Posts Tagged With: Partha Bose

Of Ghosts and Footprints

Happy New Year! I hope you have a happy and fruitful 2018. Have you made any resolutions? I have two Alexander related ones:-

  1. Read Diodorus’ account of Philip II’s life (Book XVI of his Library)
  2. Read The Iliad again

Philip II
I have never read a full account of Philip’s life. All that I know about him comes from books about Alexander. He deserves better than that so Diodorus XVI will, I hope, be a first step in doing justice to the man without whom Alexander would not, could not, have conquered most of the known world.

The Iliad
I am going to read the World’s Classic translation. I have owned this edition since my university days in the ’90s. The poem, of course, has been translated more recently but I am keen to read the World’s Classic version because I am looking for a particular quotation:

Men will know the difference now that I have come.

In my memory, these words are spoken by Achilles. When, though, I can’t remember. I presume it is after he leaves his tent following Patroclus’ death. I have to admit, though, it is only the quotation that I can remember (Though do I have it right…?). For all I know, I actually read it somewhere else and over time I have attached it to The Iliad because it is the kind of thing Achilles would say. Well, in 2018 I hope I can find out whether or not this is true.


Straight after finishing Partha Bose’s Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy, I started Ghost on the Throne by James Romm. Ghost is his account of the Wars of the Successors.

The last book length treatment of these wars that I read was Robin Waterfield’s Dividing the Spoils, which I enjoyed tremendously. Ghost on the Throne has, therefore, big boots to fill.

So far, I have only read the six page introduction but it begins very excitingly with Manolis Andronikos’ discovery of the royal tombs at Vergina. The introduction includes photographs of four ivory heads found in the tomb. They are identified as ‘Alexander’s Companions’. Before opening this book, I had only heard of the Alexander and Philip busts so it was a revelation to discover that there was more.

… though having said that, doesn’t Michael Wood see these heads in his In the Footsteps of Alexander documentary?


This morning, I read Plutarch’s 23 page Life of Eumenes. I wasn’t expecting to read this but yesterday I received a message from ‘anonymous’ via my Alexander Tumblr page asking for my thoughts about Alexander’s war secretary who went on to become one of the most skilled generals in the Wars of the Successors so before replying I decided to take the opportunity to refresh my memory concerning him.

Eumenes does not appear in the major sources of Alexander’s life very often. Arrian mentions him all but four times, Curtius twice; Plutarch (in his Life of Alexander) and Diodorus do not mention him at all. The reason for this is no doubt because for most of Alexander’s expedition, Eumenes served ‘only’ as the king’s war secretary. His only recorded military action was in India. There, Alexander gave him 300 cavalrymen and orders to notify two rebellious towns that a third, Sangala, had been captured but that if they submitted then they would have nothing to fear from him. In the event, Eumenes was unable to deliver this news as the residents of both towns had already heard about Sangala’s fall and fled.

Having given Eumenes only 300 cavalrymen Alexander clearly did not intend him to do anything more than deliver his message. If the Indians had resisted, Eumenes would undoubtedly have backed off and called to Alexander for help. As it was, this is pretty much what happened, anyway. Eumenes sent word to Alexander that the towns were empty. Thereafter, the king chased after the Indians. They had got a head start, though, and so most escaped.

It is interesting that we don’t hear of Eumenes chasing the Indians, either before or after Alexander’s arrival. He could have done but it wouldn’t surprise me if Alexander had told him ‘stay where you are’ on account of his inexperience.

But could he have been so inexperienced? It is astonishing to see how he went from administrator to one of the most competent generals of the early Successor Wars (Eumenes died in 316 BC). Where, though, might that experience have come from?

Alexander could have used Eumenes in a military capacity at any time during the expedition. But if he had, is it very likely that he would have given him this really minor responsibility now? I can’t see it. Sangala was destroyed in the summer of 326 BC. I wonder if Alexander gave Eumenes further military responsibilities as the Macedonian army, first, made its way to the Hyphasis river, and then, as it marched and sailed to the Indian ocean. The army did not reach the Gedrosian desert until September 325 so Eumenes would have had nearly a year’s experience as a general (perhaps a little more if he took part in the Cossaean campaign) to take into the Successor period. That’s still not much time, but perhaps men of genius don’t really need it.

By the way, if you would like to read Arrian’s and Curtius’ account of Eumenes’ sole known military command under Alexander, you can do so at Arrian V.24.6-7 and Curtius IX.1.19.


