Posts Tagged With: Parmenion

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Arrian I.24.1-6

In This Chapter
As the newly-weds return home, Alexander campaigns in Lycia

When was Alexander most popular with his troops? Apparently, it was now, in the winter of 334/3 BC.

By the time he had conquered Halicarnassus, it was late in the year, so Alexander took the decision to send home the men who had married just before the start of the expedition so that they could spend winter with their wives. ‘This one act ensured Alexander’s popularity among the Macedonians as much as any other’ (Arr.1.24.2).

Our leaders may drive forward great projects; the gifted among us may achieve wonders, but at the end of the day, what a man really appreciates most of all is time with his beloved. I doubt it is any different, today.

After the newly weds had returned to their homes, the officers-in-charge went on a recruiting drive both in Macedon and the Peloponnese. More Greeks had fought against Alexander than with him at the Granicus. Although he didn’t trust them to be frontline soldiers, it seems he still wanted them there, if only for propaganda purposes.

Back in Asia Minor, Parmenion was sent on to Phrygia via Sardia. Sardis lay to the north of Caria. Alexander himself went east, following the road to Lycia and Pamphylia ‘to gain control of the coast and so deny the enemy any use of their navy (Arr. I.24.3).

Along the way, he assaulted Hyparna, taking it easily; in line with his post-Granicus reconciliatory policy towards mercenaries, he gave the ones here safe passage out.

Entering the region of Lycia, Alexander ‘won over’ (Arr. I.24.4) Telmissus. This was the home city of his favourite seer, Aristander, and it’s hard not to imagine that the peaceful outcome was not for or thanks to him.

After Telmissus, Alexander received the surrender of a host of small towns, and some larger ones, including Xanthus, Patara, and Pinara.

‘By this stage it was already the depth of winter’ (Arr. I.24.5) but Alexander kept moving. He must have been very concerned about the possibility of the Persians returning to their port cities and establishing a bridgehead in south-eastern Asia Minor. At this point, though, he turned north, and entered the mountainous region of Milyas. While here, ‘envoys from Phaselis came to offer friendship and to crown Alexander with a golden crown’ (Arr. I.24.5).

They weren’t the only ones; Arrian says that envoys came from ‘most of the Lower Lycians’ (Ibid); that is to say, those who lived closest to Pisidia. And it was because of the Pisdians that they came. Arrian tells us that ‘[a] little later (Arr. I.24.6) Alexander visited Phaselis and there destroyed a fort that ‘had been built by Pisidians to threaten the district, and was used as a base from which the barbarians caused much damage to the Phaselite farmers.’ (Ibid). Phaselis was a coastal city so the whole region must have been under threat from the Pisidians. No doubt the Lower Lycians suffered most from the incursions of the enemy on account of their geographical closeness to them and so were the keenest to win Alexander’s favour – hence the gold crowns.

Text Used
Hammond, Martin (tr.) Arrian: Alexander the Great (Oxford, OUP, 2013)

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Arrian I.20.1-10

In This Chapter
The Siege of Halicarnassus Begins

Alexander Disbands His Navy
After the fall of Miletus, Alexander disbanded his navy. According to Arrian, he did so for the following reasons,

  1. Not enough money to maintain it
  2. The Macedonian navy was not as skilled as the Persians’
  3. He could defeat the Persian navy by continuing to take control of coastal cities (thus depriving them of places to recruit men and replenish supplies) vid. the eagle omen

The second and third reasons above came up in Alexander’s response to Parmenion (Arr. I.18.7-9) but the first is new. What was Alexander’s financial status at this time? Arrian doesn’t refer to it until much later, during the Opis mutiny (Arr. VII.8.1-11.7).

