Posts Tagged With: Oreitis

The Savage Desert

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 105 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Oreitae Easily Conquered
Cedrosians: Having a Whale of a Time
Macedonians Cross Cedrosian Desert: Heavy Losses in Heat
Oreitae Launch Revenge Attack

The Story
Alexander entered ‘the country of the Oreitae (Oreitis?). Diodorus has more to say about Oreitaean customs than he does about Alexander’s campaign against that people. This is partly because fighting the Oreitae proved easy, and the country was ‘quickly brought… into submission’, and partly because the specific custom to which he refers was such an unusual one.

Diodorus describes how the Oreitae leave the naked bodies of their dead in thickets apparently so that wild animals can eat them. The relatives of the deceased then divide up the dead person’s clothing between themselves, ‘sacrifice to the heroes of the nether world,’ and host ‘a banquet for their friends’.

From Oreitae, Alexander made his way to Cedrosia. There, he travelled close to the shore line.

Diodorus doesn’t tell of any military action taking place in Cedrosia, although if the Macedonians found the going easy in the country of the Oreitae they would not have been troubled by the Cedrosians.

The people, Diodorus says, were ‘unfriendly and utterly brutish’.

This savagery seems to pertain to their personal habits rather than what they were like as warriors. For, with admittedly no small amount of hyperbole, Diodorus says that the Cedrosians let their nails ‘grow from birth to old age’ and that they never washed their hair. He adds that they were heavily tanned and dressed ‘in the skin of beasts’ – as stereotypical a sign that someone is a savage as ever there was.

The Cedrosians may have been very primitive but they knew how to make the best of their limited resources. They not only wore animal skins, but ate ‘the flesh of stranded whales’, which had died on their beaches. Furthermore, they used whale bones to build their homes. This went as far as using whale scales as roof tiles. A very clever feat, of course, since – as the Footnotes point out – whales do not have scales.

Alexander made his way through Cedrosia ‘with difficulty’. Not because of the people, but because he was short of supplies and was now marching through a desert.

The going proved so hard that the army became ‘disheartened’ and Alexander himself ‘sank into no ordinary grief and anxiety’.

The king sent messengers to Parthyaea, Dranginê, and Areia to seek supplies. The messengers delivered their orders and provisions were forwarded on. They did not, however, arrive in time to prevent the loss of many soldiers. They never could have.

These losses were brought about not only by the dreadful conditions and Alexander’s bad planning, but because the Oreitae launched what must have been a surprise attack on Leonnatus’ division, inflicting ‘severe losses’ before escaping home.

Comments
Diodorus calls the Oreitae habit of exposing the bodies of the dead to be eaten by wild animals ‘strange and quite unbelievable’. Certainly to our eyes it is most unusual. If I was the Oreitaeans’ PR man I’d point out (a) the decomposing body is kept away from the community so one cannot oppose it on hygiene grounds, and (b) by being eaten it both highlights and makes a practical contribution to the well-being of the environment. What’s the difference between being eaten by a worm and wolf, anyway?

I’m afraid I would find it harder to be the Cedrosians PR agent. Overgrowing finger and toe nails, unwashed hair, skin ‘burned black’ by the sun. And how they must have smelled of whale! Yuk. Well, if anyone can defend the Cedrosians I’d love to see it.

I was very interested by Diodorus’ statement that Alexander ‘sank into no ordinary grief and anxiety’. I read this as Diodorus saying that he became depressed.

Alexander was, it seems, prone to anxiety. A quick google search for references on this blog to him being anxious shows that he suffered from anxiety on at least two occasions.

(i) Diodorus Ch. 31 Over Memnon’s success in the Aegaean – read here
(ii) Plutarch 47 In Hyrcania when he worried over whether his army would continue to follow him – read here.

I have to say, though, neither of these occasions are presented in such a way as to make me feel Alexander suffered from anxiety as a serious mental health disorder. On both occasions he was anxious in the way someone would be in a high pressure situation.

In other words, he was anxious, the moment passed and he moved on.

By contrast, what Diodorus describes feels really quite different. It foreshadows, in a way, the extreme emotion that Alexander will feel when Hephaestion dies (and which Diodorus explains in two simple but foreboding words.  Alexander, he says, ‘intensely grieved’ [Chp. 110] for his friend. Arrian goes into greater detail about how he grieved [Bk 7. Para 14]).

