns conducted under my orders or instructions’. Alexander himself never conquered Sparta – there was no need to as it did not pose a threat – and as far as I am aware, Antipater did not go to war against King Agis on Alexander’s ‘orders or instructions’. He did so because he needed to
Also, I can’t help but notice that he did not include Egypt in his list. I wonder why?

Chapter Four
A Rich Country
The rhetoric did its job and the men told Alexander ‘to lead them wherever he wished’.

Close to the Parthia-Hyrcania border, Alexander set up camp. He did so near a ‘dense, shady grove of tall trees’. The land was fertile here, being nourished by the streams that fell from the surrounding cliffs.

Curtius tells us of the Ziobetis River, which has its source ‘at the foot of the [nearby?] mountains’. After being split in two by a rock the river runs more aggressively before diving underground for 300 stades. When it reappears, it returns to being one channel until joining another river called the Rhidagnus.

Alexander learnt from natives that if you throw something in to the hole where the Ziobetis disappears underground, it will appear again at the opening. To test this, he threw in two horses. Sure enough, their bodies duly appeared at the opening. Pooh sticks, the Alexander way.

While at the border camp, Alexander received a letter from Nabarzanes in which he declared his wish to surrender. The king accepted it. Afterwards, he began his march to Hyrcania.

At first, Alexander moved cautiously. The ‘belligerent temper of the natives and the lie of the land’ made it awkward territory to cross.

Curtius informs us of a valley that travels as far as the Caspian Sea, where it ends in a crescent shaped piece of land. The Caspian, he says, is ‘less salty than other seas [and] has a population of huge serpents… its fish are very differently coloured from other fish’.

‘To the north’, he continues, the Caspian ‘covers the coastal area’. Finally, Curtius notes that some people call the Caspian the Hyrcanian Sea while others say that the Palus Maeotis (the sea of Azov) ‘drains into it’. Against this, other people believe that the waters which cause the aforementioned coastal area to be flooded come from India rather than the Caspian.

Passing the Caspian Sea by, Alexander took ‘a virtually impassable track overhung by forest’ along which ‘torrents and floods’ travelled. Unsurprisingly, he was unchallenged by any hostile natives and eventually came to cultivated land.

Curtius says that this land ‘produces plentiful quantities of all provisions’ and that the soil ‘is particularly suited to viticulture’. I bet the Macedonians appreciated that. There was also an oak-like tree that had ‘leaves thickly coated with a honey’ which had to be collected before daybreak as the sun made the sap evaporate.

Chapter Five
Alexander was well into his march across Hyrcania when Artabazus surrendered himself and his sons to him. Artabazus was 95 years old. Rather than embarrass the old man by walking while Artabazus rode his horse, Alexander had his own brought up and mounted it.

Sometimes, Alexander does things that you think ‘that was very good of him’ but you also wonder ‘did he do that for an ulterior motive?’. I am thinking of his attitude to women here, especially as Plutarch outlines it. This time, however, Alexander had no need to mount his horse. He did it purely out of respect. Not only does this show that he was a respectful man but also that it is worth giving him the benefit of the doubt when the question of his motive comes up elsewhere.

In the last post, we saw how Alexander led a brief campaign against the Mardians. Now, he does so again. They were ‘a culturally backward’ people who ‘had failed to send ambassadors’ to him. In other words, they had failed to submit to him.

Alexander led a small detachment out to bring the Mardians to heel. Upon his arrival in their land, they fled to the interior of Mardia (?). Alexander pursued them but found the going tough, for the interior ‘was enclosed by mountain ridges, tall forests and impassable cliffs’.

The Mardians may have been primitive but they knew how to make the country work for them. For example, they grew trees close by one other, wound their branches together and knotted them before putting them into the ground to grow again.

It’s not clear to me whether the branches were broken off or still attached to the trees, but whichever it was, they grew anew and ‘with even greater vigour’. This created a very simple and effective barrier that could not easily be cut down.

Alexander chased the Mardians to woods, which he then surrounded, with the intention of finding a way in to attack his enemy. Before he could do so, however, the natives took advantage of the Macedonians’ ignorance of the country to carry out some successful sorties. During one, they captured not only some men but Bucephalas as well.

Curtius does not give Bucephalas’ history. Instead, he says only that the horse was prized ‘above all other animals’ by the king. He also states that Bucephalas ‘would not allow another man to sit on him’ and that, when Alexander wished to mount him, ‘he would of his own accord bend his knees to receive him’.

Furious at Bucephalas’ loss, Alexander issued a Return Him or Else ultimatum. The thieves wisely chose the former option, with added gifts for good measure. But the king was not placated, and he ordered ‘the woods to be felled and for earth to be hauled from the mountains and heaped on the flat ground’. It appears his intention was not to break through the barriers but rise above them, using the earth as a siege tower.

Seeing this, the Mardians surrendered.

Alexander moved on to Hyrcania city where he received Nabarzanes’ surrender.