The Opis Mutiny
The mutiny so-called – because as Arrian portrays it, no orders were disobeyed – started when Alexander announced that he was discharging those who were unfit for service. A number of his men sarcastically replied ‘that he might as well discharge the whole lot of them’ (Arr. VII.8.3); they believed he meant to replace the Macedonians soldiers with his oriental subjects. Alexander took grave offence at this and after having those who had spoken out arrested, remonstrated with his men. During his speech, he said,

From my father I inherited a few gold and silver cups, less than sixty talents in the treasury, and Philip’s accumulated debts of some five hundred talents.

Arrian VII.9.6

If this is true, and bearing in mind that up till now on the expedition Alexander has not looted any cities, then it is no surprise that he was short of cash. He presumably got some from the satrapal army’s camp but maybe not so much as he had hoped.

One final point on what happened at Opis – Arrian says that the men were ‘stunned’ (Arr. VII.8.3) when Alexander had ‘the most conspicuous troublemakers’ (Ibid) arrested and sent away for execution. This suggests to me that they did not intend to mutiny, only to vent their frustration at what they saw as Alexander’s medising. They were wholly taken aback, therefore, by his out-of-proportion response.

Arrian says that by this stage of his life, Alexander,

‘had become more quick to anger, and the oriental obsequiousness which now surrounded him had lost him his old easy relationship with the Macedonians’


Arrian is not afraid to mention Alexander’s faults but doesn’t, like Curtius, attempt to show that his success corrupted him. When he shows corruption, therefore, we have to take it seriously as an indication of what Alexander was really like.

With Miletus captured, Alexander set out for Halicarnassus, which still exists today under the name of Bodrum, and which is also famous for being the home of the immortal Herodotus. Along the way he captured a number of other cities.

Halicarnassus was well protected by its walls. Inside, a Persian and mercenary army protected it under the command of Memnon of Rhodes. The city’s harbour was under the control of Persian naval forces. Alexander’s fleet, had it still been available, would have been of little use to him here.

Day One
Alexander approached the Mysala Gate (i.e. the gate which led to the city of Mysala). The defenders came out of the city and attacked the Macedonians but were repulsed.

A Few Days Later
Alexander took a substantial number of men to Halicarnassus’ western wall to see how strong it was. He also wanted to raid the city of Myndus ten miles away.

Alexander wasn’t interested in raiding Myndus just because it was there – he believed its location would help in the siege of Halicarnassus. Arrian tells us that the city had promised to surrender if Alexander came at night.

He did so, but the Myndians had changed their minds, and the city gates remained closed. Alexander had not brought any siege equipment with him but did have his phalanx. He set his men to work undermining the walls. They succeeded in bringing down a tower but nothing else before reinforcements sent from Halicarnassus forced him to retreat.

Why would capturing Myndus have been beneficial to Alexander? The notes to my copy of Arrian tell me that in 360 BC, Mausolus, satrap of Caria in which the city lay, made Myndus his capital. There would, therefore, have been propaganda value in taking it.

I imagine, though, that his main reason would have been in order to win control of the surrounding countryside as well, making it more difficult for anyone to come to Halicarnassus’ aid by land. However, as the city’s harbour was still open, control of the land only had limited value, making Alexander’s decision to withdraw an easy one.

Back at Halicarnassus
Alexander had his siege towers moved into place. Seeing the danger, the Persian and mercenary soldiers came out at night time to try and set the towers alight. They were pushed back, however, before they could do so. The night action was a costly one for Memnon’s men – 170 of them were killed against 16 of Alexander’s. The defenders had come out of the city very suddenly and many of the Macedonians who took part in the action went into battle without wearing their armour. As a result, 300 were injured.

Miletus vs Halicarnassus
Memnon pursued a much more aggressive strategy than Hegesistratus. Whereas the latter had abandoned the outer city and let Alexander come on to him, the former twice sent men out to attack the Macedonians.

There was, it seems, a lack of communication between the Persian commanders in Miletus – look at how Hegesistratus left the city’s harbour exposed compared to how Memnon made sure Halicarnassus’ was occupied by his ships. We can only guess at the reason for the communication failure. Or maybe the Persian naval forces refused to take orders from him.

