Posts Tagged With: Neoptolemus

Arrian I.11.1-8

In This Chapter
Return to Macedon and Departure for Asia Minor

Alexander conquered Thebes in the autumn of 335 BC. After settling matters with Athens, he returned to Macedon where he made sacrifice to Olympian Zeus in a ceremony (?) first established by his predecessor, Archelaus (who reigned from c.413-399). Later, he celebrated Olympic Games – not the famous one – at Dion (Arrian incorrectly says it was held at Aegae). Arrian notes that according to some sources, Alexander also celebrated ‘games in honour of the Muses’.

Around the time that Alexander was holding these celebrations, he received word that a statue of Orpheus in Pieria had started to sweat continuously. A number of seers made prophecies based on this occurrence but Arrian records only one. According to a seer named Aristander, who had served under Philip and would do so under Alexander to at least Bactria-Sogdia, the sweating meant that ‘all the composers of epic and lyric and choral odes’ would have much work to do in ‘celebrating Alexander and his achievements’.


Arrian now fast forwards to Spring 334 BC.

In late April or early May, Alexander lead his army to the Hellespont. Twenty days after leaving home, he arrived at Elaeus on the south-eastern tip of Thrace.

As you can see from the map, he chose the shortest sea crossing possible to Asia Minor Alexander never shied away from danger and indeed could sometimes be reckless in the face of it but he clearly knew there was a time and a place for everything. And the crossing to Asia Minor was not it.

At Elaeus, Alexander sacrificed to Protesilaus who was shot dead straight after setting foot on Asian soil following the crossing from Greece at the start of the Trojan war. Alexander wanted his expedition to go better.

Not all of the army went to Elaeus with him. Most of it had stayed with Parmenion a few miles up the road at Sestos. Alexander’s most senior general now oversaw its passage in one hundred and sixty triremes and an unspecified number of freighters to Abydos.

Alexander, meanwhile, sailed for Troy. While at sea – halfway between Thrace and Asia Minor – he sacrificed a bull and poured a libation into the sea. Once he reached Asia Minor, Alexander leapt off his ship – in full armour, no less.

Having already erected an altar at Elaeus, Alexander now had another built at his ships’ landing site. It was dedicated to Zeus ‘the protector of Landings’, Athena and Herakles. Leaving the shore, he marched to Troy, or the run down tourist trap that now claimed to be the same, where he sacrificed to ‘Trojan Athena’. He left his panoply there and took in its place weaponry that dated back to the Trojan War. At the end of his visit, he also sacrificed to Priam so as to ‘avert his anger at the race of Neoptolemus’ from which Alexander was descended (on his mother’s side).

This chapter forms a bridge between the Greek Campaigns and Campaign in Asia Minor. It is dominated by religion. Alexander changed as a person during the thirteen years of his kingship but some things remained constant – his belief in and loyalty to the Olympian gods. The various sacrifices that we see being carried out here are mirrored by those that he conducted during his last illness in June 323 BC.

On a few occasions in this chapter, Arrian distances himself a little from his sources: ‘The prevailing consensus is…’, ‘They also say…’, ‘The prevalent account…’. I take this wording to mean that the relevant information does not come from Ptolemy or Aristobulos?

The above three quotations all relate to Alexander’s crossing of the Hellespont and visit to Troy. Why might Ptolemy and Aristobulos not been interested in recording it (and Arrian vice versa)? We don’t know. Perhaps it never happened – the whole Alexander-Achilles thing is a later invention. Perhaps it did happen but still not with the significance that was later attached to it so Ptolemy and Aristobulos only mentioned it in passing. As for Arrian, perhaps he knew his readers would like the story.