Over the last few weeks, I have been reading Caesar’s Footprint’s: Journeys to Roman Gaul by Bijan Omrani. When I saw it in the bookshop, I had to buy it. I love travelogues, and especially ones where the writer walks in the footsteps of famous historical people.

Having said that Caesar’s Footprints is not quite Omrani’s In the Footsteps of Alexander; his scope is far broader. He begins with Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul but moves on to look at the impact that Rome had on the territory from the time of Caesar through to the end of the Roman age five hundred years later.

The book is a great read, being in turn informative, descriptive, and evocative. I’m always happy to spend time in Julius Caesar’s company but was especially happy to learn about Gallo-Roman citizens such as Ausonius, who wrote a beautiful love poem to his new wife; a Gallic goddess named Sequana, and early Christian bishops like St Martin of Tours who did 25 years in the army before becoming a priest. He did several tours before becoming of Tour (sorry).

Of course, I knew about St Martin already but not the details of his life. I was sad to read that he wanted to deal with paganism using the same violent methods that Rome did in respect of Christians. I suppose he and Rome regarded their enemies as an existential threat but I still wish that he could have employed something other than violence to do away with pagan temples (There’s no mention of St Martin authorising acts of violence against people but we know that other Christian leaders though time have done so).

Anyway, I would not have mentioned the book here except that there does appear to be an Alexander reference. Sidonius sent a book to his relative, Apollinaris; with it, he sent a poem, addressed to the book, in which he ‘describes the route it must take to reach its destination’ (B Omrani Caesar Footprints 2017 p.212). Upon its arrival, Sidonius says it will ‘probably encounter Apollinaris walking in his secluded gardens’ (Ibid),

And if he were not to be found among the flowers, he would be cooling himself in his imitation grotto on the slope of a neighbouring hill, a ‘cavern’ formed by the branches of trees arching together to create a natural portico – better even than the ancient orchards of the Indian King Porus, which he decorated with golden vines heavy with clusters of gems.

Is this Alexander’s Porus? I don’t recall the sources talking about his wealth but I don’t know of any other important kings of that name. Then again, I don’t know much ancient Indian history apart from Alexander. It would be great to get some background to this.

Categories: Arrian, Books, Diodorus Siculus, Philip II, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Started With Callixeina?

Let’s start today’s update post with the question (no doubt inspired by Oliver Stone’s Alexander) that brought someone to The Second Achilles: Did Olympias and Alexander ever have sex? Answer: No, they didn’t.

This is not to say, however, that Olympias had no interest in her son’s sexual development. There is a story (referred to by Peter Green in the Alexander the Great, Relationship with Hephaestion video embedded in this post) that when Alexander was growing up, Olympias and Philip II were so concerned by their son’s lack of interest in sex that they hired a courtesan named Callixeina to sleep with him. At first, Alexander showed no interested in her and his mother had to continuously beg him to sleep with her.

This anecdote comes from Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae X.435 (here) Is it true? I don’t know. Alexander had no problem forming sexual relationships later on (e.g. with Roxane and Bagoas and probably others of both sexes) but when I read about him, I never get the impression that sex was high on his agenda so I would put Athenaeus’ story in the ‘perhaps’ category.


I have finally finished Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose.

I read nearly 100 pages yesterday to bring the book to a close. My final opinion of it is that it is a consistently interesting read – I never stopped enjoying how Bose relates the events of Alexander’s life to contemporary businesses. Unfortunately, it is also a consistently unreliable history of the Macedonian king. Bose’s bibliography is seven pages long. He may have read all those books but he has not read them very well. If you are interested in a history of Alexander I cannot recommend this book to you. If you are a manager looking to be inspired, however, Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy maybe of use to you. Be mindful, however, that it’s foundations can be a little shaky (though see below).


Three passages from my reading have stuck with me. The first comes from the start of ‘Chapter 8 ‘Teeth Versus Tail’ – Logistics Strategy’.

A popular military maxim says that amateurs talk about strategy and professionals discuss logistics.

I really like the word choice here. Talk implies an endless conversation which can sum up amateurs very well. Discuss, on the other hand, has a more definitive feel about it – we discuss in order to reach a decision, which we then act upon.