Myndus’ failure to open its gates is the second time (after Miletus) that Alexander was promised one thing by an enemy who then decided to renege on his offer.

Text Used
Hammond, Martin (tr.) Arrian: Alexander the Great (Oxford, OUP, 2013)

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Arrian I.18.1-9

In This Chapter
More cities come over to Alexander; Miletus resists

Magnesia and Tralles
While Alexander was still in Ephesus, embassies from Magnesia and Tralles came to surrender their cities. Alexander sent Parmenion to take possession of both, assigning him no less than 5,000 men and 200 horse for the mission.

The Aeolian and Ionian Cities
At the same time, he sent Alcimachus son of Agathocles ‘to the Aeolian cities and those in Ionia still under barbarian control’ (Arr. I.18.1).

Arrian records Alcimachus’ orders as being,

… to overthrow the oligarchies and install democracies throughout, to restore [the cities] local legislation… and to remit the tribute they had been paying to the barbarians.

Arrian I.18.2

Alexander gave Alcimachus a detachment similar in size to Parmenion’s. This means that nearly a third of his army had now left the main camp. When you consider that Alexander left 10,000 men in Macedon to protect the country and keep Greece subjugated, the 10,000 that he sent to take the various cities shows that despite his early success(es), he took nothing for granted. Alexander had won a battle but he knew that didn’t mean he had won Asia Minor. Having seen Persian rule fall, any of the cities might make a bid for full independence. They had to know that the Macedonians were in control now – by force if necessary.

The example of Miletus shows that Alexander was right to be cautious.

Initially, its garrison commander, Hegesistratus, had offered to surrender the city but when he found out that a Persian naval force was approaching he backed out and the city gates remained closed.

Upon reaching Miletus, Alexander took the outer city with ease – it had been abandoned. The loss of the outer city was of no consequence to Hegesistratus – he knew he would be able to endure a siege as long as the Persian navy could reach him.

However, Alexander still had his fleet, and it reached Miletus before the Persians. Upon seeing it, the Persian naval force backed off.

Alexander vs Parmenion
At this point, Parmenion – now returned from Magnesia and Tralles – tried to persuade Alexander to wage a naval battle. Arrian tells us that he gave several reasons for this; the one Arrian focuses on, though, was the fact that an eagle ‘had been seen perching on the beach astern of Alexander’s ships’ (Arr. I.18.6). For Parmenion, a naval battle was a win-win opportunity: if we win, the whole campaign is given a great boost; if we lose, so what; ‘the Persians… simply retain their present domination of the sea’ (Ibid).

But Alexander was having none of it:-

  • The Persian naval force was much larger than the Macedonian. It made no sense to challenge it on those grounds
  • The Macedonian sailers were not as experienced as the Persians’ (who came from sea faring nations such as Cyprus and Phoenicia)
  • A defeat would, in fact, damage their reputation and encourage their enemies in Greece
  • The fact that the eagle was seen ‘perching on land suggested to [Alexander] that it meant he would defeat the Persian fleet from the land’ (Arr. I.18.9)

In short, Alexander was ‘not prepared to expose Macedonian expertise and daring to the barbarians on an element where there could be no guarantee of success’ (Arr. I.18.8)

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Arrian I.17.1-12

In This Chapter
Alexander takes Sardis and Ephesus

In the days following his victory at the Battle of the Granicus River, Alexander turned to the now changed political situation in the region. With the death of Arsites, the satrapy of Hellespontine Phrygia was now vacant. He appointed an officer named Calas to the role.

Alexander’s Political Methodology
A consistent feature of Alexander’s kingship is how he dealt with conquered territories on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, as in the case of Phrygia, he appointed a Macedonian governor. On other occasions, he appointed a Persian to the role, or else let the previous governor remain in office. As we shall see with King Porus, Alexander was also content to allow kings to remain in situ – as long as, of course, they were loyal.