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3. Troy

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘[Alexander] then went up to Troy, sacrificed to the Trojan Athena, and dedicated his full set of armour in her temple, taking in its place some of the consecrated arms still preserved there from the Trojan War… the prevailing account also has him sacrificing to Priam at the altar of Zeus of the Forecourt, to avert Priam’s anger at the race of Neoptolemus, of which he himself was a descendent.’
(Arrian I.11.7-8)

Arrian also records that according to ‘some historians’, Alexander paid his respects to Achilles at the latter’s tomb while Hephaestion did the same at Patroclus’. 

Arrian notes that Alexander did not have a Homer to record all of his achievements and that this is why he is writing his history. Do you think it does Alexander justice?

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 translated by Martin Hammond

Alexander pays homage to Achilles

Credit Where It’s Due
Alexander at the statue of Achilles: Wikimedia Commons

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Across Mount Paropanisum

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 82, 83 (Loeb Classical Library)
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The Headlines
The Paropanisadae: A Hidden People
Alexander Crosses the Paropanisum
Erygius Defeats Satibarzanes in a Duel
Bessus Betrayed and Executed

The Story
Chapter 82
Diodorus doesn’t say when exactly Alexander sent Erygius and Stasanor to deal with Satibarzanes but it is the last action of 329 B.C. – according to his reckoning – that he describes. Chapter 82 opens at the start of 328 B.C. I say by his reckoning because the Footnotes state that it was now the summer of 330 B.C.

‘In this year Alexander marched against the so-called Paropanisadae’ who lived in the far north (in a land named Paropamisus – Wikipedia).

Diodorus describes Paropamisus as being ‘snow-covered and not easily approached’. The land is ‘plain and woodless’. The parapanisadae live in homes with conical roofs that are open at the top so that smoke can escape through them. Due to the heavy snow, they are confined to their homes for much of the year. Indeed, when the Macedonians passed through Paropamisus, they only became aware that there were people living there when smoke rose out of the ground underneath them.

Diodorus paints an evocative picture, but again, he appears to be in error. The Footnotes advise that Paropamisus was ‘neither in the north nor a plain’.

As far as Diodorus is concerned, though, Paropamisus was bad news for Alexander. The sun shone so brightly that the snow dazzled the Macedonians’ eyes, causing some to be blinded. For others, the march was so exhausting that they ‘became exhausted and were left behind’.

Fortunately, relief came when the Macedonians realised they were standing on top of the Paropanisadae homes. The country was made subject to Alexander, and food taken or bought from the natives’ supplies.

Per the Footnotes, Alexander met the Paropanisadae in the winter of 330 B.C.and wintered there that year.

Chapter 83
Continuing his journey, Alexander next ‘encamped near the Caucasus, which some call Mt. Paropanisum’, and which we call the Hindu Kush.

The journey over the mountain took sixteen days to complete. On the way, Alexander’s guides showed him the cave where, they said, Prometheus had been bound. The guides were even able to show the king marks left by Prometheus’ chains, and where the eagle that ate Prometheus’ liver every day had its nest.

On the eastern side of the Paropanisum, Alexander stopped to found another Alexandria. It was settled with 7,000 natives, 3,000 ‘camp followers’, and mercenaries. ‘It is interesting,’ say the Footnotes, that the city ‘received no Macedonian settlers’.

Once Alexandria had been established, Alexander marched into Bactria – news had now reached him ‘that Bessus had assumed the diadem and was enrolling an army’.


As Alexander made his way into Bactria, Erygius and Stasanor entered Areia (Aria). They camped near to Satibarzanes’ army, and for a while the two armies skirmished and engaged each other in small numbers. Having sized each other up, the three generals but their armies into battle formation for the final showdown.

Unfortunately, Diodorus tells us nothing of the battle except that Satibarzanes’ men ‘were holding their own’ when Satibarzanes challenged any Macedonian general who dared to a duel. Erygius dared. He came forward, and the two men fought until Satibarzanes fell to the ground, dead.

The loss of their commander demoralised the Persian soldiers and they surrendered themselves. The battle was over.