I was very critical of Bose’s accuracy, above, but let me give him credit for getting one thing right that many, many other writers get wrong. Namely, that,

… Alexander was the last person to successfully conquer Afghanistan…

YES. How many times have I read articles that claim that Alexander, like Britain, the USSR, America etc failed to conquer Afghanistan? No, he conquered it (or rather, its predecessor countries) alright. What he didn’t do was settle the region properly. He won the war and, if you like, lost the peace. Unfortunately, Bose opens the above passage by saying ‘It is generally believed…’. As you may surmise, in my experience it is certainly not generally believed but I’ve given Bose a hard enough time already so we’ll let that go.

Finally, after discussing the Macedonian army’s refusal at the Hyphasis river to march any further east, Bose states that Alexander,

… went into his tent and pouted for three days. After that he came out and agreed to head home, but not before making a General MacArthur-like promise about returning some day.

This is the second time I have heard the claim that Alexander intended to return to India (See my comments underneath the What if Alexander the Great had lived? video embedded in this post) and I am still ignorant of its veracity. I shall look up the sources’ accounts of the Hyphasis ‘mutiny’ to see if I missed it and report back.

So, that’s Partha Bose. I have already started my next book – James Romm’s Ghost on the Throne.

Categories: Books | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Strategy, Leonnatus, and Selective Sourcing

This week’s Alexanderland post is a day late. That’s because yesterday, I spent a bit of time on Tumblr answering an enquiry about Alexander’s relationship with his mother, Olympias; did he love or hate her? If you would like to read the Q & A, you can do so by clicking here.


For the second half-week in a row I have managed to read a little more of Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose and The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire by Waldemar Heckel.

In the sub-chapter ‘Defenders Are Toast’, Bose states,

Napoleon, too, believed in the principle ‘When possible, always attack’. The function of strategy, according to generals like Napoleon and Alexander, was to make decisive contact with the enemy as soon as possible; everything would fall into place once that was done.
(Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy, p.151)

There are two senses in which this statement can be understood – once the armies meet on the battlefield and as a general military principle. I am not quite certain which sense Bose has in mind. If he means ‘on the battlefield’, I agree with him. In his four major battles, Alexander never waited for either the satraps, Darius’, or Porus’ armies to come to him. He went to them. In doing so he took the initiative and never lost it. To give Porus his due, he at least managed to neutralise the advantage that taking the initiative gave Alexander, as may be seen by the scrum that developed between the two armies following the opening movements.

However, if Bose’s statement applies to Alexander’s general strategy, I disagree. After Issus, Darius fled east and Alexander headed south to Tyre and Egypt. After Gaugamela, both kings repeated this move. After the battles at Issus and Gaugamela, Alexander knew that Darius was in no position to fight him so he had time to pursue his other expedition aims – it was not all about fighting – namely, the securing of the Mediterranean seaboard, the taking of Egypt after Issus, and the securing of Babylon, Susa and Persepolis after Gaugamela.


In the sub-section titled ‘The Killing of Cleitus’, and in the context of a discussion of Black Cleitus’ murder, Bose says that Alexander,

… was now suffering from the powerful man’s conceit that he had seen engulf his father, according to which anyone who disagreed with him must be morally flawed.
(Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy, p.163)

I haven’t read nearly enough about Philip II to confidently dispute this statement, but I have read enough to feel uncomfortable with this statement. As I sit here and write these words, the only time that I can recall Philip ‘suffering from the powerful man’s conceit’ is in the placement of a statue of himself alongside those of the Olympian gods (Diodorus XVI.95). I don’t know of any occasion when he regarded those who held different views as ‘morally flawed’.


Moving on to The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire. I am still in ‘Chapter ii: The ‘New Men”. Earlier today, I read about Leonnatus. I have to admit, not much really jumped out at me while I read this; with that said, two statements did make an impression on me.

Firstly, that after Alexander’s death, Leonnatus was nominated along with Perdiccas as joint-regent for Roxane’s (hoped for) son. I had forgotten this. Why so? Because when I read about the succession crisis, I always turn to Diodorus, and he does not mention Leonnatus at the Babylonian conference (see Diodorus XVIII.2). However, Curtius also mentions the conference, and he says,

Pithon began to follow Perdiccas’ strategy, designating Perdiccas and Leonnatus, both of royal birth, as guardians for Roxane’s future son.
(Curtius X.7.8)

This passage is, therefore, a reminder to me never to limit myself to just one of the sources. If I can I always need to look up what the others say.