In light of this, we can say that Alexander did not have a philosophy of power. He was, in one sense at least, a pragmatist. Could this be the reason why he refused to change Phrygia’s tax level? After Calas was appointed satrap, Alexander confirmed that the province would be required to keep paying the same taxes as it had under Darius III.

Zeleia and Dascylium
With Phrygia taken care of, Alexander turned to Zeleia and Dascylium.

Zeleians had fought in the satrapal army. After its defeat, the city’s inhabitants fled into the mountains to escape Macedonian reprisals. Now, however, they came back down to surrender themselves. For his part, Alexander told them to go home and absolved them from blame for fighting against him – ‘he recognized that they had been forced to fight on the barbarian side’ (Arr. I.17.2). The way Arrian writes it, it looks like the Zeleians decided to surrender themselves and were then absolved. I suspect, however, that Alexander sent messengers to tell them that they were in no danger. It doesn’t make sense that they would flee and then return without any guarantee of avoiding the fate that they had tried to run away from.

Alexander’s last action before moving on from the Granicus region was to send Parmenion to Dascylium. Its Persian garrison had left the city so taking it was a formality.

Alexander marched on Sardis from the Granicus River. When he was still eight miles from it, Mithrenes, ‘commander of the citadel garrison’ (Arr. I.17.3) and the city’s civilian leaders came out to meet him. ‘Mithrenes surrendered the citadel and treasury’ (Arr. I.17.4), and the civilian leaders surrendered the city.

Alexander marched to within two miles of Sardis before sending Amyntas son of Andromenes into it to take control of the citadel. As a reward for surrendering, Alexander ‘kept Mithrenes with him in a position of honour’. He also let the Sardians – and Lydians at large – keep their traditional institutions and independence.

It is interesting to compare Alexander’s response to Sardis and Phrygia. You might have thought that being a glory seeker, he would value those who made a noble stand against him rather than those who simply gave way. Sometimes – as in the case of Porus – he did but as we see here, not always.

Why might this have been so? To paraphrase the writer, there’s a time for fighting, and a time for making peace. Alexander was a glory seeker but he was not a war monger. If he could get his way through peaceful means then he would do it. So, why was it a time for making peace rather than war? At a guess, I would say that Alexander did not want to fight again so soon after the Granicus battle; his men needed time to recover.

Once Amyntas had taken the city, Alexander entered it. He went to the citadel and was impressed by its strength. The idea of building a temple there occurred to him but while he was searching for a suitable building site, a thunder storm struck. Arrian says that the downpour took place ‘exactly where the Lydian royal palace stood’ (Arr. I.17.6). Alexander saw the will of the gods in this and acquiesced: he gave orders for the temple to be built on the site of the palace.

A Tripartite Government
Macedonian rule over Sardis was split between Pausanias (citadel) and Nicias (assessment & collection of tribute). Asander son of Philotas was given the satrapy of Lydia.

Sardis represents the first occasion in Arrian that we see Alexander splitting authority in one place between more than one person. The most famous example of this happening is in Egypt. The likely reason he did so there is because Egypt was too big and too powerful (in terms of wealth and defence capabilities) to be given to one person. Perhaps Sardis was the same: as we saw above, Alexander recognised the strength of the citadel.

Further Orders
Arrian notes that Alexander sent Calas, the new satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, and Alexander son of Aëropus to ‘Memnon’s territory’ (Arr. I.17.8) with a number of troops. Alexander son of Aëropus was a man lucky to be alive: ‘[h]is brothers, Heromenes and Arrhabaeus, were both executed for their alleged complicity in the ‘plot’ to assassinate Philip II’ (Heckel, p.19). Following Philip’s death, the son of Aëropus (who we also call Alexander Lyncestis) was the first to declare Alexander III ‘king’. This probably saved his life. Unfortunately, he subsequently either turned against Alexander or was set up. Either way, he was arrested, and after being held under arrest for some time, executed in the aftermath of the Philotas affair.

