Posts Tagged With: Partha Bose

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

26.II.17

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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