Alexander’s last action in Hyrcania was to entertain Thalestris, the queen of the Amazons, whose territory lay on ‘the plains of Themiscyra in the area of the river Thermodon’ on the opposite side of the Caspian Sea. When I say ‘entertain’ I mean, of course, in the sexual sense as Thalestris came (no pun intended) wanting to bear his child. She promised that if it were a boy, he could have it, but that if it was a girl, it would remain with her.

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Fire and Ice

The Nature of Curtius
Book Five Chapters 6-13
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Chapter Six
Persepolis and Beyond
Upon their arrival in Persepolis, the Macedonians tore the city apart in their desire for loot. Many Persians were killed while others chose to kill themselves and their families before the invaders could get them.

The violence got so out of hand that Alexander had to issue an order to his men ‘to keep their hands off the women and their dress’. He didn’t order an end to the murder and plunder, though, that was legitimate retribution to ‘appease the spirits of their forefathers’.

Alexander arrived in Persepolis in January. In April, ‘at the time of the Pleiades’, he set out to subdue the Persian interior. Along ‘with 1,000 cavalry and a detachment of light-armed infantry’, Alexander marched through heavy rains towards his targets.

The Macedonians must have been high up because their road was ‘covered with permanent snow’. The soldiers trudged through it loyally but the ‘desolation of the terrain and the trackless wilderness terrified’ them. They thought they had reached the end of the world.

Curtius says that the soldiers ‘clamoured to go back before daylight and sky also came to an end’. But Alexander did not give in. And neither did he criticise his men. Instead, he dismounted his horse and continued on foot. Where the ice blocked his way, he simply smashed it apart with an axe.

It’s impossible to imagine how scared the Macedonian soldiers must have been – here they were at the end of the world and still yet the king went on! There was no question of a mutiny, though. The men were inspired by their king’s example to pull out their axes and follow after him.

Presently, signs of civilisation were spotted. There were ‘flocks of animals wandering here and there’ and ‘scattered huts’. On seeing the Macedonians, the natives killed their weak and infirm and fled to the mountains. Before long, however, Alexander managed to persuade them to return to their homes.

He was less clement to other natives and spent some time ‘ravaging’ their territory. Finally, Alexander met to ‘a bellicose people’ called the Mardians who lived in mountainside caves. Curtius makes them sound like cavemen. The tribe lived off the meat ‘of domesticated or wild animals’ and their women had shaggy, unkempt hair. The hemline of their clothes ended above the knee and they wore a sling around their heads that served as both ‘a head-dress and a weapon’.

The Mardians were used to a rough life and liked fighting but they were soon subdued by Alexander’s men. One month after leaving Persepolis, the king returned there in triumph.

Chapter Seven
The Royal Palace is Torched
We now come to Curtius’ account of the burning of the royal palace at Persepolis. Like Diodorus*, he places the blame for its destruction on the shoulders of Ptolemy’s mistress, Thaïs. It was Alexander, however, who threw the first torch. ‘Large sections of the palace had been made of cedar’ so the fire quickly took hold and spread.

The Macedonians in their camp outside the city saw the blaze and thought an accident had occurred. They rushed into Persepolis carrying pails of water. Seeing their king throw wood onto the blaze, however, they realised what was happening and joined in.

That was the end of the royal palace. The birthplace of kings and laws, of military strategy and terror; from it came armies that bridged the Hellespont (Xerxes I in 480 B.C.), and dug tunnels through mountains**. No more, though. Future kings would build their palaces elsewhere. For Curtius, Persepolis would be lost – not even ‘marked by the Araxes’ – which flowed past rather than through it.

* See this post for Diodorus’ account of the burning of the royal palace

** I’ve not been able to find out what Curtius is referring to although I think it might be another Herodotus reference? If you know, please leave a comment below!

Chapter Eight – Thirteen
These chapters focus on Darius’ last days. At the start of Chapter Eight we find him in Ecbatana. From then on, Curtius has very little to say about the Great King’s surroundings. The following, however, is of note –

Chapter Eight

  • (Darius’ rallying speech to his men)

Chapter Nine

  • Nabarzanes urges Darius to temporarily abdicate in order to allow a new king to make a fresh start in the fight against Alexander. He says that victory is possible as the east – Bactria and India are mentioned as well as the Sacae – is still under his control

Chapter Ten

  • Bessus and Nabarzanes decide to assassinate Darius. They are confident they can replace him as their territory (which amounts to a third of Asia) contains its best fighting men

Chapter Eleven

  • (Patron* warns Darius that Bessus and Nabarzanes are plotting against him)

* Leader of the Greek mercenaries

Chapter Twelve

  • When the Persians set up camp, the men put down their weapons and head off in groups to nearby villages to collect supplies. Curtius describes this as being their ‘usual practice’, though I doubt a larger army would do this!

Chapter Thirteen

  • Alexander chases Darius across country, being guided along the way by deserters
  • Reaching the Persian convoy, he has trouble finding Darius who has been hidden in a covered wagon
  • A Macedonian named Polystratus goes to a spring to quench his thirst. While drinking from it, he notices the wounded animals who had been pulling Darius’ wagon.
  • Polystratus wonders why the animals had been wounded rather than just driven off when he hears cries from within the wagon…

There is a lacuna in the text and Book 5 ends here

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