Upon hearing the result of the Battle of the Granicus River, the Persian garrison in Ephesus – which was comprised of mercenary troops – fled. With them went Amyntas son of Antiochus. He was a man used to being on the run, having fled Macedon in order to get away from Alexander. Why? Arrian tells us that Alexander hadn’t hurt him but that Amyntas simply disliked or hated the king and ‘thought it would be an indignity to meet with any unpleasant reprisal from him’ (Arr. I.17.9).

Alexander hurried towards Ephesus, reaching it after three days. The city immediately fell into his hands. Alexander allowed those Ephesians who had been forced into exile for supporting him to return. He abolished the city’s oligarchy, instituted a democracy, and ordered that taxes should now be paid to the temple of Artemis.

The oligarchs had ruled Ephesus badly. Arrian records that as well as inviting the Persian army into the city, they had,

… plundered the sanctuary of Artemis… pulled down the statue of Philip [of Macedon] in the sanctuary and dug up the grave of Heropythus, the liberator of the city…

Arrian I.17.11

Retribution against the oligarchs was swift and bloody. It got so bad that Alexander had to step in to prevent further bloodshed – especially against the innocent. Arrian concludes this chapter by saying,

No other action won Alexander as much credit as his handling of Ephesus at this time.

Arrian 1.17.12)

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Arrian I.14.1.17

In This Chapter
The two armies come face-to-face

Once Alexander had finished speaking to Parmenion, he sent his deputy to take up his command of the Macedonian left wing. He himself rode to take command of the right.

Arrian now gives a brief outline of who stood where in the Macedonian battle line.

From right to centre:

  • Philotas son of Parmenion
    with Philotas, the Companion Cavalry, archers, & Agrianians (javelineers)
  • Amyntas son of Arrhabaeus
    with Amyntas, the lancer cavalry, Paeonians, & Socrates son of Sathon and Apollonian Companions
  • Nicanor son of Parmenion
    with Nicanor, the Companion Foot Guards
  • Perdiccas son of Orontes
    with Perdiccas, the brigade under his control
  • Coenus son of Polemocrates
  • Amyntas son of Andromenes
  • Philip son of Amyntas

From left to centre:

  • Calas son of Harpalus
    under Calas, the Thessalian Cavalry
  • Philip son of Menelaus
    under Philip, the Allied Cavalry
  • Agathon [son of Tyrimmas]
    under Agathon, Thracians
  • Craterus [son of Alexander]
    under Craterus, his infantry brigade
  • Meleager
    under Meleager, his infantry brigade
  • Philip
    under Philip, his infantry brigade

Arrian records that the Persian army had 20,000 cavalry and just under that number in infantry (Alexander crossed the Hellespont with 30,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry (Arr.I.11.3)). Remember that yesterday Parmenion told Alexander if the Macedonians camp by the river, the Persians would move back due to having fewer infantrymen? I wonder: why would they feel the need to do so since they had such a dominant cavalry advantage?

Whatever the reason, it could not have been because the satraps had no confidence in their army. The Persian cavalry and Greek mercenaries were the best in the world.

The Persians lined up along the far bank, cavalry in front of infantry. This meant that it would not be able to charge at the Macedonians. A strategic error borne of a desire for Persian soldiers to fight and win the battle before the Greek mercenaries got involved? Arrian notes that the Persian cavalry concentrated in particularly on the Persian left wing; this put it opposite Alexander. They not only wanted Persians to win the battle but to do so by killing the Macedonian king.