As for Leonnatus at Babylon, Weckel says that the reason Peithon nominated Leonnatus was to keep Perdiccas’ ambitions ‘in check’ (p.104), which sounds about right.


Heckel quotes Helmut Berve in his summary of Leonnatus. According to the latter, he ‘was a potential unfulfilled’ (p.106). He was a late comer, too, not being promoted into the senior ranks of the Macedonian army until 332/1 when he became a somatophylake and did not receive his first ‘military command’ (p.98) until early 327 when Alexander put him in charge of the night crew as the Macedonian army worked round the clock to bridge the rock of Chorienes. Leonnatus reminds me of Ptolemy, whose rise through the ranks was also delayed – for the son of Lagus, it did not begin until late 330 when he, too, became a royal bodyguard.

However, though Ptolemy joined the senior ranks later than Leonnatus, he enjoyed his first solo command earlier – the pick up of Bessus in 329. Both Ptolemy and Leonnatus had blue blood in them, although I believe Ptolemy was minor nobility. Leonnatus was a member of the Lyncestian royal house and related to Alexander through the latter’s grandmother. Ptolemy’s and Leonnatus’ paths definitively diverged in the Wars of the Successors. Leonnatus died at the start after falling in battle against the Athenian general Antiphilos in 322 B.C. while Ptolemy secured himself in Egypt and very nearly outlived the wars, dying in 283 B.C.


My continued thanks go to Shiralyn Mayon who linked to the following two videos on my Alexander Facebook page. The first is a short clip from a History Channel documentary about Alexander. It focuses on his relationship with Hephaestion.

The video claims that Alexander met Hephaestion in early adulthood. To the best of my knowledge, we do not know when they met. They could have been boyhood friends. The rest of the video is is concerned, firstly, with how Philip II and Olympias feared that their son was a ‘femme (?) homosexual’ and so introduced him to ‘call girls’ to man him up some. And secondly, Peter Green wonders what do you do if you are a ‘feminine youth’ and your father is an ‘ultra masculine, heavily bearded, militarily successful, hard drinking, dominant alpha-male’. The answer, of course, is you never stop being slightly feminine, nor reject the one you love but play the same military game as your father and beat him at it.

Plaudits go to the commenter who tries to convince us that Alexander was anti-homosexual when the Macedonian king’s sexual relationship with the eunuch Bagoas is a matter of record. That’s what you get when you quote your sources selectively,

The second video is an advert for a 2012 exhibition based on Alexander. I don’t have much to say about it except that it does a great job of making the exhibition worth going to see.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

New Men and Old Problems

I hate realising after the event that something doesn’t work. Case in point, the title of last Wednesday’s post, The War That Couldn’t Be Won On The Hydaspes. The title is much too long. I should have deleted the last three words.

Well, no use crying over spilt milk; let’s look at what I have been doing in Alexanderland since then.


As it happens, I have managed to read a little more of both Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy and The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire.

Partha Bose continues to create his own history. On p.142, he refers to Xenophon who ‘defeated the King of Persia’. But the reason why the 10,000 had to make their heroic journey back towards Greece is precisely because they lost the war against the Great King. Their paymaster, Cyrus the Younger, who was trying to overthrow Artaxerxes II, was killed in battle against him and so the Greeks had no choice but to flee.

In a section titled ‘Connective Style’, Bose refers to the fact that Alexander gave his generals the space to carry out their orders. He never,

… intervened or second-guessed the generals once battle had commenced. They came to each other’s aid, but they had gone over the battle plans and strategies so  many times that implementing them would come naturally to them.

This is a really good point. Alexander was blessed to have some extremely talented men serving under him. Of course, there were failures along the way (see the breakdown in command that lead to the deaths of Andromachus, Caranus, Menedemus, and Pharnuches et al – Arrian IV.5.3-6.2) but they are very much the exceptions that prove the rule. Philip II said that in all his life he had found only one general – Parmenion. He was exaggerating, of course, but had he lived longer, he would have found many more in men like Perdiccas, Craterus, Coenus, Lysimachus and Nearchus.

In the next section, ‘Getting Himself Over’ Bose talks about Alexander’s ability to connect with his troops.

Alexander had that admirable quality of being able to ‘get himself over’ to his troops, what British field marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein referred to as a pivotal skill in military leadership.