Chapter 83 concludes with Bessus’ downfall. During a banquet with his friends, he got into an argument with one named Bagodaras. Bessus wanted to execute Bagodaras but was persuaded by his friends to let him live (does this sound familiar?). Unlike Black Cleitus, Bagodaras wisely decided he was better off somewhere that Bessus was not. He chose Alexander’s camp.

Alexander greeted Bagodaras warmly, and word was sent to Bessus’ generals that if they also came over to the Alexander’s side, they too would be given safe passage and gifts. This message did not fall on deaf ears. In fact, not only did Bessus’ generals switch sides, but they arrested Bessus and brought him as well.

Alexander kept his side of the bargain and gave the generals ‘substantial gifts’. As for Bessus, he gave him to Darius’ family to be punished as they saw fit. They subjected the pretender to the Great King’s throne to ‘humiliation and abuse’ before ‘cutting his body up into little pieces’ and scattering them.

A lacuna in the manuscript means we lose the ‘end of Diodorus’ year 328/7 and the beginning of 327/6′. Chapter 84 will commence in ‘the autumn of 327′. This information comes from the Footnotes, which also note that Diodorus’ account of the following events are lost,

  • Alexander’s ‘Scythian, Bactrian and Sogdian campaigns’
  • The Death of Black Cleitus
  • Introduction of Proskynesis
  • The arrest of Callisthenes
  • The Page’s Conspiracy
  • Alexander’s marriage to Roxane

When I read Chapter 82, I thought it very rum that Alexander left the exhausted of his people behind during their march through Paropamisus. Looking at it from his perspective, though, I suppose he did not have a choice. Delaying would have meant even more deaths in the awful conditions.

Why did no Macedonians settle in the new Alexandria? Perhaps the territory was too rough even for them.

Erygius’ duel with Satibarzanes is one of only two duels that I know to have taken place during Alexander’s lifetime or during the Successor period. The other involved Eumenes versus Neoptolemus during the First War of the Successors in 320 B.C., which Eumenes won (I wrote about both the war and duel here). A duel must be about the only thing that Alexander didn’t fight in his lifetime!

The list of events missed due to the gap in the manuscript is a big shame. I would especially, though, have liked to see how Alexander spoke to his men after Bessus had been captured. That was, after all, why they had continued east following the destruction of the royal palaces at Persepolis and the death of Darius (see here). More honeyed words, no doubt.

The Macedonian army can be seen bottom left








(You may need a magnifying glass Hubble telescope)

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Neoptolemus vs Eumenes – To The Death

Celebrating the Deeds of the Ancient Macedonians – the hardest men to walk the earth.

WARNING: This blog accepts no responsibility for any faintness felt by women or children who read this highly masculine post.

For other posts in this series click here. If you dare.

Date 320 BC Place Border of Asia Minor/Cappadocia
Mano a Mano
Neoptolemus vs Eumenes

"Hector Admonishes Paris for His Softness and Exhorts Him to Go to War by J.H.W. Tischbein (1751–1828)" - Brilliant description on Wikipedia

“Hector Admonishes Paris for His Softness and Exhorts Him to Go to War by J.H.W. Tischbein (1751–1828)” – Brilliant description on Wikipedia

There’s nothing I like better than compiling lists. Especially if it is a list of top ten masculine activities. As it happens, every time I write one of those ‘taking part in a battle’ comes out near the top. For the avoidance of doubt, I don’t mean any kind of battle, for there are some that are frankly not worthy of the name. A case in point are the drone strikes that America is currently using as part of its ‘War on Terror’ against sundry Islamist terrorist suspects. If there is a more effete way to wage a war against one’s enemies, I do not yet know it. The problem with the drone strikes is not only that they do not give the enemy a fair chance to fight back but that the American combatant doesn’t even have the decency to control his drone from anywhere near the target but instead does so from thousands and thousands of miles away in a control centre that is very likely air conditioned as well. This is a beastly way of fighting and no one will ever convince me otherwise.
You will deduce from the above that my ideal battle is one in which the combatants are on the same battlefield. Ideally, they should have the same or similar weaponry and equipment and the same opportunity to attack their enemy. A perfect example of this kind of battle is the duel that Neoptolemus and Eumenes fought against one another in 320 BC when the latter’s army fought Craterus’ somewhere on the border of Asia Minor and Cappadocia.
Our source for this confrontation is Plutarch and his Life of Eumenes. He tells how Eumenes and Neoptolemus