Arrian states that the two armies faced each other in silence for some time before Alexander lead his cavalry on the right wing forward. Alexander ordered Socrates of Sathon’s squadron (which we now find was actually being led by Ptolemy son of Philip) on the far right of the Macedonian line to go ahead of him, and instructed Amyntas son of Arrhabaeus to follow Ptolemy, taking ‘the advance horse guards, the Paeonians, and one brigade of the infantry’ with him. Alexander led the rest of the right wing into the water behind them. To stop the army from crossing in a weak column, Alexander crossed it at an oblique angle ‘in the direction of the pull of the current’, making a friend of the river rather than enemy.

You can certainly see from the Macedonian battle line how important Parmenion was in Alexander’s court – he and his sons held key positions in the army, with Philotas being on the far right with Alexander himself.

The battle line brings a few previously mentioned Macedonians back into the limelight.

Philotas is first mentioned in connection with the Battle of the Lyginus River against the Triballians during the Thracian Campaign (Arr.I.2.5).

Amyntas son of Arrhabaeus was Alexander’s ‘M’: one of his senior scouts. Socrates son of Sathon was one of his officers (Arr.I.12.7).

Perdiccas, of course, lead the unauthorised attack on Thebes (Arr.1.8.1-2) where he was backed up by Amyntas son of Andromenes (Arr.I.8.2).

According to Waldemar Heckel, Philip son of Amyntas may actually be the son of Balacrus. If so, we met him during the Thracian campaign when Alexander crossed the Danube and ordered him to take the spoils back south (Arr.I.4.5). You may remember that Philip was not given sole responsibility for that job: Meleager, who we now see on the left wing, was ordered to go with him.

Mentioned here for the first time are Nicanor*, Coenus, Calas, Philip son of Menelaus, Agathon son of Tyrimmas, Craterus and a third Philip. Of these men, Craterus will become a central figure in Alexander’s army, taking over the command of the left wing after Parmenion’s demise and becoming one of the leading figures in the Macedonian traditionalist movement.

*A Nicanor is mentioned in connection with the attack on the city of the Getae (Arr.I.4.2) but we cannot say for sure if this is Parmenion’s son

By the way, you’ll notice that from right to centre, I have referred to the captain and the regiments that were ‘with’ him, whereas from left to centre, the reference is to the captain and the regiments that were ‘under’ him. I have no doubt that Philotas et al were commanding their various units but as my translation of Arrian uses the with/under formulation I have used those terms as well.

As the Macedonian army crosses the Granicus river at an oblique angle, we can add an ability to use the terrain to his best advantage to Alexander’s strengths. Here, this simply means that he nullified the threat that it posed to his army. The Granicus could have been a third army in the battle; now, it played a more neutral role.

I am writing this blog post on Remembrance Sunday. In light of that, reading about how the two armies faced each other in silence cannot but have an extra impact. Both sides were silent because they were waiting (‘in dread of what was to come’). By being the first to have his men sound the trumpets and raise their battle-cry, Alexander surely stole a psychological march on the Persians.


The next post in this series will be published on Friday 15th November. Over the next few days, I am going keep reading Arrian a chapter at a time and writing a blog post for each one but I would like to pause publishing them so as to give myself extra time to consider what happens in each chapter. Up till now, I have greatly enjoyed reading-writing-publishing in one go but this does restrict my ‘thinking time’ greatly. Hopefully, this pause will allow me to gain extra insights into Arrian’s narrative and improve the quality of the blog posts.

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Arrian I.13.1-7

In This Chapter
Alexander advances towards the Granicus River

Alexander approached the Granicus ‘in battle-order’. He knew that the Persians were not far ahead. However, it wasn’t until his scouts returned that he discovered the satrapal army’s precise position, and formation: it was on the far side of the Granicus river, and was formed up ready for battle.

Arrian says that on receiving this news, Alexander ‘began to form his entire army for battle’. I take it, therefore, that marching ‘in battle-order’ is slightly different to actually being in battle formation.