Alexander was not only good at this but a genius. How did he do it? Undoubtedly he would have learnt how to inspire his men but for the most part he was surely using his natural magnetism and charisma. I don’t think you can learn your way to inspiring your men to do the impossible. For some modern examples of intensely charismatic men, see Barack Obama, Tony Blair and – perhaps most of all of recent American Presidents? – Ronald Reagan. I would be willing to bet that they learnt to fine hone their powers of persuasion but that none of them started off being dull.

Apropos of nothing, I like the phrase ‘getting himself over’. I have heard it once before – in the context of American (WWE) wrestling. There, a wrestler behaves in a particular way to get over – become accepted – as either a goodie (babyface) or baddie (heel). It has been a while since I watched the WWE so feel free to correct me on this but if I am right, Alexander was behaving in basically the same fashion. The stakes were rather higher for him, though, so he didn’t want to get over simply as a goodie but as a figure of authority and power and munificence. If he could do it, he knew his men would follow him to the ends of the earth, which is nearly what happened.


In Waldemar Heckel’s The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire, I have moved on to The New Man and have now read about Koinos (Coenus) and Hephaistion. The New Men were the generals of Alexander’s generation and Hephaestion was, of course, pre-eminent among them.

As I found out when I bought Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great, Heckel does not have much time for the son of Amyntor. He regards him as a man of limited military ability and ‘an unpleasant, jealous individual’ (p.83).

Limited Military Ability?
Heckel states that,

What we learn of Hephaistion’s later career as a cavalry-officer confirms our suspicions that his promotion to hipparch was owed to his friendship with Alexander rather than to military genius.

and in his dispute with Craterus, the latter ‘was equally ambitious but more capable’ (p.83).

On the one hand, I am sure that Hephaestion’s friendship with Alexander did him no harm whatsoever. And maybe it did help him to rise through the ranks. However, I am also sure that Craterus also benefitted from the loyalty he had to Alexander the king as well.

On the other, what does it mean that Craterus was the more capable man? There are no recorded incidents in the sources of Hephaestion failing Alexander in any commission that he was given. Whether it was to build a bridge or a city, choose a king or transfer equipment or food, he got the job done. But perhaps Heckel is talking about on the battlefield. Granted, Hephaestion could not be considered to be in the first division of generals, but neither could Craterus be considered to be in the first division of logistical experts. In their respective spheres of influence, both Hephaestion and Craterus were extremely capable. I might add that when they entered into each other’s sphere – when Hephaestion fought in a set piece battle or when Craterus was asked to forage – neither failed in their orders.

An ‘unpleasant, jealous individual’?
Heckel reaches this conclusion in the context of the Philotas Affair. The affair in which Craterus took a leading part as well, by the way. For it wasn’t only Hephaestion who called for Philotas to be tortured (Curtius VI.11.10). He also blames Hephaestion for his dispute with Eumenes (p.85) citing Plutarch’s Life of Eumenes 2. Plutarch, though, does not tell us who started that dispute. For all we know, Eumenes started it and Hephaestion, knowing full well that he could not afford to let the Carian be seen to put one over him, retaliated so that matters went downhill to the discredit of both from there.

I agree with Heckel that Hephaestion had a dark side but so did Craterus, so did Eumenes and, I would wager, so did every other Macedonian general. We all have failings. Hephaestion was just unlucky to have his remembered and recorded because he was so close to the king.


I have been watching more of Shiralyn Mayon’s videos from my Alexander Facebook page. The first is this one on the Battle of Issus,

This video is fairly straight forward and not particularly spectacular. Unfortunately, the graphical quality isn’t great but it does have an actor playing Alexander whose lips reminded me very much of the British Museum Alexander bust. Also, Peter Green – author of Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography – appears in it, and he has a lovely accent.

The second video that I have been able to watch is this one,

If you have time for only one of the above, I would say watch Macedonian Battle Tactics. The visual quality is better and it gives a good overview of what made Alexander’s army so successful. It also includes a reference to the Hammer and Anvil strategy, which I found very useful.

Categories: Arrian, Books, Plutarch | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The War That Couldn’t Be Won On The Hydaspes

I talked about drinking brandy a few posts ago and I am now finally getting round to it. At 40% it is going to take some getting used to but I am determined to give it my best shot.