… had long nursed a mutual hatred and were now enraged towards each other… [recognising] each other [they] immediately galloped towards one another with swords drawn, screaming. Their horses smashed into each other, like triremes ramming, and letting go of the reins they clutched at each other, trying to tear off the other’s helmet and to rip the breast-plate from his shoulders. As they struggled, their horses bolted from under them and they were pitched to the ground.

Mutual hatred, galloping horses smashing into each like triremes – what a powerful image! – clutching and tearing. I can just feel the strength and desperation. It’s great stuff. By the way, we don’t know why Neoptolemus and Eumenes hated each other and frankly I don’t care. Knowing would only induce unwelcome feelings of sympathy, sadness and other such feminine emotions, all of which would get in the way of my appreciation of the duel.
Ah, the duel. No armies to hide behind, no unequal weapons. Just rage, fear, desire, and absolute determination to be the victor. Can it get more masculine? I think I need to lie down.
But no, let’s continue. You might have thought that having been violently dismounted from their horses, Eumenes and Neoptolemus might have been too winded to continue. Shame on you if so. No sooner had they fallen, than…

[i]mmediately they fell upon each other once again and set to grappling and wrestling. Then, as Neoptolemus tried to get up first, Eumenes stabbed him behind the knee…

At this point Neoptolemus could be forgiven for surrendering. As well as being bruised and battered and now crippled he would certainly by now have been very tired as well. But these Macedonians – they just did not give up, even if, like Eumenes, they had very little experience as a general. And so…

Neoptolemus, incapacitated in one knee and supporting himself on the other, continued to put up strong resistance… until, after sustaining many more minor wounds, he was finally struck in the neck and fell to the ground, where he lay prone.

Thinking that his enemy was finally dead, Eumenes inserted himself into the epic drama of the Iliad and started stripping Neoptolemus of his armour. But in the best story telling tradition, there was a twist in the tale. Neoptolemus was still alive. As Eumenes spat insults at his foe, Neoptolemus managed to wrap his fingers round his sword and stab Eumenes in the  chest.
Did he kill him? No. Fortunately for Eumenes, the gods were on his side that day. Neoptolemus’ blow was too weak. Plutarch says it shocked more than hurt the Cardian. After recovering himself, Eumenes probably administered the coup de grâce before finishing stripping Neoptolemus’ body and making his escape.
Where do you think he went? Plutarch tells us that Eumenes ‘was suffering grievously from gashes on his thighs and arms’ so to the infirmary would have made for a good answer. But not the right one. Of course not. Rather than seek help, Eumenes ‘mounted his horse and set off at speed for the other wing’ where he thought that Craterus’ army was still holding strong.
Being hard is not just about being tough in battle. It’s also about being man enough to respect your enemies – giving them an equal chance in battle, and dignity if you achieve victory. Eumenes failed Neoptolemus in the latter respect but came good when he learnt that Craterus had died. He turned away from the fighting, and went to his old friend’s side. Once there, he discovered that his foe was still alive. This didn’t change the way he approached him, though, and he

… poured out words of pity both for Craterus and his fate and for himself and the necessity which had driven him into conflict with a friend and comrade in which he must kill or be killed.

Rating of Hard 8.5/10
Pro: Neither Eumenes or Neoptolemus shirked any aspect of their duel. Once they caught sight of one another, it was a fight to the death.
Against: Their hatred for each other (Eumenes continued to insult Neoptolemus when he was with Craterus) meant they could not fight with total honour and heroism

Categories: Muscular Macedonians | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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