At the same time that Alexander began doing this, Parmenion approached him. He proposed to the king that they make camp on the near side of the river. Doing this, he said, would make the Persians encamp further away as it had fewer infantrymen. Doing this would facilitate the army’s safe crossing tomorrow. Parmenion reckoned that if the Macedonian army crossed at daybreak, it would be able to do so before the Persian army had time to form up.

There is another reason why Parmenion advocated camping until the next day. As Arrian tells it, Parmenion did not think the army would be able to cross the river ‘on a wide front’ safely. The river looked deep and the banks on the far side, high; the army would find it hard to get out of the water – only being able to do so in the ‘weakest possible formation’, that of a column – and would be met by a cavalry charge. Defeat at the Granicus, Parmenion said, would put the entire expedition in danger.

Alexander ignored Parmenion’s concerns. According to Arrian he justified his decision to cross immediately on the basis of pride:

‘… I would be ashamed if, after crossing the Hellespont with ease, this little stream’ (this was his term to disparage the Granicus) ‘is to prevent us getting across just as we are.’

Waiting, Alexander said, would be ‘false to Macedonian prestige’ and his ‘own short way with danger’ and make the Persians think they could deal with them.

When Arrian says that the Macedonian army advanced ‘in battle-order’ he describes its formation: the hoplites were ‘in a double phalanx’ and the cavalry were ‘on the wings’. It sounds, therefore, like the army was ready to fight. I wonder, therefore, if when Alexander ‘began to form his entire army for battle’ he wasn’t preparing it from scratch – as I imagined when I wrote the first two paragraphs above – but just adjusting it according to the information he had received from the scouts. Just a thought.

Why did Alexander ignore Parmenion’s concerns?

Before answering that, we might ask if Arrian’s account of what happened is even accurate. According to Diodorus (XVII.19), Alexander camped on the near side of the river overnight and crossed the Granicus at dawn the next day – just as Arrian has Parmenion suggesting. By-the-bye, Diodorus doesn’t include this conversation between the king and general.

So, who to believe? Well, you pays your money and takes your choice. As the notes to The Landmark Arrian say,

There is no possibility of reconciling the two accounts, and no agreement among historians as to which is more credible.

As much as I like Arrian, I would actually be inclined to believe Diodorus. If the Persians were on the far bank, crossing it straight away would seem to be a reckless decision. When it came to battle, Alexander was very capable of being reckless with himself, but with his army – ? I can’t immediately think of any time when he was. He certainly hasn’t been so far. Alexander waiting until dawn, however, would be a cunning decision in keeping with his superior strategic skills.

But let’s say that Arrian is correct. Why would he ignore Parmenion? I think it would be because he wanted to do things the right, that is, the Homeric, way, and that meant riding into danger rather than steering clear of it.

Having said that, and because I don’t believe Arrian’s account is correct, let me say that I think it is Ptolemy who portrays Alexander in this way rather than Alexander himself. It is Ptolemy who wants to represent Alexander as the Homeric hero. This isn’t to say that Alexander was not that type of person but I suspect there is a bit of retconning going on here.

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Arrian I.12.1-10

In This Chapter
From Troy to Priapus

Chapter Twelve can be broken down into three parts:

  1. Alexander at Troy
  2. Arrian’s Second Preface
  3. Alexander on the March

Alexander at Troy
While at Troy, Alexander was ‘crowned with a golden crown’ by Menoetius, the helmsman of his ship; a man named Chares from Athens and a number of other people followed suit.

Arrian reports that ‘[s]ome say… Alexander placed a wreath on the tomb of Achilles, while Hephaestion, it is said, did likewise at the tomb of Patroclus’.

The italics above are mine, to emphasise the fact that for the second chapter in succession we appear to have Arrian using a source or sources who were not Ptolemy and Aristobulos.

Arrian continues in this manner. He says that ‘[t]he story goes that Alexander called Achilles fortunate to have Homer as the herald of his lasting fame’. (my italics again). This much is true; Alexander was not well served either by historians or poets.