Since Sunday, I have been reading Partha Bose’s Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy. It isn’t at all easy reading two books at once. At least, not Bose’s and Weckel’s The Marshals. I seem not to be able to read a little of both in the same evening but instead spend a few days with one then a few more with the other. I almost feel like I am two-timing whichever book I am not reading. I better keep them well apart.

Anyway, I am now on p.141 – just over halfway through. Bose is still inventing scenes to suit his thesis but is at least doing so in an enjoyable way. There is one passage that I would like to quote here, It comes on p.137 when Bose talks about how mountains are ‘no defence against armies that are resolute in their purpose’. Bose continues,

The French military strategist Jomini wrote, ‘It has long been debated whether the possession of the mountains makes one the master of the valleys or vice versa’.

The Thracians who thought they could uses the slopes of Mount Haemus to crash carts into the Macedonian army (Arrian I.1.6-13), Ariobarzanes as he defended the Persian Gates (Ar. III.18.2-9) must both have thought that they were the masters only to be freed of their delusion by Alexander’s inventiveness and luck.


You might have read my Tumblr post about how my Twitter Macedonians’ story intersects with the sources. If you haven’t you can do so here. Today, Alexander’s story arrived at the events related in Plutarch Life of Alexander 47

I would have left this for Tumblr but I am too excited by what happened to consider waiting until I get time to update that blog.

Excited is probably not the right word as it is quite a positive one. The confrontation between Alexander’s most senior generals and the two men who loved him most was a near disaster for the king. If either Hephaestion or Craterus had killed the other it would have done deep, deep damage either to Alexander or the army. Undoubtedly, a deep psychological wound would have been inflicted on one side or the other or both.

But what makes the incident really stand out for me – above and beyond the fact that it involved two men who given their rank and experience really, really should have known better – is that it showed how even after eight years of unparalleled success under Alexander and attempts by the conqueror to diminish their influence, the Old Guard – Philip’s men, so’s to speak, were still so powerful. And we know this because as Plutarch relates, after stopping the confrontation, Alexander rebuked Hephaestion in public and Craterus in private.

Alexander’s close relationship with Hephaestion makes a public rebuke incomprehensible. Alexander’s real motive for doing it, therefore, could not have been to humiliate his friend, but to show the veterans that he was still, in a sense, one of them. For that reason, when he rebuked Craterus, as had to be done, he did so behind closed doors. Out of sight, and, to a point, out of mind.

Now, as I say, Alexander did not rebuke Hephaestion in public to humiliate him but the fact is, he was humiliated. That, unfortunately, was the price that had to be paid in order to keep the army from fracturing any more deeply thanks to the Old Guard’s thoroughly recalcitrant attitude.

Categories: Arrian, Plutarch | Tags: | 1 Comment

The Good Way, The Bad Way, The Macedonian Way

Hello from London, UK. Well, this chest bug is still with me. I had a bad time of it yesterday but overnight it weakened, and so things haven’t been so bad today. I really hope it behaves (or, well, why not, goes) as I am attending a Christmas drinks event tomorrow. Christmas drinks in November; I know, I know. Anyway, let’s talk about Alexander the Great.


I am still reading Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose. I have to be honest and say that nothing about the book has really grabbed me in the last couple of days; however, I am appreciating still – and perhaps a little more the deeper into the book I go – his business insights. The one that sticks in my mind tonight is the example of Lou Gerstner who became CEO of IBM in the early 90s when it was in decline. By careful management of the company’s divisions, actually listening to the staff (what an idea!), stopping meetings where people talked and nothing happened, and no doubt more, he turned its fortunes around. The Macedonian equivalent of this would be Philip II’s restoration of Macedon’s fortunes after he became king in 360/59. When he took the throne, the country was in danger of being torn to pieces by its various enemies. By reforming and re-arming the army and the clever use of diplomacy he turned it into a porto-imperial power. Alexander, of course, finished the job.


One of the members of the Alexander the Great Reading Group on Facebook is currently posting a series of lectures by Robin Lane Fox. I have listened to the first four and cannot recommend them highly enough. Here is Part One:

Notwithstanding the fact that he is a great Alexander scholar, Lane-Fox is also a total Alexander fanboy. This is evident from the start – Alexander was the greatest conqueror… the great king… of antiquity… ever! – and whenever he talks about his involvement with Oliver Stone’s film. It’s wonderful. The lectures have some lovely titbits of information and are very insightful; for example, on the vexed question of whether the Macedonians were Greeks or barbarians or somewhere inbetween.