I’m used to reading that Alexander became a megalomaniac in his later days – do we have any justification of suspecting that all along he was prone to anxiety attacks, which in Gedrosia developed into a more serious – even if not clinical – depression? I need to improve my medical knowledge before attempting to answer that question.

Keen to outdo the Cedrosians’ love of all things
whale, Alexander decides to go looking for whales
in their natural habitat.

alexander_in_submarine
Picture: The British Library

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Genocide? The Macedonian Trident

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 104 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Two Islands Discovered: Sacrifices Offered
Nearchus Sets Sail for Euphrates
Alexander Destroys Tribes
New Alexandria Founded

The Story
In the summer of 325 B.C. Alexander’s fleet sailed out of the mouth of the Indus River and into the Indian Ocean. Diodorus reports that he found two islands in the process. He landed on each and ‘performed rich sacrifices’. Altars to Tethys and Oceanus were built and ‘many large cups of gold’ thrown into the sea after libations had been poured from them.

Leaving the islands, Alexander sailed to the city of Patala. A couple of posts ago we read about the city of the Sambastae, which was ‘governed in a democratic manner’. If this city was the Athens of the east, then it seems Patala was the Sparta. For there, ‘[t]wo kings descended from two houses [and] inherited their office from their fathers’. The two kings had authority over of all matters relating to war ‘while the council of elders was the principal administrative body’.

Some of Alexander’s ships had become damaged by the journey down the Indus river and into the ocean (see here for an example of how damage occurred). Repairs had been carried out, but now, Alexander burned all those that had become damaged again.

The remaining vessels were given ‘to Nearchus and others of [Alexander’s] Friends’ who were ordered ‘to coast along through the Ocean’ making observations before meeting the king at the mouth of the Euphrates River.

As the ships set sail once more, Alexander led the army inland. He ‘traversed much territory and defeated his opponents’. Those ‘who submitted were received kindly’. The Abritae and ‘tribesmen of Cedrosia’ are named as having willingly submitted.

Alexander’s march took him across ‘a long stretch of waterless and largely desert country’ right up to the border of Oreitis. Upon his arrival there, the king split the army into three divisions under his own, Ptolemy’s and Leonnatus’ command.

Ptolemy was ordered ‘to plunder the district by the sea’, while Leonnatus was told ‘to lay waste [to] the interior’. As for Alexander, he ‘devastated the upper country and… hills’.

The country ‘was filled with fire and devastation and great slaughter’. The Macedonian soldiers won ‘much booty’. The neighbours of the destroyed tribes ‘were terrified and submitted’ to Alexander.

When all was done, Alexander decided to found another Alexandria, and he did so in a ‘sheltered harbour’.

Comments
Diodorus doesn’t give the date at the start of the chapter – that comes from the Footnotes, which cite Strabo.

Theoi is a good source of information about the ancient Greek gods. Here are their entries for Tethys and Oceanos.

It is quite a distance from the mouth of the Indus to Euphrates Rivers though perhaps it would not have seemed so far to the Macedonians given that they believed the world was a smaller place?

I have to admit a little confusion here. Diodorus says that Alexander led his men ‘as far as the frontiers of Oreitis’. I have assumed that his campaign against the tribes took place in that country. In Chapter 105, however, Diodorus describes Alexander as advancing ‘into the country of the Oreitae’ whose name is too similar to Oreitis to be a different people. Perhaps the campaign took place on the frontier itself or in no-man’s land between Oreitis and the region he had just passed through?

Diodorus does not mince his words when talking about Alexander’s campaign, and it sounds absolutely ghastly. The way he talks about Alexander’s ‘destruction of the tribes’ makes it sound like a genocidal action taking place. But what had the natives done to deserve such treatment? Maybe they had done nothing. I imagine they must have resisted Alexander, however, causing him to turn savagely against them.

Macedonian Film Festival

There Will Be Blood
A man discovers resistance and does all he can to destroy it

“An enduring Argead favourite”
“A rich story – for the Macedonians”
“Not sure it will go down well in foreign territories”

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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