Arrian’s Second Preface
Arrian shows this by outlining how other, much less deserving, men have been more celebrated than Alexander. The situation is so bad that Arrian is able to say that ‘Alexander’s achievements are far less well known than even the most trivial of other deeds in the past’.

To demonstrate this, Arrian compares the famous march of the 10,000 to Alexander’s expedition, and shows how the latter is the superior of the two.

… Alexander did not campaign in another man’s army, he did not retreat from the Great King, his victories were not confined to the defeat of those opposing a march back to the sea.

But rather, Arrian tells us, Alexander achieved the most of any Greek or barbarian – and this is why he decided to write his history. With unashamed self-confidence, he adds that ‘I did not think myself unsuited for the task of making Alexander’s achievements clear to the world’. Arrian’s writings define him; he describes them as ‘my country, my family, my public office’.

Alexander on the March
From Troy, Alexander marched north to Arisbe, where he met Parmenion and the rest of the army. From there, he continued along the north-western corner of Asia Minor until he reached Lampsacus when he headed south again though only as far as the Prosactius river. From there, he marched north once more, passing Colonae on his way to Priapus on the north-western coast. This would be his last stop (or, at least, the last to be mentioned by Arrian) before coming to the Granicus river.

While Alexander was marching through north-western Asia Minor, the Persian satraps and commanders were meeting in Zeleia, (twentyish miles) east of the Granicus. When word came of Alexander’s arrival in the province, they discussed what to do. Memnon of Rhodes advocated a scorched earth policy to starve the Macedonians into retreat but was overruled by the Persians. One satrap, Arsites, refused to countenance any damage being done to the property of ‘the people under his charge’. The others suspected that Memnon wanted to avoid a conflict so as to keep his rank in the Great King’s court.

Arrian doesn’t mention the story that, before jumping off his ship, Alexander flung his spear onto the shore to claim Asia (Minor) as his spear won territory (Diodorus XVII.17; Justin 11.5.10). Could it be that by focusing on the crowning of Alexander, he is demonstrating that he is not so much interested in Alexander the warrior as he is in Alexander the king?

What would this mean in practice? As the thought has only just occurred to me, I need to think about that before I can answer it. If it is true, though, I would expect Arrian’s Alexander to show whatever virtues the ancient Romans/Greeks thought a good ruler should have.

It is certainly one of the ironies of history that Alexander should, at any time, have been less well known than other men. Today, of course, he is very well known. For what he achieved he deserves to be the most well known of all the ancients but definitely lags behind the three most famous Romans – Julius Caesar, Augustus and Mark Antony. I would hazard to say that he isn’t even the most famous Greek: that honour probably belongs to Cleopatra VII.

In this post I spoke about Alexander’s impressive intelligence operation. We now get to see why it was so good. Arrian says that Alexander ‘always had scouts sent ahead of the main army’. We find out who Alexander’s ‘M’ was.: Amyntas son of Arrhabeaus. And his secret agents were ‘the squadron of Companions from Apollonia’ as well as ‘four squadrons of the so-called ‘advance guards”.

Okay, Amyntas was not quite M and the Apollonians not quite secret agents but of course they did have a licence to kill!

Finally, when I read this chapter, I was touched that Arsites seemed to be sticking up for his people. Well, maybe he was, but I’m sure the knowledge that no crops meant no taxes would have been in his mind as well.

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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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23. The Cilician Gates

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘[Alexander] pressed on to the Cilician Gates. When he reached the site where Cyrus had camped in his expedition with Xenophon, and saw that the Gates were strongly guarded, he left Parmenion there with the heavier-armed infantry brigades while he himself, at around the first watch, took the foot guards, the archers, and the Agrianians and advanced towards the Gates under cover of night, intending to fall on the guards when they were not expecting an attack.’
(Arrian II.4.3)

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

The Cilciian Gates today

Credit Where It’s Due
Photo of the Cilician Gates: Wikipedia

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