If you are not a member of the Reading Group, do join. You can find the group here.


I had a lovely conversation with @MichaelBagatti on Twitter yesterday that reminded me I need to learn more about the Hellenistic Age. By and bye, he also recommended James Romm’s Ghost on the Throne. I bought that book a while ago and am looking at it even as I type these words. (Looking at the screen again) Once I have finished with Bose, that will be my next read. I don’t have time to dive into the Hellenistic Age at the moment, but I am thinking about ways I can dip my toes in. Watch this space.


And that’s all for now. I have nearly finished my mug of tea. I wonder if I might open a bottle of brandy and take a sip of that later. What would Alexander do? I expect he would have finished the brandy already, chest bug or not.

Categories: Books | Tags: | Leave a comment

From Dionysos to Pixodarus


Last Thursday in Alexanderland (see the last post) was a bit of a wash-out thanks to my cold. Fortunately, it turned out to be a 24 hour illness and so on Friday I was feeling a bit better. Once this chest bug goes I’ll be really happy.

As Friday is the closest thing I have to an ‘off-day’, when I make no arrangement to do anything after I get home from work I didn’t do anything Alexander related until yesterday. Then, I opened my e-mail and looked through my outstanding Alexander related Google Alerts. Some of the links were of interest and so I will be posting them on the Facebook page from midnight GMT tomorrow (Monday, 26th November) until the same time on 4th December.

Here is a sneak-peak of what is upcoming.

  • 27/11 Dionysos in India On the Dionysiaca, one poem equal to The Iliad and Odyssey in length written about the ancient gods just as Christianity became the dominant religion in the west.
  • 28/11 A review of Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This game has been getting a lot of positive reviews. Reading this one was quite bittersweet for me. I loved AC 2 but lost faith in the franchise over its glitchiness and the yearly release schedule. I’m happy that Origins has been a return to form but sadly still feel no inclination to play it.
  • 29/11 A letter writer claims that Alexander tried to invade Ethiopia but was forced to turn back when he saw his opponent’s army. Uh-huh.
  • 30/11 A call for more Philippics and jeremiads. Don’t we already get them on Twitter?!
  • 1/12 Happy Advent! The Downfall of the Seleucid Empire. I wondered whether to post this article because it addresses current political concerns, which is not really what the Fb Alexander page is about. I wonder how Fbers will react?
  • 2/12  A re-telling of the famous anecdote about Alexander and Diogenes; this one, with a slightly different ending to their exchange (or, at least, an ending that I had not read before)
  • 3/12 A repeat of the claim that Alexander suffered from epilepsy. Did he? I could tell you to wait until this post goes up before seeing my response but that would be click baity and horrible. I’ll tell you now, No, he didn’t. It’s a misunderstand of what happened at the Cydnus river
  • 4/12 Circadian clocks and Alexander’s army. The link is to an article on the Sputnik News website. I had not heard of this website before so looked it up; apparently, it is a pro-Russian site that publishes suspect stories. In light of that, I might not have bothered with this article but have decided to post it anyway as it isn’t about politics (although it has just occurred to me that the Nobel Prize is rather political. Let’s see what the Fb readers say)

If Google Alerts provides more interesting articles, they will appear after the 4th.


This morning, I reached the 88th page of Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy by Partha Bose so must now decide whether to continue with it. I am still more-or-less enjoying it so will do so. I am, also, however, still bothered by his approach to the book.

I mentioned in my last post how Bose makes assumptions about Alexander’s life in order to draw lessons from them. He also plain makes up details. For example, at the start of Chapter 3 The Men Who Could Be King he has Philip II being assassinated as he falls over while some climbing steps leading into a temple. Diodorus (XVI.92-94), however, is quite clear that Philip II was assassinated as he walked into the theatre  – Oliver Stone gets this spot on in his film.

He gets other details wrong. In describing how Alexander was almost removed from the Macedonian political scene, Bose refers to the Pixodarus affair (Plutarch Life of Alexander 10). In his version of the story, however, it is not Pixodarus of Caria in south-western Asia Minor who offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to Arrhidaeos but an unnamed satrap ‘of the Persian part of Thrace’. Thrace was under Philip II’s control.

There is also a case of what might be called sinning by omission. In Bose’s retelling of the Pixodarus affair, Alexander prevents the marriage by having the actor Thessalus go to Thrace to use his acting skill to dissuade the satrap from proceeding with his offer. As a result, the ‘next day the satrap quietly withdrew the marriage proposal’. Bose’s account of the affair ends there.

According to Plutarch, however, Alexander not only sent Thessalus (to Caria) but gave him orders to tell Pixodarus that he, Alexander, was willing to marry the Carian’s daughter instead. Did Bose forget this or did he omit it because it was an wholly amateurish move that was bound to be discovered by Philip to Alexander’s and Bose’s embarrassment. For, surely, what Alexander did was not the action of a role model for CEOs and Chairmen.

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

22.II.17 A Birth, A General & On Alexander’s Mental Health

Welcome to my midweek post. I hope this post finds you well. I am writing this with a slight cold and chest bug. I have drunk my Lemsip Max and have put on a nice, cozy jumper – bought today because I didn’t have one already and gosh I need it. Rather ironically, perhaps, I also have my fan on because I dislike still air.

What’s going on in Alexanderland, i.e. my Alexander reading and writing?


In the last few days, someone has found the blog by asking if Alexander was born of rape. The answer to this is ‘no’. For more information, read Chapter One and Two of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. There is no suggestion there that Philip raped his wife. I suspect that whoever asked this question had Oliver Stone’s film in mind. If I recall correctly, Philip very nearly does rape Olympias but backs away after seeing her snakes. Alexander, at that point, is a young boy.


Earlier this week, a commenter on the Facebook challenged the fact that in my introduction post I referred to Alexander as ‘the greatest general ever to live’, and not king. You can find their comment and our subsequent conversation here.

My reference to Alexander as a great general rather than king was deliberate. For me – and I was speaking from my point of view – a great king is one who is not only successful in war but who rules wisely and justly as well. I wouldn’t say that Alexander was, on the whole, unwise or unjust, though he had his moments, but neither would I say that he was a Solomonic figure. In my view, to be a great king, he needed to move east much more slowly – only after consolidating his military gains and bringing peace to the affected region – and been much more of a diplomat (like his father). Further to this, a great king would have given more time and care to the administration of their kingdom than Alexander did. He didn’t neglect it, at least not wholly, but he was too bent on conquest to give his possessions the time they required.


I am still reading Partha Bose’s Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy: The Timeless Lessons of History’s Greatest Empire Builder. I am now up to page 53 of the 88 I committed myself to on Sunday, and contrary to my expectations, am enjoying it. I like how Bose brings in the example of other military (and business) people to make his point.

One thing I am not sure I like so much is how many assumptions he seems to make about Alexander’s life. For example, we know next to nothing about Alexander’s time at Meiza, where he was tutored by Aristotle, but Bose doesn’t let that stop him from saying they probably did this or that or the other before going on to suggest that this is how Alexander became such a good warrior later.

To be fair, he does in one or two places acknowledge the limited amount of information that we have, but if he really believed in this limitation then surely he shouldn’t go on to try and draw lessons from assumptions that he must know may well not be true. This has happened so much I have started to wonder if he is using a source that I don’t know about.

Having said all that, I didn’t stop to note examples of where Bose writes in the manner I have suggested. I will try to do this between now and Sunday. Maybe I will find that it isn’t as bad as I think tonight.


For a long time now, I have had it in my mind that Alexander was in bad mental health at the end of his life. A while ago, I re-read Arrian and Curtius to see how they described Alexander’s last days. Yesterday and earlier today I re-read Diodorus and Plutarch.

If memory serves, Arrian says nothing that would indicate Alexander suffered from mental ill health. What Curtius says, we don’t know, due to gaps in the text. Both Diodorus and Plutarch do talk of Alexander being scared, deeply so, by ill omens but I have to admit, they are not convincing me of their validity. Partly, this is the rationalist in me speaking but I am also put out by the fact that Diodorus and Plutarch turn Alexander into a superstitious simpleton in order to make the point that the bad omens terrified him. It is reminiscent of Curtius’ account of the Orsines Affair and I don’t believe for a minute Alexander was ever like that. I think this is an issue I will come back to in the future as it troubles me.


Finally, I would like to end this post by acknowledging the 54th anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis. Lewis is one of my intellectual and spiritual heroes; actually, the greatest. While I am not writing about Alexander directly because of him, I am sure that reading his books gave me the intellectual capacity to do so. More importantly than that, he was a wise, humble, and good man. Requiescat in Pace, Jack.

Categories: Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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